By Dustin Brown
School Board 24’s protracted two-year search for a superintendent finally bore fruit Monday night when five finalists for the position appeared at a candidates’ forum at an Elmhurst intermediate school.
Monday’s forum in IS5’s auditorium was the clearest sign thus far that the long beleaguered process was nearing the finish line.
The meeting, one of the final mandated steps in the selection of a superintendent, came after six finalists were chosen from a wider pool of candidates by the C-37 committee, an ad hoc body made up of parents, community leaders and school employees.
School Board 24 covers the communities of Glendale, Ridgewood, Maspeth, Middle Village, Elmhurst, Corona and Woodside.
Two of the candidates were familiar faces: Ronald Costa, the principal of PS 12 in Woodside, and Joseph Quinn, who has served as the district superintendent since 1990. Although the board voted not to renew his contract in 1999, he has continued on as interim acting superintendent since his contract expired in the summer of 2000.
Also under consideration are Lester McDowell, the deputy superintendent at School District 19 in East New York, Brooklyn; James Quail, the principal of PS 250 in School District 14 in Williamsburg, Brooklyn; and Paul Sequeira, an assistant superintendent in Waterbury, Conn.
The sixth candidate, Eileen Gress, who now works at Mosaica Education Inc. in Manhattan, was of the state Monday night and did not appear at the forum.
For the most part, all five offered nearly identical messages about putting students first, differing mainly in the style of their approach, which ran the gamut from Costa’s candid, terse replies to the drawn-out soliloquies delivered by Quail.
School Board 24 President Patricia Grayson, who ran the forum, asked questions about issues ranging from the city’s budget crisis to the relationship between the administration and the school board.
All five said they would not allow the budget cuts to affect the classroom but differed subtly on how they would approach the budget process.
Costa said he would trim “fat,” making cuts where services were duplicated. Both Quinn and Sequeira focused on comprehensively analyzing every budget item to find areas where cuts could be made with minimal impact on students.
McDowell suggested cutting the arts and non-instructional personnel, including potentially reducing the number of staff developers, a move Quail said he staunchly opposed due to the importance of continuing teacher education.
The audience of 150, composed of school board members, parents and district faculty, showed obvious preferences from the start.
Costa, whose large group of supporters made up of dozens of his school’s staff members and parents sitting together in the mezzanine, had to ask them early in the meeting to calm their enthusiastic outbursts and share their applause with the other candidates. Quinn has also been strongly supported by parent leaders in the district who opposed the school board’s decision to not renew his contract. Some of the Quinn faction gathered on the opposite side of the auditorium.
The board was scheduled to interview each of the candidates at its Glendale offices Tuesday night in 20-minute time slots, after which it will select two finalists for consideration by city Schools Chancellor Harold Levy, who makes the final decision.
At its regular meeting last Thursday night, the school board had been scheduled to vote on a resolution proposed by Frank Borzellieri that would rename PS 91 at 68-10 Central Ave. after Jamie Noelle Kocher, who attended the school until she died from brain cancer at the age of 12.
But Borzellieri tabled the resolution until April 25 at Grayson’s request, because both she and the vice president, Hazel Scanlon, were absent from the meeting, board member Linda Sansivieri said.
Parents at the school have voiced staunch opposition to the measure because another student and teacher at the school also died from cancer in recent years. They contend a more appropriate way to honor the memories of all three would be to mount a plaque in their memory.
Reach reporter Dustin Brown by e-mail at Timesledger@aol.com or call 229-0300, Ext. 154.