By Clyde Hughes | AC JosepH Media
UPPER DEERFIELD TOWNSHIP – As a former football coach, Terence Johnson has always been attracted to helping students reach their God-given potential, whether on the field or off it.
That knack followed him when he became a school administrator and his hard work was honored last year when he was named the New Jersey State Assistant Principal of the Year for 2019 by the New Jersey Principals and Supervisors Association (NJPSA)/National Association of Secondary School Principals.
Johnson, an assistant principal at Cumberland Regional High School, said he knew his principal Ralph Aiello had nominated him but the competition was competitive with many outstanding educators throughout New Jersey.
“Yes I was surprised [to receive the award],” Johnson, 50, who received the honor with other top educators in Boston over the summer, told Front Runner New Jersey last week. “I didn’t expect it. I wasn’t seeking it out. I just do my thing but I was humbly honored.”
He was also recognized at the NJPSA State Convention in October. Johnson also received the New Jersey Principals and Supervisors Association’s Visionary Leader of the Year Award in 2019 as well.
For more than a decade, Johnson has led the Freshman Transition into High School Program at Cumberland Regional, where incoming freshmen are matched up with senior student leaders at the school to help them navigate the often difficult jump from middle school into high school.
Mentoring Making A Difference
Johnson said he was approached by the school superintendent to start such a program and it was something he was already gravitating to. After studying a similar program at another school district in New Jersey for a year, he launched Cumberland’s program.
“I learned that we have some phenomenal leaders in our school,” Johnson said. “Without the program, I would have never gotten to know them and they would not have gotten to know me at the level that they have.
“It’s been very fulfilling to help them find their own leadership responsibilities and own maturity, to see them so invested in other people. I’m excited about their own future. Ideally, the program is for the freshmen, but to see the seniors grow as leaders and personally has been gratifying.”
School officials credited Johnson with the innovative program’s sustained unprecedented success in the targeting areas of positive behaviors, academic success, absenteeism, and on-time graduation, while improving social and emotional skills and school climate.
Setting A Positive Example
Johnson, Cumberland Regional’s lone African-American school administrator, is no stranger to having others look up to him. A former local high school football star, he accepted a full-ride athletic scholarship to the prestigious The Citadel. He coached football for more than a decade, including Bridgeton High School, before going on to graduate school and joining the administration at Cumberland.
He is son of the late Sandra Johnson and William G. Johnson. Johnson donated a kidney to his mother 16 years ago before she passed in 2015.
Johnson, who is married to Bridgeton educator Danna Johnson, said he hopes to set positive examples for other students around him.
“I let what I do speak for itself and let other people follow the example but I do understand how important [being a positive role model] is,” Johnson said.
That role model aspect starts in places close to home for Johnson. His daughter, Jaden, graduated this past spring as valedictorian at Cumberland Regional and is now attending Rowan University as a biology-premed student. His oldest son, Dane, graduated in the top 10 in his high school class and is majoring in psychology at Rowan.
The Johnson’s third child, Cree, is currently will be attended Cumberland next year where she will be a freshman.
“Being able to spend time with them throughout their high school years, being able to walk out the back door and see them in their activities, seeing them in the mornings and here with them during the day has been invaluable,” Johnson said.
“For them to see what I do on a regular basis has been a gift. My youngest is in the eighth grade and will be here next year. I want her to have the same opportunity. I’m happy here. Right now I’m happy doing what I’m doing,” he added.
Feature photo courtesy of Terence Johnson. Other photos courtesy of Cumberland Regional High School.
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