Community airs disapproval of Pioneer athletic director’s termination at School Committee meeting

  • Pioneer Valley Regional School students, alumni, parents and faculty arrived to Thursday’s School Committee meeting at Northfield Elementary School brandishing signs that questioned the removal of Gina Johnson from her role as athletic director. Staff Photo/ZACK DeLUCA

  • Gina Johnson’s termination as athletic director at Pioneer Valley Regional School was one of the topics raised during public comment at Thursday’s School Committee meeting. Staff Photo/ZACK DeLUCA

  • Pioneer Valley Regional School students, alumni, parents and faculty arrived to Thursday’s School Committee at Northfield Elementary School meeting brandishing signs that questioned the removal of Gina Johnson from her role as athletic director. Staff Photo/ZACK DeLUCA

  • Gina Johnson’s termination as athletic director at Pioneer Valley Regional School was one of the topics raised during public comment at Thursday’s School Committee meeting. Staff Photo/ZACK DeLUCA

  • Gina Johnson’s termination as athletic director at Pioneer Valley Regional School was one of the topics raised during public comment at Thursday’s School Committee meeting. Staff Photo/ZACK DeLUCA

Staff Writer
Published: 11/18/2019 5:44:43 PM

NORTHFIELD — Pioneer Valley Regional School students, alumni, parents and faculty arrived to Thursday’s School Committee meeting brandishing signs that questioned the removal of Gina Johnson from her role as athletic director.

Johnson received a letter notifying her of her termination from the athletic director position on Nov. 4. 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.

According to Terry Cole, a lawyer from Pyle Rome Ehrenberg PC’s Northampton office assigned to Johnson through the school teacher’s union, there were two main reasons given for the termination in a notice from Superintendent Jonathan Scagel. He said the notice stated Johnson had not provided adequate bus transportation to and from sporting events. A second reasoning was a claim that 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 coaches to paint the fields.

For the time being, Pioneer Principal Kevin Burke is fulfilling the immediately required duties of the athletic director position. Johnson said she has been answering questions about those responsibilities as needed, because “it’s the right thing to do for the kids.”

“Otherwise, they’ll be the ones who suffer and that’s not OK with me,” she said.

Held at Northfield Elementary School, Thursday’s School Committee meeting was the first since Johnson’s termination. While Johnson said she can’t comment on the personnel decision as an appeal process is ongoing, she said she is pleased with the support from within the school and the greater community. Johnson said she is proud of the civil way students and faculty have conducted themselves, while not being afraid to voice their opinions.

“I’m beyond overwhelmed by the support,” she said.

Faculty members said the sudden notice of Johnson’s removal from the athletic director position is bound to impact students and the climate of the school as a whole. Fourteen faculty members left last year, some by their own volition. Current faculty who attended Thursday’s meeting said they felt the school was just getting back into a strong rhythm, and feared this would disrupt overall morale.

“Here we go again,” “How many teachers can you lose?” and “One year ... 14 resigned/terminated! Another?” read signs held by students and faculty. “Best for kids?” questioned another sign, held by Pioneer Valley senior and soccer player Noah Horton.

Horton attended the School Committee meeting with fellow Pioneer seniors Ella Potee and Jordin Hubbard. As a student representative to the School Committee, Potee referenced the student protest on Nov. 7, and reiterated students’ displeasure with Johnson’s removal as part of her student report during the official meeting.

At the start of the public comment period, the school district’s attorney, Russell​​​ Dupere, said Johnson needed to authorize speakers to comment on the personnel matter, to which Johnson obliged. Multiple parents and teachers spoke in support of Johnson, and questioned the decision behind her removal as athletic director.

Allison Raymond, a Northfield resident and parent, said two of her children graduated from Pioneer.

“At their time at Pioneer, they went through three superintendents, two principals, two assistant principals and a dean of students, who was here and then not and then came back,” Raymond said. “The one constant they had in their lives was Athletic Director Gina Johnson. I think we all would agree that stability and consistency in children’s lives, at home and at school, is very important.”

Claire Brennan, vice president of the teacher’s union, said the decision was “an unfortunate overreach by the superintendent.” Brennan said the union has yet to be provided evidence of insubordination, the alleged reason for Johnson’s termination.

At the request of a School Committee member, Dupere explained that hiring and firing decisions are up to the school administration. While School Committee members can make recommendations, they do not have authority to overrule unless it is for a position directly hired by the School Committee, such as a superintendent or business manager.

Both Scagel and Dupere declined to comment further on the personnel matter after Thursday’s meeting.

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




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