Utica Community Schools Superintendent Christine Johns is in the fight of her career as she fielded questions for more than an hour Monday night in Louisville, KY, according to WHAS-TV 11 in Kentucky.
Several days after the considered for the superintendent post of the 100,000-plus-student school district, she appeared before parents in a public forum.
On Tuesday evening, the other candidate, Donna Hargens of North Carolina, will go before the public to share her vision of the district’s future.
According to WHAS 11, Johns, who took many questions during the hour-and-a-half forum, prefaced most of her answers by saying she wasn’t completely familiar with the district yet, so she could not provide specific solutions for JCPS.
"What I want to say to you in closing is I don't know everything, but I do know that if we work together we can achieve great things," Johns told WHAS 11.
Johns, 45, continues to drive home her experience as a superintendent at UCS since 2006. Before then, she was the deputy superintendent at Baltimore County Schools.
Hargens, 53, is the chief academic officer for the Wake County Public Schools, a district with 143,000 students in Raleigh, NC. She has served as interim superintendent and deputy superintendent in the district.
“I am a veteran superintendent with five years of experience dealing with raising performance in a high performing school district and at the same time managing some very difficult issues as related to the budget,” Johns told Fox41, the Fox affiliate in Louisville.
Johns has stressed that UCS has more students taking Advanced Placement courses since she took over, and she has put in place international baccalaureate and Chinese language programs.
Kelly Riley, who has worked in the UCS school district for years, and currently has two children and an exchange student at UCS, said initially she was excited about the changes Johns made to the district, but then Johns’ intense push for AP coursework and the international program turned her off.
“Parents wouldn’t be sad to see her go. I hate to say this,” said Riley. "It’s been thrown at us, this AP-driven, college culture.
“As parents we tried to tell her ‘yes’ we agree every student needs to be pushed and everyone needs postgraduate college but not everyone is cut out for the AP,” Riley said.
Riley said Johns placed too much emphasis on elite coursework and did not pay enough attention and funding to the normal coursework.
"The average student is getting left out. All the drive is for the AP classes and all the other classes are falling by the (wayside),” said Riley. “The International Academy is awesome but it's taking the best and brightest teachers from the other schools and placing them there.”
UCS School Board Trustee Gene Klida said Johns has done a great job in raising student curriculum while slashing millions from the district’s budget.
“When she (Johns) came we had no idea the budget situation in Michigan was going to get the way it did. And given her job, I think she did a great job here in UCS,” said Klida.
Klida added that if Johns has the opportunity to help more children at a bigger district achieve greatness, then she would not be sad to see her go.
“It was a win-win situation,” said Klida.
Johns is expected to return to Michigan in time for Monday night’s UCS Board of Education meeting.