Today is Marietta Johnson's birthday, a holiday of sorts in Fairhope, with a little celebration on the campus where she started her demonstration school 99 years ago. I'll go this afternoon, watch Joe Johnston cut the cake, listen to the music, and pledge silently to keep helping Mrs. Johnson's school to realize its potential in the 21st Century, particularly next year for the Centennial celebrations.
Joe Johnston himself is an interesting testament to Organic education. In the 1930's he was a multi-talented teenager with a checkered history -- a high school underachiever and dropout with no plans for the future and a misguided idea that he wouldn't amount to much in life. Persuaded by his parents to return to school and get at least a high school degree, he enrolled at what was then known as the Organic School in the town of Fairhope, where he lived. Over there, they were willing to bend rules -- in fact, rules per se meant very little to them. Mrs. Johnson's two rules for all her students were that they attend all the classes punctually and do the very best they could in all of them. Excellence meant simply one's own best, and there were no external measurements or competitions for the students at her school. This allowed the students to be as excellent as they possibly could -- and for Joe and almost all her students this meant a great deal.
He went on to graduate, and then to graduate from college with a degree in technical theatre. After serving in the Army, marrying a beautiful wife and returning from the war to live in California, Joe got a job as a set designer for CBS. His son, Joseph Johnston Jr., is a film director, responsible for such hits as October Sky and Jurassic Park III. When Joe and his wife Maurice moved back to Fairhope in the 1980's, their daughter Jill moved here too, and now she teaches art at the Marietta Johnson School.
Next year will be a big year. Joe will be named "Graduate of the Month" for January, and there will be others honored every month of 2007, and maybe from now on, the list is so long.
We're still recovering from the low enrollment syndrome we suffered a few years ago, but numbers are climbing and the re-emphasis on our arts program is a big help. Our new director, Leslie Mulcahy, is optimistic and we are confident that we will soon be out of survival mode and back into the heart of Fairhope where we belong.
This is a good day to celebrate that.