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Interview with Ms. Beth Johnson

By Aria Fiorillo (Reporter ‘25)

Our Friends’ Central community is overjoyed that Ms. Beth Johnson is now officially the Head of School! She has been a member of the FCS community since she was three years old, and she has always been connected to the school. The FOCUS staff were eager to learn more about Ms. Beth’s plan for FCS and about her, so I interviewed her. It was a fascinating conversation that made me enthusiastic about the years to come. I started off by asking her what inspired her to become the Head of School, to which she described Friends’ Central as “home” and expressed that “the only place [she] would want to be Head of School is here.” In regard to being Head of School as a Black woman during these volatile times, Ms. Beth responded quickly, “How could I not want to lead the school at this particular time?” With all of her experience as a student and then faculty member of FCS, she said, “it feels great for the school not to have a stranger leading at this time so that we can get busy doing the work as opposed to taking the time for someone to get used to the school.”

When asked what insight her own schooling experience gives her, she made clear that she understands the student perspective as well as that of faculty. She expressed the hatred she had for homework as a child, as well as deeper concerns that she had as a student during the 60s and 70s. After sharing her struggles, she then expressed gratitude: “I didn’t know how good I really had it until I was gone. I think that’s part of the reason why I felt ten years later that I wanted to give back.” Ms. Beth shared that when she graduated, she had the dream of becoming a pediatrician, but she found she did not feel the same excitement in pediatric studies that she got from being an educator, which she summarily described as “continuing revelation.” She loves that education continues to evolve with time, adding that “we [Friends’ Central School] are changing at a rate to help students with an unknown future.” Continuing on, she explained that since times change, future plans change—thus, schools must be “constantly evolving.”

When asked what she would like to change about FCS, she talked about community involvement: “I don’t want it to be my vision, I want it to be a collective vision. I want it to be a vision that we are all excited about.” Ms. Beth expressed her confidence in FCS’s innovative efficiency: “Anything that we can imagine, we can build.” She conveyed a common theme of embracing change. When I asked her what the collective vision she mentioned is, she simply stated she wants it to be different: “If we have the same school we have now in five years, that is pretty pitiful.” To effect change, Ms. Beth said that she asks herself “what’s missing” from what FCS has going on now. Her favorite thing about the current state of FCS, without hesitation, is the community and the people within it.

On being the first Black woman to be Head of School, Ms. Beth transparently replied, “It’s overwhelming.” She describes it as “an incredible opportunity and immense weight [upon her] at the same time.” When I inquired about her identity’s impact on her view of how FCS should be run, she said that every voice is important: “It is important for me to make sure I am listening… not only with my ears, but also with my brain and my heart. That’s the way I want to lead this community: with love and care.” As for reaching out to the wider community as an elite school, Ms. Beth said this: “For so many of us who are here, we call it an open campus. I believe there are fences around our campus that are not perceived by those of us who drive into it and have the lovely and wonderful opportunity to take advantage of everything that’s here. But for those who [don’t turn into the campus], there is a fence there. There’s a barrier. My goal is to be the kind of school that is accessible… [I ask myself] what are the ways in which we, on this side, can take down the fence so that more people would be able to take advantage of some of the resources that we have? I’m not saying that every single person is going to be able to come to school here. I don’t mean that. But I do mean that we have a lot to share and it is our responsibility to share it.” Above all, she wants to make it easier for those who come after her. At the end of the interview, Ms. Beth shared what she wants students to know about her. She really loves music, specifically the 70s and Motown, and she enjoys singing.

As we wrapped up, Ms. Beth shared that she wants the FCS community to know that the door is always open and that she is always open—she genuinely wants to hear the voices of students! Ms. Beth punctuated our conversation with a query: “Who’s working on the next generation of doctors, and how are they going to learn to be better doctors than the doctor I would have been at my age now?” She wants to serve students in a way that helps them for their future.

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