She's the longest serving principal in Dubai, who not only founded and managed her "little" school for over 30 years, but led it over three decades to become one of the city's best loved educational institutions.
Al Salam Private School boasts GCSE results, which for the past two years have only been surpassed by Dubai College. Although rated Good by the KHDA for the past six years much of the school's indicators are considered Very Good and even Outstanding.
The KHDA calls Johnston 'inspirational'. We named her one of our inaugural 'Educational Influencers of 2017.
We asked why Ms Johnston why she had decided to step down as principal and take up the role of CEO instead?
You created Al Salam 30 years ago and have been at the helm ever since, why have you decided now is the time to step into the CEO role?
By the grace of Allah, it has been a real pleasure to see the school grow and flourish over all these years.
The UAE has developed so fast since the school was established, the general management demands of the school as an organisation, and the growing pressures associated with its operation has really grown exponentially.
Things were much simpler before with regards to areas such as finance, HR, operations and we were a smaller school back then... It was much easier to manage those roles while still focusing on education as the Headmistress. Now it’s just not possible anymore.
I always promised myself that I would not let anything compromise the quality of education that Al Salam provides. I want to ensure that the educational leadership of the school is driven by someone with greater breadth of insight and understanding of international standards and trends in education to ensure that the school remains at the forefront of delivering the very best experience to our students and families.
I believe my role as CEO will allow me to more effectively oversee the vision of Al Salam and remain connected with our stakeholders to ensure we are moving in the right direction.
Do you think it will be difficult for you to step away from the 'coal-face' of education? How do you plan to 'ease' into your new role?
It will certainly be difficult, I am so used to being involved in everything so stepping back to allow decisions to be taken independently will be a challenge. I know I will find it particularly difficult to detach from inclusion and SEND which hold a special place in my heart.
I expect there will be some progressive transition as I refocus my energy, I am relying on my dedicated and experienced team to carry the school’s vision forward and I have every confidence in their ability to do so.
New principal Kausor Amin-Ali comes to Al Salam with an impressive CV. Of note, is his PGCSE from Cambridge University, with an MA in Educational Leadership from Nottingham. He's also a published author on education in the Arab World and has spent several years as Ambassador for the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre.
Can you tell us what you saw in Kausor, that made him 'perfect-principal' material?
As you can imagine, as owner and principal all these years it was never going to be an easy task to entrust someone with responsibility for the educational leadership of the school.
We were fortunate enough to become acquainted with Kausor a few years ago during a visit through a mutual friend.
Kausor has been working with us as an advisor and member of our Governing body since March last year and he demonstrated both a philosophy and attitude which is consistent with what we deemed fundamental to the spirit of Al Salam and its continued improvement. That, alongside his impressive credentials, experience and competence to see the school forward just ticked all the boxes for us.
His time with us gave us the opportunity to evaluate the quality of his ideas, interactions with parents, staff and students as well as capacity to plan for the improvement of Al Salam. This has given us the confidence that he is the right person to take over as Principal.
It's great that he is already familiar face in the school and has gained enough confidence from the staff to see a smooth transition into his role.
What do you hope Kausor can bring to the role as principal at Al Salam?
He has a lot of great ideas, many of which have already been initiated and begun to take shape since last academic year so we expect him to really hit the ground running as Principal.
His leadership background and experience has really allowed him to diagnose and begin to tackle areas of development for the school and mobilise strategies to address them.
He is coming in with a strong background in technology for learning, UK standards for quality teaching and learning and insight into systems and structures which will help us overcome existing gaps in the school.
We have already completely modified our timetable structure for this academic year to promote more effective differentiation and support for students learning and progress. We expect to see quite rapid developments in our system of tracking and reporting of student progress and professional development opportunities for our staff.
He has also launched some exciting strategic partnerships which will help see us forward on multiple fronts of improvement.
Given how successful and popular Al Salam school is, do you have any future expansion plans?
We are looking at the idea of possible expansion. It has been a dream of ours for a long time and we would really love to have the infrastructure and capacity to provide greater experiential diversity and educational pathways for students.
"Let’s see what the future holds . . ."
Can we expect to see more of you at industry events, now you hypothetically have a little more time?
Absolutely! My love and interest in education is truly a lifelong commitment. I am keen to be involved and active wherever I can to support the improvement of lives through education both here in the UAE and internationally...