How the principal of Cato Middle College High School has changed with schools over time

Alicisa Johnson, principal of Charlotte-Mecklenburg’s Cato Middle College High, presents a diploma.
Alicisa Johnson, principal of Charlotte-Mecklenburg’s Cato Middle College High, presents a diploma. Observer file photo

Alicisa Johnson has been in the field of education for as long as she can remember. Johnson, 49, has been a math teacher, assistant principal, and as of 2014, the principal of Cato Middle College High School.

Ever since she was a little girl, education has been her top priority, her passion.

“While growing up, I wanted to be a teacher,” said Johnson, who was born and raised in Rock Hill, SC. “I would line up my dolls across my bed and teach them lessons.”

After Johnson graduated from the University of South Carolina in Columbia with a math degree, she became a math teacher at North Mecklenburg High School for eight years. Then, Johnson became interested in administration and was promoted to assistant principal of North Meck. After mentoring a first-year teacher, she wanted to help other new teachers as well.

Johnson said that the most challenging school she’s ever encountered during her career was Harding University High School, where she worked as the principal. At the time, Harding was one of the schools in the district that was targeted for closing due to low enrollment. However, nearby Waddell High School was voted to be closed in 2010 by the school board, sending students to Harding.

“Students that came from Waddell were upset and so were their parents,” said Johnson. “It led to lots of fights among staff, students and parents, and it was a very challenging couple of years to get everyone settled to one campus.”

After she left Harding, Johnson transferred into the principal position at Cato in August 2014 because it was a new challenge for her. She said that she has served as principal at a middle and high school, but a middle college was a new experience for her.

Students at Cato come from high schools across the district with most of their high school courses completed. They complete the courses they need for graduation and fill in the rest of their schedules by registering for general education college courses and/or courses they need to take to receive their Associate’s Degree.

At Cato, Johnson works to make sure that students are provided with necessary resources and opportunities such as the Cato Library, school laptops and school clubs like the National Honor Society and Multi-Cultural Club, to help them advance in their education.

Cato senior Hadiya Presswood, 18, has been going to Cato since her junior year and sees Johnson as a role model because of her leadership and, simply because she knows the names of the students. Presswood is a member of the National Honor Society at Cato, and when the team needs to establish community based projects or other activities, they go to Johnson.

“If we approach her with a well-thought-out plan and a timeline of events, and our activity follows the CPCC and Cato regulations, she encourages us to proceed,” Presswood said. “When I needed to request an auditorium for my senior exit project, she helped transfer my request quickly.”

In addition, Johnson has facilitated professional developmental opportunities that teachers can attend such as the Instructional Leadership Team and the Intentional Leadership conference.

Cato Middle College High School’s Career Technical Coordinator Tasha Sherill, 47, has worked with Johnson for more than two years.

“Ms. Johnson seeks out the best in everyone and encourages you no matter if you are a student, parent or educator,” said Sherill. “She is no-nonsense and believes in getting the job done correctly.”

Johnson wants to see Cato grow by enrolling more students. After combining the 2017 prom with both Cato Middle College and Harper Middle College High School this past April, her goal is to work closely with the other middle college high schools in Charlotte such as Levine and Merancas, so they can do more collaborative activities to build a middle college community.

She reflects on her career so far fondly.

“I have lots of great memories,” Johnson said. “I have worked with some amazing students and teachers, some that I still talk to from many years ago. One of the best parts about being an educator is seeing what your students become and having them tell you what a difference you made to them.”

This story was written as a part of the Charlotte Observer’s high school journalism Explorer Post. Questions? Email Corey Inscoe at cinscoe@charlotteobserver.com.