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Former state deputy education commissioner applies for Buffalo superintendency

The former right-hand man of ex-State Education Commissioner John B. King Jr. has thrown his hat in the ring for consideration as the Buffalo school district’s next superintendent.

Former Deputy Commissioner Kenneth Slentz, who has been superintendent of the Skaneateles school district near Syracuse since July, said he is not sure he’ll be a good fit for Buffalo but submitted his application to explore the possibility.

“The purpose was really to enter properly into a conversation with the board to see if there was a possible match, to see if there was a willingness to move forward,” he said Monday.

Slentz’s application is one of 20 that has been submitted for the position. Given his background as a high-level reform-and-accountability administrator, his application is likely to draw serious consideration from the current board majority, and likely tough questions from the board minority bloc, many of whom consider the state’s reform agenda to be punitive, distracting and unfair.

Slentz said he recognizes that he may not have unified support for the superintendent’s position in Buffalo but said he would hope he could get a majority to agree on a collective set of goals that focuses on student outcomes. As superintendent, he said, he’d be focused on an action-oriented agenda that spends less time “philosophizing” and more time moving the district forward in concrete ways.

“Education is truly a matter of life and death, and prioritizing our urban students is a high priority for me.”

Slentz served as an associate commissioner for the state Education Department for about two years before becoming deputy commissioner in 2011. In those positions, he was a major driver of the state’s sweeping and controversial reform agenda, which included the distribution of millions in federal turnaround money to struggling schools and the rollout of the Common Core learning standards.

He served as deputy commissioner until accepting the Skaneateles post in May 2014.

Though Slentz has served as superintendent of several school districts, he has never before headed a district as large, urban or poor as Buffalo. Skaneateles, a district of 1,500 students, is one of the wealthiest school districts in the Syracuse region. Ninety-seven percent of its students are white and only 8 percent are considered economically disadvantaged. Prior to coming to the Education Department, Slentz was superintendent of West Canada Valley, a rural district of 700 students in Herkimer County.

Slentz acknowledged the “glaring gap” in his résumé, but also said he worked extensively with Buffalo at the state level and was struck by the potential within the district to make great strides with a motivated leadership support team.

He added, however, that despite his interest in urban education, it would take a lot of incentives for him to seriously consider leaving his current school district, where he has been serving a few weeks shy of a year.

“I’m in a fantastic district with an incredibly supportive board and community,” Slentz said. “Some people would ask, ‘Why in the name of God would you leave this position?’ ”

Slentz is completing the first year of a three-year contract in Skaneateles. As part of his contract agreement, he agreed to a fixed salary of $192,000 a year for all three years. In order to consider a move to Buffalo, Slentz said he’d want a better sense of the board’s commitment, his employment package, and the support of his family.

Of the 20 candidates who have submitted applications, many are from out of state. Slentz would be among the few who would not need to obtain the proper state certification to take over the superintendent’s seat. Three other internal candidates also have applied for the job and are likely to be interviewed by the board. They include Associate Superintendent Will Keresztes; Kevin J. Eberle, principal of Harvey Austin School; and Gregory D. Mott, principal of Grabiarz School of Excellence.