Education

Former Westfield Students Address School Board About Firing of High School Teacher

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WESTFIELD, NJ - The recent firing of Westfield teacher Kevin Johnson brought former students to Tuesday's Board of Education meeting to defend the teacher they say helped them get through high school.

Several former Westfield High school students spoke about Johnson, a media arts teacher at Westfield High School. While the board does not publicly comment on personnel issues, they listened to what each student had to say.

Anthony Mormile, who graduated from Westfield High School last year and currently attends Syracuse University, was emotional as he testified to the "great person" Johnson is and expressed his disbelief that Johnson has been fired. Mormile, who is involved with television and film at college, said he would not have gotten involved with the media or attended Syracuse if it was not for Johnson pushing him throughout high school.

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He reminisced about a time in high school when he was bullied and didn’t want to talk about it, but Johnson would not accept that. The teacher mediated, spoke to the bully and got the bullying to stop. He always pushed people to work their hardest, but at the same time he treated them as professionals and with the utmost respect, Mormile said.

“He always challenged me to outperform myself,” he said. “I wouldn’t have been able to survive if not for his guidance. But more importantly, I would not have gotten out of high school if not for his guidance.”

One of his classmates, Amanda Meghan Sullivan, also spoke about Johnson in glowing terms. Sullivan explained she was one of the only girls who wanted to do the lights for theater. When other teachers heard she wanted to work on lights, they laughed, she said - but not Johnson. She said he welcomed her with open warms and treated her like everyone else. She said she loved working with the tech crew for a show because Johnson pushed them, but also inspired them to work hard.

Sullivan said there was no teacher she trusted more than Johnson and for him to be fired "makes no sense at all." She stressed she and her friends sat through three hours of a board meeting to testify not because Johnson asked them to, but because they knew they should.

“He treated me like a human being and a professional,” she said.

In other business, the board agreed to expand the parking at Edison Intermediate School and Westfield High School.

Over the past two years, the town council and the board of education have held several community outreach meetings to hear the concerns of residents, and at a meeting on April 18, the council and school board proposed a plan to address these concerns. While not all of the residents approved of the plan, the board felt it was in the best interest of the town to improve parking and traffic safety.

Board President Rich Mattessich outlined the plan and said he felt confident it will ultimately benefit the students and the town.

“I am certain this plan does not satisfy everyone, but it is a step in the right direction,” Mattessich said.

The proposed plan would:

  • Expand the existing high school parking lot on the Rahway side of the high school to include the area running from where the existing lot ends down to the end of the building. The school board will be responsible for undertaking this construction and the town's engineering office will provide all relevant drawings and specifications needed to complete the project. (This will add 33 new spaces.)
     
  • Re-stripe the existing Armory lot to add 19 additional spaces that are not currently available. The town council will be responsible for the re-striping. 
     
  • Construct a pull-out to allow school buses to park on Rahway Avenue along the side of the high school to accommodate at least three full-size school buses and to replace the sidewalk at this site. The town council will be responsible for completing the project.
     
  • Expand the existing parking lot at Edison School and institute new parking restrictions on Rahway Avenue in front of Kehler Stadium taking into account resident input subsequent to the April 18 plan. (Originally two rows of additional parking had been proposed. One row has been eliminated and one row of 25 spaces will remain in the plan. Mattessich said existing rows will be re-striped.

    Rather than being on an angle, the spots will be horizontal, which allows one row to increase from 39 to 45 spaces, another to increase from 35 to 44 and one row to decrease from 24 spaces to 22 to allow for cars to exit the new row.) The BOE will be responsible for undertaking this construction and the town engineer's office will provide all relevant drawings and specifications needed to complete the project. The town council will be responsible for the public parking restrictions on Rahway Avenue. 
     
  • Institute new parking restrictions on one side of several local streets including Dorian Rd., Dorian Ct., Shadowlawn, and Nottingham. In addition, one side of Edgar Rd will be opened for parking. The town council will be responsible for public parking restrictions on these streets.
     
  • Contact the NJDOT to adjust the timing plan for the traffic light at West Broad Street and South Avenue during school dismissal time when traffic is at its peak in this area. The town council will have responsibility for implementing and monitoring the success of that change.
     
  • The school board's Business Administrator is authorized to solicit and finalize bids on each of the foregoing projects for approval by the board in anticipation of construction during summer 2012.

Mattessich also said a code of conduct must be implemented regarding students behavior in the parking lot.

Town Administrator Jim Gildea and Fourth Ward Councilman Jim Foerst were in attendance at the meeting and both praised the board's hard work and were pleased with the approved parking plan.

Both the parking expansion and Johnson’s dismissal will be discussed at the next meeting, scheduled for May 22.

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