More than 100 teachers and staff members gave retiring West Seneca Superintendent Mark J. Crawford a standing ovation Monday night, while Crawford did what he usually does: take the opportunity to praise his staff.
"We should never forget that collectively we are awesome. We do a great job every day in the name of kids, and their lives are better because of you," he said.
And, in praising Crawford, several who spoke alluded to the current split on the School Board which has spilled over into meetings.
Social Studies teacher Patrick Braunscheidel credited Crawford for his legacy of kindness. He said one of the benefits of being in education is working with students, who have no agenda.
"All it is they want you to do every day, is show up every day and love them," he said. "One of the greatest benefits of having a superintendent named Dr. Mark Crawford is he wants the exact same thing. He wants us to come in and love the kids, no strings attached, no agenda."
Crawford announced in November he would retire. The School Board has not named a new superintendent, and decided in February to look for an interim head instead.
Crawford had agreed to stay until May, but told the board over the winter that his last day will be April 29.
And the search for a new superintendent is one of several issues that have become controversial. At the board's March 6 meeting, member Carol Jarczyk asked what was taking so long on the search, and why the board needed a search consultant to hire an interim superintendent.
Board members had agreed to meet March 22 to discuss the search, but that did not occur.
Kate Newton, the board president, said the board will meet in executive session at 6 p.m. April 6, 10 and 11 to meet with its search consultant, and conduct interviews for the interim position. She said she did not know how many applications the board had received, but that the board would find out April 6.
Franco DiPasqua, director of math, science and federal title grants, who is an executive officer of the administrator's union, said the loss of Crawford will create a significant void of institutional knowledge. He suggested Monday night the board tap Assistant Superintendent Timothy Oldenburg, who has worked for the district for 12 years.
He also chided board members for being in a "state of conflict" with employees, and said the last time he spoke out at a meeting he heard that his words were interpreted as insubordination.
"You are choosing a dark path of distrust and chaos that is already creating numerous grievances and Freedom of Information Law requests," he said.
Crawford, who said that Monday might be his last meeting as superintendent, said West Seneca, where he has worked for 16 years, is the place he is most grounded and happiest to be. And he acknowledged the current discord.
"We have had some rocky steps this year. I'm hopeful that they will go away," he said. "Usually bad storms do. The sun will come up."
The board was united Monday night in all its votes, including approving the $116.8 million budget, which would allow the district to hire new staff for the first time in seven years.