Johnlyn Mitchell doesn’t live in Preston Hollow. But for the past 16 years as principal of the neighborhood’s schools, she feels like she’s become part of a family.
That’s why her retirement last month almost seemed like leaving home.
“I love this school, this community,” the former Hillcrest High School principal says. “It’s the best job anybody could have.”
But Mitchell, who spent 33 years as an educator and turns 60 this fall, says she knows she must move on.
“If I was going to continue working full time, I’d just as soon stay at Hillcrest High School,” she says. “I’m having some people want me to go back to work right away, but it’s a great time for me to experience some other things.”
First on the list – a cruise to Alaska that leaves July 9.
Mitchell spent eight years as principal of Kramer Elementary after the school re-opened in 1989. She later served five years at Franklin Middle School and the past three at Hillcrest.
She has seen students grow up before her eyes. Her final Hillcrest graduating class included 22 students who started kindergarten with her at Kramer.
“I am just extremely proud of those students,” she says.
One of them, 18-year-old Robert Solimani, says he remembers Mitchell’s presence in grade school but not much else.
“I was too young to realize how much of an impact she would have on me,” he says.
Solimani also holds the distinction of receiving the first endowed scholarship established this year by the school’s PTA to honor Mitchell.
“It means a lot that they would give me the first one,” he says.
Incoming PTA president Dawn Hall says Mitchell is a charismatic leader who gets things done.
“We’ve really benefited from her vision and the follow-through of her vision,” Hall says. “She is a true academic principal. She just won’t rest until there’s the best academic opportunities for the kids.
“That worries me the most that we are losing her leadership. She is that powerful of an individual.”
Mitchell says she sees herself doing part-time consulting work with teachers and principals and volunteering as a mentor for elementary school students. She is talking with colleagues about options but has not made any decisions yet, she says.
“I think there are going to be opportunities for me to continue to serve,” she says. “I expect to stay very involved in the field of education.”
But don’t look for her roaming the halls at Hillcrest. She wants to give incoming principal Marty Crawford, formerly an assistant principal at the school, room to adjust to the new job.
“I would never want to interfere with what’s going on at Hillcrest,” Mitchell says. Staying away “is going to be the hardest thing for me.”
Hall says the programs established by Mitchell will allow a smooth transition for the school.
“But there’s no mistake that we will miss her so much in so many ways,” she says. “She’s one of a kind.”
Mitchell says she fully supports public education, and Hillcrest – with its involved parents, brilliant teachers and dedicated students – is an example of the system’s success. Her role was simply to steer the ship.
“I think in any leadership position, No. 1, you listen a lot. You always try to be fair, and you are an advocate for every child,” she says. “You want your teachers to be happy; you want your parents to be happy. But it has to be student-focused decision, and I hope that’s what I’ve done.
“I believe our students are our customers, and I believe our No. 1 goal is to serve the needs of those students.”
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