For at least 14 years, the current Hoboken Superintendent of Schools Christine Johnson went by Dr. Johnson, however, she did not receive her doctorate until August 2022, according to public records.
By John Heinis/Hudson County View
Until that point, documents and publications such as annual financial reports, minutes of school board meetings and yearbooks routinely referred to her as Dr. Johnson – the same way she would sign letters to parents and what her nameplate at school board meetings said.
Last August, Johnson received a Doctor of Letters in historical studies from Drew University, earned after submitting a dissertation on August 19th on the failure of a 2002 state law that aimed to add more black perspectives to public school social studies classes.
The Hoboken school board hired Johnson in April 2015 and it acknowledges now that she did not have a doctorate at the time. There is no state requirement that superintendents hold doctorates, but many do and the one other finalist whose name became public had earned a doctorate.
Responding to an inquiry from HCV, Johnson said the course work was completed years ago and that “unforeseen personal circumstances” prevented her from receiving her degree.
“… I had completed all of the required coursework, Joy of Scholarly Writing and dissertation courses for the degree years ago. Due to unforeseen personal circumstances, I did have to maintain my matriculation and update my work for much longer than I had ever hoped. That is now behind me and had/has no bearing on my credentials as superintendent of the Hoboken public schools.”
Before coming to Hoboken, Johnson had worked as the Boonton schools superintendent since 2008 and also had left the impression there that she had earned a doctorate.
In the Boonton district’s 2014-15 budget, for example, she is referred to as Dr. Christine Johnson.
Under her picture in the 2009, 2010, and 2011 Boonton High School yearbooks, she’s listed as Dr. Christine Johnson. In their 2012 yearbook, other administrators note their highest degree, but although she’s listed as Dr. Johnson, no corresponding degree appears.
After Hoboken hired her, she quickly started being called Dr. Johnson. The district’s 2015-2016 budget book – published just before she started work on July 15, 2015 – listed her as Dr. Johnson.
In all 75 of the board meetings she attended until last August, she was also referred to as Dr. Johnson.
At no time did she or the board discourage the use of the inappropriate title, video recordings of the meetings show.
Furthermore, in her response to HCV, Johnson indicated that she hadn’t submitted her dissertation before applying for the Hoboken job, saying only that she had completed the other work for the degree.
But in answering an Open Public Records Act request for information on Johnson’s background, Board President Sharyn Angley and Vice President Malani Cademartori asserted that Johnson had also finished all the work for the degree, including her dissertation before 2015 but didn’t receive her degree until she paid off her tuition.
“While finished with her requirements for her Doctor of Letters, the superintendent maintained matriculation in order to continue paying owed tuition. Once Dr. Johnson finished paying her tuition, her diploma for that particular degree was released,” they wrote in the January 18th email.
However, her dissertation raises doubts about this claim. Johnson’s dissertation, dated August 19th, 2022, indicates that it was researched and written several years after the board hired her, not before.
It contains nearly 100 references and footnotes to books, articles and other sources published in 2019 or later.
It also mentions events that occurred well after 2015, such as the launch of the 1619 Project in 2019, legislation that Gov. Phil Murphy (D) signed in 2021 amidst the COVID-19 pandemic.
In addition, the three-page resume Johnson submitted to the board as part of her application for the job makes no mention of her working on a doctorate.
Angley, who was also a board member in 2015, and Cademartori said “her resume at the time of hire did not refer to her completed doctoral coursework, scholarly writing requirement or dissertation as those were not pertinent to nor required for the position.”
They also mentioned that Johnson is currently enrolled at the Wharton Aresty Institute of Executive Education, through the University of Pennsylvania, for a six week long certificate program in the area of Executive Presence and Leadership Development.
A year of tuition for a D.Litt. degree from Drew was $59,040 last year, but the 45 credits required for the degree would need at least two years to complete.
Johnson earned $157,500 in her first year as Hoboken’s superintendent, back when the state set limits on school chiefs’ salaries. This school year, her salary and bonuses total $233,052.
Johnson, 52, who lives in Denville, has her loyal fans as well as her critics. She’s beloved by a passionate group of parents who have raised $1.5 million for extra-curricular programs since 2015.
And now finishing her eighth year as superintendent, she’s given the district some stability after five superintendents and interim superintendents came and went over the previous eight years.
She also received national praise for managing to consistently keep students and teachers inside classrooms during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Still, some parents pushed back against the a district’s vaccination-or-testing mandate on students 12 and over for the start of the 2021-2022 scholastic year and the policy was eventually scrapped.
She also was an outspoken supporter of building a $331 million high school on the current high school football field, but in a the citywide referendum early last year, the proposal was voted down by a 2-1 margin.
Last week, the Hoboken Board of Education declined to address the heart of the doctorate matter, but was highly critical of the residents who had been looking into Johnson’s background, specifically claiming that two OPRA lawsuits, both won by the district, were taking money out of classrooms.
“The board believes that the superintendent’s resume and track record speak for itself and will not entertain these personal attacks, which take important resources away from the students of the public school district, including the attention of our talented administration,” the nine-member volunteer board said in a joint statement.
“These spurious implications have absolutely no bearing on the progress of the district and the programs that are important to our students under the very capable leadership of our superintendent, and the diversion created by them are translated into a waste of taxpayer funds.”