'Flattered' Amprey to interview in New York for top schools job

August 20, 1993|By Gary Gately | Gary Gately,Staff Writer

Two weeks before a new school year begins in Baltimore, Superintendent Walter G. Amprey has emerged as one of the leading candidates for New York City's top schools post.

Dr. Amprey confirmed yesterday that he will travel to New York Tuesday to interview with the city's seven-member school board, which expects to choose a schools chancellor by Sept. 9.

The superintendent, one of eight remaining candidates, expressed ambivalence yesterday about the prospect of leaving Baltimore for the chancellor slot, which paid $195,000 last school year.

"This is really a tough one for me; I have very mixed feelings about it," said Dr. Amprey, who is about to begin his third year as chief of the 110,000-student Baltimore district.

He said he would like to continue his ambitious reform efforts in Baltimore, which include an experiment turning over operation of nine public schools to a private company. But he said the possibility of leading New York's 1 million-student system was too attractive to resist pursuing it.

"It's so flattering . . . to possibly have an opportunity to take the toughest job in America, to be pursued by New York to run its schools," said Dr. Amprey, who makes $125,000 a year in Baltimore. "It's a major ego trip."

Dr. Amprey said he has found his tenure as Baltimore schools chief consistently fulfilling and he praised the mayor, school administrators and community leaders for working closely with him .

"I couldn't be happier, he said. "But, of course, you know nothing stays the same."

His statements yesterday contrasted with a much cooler public reaction to the New York prospect when news of his candidacy surfaced July 30.

In a news conference that day, he said he would keep his name in the running but had no interest in leaving Baltimore.

Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke, consistently a strong ally and supporter of the superintendent, said yesterday that "it's a real tribute to the superintendent that he would be considered for the job of chancellor in New York."

"[But] I obviously hope that they don't make him an offer that he can't refuse."

Other civic leaders also said they hope Dr. Amprey stays in Baltimore.

"We've had enough upheaval and turmoil, and we think Walter Amprey has both set the vision and put in place some of the people he needs to carry out that vision," said Jeff Valentine, vice president for public policy for the Greater Baltimore Committee, an economic development group.

Councilman Carl Stokes, D-2nd, chairman of the City Council's Education and Human Resources Committee, likewise praised Dr. Amprey's "vision" and his efforts to cut through the bureaucracy by giving more decision-making power to schools.

But he faulted the superintendent's decision to continue pursuing the New York job.

"It's disconcerting and unsettling that he's seriously considering the chancellorship right now, and if he's going to a formal interview, he's obviously decided he's going forward," said Mr. Stokes.

Del. Howard P. "Pete" Rawlings, D-Baltimore City, however, defended the superintendent's decision to pursue the job.

"It's like a baseball player getting a tryout with the New York Yankees," said Mr. Rawlings. "You can't deny a person an opportunity. If you can conquer New York, you can conquer the world."

The New York board is to conduct two-hour interviews with each of the candidates and hopes to select a new chancellor before the city's 1 million students return to school Sept. 9, said Dennis M. Walcott, one of the board's seven members.

The board is seeking a replacement for controversial former Chancellor Joseph A. Fernandez, whose contract expired June 30.

He angered opponents with his support for condom distribution, AIDS education and a sex education curriculum that included teaching about homosexuality.

In June, the board suffered an embarrassment when its consensus choice for chancellor withdrew from consideration.

A Washington search firm then presented a list of 20 candidates, which has been narrowed to eight.

Dr. Amprey said his name was passed to an executive search firm by Seymour Lachman, dean of the City University of New York, who got to know the superintendent at a forum on urban education last fall.

The search firm, Dr. Amprey said, first contacted him in May about the New York job.

Two of the board's seven members traveled to the Washington area recently for a meeting with Dr. Amprey that the board members requested.

And on Monday, he will travel to Washington to meet with an executive search firm working with the board, Heidrick & Struggles.

In New York, an acting chancellor now presides over the district, with an estimated 1,000 schools, and enormous challenges have heightened the sense of urgency to pick a new chancellor.

Like many big-city school systems, New York has seen rapid turnover at the top. In the past decade, seven chancellors or acting chancellors have held the job.

Along with the ills typical of urban school systems -- high dropout rates, poor attendance, low achievement -- New York must reinspect 1,069 schools because of botched asbestos inspections.

The system also faces record enrollment increases, a fast-growing immigrant population and the threat of a teachers' strike.

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