2000-02-19 / Columnists

School Scope

by Howard Schwach

As I write this, the nine members of the school board are interviewing the five finalists for the position of District 27 school superintendent.

They will vote on February 28, at a special meeting, on the person who they will send on to the chancellor for his consideration.

They can send up to four names to the chancellor, but it is my understanding from speaking with board members that it is their intention to send Levy only one name.

Take it or leave it!

There was a meeting last week to introduce the candidates to the public and to give the public a chance to see for themselves the five people chosen by the selection committee. Approximately 100 people, including school staff and parents, showed up for the meeting.

The selection committee was made up of parent association presidents from throughout the district. The school board members were merely observers to the six-week long process.

While the public meeting is a required part of the new search process, the school board should be congratulated for the way it has handled the process. In a neighboring district, CSD 29, the process was handled so badly that the chancellor first negated the process and then suspended the entire school board.

The search committee should be congratulated as well. Judging by those they chose for finalists, I would say that they did their work without worrying about all of those things that sours the process – race, gender, political considerations and national origin.

The five candidates are, in alphabetical order: Debra Brathwaite, Matt Bromme, Pedro Crispo, Athena Galitsis and Marcel Kshensky.

And, like the casts of modern hospital and lawyer television programs, the candidates are a politically correct lot.

After listening to them answer questions put to them by board president Steve Greenberg (who, by the way, did a very good job as moderator), I have "graded" the candidates for style, rationality and educational experience. I have curved those ratings in light of the qualities that I believe the new superintendent will need in this particular district. The ratings are my own and do not represent anybody else’s thoughts or opinions. Once again, they are in alphabetical order.

Debra Brathwaite (A): Brathwaite really impressed me on a couple of levels. First of all, although she spoke softly, what she had to say made sense. Secondly, she has the background and experience that the district needs to move ahead. She is presently the deputy in District 17 and she is a Fellow at the University of Pittsburgh, the fount of all new standards. When she was asked the standard question of how she would choose the five lowest performing principals in the district for special attention, her first thought was of the criteria she would need to make the choice. Others responded in the knee-jerk way, but citing performance based on standardized tests. Those tests are meaningless, I believe in making the determination of whether or not a principal (or teacher) is superior, average or below average. Brathwaite cited other performance indicators that she would use as well and I agreed with her. I have a feeling that she might be just what the district needs by training and temperament.

Matthew Bromme (A):

Bromme is, as you all know, the acting superintendent and has been so since Brenda Isaacs was removed for political reasons late last school year. As such, he is the insider, the only one of the five candidates who has experience in this district. That is a tremendous plus in this kind of process. Bromme was a middle school principal when he was tapped for the acting job. He had no previous district experience, but he has surely learned many lessons in his first eight months on the job. He knows the principals and he knows the schools and would not have to waste time getting up to speed. To the delight of some and the dismay of others, he has already put his personal imprint on the district and its schools.

There is a disquieting note about Bromme’s administration that recently came to light in the New York Post, and while there is nothing illegal about the deal, it raises questions in many people’s minds.

Bromme, who was the district’s representative to the administrator’s union, the CSE, recently hired an offshoot of that union (called LIFE) to train principals in the new School Leadership Team concept. The former principals who do much of the training for LIFE are Stephen Molinelli and Frank Landro. The two were reportedly hired to run "Nuts and Bolts," a principal training program in the district. At the same time (or, some say, shortly thereafter), Bromme hired Landro’s wife, Genay Marks, as the district’s new director of pupil personnel. He also hired Mollinelli’s wife, Rose, to supervise the district’s middle school program and to run the Chancellor’s Magnet Learning Centers in two of the district’s middle schools (MS 180 and MS 202).

Landro, when contacted by the Post, reportedly said that the appointments were a "coincidence." I have to say that I am like the homicide detectives on all of the cop TV shows. I have learned not to believe in coincidences, but that does not diminish the grade that I gave to Bromme or his ability to run the district.

Bromme says that he views the superintendent position as a teaching position in which he teaches educators rather than children. I like that concept. He lists his strength as "bringing people together."

"I have reached out to the PA’s," Bromme said, "I can bring people together with partnerships and collaborations."

"I have the passion to move this district ahead," he told the audience, "We can’t stay where we are and we can’t accept failure, can’t accept the status quo."

Pedro Crespo (C-): I thought that Crespo was the weakest of the candidates. He was a math teacher, elementary school principal and assistant superintendent in District 11. That is the highest performing district in the Bronx because it includes areas such as Parkchester. He lost me for good when he started out by saying that District 27 has the potential to be the top district in Queens and, indeed, in all of the city. Those who work here know that is pure bologna in a time when there is an absolute correlation between performance and free lunch applications. As long as Rockaway has all of the city housing projects and Rockaway is still in District 27, there is no chance that the district will become one of the top districts in the city. That is an unfortunate fact of life, but a fact of life nevertheless.

Crespo says that we won’t stay a low performing district if he takes it over because under his leadership, "everybody will aspire to achieve higher."

I can achieve to fly jet aircraft, but the chances that I will ever do it are nil. Crespo seems to me to be the "Music Man" in the group.

Athena Galitsis (C+): I worked at the board of education with her husband, Tony, who once led the Language Arts Division. She listed as her three assets her 30 years in education, her experience (teacher, dean, AP and principal of both elementary and middle schools) and her ability as a parent and as an educational leader. She has no district experience and little of anything else that would be useful to the district. She was well prepared and well spoken, but she is the wrong person at the right time. She did say two things that I liked, however. She said that you could only tell what was going on in a school by walking around the building for several hours and speaking with all of the constituents. I agree. She also said that discipline has to come before instruction. "You can’t do anything with instruction until the school is settled,"

Is how she addressed the problem. It seems to me that this district has been pushing instruction and ignoring discipline. The belief that "all children can learn," if only the teachers and administrators do their jobs is not a rational one and discipline needs to be addressed on an equal level with new standards.

Marcel Kshensky (B): I liked Kshensky, but worry about his wanderings. He was a teacher in District 11 and a principal in prestigious District 26. He then left the city to become an assistant superintendent in Plainview-Old Bethpage. We all know that Nassau people have an easier job and earn more than their city brethren, so I wonder why he left that job to become a deputy superintendent in District 18. He was well spoken and said all of the right things. He would be my third choice, after Brathwaite and Bromme.

While I was taking notes at the meeting, I jotted down my first thoughts on a 1-5 scale. Brathwaite got a "4.0." Bromme got a "3.8." Kshensky (3.3), Galitsis (3.0) and Crispo (2.8) followed.

When I gave it more thought, however, I decided that Bromme’s experience in the district added a couple of tenths to his score, making it a tie between him and Brathwaite. I think that either would be a good fit for the district, but that Bromme gets the nod because of his knowledge of the district and its problems.

When the process first began I believed that Chancellor Crew wanted an outsider for the district and gave Bromme little chance.

With Crew gone and an untested person in his place, I believe that the local school board will get its way.

The plan (at least, for now) is to send one name. I believe that the name that will be sent to Levy will be Bromme’s.

Why only one name?

"Why give this guy a choice and let him make the decision for us," one of the school board members told me.

I guess that it makes sense.

The board will probably vote on the 28th to send Bromme’s name to Levy. Then it is up to Levy to give his approval and for Bromme to take the job permanently.

There could be surprises, however. This is an eclectic board and it is unsure as to how they feel about all of those political and racial factors mentioned above.

On the other hand, Levy might be under pressure to play the race card or the politics card. Or, he might have read the Post and decided that the system does not need more New York Post exposes. In any of those cases, Bromme’s candidacy could be rejected by Levy and that makes it a new ballgame.

Would the board then send on its next choice, or will the search process have to begin anew? I’m not sure that anybody knows the answer to that question.

We will have to wait and see. It will probably be mid to late-March before we finally find out who our new superintendent will be.

It could turn out to be interesting.

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