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Teacher and counselor honored for saving co-worker

New York Teacher
Kingsborough Early College Secondary School teacher Elizabeth Kullman is flanked
Jonathan Fickies

Kingsborough Early College Secondary School teacher Elizabeth Kullman is flanked by the two UFT members who saved her life, teacher Connor Valvo and school counselor Janu Williams, at a June 5 event recognizing “lifesavers” in public schools.

They’re not just educators, they’re lifesavers.

UFT members Connor Valvo and Janu Williams sprang into action to rescue their colleague, Elizabeth Kullman, when she suffered a cardiac arrest in her school last November.

“Without their help, I wouldn’t be here,” said Kullman, an English teacher at Kingsborough Early College Secondary School in Bensonhurst, Brooklyn. “I was walking down the hallway and I collapsed.”

Kullman’s fall was witnessed by a school safety agent, who ran to the lunchroom to use the phone to alert the school nurse. Valvo, who’s trained in CPR, was tutoring in the lunchroom. He rushed to Kullman’s side and, finding her nonresponsive, put that training to use.

“I wasn’t even thinking,” said Valvo, who is an English teacher. “I just acted.”

A Code Blue alert rang out through the building. Williams, a school counselor at the HS for Sports Management, which shares the space, heard the alert. As a track coach in the Public Schools Athletic League, she had trained to respond to just such an emergency.

“Training is key,” said Williams. “We always have these drills.”

But this time, it was no training exercise. “By the tone over the loudspeaker, I knew it wasn’t a drill,” she said.

Williams arrived on the scene to find Valvo administering aid. She tapped him on the shoulder and used a mechanism on an automated defibrillator-CPR device to assess Kullman’s condition. Determining that defibrillation was the correct course of action, Williams then used the device to revive Kullman before paramedics arrived.

Valvo and Williams were honored by the New York City Department of Education on June 5 at an event recognizing “lifesavers” in public schools. Though they were hailed as heroes, both said it’s all in a day’s work.

“It was a tag team effort,” said Williams. “You roll up your sleeves and do what you have to do.”

Still, the incident has changed things for the three teachers.

“We were acquaintances but now this takes it to a whole new level,” said Kullman.

Although the Lafayette Educational Complex is made up of five schools, “we’re all one community,” said Williams.

UFT Chapter Leader Michael Kullman, a history teacher at Kingsborough and Elizabeth Kullman’s husband, saw that community in action. After the incident, he said, colleagues helped move the Kullmans’ cars to the hospital, brought them clothes, came to visit his wife during her recovery and sent cards and letters.

“It was nice to see the school community come together and support a teacher who’s sick,” he said. “They really stepped up to help.”