Amprey drops out of competition for top New York City school post

August 25, 1993|By Gary Gately | Gary Gately,Staff Writer

Baltimore Superintendent Walter G. Amprey last night pulled out of the running for New York City's top schools post, saying he's committed to remaining here to complete his ambitious reform efforts.

In a one-page letter sent by facsimile to the New York school board, Dr. Amprey called his decision "particularly difficult."

"I have been convinced that the work which I have begun in Baltimore would not be successfully completed were I to leave at this time," the letter said.

"I am a product of the Baltimore City Public Schools and not only see education as my life's work, but consider education in Baltimore inextricably linked to that mission."

Dr. Amprey, 48, who begins his third year at the helm at North Avenue headquarters next week, had been one of only eight remaining candidates to become chancellor of the 1 million-student New York district.

He had been scheduled to interview Friday with the seven-member New York board, which hopes to fill the chancellor's job by the time school reopens on Sept. 9.

He reportedly was one of four of the eight candidates being seriously considered by the board.

In an interview, Dr. Amprey said he had "agonized" over the decision for more than a week and that ambivalence dogged him until the end.

"It's like a kid who gets a possible chance to play professional baseball," said Dr. Amprey, adding: "It's just the attraction of making a difference for 1 million [New York] students.

"Who as an educator would not want the opportunity and the challenge of making a difference in America's largest school system?"

After news of his impending interview surfaced, Dr. Amprey said he received dozens of pleas from civic leaders and others urging him to stay in Baltimore and that they played a big role in his decision to withdraw.

Dr. Amprey's decision relieved Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke, consistently a strong ally and supporter of the superintendent, as well as city lawmakers and civic leaders.

Mayor Schmoke, who is on vacation, released a statement that said he "appreciates the commitment Dr. Amprey has made to the young people of the city."

"Most of the people whose lives are touched by the city school system will join in expressing that sentiment," the statement added.

Clinton R. Coleman, Mr. Schmoke's press secretary, said the mayor's office has been flooded with calls and letters from civic and business leaders and clergy who were concerned that Dr. Amprey's departure would prove a devastating blow to the school system.

Contract to be discussed

Phillip H. Farfel, the city school board president, said the board hopes to extend Dr. Amprey's contract within the next month or so "to keep him in Baltimore."

The superintendent is entering the third year of a four-year contract, Mr. Farfel said.

"We have a superlative leader here, and the kinds of major reforms he's carrying out are being noticed around the country," Mr. Farfel said. "As a board, we feel he deserves to have a longer-term commitment from us to enhance the quality of education in Baltimore."

Robert Embry, president of the state school board and a former city school board president, said: "I would applaud his decision. I think it's great for Baltimore education."

Mr. Embry said he feared "serious disruption" of the school system if Dr. Amprey left and said reform efforts initiated by the superintendent probably would not have survived.

"You don't do anything overnight in education, and it takes a while just to understand the district you're dealing with and its problems," Mr. Embry said.

Dr. Amprey's reform efforts include delegating more authority and responsibility to local schools, bringing in the Sylvan Learning Centers to provide tutoring at six schools and shifting the day-to-day operation of nine city schools to another private firm, EAI Corp., in the experimental Tesseract program.

Irene Dandridge, president of the Baltimore Teachers Union, which has criticized the privatization of schools through Tesseract, also expressed relief that Dr. Amprey has decided to stay in the city where he grew up and attended public schools.

"Even though we don't agree with everything he's done, he wants to do a good job for the Baltimore City public schools" and wants to involve and hear from teachers "who have been beaten down by the administration for years and years," Ms. Dandridge said.

Another frequent critic of the superintendent, Mindy Mintz, of Students First, a group that monitors city school issues, said, "Regardless of the disagreements we may have with Dr. Amprey, we believe that the disruption that would be caused by his departure would be more harmful to the students in Baltimore City schools.

"What we need now is stability and more moving forward now that we're starting to move forward."

Still in the running

In New York, the board is seeking a replacement for former Chancellor Joseph A. Fernandez, whose contract expired June 30.

The former chancellor angered opponents with his support for condom distribution in the schools, AIDS education and a sex education curriculum that included teaching about homosexuality.

An acting chancellor now presides over the district.

In New York, the remaining candidates are:

* Gerald N. Tirozzi, former Connecticut education commissioner.

* Ramon C. Cortines, a former superintendent in San Francisco.

* Daniel A. Domenech, superintendent of the South Huntington Union Free School District on Long Island.

* Donald W. Ingwerson, former superintendent of the Jefferson County schools in Louisville, Ky.

* John Murphy, superintendent in the Charlotte-Mecklenburg schools in North Carolina.

* Franklin L. Smith, superintendent in Washington.

* Marcelino Rodriguez, superintendent of School District 4 in Manhattan.

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