[Updated at 6:20 p.m.] Denver George Washington High School’s principal Micheal Johnson, who became the target of vocal criticism over changes to the school’s International Baccalaureate program, is leaving the school to take a central administrative job. 

“[I]t has been my honor and privilege to serve your students as the principal of George Washington High School,” Johnson said in a letter sent this afternoon to parents. “It is with deep gratitude for your engagement in our community that I announce that I am moving into another leadership position with the Post-Secondary Readiness team of the Denver Public Schools.”

Jose Martinez, a former Jeffco Public Schools principal, director of diversity, and principal supervisor, has been named the school’s interim principal. Martinez’s first day will be Aug. 6.

Susana Cordova, DPS chief schools officer, said the change was part of the district’s ongoing effort to “support our teams and have people in places where they can be most successful.”

While leading George Washington, or GW, Johnson was paid $112,175. He’ll continue to be paid that salary in his new role, a principal on special assignment for post-secondary readiness at a yet-to-be determined school. Cordova said details are still being worked out on the school or schools where Johnson will be assigned.

Tension between Johnson, who was named principal of the southeast Denver high school two years ago, and the George Washington community escalated last spring as Johnson and DPS officials introduced parents to their plan to open access to the school’s IB program.

The strain was exacerbated by Johnson’s alleged unresponsiveness to teachers’ and parents’ concerns over the changes and next year’s teacher assignments.

Micheal Johsnon
Micheal Johnson
PHOTO CREDIT: SCORE

The IB plan, slated to take effect in the 2015 school year, is intended to make the  program  accessible to a larger number of students. Currently, the program is highly selective, and only students who enter as underclassmen are allowed to pursue the prestigious IB diploma. The re-imagined program would mirror admissions policies at other IB programs across the nation.

Cordova said that Johnson’s departure in no way signals a weakening of the district’s resolve to make changes to IB, or to beef up GW’s Advanced Placement and lower-grades honors program. “Most definitely, the work will continue. Our commitment to keeping parents engaged [in planning the changes] is critical. Our commitment to keeping students engaged is critical.”

She also said that one of Martinez’s strengths is communicating effectively with a diverse student and parent population “and bringing people together around a common agenda.” A 2006 story in the Denver Post portrayed him as a no-nonsense school leader.

Johnson and district officials believe the IB program, as it is currently structured, has produced unintended achievement gaps between the school’s middle-income and poor students.

Just over 400 of George Washington’s 1,424 students are enrolled in the IB program. And only 14 percent qualify for free- or reduced-lunch, a proxy of poverty, while more than half of the school’s entire population qualifies by the same standard.

Critics, parents and students alike, packed the school’s library in May to voice their concerns about the changes. They fear the proposed changes will water down the elite program’s rigor.

Since then, a vocal group of IB parents have called for Johnson’s resignation.

The news of Johnson’s exit comes one week after the Denver teachers union filed a formal grievance with the district claiming Johnson cut the school’s leadership team of teachers out of the development of the master schedule.

“This continues to fit the double standard that Denver Public Schools has for administration versus other employees,” said union leader Billy Husher. “Administrator after administrator is moved out of their position for district-level positions when they are ineffective as leaders while teachers and other employees are hung out to dry and told that they cannot work in the District for a minimum of 3 years before they are eligible for rehire.”

According to Johnson’s letter, instructional superintendent Fred McDowell will lead the transition, which includes finalizing the schedule, naming an interim-principal, and hiring nine teachers.

Correction: An earlier version of this article incorrectly reported Micheal Johnson had earned a masters degree from Harvard. He received his masters from the University of Colorado. He also, according to his resume on Linkedin participated in an educational leadership program at Harvard.