When the Howard University Math and Science Middle School opens, an event planned for the fall of 2005, it will owe part of its existence to Marie C. Johns, a veteran local telecommunications executive who retired this year -- and now spends more time than ever on local civic work.

When Johns was president of Verizon Washington, she served on a long list of boards and performed a range of fundraising duties, which continue.

She is co-chairing a $5 million fund-raising campaign for the Girl Scouts and chairing an annual fundraising dinner for Southeastern University this fall.

But it is the lab school at Howard that shows Johns's hands-on style.

Johns, who is a trustee of Howard, is chairing the effort to build a school on the university's Northwest Washington campus that would try to increase minority middle school students' interest in math and science. It would be a charter school, focused on sharing ideas for improving math and science teaching throughout the D.C. schools.

Johns's role is not confined to fundraising. The new school is a start-up; she and the rest of its board are trying to hire a chief academic officer, design the school's curriculum and set up its location on the Howard campus.

"Washington can be something of a transient community, and that is true of the business leadership as well," Johns said.

"That creates challenges you might not have in a city where the business community is less mobile. But the fact that it's the nation's capital, it's everyone's hometown, means it's not as hard to get people engaged as you might think."

-- Neil Irwin