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Board putting together team to help James Weimer run Buffalo schools

As the Buffalo School Board majority proceeds with plans to appoint James G. Weimer Jr. as the district’s next superintendent, members are also working with the principal to put together a leadership team to take over.

Board President James M. Sampson acknowledged in an email sent Sunday that he has been in conversations with the Emerson School of Hospitality principal about plans for the district, including whom Weimer wants on his leadership team.

Board member Larry Quinn reinforced that sentiment, saying that board members are working with Weimer to put together a diverse group culled from school principals within the district who can move into the administration and offer stability for years to come.

“What you want to do is create a next generation of leadership to take over the district,” Quinn said. “I know that Jim (Weimer) is talking to people all over the district who really know the district well.”

In the email, Sampson also verifies that the board is calling off any possibility of a national search to find a new leader to replace interim Superintendent Donald A. Ogilvie, who departs at the end of June.

“Both approaches have merit, but I believe with the crush of events and the need to create as many high performing seats and schools as possible, we should move quickly to look within the district for our next leadership team,” the board president wrote.

“I know this approach is not what is usually followed in districts, but as many of you have observed on many occasions, we have incredible talent in the district and many pockets of excellence,” Sampson continued. “Most importantly our students and parents have a sense of urgency, an urgency that cannot be met with a national search.”

Members of the board’s minority bloc said they interpreted the email to mean that Weimer’s appointment is a done deal, and called the note a belated attempt to make it seem as though the majority is seeking their feedback.

“They’ve already made up their minds,” said board member Sharon M. Belton-Cottman. “Now, they’re trying to get people to buy into it. They should have included us in their conversations.”

Belton-Cottman and other members of the minority bloc were critical of the majority when it hired Ogilvie in a similar fashion. As recently as last week, they were calling for a national search to find Ogilvie’s replacement.

Board member Barbara A. Seals Nevergold said that if the majority did not want to conduct a national search because of time constraints, it should still have conducted a broader internal search that involved all of the board members.

“It certainly seems like déjà vu all over again,” she said. “Here we are again with no input.”

The prospect of Weimer’s appointment has become increasingly more apparent in recent weeks, with board majority members publicly indicating he was their favored candidate to replace Ogilvie.

Weimer, 53, a North Buffalo native who graduated from Canisius High School and Canisius College, built his career at Emerson.

He started there as a business management teacher with a focus on food service when the school was located on Sycamore Street and offered various vocational programs. When the school decided to open a restaurant at 70 W. Chippewa St., he was chosen to oversee the project. He became principal in 2002.

Weimer has not yet publicly articulated any specific plans for what he will do at the helm. It is expected, however, that he would be responsible for executing the board majority’s agenda. The majority’s main criticism of Ogilvie is that he did not execute the priorities they laid out when they took control of the School Board last year.

Board majority members have previously expressed that they want to downsize the district’s Central Office and direct more resources and staff into school buildings. That could involve reassigning, or firing, a number of administrators.

Those board members have also emphasized they believe principals are in the best position to turn around the struggling Buffalo School District, given that they have more immediate experience in the classroom and have not been tainted by the bureaucracy of Central Office.

The majority also wants to create more spots for students in high-performing schools and come up with progressive new models to turn around struggling schools throughout the district.

Majority members have also been pushing to offer space in district schools to charter schools.