Story and Photos by Jan Osborn.
As schools begin the new year, United to Learn (U2L), a Dallas-based nonprofit that partners with Dallas ISD elementary schools to accelerate student achievement and grow purposeful leaders, is gearing up by fulfilling thousands of teachers’ supply requests. Learning Launch, U2L’s annual supply and resource drive, equips Dallas elementary schools and classrooms for the first day of school and beyond.
U2L’s Learning Launch is Dallas’ only back-to-school supply drive that provides schools with teacher-requested learning resources and tools. In addition to providing educator-requested supplies, this year United to Learn is helping campuses with small campus projects that enhance the learning environment and aim to excite students about the start of school.
The program alleviates the financial and time burden of teachers and administrators who typically spend an average of $600 of their own money annually to backfill district and school budgets. We sat down with Dallas ISD’s Gooch Elementary School Principal, Principal Kermange Johnson to talk about her education journey and her experience working with United to Learn.
Would you share your story of why you decided to get into education? And, what inspires you to continue your journey?
As a fourth grade student, my teacher in Little Rock, Arkansas, inspired me to be an educator. This teacher opened my eyes to the profession. She showed me what a teacher who had a love for kids and education looked like. And, as a young girl, she saw something in me and took me under her wing.
I was known as the “teacher’s pet” during that year because I really loved helping my teacher. I would stay after school and help her grade papers. It was also the first time I was exposed to the Gifted and Talented program. Once my eyes were open everything else spread like wildfire. After school, I wanted to play school. During my summer break, I would get kids together so we could play school. It was like a calling from God and that teacher lit the flame.
I didn’t have another teacher like that until I was in high school. I had become a teen mom by that time, and while the calling was there, the fire had been diminished. I started going to Mary Grimes Education Center in Carrollton, Texas, which was a self-paced program. My English teacher saw something in me that propelled me when I was struggling. She continued to cultivate my dream of becoming a teacher and kept me on the right path. She reignited that flame and passion.
This is what continues to inspire me today.
What was your catalyst for becoming a Principal? Is there a specific story or event that propelled you to want to become a Principal?
In my eighth year as an educator, at what is now Chapel Hill Elementary, my Principal Barbara Mohan saw my leadership qualities and really encouraged me pursue leadership positions. She really believed in my abilities. When I was teaching sixth grade math, she came to me and told me she wanted to create a position for me to be an instructional coach on campus, which she did. After that, she encouraged me to go get my Masters. Since then, I have become an assistant principal and have been a principal for the last six years.
I am thrilled and proud that this will be my 25th year with Dallas ISD and my fourth year as the Principal at Gooch.
Tell us about your United to Learn Learning Launch project and how this project impacts your learning community?
I am really passionate about our Learning Launch project! Classroom transformations are the most exciting things I brought to Gooch. Each six weeks we take a learning concept and use the concept to transform the classroom. This year, United to Learn is supplying all of the decorations for these classroom transformations and volunteers! This helps save our teachers time and they aren’t having to come out of pocket for any of the supplies.
In past years, we have transformed classrooms into construction zones for “building compound words” and for the fourth grade math concept for constructing word problems, we transformed the classroom into a doctor’s office – complete with doctor gowns, hats and masks for the kids.
This year, we are starting the year out by transforming the classrooms into space and under the sea themes. These transformations not only excite our students about learning, but they also give our students tactical hands on ways to explore worlds beyond their own and ignite their imaginations.
Why do you feel organizations like United to Learn are important for our local schools?
I know it sounds cheesy to say “it takes a village”, but when we say that, it is truly a powerful statement. And organizations like United to Learn exemplify this. United to Learn creates such an impact on our community. They are more than an organization to me, they are truly partners. I know they will collaborate with me and listen. They contribute things to the school that we may not otherwise have. With their help and support, my kids are exposed to so many different things.
Like, for our Community Campus Day projects, they transformed the black top outside with a four square area and centipede game that featured multiplication problems. These projects encourage learning to continue on the playground. And by providing these things, the money doesn’t have to come out of the pockets of teachers.
They truly support us and our teachers and are focused on our well being. They show our teachers love with coffee and snacks and so much more.
In addition, they really care for our school community, providing parent engagement opportunities, SEL training and by being in the trenches with us at all times. They ask us: What do you need? How can we help?
They really are our partners in learning.
What is your vision for your Elementary School five years from today?
Five years from today, my vision for Gooch is to educate, encourage, and empower every student that attends to be their best bold selves.
This is my education philosophy. My philosophy is to educate students with the mindset that effort creates ability, encourage students to seek challenges and exceed expectations, and empower students to achieve their dreams.
I want to cultivate a culture of success that everyone has a sense of belonging, self-love and community kindness.
For more information about United to Learn, go to unitedtolearn.org.