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Area native chosen as school chief

After more than two decades away from the Buffalo area, Robert W. Christmann will be returning next year, when he steps in as superintendent of the Grand Island School District.

Christmann spent most of his childhood in the Town of Tonawanda and graduated from Kenmore East High School. He began his teaching career in the Kenmore-Town of Tonawanda School District, then became a principal in the Frontier School District in the mid-1980s.

After a brief stint in Danbury, Conn., Christmann, 60, spent 20 years in Newark -- most of them as superintendent. Now, he's headed back to the Buffalo area.

The Grand Island School Board announced Thursday it plans to appoint him to replace Thomas M. Ramming, who retired at the end of June. The board is scheduled to vote Monday.

"It's really a rare opportunity for any superintendent to be able to serve in a district and a community of the high quality of Grand Island," Christmann said.

The Grand Island School Board hired the Syracuse firm of Castallo & Silky last spring to find a replacement for Ramming. After narrowing the pool of candidates to three, the board backed off on selecting a finalist. In July, the board asked Erie 1 Board of Cooperative Educational Services Superintendent Donald A. Ogilvie to launch a new search.

Christmann was not a candidate in the initial Grand Island search, but did apply in the second round. Board President Richard Little Jr. said the board was impressed with Christmann's 16 years of experience as Newark's superintendent and his service as a member of the New York State Council of School Superintendents' executive committee.

The Newark School District -- which, with 2,500 students, is nearly as big as Grand Island -- completed nearly $50 million in renovations and additions at its five schools a few years ago, Christmann said. The district is in the last year of a $2.3 million phased-in technology update. And Newark has recently increased the number of students taking Advanced Placement courses.

"He's a very well-respected individual in the industry. He's dealt with a variety of different projects, capital projects, community-related issues," Little said. "He's very personable, very comforting to talk to. He interacts and responds well."

Christmann's wife, Karen, is a special-education teacher in Canandaigua. Christmann plans to rent an apartment in the Grand Island area until he and his wife are able to find a house.

Christmann said he plans to retire from the Grand Island School District after at least five years.


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