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Welcome to the Superintendent’s BlogDr. Sara Johnson

As part of my efforts to continue the focus on communications, community engagement, and transparency, I’m thrilled to launch this blog for Sumner School District stakeholders. In this area of the website, I will discuss a variety of timely issues and provide information that I hope will be helpful to Sumner staff, parents, students, and community members. To suggest topics, please email me at I look forward to hearing from you and connecting with the community.

From My Heart to Yours,

Dr. Sara Johnson, Ed.D.

June 4, 2014
There are plenty of things to celebrate and be proud about in the Sumner School District.  Namely, our students!  Many of our seniors are counting down the minutes before they fling the mortarboard and embark on a new journey.  The high school years go by quickly and its always impressive to see what senior students have accomplished – and learn of what they will do next.  We want them to soar as they exit high school.

But the soaring is already occurring.  So many of our students have successfully “launched” and are positioning themselves for success.  With the help of parents, teachers, and principals, our students are accomplishing great things.  Let me share some highlights with you …

Arturo Perez will be graduating from Sumner High School this year.  Arturo has been awarded many honors, including International Baccalaureate Math student of the year and Tacoma Athletic Commission athlete of the year. Arturo speaks English and Spanish fluently and has excelled all the way through his 12 years as a Sumner student.  He has overcome all obstacles and has been awarded a full ride, four-year scholarship to the University of Notre Dame.

Celine Patrick and Ashlee Tarro, 10th graders at Sumner High School, were just honored at The White House Science Fair.  Because of their National Award Winning FFA agri-science projects, Celine and Ashlee were invited to attend the 2014 White House Science Fair and meet President Barack Obama.

Chelsie Conroy is a Bonney Lake High School graduate. Chelsie took 1st place in the Congressional Art Competition.  Her astounding, winning painting will be on display for a full year in the U.S. Capitol beginning in June.

Elise Wilson is the south sound regional science fair winner and was recognized with the "Outstanding Scientist" award at the Washington State Science and Engineering Fair.  She won an all-expense paid trip to Los Angeles to compete in the INTEL International Science and Engineering Fair.

Chili Sabin will be graduating from Bonney Lake High School with an Associates of Art Degree through the Running Start program. He is an Eagle Scout and is ranked as one of the top 25 182-pound wrestlers in the country.

Cheyenne Peltier is also a Bonney Lake High School graduate. Cheyenne received a full-ride scholarship to Stanford University in the Fall.  Cheyenne has also been chosen for The News Tribune’s 2014 All-Star Graduates team, which recognizes 12 outstanding high school seniors from South Puget Sound high schools.

We believe students leave our system with the ability to build strong relationships and serve as community role models.  They are doing it now.  As a district, we instill in our students hope, resilience, and the ability to confidently face life’s challenges.  The Sumner and Bonney Lake communities partner with educators to surround students with support.  June is a wonderful time when we see the fruit of years of work.  Congratulations students – families and community – on a job well done!  

May 7, 2014
By focusing on successful learning for every student, every day, in every classroom, and creating hope for all students through connections at school, every student will be prepared to successfully advance to college, post-secondary training, or career. As a premiere district, we must approach our work with students, families, and community with con­fidence in hope for all students.

In my last blog, I wrote about growth and change. As we continue to focus the vision for Sumner School District, we are committed to “Growing our Future.” The children and students of today are the future and it is exciting to think about what that holds! As we consider the technological and cultural changes over the past 10 years, we can only imagine what the next 20 years will bring. As a school district, we are determined to be thoughtful and innovative and ensure all children achieve success in school - NO EXCEPTIONS!

“Growing Hope” is a term I use to describe the work we are doing around service and program development for students who are not yet successful in the public education system as it is currently structured. As partners for the success of students, we strive to teach, make connections, and reach every child in a way that allows them to access their skills, talents, and hopes. We strive to provide the service necessary for all students to attain success. The mission of the Sumner School District states: “It is our responsibility to ensure the best
education possible for all of our students. We believe in success for students and staff every day.” “Growing Hope” may require some unconventional strategies to ensure every student receives the best education possible.

Beginning in the fall, two new “Growing Hope” programs will be coming to Bonney Lake and Sumner High School. These programs will supplement current support the district offers and will purposefully provide a research-based system to increase the success of students who may need different structures due to personal, cultural, physical or environmental challenges. The programs will be in the schools, and give students the support necessary to maneuver positively in the school environment.

The “Growing Hope” vision of supporting all students to reach their highest potential is “budding” in our district. Once in full bloom, these systems will reduce barriers and obstacles to graduation and support a rich and productive life for students. These are exciting times in the Sumner School District as we grow hope for a successful future in everyone.

April 4, 2014
As we welcome in spring and the season of growth, we are reminded of the joy of renewal and rebirth.  Our days are getting longer - and not as wet, hopefully - making it easier for us to go outside and tend to gardens and yards. Grass is mowed, bushes are pruned and weeds are pulled. As gardeners we prepare for the growth by working hard. The result of our labor is a beautiful lawn or a fresh blossomed rose. In the literal sense, to grow means to increase in size. But growth is so much more.  

Our district is growing and preparing for continued growth and working very hard as well. We are growing at a larger rate than expected and are looking at our current attendance boundaries and how they best serve families. Our district has new leadership and new administrative staff - change is happening all around us. Change can be daunting but can con­ rm a sense of renewal and purpose.   Change should support growth in every sense of the word, not inhibit it.

My role as Superintendent is to provide an excellent education for every student, in every  classroom, every day. Springtime reminds me of this commitment how to best serve, educate  and grow our children. Just like a garden, a perfect balance of focus and attention is required. The end result is much more than a seasonal difference.

March 5, 2014
Thank you for your strong support of Sumner School District through the passage of the Maintenance and Operation and Technology Levies. I have to admit, levy season had me feeling a bit anxious. As many know, my educational career has been in Oregon where voters don’t have the option to support schools through voting “yes” on a levy, so working on this project was new territory for me. In my heart, I was convinced of the full support of our communities, yet I knew the outcome of the two propositions were pivotal for our students and schools. Now, with the election behind us, it is wonderful to see how voters reaffirmed their commitment to students. The passage of the two levies allows us to continue to provide excellent instruction, every day, in every classroom, for every student for the upcoming 2015-18 school years. Thank you for your fantastic support! My heart is full of gratitude and I promise to be responsible and thoughtful with every dollar we spend.

Speaking of “excellence,” I had the pleasure of attending our District Science Technology Engineering, and Math Fair! The 5th annual District Art Show was also held in conjunction with the STEM fair this year. I was very impressed as I viewed incredible art, robotics, applied math, drama, technology and science projects displayed throughout Sumner Middle School. The STEM and Art Fair were an opportunity for students to showcase their talent, learning, and abilities. Our students are indeed talented and creative. They have the opportunity every day to sharpen and refine their skills at school. Parents and community members packed Sumner Middle School as they once again championed students through active engagement and celebration at the Fair. Sumner School District appreciates occasions to celebrate and support Bonney Lake and Sumner communities. We love to join with you to make this a fantastic place to raise a child. It is our pleasure to serve you and your children with excellence.

February 11, 2014
The Sumner School District is pleased that our local community has renewed its commitment to the students in our district by passing our levy measures.  With the current shortfall in funding at the state level, our local community support remains paramount, enabling us to continue to provide excellent instruction, every day, in every classroom, for every student for the upcoming 2015-18 school years.

The Pierce County Auditor’s Office reported on election night that a four-year Maintenace and Operations Replacement Levy (Proposition 1) received 63.90% (3,932 yes votes) compared to 36.10% (2,221 no votes).

Voters also approved a Technology Levy (Proposition 2) with 61.01% (3,748 yes votes) compared to 38.99% (2,395 no votes).

It speaks volumes that our community supported our technology levy, a measure that will allow us to put a technology device in the hands of every student in the district, every day.  Technology is our students’ future, and passing this levy gives learners an early advantage in developing their skills and creativity as they prepare for secondary education and tomorrow’s workplace.

The district takes its responsibility to be a good steward of public funds very seriously and will use these voter-approved dollars to increase student achievement in the Sumner School District.

February 3, 2014
All around us people are wearing our Seahawk colors of blue and green.  Jerseys, jackets, hats, scarves, jewelry, and even socks and shoes signify commitment to the home team.  When I look around, there’s no doubt about it, I’m definitely in the heart of Seahawk country.  I struggle a bit because I’m one of those odd people who can barely distinguish between a first down and a touch-down.  The game of football is not my area of expertise, but I understand and can relate with the passion that surrounds us.  I know what it means to be the “12th Man” and be swept up in the importance of a win.  In my understanding of passion, I can grasp the concept of teams – I get commitment – I get fervency – and I get dedication.  I believe in people working together as one machine powered by a singular vision and the dream of a world championship for a meaningful cause.  So I understand what football fans are experiencing; over-the-top excitement about the success of our home team – Go Hawks!  (I notice people end nearly every sentence with this cheer).  I want extreme success and opportunities for our kids and schools so badly, I think I could get in a stadium with hundreds of thousands of other like-minded people, and scream at the top of my lungs for hours.  The 12th man phenomenon is powerful.

I have some powerful feelings deep inside that I can get a little crazy about.  It’s not a game though – it’s real. My “sport,” my passion is public education.  I’ve witnessed the power of a win for a kid, a family, a community.  I’ve seen a team work incredibly hard together for a victory over indescribable odds. I’ve watched a family huddle together, arms around each other, crying because they’re so happy their student is holding a hard earned diploma in his hand. They believe that student can take it to the next level, just like a Seahawk, going on to a championship game. That passion and fire a Seahawk fan has in their heart – I’ve experienced it.   Deep dedication burns; the emotion of passion is real and profound, and it gets played out on the field of teaching and learning.  When our students are experiencing the best education possible in a finely-developed classroom with an incredible, talented teacher committed to excellence, I get enthusiastic.  There are many people on the Sumner School District team that have the same fervency I do about the success of our kids.  We care so deeply about students’ futures, that we are willing to do whatever it takes to ensure their needs are met.  This team of educators is devoted to kids reaching a remarkable win – like a Seahawk fan is to the home-team winning the Super Bowl.   

December 4, 2013
There is a short, old story that holds a meaningful message. It’s simple, yet perhaps one of the most motivational tales written. It helps us wrap our minds around taking on a tough job and completing it with effort and commitment.

A little railroad engine was working in a big railroad yard, pulling a few cars on and off the switches. One morning while the little engine was looking for an opportunity, he heard a big freight train turn down a request to take a big load of freight over a steep hill. “I can’t; that is too much for me,” said the the great engine built for hard work. The engineer asked another engine, and another, only to hear excuses and refusals. At last in desperation the engineer asked the little switch engine to give the big load a try, to take the heavy load up the grade and down the other side. “I think I can,” puffed the little locomotive, and hooked up to the heavy job. The little engine bravely began to puff up the steep hill, faster and faster, “I think I can, I think I can, I think I can.” Then as he neared the top of the grade that had discouraged large, strong engines, he moved slowly with determination. He kept saying, “I—think—I—can, I—think—I—can.” Before he knew it, he reached the top and with great pride and satisfaction began to puff, congratulating himself on his success - “I thought I could, I thought I could.”

As public school educators, we believe the service we offer to our students, families, and communities is important and worth the effort we bring to the work every day. My aim as superintendent is to look for the need, believe in an answer, then work as hard as I can to deliver on service. I started my career as a teacher, then became a principal, next an assistant superintendent, and now superintendent. Every role has allowed me to focus on serving and working with special people in the education system. Every role gives us a unique opportunity to serve our students, families, and community. I know that all of us in the service of public education are on the same track - pulling our load to the top of the hill - because some very important people are counting on us.

October 28, 2013
Mr. Vollmer is the very successful owner of the Great Midwestern Ice Cream Company. You would love his ice cream – the blueberry is award winning.  Mr. Vollmer spent several years speaking to audiences insisting our public schools should be run like his business.  He was a cynical business man on a bully pulpit trying to get educators to reform - and now.  He is an advocate and committed public education supporter (like me).  He now has an important book:  Schools Cannot Do it Alone:  Building Public Support for AMERICA’S PUBLIC SCHOOLS.  I have a feeling he and I could be friends.  How did that big switch in Mr. Vollmer occur? A twenty-seven year veteran English teacher used an analogy, a metaphor that connected to Mr. Vollmer’s brain and heart and spun a web that caught Mr. Vollmer and made him into a true believer. 

Mr. Vollmer delivered a bitter talk about change to a group of Iowa educators.  He emphatically told them that the American school system is not getting our students ready for the workforce and we’re falling behind our competitors.  “The status quo is killing us…You have to look to the world of business to solve your problems.”  He spoke of continuous improvement and just-in-time delivery.  Zero defects!  Benchmarked standards!  Accountability!  Rewards and penalties! “I wouldn’t be in business very long if I ran my company the way you run your schools!”  (Ok – he crossed the line with that last statement.  We cannot process children as consumer products.) 

After his enthusiastic speech, a Q&A time was offered.  A courageous, smart teacher zeroed in.  “Mr. Vollmer, we’re told you make good ice cream.”

“Yes, Ma’am, best ice cream in America.”

“How nice.  Is it rich and smooth?”

Vollmer reported that his ice cream is seventeen percent butterfat, smooth, and creamy with nothing but Grade A ingredients.  He bragged that he accepted nothing but the best ingredients in a delivery – if the ingredients arrive flawed, he sends them back.

At the end of his smug summary of how to handle incoming products, the teacher snapped the noose right around Vollmer’s neck –

“That’s right!  You send the less than perfect blueberries back.  Mr. Vollmer, we never send back the blueberries our suppliers send.  We take them all.  Not the ones we would like to have.  Not the ones we used to have.  We take them just as they come and we make something amazing without judgment!  Our parents send their best children to us – and trust us to do our best work with each of them.  And that is why education is not business – it’s a work of will, savvy, and results derived from skill and hard work.”

I’m proud to be a public school educator – especially in the Sumner School District.  Our district, teachers, administrators, parents and community demonstrate their care and support of all students.  We are all committed to the long-term job of taking a child from pre-K through graduation.  This is world-changing work.  The magic materializes one connection at a time, over and over, every day – “blueberry by blueberry.”  Thank you for your commitment and your daily acceptance of students, and the work you do ensuring that each one is carefully handled.

September 30, 2013
It has been a pleasure to begin visiting classrooms, where the important work occurs through teachers connecting with children.  I’m always on the lookout for excellent teaching, and I’m pleased to tell you there are many classrooms where excellent teaching is going on every day!

My heart beats for “Excellent Instruction, Every Day, in Every Classroom, for Every Student.”  I believe strongly in our public education system and it is my life goal to leave a legacy of improved public schools.  That’s why I’m so enthused to be here in the Sumner School District – I’m working with people who hold the same vision in their hearts and minds and work daily to improve and grow.

Have you been hearing about the “Five Big Rocks?”  Watch this 1 minute YouTube clip to latch onto the metaphor:

The Rocks in Sumner School District were identified when I arrived.  I cleaned and polished them a bit to sharpen the focus and believe they are priorities upon which we can all agree:

  • Excellent Instruction, Every Day, in Every Classroom, for Every Student
  • Technology:  Resources and Professional Development
  • Professional Development for Certified and Classified
  • Early Learning:  Full Day Kindergarten for All; Resources for Early Learning; Professional Development
  • Fiscal Responsibility:  Passing the Operating Levy in February; Plan for a Technology Levy; Use resources wisely to support the work of Excellent Instruction

After pondering and thoughtfully planning over the past few months, I feel we have one priority that needs to be added:  Parent, Family, and Community Involvement. Servant Leadership has been woven into the fiber of the district for many years.  It began with the infamous Donald Eismann holding high the banner:  “Do the right thing” and provide quality customer service.  As the vision of servant leadership has become clearer and more deeply embedded, the character traits have been named:

  • Kindness
  • Honesty
  • Patience
  • Respect
  • Humility
  • Forgiveness
  • Commitment
  • Selflessness



September 20, 2013
Is it almost October?  I hope everyone experienced a positive “launch” and you are feeling the joy that comes as we begin our journey into this exciting school year.  As a district family, our focus is ensuring Sumner School District is A GREAT PLACE TO LEARN – for every student, every day, in every classroom!  We offer many services that enrich the experiences of our students and families. Our aim is to make the new year better than the previous, always pushing to the next level of excellence. Under the leadership of your elected School Board and with the support of staff, families and community members, the compass is set and the course for success is well laid out.  Thank you, sincerely, for your commitment to students and the actions you put into your commitment every day.

My first few months on the job have been an exciting and rewarding time. On a daily basis, I witness the incredible commitment the Sumner school community has to the success of each and every child. I’ve been impressed by the thoughtful interactions I’ve had with both district and school-level staff and the students we serve. I’ve also met with several of our service organizations, key leaders in the community, and dedicated volunteers serving on district committees.

As part of my efforts to continue the focus on communications, community engagement, and transparency, I’m thrilled to launch this blog for Sumner School District stakeholders. In this area of the website, I will discuss a variety of timely issues and provide information that I hope will be helpful to Sumner staff, parents, students, and community members. To suggest topics, please email me at I look forward to hearing from you and connecting with the community.





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