Some Nipomo High School students, shocked when Principal Michelle Johnson recently announced her intention to return to teaching, are circulating a petition urging Lucia Mar district administrators to keep her as principal.
In an interview last week, Johnson said she was leaving her principal post at the end of this school year — which she’s held for the past seven years — for personal and professional reasons.
But students are worried that the popular principal isn’t leaving by choice, and say they haven’t received a clear answer about the change. Johnson did not return calls for comment Tuesday.
In a phone interview, Lucia Mar Unified Superintendent Jim Hogeboom cited personnel issues as the reason why he wouldn’t comment on any conversations he’s had with Johnson. Nor would he say whether she was asked to leave.
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The two spoke about her leaving during a meeting in April, he said.
When asked if Johnson’s decision surprised him, Hogeboom said, “No, I wasn’t surprised, because of some of the conversations we’ve had before that.”
He said he couldn’t comment on the nature of the previous conservations.
“Michelle has a great rapport with kids,” Hogeboom said. “Anyone who knows her knows her enthusiasm, and her positive energy is contagious.”
But, he added, “I’ll also say that being a high school principal is incredibly difficult and demanding, and it is one of those jobs that is all-consuming.”
District administrators are moving forward with hiring Johnson’s successor. At least five candidates are scheduled to be interviewed Friday. Eventually, Hogeboom will make a hiring recommendation for the school district board to consider.
Johnson will become the district’s adaptive physical education specialist, working with students with special needs of all ages.
In the meantime, Hogeboom has received numerous emails as a result of a petition posted on change.org, which had more than 600 signatures as of Tuesday afternoon.
“Principal Johnson inspires self-confidence in our students, nurtures a culture of learning, and maintains a strong presence at Nipomo High School,” the petition states. “Her removal from this position would be a great disservice to the students of Nipomo High School.”
A student-planned sit-in scheduled for Tuesday morning was canceled on the advice of school administrators, senior Megan Penaflor said.
Penaflor said she had received a request from an “important person” not to hold the sit-in. She said 100 to 200 students were heading for the quad but were asked to go to class; about 10 students sat down but were told to move.
She said students are meeting with the district’s assistant superintendent of human resources to share what qualities they’re looking for in a principal.
She described Johnson as “the most caring, dedicated and giving woman I’ve ever met.”
“We’re not getting any answers,” she said. “All we’ve gotten is ‘It’s complicated.’ She (Johnson) is doing really good about keeping it discreet; she wants us all to focus for the last month of the school year.”