Local Superintendent named Senior Associate Commissioner

WEST SPRINGFIELD, Mass. (WWLP) – The West Springfield Public Schools Superintendent has been hired as the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education’s Senior Associate Commissioner for Accountability, Partnerships and Technical Assistance.

According to MA Dept. of ESE Chief of Staff JC Considine, Russell Johnston has been hired to be the Senior Associate Commissioner.

Johnston started his career as a special education teacher and moved his way up to become the Superintendent in 2010. Considine said over the past four years, Johnston has overseen the annual budget of $39 million for a school district that serves 3,900 students and 700 employees in nine schools.

Also worth noting, under Johnston supervision, the district’s four-year graduation rate has increased from 71.7% to 81.6%, the annual dropout rate has declined to 2.1%, and students across the grades have made performance gains.

Johnston will begin at the Department on August 1st. He will be responsible for managing the state’s accountability and assistance system for all public schools and districts.

Below is the full statement sent to 22News regarding Johnston’s hire, and more information on what he will be responsible for:

Commissioner of Elementary and Secondary Education Mitchell D. Chester today announced the hiring of West Springfield Public Schools Superintendent Russell Johnston as the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education’s Senior Associate Commissioner for Accountability, Partnerships and Technical Assistance.

The Senior Associate Commissioner manages the state’s accountability and assistance system for all public schools and districts to support their work to raise achievement for all students, and oversees the implementation of various initiatives to assess effectiveness, monitor improvement, and identify appropriate interventions.

Johnston, who began his career as a special education teacher and administrator, has led the West Springfield Public Schools since 2010. In West Springfield, he oversaw an annual operating budget of $39 million for a school district that serves 3,900 students and 700 employees in nine schools. Over the past four years, the district’s four-year graduation rate has increased from 71.7% to 81.6%, the annual dropout rate has declined to 2.1%, and students across the grades have made performance gains.

“I have admired Russell’s steady leadership in West Springfield over the past four years and his unwavering commitment to high expectations for each and every student and teacher – and for himself,” said Commissioner Chester. “In Massachusetts today, we have no greater responsibility than to ensure all students are put on a pathway to success after graduation. Russell is a perfect fit to guide the Department’s accountability and assistance work to support districts and schools in implementing their improvement strategies.”

In West Springfield, Johnston has led work to increase the depth and rigor of the district’s curriculum; to create a collaborative process between school committee members, administrators, and the local teachers’ union to promote student learning and effectively implement the state’s new educator evaluation system; and to reach out to and engage families to address students’ barriers to learning. Johnston also launched a Pathways to Prosperity program at the high school this year to enhance students’ college and career preparedness. The 40 students enrolled in this year’s program are receiving coursework and training in precision manufacturing – a key local industry – both at the high school and through Springfield Technical Community College.

“I am sincerely honored to join the Commissioner’s senior leadership team in support of the Department’s education reform agenda,” said Dr. Johnston. “I look forward to bringing my experiences as both a teacher and administrator in Massachusetts to this new role. Ensuring that all students in the Commonwealth receive an outstanding education is my highest priority, and I am grateful for the opportunity to pursue this goal at the Department.”

After graduating from DePaul University, Johnston served in the Jesuit Volunteer Corps as a Language Arts teacher in Phoenix, Arizona and a special education instructor in Mobile, Alabama. He then was an elementary special education teacher in Newton, MA for five years before heading the elementary special education department for the Wellesley Public Schools. In 2004, Johnston earned a Doctorate of Philosophy and Education Leadership from Boston College. That same year, he became administrator of special services for the West Springfield Public Schools, a role he held until becoming superintendent in 2010.

Johnston will begin at the Department on August 1. He succeeds Lynda Foisy, who retired as Senior Associate Commissioner for Accountability and Targeted Assistance on May 2 after 18 years of service at the Department. Johnston, who currently resides in Northampton, intends to relocate to the greater Boston area with his family later this summer.

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