Chip Johnson retires

Published 11:18 am Friday, August 8, 2014

Chip Johnson

Chip Johnson, assistant principal at Polk County Middle School, will retire Sept. 1 after a 27-year career in public education. The Polk County Board of Education is interviewing candidates for the position, and expects to announce his replacement at the Aug. 11 school board meeting.

From a family of educators, Johnson, 55, began his teaching career in Polk County in 1983 after completing his degree in physical education at the University of South Carolina Upstate (then USC Spartanburg).  He taught biology and North Carolina history at Tryon High School and physical education at Tryon Elementary. During that year he also coached football, basketball and baseball.

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He returned to his native South Carolina for the next four years where Johnson taught physical education for the emotionally handicapped in Richland District 1.

“These were inner city kids,” said Johnson. “We got to do new activities that they had never heard of like flag football, soccer and archery.” He described himself as an “itinerant, traveling teacher” of this special population of students, as he rotated between schools in the Columbia area.

Johnson then returned to Polk County schools where he has remained for the rest of his career. During this time he completed his master’s degree in school administration at Gardner-Webb University and he saw the consolidation and merger of the high schools and the middle schools in the county.

In 1989, Johnson joined Polk Central High School as the coordinator for the emotionally handicapped students. He also coached girl’s basketball, was the assistant football coach, and was named acting assistant principal.

He then spent four years at Saluda School teaching physical education and coaching girl’s basketball. In 1996 he was named assistant principal of the middle school grades at Polk Central (when it was Pre-K through eighth grades). When the new middle school in Mill Spring was built in 2004, he moved with the middle school students to the new location.

“I think our kids are proud of their school,” said Johnson. “The kids now have their own identity, as separate from when they were grouped with elementary or high school.”

“In merging the schools the school system did it right. You could see how mature our kids became, almost overnight. We’re in a much better place now,” Johnson added.

As the assistant principal for the middle school, Johnson’s duties have included coordinating bus schedules, lunch duty, teacher observations, building maintenance and supplies, as well as chaperoning dances and other sports activities. One important aspect of his job is the handling of disciplinary issues.

“Every day is different. There are lots of rewards when kids turn it around and get it together,” said Johnson. “We’re on a mission for children. We’re raising them, we’re guiding them. Every day is a challenge, and it’s very rewarding.”

Physical fitness is not just a daytime job for Johnson. Competitive by nature, he set numerous fitness goals for himself through the years including a 5K, half marathon, marathon, and the Assault on Mt. Mitchell bicycle race. He regularly swims and cycles. He said that as he goes into retirement he is not sure what his next fitness goal will be, other than to help his high school age son train and compete.

“I hate leaving here,” said Johnson. “I love it here and you cannot find a better school system,” he added. Johnson said that he is retiring in order to take care of his mother since his father’s death.

“What a jewel this place is. As far as the administration – from the school board to all the principals – I’ve been very lucky from the get-go,” said Johnson.

“Chip Johnson has been a valuable member of the Polk County Schools for almost 30 years, serving as a teacher, coach and administrator,” said Bill Miller, Polk County’s superintendent of education.

“He will be missed but we wish him only the best in the next phase of his life and are very thankful for his service to students and families of our community,” Miller added.

Approximately ten interviews are scheduled the week of Aug. 4 to select Johnson’s replacement, according to Miller.