April 21, 2015
Renay Johnson, principal at Montgomery Blair High School since 2011, has won this year’s Washington Post Distinguished Educational Leadership Award.
Johnson is the first female principal at Blair, the largest high school in MCPS. It has nearly 3,000 students and 300 staff members. Johnson keeps the staff focused on instructional achievement and improvement by capitalizing on the strength of her leaders. She has empowered her staff to come up with inventive ideas to improve test scores, and the school has seen increases in the SAT and Advanced Placement.
A collaborative and highly supportive leader, Johnson is a master at creating positive relationships with students and staff members. She has helped to mold and mentor them, encouraging meaningful and personal growth. She is committed to identifying opportunities to celebrate success, and encourages all students to get involved in school activities, whether it be athletics, theater, music, clubs or other opportunities.
She actively revels in student achievements and shows up at many of the school’s extracurricular activities (from plays and musical performances to sporting events and student debates) and encourages community involvement by Tweeting about them. She is always carrying her trusty iPad, making sure she doesn’t miss an opportunity to memorialize happenings at the school.
She is accessible and approachable, and makes time to listen to ideas and concerns. If students are out for an extended medical leave or a family member passes away, she is sure to send them a handwritten card. She shows her appreciation with small gifts such as snacks and gift cards.
“Renay knows every staff member’s name and something about each one of our personal lives,” resource teacher Mary Lou Thornton writes in a nomination letter. “She knows more students’ names than seems possible for a human brain to store. She knows us because she is in our classrooms, in the halls between classes, in the cafeteria during lunch, at our events and not just the big deal events—she shows up everywhere. … The woman is indefatigable!”
Johnson started with MCPS as a classroom teacher in 1991, later served as a school counselor, and became an assistant principal at Paint Branch High School in 2002. Before going to Blair, from 2006–2011, she was principal at Takoma Park Middle School. She is currently enrolled in the Johns Hopkins University doctoral program.
The Distinguished Educational Leadership Award is given annually by The Washington Post to principals in Washington-area school districts who go beyond the day-to-day demands of their position to create an exceptional educational environment. Along with other winners, Johnson will be invited to attend an all-expenses paid four-day leadership seminar. Winners will also be honored at a Post ceremony on May 5.