South Bay physics teacher’s death shocks community

A South Bay school district is mourning the death of a beloved teacher.

By all accounts, Richard Johnson was the kind of peer, employee, and professional every school district would value. His death days ago is devastating for the Evergreen Valley High School community.

“Anytime you lose a valued staff member regardless of the circumstances, that’s tough on everyone. Because schools are an extended family,” said Chris Funk, superintendent of the Eastside Union High School District.

Johson was in his second year teaching physics at Evergreen Valley. Although he earned a Ph.D., peers say he preferred shaping the young minds and lives found teaching at the high school level.

“His class was all about hands-on learning. He did a ton of labs with students. And encouraged them to  demonstrate their skills in the class by being hands-on,” said Evergreen Valley High School Principal Kyle Klechkner.

Friday, Johnson’s body was found not far from the Guadalupe River, near Ruff Drive and West Hedding Street. San Jose police officials said the loss of life is not suspicious, but the Santa Clara County medical examiner has not released the cause of death.

“I found out last night after one of my football meetings with the principal. And I was completely shocked. I wouldn’t expect this in a million years,” said Gabe Resendez, the head track coach at Evergreen Valley High School.

In addition to teaching physics, Johnson was also an assistant track coach, adept at getting the best out of young athletes.

“He brought a lot of energy to the track team, especially since I was brand new to track,” said Resendez. “Even though he knew I was new to track, he was open to any ideas that I had.”

Johnson’s passing comes a month after he resigned his position with the Eastside Union School District. He was headed back to his native Louisiana, for an assistant professor positon at the University of Louisiana in Monroe, which would have returned him close to family.

“He had every intention of heading home. I think he was home-sick,” said Funk.

Johnson’s passing has left his high school community heartsick with grief. A virtual memoriam went on-line Monday night, where students have written tributes such as, “…A pure, kindhearted soul, had left for the heavens.” And, “…With your unconditional support, you made our experience that much better.” And, “Johnson wasn’t just a teacher, he was a friend.”

The school district lowered flags to half-staff to honor the loss of what many say was an integral part of this educational family.