New Bolles Head of School moves into San Marco

By Susanna P. Barton
Resident Community News

Brian Johnson and his wife Cindy were looking for a neighborhood with a sense of community and place that was convenient to the Bartram, San Jose and Ponte Vedra campuses of The Bolles School, where Brian recently was hired as head of school.
They found it in San Marco. This summer, the Johnsons moved from Colorado into a beautiful, understated home on Holly Lane. Brian said it’s just the place to raise their three children, Kyle, (ninth grade), Luke (seventh grade) and Quinn (third grade) — and, of course, their large greyhound, Cruz.
The Resident sat down with Johnson last month in his Bolles School office to reflect on his new communities, and what kind of impact he hopes to make there.

What was your Jacksonville connection prior to coming to Bolles?
I had no connection to Jacksonville. But I’ve long known Bolles — it’s a fairly small world of independent schools, and Bolles has a tremendous reputation nationally. I had run into Bolles graduates, I hired one when I was working at a school in Kentucky. Bolles also fit our family’s desires for a school. It was a great match for us professionally, but it was also a great opportunity for our kids.

Tell me a little about the opportunity, what was your family looking for in terms of a “next move?”
We wanted to have a community that had a city but also had a small town feel. That’s why we settled in San Marco, frankly. It has that sense of place that you don’t often get in a major city. Jacksonville has those opportunities and that’s what was most attractive to us about San Marco.

Where else did you look?
We looked all over the city. The location being so close to Downtown but also being seven or eight minutes from two of the campuses where I’ll spend most of my time, was a real selling point. We loved Julington Creek, but at the end of the day it was the combination of the location and the feel of the place that drew us to San Marco Square.
What attracted you to your house?
It’s very understated and removed from the road, it’s a very livable house. It was built in the 1930s but has some of the amenities of a house that has been redone.

Who’s under your roof now?
My wife Cindy and I have Kyle, Luke and Quinn. They’re on all three campuses of the school. We have a greyhound, a rescue greyhound named Cruz that we love. He is a giant greyhound. He’s about as big a greyhound as you’re ever going to see.

What have the kids enjoyed about neighborhood?
They enjoy the feel of the neighborhood — there are lots of kids around. My daughter has a piano teacher who lives three or four houses down the street. We have a side lot and there are some lacrosse nets around. My boys love football and lacrosse.

Any interests you can pursue in the neighborhood?
I workout six days a week but I don’t do that all outside, partially because I’m still melting in Florida. I do run twice a week on the elliptical and swim two days a week.

Bolles has an emphasis on volunteerism and doing for the community, how do you plan to put yourself out there in the Jacksonville
We want to do whatever we can do as a school to reach out to the community. As a school we want to be a place that serves the public good. Being so new to the community, it’s difficult know what I’ll be doing to reach out personally. In my previous schools, I’ve been very active with Urban League, youth ministry, working with the I Have a Dream Foundation, which works with underserved families, and I’m engaged at the Lincoln Foundation in Louisville. Diversity is a real passion for me in terms of school. We’re looking at opportunities here, and as a family we’ve typically volunteered at our church.

Do you have plans to worship anywhere locally?
It’s a good question. So we’ve visited some wonderful churches. We seek out Bible-believing churches that have a focus on mission. And there are a lot of them here in Jacksonville. We are having a family conversation about the specifics of worship and youth programming with the kids. I think we’ll have a final decision within the next two or three sees. Church is very important to our family.

Have you found places you like to go to go around San Marco?
We liked all the restaurants there in San Marco, from bb’s to European Street Cafe and Pizza Palace — we’re big fans of Pizza Palace — the whole area has been great. We’ve done a fair amount of recreation. But the school is a pretty comprehensive place for that. Our kids are very busy. My older son plays football, and there’s a significant commitment to football here. Even relative to other high school football teams, this commitment is significant at Bolles. Then, academically, Bolles does not shy away from saying it will be a challenge. They are very busy.

How does your parenting parlay into your new role as head of school?
I’m told I’m the first head of school that has had children attending the school. Part of it is to take the big picture with my own kids. Their experience isn’t everyone’s experience. I’ve also learned not to react to what a 15-year-old might say in a weak moment of being frustrated — I try to take that in context. I spend a lot of time with the kids here, I eat lunch with them, I go listen in on classes, and I’ll sit with kids in foyer. Those things give me a sense of what the kids are experiencing.

What is your goal for your children, and is the same for these
I always say — and it’s not very elegant the way I say it — but I say it’s our job is to help families help their children become better people. That’s what I want. I want my children to be good people. I want them to use the talents God’s given them in positive ways for others. We believe very strongly in service at Bolles. That’s who we are. That’s what I want for my kids. I want them to serve others and to be good people.

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