From Teaching Fellow to Lead Learner

Kelley Davidson Johnson, ’01, began her career in education 19 years ago as a sixth grade social studies teacher. Since then, she’s been a high school teacher, an assistant principal, a curriculum support coach, a volleyball coach, and director of curriculum.

Today, Johnson serves as the principal of Innovation Academy at South Campus in Smithfield, North Carolina. As a Meredith alumna, Johnson values the importance of a high-quality, personalized education, and the goal of Innovation Academy is to offer that to as many students as possible. “We are focused on bringing in rising sixth graders from the densest pockets of poverty along the I-95 corridor who have the potential to be the first in their families to go to college,” said Johnson. “Our goal is to close the predictability gap by empowering our students to change the world.”

When Innovation Academy opened in 2017, it was a lab school designed to experiment with cutting edge practices rooted in relationships, relevance, and of course: innovation. Currently, Johnson said these concepts manifest in personalized learning pathways, project-based learning experiences, standards and competency-based teaching, learning, grading and feedback, and social-emotional learning restorative practices.

“We equip students uniquely to be problem-solvers who are adaptable, courageous, and passionate in whatever endeavor(s) they choose,” said Johnson. “As part of the visioning and creation team for this school, it is a huge blessing to have the opportunity to lead teachers bringing that vision to life each day.”

As the principal and Lead Learner at the Academy, there is nothing typical about what Johnson’s job looks like on a daily basis. “It’s all based on what the greatest needs are at the time,” she said. Leading meetings, observing and evaluating staff, coaching and disciplining students, networking with community stakeholders and colleagues, fielding parent calls, even cleaning cafeteria tables – Johnson’s role requires a little bit of everything.

What she values the most about her career is the investment she’s able to make in both children and adults each day. “When we pause to reflect, it is likely that each of us has been the beneficiary of at least one person who invested in us and helped us to become the current version of ourselves,” she said.

Johnson had several people invest in her during her time at Meredith, when she won three volleyball championships, was a part of the Teaching Fellows program, and formed friendships that are still important to her.

Now, Johnson enjoys watching young women that she’s taught and coached over the years enjoy their Meredith academic and athletic experiences as well. “There’s nothing like the bond among women who share the Meredith College experience.”

Melyssa Allen

News Director
316 Johnson Hall
(919) 760-8087
Fax: (919) 760-8330
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