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Hamilton County Schools Superintendent Bryan Johnson speaks during the Hamilton County State of the System address at Howard Connect Academy on Thursday, Feb. 6, 2020, in Chattanooga, Tenn. / Staff photo by Troy Stolt

The National School Public Relations Association has named Hamilton County Schools Superintendent Bryan Johnson one of its 24 Superintendents to Watch.

The association selects superintendents who have fewer than five years of experience and have shown "fast-paced leadership."

The Nashville native has served as a teacher, school administrator, director of secondary schools, chief academic officer — all in Clarksville-Montgomery County — and now as superintendent.

The national publication Education Week named Johnson one of its Leaders to Learn From for 2020. The Tennessee Organization of School Superintendents named Johnson, a pastor's son, as the 2020 Southeast Tennessee Superintendent of the Year, and he is one of eight finalists for Tennessee Superintendent of the Year.

Johnson told the Times Free Press that he first caught the education bug while attending Austin Peay State University, where he majored in business administration and played football.

"I initially thought I was going into business," he said. "My junior year of college ... one of my coaches connected me with this employer that was working with at-risk youth. Literally, after like a week, I just fell in love."

Shortly after graduating college, Johnson went to Belmont University to receive his master's degree in special education. He then went on to teaching special education at the middle school level for six years before transferring to the administration side.

The first-time superintendent was hired in July 2017, after the board of education approved his $197,000-a-year contract in a 5-4 vote. The school board approved a new, four-year contract in February that included a base pay raise to $240,000 a year. He's the third-highest paid superintendent in the state — behind only Metro Nashville Public Schools and Shelby County Schools' directors of schools, who both make $285,000 a year.

In his three years so far as superintendent, student academic growth has improved, officials said.

According to district officials, in 2019, 45 schools earned a level 5 in the 2019 Tennessee Value-Added Assessment System (TVAAS) results — almost double the number of Hamilton County schools that received a level 5 the previous year.

"Advances in technology have also been a focus under Dr. Johnson's leadership. Middle schools and high schools are now one-to-one technology schools providing each student with an electronic device to open a new world of knowledge for children and teachers," reads a district news release.

In late July the school district partnered with EPB to give free internet access to Hamilton County students who qualify for free and reduced-priced meals. The district is also working with more than 30 community partners in developing virtual learning centers.

Johnson, a Dallas Cowboys fan, credits the Hamilton County Board of Education for the district's accomplishments, saying it's a group that cares and is committed to students.

"All of this recognition is great; it's not a driver for me. When you get into these roles, you have opportunities," Johnson said. "I have resolved at this point in my career — until the community stabilizes around what is really important, which is children — that I gotta be here. The focus is to shift from political to what is right for children. And there's a lot of work to be done."

Contact Monique Brand at mbrand@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6592. Follow her on Facebook or Twitter @MoBrandNews.

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