Couple Opens School to Bridge the Educational Gap with their retirement fund

Veteran educators, Verna and Simon Johnson, founded the Caring and Sharing Learning School in 1998 with their retirement fund. Photo credit: Katy Hyson/ WUFT News

Two veteran educators, Verna and Simon Johnson, founded the Caring and Sharing Learning School in 1998 with their retirement fund. 25 years later, its students continue to earn the highest learning gains in the Florida district.

Alachua County had the widest gap when it came to Whites excelling in education than Blacks. However, the pupils of this school have changed the narrative.

Verna Johnson disclosed to People that the pre-kindergarten through fifth-grade students are usually the ones who excellently advance in placement programs and earn college degrees.

“We are taking children who people have said were untrainable and letting them know what they can do,” the 82-year-old said. She also added that they let the students know and understand “to not let anybody tell them what they can’t do.”

The couple, on the verge of retiring in the late 1990s, decided to use their savings to buy a 12-acre plot of dilapidated houses, and used that land to establish their school. When they first began, they had 31 students, now they have about 255 pupils enrolled, 92% of whom are Black.

Even during the COVID-19 Pandemic, when math and reading scores across the nation severely plunged due to school closures, the school continued to encourage its students to excel.

The school Principal, Curtis Peterson, said, “We know exactly what each student knows and what they need to know at any given time. We pretest students at the beginning of every unit and group them together based on their results, then we teach according to the groups that they’re in. At the end of the unit, we test them again to see how much they have learned.”

Peterson became the principal of the great school in 2008, and brags of the pupils’ academic strength as central to the school’s success. A very involved Peterson checks in on each classroom to monitor students’ progress multiple times a day. He expressed that he and his teachers are determined to continue nurturing the potential in all their students.

One of the school’s success stories, Marlaisha Vereen, stated that the school really saw great potential in her when even she could not. The 19-year-old attended the school through sixth grade and plans on entering law school after graduating college.

Peterson noted again that, what the school is really doing is providing hope for kids and families who may not know their own capabilities. According to him, “With hope you can achieve anything.”

Last Edited by:Editor Updated: June 11, 2023


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