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Morristown Students Lament Loss of Mentor

High School students share their feelings on the removal of Steve Woodruff from his position as audio/video technician.

Jake Goldberg addresses the Morris School District Board of Education.
Jake Goldberg addresses the Morris School District Board of Education.

Emotions ran high at the Morris School District board of education meeting as a group of parents and students stepped up to the microphone to plead their case for Steve Woodruff, the audio/visual technician whose job was eliminated by the board at the start of this year.

“I spend every day in the WJSV broadcasting room and it is so different without Mr. Woodruff,” said sophomore Abby Semple. “Mr. Woodruff really helped me learn a lot as a student and as a person.”

Jake Goldberg said that the dismissal of Woodruff was tantamount to the butterfly effect referenced in the Ray Bradbury story A Sound of Thunder. In the tale a time-travelling scientist strays from the path and crushes a butterfly under his shoes, altering the future.

“You guys are the scientist that stepped on the butterfly,” Goldberg said.

Michael Chase brought with him a petition signed by 250 students, Jeremy Herbert said that the faculty and students that being asked to pitch in and cover in Woodruff’s absence are being overtaxed. Dominic Cupo told the board he was pulled out of an AP test to plug in a microphone

Others spoke of the loss of friendship, consistency, and stability. Some expressed concerns that events like the school play and fashion show wouldn’t be able to continue and that the station itself could be impacted in the long term. Cupo said that he is training some underclassman, but that would not be enough going forward.

“Once I am gone and once they are gone there is only so much they can impart. Like the game of telephone it is lost in translation,” Cupo said. “Mr. Woodruff was that conduit to knowledge.”

Superintendent Dr. Thomas Ficarra said that while he was sorry to disappoint the students, the decision that was made was the best one for district.

“I realize that I can’t replace a friend or someone you are close to but we can replace the services,” Ficarra said. “The play, project graduation, the fashion show will continue.”

Ficarra said in fact that the new system they have in place should improve operations at the radio station, which was off the air for several months with a damaged piece of equipment.

“It was mentioned several times the equipment was broken. That was part of some of the reason for looking into the reorganization. The transmitter was down for three months under the old administration,” Ficarra said. “We have a company now that can come in same day or within a few days and repair the equipment. A highly professional company with high sophisticated employees.”

Ficarra acknowledged the members of the public didn’t have all the information, because “some of it is just not appropriate to share in public.” Ficarra maintained that the school will continue with the broadcasting program without cuts in services. And the change made this month saves the district $81,000.

“Between salary, overtime and benefits Mr. Woodruff made $94,000 last year,” Ficarra said. “Giving Mr. Butler a stipend for the extra hours a day, which he has accepted happily, and with graduates assisting we have saved $81,000 from the budget. That is what we are here to do.”

Ficarra said when the district realized they did not have the capacity to fix the equipment when it broke down, it was the impetus for change.

“Now we have that capacity. They will be coming in at a moments notice,” Ficarra said “If we had them on board in the fall the three month down time wouldn’t have happened.”

Ficarra said that while there will be hiccups as the new system gets up and running, things like a student pulled out of an AP exam should not happen. Ficarra also said that newly installed Principal Mark Manning should be the first point of contact for concerns and went out of his way to allay concerns about the radio station closing.  

“We love our radio station and it will not be providing less services and children will not be deprived of time in that station,” Ficarra said.  

Students like Helen Burgess weren’t swayed.

“I was a little lost puppy when I was a freshman and I didn’t really have a group to call home and Mr. Woodfruff was part of that family and you guys took him away,” Burgess said. “It is unfair for people like me who never really had a home and you took away someone who was a key person in my home.”

Ficarra said that he appreciated the passionate and articulate thoughts posed by the students, but the decision was not going to be reversed.

“I understand people are emotional about friends, but we have a fiduciary responsibility,” Ficarra said.

Phil Pine January 29, 2014 at 04:19 PM
@Rich. I wasn't sure what the exact breakdown was on his salary or that a paycut was offered; I was just reflecting on the article. No doubt I'm sure he earned every penny! At this point in my career when I read that someone is at 94K a year it makes me take notice to see what they do and if it's justified, that's all.
Rich Herbert January 29, 2014 at 07:11 PM
believe me Phil, I understand. Thank you for listening. Rich
PeterB January 30, 2014 at 09:44 AM
@Harriet - The students will be just fine. We have created a society in which students get whatever they want. For them to be disappointed is a good thing because the last 20 years has created a society where youths get whatever they want and don't understand "NO" for an answer. Second education should be run more like a corporation because once they get tenure many teachers (not all) will just cruise. We should have a right to fire teachers for performance. That is when we will see education at its finest.
Harriet Knevals January 30, 2014 at 10:15 AM
@Peter. Wow! I am trying really hard not to rant. I'll bet that none of the responders in this thread received their education in a system run like a corporation. There has always been a system in place to remove "bad" teachers. Their supervisors needed to follow proper procedure and provide documentation. But, alas, many of the supervisors were/are deficient themselves. In most cases, the (bad) teachers showed signs of deficiency before receiving tenure. There's a new system in place that hopefully will streamline the process. Keep in mine that that these are children in school, not products. Running the schools like a corporation is a terrible idea. That will stifle creativity both with the teachers and students. And, as far as the comment on children today, I don't see that either with those I taught (urban) or those I know in my life. Sorry you feel that way about today's children. The students who fought for their teacher were standing up for their right to protest what they thought was an injustice. So many of our rights and changes in society came from people who wouldn't take "no" for an answer. Oh, no! I ranted.
Brenda Carter January 30, 2014 at 12:25 PM
Why am I not surprised of the MSD "eliminating" yet every another position to "technology". They ought to be ashamed of themselves - again. Granted, Steve had a hefty salary, but does anyone know what some of his job actually entailed....among some of his duties, he was present for just about every event that took place before, during AND after school. He was a highly respected instructor, mentor, AND a friend. Again, MSD - shame shame shame on you - AGAIN - oh....Steve is an African American (ummmmmm) - a Black man with a good salary - hmmmmmmmmm - go figure :)

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