Pioneer students protest teacher’s termination from athletic director post

  • Students marched around the Pioneer Valley Regional School grounds Thursday morning during a protest against the recent termination of Gina Johnson’s position as athletic director. Johnson remains at the school as a full-time physical education teacher. STAFF PHOTO/ZACK DeLUCA

  • Students from the Pioneer Valley Regional School soccer team — senior Noah Horton, freshman Nate Cosme and senior Richard Kane — hold a large sign reading “We need Gina” as they lead a march around the parking lot on Thursday. STAFF PHOTO/ZACK DeLUCA

  • Students marched around the Pioneer Valley Regional School grounds Thursday morning during a protest against the recent termination of Gina Johnson’s position as athletic director. Johnson remains at the school as a full-time physical education teacher. STAFF PHOTO/ZACK DeLUCA

  • At one point during Thursday morning’s student protest, Gina Johnson came outside to address the crowd. She was greeted with hugs and cheers from students. “You don’t know how much this means to me,” Johnson said, before going back inside the school. “You guys rock.” STAFF PHOTO/ZACK DeLUCA

  • At one point during Thursday morning’s student protest, Gina Johnson came outside to address the crowd. She was greeted with hugs and cheers from students. “You don’t know how much this means to me,” Johnson said, before going back inside the school. “You guys rock.” STAFF PHOTO/ZACK DeLUCA

  • Teachers were outside of Pioneer Valley Regional School to watch over the protest Thursday morning. Many echoed the surprise expressed by the students, and said they were proud the students felt comfortable voicing their opinions. STAFF PHOTO/ZACK DeLUCA

  • A majority of the Pioneer Valley Regional School student population marched in the cold early Thursday morning, holding signs and cheering to protest Gina Johnson’s termination from the athletic director position. Johnson remains at the school as a full-time physical education teacher. STAFF PHOTO/ZACK DeLUCA

  • Students marched around the Pioneer Valley Regional School grounds Thursday morning during a protest against the recent termination of Gina Johnson’s position as athletic director. Johnson remains at the school as a full-time physical education teacher. STAFF PHOTO/ZACK DeLUCA

Staff Writer
Published: 11/7/2019 6:58:34 PM
Modified: 11/7/2019 6:58:23 PM

NORTHFIELD — A majority of the Pioneer Valley Regional School student population marched in the cold early Thursday morning, holding signs and cheering to protest Gina Johnson’s termination from the athletic director position.

“We’re distraught,” said Student Representative Ella Potee.

Johnson said she received a letter notifying her of the decision to let her go from the athletic director position on Monday. She held two positions at Pioneer as the athletic director and full-time physical education teacher — the latter role she will maintain. She is also coach of the cross-country team, and has coached track and field in years past.

Superintendent Jonathan Scagel said Wednesday that “as a matter of law” he is unable to elaborate on personnel decisions.

Potee, a three-season student athlete in her senior year, co-organized Thursday’s 7:30 a.m. protest in support of Johnson. She and fellow students expressed surprise with the decision, especially as it comes in the middle of the year.

“We feel like this was abrupt, with not a lot of clarity,” Potee said. “She was a huge part of each one of our lives, whether you play a sport or not.”

Students from the Pioneer soccer team — seniors Noah Horton and Richard Kane, and freshman Nate Cosme — held a large sign reading “We need Gina” before leading a march around the parking lot. As students marched, Horton led a chant.

“What do we want?” Horton called out to a resounding “Gina!” from the crowd.

“When do we want her?” he asked. “Now!”

Potee and fellow students said they planned to protest outside the school all day, “until change occurs or they suspend us.” At one point, Potee addressed the crowd to ensure students that if they were uncomfortable with missing school work and class time, they were welcome to go back inside. She said students did not wish to disrespect their teachers by not attending school for the day.

“We’re not here just to skip class,” Potee said.

Teachers were outside the school to watch over the protest. Many echoed the surprise expressed by the students, and said they were proud the students felt comfortable voicing their opinions.

“It’s not just the boys or the girls, it’s not just the middle school or the high school out here,” said Gail Streeter, who has worked as an instructional aid at Pioneer for 20 years. “It’s nice that everybody is out here.”

Johnson was described by her co-workers as a “poster child” for the school. Johnson’s two children graduated from the Pioneer school district; she also attended Pioneer herself.

“She bleeds black and gold,” Streeter said, referring to the school’s colors.

Johnson came outside at approximately 8:30 a.m. to address the crowd of students. She was greeted with hugs and cheers.

“You don’t know how much this means to me,” Johnson said before going back inside. “You guys rock.”

The protest carried on until approximately 1:30 p.m. Thursday.

“The protest was peaceful with no safety concerns,” Scagel said by phone Thursday. “Teachers still conducted classes.”

Terry Cole, a lawyer from Pyle Rome Ehrenberg PC’s Northampton office assigned to Johnson through the school teacher’s union, said Johnson will be contesting her termination from the athletic director position. They will be appealing the decision through the grievances procedure established in the contract between the school district and teacher’s union.

“The termination was unjust and unfounded,” Cole said.

According to Cole, Johnson was given two main reasons for the termination in a notice from Scagel. He said that the notice stated Johnson had not provided adequate bus transportation to and from sporting events. One claim was that a district order requires a bus be available to return students back to the school, regardless of whether students were all set with other transportation, for example, a ride from their own parents.

Cole said Johnson claims she was never given this order. This same rule was previously addressed in September, Cole said, and Johnson corrected the situation and sent out a notice explaining a bus would always be available.

A second reasoning for the termination was a claim Johnson had broken a rule that parents are not allowed to paint the athletic fields. However, Cole said evidence shows Johnson had directed herself and other Pioneer school coaches to paint the fields.

“The district does not agree with the assertions made by her attorney and I cannot comment any further,” Scagel said Thursday.

Zack DeLuca can be reached at zdeluca@recorder.com or 413-772-0261, ext. 264.




Greenfield Recorder

14 Hope Street
Greenfield, MA 01302-1367
Phone: (413) 772-0261
Fax: (413) 772-2906

 

Copyright © 2019 by Newspapers of Massachusetts, Inc.
Terms & Conditions - Privacy Policy