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Ogilvie feels heat on pick for school post

Donald A. Ogilvie is in a tough spot. As interim superintendent, he’s the only one with the power to recommend a new deputy superintendent – and his own likely replacement – to the Buffalo School Board.

But some members of the board majority have made it clear to their “rogue superintendent” that they want his recommendation to line up with theirs. Or else.

“There is great support for just ending this nonsense,” said board member Carl P. Paladino, “and part of that ending, obviously, is terminating the superintendent and appointing a new person. If he can’t do the job that we want, then he’s got to go.”

Ogilvie, however, said he won’t be pushed. He’s following his own process and is expected to put forward at least two candidates for further vetting starting late this week – James G. Weimer Jr., the board majority’s choice, and Will Keresztes, a longtime Central Office administrator.

Paladino – who wanted to oust Ogilvie last month but got no support – said he was speaking only for himself in saying Ogilvie should be fired on the spot if he doesn’t recommend Weimer’s name at next week’s board meeting. But no other board majority members interviewed this week denied that firing the superintendent was a possibility.

“You know what? If he wants to leave, I think he should leave sooner than later,” said board member Jason M. McCarthy.

The gamesmanship leads up to Ogilvie’s recommendation next Wednesday of a deputy superintendent whom the board majority wants to become superintendent after Ogilvie leaves office, which is currently slated for the end of June.

Ogilvie said he’s fully aware of the “strong preferences” majority members have made clear for him to recommend Weimer, principal at Emerson School of Hospitality, as his deputy superintendent. But Ogilvie says he remains committed to following a methodical and multistep vetting process.

“I was asked to put together a process,” he said. “I am bound by the process.”

In a concession to the board majority, however, he has decided not to invite any of the eight out-of-town job applicants to interview for the deputy position. It’s clear that the board majority will pick only an internal candidate, he said, and it would be disrespectful and dishonest to ask outsiders to make travel arrangements and incur expenses when none would be seriously considered for the job.

Three internal candidates from the district remain: Weimer, Keresztes and Genelle E. Morris, assistant superintendent of accountability who is well regarded and considered a rising leader.

However, Morris’ shorter tenure and lesser experience in the school district put her at a disadvantage in comparison to Keresztes, associate superintendent of student support services for the last eight years. It also puts her behind Weimer, who has spent 13 years as principal of the successful Emerson vocational school.

That leaves Keresztes and Weimer as the likely candidates to move forward in Ogilvie’s vetting process, which will wrap up early next week.

“I want to put both these individuals through a fair and rigorous process,” Ogilvie said.

Weimer has made no public comment on the possibility he may assume the deputy superintendent position.

But Keresztes has been heavily lobbying for the job, despite his lack of support from the board majority. He has reached out to local leaders, educators and political players. He lists eight references across educational, community and political spectrums and has even garnered public support from Ken Slentz, former deputy commissioner for the state Education Department.

He also publicly released his 24-page “Deputy Superintendent Entry Plan” this week, a detailed action plan for how he would proceed if he gains the deputy superintendent position. That plan includes creation of new schools, more building-level support to students, online credit-recovery programs to help students who have fallen behind and boost graduation rates, and a greater push for more city funding.

Keresztes served as interim superintendent for a month prior to Ogilvie’s appointment last July. He had also previously sought the interim superintendent position after Superintendent James A. Williams was effectively fired in 2011; the position went to Amber M. Dixon.

Although some members of the board majority said they appreciate Keresztes’ work, they don’t see him trumping Weimer. Instead, they see Weimer keeping Keresztes in a leadership position if he takes over.

“In the past, I’ve always been supportive of Will,” McCarthy said. “He was one of those guys when you needed to get something done, he got it done. I’ve tried to sell Will and his skills and attributes to the other members of the board majority, but I don’t think they see Will in the same light as I do.”

In response to majority concerns that he can’t reform the Central Office from the inside, Keresztes responded, “Anyone who thinks I’m tainted by anyone or anything doesn’t know me. People who know me know that I base my decisions on one thing, and that is what my students need to thrive.”

Meanwhile, amid talk of possible mayoral control of the district, administrators and board members are aware that Weimer wants the ability to revert to his principalship if he is selected for deputy superintendent but it doesn’t work out. It appears that such a “retreat clause” would require consent from the administrators union. Without such job security, many question whether Weimer would remain a candidate.

Paladino, however, said he believes that it is possible to find a way to address Weimer’s concerns.

“Where there’s a will, there’s a way,” he said.

Both Keresztes and Weimer are expected to be interviewed by Ogilvie’s Executive Cabinet on Friday. On Monday, School Board members would have their turn to interview the candidates. All interviewers would then give Ogilvie anonymous feedback on their impressions of each candidate, he said.

As far as Ogilvie is concerned, each candidate should be vetted not only on their qualifications and past performance in the district, but also on a clear articulation of why they want the job and what makes them ready to cope with the pressures and demands of the position.

While Ogilvie is an expert in this type of evaluation/selection process, his process is being co-opted by an impatient board majority that is hamstrung by its legal inability to directly select any district administrator other than the superintendent. Having lost faith in Ogilvie’s ability to carry forward their vision, majority members say it’s imperative that the district’s next leader be in step with their own reform agenda.

They are also of the strong belief that school building leadership experience, which is closest to teachers and students, matters more in a candidate for deputy superintendent and eventually superintendent than service in the Central Office. That’s another point on which Ogilvie and the board majority appear to disagree.

Members of the board minority, meanwhile, have been cut out of the majority’s discussions and have instead tried to rally the community for a more open selection process, using public board meetings as an opportunity to air their dissent.

“The whole process is not an honest process,” said board member Barbara A. Seals Nevergold. “It’s a sham, as far as I’m concerned.”

To review the résumés for Keresztes, Morris and Weimer, as well as Keresztes’ “Deputy Superintendent Entry Plan,” visit the School Zone blog.