By Mike Marsee
Tim Johnson has been teaching music in Jessamine County since 1979, and he had no desire to do anything else. That is, until his boss made him an offer he couldn’t refuse.
Jessica Greene got the same offer, and like Johnson, she couldn’t resist it, either.
Now the two of them have become Jessamine County’s first district-wide arts and humanities coordinators – and among the first educators in Kentucky to hold such a position.
Johnson and Greene share one full-time position, which allows them to divide the responsibilities of the newly-created position and to spend an ample amount of time in the schools.
District officials felt they needed the position to allow their schools to better organize and emphasize their arts and humanities activities, as well as to assist arts and humanities teachers with program reviews.
“The board just feels very strongly that we have so many incredible opportunities for our students that we need some form of organization at the district level to coordinate all the many opportunities we have for our kids,” Jessamine County Superintendent Kathy Fields said.
Johnson said he’s glad to have the chance to do those things and to continue to work in the classroom.
“It’s an incredible opportunity, and I’m just really grateful that we have this opportunity,” Johnson said.
Johnson most recently served as the band director at East Jessamine High School, and Greene was the choir director at West Jessamine High School.
“I don’t think either of them were totally ready to leave the classroom, so it took a little persuasion on our part,” Fields said. “This particular position as coach and coordinator allowed them to still stay connected to students, which was very important to them, and it allowed them to stay connected to their craft, which was very important to them.”
Fields said Greene and Johnson were chosen because of the work they had done in the schools, and she said she and the Jessamine County Board of Education, which approved the new position in November, didn’t want to take that away from them.
“They’re actually in the schools, in the work. They have their hands dirty,” Fields said. “They were chosen because of their level of expertise and because they’re very well respected by their peers, so it was a great opportunity to get them back in their schools.”
The two teachers said it’s also a great opportunity to demonstrate the Jessamine County schools’ commitment to the arts.
“With the creation of these positions, it has made it very clear that the arts and humanities are a priority in Jessamine County,” Greene said.
Both Greene and Johnson are more “instructional coach” than administrator, which is just the way they like it.
“Telling your students that you’re leaving midyear is not easy, but being able to help those same students and the rest of the district is an easier transition,” said Greene, who is in her sixth year in the Jessamine County schools.
“They knew that I didn’t want a paper-pusher. I wanted a person out there to be that extra set of eyes and allow our teachers to do what they do best,” Fields said.
There is some paperwork, as both educators are working with teachers on program reviews, assisting schools evaluate how they integrate arts and humanities across its curricula, analyze whether they provide students with high-quality learning opportunities and use the information gathered to improve its programs.
“It’s nice to have an extra set of eyes to look at the documentation,” Fields said. “Our schools have done a phenomenal job of identifying those areas where they need to bolster their program, and they can help bolster programs that are lacking or find evidence the teachers may have overlooked in getting that program up to the level where each school wants it to be.”
Greene said they are hoping to make program reviews more relevant and less of a chore.
“The first step was looking at their scores from last year and where it might have seemed they were lacking, and looking at where they should be this year as far as growth,” she said. “I remember (as a teacher) not having any time to look at data, and we went through each school’s data and made suggested growth goals.”
Johnson said that work will benefit students in the district.
“It is sort of shining the spotlight now. It’s shining a light in some areas and putting requirements out there that are not in place,” he said. “It seems to me that a logical result will be that we will hopefully start seeing more of these kinds of positives created.”
He also said the spotlight will shine on arts and humanities careers that students might pursue.
“It’s a huge field out there which to this point we’ve really not been able to focus that much on, and this new career pathway will certainly be beneficial to doing that,” Johnson said. “We are very fortunate to have an administration and school board who sees the importance of arts and humanities in their school system. They were really strongly supporting this, and I guess that’s evident in the creation of this position.”
Fields said the idea of an arts and humanities coordinator had been in the works for a couple of years.
“We probably didn’t realize that we had so many things going on until we had somebody that was actually spearheading that,” she said.
She said it was also a way of dealing with an equity issue.
“We had pockets of programs in some schools that we didn’t have in others,” Fields said.
Johnson’s area of expertise is instrumental music, while Greene’s focus is on vocal music, performance pieces and visual arts.
“I see things that she would not, and likewise she sees things that I would not. It works well to bring our strengths into the picture,” Johnson said.
The two are also attending rehearsals and performances at schools across the district, and they will maintain some of the duties they had as full-time teachers. Greene will continue to work with the show choir and drama department at West Jessamine and is coordinating the production of “Legally Blonde,” a joint venture involving about 60 students from East Jessamine and West Jessamine, while Johnson will continue to write music and will be on the field assisting with East Jessamine’s band camp this summer.
Fields said she isn’t aware of another position like the one Jessamine County has created in any other Kentucky school district, and she said they the two new coordinators were a center of attention at the Kentucky Music Educators Association professional development conference in February.
“Jessica and Tim were quite the celebrities because of their position. I’m so proud of that, because that says Jessamine County is on the cutting edge,” Fields said.
Johnson said he’s happy that his district is putting an emphasis on arts and humanities at a time when they are taking a back seat in many schools and districts.
“In an era where you so often hear about cuts in arts and humanities, it’s refreshing, I’m sure, to a lot of people to see a district that’s actually looking forward,” he said.
Jessica Greene firstname.lastname@example.org
Tim Johnson email@example.com
Kathy Fields firstname.lastname@example.org