About 10 years into her teaching career, Lynn Johnson was at a crossroads.
"You get to that certain stage in your life where you are looking at 'Is this really what I want to do?'," she said.
A math teacher for Arlington Public Schools (APS) at the time, she decided it was time to make a change and had a choice to make.
"It was either a different venue within education, reinvent myself as a teacher, which you've got to do anyway or administration," she said.
Johnson chose to pursue administration, which at the time meant leaving APS to serve as an assistant principal at Elkhorn High School.
Johnson said she wasn't exactly looking to leave APS, but would if the right job came along.
"I wasn't so driven that I was going to apply for anything," she said.
But, Elkhorn fit the bill because of it's proximity to Arlington, where she continued to live, and because it was a growing district.
Five years later, Johnson was back at APS, hired to be the secondary principal. In 2009, she was named the district's superintendent.
On June 30, Johnson's 31-year stint with APS ended. When Johnson announced her retirement last fall, she said it was the right time and, after months of reflection, though bittersweet, she remains content with her decision. As she was after 10 years of teaching, Johnson was at a crossroads.
"There were a variety of things that made this the right time for me," she said, noting that she and her husband, Steve, the district's elementary physical education teacher, had discussed how much longer they thought they'd be at APS. "My working years were going to be between three and 10 more years. Having been in Arlington this many years, I wanted to have the opportunity to try something else out, I just didn't know when."
Another retirement of a district office staff member also was something that played into her decision. Longtime administrative assistant Cheryl Pittman also retired this year.
"I thought about Mrs. Pittman retiring and the relationship we've had for so long, it just seemed like the right time," she said.
For at least the next year, Johnson will remain in education. Her 37th year will be spent serving as interim superintendent for Harlan Community Schools in Iowa. She believes the interim role will be a good transition.
"I never intended to retire and not work again," she said, adding that she'll continue to live in Arlington.
As it is for her, Johnson believes it's also the right time for APS to have a new leader.
"Sometimes you just get to a point where you think 'I'm tapped out for my vision' and this district deserves someone who wants to come in with a bright, fresh vision," she said.
Desire to coach led to teaching career
After graduating from Wood River High School in 1979, Johnson began attending McCook Junior College uncertain of what she wanted to study.
"I was not one of those people who grew up and knew I wanted to be a teacher," she said. "But, I was pretty confident I wanted to be a coach, so I started to look at my skills and that's when I decided I wanted to try teaching. You could say I grew into it."
Growing up, Johnson enjoyed sports and loved school.
"I liked learning and I think it just all came together," she said of her decision to declare a major in education.
In school, Johnson said she liked math — and her math teachers — so that's the path she chose.
From McCook, she went on to earn her degree from Fort Hays State University in Kansas and began applying for jobs.
"Back in those days, with finances being the way they were, you didn't have the luxury of being picky," she said. "I applied for every job I saw in the paper."
Her interview for a math teaching position at APS was early on in the process and eventually she accepted the job offer to teach junior high and high school math.
Though happy to get a teaching job, she was anxious because it was a long way from home.
"When my dad was moving me out here, I remember saying to him, this is going to be a one or two year scenario and then I'm going to move closer to home," she said.
As many teachers can attest to, the first year of teaching can be hard.
But, at the advice of some of the district's veteran teachers, Johnson went into her first year knowing she had to be tough — both in the classroom and in her role as assistant volleyball and girl's basketball coach.
The students took notice.
"I had my name carved into one of the wooden desks," she said. "Killer K (Miss Krolikowski), that's what they called me."
But, she also saw the helpful side of her students, including senior David Green.
"I had a clunker of a car and he would help me keep my car running," she said. "More than once he was called to bring it back to the shop and he and Mert Brodd would fix it."
The first year, she said, was overwhelming, but fun.
From one year to 31
While she told her dad she planned to stay one or two years, that plan flew out the window. Meeting fellow APS teacher, Steve Johnson, who came to the district the year before her, was the main reason she stayed. They eventually married and raised their three children, Taylor, Jordan and Riley.
Johnson said her family played a prominent role in her decision to return to APS after being in Elkhorn for five years.
"We had young kids and while I throughly enjoyed my administrative career at Elkhorn, I had a special fondness for Arlington," she said. "It was a logical consideration."
As was her first year of teaching, her first year as a principal was challenging.
Shortly after being hired, Supt. Kristine Wolzen and elementary Principal Laverne "Mac" McKowan resigned, leaving Johnson as the only one with knowledge of what had been going on in the district.
Johnson said then-superintendent, Roger Clough, who was hired for one year, was a big help.
"He taught me some of the things — the character skills — that are critical to the role and I could add the flavor of here's how we do business."
She also credited the experience of the teaching staff at the time.
"Everybody was always chipping in," she said.
As she went from being principal to superintendent, Johnson said there were conveniences and drawbacks.
"I was overseeing people who had been my immediate peers, so it took time to find the balance in that," she said.
As superintendent, Johnson also had to get used to seeing former students essentially become her boss after being elected to the board of education. In recent years, Jason Arp, Jessica Scheer, Bruce Scheer and Teri O'Flaherty have served on the school board.
"It's fun getting to know them in a different way — an adult relationship way," she said. "Their relationship with me looks a lot different than it did when they were kids. But, there's always memories and connections that make for interesting conversations."
While some of her former students may remember her as a tough teacher and coach, because she had high expectations, she hopes they will also remember her as a teacher, coach, principal and superintendent who cared deeply for kids and the community.
"I hope they remember I did good things for the school, things you can measure," she said as she tried, unsuccessfully, to hold back tears. "But, at the end of this time we have here in life, what you hope they remember is who you were and that you were good for them and good to them."