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The other candidates for interim superintendent

Amber Dixon has emerged as the Board of Ed's clear favorite to serve as interim superintendent once James Williams departs.

But over the past few weeks, Dixon is not the only person that various board members have mentioned as possible candidates.

Here are some of the others:

Erie 1 BOCES Superintendent Don Ogilvie has been touted by Regent Bob Bennett and several high-profile business leaders, including Carl Paladino, as either an interim superintendent for Buffalo or a long-term successor to Williams.

That may have backfired.

Some board members say they respect Ogilvie's experience and reputation, but do not want to appear to be bowing to outside pressure, so therefore, would not want to appoint him.

And some board members say they want a leader who has experience working directly in an urban district -- something Ogilvie does not have.

The other person outside the district whose name has surfaced is Yvonne Minor-Ragan, the longtime principal of Westminster Community Charter School. She retired from the school in June, and is now working with the Westminster Foundation and the Promise Neighborhood initiative.

Minor-Ragan, who was recruited years ago from Chicago, has a solid reputation for transforming Westminster from one of the worst schools in Buffalo to a school that consistently reports scores well above the district averages. She was known for running the school with a firm hand while still maintaining warm relations with students and their families and developing  a culture of respect.

While board members seem to think highly of her, it also seems that their thinking is that she likely would not be interested in running the district.

And in general, board members seem to want someone from inside the district who knows the players and the history.

Among the district's upper-level administrators (Williams' cabinet, in other words), Associate Superintendent Will Keresztes seems to be the only other person besides Dixon who got any serious consideration by board members. His 100 percent call back policy -- he returns all phone calls -- has won fans on the board, and many see him as a capable, no-nonsense administrator.

But some issues in Keresztes' past made some board members think twice.

In 2004, Keresztes was suspended for 30 days while he was a principal at School 80 because teachers there directed students to cheat on a state test. When the incident became public four years later, Keresztes said he was not aware of the cheating, nor did he initiate it, but that as principal, he took responsibility for what happened on his watch.

From the story that ran at the time: "He didn't do anything wrong," said Rita M. Eisenbeis, who conducted the investigation and is now retired. "He didn't actively take part in the cheating at School 80. Could he have been more vigilant? Maybe."

Then, in 2008, Keresztes was accused of pushing through changes in City Honors' grading system that benefited his daughter. Keresztes denied the charge. The district's ethics panel later cleared him of wrongdoing and found his daughter did not benefit.

The ethics panel added in its decision: "It is important to reiterate to all district personnel that great effort must be taken by all to avoid even the appearance of impropriety. Thus, the prudent course of action may be to [excuse] oneself from any matter that could potentially impact a family member, even if no material benefit could result."

More recently, in May, the state Education Department ruled that the district was denying appropriate special education services to many students -- an area that falls under Keresztes' watch. That has left some board members leery of his leadership.

While the choices for interim superintendent were slim among central office staff, two building principals got some consideration from board members. Bill Kresse, the City Honors principal (who, incidentally, was the person who accused Keresztes of meddling with the school's grading practices three years ago) and David Mauricio, the Bennett High School principal, are both well regarded and seen as up and coming administrators.

A major drawback for both, though, is their lack of central office experience. While each is certified to work as a district administrator, neither one ever has.

It's not unheard of in local districts for someone to leap from serving as a principal to superintendent. Two examples from the relatively recent past: Paul Hashem in Lackawanna and Jim Brotz in West Seneca.

But each of those districts pale in size when compared to Buffalo. The bigger of the two, West Seneca, has only about one-fifth as many students as Buffalo.

In Buffalo, appointing someone like Kresse or Mauricio would mean taking a leap from running a building with a few hundred students, to running a district with 35,000.

- Mary Pasciak

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