At a time when the word "education" carries so much controversy in Utah, Claudette Johnson is happy to be an educator.
The new principal of St. Francis Xavier Regional School in Kearns was, admittedly, a bit nervous when she assumed her new post on Aug. 29. Though she had taught school for 14 years, she had never held an administrative position. Until now.In the seven weeks that have rolled by since that first traumatic day, she has already come to love her job. Her situation is one many public educators only dream of.
"The school is small enough that I can still be with the children frequently. I enjoy a close association with the teachers. And I even find time to teach music."
She teaches four 30-minute music classes on Tuesdays and Thursdays to grades 1-4, and two 30-minute classes on Wednesdays to the kindergarten children. The music ranges from game songs to liturgical ones.
Johnson is the only lay person serving as principal of a local Catholic grade school. The others schools in the area all have sisters as principals.
She said she learned of the opening earlier this year through an acquaintance, so she applied, and was pleasantly surprised when she was hired.
Johnson is no newcomer to the church's school system. She came to St. Francis with 10 years of parochial school experience, having taught literature, social studies and music at St. Vincent School in Salt Lake.
While she thoroughly enjoys teaching, Johnson says she has adapted well to the challenges of administrative work.
St. Francis Xavier has offered preschool and kindergarten for 32 years, but the grade school has operated on and off. On several occasions over the years, grades 1 through 4 were eliminated. Three years ago, these grades were added again.
Johnson says enrollment this year is about 180 children - about 50 of them in preschool and 132 in kindergarten through fourth grades.
Although new in her role as principal, Johnson has wasted no time in establishing and prioritizing her goals.
They range from upgrading the school's library, acquiring a complete set of textbooks and purchasing playground equipment, to more philosophical pursuits. She says the school "must teach the children to love learning. We want them to view learning as something really wonderful."
She also wants to remind the children of the school's philosophy, which is "to create a Christian living environment in which all involved can grow to a realization of God working in their lives."
Johnson said that children must learn to be representatives of Christ, and to treat everyone in a Christ-like manner.
She says the school must also teach students moral and spiritual values, as well as ethical standards of conduct and basic integrity.
"One thing the children are doing next week is participating in the National Red Ribbon Campaign - National Federation of Parents for Drug-free Youth," Johnson said.
Colleen Bangerter is scheduled to speak to students about drugs in an assembly Wednesday.
"Children have to decide before confrontation with a problem what stand they will take." She said if they are wishy-washy and indecisive, they become extremely vulnerable. Swayed by their peers, they will make the wrong decision.
"They need to know the proper information and use it to make the right decision."
As far as physical resources go, Johnson said she's attempting to upgrade the library "by filling it with dictionaries, up-to-date encyclopedias and good books. So far, the kinds of books that have been donated are mostly fiction."
Johnson was born in Price, raised in Provo, and moved to Salt Lake when she attended the University of Utah. She graduated from the U. in elementary education, but has since returned to get a second endorsement for teaching in middle school.
Her graduate work has included classes in curriculum development and educational administration.
She is married to Lynn Johnson, a photographer for the Salt Lake Tribune. They have three children - Catherine, 16; Stephanie, 14; and Anthony, 11.
Although Johnson has signed a one-year contract as principal, she hopes to continue her position for some time.
"My goal, as well as that of Father Mayo (pastor/administrator of the school), is to make St. Francis Xavier the best school in the valley," she said.