School District 29 wants leader named by Sept. 5

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As another school year rolls around for School Board 29 and its 29,000 students, the district remains exactly where it ended the school year — in limbo. The district’s beleaguered search for a permanent superintendent continues to drag on.

The embattled school district has been without a regular leader for the last three years, and many hoped a permanent superintendent was just around the corner, but they are still waiting. The district led by District Administrator Michael Johnson is getting ready for the Sept. 5 start of the school year.

“It is troubling to us that it is taking so long to name a superintendent,” said Nathaniel Washington, president of School Board 29. “Not appointing a superintendent is hurting the educational process of the children in School District 29.”

He said the board has sent a letter to the new chancellor, Joel Klein, saying that the 30-day period to appoint a superintendent after the board submits names for consideration passed months ago. Board 29 submitted two names at the end of April, Washington said, and the Department of Education should sign off on one of the candidates.

The candidates for the job are Johnson and Frances Vasquez of Pelham, N.Y., who has been a high school superintendent in the Bronx and has taught at the high school level.

The Department of Education did not respond to repeated phone calls for comment.

“We are extremely concerned and distressed that the old chancellor did not act before he stepped down,” Washington said. “We want the new chancellor to be proactive and make a decision before Sept. 5.”

Johnson, appointed by former Chancellor Harold Levy as the district administrator in early 2000, has led the district’s 28 schools and 29,000 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.

Johnson was considered one of Levy’s handpicked choices for the job, but Levy never named him to the post before he stepped down as chancellor.

Washington said the board’s choice for the job was Johnson because he knows the district and “we know what we have.” In the beginning, he said, Johnson was thrust upon them, which caused anger throughout the community. But Johnson has shown his dedication to the children and recently moved into the district, he said.

“We believe he has the ability to take us where we want to go,” Washington said.

Ronnie Rogers, a District 29 parent, said members of the community have talked about the situation and are extremely distressed. She said they followed all of the rules in selecting superintendent candidates but still do not have a permanent leader.

“There is no respect for the district,” she said. “The Board of Ed has no respect for us, and we are still in limbo. We submitted good names to choose from and thought that this time would be the charm.”

The school district has been in flux since Celestine Miller was fired in February 1999 by then-Chancellor Rudy Crew for not immediately reporting that an 8-year-old boy had brought a loaded gun to 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.

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

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