TIM O'BRIEN Staff writer
Section: MAIN,  Page: A1

Date: Sunday, June 1, 1997

ALBANY -- Lonnie E. Palmer, who began his career as a science teacher at Hackett Middle School, will return 27 years later to serve as the district's superintendent. Palmer, 48, was named to lead the Albany City School District Saturday by the Board of Education. Now assistant superintendent for secondary education at the New Rochelle City School District, Palmer will take the helm of the Albany schools July 1.

``I think it's going to be a great opportunity,'' Palmer said. ``I started my teaching career in the Albany district, so I'm looking forward to returning.''

Born in the St. Lawrence County town of Gouverneur, he graduated from Union College with a degree in physics and earned a master's degree in education and a certificate in school administration from the State University College at New Paltz.

In 1970, Palmer's teaching career at Hackett was interrupted when he was drafted for service in the war in Vietnam. After his military service, he had offers in the Albany district but opted to take another from Spackenkill High School in Wappingers. He was a teacher and became principal in the Dutchess County district. In 1980, he was named Averill Park High School principal and held that post to 1993.

``I have had experience in suburban, urban and rural settings,'' Palmer said. ``I have worked with all the different populations that have come to the New Rochelle schools, and I think I can translate that to the Albany schools.''

Board members said the appointment is contingent on the result of a visit to the New Rochelle district as well as successful contract negotiations. The salary is expected to be in the $120,000 range.

``Mr. Palmer will bring leadership and stability to the district,'' said John T. Evers, noting that the superintendent will face challenges common to all city schools: the impact of crime, a declining tax base and the need to overhaul curriculum. Along with that, added Evers, ``He'll be the chief executive officer of a district with almost 10,000 children and about 1,200 employees.''

The search for a new superintendent started last July with the departure of former Superintendent Arthur ``Sam'' Walton, who left to run the Berkshire Farm Center and Youth Services Organization school, which serves troubled boys who have been referred by the courts. Interim superintendent Eleanor Bartlett had said she was interested in the job permanently.

The naming of Palmer caps an extensive search that saw the board reject all of its initial finalists.

``We were criticized but, honest to God, this board was committed to quality,'' said Vice President Ben Conboy. ``We were going to do an exhaustive search until we found the right person.''

Palmer, who said he would begin his new job by spending time in each school, was pleased by Saturday's 6-0 vote.

``I'm most appreciative the school board has provided me with that kind of support,'' he said.

Michael Duktowsky, superintendent of the Tuxedo school district in Orange County, was the other finalist.

``It was a tough decision. Both candidates were excellent,'' Conboy said. ``He is bringing both suburban and urban experience to the district, and he's strong on accountability and the curriculum.''

Rubie Saunders, president of the New Rochelle school board, said they will miss Palmer.

Saunders credited Palmer with inspiring staffers at the two middle schools and one high school he oversees and noted he is skilled in obtaining grant money. This year, the Issac E. Young Middle School won national blue ribbon recognition from the federal Education Department.

Palmer and his wife have three children, two of whom are in their 20s. Their youngest, a daughter, will enter 10th grade in the fall.