After the Buffalo Board of Education voted last Wednesday to appoint Dr. Tonja M. Williams as the new Interim Superintendent of the Buffalo Public Schools in the wake of Dr. Kriner Cash’s resignation, she hit the ground running.
Having served most recently as an Executive Cabinet Level Leader in the role of associate superintendent of student support services for the Buffalo Public Schools, the Buffalo born and raised veteran educator is no stranger to the issues that need to be addressed, and immediately laid out her two top priorities: ensuring that all school campuses are safe; and educational excellence- ensuring that all children are learning at high quality levels.
Dr. Williams shared that she was looking forward to meeting with the Buffalo Public Schools Executive Team and Buffalo School Board members to obtain a status of all pertinent scopes of work impacting children and families in the district.
After her review, she said the next plan of action will be to conduct a Community Listening Tour (Coffee and Conversation Chats) that give school staff and faculty, parents, caregivers, students, clergy, and community stakeholders an opportunity to meet with her to share their vision for how they can collectively work together “to ensure that all school campuses are safe and that all children are learning at high-quality levels every day, in every school.”
“I’m honored and so very excited to be offered an opportunity to serve as the Interim Superintendent,” she continued. “My professional journey from being a Building Principal to an Executive District Level Administrator has come full circle. I am ready to serve and work with the dedicated Buffalo School Board Members, staff, faculty, parents, students, and all of the community stakeholders in the city” on behalf of “ every single student, in this district.”
A graduate of Buffalo Public Schools and Riverside High School, Dr. Williams was raised on the east side. She earned an Ed.D in Executive Leadership from St. John Fisher College, in Rochester, New York, a Master’s Degree in Educational Counseling from Canisius College and a Bachelor’s Degree in Health and Human Services from Medaille College where she graduated with Magna Cum Laude Honors. In addition she has completed a certificated program in Turnaround School Leadership at Harvard University and holds New York State School and District Administrator certifications.
She describes her leadership style as “a servant leader who works tirelessly … to get improved outcomes which benefit all.”
The initial reaction in the community, and among her colleagues, to Dr. Williams’ appointment has been met with widespread support.
Sam Radford, of We The Parents organization praised Dr. Williams on Bishop Michael A. Badger’s talk show on WUFO Power 96.5 FM last Saturday morning for “coming right out the gate” and saying she was willing to meet with the community, churches ,organizations etc. He said he was also impressed that she made clear her initial priorities: the safety of our children and ensuring educational excellence for all students.
“That’s the right mindset,” he said, “especially given the situation we’re coming out of right now.”
He also complimented her for “knowing the inner workings of the district” based on her experience.
“The question is will she have the courage of a David Banks (newly appointed Chancellor of the New York City Department of Education) who said ‘I know the inner workings and I know the problem… and I’m willing to call them out and move people who have been. maintaining the status quo, out of the way’……” said Radford. “Banks is able to do that in New York City because he has the backing of the community…he has the backing of the mayor.”
Bishop Badger brought up the point that some are suggesting that maybe the next superintendent should come from this area.
Radford said he was in agreement with that thought.
“We’ve got highly competent highly qualified people” he pointed out, some who have been here their entire career others who left and returned – or would be glad to come back – “people who know Buffalo.”
“I think we’ve got to get over this idea that we ‘ve got to have some super experienced seasoned person come in and turn Buffalo around without knowing Buffalo – I think we’ve tried … and we’re not getting what we’re looking for. I think we have to trust some home grown talent.”
Whoever succeeds Dr. Cash will face some serious challenges running a huge urban school district .
After being appointed to the interim superintendent position while a search is conducted or a successor to Dr. Cash, Dr. Williams, in a News report, said she may want to seek the permanent position.
Most recently several Buffalo Common Council members voiced their support for Dr. Williams and Mayor Byron Brown has said publicly he would like to see her considered for the permanent superintendent position.