Johnson calls Lanett special place

Published 6:42 pm Wednesday, May 29, 2019

LANETT — Superintendent Phillip Johnson will recall Lanett City Schools as a special place when he reflects on his time within the school system.

Johnson announced his retirement from Alabama this past Thursday, effective June 30. He has accepted a position as the director of special education for the Harris County School System. Lanett High School Principal Jennifer Boyd has been named the interim superintendent for a term not to exceed 180 days. Lanett Assistant Principal Bryant Lumpkin will take Boyd’s position on an interim basis, also for not more than 180 days.

Johnson said it will be easier to relinquish his office because he knows the district will be in Boyd’s capable hands.

Email newsletter signup

“I know who will be stepping into the office, and I think that is a great decision on the board’s part,” he said. “Boyd’s direction of the high school has flourished under her leadership, and I think the district will too.”


Johnson joined the district in 1994 as an English teacher. At the time, he said he was asked to create a school newspaper and direct a school play. He had a background in journalism, so the paper wasn’t a huge task for him, but he never had anything to do with a play.

He decided on “A Christmas Carol” and said it went well enough that he still has a VHS copy of the recorded play at his home.

Somewhere in those first nine weeks with the district, he decided Lanett City Schools is where he wanted to be.

“I really made connections during that time and decided this was home,” he said.

In 2000, he was named vice principal of Lanett High School and then in 2002, he was promoted again to a central office administrator position. From 2002 to 2008, he was the director of the career technical program, director of the federal programs, director of secondary instruction, at-risk coordinator and professional development coordinator.

During his time as head of several departments, Johnson and his wife Nellann, who now have three children together — Evan, 18, Reid 16, and Tate 14 — lived in Auburn. Johnson maintained his residence there after graduating from Auburn University with a bachelor’s degree in secondary language arts in 1994.

In June 2008, Johnson was named the interim superintendent of Lanett when then-superintendent Charles Loosier resigned. Right around this time, Johnson said his family moved to the Greater Valley Area.

He served in that role for just more than a year and was given the job outright in July 2009 by the Lanett Board of Education.


Johnson said one of his first sweeping changes within the district was one of his proudest. In the spring of 2009, the district instituted school uniforms, and Johnson said it made “a world of difference” for discipline issues.

“Kids came to school with a different mindset, like they are dressed for success,” he said. “It also helped eliminate socioeconomic differences. It put everybody on a level playing field.”

He also implemented a wellness clinic recently within W.O. Lance Elementary School. He said students can see a counselor multiple times a week now, instead of maybe once a month. He said the school partnered with East Alabama Mental Health in Opelika to establish full-time nurses and a mental health therapist on the school’s campus.

“We want to remove barriers that may stop students from learning from their best potential,” he said. “That is what that clinic is about.”

The district also features an after-school program for students in kindergarten through eighth grade, which was highlighted by the National School Board Association in a spring 2019 documentary. The program is called STARS, which stands for Students, Teachers, Administrators Reaching Success. On most days, between 50 and 80 students attend the program after school.

As superintendent, Johnson has also coordinated and planned several projects throughout the district of about $14 million from 2008 to now.

wA special place

Johnson said it’s not just the Lanett School System that is just a special place for him and his family, but the entire area.

He lives in the Harris County portion of West Point and his children go to the Harris County School System — his new employer on July 1. However, he had opportunities to pursue superintendent jobs elsewhere, but it would mean having to relocate.

“I am able to stay in this community, which was important to my family because of the roots we were able to put here,” he said.

Leaving the school system wasn’t an easy choice, though.

“It was a difficult decision because the more time you spend here and around the schools, you realize it is a very special school system,” he said. “Our teachers work well together, and I know in the back of my head, I’ll never find that anywhere else, but it is time for a new chapter in my life.”

Johnson called everybody he worked with within the district amazing, and he hopes his newest venture in education provides similar experiences, but he also knows nothing will match up to his time in Lanett.

“We are like a small family,” he said. “I know that is probably true in other places, but then again, it may not be. This is all I’ve ever known.”

Moving forward

Johnson said one of the challenges the school district continues to face is that local residents do not realize how good of a school district they have. He said the school district is respected at the state level to the point that it is recommended as a place for other schools to visit to take ideas back to other parts of Alabama.

He also said being small is an asset for Lanett City Schools because the administrators know the families and discipline issues are not prevalent.

“There is a perception here that somehow there isn’t any innovating happening here, but in reality, people from across the state come here to innovative programs,” he said.   

As Johnson leaves, he also leaves the school in good financial shape, as the district has operating expenses for two months in reserve.

In Harris County, he will continue to create innovative programs and stay in an administrative role to help children with disabilities.

As much as he’s ready to move forward, he is also leaving a district he’s helped build throughout the past 25 years, and several colleagues who he knows are dedicated to the students. Johnson said the students aren’t too bad, either.

“The students are good kids,” he said. “I’m sure they are in other districts, but there is something special about this place. Otherwise, I wouldn’t have stayed here.”