Jeff Johnson bent down to shake hands with a tiny girl walking into Silverthorne Elementary with her parents.
“The first day is all about seeing the kids and letting them see me,” said Johnson, the school’s new principal. “Being 6-3 and bald can be a little intimidating, especially if you’re 6.”
Johnson couldn’t stop smiling and saying “Happy First Day!” as he greeted families and gave students high-fives and fist bumps.
“I’ve been ready for this day all summer,” he said.
He prepared himself to act as the late bell if it didn’t go off properly. Then he read the announcements, starting with “top of the morning!” ending with “adios” and filling the middle with a bit about the lunch menu. “French toast. Mmm!”
The rest of Johnson’s morning involved making sure new teachers were all set as well as popping into classrooms to introduce himself to the kids.
Without using the phrase “first impressions,” he told them that how they acted on the first day was important and would show others at school if they were kind, helpful or friendly.
Johnson, a Colorado native, taught elementary PE for 11 years in Fort Collins before being asked to take on the role of assistant principal at a high school.
Suddenly, he said, “I went from teaching kids the intricacies of Hula-Hooping to helping high schoolers figure out their pathway in the postsecondary world.”
He worked as a school administrator there and in Douglas County, then spent two years as an elementary principal in Montrose before moving to Summit. Now, as head of a school with roughly 300 students and 50 staff members, he’s adjusting to the smallest school he’s ever worked at.
He was attracted to the position at Silverthorne Elementary because of the district-wide IB program, the school’s diversity of language and culture and the shorter distance to friends and family on the Front Range.
Johnson comes from a family of educators as his wife recently retired from education and one of his two adult daughters is a teacher.
He replaces Dianna Hulbert, who retired in June, and said he was grateful for the incredible teachers she brought on and staff culture she created.
“I’ll be honest, there’s pressure to continue performing at such a high level,” he said, adding that he didn’t sleep much Monday night. “I wanted everything for that first day back with staff to be perfect because they deserve it.”
Sitting in his office while classical music played in the background, Johnson said he’ll continue to face some sleepless nights and nervous moments as he encounters other firsts throughout the year and navigates the line between leading and following the lead of his veteran staff members.
“I have a responsibility for every person that comes into our school,” he said, something he doesn’t take lightly.
Good thing the school’s teachers and support staff, whom he described as truly generous, will answer his countless questions.
“It’s not about me. It’s about us” he said. “We’re all in this together.”