California State University, Fresno alumnus Marcus P. Johnson, the superintendent of the Sanger Unified School District, is the 2011 AASA National Superintendent of the Year for his work turning his under-performing district into a model of accomplishment.

Johnson was honored Thursday, Feb. 17, at the opening ceremony of the American Association of School Administrators’ National Conference on Education in Denver. The association, founded in 1865, counts more than 13,000 educational leaders worldwide as members.

In announcing the selection, Daniel Domenech, the association executive director, praised Johnson “because he has walked the talk and has demonstrated that underachieving schools can turn around and become institutions where all children learn. Education reform is alive and thriving in the hands of many superintendents and Marc Johnson is proof positive.”

At the Renaissance Group national conference in 2008, teacher-education leaders learned about the collaboration between Sanger Unified and Fresno State’s Kremen School of Education and Human Development that helped children for whom English is a new language improve achievement scores. The Renaissance Group is a Fresno State-based consortium of 32 universities nationwide devoted to teacher preparation.

Fresno State and Sanger Unified devised multiple strategies to close the student achievement gap through partnerships involving teacher education. They included curriculum and instruction master’s degree cohorts, teacher professional development institutes, the university-headquartered Central Valley Educational Leadership Institute and Springboard (after-school programs) coaching for administrators.

Sanger Unified became one of the first California districts to exit Program Improvement – its status under the No Child Left Behind Act in 2004. Since then, 13 Sanger schools have been designated as State Distinguished Schools, 12 as Title I Academic Achieving Schools; two named National Blue Ribbon Schools; and all 13 elementary schools honored for character development programs.

Sanger Unified’s Washington Academic Middle School recently was named one of the states five high-performing schools in the 2011 School to Watch – Taking Center Stage model schools program, announced by California Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson.

Johnson has been superintendent of the Sanger district since 2003. Sanger Unified, just east of Fresno, whose 19 schools serve 10,800 students, 82 percent of whom are minorities, 24 percent of whom are English learners and 76 percent of whose household economic income makes them eligible for free and reduced-price lunches.

An educator for 27 years, Johnson is a graduate of Reedley College, Fresno State and Fresno Pacific University. In 2010, he received Distinguished Alumnus awards from Fresno State and Reedley College.

“I have worked with districts in all 50 states and every province in Canada,” said nationally known education author and consultant, Richard P. DuFour, “and I consider Marc Johnson the most effective superintendent I have ever seen.” DuFour’s book, “Raising the Bar and Closing the Achievement Gap,” featured Sanger Unified’s accomplishment.

Johnson was chosen from among four finalists for the national honor, which is based on creative leadership, communication, professionalism and community involvement.

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