Every person has the power to make a difference in the lives of others.

For Carla Johnson ’96, ’02, that person was the late Mr. Robert Benjamin Wiley, former Edinboro trustee and longtime president of the Greater Erie Community Action Committee (GECAC). For thousands of students and graduates in the Erie area, that person is Carla Johnson.

“I never had a counselor mention college to me or anything,” said Johnson, CEO of Robert Benjamin Wiley Community Charter School. “I was working for Mr. Wiley at GECAC, and he encouraged me to go to school. I told him, ‘No. You can’t make me leave you.’ Understand that this was the best job I had ever had. I was making $13,000 a year. I couldn’t leave that job. Nevertheless, he held my hand kicking and screaming and took me to Edinboro, and I’m so thankful that he did.”

Johnson chose to major in education and thrived in the challenging yet supportive environment at Edinboro.

“Edinboro was so wonderful for me,” she said. “I was blessed to have a group of teachers that encouraged me and made me feel like I could be successful.”

Prior to her current role, Johnson devoted 26 years as a teacher and administrator in Erie’s Public Schools.

“The Erie City School District was very, very good to me,” she said. “But I really wanted to spend my last couple of years before retirement really pouring into the kids the way that Mr. Wiley poured into me.”

Robert Benjamin Wiley Community Charter School serves students in kindergarten through 8th grade.

Approximately 98% of the student population comes from low income households.

“Many of our students are considered at risk, and there are kids with escalated behaviors. But it’s beautiful here,” Johnson said. “My goal is to raise academic performance, which we did last year, and to help students and adults have understanding, empathy and compassion for families, kids and teachers.”

She greets students at the door each school day with an important message.

“I always say to them, ‘Your principal loves you,’” she said. “I want them to feel loved, supported and heard. That’s the same thing that Mr. Wiley did for me.”

Johnson named her only son Benjamin in honor of her mentor.

“God put me here. I pray that I understand the assignment – that I can help somebody the way that he helped me.”