Johnston accepts division top job

Mark Johnston

New Shenandoah County schools Superintendent Dr. Mark Johnston retired from the division just a year ago, but returned as interim superintendent last month after Dr. Jeremy Raley resigned at the end of June.

On Thursday night, the School Board voted unanimously to hire Johnston for the division’s top job, effective Sept. 1.

Johnston, 55, of Fort Valley, had worked previously in Shenandoah County as director of human resources before retiring in August 2015.

“I retired because, after just two short years, we had accomplished a number of substantial initiatives in human resources with the School Board and the superintendent’s support as outlined in the School Board’s goals,” Johnston said.

Among the changes, he said, was the correction of salary inequities, the adoption of a compensation policy and regulations, the creation of benchmarked salaries to market rates and a salary scale schedule.

“Given all those accomplishments of a large group of staff and the board, I felt it was the right time to pursue other opportunities, both personal and professional,” he added.

He said he agreed to come back to the school division “because I felt like I could be of service to the students, staff, School Board and community, given that I could ensure a smooth transition at a critical time of the year.”

He added, “After being back and working on some of the challenges and rekindling relationships and getting to visit with students in the summer programs and parents, I realized how much I missed it, how much we might accomplish, and how keeping the division moving forward was of critical importance.”

He called the school division the “gem of the valley” and added that it’s an exciting time to be a part of education and that he looks forward to continuing to “communicate and support the excellence of the division and the opportunities for our students.”

Johnston said that with his experiences here in the valley, as well as in Arlington Public Schools and Fairfax and Prince William County public schools, he feels that “I have a skill set and style that will be beneficial for moving the division forward in supporting our students and staff to the benefit of our community.”

Johnston added that he also served as the resource teacher for gifted students at North Fork Middle School and Stonewall Jackson High School from 2012 to 2013.

“It truly was an exciting year and was helpful, having served in central office leadership for the previous 11 years, to be back in the classroom as a teacher, working in schools, and most importantly, supporting the goals, dreams and desires of the students I got to work with,” he said.

While negotiations have not been finalized on his contract, Johnston’s annual base salary beginning Sept. 1 will be $128,000, School Board Chairwoman Karen Whetzel said Friday.

Johnston has been serving as interim superintendent since July 1, when he took over after Raley’s resignation.  Whetzel said the board approved a four-year contract for Johnston, from Sept. 1 until June 30, 2020.

The board had previously looked at bids from outside recruitment firms to assist with the selection process of a new superintendent at a closed session last week, but Whetzel said members decided to appoint Johnston on their own, saving the county money.

If the board had chosen to hire a firm, Whetzel added that the search for a superintendent would have been a long process and Johnston had a six-month limit as interim superintendent.

Wheztel said that when they learned they would need an interim superintendent back in June, previous interim superintendent Kevin Castner, who was temporarily hired after Superintendent Keith Rowland resigned in 2013, suggested Johnston for the position.

Johnston’s $128,000 base salary is the same as Raley’s was at the time of his departure. As stated in his contract, Raley also received an automobile allowance of $500 per month. The School Board also paid the total premiums for family hospitalization and medical insurance for the superintendent, at the lowest deductible level offered by the board. The board also provided compensation for the superintendent’s membership in the Virginia Association of School Administrators, the American Association of School Administrators, the Virginia School Boards Association and other civic organizations. Raley was also provided a cellphone.

As interim superintendent, Johnston is paid a monthly rate of $10,880.

Contact staff writer Kaley Toy at 540-465-5137 ext. 176, or ktoy@nvdaily.com