Four years ago Brad Johnson assumed the principal position at Barren County High School.
Four years later, he’s retiring.
Johnson announced his retirement April 11 on Twitter.
“I announced to the staff that this will be my last year as principal of BCHS,” the post said. “I will leave with nothing but love for everyone and great memories.”
Johnson, a 1987 graduate of BCHS, began his journey as a Trojan long before he was principal. Leroy, Johnson’s father, served as assistant principal and Brenda, his mother, taught English at BCHS.
After graduating from BCHS, Johnson attended Western Kentucky University, graduating as an English and history major.
“I never thought about doing anything else,” Johnson said. “I always felt comfortable in English classes, and I always knew I wanted to be an English teacher.”
Johnson helped coach sports at his alma mater while in college. After graduating from WKU in 1991, Johnson was hired at BCHS to teach English during the 1992-1993 school year.
Teaching in currently Jaimie McMillian’s classroom, Johnson taught honors English II, journalism and senior English. His mother taught across the hall, currently Kelley Bauer’s classroom.
Johnson left Barren County High School to pursue new coaching opportunities at Edmonson County High School, where he spent three years of his career. He later moved to Ohio County High School and Grayson County High School before making his return to BCHS in 2014.
After 18 years in the classroom Johnson decided to take online administrative certification classes. While he enjoyed teaching classes like AP Literature and a Shakespeare elective, it was time for something different, according to Johnson.
“I kind of got to the point where I was just ready for a change,” Johnson said.
Former Principal Steve Riley’s administration underwent a makeover in 2014. Three new assistant principals were hired, including Johnson. Trina Rickard and Warren Cunningham also began working in administration during this time.
Riley retired after the 2014-2015 year, leaving a principal vacancy.
While serving as principal wasn’t exactly his plan, Johnson was encouraged to apply.
“I never really thought about it because I stayed so busy with family and coaching,” Johnson said.
Johnson remembers explaining to committees and interviewers that he felt qualified for the job for many reasons – especially since he was a teacher.
“I know the battles teachers face,” Johnson said. “I think that’s why I felt qualified for it.”
Johnson was introduced May 20, 2015 as the new principal of Barren County High School. He began work July 1, 2015.
Johnson has kept one idea in his leading philosophy over the last few years – positive school culture and making staff and students feel good about being at BCHS every day.
“I really had my heart in it,” Johnson said. “I think a lot of my career as a teacher I didn’t realize the need.”
Identifying need and looking out for one another has been an instrumental part in the school’s culture under Johnson’s administration.
“I told the teachers from day one to watch for troubled kids – kids that need,” Johnson said.
While teaching staff to look for students in need, Johnson had another idea. His new idea stemmed from the realization that students should look out for each other.
“It occurred to me in front of a group of kids in the auditorium that we all need to look out for each other,” Johnson said.
That was just the beginning.
Later, after reading a story about a coach from the University of Southern California, Johnson implemented “Trojans looking out for Trojans,” a phrase used every day at Barren County High School.
The idea of the initiative is to create a school environment where everyone feels cared about, according to Johnson.
“I try to tell kids, and give off the vibe, that I always have time for you,” Johnson said. “I’m worried about everybody having a good day.”
Several other ideas have stemmed from “Trojans looking out for Trojans.” Since its introduction, a school resource store has been created, allowing students to obtain items from school supplies to clothes and food.
“When you’re principal you get to know home situations more and you get to know economic situations more,” Johnson said. “You get to see how needy some people are – that had a lasting impact on me.”
After his retirement announcement, several families reached out to thank him for his dedication to their students’ lives, according to Johnson.
“It’s been a blessing of my life,” Johnson said.
While the “good days outweigh the bad” for Johnson, there are times when being principal is tough, according to Johnson.
“There’s an edge to this job,” Johnson said. “There’s a tension that goes along with it.”
That’s what led Johnson to retire. Educators can retire after 27 year in the field. While this is Johnson’s 27 year, he feels retirement is best to maintain his health and overall well-being.
“I still feel good, and I feel healthy,” Johnson said. “I don’t want the weight of the job to make me unhealthy.”
The decision was everything but easy, according to Johnson.
“I cried all the way home,” Johnson said. “I prayed about it a lot and thought about it a lot.”
While he will step away as the head of the school, he said he would like to find a way to continue to help students.
“I’m not going to look back,” Johnson said. “I’m going to move on and hopefully be in some position where I can help people.”
Citing the best advice he’s received, Johnson said there’s always two right decisions, but one has to be chosen. In reality, he chose retirement because he felt it would allow him to benefit himself and his family.
Johnson will work through June 30 before passing his position to a new principal. After June 30, he is required to take 90 days from working in a school.
“After that I’m wide open,” Johnson said. “I’m not a sit around the house type of person.”
Through his time as principal, Johnson has made a lasting impact on students and staff.
Letitia Hughes, Barren County Early College Magnet School Principal, has worked with Johnson since he was hired.
“He’s a great boss, and I will miss working for him,” Hughes said. “Retirement is an exciting thing.”
Lee Johnson, assistant principal and former teacher, said he has enjoyed working with Brad because he looks out for students and will go the extra mile for kids.
When one student’s fundraiser money was stolen, Brad personally gave the student replacement money so they didn’t have to worry.
Stepping above his normal duties has been Brad’s goal throughout his time as principal. According to Lee, whoever is hired will have to live up to Johnson’s work.
“Anytime you lose a leader like Mr. Johnson, you feel uncertainty,” Lee said.
Bethany Schalk, junior, said Johnson has been an influential person at BCHS, and she is sad to see him go before her senior year.
“He is a very selfless individual that always puts students first,” Schalk said. “He will be hard to replace.”
As for Johnson, he hopes his presence has made a difference in someone’s life.
“If I’ve impacted one person in a positive way that makes it worth it for me,” Johnson said. “That’s what I care about.”
Kaity Martin and Brennan Crain made contributions to this story.