Pamela D. Johnson, Ph.D. Memorial Scholarship

The Rock Island public school system shaped Pam’s life in a way that is rare in today’s mobile society.  Pam attended K-12 and graduated with another 550 cohesive and loyal members of the Class of 1961.  For Pam and many of her RlHS classmates, friendships developed early at Audubon Grade School.  Pam’s friendships matured with each year’s layer of experiences through Washington Junior High and Rock Island High School (a.k.a. “Rocky”), cementing life-long friendships.  Pam, modest and private, seldom spoke of her past, apart from her children and “Daddy” (Peter D. Johnson), influential teachers, church youth groups and choirs.  These factors provided a foundation built on bedrock which Pam drew upon later in life.

It was natural that Pam would follow her older sister, Shari,  to the University of Iowa.  An Education major, Pam married, took extra classes, delivered daughter Melissa, and graduated early in January 1965. Pam had a second child, Jim, and as she raised two children, she began taking graduate level classes.  Pam tutored students in her home, as she attended the University of Northern Iowa.  By the time Jim was in school, Pam was teaching full time in the Waterloo, IA public school system.  In 1979, she earned her master’s degree from UNI in Educational Administration..

None of Pam’s students (or family members) could escape Pam’s ability to catch their grammatical errors, and receive an immediate correction; accompanied with the grammatical rule.  Her children and grandchildren have carried the baton to their respective generations.  Pam was clearly strong as a technician working within objective rules and guidelines.  She was selected to be on the implementation team which was responsible to develop a Talented and Gifted program for the Waterloo School district.  This was a crossroads opportunity for Pam to meet and for years to come work with George Betts, the architect who conceived and developed the Autonomous Learner Model process for Talented and Gifted programs.

This was a time of rapid change for Pam: raising teenagers, surviving separation and ultimately a 1986 divorce, an empty nest as Melissa and Jim went to college.  In 1987, Pam was recruited by the West Des Moines Superintendent to strengthen the WDM Talented and Gifted program as the program coordinator.    Together, with her extended staff of TAG teachers, they raised the WDM Gifted program to national prominence, frequently hosting assessment and benchmarking teams from all over the US to show these teams how WDM embraced the Autonomous Learner Model process.

Following Pam’s move to WDM, she and fellow teacher and native Iowan Lori became close friends.  They agreed to simultaneously pursue their Ph.D. from Iowa State University in Ames, IA.  Once again, Pam developed and held herself to a schedule with a 1995 graduation date from ISU.   Pam’s doctoral dissertation was on the use of statistics and sampling techniques to measure the effectiveness of education, whether classes, programs, administrators, teachers, district performance, curriculums, etc.

Pam was even stronger on developing interpersonal skills and building relationships.  One of Pam’s favorite students, Tracy, wrote me a note following Pam’s death, describing how Pam paired up her students with residents of a local nursing home to help the students demonstrate empathy for others.  Pam “walked the talk”, as she demonstrated her capacity for genuine compassion for Tracy’s family when Tracy’s baby sister died.

The joy and satisfaction of establishing these two funds with the Community Foundation of the Great River Bend run parallel to Pam’s adult life of measuring performance or success with objective, measurable data or measuring performance with subjective metrics, supported by observation at best and unfounded bias at worst:

The Scholarship Fund follows objective criteria used by the Bettendorf School District and the Pleasant Valley Foundation for a graduating senior to be eligible for a scholarship.  Our profile of the model award winner would be a student planning to attend one of the three public universities in Iowa, majoring in Education with the goal of becoming a teacher.

The Experience Fund is intended to aid in funding speculative, high risk projects with a relatively low dollar “seed money” investment.  The expectation is not for a financial return in the short term.   The ideal current year project would spark the imaginations of multiple students to ask “What if…? “ as they create/invent/collaborate on future projects which may have potential for future (5-20 years) high rewards, whether social or financial.  The Experience Fund provides modest funding for multiple students to take advantage of external opportunities otherwise not accessible because the opportunity was not a part of the school’s budget.  We have confidence that Pam’s Experience Fund is sowing “seed money” which will someday yield a bountiful harvest to benefit many.

Did Pam plan her nursing home project so that nearly fifty years later, Tracy would vividly remember Pam pairing Tracy with a nursing home patient, or remember Pam bringing dinner to a grieving family?  For my part, I think Pam might have briefly considered that she could be Tracy’s favorite teacher, but not for these essential human emotions.  Forty-five years after that shared year in Waterloo, Tracy can immediately articulate the primary reasons why Pam was her favorite teacher.  Pam provided the opportunity for Tracy to not only learn, but practice empathy and compassion.  The nursing home experience helped Tracy prepare for her sister’s death a short time later.  The experience also prepared Tracy and her classmates for life.

Pam died without any knowledge of the two funds that will carry her name forward for years to come.  Multiple students at Bettendorf and Pleasant Valley will #1. benefit, and #2. Succeed, without any idea who Pamela D. Johnson, Ph.D. was.  As for Pam, that would be just fine by her.  At Pam’s Celebration service, Bob, a good friend of ours described Pam as “elegantly understated” in everything she did: her appearance, personality, faith, and work.  I couldn’t agree with Bob more!

Criteria to Apply:

  • Be a graduating senior of PVHS
  • Student planning to attend one of the three public universities in Iowa
  • Hoping to major in Education with the goal of becoming a teacher

Scholarship Personal Statement/Essay:

  • TBD