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3 finalists to interview for top city school post ; Dixon among names on list for this week

Three final candidates vying for the superintendency including interim Superintendent Amber M. Dixon -- will interview with the Buffalo School Board later this week.

The other two finalists come from "very large" urban school districts, according to the search consultant, but neither is currently a permanent superintendent.

The names of the candidates will not be released until the board meeting Wednesday evening. Several sources, however, said Dixon is among the three.

Board Vice President Rosalyn L. Taylor, who is overseeing the search, said the finalists were culled from more than 30 applicants.

"We're feeling satisfied in going forward with the three at this point in time," Taylor said.

She acknowledged, though, that the acrimony in Buffalo regarding a teacher-evaluation agreement has cost the city some candidates.

"I am sure it's having an impact on the candidate pool. There would be no way it could be avoided. I'm sure the candidates are aware of what's going on in Buffalo," Taylor said. "But some people are up to the challenge. They see it as something workable. I think these three people are ready for the challenge."

Lee T. Pasquarella, president of Cascade Consulting, said the original 34 applications included internal candidates, applicants from elsewhere in New York, those from the Northeast and some from other parts of the country. He declined to say how many candidates were in each category.

He said he met in person with five candidates and conducted interviews over Skype with another three candidates. The Skype interviews were with borderline candidates, to determine whether they warranted an in-person interview, he said; none did.

Taylor said the three finalists being interviewed this week are those who remained available.

"There were more than three initially," she said. "Some of the candidates were taken by other districts. Some other candidates, for whatever reason, dropped out. So we ended up with three."

The superintendency was vacated in September, when James A. Williams resigned after the board took preliminary steps to initiate termination proceedings. At that time, the board named Dixon, who served as a high-ranking administrator under Williams, as interim superintendent.

In December, a few members of the board expressed interest in offering Dixon a two-year contract. They were not able to secure the support of a majority of the nine-member board, though, and the issue was never discussed publicly during a board session.

At the time, board members who opposed offering Dixon a contract said they wanted to conduct a full national search to find the best candidate, whether that turned out to be her or someone else.

Dixon was disheartened by the board's decision not to offer her the job at that time, several sources said.

"I think I'm the right person to do the job. But this can't be a case of settling for a local candidate. They have to decide I'm the right person for the job," Dixon said in March. "I can't be the easy candidate. I have to be the right candidate."

Thursday morning, all three candidates will meet with Cabinet-level district administrators, then spend a few hours touring selected schools. In the afternoon, they will meet with the media for an hour in City Hall, then meet with selected stakeholder groups.

From 5:30 to 7 p.m. Thursday, the public will be able to meet the candidates during an informal reception at Waterfront Elementary School, 95 Fourth St.

The board will interview the three candidates privately Friday, in the hope of appointing a new superintendent by July 1.

Pasquarella said the district is running behind most other districts that are searching for a superintendent.

"The normal process is that during a March or April time frame, people get these jobs and get appointed," he said. "We're late in the process, so I would hope they move forward expeditiously now."

email: mpasciak@buffnews.com