The day before dozens of teachers were to return to Northwest Middle in Taneytown to settle into their classrooms, the school's new principal was so excited he couldn't sleep.
Steven Johnson said the sleepless Sunday night was confirmation that he had made the right decision to seek a transfer.
After several years in various administrative posts with the Carroll County's school system, including most recently as director of curriculum and instruction, Johnson, 40, said he wanted a change.
"Monday was the first day back with teachers. I was like a kid on the first day of school," Johnson said. Being back in a school "has recharged my batteries."
Across the district, nearly 29,000 students and 2,250 teachers will return to the district's 42 schools tomorrow. With about 600 of those pupils expected to stream through the doors at Northwest Middle, the chances are good that Johnson won't get much sleep tonight either.
As a director in the system's central office, Johnson said he visited many schools over the years, but quickly fell in love with Northwest Middle.
"I love the community out here. I love the school," he said as he walked along the hallways one day last week greeting teachers and custodians, many of whom have been spending long days and late nights putting last-minute touches on the building.
"They have a great group of teachers who really work hard to move the students forward, and I said, 'I want to be a part of that,'" he said. "This school is one that I really wanted to go to."
Johnson said he had been asking for the transfer for the past two years, but schools Superintendent Charles I. Ecker had told him he was more needed at the district's central office in Westminster.
"I realized that after about ... 10 years at central office, I missed being in schools," Johnson said. "I really wanted to get back to where the kids are."
Since July, when Johnson's reassignment was announced during a school board meeting, he has spent time getting to know teachers, parents, children and community and business leaders.
"I got to learn what works well here and what may need changing," he said. "We're working on making the learning here challenging and relevant to the lives of kids."
He said he also spent the summer working with the school's assistant principal, Amy Fonseca, as he acquaints himself with everything from school policies to bus and lunch schedules.
Johnson began his educational career at North Harford High in Pylesville, where he taught Spanish for a year. He then taught at Westminster High for nine years.
But what he really wanted to do was teach middle school, he said.
So, Johnson took a teaching job at Clark Middle School in Lexington, Mass.
At the age of 29, he returned to Maryland to become principal at Sacred Heart School in Glyndon.
Soon after, he became supervisor of English and foreign language for the Carroll County school system, a post he held for four years before becoming the district's director of curriculum and instruction.
Last year, he served a brief stint as interim assistant superintendent when the outgoing assistant superintendent of school management, Harry T. Fogle, accepted a job with the Baltimore City school district.
When Northwest's principal, Dana Falls, was promoted to director of student services this year, Johnson made his pitch for the job. This time, Ecker relented.
Last week, teachers and staff at Northwest Middle said they look forward to working with Johnson.
"He seems to have positive energy," said Dana Bradley, an early childhood teacher. "He interacts very well with his staff. He knows their names already and he just started."
Custodian Kathy Clutter, who has worked at the school for seven years, said she has found her new boss to be quite the cut-up.
"He's a great guy," she said. "It's nice to have someone with a little humor to go along with being the principal. It makes it nice to come to work."
Walking the school's pristine corridors with their shiny floors and colorful bulletin boards, Johnson talked about his hopes and goals for the school year.
"I want kids to want to come to school. I want them to feel like this is their school. That they take a lot of pride in their school, that they respect each other and respect the school building, keep it clean, keep it neat, but really have fun here," he said.
"If that happens, learning happens."