After more than a half-century of work in the field of education, Howard and Jo Jean Johnson are closing the book on successful careers and getting ready to pass their Sylvan Learning center on to a new business-minded entrepreneur looking to make a difference in Lawton, Oklahoma. The Johnsons spent two decades with Sylvan, growing their center into an award-winning franchise across the brand’s 750 points of presence in the world. Now, with a catalog of memories and success stories to last a lifetime, the Johnsons feel prepared to hand over the reins to their Lawton Sylvan Learning Center to a worthy successor.
The Johnsons were working in the Lawton Public School system in 1998 when they first discovered Sylvan Learning. Howard had served 32 years as a teacher, counselor, and administrator, while Jo Jean worked as a school secretary for more than three decades.
“One of my jobs as a central office administrator was handling student services, where I assisted parents in finding tutors for students who needed help beyond the classroom,” Howard said. “There were never enough qualified tutors in our community, and that experience planted the seed for me to look into the tutoring business.”
When Howard chaired a committee to write a grant to fund an alternative school in the Lawton School District, he asked an Oklahoma City Public School administrator, who was also a friend from college, about unique programs that school system had implemented. The friend told him about a partnership with Sylvan Learning called Sylvan in Schools, a system-wide in-school initiative at the time.
“He said he’d seen more academic success with the Sylvan program than anything else their district had implemented, further planting that seed,” Howard continued. “Sylvan was at the time – and still is – the leading provider of tutoring services in the nation. I contacted Sylvan, and Jo Jean and I flew to Baltimore for a closer look. We ended up opening the first national tutoring center in the Lawton-Fort Sill community.”
Now 20 years later, the Johnsons have impacted countless lives in their community. Howard told the story of one student who came to the center 18 years ago as an elementary school student enrolled in special education and really struggling in reading and math. The student stayed with Sylvan through high school, came off his reading IEP (Individual Education Prescription), was admitted to a local university and qualified for a scholarship. He graduated with a degree in communications and currently works in the news department of a television station. Another student Howard and Jo Jean tutored in reading and math in middle school still drops by to see them occasionally as an adult. He became a teacher.
“Sylvan’s diagnostic and prescriptive tutoring helps us work with students on the things they’re missing,” Howard said. “The curriculum’s ability to really target skills is why we can help students make such dramatic progress. Traditional tutors don’t have these tools.”
Closer to home, Howard and Jo Jean have been able to better the lives of their family through Sylvan, as well. Their twin grandsons and two granddaughters started coming to Sylvan at the age of 4. One grandchild is in middle school, and the other three are sophomores in high school. “Thanks to Sylvan, as well as great parents, all four are honor roll students,” Howard said.
Reflecting on their careers, the Johnsons know how meaningful Sylvan Learning has been in their community. As far as retirement plans are concerned, Howard and Jo Jean plan to add a few stamps to their passport book and spend time watching their grandchildren play sports. While they are moving on, they are looking forward to seeing Sylvan continue to benefit Lawton-Fort Sill for many years to come.
“I saw a quote recently that rings true in my ears, ‘Stop chasing the money, and start chasing the passion,’” Howard said. “I think any successful Sylvan franchisee must have a passion for helping kids learn so they can be all they can be. Despite the variety of career paths out there, everyone needs to have good reading and math skills in this technological era to be successful.”
“Most students need a warm, caring, positive, bright, well-trained teacher to give them empathy and the spark to learn essential skills and move forward,” he continued. “Sylvan of Lawton will continue as a top-performing Sylvan Center as long as it has an owner who has the knowledge, work ethic, and caring spirit to carry this vision forward.”
To learn more about franchising opportunities with Sylvan and to inquire about taking over ownership of the Lawton location, visit www.sylvanfranchise.com