Lynn Johnson thought she was headed to the school gym Tuesday morning because Facilities Director Lawrence Reed needed her to check on a door.
It wasn't an unusual request for the Arlington Public Schools' superintendent to receive.
But, as she got closer to the gym and saw School Resource Officer Nikki Kruse standing at the entrance, Johnson was greeted not by a maintenance issue, rather by a standing ovation, cheers and tears from students and staff and music from the AHS band.
Johnson, who has been with the district for 31 years, the last 10 as superintendent is retiring at the end of June.
Taking a moment to enter, Johnson did all she could to hold back tears, to no avail, as she greeted her administrative team with hugs and then joined her husband, Steve, a physical education teacher, front and center in Arlington Eagles folding chairs for the surprise ceremony.
In the 20 minutes that followed, there were more tears — and smiles — as Board President Matt O'Daniel and Assistant Principal/Activities Director James Shada offered thanks on behalf of the board, students, staff and parents.
O'Daniel pointed out that, according to vocabulary.com, the superintendent is the overseer of an organization.
"The term superintendent is most often used to refer to someone who oversees a school district and — this is really — most importantly decides when to declare a snow day," he said.
But, while that term does capture Johnson's job responsibility, O'Daniel said, it does nothing to speak to her character.
"For 31 years, Mrs. Johnson has been a teacher, principal and superintendent at our school, all the while fulfilling a role with unselfish clarity and passion for our mission," O'Daniel said. "Your hard work and dedication serve as guidance and as a great example to all the students who have been fortunate to cross paths with you early in their life."
O'Daniel wished Johnson well in her next chapter.
"Be assured your accomplishments here at this school will be well preserved by the outstanding staff, students and parents that make up our district," he said. "On behalf of the board of education, we would simply like to say thank you for putting all of our kids first for 31 years."
Following a slide show of photographs featuring family and school events, the elementary, middle and high school choir students sang "For Good," which included the lyrics "Because I knew you, I have been changed for good."
Students also presented two gifts to Johnson — the book "The Giving Tree" by Shel Silverstein and a framed print of a tree. The book was signed by students and staff.
"This is a great book," Johnson said. "Thank you so much."
Shada said the thanks was all theirs.
"On behalf of Arlington Public Schools, we say thank you for caring for all of us as your own and thank you for laying the foundation for all of those here," Shada said through tears before asking students to give Johnson another standing ovation.
As the program closed, Johnson assured staff that the tears in her eyes were tears of happiness, although she said she was sad because she will miss everybody.
"I wish for every one of you that you have the blessings that I've had in my life," she said. "It has been a blessing to work with Arlington Public Schools for 31 years. The joy and the blessings that you bring to my life, I can't describe that to you.
Johnson said there was never a day that she didn't want to go to work.
"I love my job, I love my 31 years here," she said. "I feel like your are my family and I hope that continues. As you grow older, I'm going to still be family, so if you see me somewhere, please come and say 'Hi' and I will keep you in my heart and in my prayers and I will continue to watch you every day."
An open house honoring Lynn Johnson and district secretary, Cheryl Pittmann, will be held May 28 at the Arlington Vet's Club, 218 West Eagle. The open house will start at 5 p.m.