Spotlight: Dr. Johnnie Marshall (GA '19)February 3, 2020
Dr. Johnnie Marshall (GA ’19) had many inspirational teachers growing up, but not one African American man. That’s one of the reasons he became an educator: “I wanted to be a beacon of light for young scholars, especially those who resembled me.” The assistant principal won the Milken Award at Valdosta Early College Academy (VECA) on October 10, 2019.
Milken Family Foundation: You’ve been a fierce advocate for technology and 1:1 devices at VECA. Why is technology important for your students?
Dr. Johnnie Marshall (GA ’19): The 1:1 iPad Initiative has been the most innovative program I have led at VECA. Initiated in 2012, our collaboration with Valdosta State University (VSU) allowed us to purchase iPads for teachers and students. We built capacity with teachers, students, parents and community members, and within a year we were able to deploy iPads to the entire student body. Through faculty workshops and the orchestration of the vTech Squad (student technology leadership team), I was able to build capacity within our learning community.
As the years progressed, teachers found their unique technological niches with various apps and programs. Those teachers became the gurus and support faculty members for implementation in other classes. As a result, our scholars have reaped the benefits of creating a technology-rich ecosystem. Leveraging iPads has strengthened our literacy goals by providing opportunities for students to express their content mastery creatively.
Furthermore, teachers can evaluate students and provide feedback instantaneously by seamlessly integrating evidence-based strategies with technology. This approach allows for students to validate their skills or modify any misconceptions before completing the lesson. The intentionality of tech integration is a game-changer!
MFF: What made you decide to teach?
Johnnie: As long as I can remember, I wanted to pursue education as a teacher and administrator. I used to play school with my sister and cousin at my grandparents’ home. Several factors played a role in my decision: hearing family stories of triumphs and challenges, working hard on the family farm, gaining critical thinking and leadership skills from school and faith-based teachings.
While in school, I had the heart to help those around me and encourage them to do their best. I had many passionate teachers who saw potential in me and allowed me opportunities to lead and help them during pre-planning and post-planning.
Although I was blessed to have phenomenal teachers throughout my K-12 experience, I did not have one academic African American male teacher. Nationally, African American male educators are the lowest percentage of educators in American schools. I wanted to be a beacon of light for young scholars, especially those who resembled me. Committing and dedicating my career path in education allows me to serve as a role model for all learners.
MFF: How was your first year of teaching?
Johnnie: It was a major success, in large part because I accepted a position at VECA, a program I loved, understood and built a strong relationship with during my teaching apprenticeship and student teaching. My principal, Ms. Ingrid Hall, and mentor teacher, Mrs. Lanita McDuffie, and the entire VECA/VSU family all provided support and encouragement the whole year. To teach in a unique learning ecosystem with passionate educators and great students is a dream come true. My transition into the classroom was very natural. I wish all teachers had such great leadership during their first year.
MFF: What do you like about middle and high school students?
Johnnie: Being part of an early college academy (grades 6-12) is a unique experience. Middle school is such a critical time in a teen’s life. During these years, they are learning themselves while developing socially, emotionally, psychologically, physically and morally. They require guidance, support and mentorship. There’s never a dull moment!
As students move to high school, they become more mature, independent and critical thinkers. You’re able to relinquish power and responsibility and help them navigate challenges and solve problems responsibly. As both a teacher and administrator, you have the privilege to watch students transform before your eyes. I have the honor to watch the timid, shy sixth-grader blossom into the emerging confident senior scholar who soars as a dual enrollment student by obtaining 30+ college credits before leaving high school.
MFF: As VECA’s parent and family engagement coordinator, you spend a lot of time developing relationships with parents and caregivers. How does this help your students?
Johnnie: There’s a familiar African adage: “It takes a village to raise a child.” In a fast-evolving world, our village’s commitment to cultivating productive citizens who are ready to take on life’s triumphs, challenges and surprises will depend on our ability to collaborate to meet the needs of our students.
Our school partners closely with parents and caregivers to support the academic and behavioral progression of our students. Through parent-teacher conferences, Parent Academies, Financial Aid sessions and other parent workshops, we provide our parents with resources and strategies to support their students at home. Creating a sustainable bridge between school and home establishes a stronger support system for students. By providing academic learning centers at home with high expectations, our parents and caregivers can reinforce the learning that takes place in school.
MFF: Who are your role models?
Johnnie: My wife, Dr. Marci Marshall, is a driven educator who advocates for her students. Whether at the collegiate level or in a middle school AVID classroom, she’s committed to providing the resources needed to support students while requiring high expectations to achieve success. I’m beyond grateful for her unconditional support for me from day one.
My mentor teacher, Mrs. Lanita McDuffie, has served as my educational angel. Her mentorship, guidance and teaching pedagogy have provided me with a great philosophy on how to instruct, assess and challenge learners while building positive, authentic relationships.
Dr. Mae McKinney, my fierce principal, is a transformational and servant leader. Through her actions, she has provided me with the blueprint to becoming a successful principal. Her passion for education, coupled with her calm spirit, competency and moral compass, are guiding lights and examples to everyone she encounters. I’m grateful to serve under her exemplary leadership.
Dr. Brain Gerber and Dr. Andy Brovey, both incredible mentors from VSU, have both showed me the importance of dreaming big. Furthermore, their visionary abilities and creative insights helped redefine what 20th century teaching and learning can become with cutting-edge technology.
The Apple Distinguished Educator’s (ADE) community and Apple Education staff are by far one of the most excellent collections of inspirational educators and mentors to me. As trusted advisors, passionate advocates, authentic authors and global ambassadors, these individuals’ talent coupled with creativity, collaboration and problem-solving tendencies have propelled classrooms and schools across the world to think differently about education.
And special recognition to all my Whigham School and Cairo High School teachers who pushed, motivated and encouraged me to strive for excellence during my K-12 educational journey.
MFF: How did you feel at your Milken Educator Award notification?
Johnnie: Four days before the assembly, our staff was notified that the state school superintendent was visiting our school. One of my roles for assemblies is preparing and providing logistics for the school. After the conversation, I asked Dr. McKinney: Are we getting a new school? Are we receiving an award for our early college model? She said, “You’ll see.” I left it at that.
As the assembly was unfolding and we learned about the Award, I remember thinking, This could be any of our teachers! They are all rock stars! When Dr. [Jane] Foley announced my name, I was in shock. I remember standing and hearing everyone cheering. I’m usually not caught off guard, but my Milken Award notification caught me off guard.
It was indeed a blessing! I will never forget the Milken Educator Award notification experience. There are many deserving educators in my school, district and state. To be selected from so many worthy educators is truly an honor.
MFF: How did students respond to your Milken Award?
Johnnie: My students were exceedingly excited. They were very shocked, just like me. I was still on cloud nine during lunch duty later that day. Both middle and high school students congratulated me and asked the popular question, “What are you going to do with that money?” One sixth grader said, “Dr. Marshall, that is your blessing!” Several of my former students who attend the local university stopped by the school to congratulate me too.
MFF: Any plans for the $25,000?
Johnnie: My wife and I will use the monetary gift to save, invest and share.
MFF: How do you define “success” for yourself, and for your students?
Johnnie: Success is accomplished when one completes a worthy goal. Whether it’s a short-term goal or a significant milestone, completing a task to the best of your ability is a success.
Ultimately, I believe success is defined when we fulfill our divine purpose in life, rooted in contributing to society and humanity for the good of the world. Success is achieved when my students “win” by persevering through life challenges with grit, determination, and character.
MFF: What do you want students to remember from their time with you?
Johnnie: Upon graduating from VECA, I want my scholars to know their dreams can quickly become their realities with perseverance, faith and a mindset to never give up. I want my emerging scholars to take advantage of the 21st-century learning experiences they encountered at VECA. These experiences are infused with tools of critical thinking, communication, collaboration and creativity. With these tools, scholars are equipped with the intellectual capacities to become contributing stewards of the world. Their knowledge and character become their unlocking key to a bountiful future. And two important mantras: “Exceed Expectations” and “We Sink or Swim Together!”
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