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Dist. 29 superintendent to run Albany schools

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School District 29 Superintendent Michael Johnson may have been displaced under the reorganization of the city school system, but he has landed on his feet with an offer to run the Albany City School District starting July 1.

The Albany school board announced last week that it has hired Johnson to take over the district, which serves about 10,000 pre-kindergarten through high school students, according to a release from the Albany board.

Johnson, who was only formally appointed to lead District 29 in August, was chosen through a nationwide search to replace Superintendent Lonnie Palmer, who retired in March, the release said.

"Albany is sort of an epicenter, certainly for the state Education Department and Legislature," Johnson said of his new home. "It's a high-profile district and it is at the center of policy creation and policy reflection and that really appeals to me."

Johnson, 52, of Cambria Heights, is scheduled to start his $158,000-a-year position the same day his tenure at the southeast Queens district ends.

Former Schools Chancellor Harold Levy named Johnson interim administrator of District 29 after Superintendent Celestine Miller was fired in 1999 when she did not immediately report that an 8-year-old student brought a loaded gun to school. It was not until August 2002 that Chancellor Joel Klein formally named Johnson superintendent of the district, which covers Cambria Heights, Laurelton, Rosedale, St. Albans, Hollis, Jamaica, Queens Village, and Fresh Meadows.

Since Johnson took control of the district, he and the school board have instituted programs like College Day to promote higher education among elementary school students; the Step-up program, which helps students prepare for the specialty high school entrance exams; and the 100 Book Campaign to promote literacy.

"I'm very proud of the kind of work we did here," Johnson said. "I love District 29. I came in during such a difficult situation and we were just getting started so to speak. I'm going to miss this district."

Klein, along with Mayor Michael Bloomberg, is moving forward with plans to consolidate the community school districts into larger regional districts, leaving Johnson among the superintendents who were not pulled into the new administration.

But School Board 29 is fighting the overhaul, and it plans to conduct a search to replace Johnson and appoint an interim superintendent until the new structure is proven in court, said School Board President Nat Washington.

"Regional districts have not been proven legal," he said. "We're operating on the status quo. The only choice we have at this point is to appoint a new superintendent."

And like Johnson, Washington was upset the district will have to undergo more changes, he said.

"Just when we got a good grip on things and how to steer the ship in right direction here comes somebody new," Washington said. "We know we're losing someone we could have worked with in Michael Johnson."

District 29, with its 28 schools and 28,000 students, is about three times larger than the Albany school system Johnson will be managing, and the size difference will allow him to spend more time in the schools, he said.

"I only know so many students, so many teachers, so many parents," Johnson said. "I've been getting this is going to really make these kind of things much easier. I look forward to knowing the students really well."

Reach reporter Courtney Dentch by e-mail at TimesLedger@aol.com, or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 138.

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