A familiar face is returning to lead the West Seneca School District.
Mark Crawford, who has been superintendent in Hamburg the last three years, Monday won unanimous support from the West Seneca School Board to become that district's new superintendent. He will replace Jean M. Kovach, who is retiring at the end of the summer.
The board approved a five-year contract giving Crawford a $175,000 salary, about $10,000 more than Kovach makes.
Crawford, 58, took a strange route to the appointment. A few months ago, the board enlisted the help of Erie 1 BOCES Superintendent Donald A. Ogilvie to conduct a superintendent candidate search, which yielded three candidates, none of whom worked out.
So the board deliberated on what to do next: open a new search or look for an interim superintendent. Someone on the board suggested calling Crawford to see if he might be interested.
Crawford and the board met. Two community panels interviewed him, offering him a unanimous thumbs-up from all 19 people on the panels.
Crawford, a Hamburg native, began his career teaching at Our Lady of Perpetual Help in Lake View, then went to Nardin, where he taught and served as principal.
While at Nardin, he helped his family run Crawford Carriages, a company that rented horse-drawn carriages for special events.
For five years, he worked for the Diocese of Buffalo, helping to reorganize Catholic elementary schools and establish boards of education for Catholic high schools.
From 1991 to 2000, he was principal of Northwood, then became principal at Casey Middle School in Williamsville for five years. He later became superintendent of the Dryden School District, near Ithaca, before becoming Hamburg's superintendent three years ago.
Hamburg School Board President Gregory Wichlacz said the planning process for a new superintendent will kick off this Thursday. The board has scheduled a work session with BOCES 1 Superintendent Donald Ogilvie, who, Wichlacz said, will help the district set up a game plan to fill the top spot for the district of 4,000 students.
Wichlacz, who traveled to Africa with Crawford last year to establish a partnership with a high school in Rwanda, said he would miss Crawford both professionally and personally.
Crawford, for his part, said he is looking forward to working with people in West Seneca.
"I think a lot of the collective brain working with people," he said. "I don't myself appreciate top-down decision-making in a school organization. There's a lot to be said in a school about working with collegiality and shared decision-making."
Many in West Seneca look forward to his return.
A few years ago, his former students from Northwood formed a Facebook group called "Crawford kids," dedicated to the "loveable, cool, stoic and gracious [former] principal."
"I think 'genuine' is a perfect word for him. He's very humble," said Carol A. Jarczyk, board president. "We're absolutely thrilled and ecstatic."
Includes reporting by Southtowns Correspondent Eileen Werbitsky.