Buffalo kids suffer while Williams walks away
Last week, the city’s Board of Education voted to accept his resignation, effective Sept. 15, ending Williams’ term in Buffalo. Williams served only six years, which seems a short amount of time to adapt to the norms of the community and what children and parents expected of him. Yet he often seemed aloof, making one wonder how deep his Queen City commitment ran.
I have never met Dr. Williams. Yet in a recent edition of the Buffalo News, he was quoted as saying, “James Williams is a household name all over the country. I’ve received hundreds of calls. I’m very well respected. I’m leaving with happiness – with a resume that would stand up against anyone who’s sat in this seat in the history of Buffalo.”
That’s quite a statement.
Less than half the students enrolled in the Buffalo schools receive a high school diploma. The district lost federal funding this year because of underperforming schools. While improvements have been made to buildings and technology, the children are drowning in a sea of urban reality.
The School Board – right or wrong – rushed into the termination procedure at the worst possible time. Facing certain termination, Williams resigned “for the purposes of retirement.” It’s the same font of handwriting on the wall that Buffalo Bills radio legend Van Miller finally saw. Yet as a legend, it was sad to see Van step down. Time will tell if history grants legend status to the former school superintendent with the self-proclaimed household name.
Classes resume in a couple of weeks, leaving the board to manage the most important time of the term without the guidance and wisdom of an experienced educator. It’s the kids who will suffer while Williams walks away.
Now scrambling to finalize the terms of Williams’ termination agreement so they can wash their hands of him, the board is scheduled to appoint an interim superintendent this week. I blame Williams for the fact that the board will now be distracted from the more important task of raising test scores and giving teachers the resources they need to improve the quality of education in Buffalo. Instead, they will be dickering over the process of advertising for a new superintendent, interviewing candidates, arguing over the person to hire, negotiating a contract and painting a new name on the door. It should be Presidents Day by then.
Outside the Buffalo city limits, other school superintendents have crafted success stories. Howard Smith and Thomas Coseo ran the Williamsville and Clarence school districts, respectively, for more than 25 years each. That’s more than four times the term of Williams in Buffalo, although their districts are not a fair comparison to the city’s.
It will be difficult to find the right candidate to be the next superintendent of Buffalo schools. The board was well within its rights to demand more from the person at the top. Their expectations should be crystal-clear from the outset, and the qualified individuals who are stimulated by those expectations – rather than scared off by them – should be afforded every opportunity to show how they can make critical improvements. Buffalo’s children are depending on that.
So are the teachers who are working so hard to make a difference in the young people of the city. How frustrating it must be to know that half of them will not graduate.
Cities across America are in the same leaky boat. Yet our work ethic, compassion and will to succeed should quickly convince someone in the field that the potential for success in Buffalo is worth the fight. Someone who knows how to empower the citizens for the betterment of all so that the children have a better chance of a brighter future.
Someone who’s not already a legend. (David F. Sherman is managing editor of Bee Group Newspapers and a columnist for the Weekly Independent Newspapers of Western New York, a group of community newspapers with a combined circulation of 286,500 readers. Opinions expressed here are those of the author. He can be reached at dsherman@bee news.com.)