Parents and student athletes flexed their muscle at the May 15 School Board Meeting to protest the termination of Jeff Gannon, Montclair High School’s athletic director and Evan Kozak, an assistant principal at Nishuane school. The Board also elected Laura Herzog President and Franklin Turner vice president during the tumultuous meeting.
Many students carried signs and made passionate pleas supporting Gannon during the public comment part of the meeting. Parents, who only heard about the termination the day of the meeting, expressed concern over the Board’s lack of transparency.
“When I first met him, his passion toward our athletic team stood out for me,” said Ken Coplan, a senior and member of the MHS crew team. “Thanks to him I was able to set two rowing world records. I do not understand why you’re firing a man this qualified and passionate.”
Many of the students cited Gannon as the reason MHS was ranked as the fifth best public high school sports program in the state. Gannon has been the athletic director at MHS for 18 years.
“He is the reason why MHS is so successful,” said Dean Chancer, a junior and member of the cheerleading and bowling teams. “We have great athletics all due to Mr. Gannon. Without him, there is no chance to prosper.”
“Mr. Gannon’s work here helps us out,” said Kathleen King, a sophomore and member of the crew team. “He’s completely irreplaceable. As a whole this system will not work well without him.”
“Are these recommended changes based on lack of performance?” questioned Walter Springer, who represents MHS on the PTA Council. “If these recommendations were given without documented evidence, it’s strictly personal.”
Adrian Jensen, a parent who heard about Gannon’s firing from her daughter, said she was concerned about the dwindling transparency of the School Board. “I’m digusted, I don’t believe it has anything to do with his performance.”
Many parents also decried the Board’s decision to terminate Evan Kozak.
Karen Anderson, a parent, was concerned that she first heard Kozak would be shared among the elementary schools, then found out Kozak’s position would be eliminated. “This is scary. It’s not what we were told. To get hit with a completely different story is a shock.”
The terminations of about 60 teaching, paraprofessional and administrative positions in the district was the result of cuts the school board is making to balance the budget.
Petal Robertson, a English teacher at MHS and vice president of the Montclair Education Association, compared those budget cuts to paper cuts.
Montclair Interim School Superintendent Barbara Pinsak responded to the public comments by saying the Board can’t talk about personnel decisions. She said people who are not tenured are the first to be reduced.
“We had to give reduction in force letters where we thought we had to,” said Pinsak, who said further cuts were needed because the district didn’t have the number of retirements it expected.
In other business, the Board will schedule a special meeting in June to give Montclair residents a clearer picture of the superintendent search. The Board passed a resolution charging the superintendent to conduct an analysis of special education in the district and develop a plan that addresses the program’s strengths and opportunities by the end of July 2017.
The Board also passed a resolution supporting the Bloomfield School district in opposing a charter school.