Interim Buffalo School Superintendent Donald A. Ogilvie made good on his promise to meet with the community, and the community showed up for him with lots of questions.
About 100 people came to Highgate Heights Elementary School on Tuesday evening for the first community forum that Ogilvie has conducted had since taking over as interim chief of the district earlier this month, although many in the audience were school district officials, administrators, faculty and staff.
The forum was held at the urging of the members of the new School Board minority, who felt they and the community at large were left out of the process when Ogilvie was selected to head the district.
The session started with Ogilvie introducing himself as a longtime educator and proud grandfather. He then talked about his interim role, immediate steps the district must take, the larger role of a transition to a permanent superintendent and new leadership in the future.
“Buffalo Public Schools have many plans and schools in need of improvement,” he said, singling out the District Comprehensive Improvement Plan. “We have documents and reports due to the state, and my job is to make sure everyone is working together to put together quality plans.”
Another immediate goal is to fill vacancies in key leadership positions, such as deputy superintendent and chief of curriculum, assessment and instruction, he said. Also, vacancies of building principals and assistant principals need to be filled.
A long-term goal is to recruit a permanent superintendent.
“The search for leadership is broad-based and important and will allow the transition to connect with the future,” he said.
After his opening remarks, the sponsors of the meeting – School Board members Theresa A. Harris-Tigg, Sharon M. Belton-Cottman, Mary Ruth Kapsiak and Barbara A. Seals Nevergold – passed out blank index cards to anyone in the audience who wanted to write down a question for Ogilvie.
One of the questions was what he will do differently from other superintendents, to which Ogilvie responded: “I am able to trust. I am willing to trust, and I’m looking for people who feel the same way.”
When asked what qualities and expertise he is looking for in his Cabinet, he said he wants people who are honest, trustworthy, trusting, confident and outgoing and who will work together.
“They will put the past behind them and recognize they are part of a team,” Ogilvie said.
On the question of single-gender schools, he said he has no specific plan, but would not dismiss it. “That might be a very worthwhile experiment,” he said.
Ogilvie injected humor and light moments in his comments, something to which the audience was receptive. Many of his answers generated applause, including the comment about not being a fan of truant officers and another calling for more input from students in discussions and decisions on school improvement.
“They are the ones to give the best ideas – from their experiences – to do better,” Ogilvie said.
Generally, the tone of the meeting was friendlier and much more cordial than the last time Ogilvie met publicly with the members who make up the new minority on the nine-member board.
During that July 9 meeting, his appointment to the position was the focus of heated, contentious debates, with the new minority raising an impassioned criticism of the process by which the board majority drafted Ogilvie’s contract.
Although the old board had discussed a search process and drafted a job description, it was never posted. Instead, President James M. Sampson sent fellow board members an email over the preceding weekend to notify them of his intent to bring the contract for a vote at the July 9 meeting.
What ensued were roughly two hours of tense and passionate arguments from both sides. Those in the new minority accused their colleagues of striking the deal with Ogilvie in secret, flinging many of the same kind of insults that those that in the new majority had once hurled in their direction.
Those in the new majority initially reacted by defending the process and pointing out that just last month, they sat on the opposite side of the argument. Eventually, however, they acquiesced, letting their colleagues have their say.
Ogilvie’s appointment passed with five votes from the new majority: Sampson, Larry Quinn, Jason M. McCarthy, Carl P. Paladino and Patti Bowers Pierce.
The other four members – Nevergold, Harris-Tigg, Belton-Cottman and Kapsiak – abstained rather than vote against Ogilvie’s appointment.
The questions from the audience that Ogilvie did not have time to answer Tuesday will be compiled in a document and placed on the district’s website for public viewing.