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The City Journals

Cyprus ‘hits the lottery’ with Ohio transplant Alicia Johnson

Aug 12, 2020 03:01PM ● By Travis Barton

Alicia Johnson accepts her giant check being named one of Granite School District’s Excel award winners. Johnson jokingly thought about how she was going to cash the check before she got a real one. (Photo courtesy Granite School District)

By Travis Barton | [email protected]

It was almost six years ago and Cyprus principal Robert McDaniel was doing phone interviews with a woman from a small town just outside Columbus, Ohio named Alicia Johnson. 

She was energetic, enthusiastic and had really good ideas, “but you’re never quite sure when you haven’t met someone (in person),” McDaniel recalled.

Safe to say he feels good about the decision to hire Johnson. 

“I refer to it as you hit the lottery,” he said. “You ended up getting someone who far exceeded what we thought we were going to get.”

Johnson, a social studies teacher at Cyprus for the past five years, was recently named an Excel winner in Granite School District. The Excel Awards, sponsored by the Granite Education Foundation, honor the top 10 educators of Granite School District each year. Winners are nominated by students, administrators, parents or colleagues who then fill out an application and then are observed several times.

The Ohio transplant said it was a “huge surprise” when they came to her classroom in March to inform her she won (the day before school was shutdown). Though initially she thought her boyfriend was sending her flowers and balloons at school. 

“Then a horde of people came in after that with a camera, it was very overwhelming, I was trying not to cry, it was very cool,” she said. 

Then in June, district officials came to her home to give her a $1,000 check, but one of those giant cardboard checks. “That’s like a weird bucket list thing to receive a giant check,” she joked. 

But Johnson, who spends most of her free time trying to improve her teaching ability, repeatedly said how honored she felt to be chosen. 

“There's so many great teachers just in my building so I can't even imagine how many awesome ones there are in the district or state,” she said. “It's very overwhelming.”

Johnson considered different careers before deciding on education. She started out planning to be an orthodontist, then wanted to be a social worker. But it was after she shadowed her favorite teacher in high school that solidified her career plans. 

“I think that was the moment where I saw that this one teacher was having an impact in multiple ways throughout the school,” she said. “And that’s what inspired me.” 

Johnson teaches a wide variety of classes and students including AP world history, core world history, special education and English as a second language classes. She also serves as the student body officers adviser. 

“She teaches extra classes, more than what she would regularly do just because there's so many kids that want her as a teacher and she wants to just stay highly engaged,” McDaniel said. “She always takes on the extra classes.” 

Her philosophy centers on and around the kids. McDaniel said he hears from students all the time about how committed Johnson is to helping them. Which makes sense considering Johnson’s teaching philosophy centers on and around the kids. 

“I really try to give the kids the benefit of the doubt the best that I can usually,” Johnson said. “I always tell them, I’'m not going to give up. I'm going to continue to harass you until you reach the potential that I know you are capable of.’” 

“Don't ever give up on them, they're great kids.”

 That connection with her kids led to a significant increase in AP world history. 

“A couple years that program was carrying one or two classes at the most,” McDaniel said. “It's now our largest AP class, over 200 kids take it.” It’s grown so much, Johnson is now training another teacher to help carry the load. 

But being the hands-on teacher Johnson is, cultivating relationships with students, becomes more difficult in an online world. “Online teaching was awful, it took away the best part of my job which is the students.” 

Johnson is hopeful and positive about the future of teaching though. If the current moment can be used to reflect and improve how students are educated, and if the powers that be listen to teachers and those part of the system, rather than people who have not seen a classroom in 30 years. 

But for now, Johnson can enjoy teaching at a school in a town she loves. 

“I love Magna so much,” she said. “The people that live there care about their community. They try to make the best decisions for their families, they're really hard working. I've never had a parent or student do anything awful to me, they're great people.” 

Johnson chose Utah since her boyfriend grew up in the state and moved back here after finishing his time with the military. There were more teaching opportunities out here so she decided to search for a job. 

Safe to say she feels good about moving west. 

“Probably one of the best decisions I’ve made so far in life.”