Walter Springer presented his petition with 1045 signatures to the Montclair Board of Education on June 7th. Through the petition members of the community expressed their outrage at the controversial personnel decisions made by the Board of Education on May 15th.
Walter Springer’s Petition calls for a full and complete public review of the former Interim Superintendent, Ronald Bolandi’s recommendations to fire Kim Westervelt, Assistant Principal and demote Jeff Gannon from the Athletic Director’s position.
The George Inness Annex Atrium was filled to capacity – almost 200 people were on hand. Many showed up to make their voice heard about the cuts to different positions. Others simply went in solidarity with Springer, Westervelt and Gannon. Laura Hertzog, President of the Board, told the crowd that 48 people had signed up to speak at the podium.
Walter Springer, who has been a vocal in opposition to the Board’s decisions, waited in turn to present his petition to the board members. Springer’s petition, which we have covered in previous stories, outlined the problem that many had with the decisions: qualified individuals, who were doing their job well, without any negative reviews were seemingly demoted or fired without warning.
While Springer waited his turn, many other powerful voices were heard protesting the various decisions. In response to the many paraprofessionals that were cut from the district, several students with disabilities stood and spoke of how much their lives had been improved from working with those paraprofessionals. These accounts were met with an enthusiastic standing ovation.
Laura Schwartz, the nurse at Montclair High School, turned the attention back to the demotion of a capable Athletic Director. Schwartz said:
“I have worked next to 5 different Athletic Directors, and no one does more for the kids than Jeff Gannon. No one has made sure our student athletes are in good health more than Jeff Gannon.”
After much anticipation, Springer took to the podium to speak. He delivered a copy of the petition to each of the board members. The Document memorialized all the comments left by the petitions signers, 300 comments in all.
“They should never have been fired. If it was based on last in, first out, others were hired after them. This is a disgrace.“…Betsy Harris, Montclair, NJ
“Hard-working and dedicated professionals should never be dismissed without merit or proper due process. Teachers and administrators receive evaluations for a reason.” –Jennifer Potter, Cedar Grove, NJ
“Mr. Gannon has been an incredible role model and mentor for the thousands of students that have passed through MHS. Reconsider this decision.” –Paul Fitzgerald, Houston, TX
“I am an MHS alum and former assistant coach. Competent and enthusiastic administrators are hard to come by. Jeff Gannon is both, and thousands of student-athletes are better for it.” –Jason Stahl, Morristown, NJ
“Kim Westervelt has been and is an amazing person for the children she serves. Any school would be worse off without her determination and belief.” –David Downham, Chesapeake, VA
Springer’s speech was impassioned – he knew he spoke for the 1,050 signatories when he addressed the Board of Education. Springer spoke at length about the high value individuals terminated or demoted and the immeasurable loss the community would suffer if the decision is left to stand:
“As of today, 1,050 of our fellow neighbors have signed this petition requesting a review and reversal. As a town and school district we continue to operate without a permanent district superintendent. We have operated with an interim superintendent for 3+ years. Many key staff members around the district are also on an interim basis. This recommended change will create two additional interim positions. Why?” …Walter Springer.
Springer’s speech was met with a resounding applause that left the Board gawking. Springer was the 7th person to speak. Only 41 more to go.
Out of that 41 was Jeremy Michalitsianos, the head coach of Montclair High School Crew, who recently won a national championship. Michalitsianos felt it was important for a coach’s voice to be heard, as it is the coaches that directly work with Gannon more than anyone else. Michalitsianos said:
“I know that many of the other sports coaches that couldn’t be here tonight agree that Jeff Gannon is an outstanding Athletic Director. We will still need an Athletic Director next year, and you are replacing a successful one in Jeff Gannon. This isn’t about budget cuts.”
The list of speakers grew shorter as each one stood to express their dismay at one or all of the personnel decisions that were made.
The dichotomy between the two sides of this issue on Wednesday night was remarkable. The body language clearly belied the message the Board members wanted to send. The community members who spoke could not help but let their emotions be seen. Fear, anger, regret, concern and out right indignation at the Board’s decision to terminate 34 of Montclair’s teachers and the demotion of the Athletic Director. While each and every citizen urged the Board to retract the ill-advised decisions, the Board members as a lot were having nothing to do with the effort and showed little or no interest in the two hour long display of community support for the affected teachers.