“Leadership” and “longevity” have almost nothing in common when applied to the Buffalo Public Schools. Since 2000, five men and women have sat in the superintendent’s chair.
With Pamela Brown serving only two years and current interim Superintendent Will Keresztes promised his position only through early July, the obvious question is: Who’s up next?
Based on conversations with community and incoming board majority members, the list of potential contenders for a one- to two-year interim position appears short. No matter what the official job description states, the incoming majority places clear emphasis on a few key attributes:
• Detailed knowledge of the Buffalo school district and community, hopefully an area resident who doesn’t need to shake a lot of hands to figure out who everybody is and what they’re responsible for.
• Someone with the proven ability (read: political smarts) to guide a solid academic improvement strategy through an obstacle course of competing agendas and interest groups.
• Someone with an exemplary track record of working with the state Education Department who can finally get the Buffalo school district out of it’s “time-out” corner with the state.
Finally, all prospective candidates must be willing to embrace the incoming majority’s perspective on certain education reform efforts, including charter schools.
Over the past few weeks, various groups have tossed out ideas of who should be considered for the longer-term interim job. In light of the requirements above, a handful of candidates seem to have a leg up on the competition.
• Donald A. Ogilvie, retiring superintendent of Erie 1 BOCES, which provides educational services to 19 area school districts.
Ogilvie is considered a front-runner in many circles because he enjoys close ties with Education Department leaders, has political leadership skills working across districts and has provided support to struggling schools in Erie County. In 2010, he issued a critical report on struggling Buffalo schools.
Since then, Ogilvie said, BOCES has played a role in addressing Buffalo issues regarding student attendance, discipline and safety.
He served as superintendent of the Chadwicks Union Free school district in Oneida County, the Southwestern Central school district in Chautauqua County and the Hamburg Central Schools before serving 17 years as BOCES superintendent.
“I’ve watched the situation in Buffalo for quite awhile,” Ogilvie said Tuesday. “The seriousness of what lies ahead is something I feel I’ve got the background to assist.”
• Keresztes, Buffalo’s current interim superintendent.
Keresztes is also considered a serious challenger for the longer-term interim job because he has intimate knowledge of the district and familiarity with its pressing issues. He is generally respected – enough to gain unanimous support today for the top leadership post through early next month.
He’s considered politically savvy and has worked hard to build bridges with community stakeholders and with the board. He’s also been proactive in addressing blemishes on his academic record.
He has a few weeks to prove his worth as a district leader, giving him a valuable opportunity other candidates won’t get. His public statements Monday urging the board to rescind controversial plans promoted by former Superintendent Brown were lauded by incoming board majority members as “courageous.” When asked Monday about his interest in the longer-term interim job, Keresztes said he hadn’t given the idea any thought.
• Judy Elliott, distinguished educator and consultant to the Buffalo Public Schools.
A Western New York native who now lives in Florida, Elliott has long been discussed as a potential candidate for the interim superintendent position because of her work with the city’s struggling schools and her close ties to State Education Commissioner John King, who mandated her Buffalo appointment in 2012.
Though many believe Elliott has a strong grasp of the problems facing the district, board members have said she has little interest in the interim job.
• David Mauricio, chief of school leadership for the Buffalo Public Schools.
Mauricio shares some of the same advantages as Keresztes when it comes to knowing the Buffalo district. A minority candidate and former principal of Bennett High School, he is one of the few candidates to possess extensive background as a high school leader.
• Mary H. Gresham, University at Buffalo’s vice provost for educational collaboration and engagement.
Gresham served as dean of UB’s Graduate School of Education until 2012. Another minority contender, Gresham currently works for in the Office of the Provost, leading campuswide efforts to connect university resources with the needs of the surrounding community.
Other candidate names, including various Buffalo school principals, retired district administrators, and even suburban district superintendents also have been floated. But the above list includes candidates who have been mentioned by more than a few insiders.
Chief Financial Officer Barbara J. Smith had been considered by the incoming board majority to serve in the role Keresztes is filling now – short-term interim superintendent. But she was never considered a candidate for the long-term interim position.
The above list of potential candidates represents contenders for the one-to-two year interim superintendent position only.
Board members said they still intend to launch a much broader search for a permanent superintendent after the district spends the next year or two stabilizing and restructuring district schools.