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It was the first time Levy had visited District 29 in southeast Queens and many community members thought his appearance was long overdue in light of the problems that have bedeviled the district.
Levy sat down with the C-37 search committee last Thursday and spoke with more then 500 residents in the divided school district to plead his case for Michael Johnson, the district administrator whom he appointed.
The chancellor wants Johnson's name to be submitted by the search committee, which did not include him in its final cut for candidates for superintendent of the school district.
Levy, who has rejected five candidates proposed by the search committee, can only appoint Johnson if his name is submitted to the school board by the C-37 committee.
"There are no new names," said Adrienne Rogers, president of the C-37 search committee and a longtime community resident.
"Therefore, if the chancellor is sincere in wanting to unify the community and in response to the public's reaction last Thursday at IS 59, we are resubmitting this committee's original five candidates for consideration as superintendent," she wrote in a letter to School Board 29 President Nathaniel Washington.
She said the chancellor had not given any reasons for his rejection of the candidates. He also did not outline any guidelines for the C-37 committee to use in choosing a new superintendent.
"We believe the community's rights were thwarted with the chancellor's unnecessary and unwanted intrusion into the selection process," she said. "The chancellor says he want to work with the community, so he should go back to one of the original names submitted. I don't think he will do it."
After Levy had rejected the committee's and the school board's first choice, Rhia Warren, the principal of IS 226 in South Ozone Park, he asked for more names. But he ultimately rejected those candidates as well.
The second round of candidates were: Debra Brathwaite, deputy superintendent of District 17; Beatrice Collymore, deputy superintendent of the Newark (N.J.) public schools; Lester McDowell, principal of PS 40 in District 14 in Brooklyn; and Frank Spradley, deputy superintendent of District 16 in Brooklyn.
At the meeting with District 29 community members Levy did not say Johnson was the only contender for the job of district superintendent, but he viewed Johnson as the most qualified. He described Johnson as one of the stars in the New York City school system.
"I am not saying I will only accept one man," Levy told the crowd. "What I am saying is that the names must be better than what you have."
The school district has been in turmoil for almost two years since its then superintendent, Celestine Miller, was fired in February 1999 by former Schools Chancellor Rudy Crew for delaying to report that an 8-year-old boy had gone into a Rosedale school carrying a loaded gun.
Since Miller's dismissal, the school district, which stretches from Queens Village to Laurelton and from Jamaica to Springfield Gardens, has been in flux. Miller was recently indicted on bid-rigging charges involving computer sales to schools under her command.
After Miller left, District 29 had an acting interim superintendent and its school board was suspended and then reinstated before Johnson arrived on the scene.
Levy tapped Johnson to run the district, with 27,000 students in 28 schools, in February until a new superintendent could be found.
"I hope his presence will contribute to a resolution of the stalemate," said Councilman Archie Spigner (D-St. Albans) at the meeting. "He needs to re-evaluate his intransigence. Two C-37 committees came to the same conclusion and didn't agree with his world view."
State Assemblyman William Scarborough (D-St. Albans) agreed with Spigner and called for a dialogue between the community and the Board of Education.
"He bears a lot of the responsibility for the problems in the district," Scarborough said. "He has not treated this community fairly."
Both elected officials said they had no problems with Johnson but wanted the C-37 selection process of choosing a district superintendent to be followed.
Patricia Bernard, a parent in the district, disagreed with Levy's detractors and said he was one of the greatest chancellors the city has had. She thanked him for placing Johnson in the district.
"He [Johnson] is the ideal role model for the children and parents of this district," she said. "We want not only continuity but quality in this district and this is what Johnson epitomizes."
©2000 Community Newspaper Group
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