Ridge High School physical education teacher Ken Marsh, who also is head lacrosse coach, will be moved to the physical education staff at William Annin Middle School next fall, despite an attempt by parents to persuade school officials otherwise.
A group of parents, bearing a petition with 75 signatures, asked the Board of Education to halt or modify the transfer from the high school to the middle school, effective the next school year. Following presentation of the petition and comments by parents, the Board of Education unanimously on Monday voted without comment to approve the move as one of many teacher assignments for 2011-12.
School Superintendent Valerie Goger said at the meeting that the transfer was the result of Marsh having the proper certification to teach health classes at the middle school. A vacancy of a certified male teacher to teach the subject was created when two non-tenured physical education positions at the middle school were eliminatied, Goger said.
About a half-dozen parents, accompanied by others who sat in on Monday's Board of Education, said that Marsh not only has been a winning and supportive coach for the boys lacrosse program, but he also has had an "open door" policy that has allowed students to feel they can speak freely with him.
"He allows the boys to grow up in the program, to become scholars and athletes," said parent Mary Palladino, who said her three sons have been coached in lacrosse by Marsh.
Palladino was among the parents who said that Marsh also guided students in obtaining admissions into choice colleges, even those not lacrosse students.
Students also feel they can "shoot the breeze," with Marsh, she said. "These kids think more of him than just being a coach," Palladino said.
Parent Tony Otero said that Marsh mentors the students as well as bringing the team up to the All-American level in the past two years, and three of the past five years.
Palladino and other parents said they are concerned that Marsh will easily find a lacrosse position elsewhere. "It's hard [for schools] to find lacrosse coaches," she said.
Otero and other parents joined in parent Rita Zarabara's plea that school officials at least split Marsh's assignment between the two schools, basing him at the high school during the spring lacrosse season.
The middle school is not on the Ridge schedule, and that also will affect his ability to be quickly available for practices and away games, Zarabara said.
Nearly all the speakers asked the question of why the Board of Education and school officials would change an arrangement that is working so well.
"The kids need him," said parent Robert Schmidt. Many of the students are under pressure and turn to Marsh for guidance, the parents said.
Zarabara and the other parents said Marsh's reassignment is being viewed by some people as a demotion, a suggestion that had Goger bristling.
Later, Zarabara said that she herself does not view the move as a demotion.
Goger told the parents that she was upset that people were looking at a teacher's move to William Annin Middle School as a demotion.
Goger said such a view was "insulting" to middle school teachers, and that the move was the result of Marsh having the proper certification for an open staff position.
"Our primary concern can be teaching," the superintendent said. "We can't just put anyone in the high school. We need the person who is going to be best for the middle school."
Goger added that the school district has 13 varsity coaches, and about half of them are based elsewhere than the high school.
The school board approved the transfer without comment.
Following the meeting, Board President Susan Carlsson said the board members do not routinely question the school administration's recommendations regarding staffing assignments.
Zarabara said in a later email, "I find it very disappointing that not one of the nine elected BOE members acknowledged any of us after our comments during the BOE public forum (Monday) night. They did not thank us for coming and speaking, acknowledge that they understood our position, or comment on the issues our students are facing. They opted not to even postpone the vote on this teacher transfer so that any possible options could be considered."