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Brown gains board's 7-2 vote as chief of city schools; Reaction has references to 'history' and 'change'

Former Philadelphia administrator Pamela C. Brown on Wednesday was appointed Buffalo's new school superintendent by a 7-2 vote of the Board of Education.

The board met in executive session for about an hour and a half, then took a public vote on Brown's appointment with no public discussion about the new superintendent.

Many people in the audience erupted into applause once the vote was taken.

Brown, 57, will be the first female African-American to serve as superintendent in Buffalo in a permanent capacity. Yvonne Hargrave served as interim superintendent briefly after Marion Canedo retired.

"Unleash [Brown] to make history and change the schools," Charley H. Fisher III, president of the BUILD organization and a former Common Council member, urged the board. "Now, as you make policies, let her implement them."

Brown was selected over Amber M. Dixon, who has been serving as interim superintendent during this school year.

Jason M. McCarthy, who represents the North District, and board President Louis J. Petrucci, who represents the South District, cast the only votes against Brown's appointment. Petrucci said he voted no because most of the residents in his district supported Dixon.

In interviews after the vote, several board members cited Brown's background as a bilingual teacher -- she taught in Spanish and English in schools on the West Coast early in her career -- as one of the assets she brings with her.

"I think that she brings a lot to Buffalo that is much-needed with her background in foreign languages," said Mary Ruth Kapsiak, who represents the Central District. "Our foreign language department and our schools are in much need of some support."

Brown spent 12 years as a principal in Charlotte, N.C., where she worked in three schools. During her interview in Buffalo, Brown cited increases in math and English scores under her leadership that board members pointed to as one of the reasons they selected her. North Carolina state data, though, showed that the increases were not as large as she had indicated.

After her time in Charlotte, Brown served as chief of staff in the Richmond, Va., schools for a year as part of her doctoral program at Harvard University.

Brown worked in the upper administration of the Philadelphia schools for three years, from 2008 to 2011. She was hired as an assistant superintendent. After about a year, she was tapped as interim chief academic officer, the No. 2 job in the district, then returned to being an assistant superintendent after about a year.

The board at one point considered visiting Philadelphia before voting on her appointment. But board members did not visit her former district, Petrucci said, largely because of time constraints. He said board members spoke by phone to several people in districts where she had worked.

Brown's work in Philadelphia will serve her well in Buffalo, since she is able to work with diverse constituents, said Barbara Seals Nevergold, an at-large board member.

"I think she'll be a good match for Western New York. Her demeanor is calm. She's a collaborator," said Sharon Belton Cottman, who represents the Ferry District. "She's going to pull us together as a community."

West District representative Ralph R. Hernandez said the decision was difficult.

"I think there was a sentimental favorite in Amber Dixon. I appreciate everything she's done," he said. "It was an unfortunate situation. The majority of the board wanted to go in a different direction [to hire Brown]. Now we have to have solidarity behind Dr. Brown."

Brown is expected to visit Buffalo next week, Petrucci said. She has not yet signed a contract but has agreed to the general terms outlined by the board. Petrucci cited a salary range of $210,000 to $230,000.

It's not yet clear exactly when Brown will begin work in the district. Several board members said they would like to see her start as soon as possible.

Brown, who lists a North Carolina address on her resume, will be living in Buffalo full time, Petrucci said.