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SB 29 may have candidate for super job

The meeting on the two...

By Adam Kramer

School Board 29 may vote on whether to appoint an interim acting superintendent to run the district and on a proposal to change its five middle schools into theme-based academies in September at its next public meeting Thursday.

The meeting on the two topics that have weighed heavily on the parents and children of the school district was scheduled for 8 p.m. Feb. 15 at IS 238, 88-15 182nd St. in Hollis.

“We have somebody in mind and there is the possibility of voting on it at the next board meeting,” said Nathaniel Washington, president of School Board 29. “We have to do something. We don’t want to wait another 30 days until the next public meeting.”

Washington said a committee of school board members have come up with the names of several different candidates for the post, which is now temporarily filled by District Administrator Michael Johnson.

When asked whether the board would consider Johnson for the job, he said “all things will be considered. You can’t very well discuss the position without discussing his name — he is there.”

The district has been run for the past year by Johnson, who was appointed by Schools Chancellor Harold Levy, who has said he wants him to be named the superintendent because he believes he is the most qualified candidate. Levy has described Johnson as one of the stars in the New York City school system.

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

The school district has been in turmoil for nearly two years since its former Superintendent Celestine Miller was fired 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.

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.

Washington said Levy has to approve whoever is chosen as interim acting superintendent. When asked if that means Johnson is the choice of the board, he said “not necessarily.”

According to Washington, Levy has said Johnson has “raised the bar” for superintendents in the district, which stretches from Queens Village to Springfield Gardens, Rochdale Village, Laurelton, Rosedale, Bellerose and parts of Jamaica and Fresh Meadows.

Calls to Levy ‘s office for comment were not returned.

The board will also vote on a plan that would create three different scholastic academies in each middle school offering special areas of study such as medical science, multimedia communications and music and fine arts.

The parents of incoming fifth-grade students would be required to choose one academy from each school and rate them in order of preference. The plan would eliminate the feeder pattern of the schools, which determines a student’s school based on his address.

The board heard community comments on the academies last Thursday at a public meeting at IS 59 at 132-55 Ridgedale St. in Springfield Gardens.

Johnson said the goal is to create a small learning environment to give students the opportunity to get to know their teachers and provide an area of interest for each student, which will help with “attendance, study and achievement.”

“This is an opportunity for students to make a choice about their careers and think about courses which relate to life after school,” Johnson said. “This program will create dynamic positive competition between the schools because they now have to compete for students.”

Bernice Acevedo, a parent, questioned Johnson’s comment about how the new program would create competition when all students must be provided with a seat in one of the five schools.

“There are inequities in the schools and putting in a cosmetic change will not alleviate the inequities,” she said. “Why do we need a choice if all five schools are outstanding? Parents are excited because all five schools are not strong. We need to fix all the schools.”

She was concerned that the program was mandated for all of the district’s middle-school children and parents whether they wanted it or not.

Johnson said each of the schools has strengths in different areas. Each student will be able to choose the academic area he or she wants to study instead of being funneled into a “liberal arts” curriculum.

“I look at my child and see he does not know what hamburger he wants — Wendy’s or McDonald’s,” Acevedo said. “Just let him go to school, let him be educated. ”

But Washington cautioned that “it is not a done deal until the board votes on the program at a public meeting.”

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

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