Hamilton County's five i-Zone schools, and eleven others with low test scores are a top priority for Dr. Bryan Johnson.  Assuming his first superintendent job at the age of 34, the Nashville native is sensitive to the barrage of criticism the schools have endured. The schools are Brainerd High, Dalewood and Orchard Knob Middle Schools, and Woodmore and Orchard Knob Elementary Schools.  The schools have consistently scored in the bottom five percent in statewide achievement scores, and have been the subject of takeover talks by the State Department of Education.

Johnson said, "I'm going to challenge the media, and the community. Let's quit talking about these schools like they're the worst things in the world.  We know what the (achievement test) data says.  Before I was good at anything, people told me I was good, and that led me to bring my work up to that level of expectation. So when we talk about these schools as if nothing's being done, and nobody's trying, we need to be changing the narrative to the opportunity that exists at those schools." 

Johnson is a former football and basketball player, teacher, coach and  principal. He's now a husband and dad of two children, ages 6 and 16.  They will attend Hamilton County schools.  "That's something I strongly believe in," he said. "If our public schools aren't good enough for my children, they're not good enough for any children."

He listens to gospel music in his down time, and recently shed fifty pounds.  He has signed on for what some call an impossible job, leading a school system facing scrutiny from the state, and attempting to fix decaying buildings with no hope of extra money from the county. He says he likes a challenge. "I think it's a great opportunity, we're in the right position, to capitalize on a lot of things, and support from so many in the community," he said. "When you look at the workforce that's who it will be, these 44,000 students."

Johnson says he'll empower principals to be leaders in their communities, and will launch a renewed effort to identify, hire and keep the best teachers. He hopes to reverse the exodus of good educators to nearby counties and states. "We want to retain our teachers," he said. "We train them, and we invest in them, so we want to keep our talent in Hamilton County." 

He knows that Hamilton County's three previous superintendents (Jesse Register, Jim Scales and Rick Smith) left under duress, often the subject of controversy and buyouts.  He says his goal is to serve, and when it comes time to leave, "hopefully a long time from now," he aims for a happy ending.  He said, "I want Hamilton Co schools to be seen as a system others look at and say, if you want to see a good, large diverse school system, go to Hamilton County."

Dr. Johnson is kicking off his Community Listening Tour. The first town hall-style event will take place Thursday August 3 at The Teacher’s Place (1161 W. 40th Street, Chattanooga) at 6:30 p.m.

Here is the full list of locations and dates:

  • Monday 8/7/17 Orchard Knob Elem. School 6:30 p.m. (Dist. 4)
  • Thursday 8/10/17 Red Bank Baptist Church 6:30 p.m. (Dist. 2)
  • Monday 8/14/17 East Ridge Community Center 6:30 p.m. (Dist. 8)
  • Tuesday 8/15/17 Bayside Baptist Church 6:30 p.m. (Dist. 9)
  • Monday 8/21/17 Clear Creek Church of Christ 6:30 p.m. (Dist. 3)
  • Thursday 8/24/17 Apison Baptist Church 7 p.m. (Dist. 7)
  • Monday 8/28/17 Brainerd High School 6:30 p.m. (Dist. 5)
  • Tuesday 8/29/17 Soddy Daisy High School 6:30 p.m. (Dist. 1)
  • READ MORE | Hamilton Co. school board discusses other options for I-Zone schools