Outgoing school board member Johnson reflects
Bob Johnson remembers all too well his first Roaring Fork District school board meeting a dozen years ago.
“Everyone was talking in acronyms,” Johnson said, admitting he was a little lost in all the public education jargon that was flying around the meeting room.
“Fred Wall, who was superintendent at the time, sort of took me under his wing and sat me down with a couple pages of all those acronyms and what they stood for,” he said. “He said the best thing I could do is just watch and learn.”
Since then, Johnson has seen a dozen or more different fellow school board members come and go. He’s also seen three changes in the chief administrator’s position, from Wall to Judy Haptonstall to Diana Sirko to the current superintendent of Glenwood Springs, Carbondale and Basalt schools, Rob Stein.
“I learned from all of them in different ways,” Johnson said. “The positive behind it is each one built on their predecessor, and we kept evolving excellence and building on our successes. When I look at the evolution of it all, it’s a great process.”
Johnson officially finished his third term and 12th year of service on the Roaring Fork Schools Board of Education on Wednesday, as his successor in one of two mid-valley area board seats, Jennifer Scherer, was sworn in.
With no contested race in the fall school board elections, Scherer was elected by acclamation along with the automatic reelection of fellow board members Jen Rupert and Shane Larson.
“It has been my honor to serve the district and to see firsthand the evolution of our educational system and our focus on excellence while working with so many committed professionals and community members,” Johnson said. “It is refreshing to see an entire community come together on so many levels to make education such a priority.”
That was most evident in the support the district received in approving three different property tax questions during his tenure, including two bond issues to build new facilities and a mill levy override to increase teacher pay.
A parent whose two children, Tim and Kaity, graduated from Basalt schools, and a longtime coach, Johnson first was involved on the policy level as a member of various school committees. He jumped on board with the 2004 bond and mill levy override election as a member of the campaign committee. After the success of that effort, he decided to run for school board.
“What framed my work as a board member was always the question, ‘what’s best for our kids?’,” Johnson said.
He credits his longevity on the board to a lack of any specific personal agenda.
“My efforts were always to just keep things moving, and do what’s best for kids,” he reiterated. “That perspective allowed me to stay as long as have, because there was no frustration about an individual agenda, it was all about watching that evolution.”
Several past and present school district officials and board members acknowledged Johnson’s many years of service on the board.
“Not only his length of service, but also the way in which he has served,” fellow board member Matt Hamilton said. “He has consistently made himself available on a number issues and has been willing to share his expertise in a way that positively benefits our students and staff on everything from the minutiae to the big picture.”
Current Garfield District 16 Superintendent Brad Ray, a former RFSD assistant superintendent and school principal, said Johnson always sought different perspectives.
“He listens and makes informed decisions, always putting students and parents in the forefront of his decisions,” Ray said.
Basalt Elementary School Principal Suzanne Wheeler-Del Piccolo worked with Johnson when he was the BES accountability committee chairperson.
“Bob and a few other parents made a difference for our school community that has carried through for many years now,” Wheeler-Del Piccolo said.
Myles Rovig, who served with Johnson on the board and on various other committees, noted that it was Johnson’s creative theme for the 2004 bond issue, “The Power of Three,” that helped pass the measure.
“I’ve watched and listened to him be a calming influence in times of turmoil, while presenting realistic solutions to sometimes impossible challenges,” Rovig said. “He has done this without drama, but with a huge amount of common sense.”
Johnson was quick to give credit to Shannon Pelland, chief financial officer for the district, for being diligent in staying on top of district finances and helping guide the board through budgets and other fiscal issues.
The accolades are mutual.
“I quickly learned that Bob approaches everything with a positive, can-do attitude, selfless determination, and common sense,” Pelland said. “Bob is not about fanfare, recognition, or notoriety. He is about kids, period.”
Johnson’s wife, Kathy, has also been deeply involved in classroom volunteering and other capacities while their children were in school. Their youngest, Kaity, is currently a sophomore at San Diego State University, and Tim is a senior at University of Colorado-Boulder.