Community members, former students, staff and family gathered Saturday evening, Oct. 16, 2021, for a short unveiling ceremony marking the official name change of the Church Street school campus from Lamar Primary to Rowena Johnson Primary, in honor of the late educator who dedicated 50 years of her life to educating Sulphur Springs school children.
Chandra Crawford, who was named in April 2020 to serve as principal for the campus following Johnson’s retirement in June 2020, welcomed those in attendance Saturday for the sign unveiling.
Crawford said she is honored to work at the campus now appropriately named after Mrs. Johnson. Crawford said she not only had the pleasure of working with while serving as Lamar’s Academic Specialist but also had her as a third grade teacher. Crawford said Johnson was much loved. Staff members and former students very much miss seeing Johnson walking the halls of the former Lamar Primary campus.
Rowena Johnson served Sulphur Springs Independent School District students for 50 years, starting as a third grade teacher at Houston Elementary teacher in 1970. She served as a third-sixth grade teacher at Bowie Elementary from 1971 to 1991, and reading specialist from 1991 to 1993 at Travis Elementary. Johnson became the first SSISD female African American elementary principal at Lamar Elementary in 1993, a position she continued to serve in until her retirement in June 2020.
During Johnson’s 27 years at Lamar, the campus earned many high academic rankings and honors, including the top rating of exemplary from the Texas Education Agency for 14 consecutive years. Her school too received recognition from “Just for The Kids” and many Distinguished School honors as well.
Johnson herself over the years also received several honors, including being named Teacher of the Year, a Region 8 Nominee for the National Distinguished Principal of the Year, and Educator of the Year, and Administrator of the Year.
However, when honored in June 2020 at a school board meeting, Johnson gave all praise and credit, as she did, to “the Good Lord for the opportunity to be able to have served for 50 years” at SSISD. At that time, Patricia Cooper, Johnson’s friend and cousin, asked the school board on behalf of the family and community to please consider honoring Mrs. Johnson’s dedication to school, faith, family and community, by considering renaming Lamar after the faithful SSISD educator.
Although Johnson passed away in July 202, her legacy lives on in the generations of students she taught, young educators she mentored and students inspired to be like their principal. The school board honoring the request, unanimously voted to rename Lamar Primary as Rowena Johnson Primary to ensure her legacy continues setting a standard for dedication, commitment, faith and caring.
At the sign unveiling Saturday, Oct. 16, 2021, Superintendent Mike Lamb noted that when Mrs. Johnson’s family and friends asked the district consider renaming Lamar, they had already begun discussing the possibility or honoring her by naming a facility in her honor.
SSISD officials had hoped to have the sign in place before classes began for the 2021-22 school year. The district had already taken care of the required process associated with a school name change, including lots of paperwork being sent to the state. The campus has officially been Rowena Johnson Elementary since May. The sign was ordered. However, as has been the case with many things over the last 19-20 months, the new Rowena Johnson Primary sign was delayed in arrival. The sign arrived this weekend, and Johnson’s family, students, staff and community members were invited Saturday afternoon, to attend an official unveiling event to officially mark the name change.
In the mean time, a bench was placed on the school lawn, with a saying Mrs. Johnson was well known for inscribed on it: “If it is to be, it is up to me.”
Johnson’s son Marques spoke on behalf of the family, thanking those who reached out and fought to keep her legacy alive and for such a tremendous honor. Legacy, he said, is about life and liberty, learning from the past, living in the present and building for the future.
Legacy, Marques explained, is like the relationship between trees in a forest. It’s better to plant a new tree not in an open field but an in old grove forest where the roots of the young tree are able to follow the pathways created by a former tree and plant themselves more deeply, and potentially graft with other trees trees over time, creating an intricate interdependent foundation hidden under the ground. “In this way, stronger trees share resources with weaker ones. The whole forest becomes healthier. Legacy is the interconnection across time with the need for those who came before us and the responsibility for those that come after us. Marques Johnson said if Rowena Johnson were present, she would first thank her Lord Jesus Christ, her parents who fostered that relationship with Christ that would become the foundations of her aspirations. She would thank her parents for challenging her and her siblings to believe that despite position or circumstance in life, if she kept God first and acknowledged Him in all her ways she had the ability to not only impact but change the world.
“Like any good challenge my Mom accepted and knocked it out of the park. Like most great leaders, she understood that to whom much is given, much is required. As fervently as she gained wisdom to understand and solve problems, she was just as passionate about her responsibility to those who came after her – responsibility to cultivating talent, sharing best practices, and helping those around her become their best selves,” Johnson’s son said. “The hopes included her children, her grandchildren, professional peers and generally anyone who crossed her path.”
He reminded of the responsibility of Rowena Johnson’s legacy of faith, character, integrity and courage, and challenged others to be like the young tree planted in the grove forest, making those connections and deposits to complete a full circle in life’s journey, leaving some of ourselves through experiences, ideas, values and and personal example in the minds and hearts of others. Marque said the wisdom his mom she gained through decades of difficult learning made easier for those around her to learn. That, he said is a mainstay of Rowena Johnson’s legacy.
He issued a call to action to educators to meet the challenge of her legacy by being more active, more dynamic, and having more passion for the advancement of education and enrichment of all children in your steed every day, so that even when not present in your presence. That, he said, is the present that Rowena Johnson left us all.
Lamb noted that Johnson loved everything about life, her church, her granddaughters, the campus and school. He then asked a few of Mrs. Johnson’s family members to help with the official unveiling of the sign proclaiming the school to now be Rowena Johnson Primary. The removing of the covering and revealing of the new blue and white sign with the new name, and in black lettering the message proclaiming “The Legacy Continues!” was met with cheers of celebration from the crowd.
“Ladies and gentlemen, thank you for being here. It is as official as it can possibly be. This building is Rowena Johnson Primary School – thrilled to have it,” Lamb proclaimed.
The official part of the occasion concluded with a closing prayer of thanks by Pastor Harold Nash for Johnson and her legacy and the light He gave to the world, as well as a request for protection for the school and school district, and giving all praise and glory to God, with whom all things are possible.
All were encouraged to take photos with the new sign, to view the bench with Johnson’s quote, to visit and share memories of “Mrs. J” over cookies and punch provided inside the school near a photo of the retired educator.