WESTFIELD, NJ – One of the high school’s assistant principals has been made its acting principal as the district rebuilds the administration following the death of Principal Dr. Derrick Nelson.

The school board approved James DeSarno’s appointment Tuesday night along with the appointment of Margaret McFadden to the role of acting assistant principal. McFadden had retired from her role as assistant principal last year, Superintendent Margaret Dolan said.

Both DeSarno and McFadden will formally begin in their roles Wednesday and serve through June 30, under the board’s approval, which grants DeSarno a 20% pay bump from his assistant principal salary. McFadden will be paid $650 per day, under the board’s approval.

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Dolan praised the school’s staff for its professionalism during the transition.

“I want to first thank both the assistant principal of Westfield High School, but also the entire staff at Westfield High School,” Dolan said. “[They] have really been working very hard to make sure that the education of the students continues in spite of the tragedy.”

Dr. Nelson died April 8 at age 44 following complications from his bone marrow donation to a boy in France. The district has listed resources for coping with loss on its website.

 “There are not enough words to describe how we all feel about the death of our beloved Westfield High School Principal: stunned, devastated, heartbroken, grieving,” said Board President Peggy Oster, shortly before the board honored him with a moment of silence. “Yet there are countless ways to describe the kind person Dr. Nelson was: inspiring, caring, respected, a leader, a patriot, a role model, a man of service and sacrifice.”

Oster said people from around the globe, who were moved by Dr. Nelson’s selflessness, have reached out to the district following his death.

These included the father of a Navy Seal from Texas, a resident of Adelaide, Australia, who called Dr. Nelson “a hero,” and the family’s former mail carrier, who shared fond memories of Dr. Nelson, who lived in Plainfield.

“It will take some time for our community to heal,” Oster said. “We send our sincerest condolences to Dr. Nelson’s fiancé, his daughter, his parents, and the many other family members and friends who mourn his loss.”

Dr. Nelson served as an officer in the Army Reserve for over 20 years and was deployed to Afghanistan in 2013.

Board member Brendan Galligan said he is nominating Nelson for Department of Defense award. Galligan said he will circulate materials related to this nomination to the board before its next meeting set for May 7.

Nelson joined the Westfield Public School District in 2010. He served as the Assistant Principal of Roosevelt Intermediate School for two years. The school board named Nelson Westfield High School Principal in 2017 after he had served as acting principal for a year.

MORE: Remembering Westfield High School Principal Dr. Derrick Nelson
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