SB 29 reopens search for school superintendent

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If test scores drop in School District 29, Schools Chancellor Harold Levy told a private session last week he would reassess his position on naming District Administrator Michael Johnson the district’s superintendent, school board members said.

In a closed-door meeting before the board’s April 25 public session at PS 132 in Springfield Gardens, Levy sat down with the board members. They had requested the meeting to discuss what they contended was a lack of communication between the board and Johnson as well as what one board member described as “massive personnel movement.”

“He said he would push for Johnson if the test scores go up or remain the same,” said one board member who did not want to be identified. “If the scores drop, he will not pursue Johnson.”

Johnson has led the embattled district since he was appointed by Levy as the administrator more than a year ago. Levy considers him one of the stars in the school system and he is his choice for the permanent post of superintendent.

Of the district’s 22 elementary schools only seven met the English proficiency on the most recent state standardized tests and just six achieved the standards in math. None of the district’s five middle schools met the state requirements.

District 29 has been in turmoil for nearly two years since Celestine Miller was fired as superintendent in February 1999 by then-Chancellor Rudy Crew for delaying to report that an 8-year-old boy had gone into a Rosedale school carrying a loaded gun.

Another board member who also wished not to be named said that besides not having a permanent superintendent, the district’s ability to educate its children has been hindered by wholesale personnel changes.

The board member said the board has no authority over Johnson’s decisions to shift teachers, principals and staff around the district. The member expressed concern that the “changes were becoming too numerous” and questioned whether the moves were helpful to the education of the district’s 27,000 students.

The board represents the school district stretching from Bellerose to St. Albans and Queens Village to Rosedale and includes Cambria Heights, Laurelton as well as parts of Jamaica and Fresh Meadows.

“Everything we do affects the children one way or another and we seem to be forgetting the kids,” said Christopher Afuwah, a school board member. “Morale is very low with the teachers, principals and district as a whole. Low morale affects how the kids perform.”

Morshed Alam, another school board member, said the meeting was very short and they discussed restarting the C-37 superintendent search process.

After the private meeting ended, Levy declined in an interview to discuss the specific issues raised at the session but said the board “expressed its views on how to improve the interacting with the superintendent.”

He said the board emphasized that it had a working relationship with Johnson and was working in a “collaborative and collegial manner.”

At the public meeting, which Levy did not attend, the board passed a resolution to restart the superintendent search. The new C-37 search process will mean setting up the third superintendent search committee in the past two years.

The chancellor has rejected five of the candidates chosen by the district’s previous C-37 superintendent search committees. He has said he would not turn down all candidates but would only approve candidates whom he considers better than Johnson.

Since Miller’s dismissal the school district has been in limbo. Miller was recently indicted 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 before Johnson arrived on the scene.

Reach reporter Adam Kramer by e-mail at or call 229-0300, Ext. 157.

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