Hawthorne Middle/High's Johnson named school-related employee of the year
Published: Wednesday, February 19, 2014 at 1:49 p.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, February 19, 2014 at 1:49 p.m.
Alta Johnson knows there's no point in doing a job halfway.
As the student services specialist at Hawthorne Middle/High School, "you're here for the kids," Johnson said. "So you might as well put in the extra effort."
That's the attitude that won Johnson the 2014 School Related Employee of the Year award for Alachua County Public Schools. She'll represent the county in the state awards program.
"She's a fixture," Principal Libby Hartwell said of Johnson, who has been a full-time employee at the school for 23 years and coached a few Hawthorne Hornets teams before that.
"Feels great," said Johnson, who said she was surprised when she heard she'd won the award. "To be recognized by your peers, it's a great honor."
Johnson, 55, was born and raised in Hawthorne, graduating from Hawthorne High in 1976.
She received a degree in recreational leadership at Santa Fe College, then decided to pursue an education in information technology in California for a change of pace.
But while she was looking for IT jobs out west, plans changed, and she came back to Florida to be closer to ailing family members. It was the right choice, she said.
About 10 years after graduating, she returned to Hawthorne Middle/High as a coach, working with the softball and girls basketball teams. A few years later, she took on a permanent position with student services.
Since then, she has worn many hats.
Johnson also has coached junior varsity and varsity basketball, cross country and volleyball.
She's the wellness coordinator, making sure the students and faculty take care of themselves, and the in-school suspension supervisor, for when students need to be taken care of in a different way.
And even though students get sent to Johnson's room when they're in trouble, they still like her.
She doesn't play, said Larod Gordon, a senior who said he spent a lot of time in ISD during middle school.
But, he said, "She's cool."
Nobody else could do Johnson's job, computer lab proctor Angela Wright said. That's why Wright decided to nominate Johnson for the award.
"She's been here so many years, and she's done so much over the years," Wright said. "A lot of times, she's behind the scenes."
Sometimes Johnson pushes for her students in ways nobody else is. Since 2004, Johnson has organized spring break trips to professional sporting events, taking students to see the Jacksonville Jaguars or the Orlando Magic so they have something to do other than sleep while their parents work that week.
Five years ago, she started an academic signing program, which mirrors high school athletic signing programs. Starting with the class of 2009, seniors make a pledge to keep up their academics and adhere to certain standards. For her end of the bargain, Johnson makes sure they fill out their financial aid forms for college, find scholarships and get their applications in on time.
Many of the students she helps with college applications are the first in their families to continue their education past high school.
"They've got to want to do it, and the parents have to want to see it for them," she said.
Some of them come back to visit, and it makes her feel proud that they're successful.
By now, she's cycled through an entire generation of Hawthorne students, and their children are entering Hawthorne Middle/High.
She'll see them through, too — on the court and in her office.
But more of the former, they hope.
Contact Erin Jester at 338-3166 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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