Vargas re-enlists former RCSD heavyweights


In his efforts to save city schools, Rochester schools Superintendent Bolgen Vargas is turning to some former high level district administrators: Ray Giamartino, Ralph Spezio, and Suzanne Johnston.

Giamartino will serve as chief of school transformation, where his primary task will be moving some of the lowest performing schools in the state to schools in good standing. He was formerly a school chief with the district overseeing 20 schools in the northeast area of the city. He left the district in 2010 to become superintendent of the East Rochester school district.

Spezio will become executive principal of School 17 when it reopens in the fall. He returns to the district after leading School 17 from 1990 to 2002.

And Johnston will serve as an outside educational expert for Joseph P. Wilson Commencement Academy. She will work as a mentor to the school’s new principal, Uma Mehta, to raise the academic performance at Wilson.

In some respects, Vargas’s new hires are safe and a bit predictable. At a press conference earlier today, his explanation for hiring the three former administrators was vague, saying primarily that the district was fortunate to have them return. And there is a role for this kind “collective leadership” approach to management, he said.

Each member of this new team of administrators has a long history with the district, and brings certain strengths. For example, Giamartino has considerable experience in the areas of early childhood education and literacy development. Johnston led Wilson Magnet during its glory years when it was identified by US News & World Report as one of the best 100 high schools in the country.

Spezio may have the most credibility with parents and teachers. He implemented a wraparound education model at School 17, and he was one of the founding members of the Coalition to Prevent Lead Poisoning in Rochester. Spezio helped raise public awareness about lead’s toxicity and its impact on city students, which resulted in the city’s anti-lead legislation.

Of his tenure at School 17, he said, “School 17 was the center of an urban village. You really should not know where the school ends and the community begins.”

But there are also some concerns with the new hires. For example, Giamartino was with the district in a leadership capacity during some extremely difficult times, as graduation rates and student achievement continued to stagnate. And he leaves the East Rochester school district as school superintendent, which is union free.

Vargas talked of restoring the schools to greatness; these familiar faces may reassure some parents and teachers, and bewilder others who are looking for fresh faces with new ideas.

Giamartino and Spezio will be full-time employees of the district, while Johnston will continue to serve as president of Our Lady of Mercy in Brighton.

Spezio’s return to the district was approved at the last board meeting. Board members will vote on Giamartino’s and Johnston’s rehires at a meeting on Monday, July 22.