New board looks to Ogilvie to reset district’s course - The Buffalo News
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New board looks to Ogilvie to reset district’s course

Former Erie 1 BOCES Superintendent Donald A. Ogilvie will likely be the next to take the helm of the Buffalo Public Schools, putting him in a key position to oversee an ambitious plan for overhauling the struggling system.

Members of the new School Board majority decided on Ogilvie for interim superintendent without conducting a formal search and interview process, which they had previously called for.

Rather, those board members said they chose Ogilvie because of his long history with area schools and his knowledge of state and local education policies.

“He’s got a track record,” said board member Carl P. Paladino. “He knows more about the Buffalo Public Schools than anyone working there.”

The board’s new president, James M. Sampson, notified fellow members over the weekend that he intends to bring a contract for Ogilvie before them at Wednesday’s meeting.

If approved – considered more than likely – Ogilvie would earn a salary of $217,500, the same as recently departed Superintendent Pamela C. Brown. Ogilvie would not receive any fringe benefits, such as retirement or health care, or be given bonuses or merit pay.

Ogilvie could not be reached to comment.

Ogilvie would serve as interim superintendent for up to two years. Board members look to him to play a key role executing a plan for school reform that the new majority on the nine-member board unveiled last week.

The plan’s main goal calls for an increase in the number of spots in high-performing schools through a variety of options. The options include encouraging more charter schools to open in the city, increasing enrollment at the district’s most popular schools and lobbying the state to take over part of the district.

Board members hope he will help stabilize the district, making it a more attractive prospect to potential candidates for permanent superintendent.

More immediately, Ogilvie is expected to conduct a thorough evaluation of district and school-level leaders to make sure the most qualified and effective people are in the jobs. That could result in a massive reorganization of the district’s top officials, as well as the replacement of some school principals.

“Don will insist on high-performing and talented people who can get the job done,” said Regents Chancellor Emeritus Robert M. Bennett, an Ogilvie supporter. “He’s got so much experience that he can judge people extremely well. He’s got to look at every person and every function and see if it’s overstaffed. I suspect he’ll find that’s the case at Central Office.”

Board members hope that will be done immediately so that any changes happen well before the new school year starts in September.

Ogilvie would also be given the responsibility of mending the district’s broken relationship with the state Education Department.

The district currently has several pending plans for turning around its most struggling schools and needs to submit them for state approval.

Ogilvie, well-regarded among the state’s top education leaders, already has a strong relationship with the Education Department. That could open doors for Buffalo to become an incubator of sorts for new education programs.

“There are best practices across the state that will now have a chance to be successful in Buffalo,” Bennett said.

Ogilvie was considered a likely candidate for the job even before the May election that upset the majority of the board and led to Brown’s resignation. His name also came up in previous searches to fill the top spot in the Buffalo schools, but he never garnered the majority support he needed to get the position. “His name has been floated before,” said board member Jason M. McCarthy. “He’s been on the radar for a long time. The reason he never got the job before is because he never had the support on the board.”

Ogilvie announced in April his plan to retire from his job at Erie 1 Board of Cooperative Educational Services.

Even as an outsider, Ogilvie has played a role addressing problems in the Buffalo schools, advising on issues such as student attendance, discipline and safety. In 2010, he issued a critical report on the state of the Buffalo schools.

Board members will look to Ogilvie to make decisions about what programs to use in the classrooms and to identify best practices for turning around failing schools. None of the members of the new board majority has any experience in education.

“None of us on the board, we’re good well-intentioned people, but we don’t know diddly about making schools better,” Paladino said. “What we need is a man, an educator, who’s been there and knows all of these programs and problems with the district.”

Ogilvie would also play a role negotiating a new contract with the Buffalo Teachers Federation, although it is expected that Paladino and new board member Larry Quinn will be the driving forces behind that effort.

Although much of the new majority’s vision will be executed over the next two years, there are components that could be in place by the time the new school year starts.

That could include making arrangements with suburban school districts to accommodate students who have requested transfers out of failing schools. The district tried a similar arrangement last year but was unable to garner support from suburban school systems. Some believe that Ogilvie, who has experience working with suburban school leaders through his role at BOCES, could help facilitate an agreement.

Board members, however, see that as a short-term solution as they work to create more permanent options.

“My whole thing is it’s the kids first, and then all the other stuff comes second,” Quinn said. “He’s obviously very aware of the issues. He knows our vision. I expect him to be the one to implement it.”


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