New Student Activities Director takes the lead

Leah Kindler, A&E Editor

It’s Aug. 22, Huskie Kickoff Day. Freshmen are anxiously lining up outside the main entrance. Parents are lingering behind them with cameras and younger siblings.

Suddenly, a swarm of upperclassmen in blue shirts burst through the doors. They form a tunnel for the freshmen to run through and start clapping and yelling.

Susan Johnson, the new director of student activities, is watching in awe. At her old job, freshmen orientation involved only teachers. At OPRF, “we got the band outside. We got the kickoff coaches cheering. We got cheer and drill,” Johnson said. “Everyone’s screaming for the first day of school.”

Before coming to OPRF, Johnson worked at ACE Tech Charter High School in the Washington Park neighborhood of Chicago. Her job was math department chair and testing coordinator.

For most of her life, Johnson was set on teaching math. Even after she graduated from Lewis University and started teaching, she said to herself, “I’m never not going to be a math teacher.”     At ACE, however, she was encouraged to start planning school activities. “I had a really good principal who was a mentor who pushed me into leadership,” she said.

Johnson went to Concordia University to get her masters degree in school leadership. From there, she added a third role to her schedule: planning school events. “Before I started doing events, there wasn’t any school spirit, so I was trying to build that there,” she said. “We were working on it. It was getting better.” When Johnson looked at a job board for administrative jobs at schools, she found the student activities director job at OPRF.

Johnson was immediately excited about the position. She applied and interviewed in June, right after moving to her new home in Joliet. “I loved this job position. I loved the ability to have a job where I could plan events and be involved in all the clubs,” she said.

It wasn’t just the job that excited her. Johnson liked what she knew about OPRF. “It looks like it’s a fun school, like there’s a lot that happens at the school,” she said. “The school spirit is impressive.”

All of her enthusiasm paid off. She got the job. “When Mr. Rouse called me and told me that he wanted to offer me the position, I was so extremely excited. If someone (was to) film my reaction, it was so embarrassing,” she said, laughing. She remembers the moral support of her husband and stepson during the process. “We were pretty happy. It was a job that I really wanted.”

Johnson started working July 17, but the real work started when school did. Her daily schedule involves a lot of emails and paperwork, but she prefers to do “the fun stuff” involving students. “It’s been challenging to get used to everything, to learn about everything. I’m starting to learn,” she said. “I walked all around the building today and I didn’t get lost so that was good.”

Melody Brown, the student activities secretary, has worked under three directors including Johnson. She said the role is designed to create “an all-inclusive and super fun environment for our students. I think it’s extremely important that our office is always engaged, interactive and always being on top of the new ‘in’ thing to say.”

In the coming months, Johnson is excited for homecoming, football games, and getting to know more students. “So far the ones I’ve met have been really awesome. They’re really sweet, they’re nice, they’re helpful,” she said. “They’re just nice people. Everybody’s really nice.”

What Johnson likes about OPRF is similar to what she likes about working with kids in general. “I like making them smile. I love when they tell me about themselves and I get to find out more about their lives because everybody’s so unique,” she said, smiling.

Johnson has been working with the former student activities director, Regina Topf, to understand her job. “She’s been giving me a lot of advice,” she said. “The really cool thing about Ms. Topf is she was a student advocate. That’s what this role is. I’m an administrator, but I’m for the students.”

Brown said she sees an important similarity in Johnson and her predecessor. “Much like Ms. Topf, Ms. Johnson came from a teaching background, so being able to connect with kids in different facets is always a plus,” Brown said.

Since she’s new to the school, Johnson wants to put decisions in the hands of those who are affected: students. She values students’ opinions about how clubs and activities should function. “As long as their ideas make sense and work within the rules of school, I want to try to make it happen,” she said. “They can always come see me. (They can) just come on in and talk to me, say hi, introduce themselves. I want to get to know everybody.”

In the next couple of weeks, she hopes to see more of the clubs at OPRF.  Among those she’s most excited to check out are Wheel Throwing Club, Friendship Bracelet Club, and Spoken Word Club. “There’s unique little ones and they have a following, which is really cool,” Johnson said.

Brown said Johnson’s goals are similar to those of her previous bosses. “Ms. Johnson wants as many as possible students to be active in the activities, clubs, and sports we have available,” Brown said.

Besides checking out clubs, Johnson is looking into organizing a blood drive. She held one at her old school, which only had 500 students. With OPRF’s much larger student body, she believes it would make a bigger impact. “Every time you get someone to donate blood, you save three lives,” she said. “The hard part is making sure (students) can come down, get through the paperwork, and do the blood donation in a class period.”

As the school year continues, Johnson is eager to add her own flair to student activities without disrupting traditions. “I don’t want to be that person that comes in and is like, ‘let me change everything about your school,’” she said. “I know I just want to come in and do what I know best.”