Damian Johnson gives a presentation on education legislation.

Damian Johnson gives a presentation on education legislation. Johnson, the 1993 valedictorian at Jenkins High School, plans on establishing a culture of high expectations, hard work and accountability during his tenure as superintendent of Jenkins Independent Schools.
Submitted photo

Editor’s Note: This is the fourth of a series of stories Kentucky Teacher is running about new superintendents for the 2020-2021 school year.

By Jacob Perkins

Damian Johnson will lead the way at Jenkins Independent beginning in the 2020-2021 school year, but this is far from his first stop in the district. In fact, this isn’t even the first time Johnson has proved to be a leader in Jenkins.

“I am the class of 1993 valedictorian at Jenkins High School,” he said, explaining his family ties to the district.

Johnson’s mother is a Jenkins graduate and his son and daughter both are current students at the high school.

“I got my superintendent’s certification with the hopes of having an opportunity to be the superintendent here,” Johnson said. “My heart is at Jenkins and it is my honor and privilege to have the opportunity to serve as superintendent.”

It was that sense of tradition that made Johnson accept the role.

“Jenkins has a long, rich history. This district was established in 1912 and built on the coal industry,” Johnson said. “In the past, our district has had a reputation of being top-notch. However, like many eastern Kentucky towns, Jenkins has been decimated by the decline of coal and subsequent job losses.”

This decline has had a discernable impact on the school, Johnson said.

“Jenkins has given so much to me and my family. I want the opportunity to give back and to help return Jenkins to its former glory,” he said.

So how does he plan on doing this? He plans on establishing a culture of high expectations, hard work and accountability. 

“I want the district to be in a better spot instructionally, financially and culturally when I leave,” Johnson said. “I want to have instituted programs that give our students opportunities beyond those that are currently available. I hope to create a culture in which students and staff alike are proud to be associated with Jenkins.”

Amid the current COVID-19 pandemic, Johnson knows he will have a tough road ahead as he plans to navigate reopening as a new superintendent. Thanks to lessons learned in his youth at his father’s construction company, he’s up for the challenge.

“I worked with him during summers and breaks from school and college until I graduated and began my teaching career,” he said. “I learned many lessons from him, including that there is no substitute for hard work. He taught me that you only get out what you put into something and that you should give an honest day’s work for an honest day’s pay. These are lessons that I believe would serve anyone well, no matter the profession.”

Early in Johnson’s education career, he worked with at-risk youth. He said that those experiences were “eye-opening” and “life changing.”

“I realized the struggles and disadvantages that so many of our students face,” Johnson said. “I also learned that we as educators have an avenue through which we can help students to change their lives for the better.

“Education is one of the greatest determinants of success. I have always thought that the higher your level of education, the more opportunities you’d have. It has been said that education is the great equalizer. Many students come from homes where education is not valued. I wanted the chance to show students that an education is a path to a better life.”