Dancing Queen: Dayton superintendent, partner sweep awards at Dancing For Our Stars fundraiser

Dr. Jessica Johnson and Sam Watkins can hardly hold the five Mirrorball trophies they earned on Saturday at the Dancing With Our Stars competition in Dayton.

Dayton ISD Superintendent Dr. Jessica Johnson says she won’t be giving up her day job despite sweeping the awards in the Dancing With Our Stars competition hosted by the Lee College Foundation on Saturday, May 21, at the Dayton Community Center.

Johnson and her dance partner, Sam Watkins, vice president of Integrity Environmental of Mont Belvieu, claimed nearly all of the coveted Mirrorball trophies for People’s Choice, Foundation Favorite and Judge’s Favorite in the contest that benefits the Lee College Foundation, sharing first place in one category with another dance duo – Sam Estrada and Robin McDougald, both of Texas First Bank and Baytown Little Theatre.

“The real victory was for our students. It was a great night for Lee College Education Foundation and it was a great night to be a Dayton Bronco,” Johnson said.

Dayton ISD was well-represented on Saturday at the Dancing For Our Stars contest at the Dayton Community Center. Dr. Jessica Johnson, superintendent, and Sam Watkins, a Mont Belvieu businessman, made up one of seven teams in the contest.

Together, Johnson and Watkins, with tremendous support from Dayton ISD employees and students, and area businesses, raised a whopping $46,000 to go toward the Lee College Education Foundation. For each $10,000 raised in the contest, Dayton ISD receives an annual endowment that will provide a Dayton High School graduate with a full-ride scholarship. With $46,000 raised, that means four Dayton High School students will receive the scholarships each year.

“No donation was too large or too small, and our Dayton ISD family came together and made things happen. I would never dream we would raise so much money,” said Johnson, adding that it made all the weeks of preparation worth it.

Johnson was not the only local “star” performing at this year’s Dancing For Our Stars. The seven teams that participated included Liberty Mayor and Lee College Foundation Board Member Carl Pickett and wife, Laura; Richard and Angela Vinson, owners of Liberty Pest Control; Derrick Anderson of Entergy and Gina Guillory of Lee College; Earnest and Alicia Brooks of Goose Creek Consolidated ISD; and Kirven Tillis of Barbers Hill ISD and Elizabeth Oyler of Crosby Dance Studio. The Vinsons had to cancel at the last minute due to the birth of their first grandchild on Saturday.

For weeks leading up to the competition, the teams met at least once or twice a week to work on their routines and music choices.

“I had never met Sam prior to being partnered with him through Lee College for this fundraiser. We did most of our own choreography and picked our own music selections,” Johnson said.

In one portion of their performance, Watkins surprised the audience by doing the splits, and then had the crowd cheering as he feigned needing help to get back up. Though the other teams gave solid performances, the tipping point with the judges and audience for Johnson and Watkins came at the end of their performance when Watkins picked up Johnson for a 360-degree flip.

“We aren’t professional dancers. Our goal was to entertain and get people on their feet with fan favorite songs,” Johnson said.

For those who have attended Dayton ISD’s convocations in years past, Johnson’s love of amateur dancing is well-known. She frequently leads teachers and administrators in these events.

“It’s easier to dance with a partner or in a group than to be one person dancing in front of a crowd,” said Johnson, adding that she frequently has dance-offs with her grandchildren.

When asked if she would agree to participate in next year’s Dancing With Our Stars contest, Johnson said it is unlikely.

“Why not go out on top?” Johnson said with a laugh.

The evening raised more than $120,000 for the Lee College Foundation, according to Johnson, not including proceeds from a silent auction that was part of the event.

On behalf of the Lee College Foundation and the Lee College Board of Regents, Chairman Gilbert Santana expressed his gratitude to everyone in attendance, and to Dayton ISD, the Dayton Chamber of Commerce and the City of Dayton for hosting the event. He also thanked presenting sponsor Family First ER and caterer Los Compadres.

“The most important thing about tonight is who we are recognizing – our stars, who are our students. They are the children, grandchildren, family members, neighbors and co-workers all around us. What a great feeling knowing we are helping the Lee College Foundation advance its mission to promote educational opportunities by providing financial support to Lee College students,” Santana said. “Each one of you tonight has participated in helping students achieve their educational goals and a pathway to a successful career and a fruitful life. From the Lee College Foundation Board, thank you all.”


  1. I was blessed to have worked under Dr. Johnson whenever she was at Cleveland and Sheldon ISDs. She lit up the districts with her positive energy and was definitely light on her feet then as well. She was such a joy to be around and to work for. She was one of the reasons that I stayed at Cleveland as long as I did! She truly is dedicated to providing a great education for all of the children. Love you, Jessica! Keep doing what you do so well! Congrats to you and your partner!

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