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Crook County School’s Dr. Sara Johnson named Oregon Superintendent of the Year for 2023

(Salem, Ore.) The Oregon Association of School Executives (OASE) and the Coalition of Oregon School Administrators (COSA) have named Dr. Sara Johnson, Superintendent at Crook County School District, (CCSD), the 2023 Oregon Superintendent of the Year. This award automatically places Johnson in the running for National Superintendent of the Year awarded by the American Association of School Administrators.

Johnson has been superintendent at CCSD since 2018 and has already left an indelible mark. Her philosophy is that all students will learn, that all voices will be heard, and that behind every data point is a face and a name. It is personal for Johnson, and every student matters. Under her leadership, CCSD’s 4-year graduation rates have grown to 98.17%, the top 1% in the state, and the graduation rate for students receiving special education services is 88%, as compared to the state average of 66%. Her leadership has created an environment where students can thrive and feel connected.

“Dr. Johnson’s decisive and collaborative leadership has lead to unprecedented gains in our District,” said School Board member Doug Smith.

Johnson’s commitment to improvement is seen throughout the district. She has prioritized engaging and communicating with families throughout the district, and began an initiative called “Voices” at every school site where families can give input to the district on topics and issues of importance. Johnson paid particular attention to assuring the voices of those who were historically underrepresented were heard. She also formed partnerships with community members and local community organizations to gather additional constituent input and lead the work of forming a 501c3 foundation which raised over one million dollars in private investments for the community’s schools.
Innovation is a large part of Johnson’s leadership. She has worked to engage families K-12 who prefer to educate their children at home, opened a new elementary school based on storyline instruction, and led the growth of the district’s Career Technical Education (CTE) programs in the middle and high school, including CTE internships with local private industry. Johnson’s leadership and innovation have created a culture of
learning, a place to safely take risks where learning opportunities come from both hitting and missing the mark.

“She does this not just by hardening the exterior of our schools to make them safer, but by softening the hearts of those on the inside,” said Sean Corrigan, District Human Resources Director.

Her commitment to continuous improvement is the foundation of her expectation for each staff member in the district to continue their professional growth. Staff not only have her example but have her support in growing as professionals. She leads by establishing relationships. Twice monthly she provides professional learning sessions for each of the district administrators, is a frequent presenter at state conferences for COSA, and OSBA (Oregon School Boards Association), and is pursuing a degree in School Psychology.

Oregon superintendents commended Johnson on her leadership and ability to move a community through the difficult times brought on by the pandemic.

“I am thrilled to see Sara honored as Superintendent of the Year. She is an experienced leader who delivers consistently strong results for students without fanfare,” said Heidi Sipe, Superintendent of the Umatilla School District. “Her work is student focused and her leadership was unwavering despite the obstacles of COVID. She is a leader for us all to learn from and I appreciate the opportunity to see her shine in the coming year.”

Johnson will be honored at the 2022 Oregon School Boards Association Convention in November, the 2023 OASE Winter Conference in January, the 2022 AASA National Conference in February, and the 2023 COSA Annual Conference in June.

"Dr. Sara Johnson has led the Crook County School District to new levels of staff, student, and community engagement. Her work in empowering school leaders, teachers, and staff has led to deeper relationships in schools, the community, and stronger graduation outcomes for students," said COSA Executive Director Craig Hawkins. "COSA is honored to have Dr. Johnson as the 2023 Superintendent of the year."