Good luck, Darren Brown.
Buffalo’s latest interim superintendent is on board. He appears to be qualified, interested and ready to work. What remains to be seen is if his tenure will be as unfortunate as those of the last three interim superintendents.
If you want a fair measure of upheaval in the Buffalo School District, that statistic is as good as any. Since 2011, the district has had four interim superintendents, but only one actual superintendent, and she was forced out after just two years on the job.
Brown, who ascended to the post from his position as associate superintendent for human resources, had the opportunity because the previous interim superintendent, Donald A. Ogilvie, walked away after one year in the job. He made his disgust with the School Board clear, and members of the board majority had no problem seeing him walk. Board member Carl Paladino, ever hyperbolic, described him using words like “treachery” and “betrayal.”
Good luck, Darren Brown.
The board needed yet another interim superintendent because it failed to hire a permanent superintendent to replace Ogilvie, who had made his intentions clear months earlier. First, the board majority attempted to promote a principal into the position, but James G. Weimer, the successful leader of the Emerson School of Hospitality, changed his mind. It was probably a wise decision. Weimer has a superb record at his school, but there is reason to wonder if any Buffalo principal is prepared for the politically fraught position of superintendent. The risks of failure would be inordinately high.
The district then began a targeted national search, but has yet to find a taker for the job. For that, the board must shoulder a share of the blame. Its commitment to the cause of dysfunction is all but legendary and can hardly help but play into the evaluations of highly qualified candidates. Why put up with it when other opportunities are available?
That’s no slight to Brown, who has gamely taken on the task of ensuring that the district has qualified leadership during its ongoing and eternal period of transition. Perhaps most encouraging is that, in his role in the human resources department, he was able to instill order into a department that was famously chaotic. To be sure, whoever ultimately is hired as permanent superintendent will need skills such as those.
Brown says he hopes to avoid controversy by focusing on issues instead of personalities, of which the board has – to be charitable – many. It’s the right approach, but it relies on the board doing the same, and the chances of that are – again, charitably – remote.
Here’s a suggestion to the board: As much as possible, stay out of Brown’s way. Focus on hiring a permanent superintendent and do so by agreeing to keep the invective to a minimum and focusing, as Brown said, on the issues:
• What are the qualities needed in a superintendent?
• What will it take to lure those candidates to Buffalo? (Hint: Public squabbling is not among the answers.)
• What will a new superintendent need from the board in order to be successful?
• How does the board define success?
Little good can happen if the board does not figure out how to get out of its own way – and, for that matter, out of the city’s way. It is important to hire someone as quickly as diligence and strong candidates allow.
In the meantime, interim superintendent No. 4 is on the job. Welcome, Darren Brown. And good luck.