Monday Morning Read

The hiring of Tonja Williams as Buffalo schools superintendent is troubling, given her lackluster credentials and the district's failure to consider other candidates

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Buffalo has a new school superintendent with the appointment of Tonja Williams. I’ve got to admit I was a little stunned when I heard the news. 

As we reported in May, she’s never taught at the elementary or high school level. She has little experience as a principal and her tenure at Futures Academy was a failure: academic achievement at the struggling elementary school actually got worse during her time there and she was eventually removed as a result. Sources told us that her performance as an administrator in Kriner Cash’s cabinet was pedestrian.

Despite all this, the Board of Education gave her the job without so much as conducting a job search. Really?

A lot has been made of her local roots and long tenure in the district. I suppose they mean something because her predecessor was a vagabond superintendent before landing in Buffalo and who, once here, spent an inordinate amount of time back home in Martha’s Vineyard. 

There is a downside from hiring from within, however. 

Williams has spent her career in a school district that does a poor job educating children. Less than one-third of students score at proficient levels on standardized tests for reading and math skills. 

The culture of Buffalo schools, despite the efforts of many teachers, is to simply move students along to the next grade, if they’re ready or not. That’s among the reasons I think the district needed to consider job candidates from the outside.

The school board thought otherwise, be it out of laziness or poor judgment. Remember, these are the folks who consistently gave Cash high grades and pay raises during his tenure, even though they knew he was often MIA.

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Elsewhere … Charlie Specht of The Buffalo News documented how Buffalo’s predominantly white suburbs didn’t get that way by accident. Covenants were written into many deeds that prohibited the sale of homes to people of color. The legacy of those covenants is one of the most segregated metropolitan regions in the nation. Charlie did excellent work when he reported for television and is off to a very strong start with The News.

(While I’m on the topic of segregation, I’ve done some recent reporting on the topic, as well. More to come.)

Finally, the New York Times published an op-ed on the evils of gerrymandering. It’s a national look, but a relevant read given what’s going on in Buffalo.