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School chief likely to be announced this week ; N. Tonawanda board narrows choices to 2

District residents expect the Board of Education's choice for a new superintendent of city schools to come Tuesday, after it reviews input from each of the stakeholder groups that spent last week interviewing the two final candidates.

Either Susan B. Frey, assistant superintendent of Depew Union Free School District, or Greg Woytila, executive director of educational services for this district, could replace Vincent Vecchiarella, who is set to retire Sept. 16 after three years in the position.

During their interviews, both candidates stressed a spirit of openness and collaboration among students, parents, staff, administrators and residents as the key to success. That would mark a change from the current top-down management style, where some department heads are unwilling to discuss board matters without first consulting Vecchiarella.

"What wasn't happening was the teachers, staff and administrators weren't in open forums talking about what was best," said Woytila, who works closely with Vecchiarella but favors more open communication.

District residents reacted differently to the candidates' discussion of budgeting concerns and program cuts.

"If [Woytila] gets the job, I'm just afraid we'll lose a lot more of our programs," said Sandy McFarland, whose daughter graduated from the district. "I think [Frey] will look at other ways to change things without losing programs."

Residents said Frey suggested student input on these types of decisions, and said the performance of a program is the biggest factor at budget time. Attempts to contact Frey for further comments were not successful.

Woytila said his perspective is to work smarter, not harder. He promised to get an early start -- August -- on identifying opportunities for program consolidation so that programs can be saved, but the district can focus more on instructional basics and meeting state criteria. Combining painting and ceramics classes into one was an example.

"He was able to give specific ideas," said Ann Finkle of Sun Valley Drive. "Ms. Frey did not have a single idea. She spoke completely in generalities."

Woytila had a mind for numbers, stressing the importance of letting data guide the board's decisions, and setting goals that are district-wide rather than building-by-building.

He stressed his loyalty to the school district where he was raised and worked as an educator for the past 18 years.

"It's not just a business," he said. "It's a livelihood and a town and a community that I'm a part of, and I'd like to be here a long time. My career has brought me to this."

Frey was principal of Tonawanda High School for five years after working in the school's district as an administrator. She was a health and physical education instructor for 10 years. As assistant superintendent in Depew, she worked on a multimillion-dollar capital project.

Woytila taught third, fourth and fifth grades at Gilmore Elementary for 14 years then went on to be assistant principal of Gilmore and Grant schools for a year before getting his current spot in administration.

"He's been here forever," Finkle said. "He knows everything he would need to know. There's no question."

But McFarland's 19-year-old daughter, Katie, said Frey is the better candidate, hands down.

"[Woytila is] very knowledgeable about what's already going on in the district," she said, "but I don't think that's really an issue as far as choosing a candidate. She's out to do what's best for the students. She looks more at the students' needs."

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