Wortham will become the new interim superintendent, taking over for Joel Klein, who had been the superintendent for five years. Klein officially retired Oct. 31
Unlike her predecessors, Deborah Wortham, the newly tapped interim superintendent of the East Ramapo Central School District, does not look like the ultra-Orthodox white Jewish men on the school board to whom she will report.
She’s a woman. And she’s black. She looks more like the 9,000 students in the district’s public schools, a majority of whom are black and Hispanic.
Wortham’s arrival brings a wave of expectancy and goodwill to a long-suffering district. How long that goodwill will last is to be determined, as she navigates a host of warring constituencies.
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Wortham, who is leading her third district in five years, replaces Superintendent Joel M. Klein, whose tenure ends Oct. 31. Ira Oustatcher, who preceded Klein as superintendent and is now retired, has a unique perspective on Wortham’s way forward.
He said it won’t be easy.
“A black woman as the choice? Great choice,” Oustatcher said. “But a black woman in terms of working with that board has this brick wall that she’s gotta work around. She’s gotta be somewhere between brilliant and greatly skilled. It is a tough, tough job. It’s a tough job if you have a good board.”
Wortham may have atleast one ally in the school board described by Oustatcher as ‘an ultra Orthodox majority,’ made up of ultra-Orthodox white Jewish men., with the appointment of Sabrina Charles-Pierre.
Charles-Pierre, 28, a paralegal and public school mother of two ( 4-year-old in pre-school and a 15-year-old attending public school), will have to run in May if she wants to remain on the East Ramapo School Board after being appointed.
“I am going to see how we can work together and make a difference,” Charles-Pierre said after taking the oath. “My goal is to bring unity. We will see what I can do on the inside.”
While cheers greeted board President Yehuda Weissmandl announcing her name, a dozen residents soon stood up holding signs and chanting for the board members to resign and calling for the FBI to investigate the district.
“By working with state monitors, a new superintendent and other experts, we are in a position to do something extraordinary here in East Ramapo,” Weissmandl said. “We can institute new approaches and make programmatic changes to ensure our children get a high quality education. We look forward to Ms. Charles-Pierre being a part of that process.”
While supporting Charles-Pierre, some community members were not optimistic they will see much change. However they noted the board has diversity with an African-American schools superintendent, Deborah Wortham.