After 28 years of service at Hunters Woods Elementary School, Clara Johnson, the school’s building supervisor, decided to retire, effective April 27.
Johnson, 65, a Reston resident for the past 40 years, said she’s been in the same position for the last 28 years because of the people around her. "It’s just like a family," said Johnson about the children and the faculty at the school. Johnson has worked with the county schools for the past 30 years. She said she loved working with children and listening to their comments. "They ask you how your weekend was. A lot of people don’t want to know how your weekend was," she said. Johnson, a North Carolina native, also enjoyed the many little gifts she has received from the children over the years. "If it’s their birthday, it’s your birthday," said Johnson.
The parent liaison at the school, Diane Beers, said Johnson always took care of everyone at the school. "She is such a good role model for adults and children alike," said Beers. She recalled how, some 15 years ago, Johnson would spend the night at the school to make sure the pipes did not freeze. "I will never forget that. Talk about dedication," said Beers.
"I will never forget the snow of ’93," said Johnson. She said so much snow fell that it went up past the door handles, and Johnson had to walk to work — even though the school was closed — to make sure the pipes did not freeze and to check for any leaks.
"I count on her so much to remember all of the details of any of our activities that go on here," said Olivia Toatley, a second-year principal at the school, who also spent about seven years prior to that as an assistant principal at Hunters Woods. Throughout the time Toatley has known Johnson, she said Johnson’s enthusiasm for work has always remained the same. "I can’t imagine what the beginning of the school year would be without her," said Toatley. "And the kids love her."
THE STUDENTS in the cafeteria said they would miss Johnson once she retires. Third graders Tejal Patki and Deepika Gudavalli said they are sad to see Johnson go. "She’s a good custodian," said Patki. Fairfax County Public Schools recognized the same thing, that Johnson is a good custodian, when they rewarded her with the Support Employee of the Year award in 2005. Johnson said she was surprised when she found out she won the award. "It was a shock, and it was a good feeling," she said. The biggest surprise of all was that the children managed to keep the secret from her. "The kids knew about it, but didn’t tell me, and they tell me everything," said Johnson.
Although Johnson has family nearby — a daughter with three children in Manassas and a son with four children in Reston — she said that she will continue to be a part of the Hunters Woods family. She said she would miss the work, and would occasionally return to help out at the school, especially for the Thanksgiving lunch. "This is my project," said Johnson.
Whoever her replacement is, Johnson has a simple set of instructions and advice for that person. "Take care of my children," she said. "They are mine. They started out as mine since day one and they will always be mine," said Johnson, who plans to spend some time traveling after retirement.
"We will miss her," said Toatley. "Mrs. Johnson will leave a void. She is able to reach kids in a way that teachers and other staff can’t," she said. Hunters Woods will honor Johnson with a dinner on April 27, starting at 5:30 p.m. in the school’s cafeteria. Those interested in attending should e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.