BOE prodded by teachers; names principal

Photos by Ron Leir At last week’s Board of Education session, teachers were out in force to press for a contract settlement
Photos by Ron Leir
At last week’s Board of Education session, teachers were out in force to press for a contract settlement


An out-of-town school administrator with ties to Kearny has been hired as the new principal of Kearny High School.

Jacalyn Richardson, currently principal of Boonton High School in Morris County where she has worked for the past two decades, was picked from a field of “more than 60” applicants, according to Schools Superintendent Patricia Blood.

The Kearny Board of Education accepted Blood’s recommendation to appoint Richardson to the post at the Nov. 16 meeting at an annual salary of $151,087 “at an effective date to be determined.”

Richardson will take over for interim KHS principal Linda Rocco, who has been in the job since July 1, having replaced former principal Al Gilson who departed to seek other job opportunities.

Coincidentally, both Rocco and Richardson share an affinity for athletics.

Rocco – a former Point Pleasant High School principal – served previously as the first woman athletic director at Whippany Park High School while Richardson, a 1984 KHS graduate, played soccer, softball and basketball for her alma mater.

And, while working in the Boonton public schools, Richardson taught physical education for 10 years and coached boys soccer along with girls basketball and softball.

This is her fifth year at the helm of Boonton High School with an enrollment of nearly 600 – in contrast to Kearny High’s population of about 1,700. Before that, she spent six years as vice principal of the Boonton Middle School and, prior, was a substance abuse counselor and teacher of P.E. and driver’s education.

In her native Kearny, Richardson – whose dad Eugene was head custodian at Washington Elementary School and whose mom Elizabeth was active in PTA and Booster Club – attended Schuyler School through sixth-grade, then Lincoln School for grades 7 and 8 before moving on to the high school.

Photos by Ron Leir Jacalyn Richardson (r.) was named high school principal.
Photos by Ron Leir
Jacalyn Richardson (r.) was named high school principal.

Although she’s been away from Kearny for 23 years, and currently lives in North Brunswick, Richardson said she’s quickly catching up with old friends and colleagues. And, given her consistent interest in sports, she said she made a point of attending a KHS football game and girls soccer match.

Asked why she responded to the Kearny job posting, Richardson said: “I couldn’t see passing up an opportunity to come back to a place that I enjoy.”

Exactly when Richardson will be reporting to her new job was unsettled, as of last week. She said she is required to give 60 days’ notice to her employer but added that time period can be shortened under certain circumstances.

Elaborating on the selection process used by the district in evaluating the applicants, Blood said the original list was narrowed down to 18, all of whom were interviewed by two committees consisting of a central office administrator, a high school administrator, a supervisor and three teachers who narrowed the pool to a final four considered by the school board.

After the meeting, several members of the audience who remembered Richardson from past associations in Kearny, offered congratulations.

She will inherit the ongoing high school construction project for which the district will receive bids next month on what it hopes will be the final phase.

And she will be stepping into a situation with many of the district’s teachers irked over the laggard pace of negotiations for a new labor contract since the old pact expired June 30, 2014.

Teachers wearing red Tshirts provided by the Kearny Education Association and carrying signs packed the auditorium at Franklin School where the meeting was moved to accommodate the crowd. One of their members, high school teacher Laurie Keim, reminded board members that, “We are moms and dads who have families to provide for,” adding that’s why “we ask for a fair settlement that will allow us to care for our own children as we care for yours.”

KEA President Marcy Fisher told The Observer that the union, represented by an 11-member negotiating committee, has been bargaining with the district and its labor attorney Joseph Hannon since October 2014 and discussions have focused on “wages, instructional time and benefits.”

Earlier this year, the KEA persuaded the Board of Education to contract with Blue Cross Blue Shield as its employee health care provider instead of another insurance firm the board was leaning toward, even though the choice of a provider is “not negotiable,” Fisher acknowledged.

But, Fisher added, her members must still contribute a portion of their salaries toward their health care benefits and “a lot of teachers who are at top scale on the salary guide see a net decrease of $900 from their annual pay” and when there is no increase in salary to compensate for that hit, “that can be hard-hitting – and, for some, that can be a mortgage.”

Still, she said, “we’re hopeful we can settle.”

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