Former Washington Elementary principal to lead VIBES charter school

Veteran educator Stephanie Johnson has been named principal of the proposed VIBES public charter school, which is scheduled to open Sept. 3 at the facility owned by Kids Unlimited, a free after-school program for low-income children in Medford.

Johnson is the first administrator to be hired for the new school, which may have 150 first- through third-graders beginning in the 2013-14 school year if Medford School District requirements have been met.

VIBES Public Charter School: Academy of the Arts and Sciences, as it could be called, would offer an extended day for students from 7:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., with three meals each day. The school would also utilize community partnerships to work with families of high-risk students.

Tom Cole, Kids Unlimited founder and director, announced Johnson's hiring at the program's fundraiser, the Cota Singler Auction and Gala, on Friday.

"Steph is a renowned and respected principal in this community who recognizes student struggles and brings innovative efforts into the classroom," Cole said Monday. "She has a heart for kids in poverty and has played a leadership role in helping us since we opened."

Johnson, 67, is a founding member of the Kids Unlimited board and worked 34 years in the Medford School District.

In 2007, she retired as a principal at Washington Elementary School in Medford after working at the school for 18 years and raising students' test scores. She and her staff at Washington helped students, most of whom live in poverty or speak limited English, repeatedly log some of the highest scores in reading, writing and math in the state, with about 90 percent or more of them passing in each area.

"It's a thrill to open a school," said Johnson, who received a standing ovation when her position was announced at Friday's fundraiser. "Kids are my life."

The Medford School Board approved Kids Unlimited's modified charter school application in April, giving Cole and the VIBES charter school board until Aug. 4 to satisfy the district's requirements.

Cole has hired a first-grade teacher, Melissa Olmstead, who is working in the summer program. He plans to hire five more certified teachers initially to oversee six classes of 25 students.

Johnson, who is involved in the hiring process, says they are seeking teachers who are not only qualified but have "the desire to start something special," she said.

— Janet Eastman

Read more in Tuesday's Mail Tribune.

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