Merrimack principal retires after 20 years in district

MERRIMACK – Kenneth Johnson has had two great loves for the last 20 years: his family and Merrimack High School.

“Merrimack High School has been like a home to me,” he said Monday.

However, after two decades, the Merrimack High principal has packed up his office and his house, as he is preparing to start a new chapter at High Point University.

Johnson has spent nearly 40 years as an educator in southern New Hampshire, starting his career at Pinkerton Academy in Derry in 1981.

From there, he moved to Alvirne High School to serve as a social studies teacher and coach from 1984 to 1996 and then to ConVal Regional High School for another two years as assistant principal.

In 1998, Johnson started as assistant principal at Merrimack High, moving up to principal in 2002.

Within his first 24 hours as principal, Johnson drafted a new school motto: Believe, go forward and inspire.

The motto quickly became the school’s mission and is one of the three things from his time as principal of which he is most proud.

The second, he said, is the tradition of bringing beach balls to graduation. In 16 years, there has not been a single errant beach ball thrown before the appropriate time, something he said speaks to the caliber of students at the school.

The third is his practice of meeting with the senior class on their first day, to tell them that in just 10 short months, they will be walking across the stage at graduation and shaking his hand. He wanted to instill a vision with the students, he said. Daniel Differ, 2018 class president, reflected on that same speech during this year’s commencement, saying that he never expected the time to pass so quickly.

However, he noted it did fly by, just as Johnson promised.

Next year, Johnson won’t be there to speak to seniors on their first day. He will be settling into his new role at High Point, working as an undergraduate professor, and student teacher supervisor, while also assisting the Stout School of Education with a grant for administrators in underserved schools.

“I feel very, very fortunate,” Johnson said, adding that he always hoped to finish his career with a role in higher education.

Johnson has lived the last 40 years of his life asking the question, “Is this best for the kids?” and making decisions based on the answer.

“Thank you to the community for placing their trust in me,” he said, and allowing him to be “a champion for their kids.”

“What else could you ask for from a community?” Johnson wondered. His wife Carolyn worked in the district for 22 years and their children, Brianna and Grant Johnson, went through the schools.

“They’ve taken care of me and my family,” he said of the many teachers, staff and administrators in the district.

Nothing is accomplished by a single person, he emphasized, and none of what he has done in the last few years would have been possible without the Merrimack community.

When he leaves, and everything is set to be finalized with his house next week, Merrimack High School will be left in the hands of new principal, Sharon Putney.

Putney has most recently been a principal of Matthew Thornton Elementary School in Londonderry, but previously served as principal of Thorntons Ferry Elementary School in Merrimack.

She will officially start July 1.

Reflecting on the last 20 years, Johnson said, “It’s been a heck of a ride.”

Hannah LaClaire can be reached at 594-1243 or hlaclaire@nashuatelegraph.com.