By Randy Arrington
LURAY, May 5 — After “chewing on it for two months,” Dr. Paul Johnson decided this week to officially make a bid for chairman of the Page County School Board.
“I’m absolutely passionate about Page County Public Schools’ students, teachers and staff,” Dr. Johnson said. “I’m passionate about Page County students not getting left behind.”
The longtime educator served as both assistant principal (four years) and principal (three years) of Page County High School before becoming the school division’s director of human resources in 2011. After nearly eight years in that position, Dr. Johnson left the school system last April while also serving as assistant superintendent. He is currently employed as the director of human resources for Delaware North, concessionaire to Shenandoah National Park.
As of Tuesday, Johnson is the only person that has picked up paperwork from the registrar’s office to become a candidate for school board chairman in this November’s special election, according to county registrar Carol Gaunt. However, she noted that Jason Breeden had requested the necessary forms be mailed to him.
No one has officially filed their candidacy with the registrar for school board chairman. Johnson, and other potential candidates, must still gather signatures, complete all candidate forms and submit the paperwork to the registrar by June 9.
“I want to be a part of retaining staff,” Johnson said of potentially becoming the next school board chairman. “Retaining staff, building relationships and encouraging high morale.”
Dr. Johnson noted that staff retention is one of many challenges the local school system faces due to budgetary restraints.
“The thing that jumps out to me is aligning available resources with the most pressing needs” Dr. Johnson said. “Making sure our students have opportunities.”
Among key issues facing local schools, Dr. Johnson cited the difficulty in retaining teachers, especially in dual enrollment classes, the reduction in the number of slots Page County has at the regional governor’s school, and growing opportunities at the Page County Technical Center.
“It’s important to understand realistic situations in our county, and to recognize how important a resource our people are because when you don’t have much money, relationships become very important,” he continued. “We have tremendous, loyal people … I did eight years as the human resources director – I hired many of them. People don’t come here because of the pay — they come here to be difference-makers in Page County.”
On Dec. 9, 2019, the Page County School Board appointed James “Jim” Grimley as the current chairman. His appointment expires on Dec. 31, 2020. Grimley is a retired educator, who taught for 10 years in Page County before taking a position in Shenandoah County where he later became an elementary school principal. He has not stated publicly if he plans to put his name on the November ballot to retain the chairman’s seat.
Grimley replaced 16-year school board member Randy Bailey, who resigned suddenly on Nov. 1, 2019, citing health reasons. The unexpired term runs through Dec. 31, 2021.
At the time of Grimley’s appointment, Dr. Johnson was among five individuals who had submitted their names to the school board for consideration of the chairman’s seat — the other three being Virginia Brown, David Housden and J.D. Cave.
Cave announced that he was withdrawing his name during a Nov. 25, 2019 public hearing in which the majority of eight speakers publicly supported Johnson’s appointment. After 15 years with the local school system and a total of 28 years in education, Johnson admitted he was disappointed that he did not receive the appointment.
“It was never explained to me,” Johnson said of the board’s decision. “My No.1 goal is to be positive and look forward.”
In the classroom, Johnson has taught “everything from middle school math to secondary physical education.” For the last nine years, he has served as an adjunct professor for a college in Lynchburg, teaching administrative leadership. He put his stellar career as a cross country runner at Luray High School to work as an undergrad at a college in Lynchburg, where he later became a collegiate coach for 13 years.
Current conditions forced by the COVID-19 pandemic make it a challenging time to be re-entering the school system, but Dr. Johnson says he’s up for the challenge. He remembers the transition to the “new” high schools more than a decade ago when he was transitioning from being assistant principal to principal, making the move to the new school, and finishing his doctorate, all while he and his wife were expecting their second child.
“It was a crazy time,” Johnson said, “but you just have to roll up your sleeves, get to work and keep moving forward.”
Johnson, and his wife Wendy, a first grade teacher at Springfield Elementary, both volunteer in the community on a regular basis. Most recently, Paul has been helping out with a food drive at the Mimslyn Inn for out-of-work restaurant and hospitality workers.
“Both my wife and I try to be very involved in the community,” he said, “and that’s something that will continue whether I win or not.”