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Long IslandEducation

Hempstead school district, in surprise move, names interim chief

Fadhilika Atiba-Weza, former schools chief in upstate Troy,

Fadhilika Atiba-Weza, former schools chief in upstate Troy, was voted interim superintendent of the Hempstead school district on Wednesday, June 29, 2016. Photo Credit: Albany Times Union / Cindy Schultz

The Hempstead school board chose an interim superintendent to lead the district at a special meeting Wednesday night, in a late decision reached after the panel added a surprise resolution to make the appointment.

Fadhilika Atiba-Weza was named the interim schools chief, to start Friday, by a 5-0 vote.

A retired administrator who led the school system in upstate Troy, with stints in the Central Islip and Roosevelt districts, he could not be reached for comment Thursday.

Atiba-Weza replaces Susan Johnson, whose latest three-year tenure was controversial in a district operating with a deficit, with two schools under state receivership because of poor academic performance and in which the board leadership has been shifting after hard-fought elections.

Johnson, who did not return a call Thursday for comment, had held the Hempstead superintendent’s job twice before this contract.

The district did not provide details on Atiba-Weza’s contract — including what he is being paid — other than to say that his appointment will last until June 30, 2017.

The vote was criticized by incoming board member David B. Gates, who said the public was kept in the dark.

Board president LaMont Johnson, who is no relation to Susan Johnson, refused to comment on Atiba-Weza or the expectations the board has of its new appointee, except to say that he voted with the majority. The district will continue its search for a permanent hire.

“We just all want to work together and do what’s in the best interest of the students,” Johnson said.

Newly elected board member Melissa Figueroa said she was impressed with Atiba-Weza after joining a search process that included interviewing multiple candidates in the last month.

“He really came in with an exceptional level of professionalism, and in our conversation he was able to demonstrate to us certain strengths that he was able to bring to our district,” Figueroa said. “He brings a certain level of tough-mindedness to work effectively with this district.”

Board members Maribel Touré, Gwendolyn Jackson and outgoing board member JoAnn Simmons voted for the appointment. None could be reached for comment Thursday.

The vote followed a meeting outside the regular schedule. The board had gone immediately into executive session, poised to debate two resolutions on the elimination of numerous positions and the firing of teachers, social workers and psychologists, among other personnel.

About an hour after its start, district clerk Patricia Wright told people in the audience that board members were tabling those decisions and would adjourn. The interim superintendent’s appointment came hours later, when the meeting reconvened after the public had left.

Gates, to be sworn in as a newly elected board member this month, did not attend Wednesday night, but said he heard Thursday morning from residents, who were trying to figure out what had happened.

“Every candidate that currently sits on that board ran for the past two years on the premise that they would be transparent and operate based on inclusion,” Gates said, “and to hear that the community didn’t have a voice and that no one knew this process was taking place is really disheartening.”

Atiba-Weza, in a biographical entry on the Troy district website at the time he worked there, touted his experience, including as a former Central Islip superintendent starting in 2004. A certified social studies teacher, guidance counselor and school district administrator, he rose through the educational ranks after taking on numerous positions, his bio said.

Published news reports indicate that Atiba-Weza ended his job as superintendent with the Enlarged City School District of Troy in 2011 after he had been there about four years, entering a mutual agreement to avoid litigation over “serious differences” with the school board. The reports said he received separation payment and health insurance for life.

In 2000, Atiba-Weza quit from the Roosevelt school district after serving as interim superintendent for about two months in a district then in turmoil and under state oversight.

Jonathan Burman, a spokesman with the state Education Department, said the incoming superintendent faces the same responsibilities and assumes the same authority as the outgoing one. The district is trying to beat a ticking clock on a mandate to improve academic results or face intervention.

The district’s Hempstead High School has been labeled as “persistently struggling” and its Alverta B. Gray Schultz Middle School is classified as “struggling.” The high school must show demonstrable improvements this year, while the middle school has to show progress next year or, under state law, the superintendent could be replaced.

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