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Exclusive Interview: Dr. J, Principal

WISH AcademyOn Friday, October 27th, Dr. Kimberly Johnson, WISH Academy Principal, sat down with The Aviary’s Nicholas Steinman for an interview covering her background and reflections on her tenure so far, as she begins her second year on the job. The following transcript has been lightly edited for clarity.

What motivated you to go into education?

   I had a job that I really didn’t like, and I got fed up. I was venting to one of my friends who was a teacher at that time, and she encouraged me to quit that job and think about substitute teaching.

   And that’s how I got started. I started substitute teaching, and then I went straight into my Master’s Degree program and got my credential, and started out as a middle school algebra teacher.

Can you talk a little bit about your career before you came to WISH? 

   This is my 30th year as an educator. Over the course of those 30 years, I’ve either been a teacher or an administrator for every grade level, fourth through doctoral programming. 

   Most recently, I was the assistant principal at Da Vinci Connect High School just before I started here last year; but prior to that, I worked at university level. I worked in [the] Santa Monica-Malibu District, [the] Culver District, Inglewood, El Segundo—and then I’m originally from St. Louis, Missouri, so I worked at a few schools back there. 

Were there a few jobs you had over that time that stood out to you?

Yeah. Every teacher, I feel, has a dream to start their own program from the bottom up. And when I was at the University of West Los Angeles, I had an opportunity to build my own master degree program. That really stood out for me. 

It was a brand new online program. This was 2012, so that’s, like, 10 years ago. And online was popular, but not as popular as it is now. So it was an online program with five different emphases. Kind of like our pathways; we had five pathways. So I hired all the teachers, I chose all the curriculum, I chose the learning management system, I did all of the things for the accreditors. It was a great experience.

What was something you took away from your first year as principal here?

I did a lot of reflection over the summer, and there were a lot of areas that were new to me from a WISH standpoint that I had to learn how to navigate and do. So my first year takeaway is, I think I did the best I could, given the support I had. And I feel so much stronger this year, having gone through a pretty bumpy last year.

Would you be willing to talk about any of those areas?

Just learning [about], like, the informational tours. That took a minute, for me to understand the frequency, the flow, what was being communicated. Also, navigating the co-location piece. I didn’t really understand fully until towards the end of last year, so that helped me walk into this year a whole lot stronger. I didn’t really understand the reserving of spaces and the sharing of spaces and the friction sometimes that comes with being co-located, and I think I’ve worked through [that], as a matter of fact.

I know I got a compliment yesterday [that] I’ve worked through a lot of that, and I’m much more comfortable just being able to respond in the moment about a thing, where last year I was uncertain and relied heavily on Dr. Branch and Ms. Zendejas to sort of guide and lead me. 

What are some goals you have for this year, then—for yourself and for the school?

So for myself, I want to continue to grow in my principalship-ness, if that’s a word. But for [the school], I really want the culture and climate of the campus to feel good. I want students to be happy. I want students to be seen and heard. I want teachers to be okay with the student asking why—“Why is this a thing?”

I want us to all walk away at the end of the day having given the best version of themselves that we can for that day. And we’ll come back and try it again tomorrow. And maybe we get better results, maybe we get the same results, but my goal is to always create an environment where there is acceptance—where everyone is accepted, and everyone is thriving.

Are there some ways you could see the school growing more specifically?

Yeah. I think, because of the sports conditioning, which is a great class—but it threw our house teamwork building thing into a little bit of disarray, and we haven’t been able to stand that up this year. So that’s something I’m wanting to have more conversations with the counselors and Dr. Branch and Ms. Zendejas [about] to see if we can do something significant for second semester. 

Also, just ensuring that there are smaller, more low-key activities and events that don’t require as much as a homecoming or require as much as a prom, but still give opportunity for you guys to socialize and build community.

Do you have any advice for our students reading this? 

Yes, I have several pieces of advice. From a personal space, it’s okay to be who you are and be okay with who you are. And if someone else is not okay with you, who you are, that’s okay too. Be always true to yourself. And from an academic standpoint, don’t procrastinate—and ask for help.

Don’t procrastinate, ask for help. Everyone literally gets up and comes here every day to support you all. And when we don’t know [you need help], we can’t support, and we don’t ever want a student feeling that they are sort of flailing and no one’s there to help guide them to the shore.

What has been your proudest moment as an educator? 

I think my proudest moment as an educator is always when I’m able to put on my cap and gown and oversee graduation. Seeing the growth every single graduation—doesn’t matter if it’s high school or university, just to see the growth. I get really excited about that. As a matter of fact, I’m going to buy a new cap and gown for you guys’ graduation in the summer. So that’s my pride right there. 

Anything else you wanted to say?

Um, I’m a proud cat mom. And I enjoy regular stuff. I enjoy TV. I enjoy movies. I enjoy hanging out with my friends.

I’m a regular person. And I’m comfortable with my trajectory over the course of my career and my life. I’m okay in my own skin. 

Do you foresee more “Get to Know Dr. J,” or the administrators as a whole, quizzes [such as the House Challenge activities last year] in the future? 

I would love to do that. Absolutely. 

What would be your advice for students on preparing for them?

Just come in here and just talk to me. Just say hi. That’s it. I love to chat with you guys. So things just spill out when I talk with you guys. So that’s the best way to get intelligence, as it were.

Thank you so much. 

Okay, thank you. Have a great day.

~ Dr. Johnson with Nicholas Steinman

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