2020-2021 Superintendents to Watch: Dr. Bryan Johnson

Dr. Bryan Johnson

Dr. Bryan Johnson


Hamilton County Schools
Chattanooga, Tenn.

Twitter: @DrBryanJohnson @hamcoschools

What does leadership mean to you?
I believe great leaders are servants who care enough about those around them to make sure others are successful. The most impactful examples of servant leadership in my life were my parents. My late mother was a social worker and caregiver for many family members. My father lived a life of service, serving our country in the military and as a pastor for 30 years. My parents gave me the example of sharing themselves and their talents selflessly so that those around them could be successful. 

Leaders must have a clear vision that guides their work. My parents laid out a clear path for me to follow. They expected hard work and that I treated others the way I desired to be treated. Once success is experienced, great leaders must celebrate the achievements and ensure the members on their team share in recognition. My parents always celebrated my success, but took no credit. Although they deserve more accolades than I could ever give, I am thankful everyday for the examples they were to me.

How have you integrated communication into your district’s strategic plan?
District leadership worked with the Hamilton County Board of Education and the community to develop a five-year strategic plan to direct the work of the district. Future Ready 2023 includes five main areas of focus: Accelerate Student Achievement, Future Ready Students, Great Teachers and Leaders, Efficient and Effective Operations and Engaged Community. The communications team plans efforts around each of the Action Areas. Our district is committed to strong communications, and it is a function of every area in our strategic plan. Future Ready 2023 also has performance targets, called Focus Five, which set specific goals. The district communications plan consists of campaigns and initiatives around the Focus Five to ensure staff, families and the community are focused on these goals. Future Ready 2023 leads the work of the district and the communications efforts, and the goal of the communications team is to make sure the five-year strategic plan is a living document.

What communication initiative are you most proud of that have you implemented in your district?
When I came to Hamilton County Schools, the district was emerging from a difficult period that included a tragic bus accident with the loss of children's lives and threats of take-over of five schools by the state. Meetings with groups of teachers, students and parents in 2018 listed staff morale and community perception of the district as a problem across all groups. In response, we launched “I Am Hamilton,” a campaign to share the stories of people making a difference for children across the district. The campaign included a video and photo series highlighting the role each person plays in educating children. The series included successful graduates in the community, teachers, support staff, students, parents, volunteers and community leaders. We also distributed “I Am Hamilton” shirts to nominees and shared their stories through digital communications. We are very proud that NSPRA recognized this effort with an NSPRA Golden Achievement Award.

What communication tool do you enjoy using the most in your profession? Why?
Engaging our teachers, families and community in two-way communication is my favorite communications tool. We have involved teachers, parents, students and the community in the transformation of Hamilton County Schools. We hold community listening sessions each year to bring the citizens into the budget-setting process to determine priorities. I also hold what we call “Sit-downs with the Superintendent” with teachers and staff to hear how district policies impact the classroom and what we can do to help teachers be even more effective in reaching children. We also have a Teacher Cabinet, Student Advisory Council and parent advisory committees to gather feedback. Connecting to these groups did not stop during the COVID-19 pandemic as we found new ways to reach people. The district held successful Zoom meetings with better attendance than face-to-face meetings held before the pandemic. The methods may change, but the commitment to two-way communications remains a priority.

How have you used social media in your strategic communication efforts?
Social media is a vital element of communication for Hamilton County Schools. The district uses Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and YouTube to share information with the district's publics and reach them with compelling stories about the staff and students. As superintendent, I seek to be a participant and supporter of social media communications. I regularly record videos, and social media is a great way to share those videos with the public. The district live streams its board meetings to the community on social media, which not only allows the community to see what is happening at school board meetings but also provides an avenue for the public to share their thoughts, ideas and concerns. Facebook Live is utilized for questions and answers about upcoming events in the district and also used to share what is happening in the district's classrooms as teachers work with children.