By Adam Kramer
For the third time in two years School Board 29’s search committee recommended five people, including District Administrator Michael Johnson, for the post of superintendent to run the embattled district .
Nathaniel Washington, president of School Board 29, said the board was scheduled to interview the candidates April 16 and April 17, then hold a public hearing for the community to talk to the candidates April 23 at a school to be determined.
On April 25 at PS 36 at 187-01 Foch Blvd. in St. Albans the board will announced its decision to hand over the name of one or more of the candidates to Chancellor Harold Levy for approval.
Johnson, who is Levy’s choice for the job, heads the list of five candidates. It is the first time the C-37 search committee put forward Johnson’s name even though Levy has called him one of the stars of the school system.
The southeast Queens district has been in limbo the past two years because the chancellor has rejected all of the board’s choices. He has said he would not turn down all candidates but would only approve those whom he considers better than Johnson. All of the candidates selected by the last two C-37 committees were rejected by the chancellor.
“We have the five finalists names and standings,” said Washington. “We are planning field visits to see how they perform on the job.”
The five finalists for the position are Johnson; Marcel Kshensky of Commack, L.I.; Frances Vasquez of Pelham, N.Y.; Michael McCullough of Riverdale in the Bronx; and Roger Lewis of Rockville Center, L.I.
Johnson, appointed by Levy as the district administrator in early 2000, has led the district’s 28 schools and 27,000 students in an area covering a large swath of southeast Queens. School District 29 stretches from Queens Village to Fresh Meadows and from Hollis to Rosedale and includes Cambria Heights, Rosedale, Laurelton, parts of Bellerose, Springfield Gardens and parts of Jamaica.
The board will choose the candidate it believes best meets the needs of School District 29, Washington said and base its choice on the school visit and the interview. Each candidate is on an equal level, he added, and the board will not base its decision on the C-37’s rankings.
“We will choose the best candidate, nothing else,” Washington said. “We want the candidate capable of taking us where we want to go.”
The board will rate each of the applicants on past performance, field visits, interviews, conversations with supervisors and background checks.
“This is the last step in the process,” he said. “Hopefully, the chancellor will give us a speedy answer after we submit the candidates’ names.”
The school district has been in flux since Celestine Miller was fired in February 1999 by then-Chancellor Rudy Crew for delaying to report that an 8-year-old boy had brought a loaded gun into a Rosedale school. She was indicted in November 2000 on bid-rigging charges involving computer sales to schools under her control.
After Miller left, District 29 had an acting interim superintendent, but Levy suspended the school board, which was reinstated after Johnson arrived on the scene in early 2000.
“It was a fair process,” said Ronnie Rogers, a member of the C-37 committee. “From the start of the C-37 everything was fair — there was no hanky-panky.”
Rogers, who has been a vocal critic of Johnson’s tenure, said she has not changed her mind on Johnson and pointed out that the board has five names to choose from.
“I am pleased there was no bickering the third time around and I am glad it is over,” she said. “There were no indiscretions. But I don’t think the board will submit Johnson’s name. The four names other than Johnson are capable of running the district.
“I believe the ball is in their court,” Rogers said. “The board should go by what the community wants and vote their conscience. They should stand up and be counted.”
Reach reporter Adam Kramer by e-mail at Timesledgr@aol.com or call 229-0300, Ext. 157.