GREENFIELD — Eden Principal Joey Johnson will retire this year after 34 years in education.
A playful pause greeted Greenfield-Central School Board president Retta Livengood when she asked for a motion to approve Johnson’s retirement at Monday’s board meeting.
“I told Joey he was too young to retire,” board member Ray Kerkhof said with a smile.
“It’s because we were classmates,” Johnson fired back.
Johnson joined the G-C family in 1991, when he was hired to teach at Harris Elementary after having worked in the Charles A. Beard Memorial School Corp. in Knightstown.
Johnson’s tenure as an administrator began in 2002, when he became an associate principal at the newly constructed J.B. Stephens Elementary School.
Candy Short, who is also retiring this year, came to J.B. Stephens to serve as principal that same year and remains in the building today.
Short said she and Johnson had different interests when it came to administration; he enjoyed overseeing technology and building issues, while she focused on curriculum and instruction.
They were perfect counterparts for one another, she said.
“We would just follow in each other’s footsteps and fill in wherever needed,” she said. “That was a very, very good balance.”
In 2010, when Greenfield-Central moved to a four-tier system and split its two middle schools into two intermediate schools and a junior high, Johnson moved to Eden Elementary.
Kicking and screaming, that is.
Superintendent Linda Gellert said she had to do some real prodding to convince Johnson he should move up to take over a school.
But it was a move she said she was pleased with.
“I have no regrets,” she said. “It’s been a great fit.”
Johnson remembers his reluctance well, but it didn’t last long.
“The Eden staff made it very easy to go there,” he said. “They’re incredible. It was the best fit ever.”
During his tenure as an educator, Johnson has gained a reputation as a compassionate leader who would always lend an ear whether it was a student or staff member who needed his help.
Johnson earned a variety of titles over the years. Some of them professional – such as the elementary teacher of the year in 1995 – and some of them personal – grill master and duck-whisperer.
Short said Johnson has always been a good team-builder, a friend as well as a colleague.
He was always behind the grill during staff cookouts at J.B. Stephens, Short remembered.
“It probably has cobwebs on it now,” she joked.
As for those ducks? There are too many stories to recall.
During his teaching years, Johnson often brought duck eggs and an incubator into his classroom, much to the delight of the students who watched them hatch.
And when they did, Johnson was the first person they saw.
“They would bond to me,” he said. “I could walk anywhere, and they would follow me. I could walk all over the building.”
One year at Harris Elementary, Johnson decided to show off his wildlife talents as a gag during an event for alumni.
He released the ducks from his classroom and marched down to the room where the alumni were having dinner, every duckling falling right in line.
During the summers, he would take the ducks home and keep them in an outdoor pen until they were big enough to release.
“They would escape and jump in our pool,” he said. “They were something else.”
In his retirement, Johnson looks forward to spending more time with his family, including wife Pam and their two grandchildren.
Johnson’s daughter and her husband are the owners of a new restaurant in Terre Haute, and Johnson expects he’ll be called on to assist while they work out the kinks.
“I will be on grandpa duty,” he said.
Johnson also wants to put in more hours at his church, Trinity Park United Methodist, though he is already actively involved with the praise band, as well as working with sound and technology.
School social worker Christy Harpold worked alongside Johnson at J.B. Stephens and looked to him as a mentor when she was hired in 2004.
Their work often overlapped. Johnson handled discipline as an assistant principal, and Harpold addressed issues that might cause children to act out.
“He had a major impact in my thinking about kids and how you bring together academics and social worker,” she said. “For that, I will just forever be thankful. A lot of times we’d just kind of put our heads together and find a way to positively impact a kid maybe who was struggling.”
Johnson especially has a soft spot for special-education students. One year, a student with autism refused to get on his bus if it didn’t have the correct bus number.
That meant every time a bus was rotated out for maintenance, or students were going on a field trip, it was a struggle.
Johnson came to the rescue, creating a makeshift sign bearing the student’s bus number to slap over the real number, bringing a sense of familiarity to the distressed student.
“I matched the background colors as close as I could,” he said.
When the school year draws to a close, Johnson will step down from his post, but that won’t be the last students and staff see of him.
“I hope to be involved with Greenfield-Central in some way,” he said. “I’ll be seeing them all.”