Santa Maria Sun / News
The following articles were printed from Santa Maria Sun [santamariasun.com] - Volume 15, Issue 9
Nipomo High School rallies for principal
BY CAMILLIA LANHAM
Update: 5/7/2014 11:00 a.m.
Jim Hogeboom, Lucia Mar Unified School District’s superintendent, made one thing very clear to the Nipomo High School community that packed the May 6 school board meeting: At the end of the school year, Michelle Johnson would no longer be the high school’s principal.
“It’s time to move on, and I know that’s not what you want to hear … but I also know that her decision is final,” Hogeboom told the crowd at the Clark Center for the Performing Arts. “Mrs. Johnson’s decision was incredibly complicated.”
He added that because the issue was a personnel matter, he couldn’t really say much about it. Students, teachers, staff members, alumni, and parents who attended the May 6 board meeting all had one thing to say about losing their principal: It’s unacceptable.
Though the issue of Johnson’s position wasn’t on the school board’s agenda that night, the community showed up to speak during the public comment portion of the meeting, using up a little less than two hours of the evening.
Many students who took to the public comment podium told the school board that Johnson was the reason Nipomo High School was such a great school to attend; that she created a safe, encouraging learning environment; and that the school wouldn’t be the same without her.
Nipomo High School English teacher Nathan Shields told the board Johnson inspired teachers to be better. He said he received an email from the district that said Johnson had chosen to take a position in the district as an adaptive physical education specialist.
“What was her alternative?” he asked them. “Was she bullied in a way that gave her no other alternative except that?”
For Shields and the rest of those who spoke during public comment, the decision seemed to have come without warning. Parents and students received a letter in the mail from the district informing them about the decision approximately a month ago, while teachers and staff received an email. Many believe district administrators forced the decision on Johnson.
“If it becomes a choice between keeping the office of superintendent or keeping Mrs. Johnson, I choose Mrs. Johnson,” Shields said at the end of his public comment.
The crowd responded by giving Shields a standing ovation.
High school junior Mika Kilpelainen helped spearhead an online petition via Change.org a week prior to the May 6 school board meeting. The petition received more than 900 signatures within one week. During the school board meeting, Kilpelainen said it was the easiest thing he’s done.
“If Mrs. Johnson has to lose her job, I will make sure I work as hard as I can to make sure you guys lose yours,” Kilpelainen told the school board.
As of May 6, a total of 918 supporters had signed a petition on Change.org to keep Michelle Johnson as Nipomo High School’s principal. That evening, concerned Nipomo High School students, families, and alumni were planning to speak during the public comment portion of the Lucia Mar Union School District’s regularly scheduled board meeting.
“We’re losing a really good person here, and we don’t think that the board understands that they’re going to lose such a good person,” Becky Crowe, a Nipomo High parent, said. “The parents, you know, we love and support her, and we want the board to know that … we don’t think they’re treating her right.”
Crowe has one child who graduated from the high school last year, two who are currently enrolled, and one who will be an incoming freshman in the 2014-2015 school year.
The Change.org petition is addressed to Superintendent Jim Hogeboom.
“Principal Johnson inspires self-confidence in our students, nurtures a culture of learning, and maintains a strong presence at Nipomo High School,” the petition said. “This strong foundation should be bolstered with critical supports to enhance student success, not uprooted.”
Johnson has been in the administration at Nipomo High School since it opened its doors in 2002. Johnson became the school’s principal in 2007. She will be leaving her post at the end of this school year and is moving back into teaching. Crowe said it all seems so sudden.
“There were no warning signs; there was no indication that there was a problem at Nipomo High School,” Crowe said. “And stuff started surfacing that this wasn’t her choice.”
The San Luis Obispo Tribune reported that Johnson said she was leaving the principal post for both professional and personal reasons. Parents and students don’t buy that explanation and believe that she’s being forced out of her position.
Amy Jacobs, a spokesperson for the Lucia Mar Union School District, said the district couldn’t comment on the matter because it is a personnel issue. The school board meeting on May 6 was moved from the district’s boardroom to the Clark Center for the Performing Arts in anticipation of the number of people who would be attending.
Crowe said she hopes the numerous staff, parents, and students who are speaking out about the issue will be heard.
“We have hope, but we are also realistic,” Crowe said. “Whoever they find to replace her has big shoes to fill.”
The Sun went to press before the Lucia Mar Union School District’s board meeting.