July 14, 2022
In recent weeks Marckabraham.com has been inundated with emails from parents, teachers and community members regarding a myriad of issues within the ever-dysfunctional Buffalo Public School District but the appointment of Tonja Williams as Superintendent today, and the manner in which she was slid in has many stakeholders up in arms. Williams, the former associate superintendent for student support services was appointed as interim superintendent in March of 2022 after MarckAbraham.com shed light on the fact that former Superintendent Kriner Cash was warned many times, over the course of three plus years, that McKinley High School was unsafe under former Principal Marck Abraham (click here). MarckAbraham.com's exposé highlighted Abraham's incompetence while leading McKinley and Cash's culpability for appointing the inexperienced former guidance counselor. Cash ignored the warning signs, that led up to a security guard being shot and a student being stabbed multiple times on February 9, 2022. Community pressure for Cash's removal swelled leading to the BOE and Cash agreeing that he would resign, on March 2, 2022 (click here). Williams served in the role of interim superintendent until today, when the Buffalo Board of Education voted unanimously to make her the district’s permanent superintendent. Williams was given a three-year contract at the rate of $270,000 for her first year which is an increase of $116,000 from the salary she earned as associate superintendent.
Scroll down to the next section below
One aspect of tonight's appointment that has struck a cord among those in opposition is the fact that a search was not conducted. Not only was a search not conducted but upon information and belief, no one, including Williams, was even interviewed (at least formally). While it was widely thought that the current board would not appoint a new Superintendent and they would hold off until after this fall's board elections in order to allow the new board to appoint their Superintendent, many were blindsided this week, on Monday July 11, 2022, when Williams sent a text message to many of her subordinates, pressuring them to come to tonight's BOE meeting to support her: "I will be confirmed as the Superintendent of BPS this Thursday evening at 5:00 pm in Council Chambers. You're invited I hope you can attend. Thx!!!" Many are surprised that such an important position would be filled without a search or interviews conducted. As reported by the Buffalo News on April 9, 2022, many community members felt that a national search was needed (click here). Rev. Michael Badger of Bethesda World Harvest international Church was quoted, "I think Dr. Williams has done a commendable job in the amount of time she has been in there. I think she should be considered, but I think we have to get the best candidate for our children." The Rev. Kinzer Pointer of Agape Fellowship Baptist Church also voiced his concern that a search must be conducted, “We do a disservice to the school district and to Dr. Williams also if we don’t engage in a national search,” Pointer said. “We don’t want to do anything that looks like we’ve made some type of backroom deal.” Even Ann Rivera (pictured above right), the board member charged with overseeing the search process, said that she thinks it is important for the board to conduct a thorough search for candidates. “Whatever we do, we need to come up with a search process that takes into account all the talent that’s available to us,” she said during a board meeting, which Williams and other administrators attended. “And there’s a lot of talent that’s available to us, including the talent that’s sitting right here.” (click here).
Williams' appointment came out of nowhere as most thought that the current board would wait until after the upcoming elections and allow the incoming board to select their superintendent. It was obvious that the board had been conducting "off the books" illegal meetings leading up to Williams' appointment which blatantly disregarded the community's desire for a search and an open process. Holding clandestine and unofficial meetings is a violation of Open Meetings Laws (click here). Clearly an investigation into the possibility that the BOE held illegal meetings should be conducted.
Scroll down to the next section below
Equally as concerning as the lack of a search, is Williams' work experience and background. As reported by the Buffalo News (click here) and the Investigative Post (click here), Williams attended Buffalo Public Schools as a student and has only worked as a professional within the BPS system. Many are concerned that she may be blind to the inadequacies of the district as she knows no other way. Professionally Williams served as a guidance counselor, elementary principal and associate superintendent, but notably and most importantly has no teaching experience. Marckabrham.com highlighted the pitfalls of hiring someone who was never a teacher to be an administrator, as was the case when Cash appointed former guidance counselor Marck Abraham to the position of temporary principal of McKinley High School. Most teachers do not respect the opinion of a superior or anyone else for that matter, on the topic of “teaching”, who has not served as a teacher. Williams is seen by many as a caring person but also lacking the acumen to lead the second largest school district in NYS. Her tenure as a Principal which included a four year stint at Marva J. Daniel Futures Preparatory School and School 61 the Arthur O. Eve School of Distinction was marred by poor student performance and her removal from both schools. (click here.) As associate superintendent, Williams failed again. Williams failed to develop effective systems in student placement, and in the formal suspension office. Both offices are replete with unmitigated issues that the board needs to investigate. Most recently, as lead Cabinet member who advised Cash on Covid matters, Williams played a significant role in the reason Buffalo Public Schools was one of the last districts in New York State to return to in-person learning.
During Cash’s tenure as superintendent he frequently clashed with the board and in many cases disregarded them (click here). Although Education Law is clear, “the superintendent serves at the pleasure of the board” (click here), the board had little leverage on Cash due to the fact that he was well beyond retirement age and his contract stipulated that he would receive one years pay if terminated without cause. Additionally, Cash was not from Buffalo and thus could easily and quickly eject from the city, with the king’s ransom of a year’s pay, if he was ever terminated without cause. The board could have terminated him “with cause”, and avoided paying him a year’s salary, as recommended by Marckabraham.com, due to his aforementioned culpability for the McKinley High School shooting and stabbing. Undoubtedly, Cash knew that the board would not have the backbone to terminate him “with cause”, even though “cause” was obvious for all to see (click here.) Due to this clash between Cash and the board many believe they chose Williams because, unlike Cash, she is easily controlled. Many feel that because she attended Buffalo Public Schools as a student and her work experience is limited to her unsuccessful stints as a principal and also a position as associate superintendent (all at BPS), that Williams lacks the experience, capacity or faculty to bring about any real “change.” Williams is seen by many as the polar opposite of Cash, as someone who lacks the background and self-confidence to ever clash or disagree with the board, which seems to be precisely why they choose her. Her track record, as an unsuccessful principal, was oddly an off-limits topic prior to her appointment, as upon information and belief, she never even produced or shared her “plan” for the direction with the district, with the board, BTF or the community.
Scroll down to the next section below
Marck Abraham's (aka fraudster extraordinaire) tenure as temporary principal at McKinley H.S. and the chaos that followed (click here) is not the only example of what can go wrong when a guidance counselor is appointed to a high level administrative position. The Rochester City School District hired former guidance counselor Lesli Myers-Small in the spring of 2020 to replace former superintendent Terry Dade. Myers-Smalls has had issue after issue since her appointment, including out of control school violence, the board rejected her pandemic school closure plan, her initial budget proposal was sent back by Monitor Shelley Jallow, a sexual harassment claim and negative performance reviews. Just this week it is reported that the Rochester school board informed Myers-Small that it wants to negotiate her departure, only halfway through her four-year contract (click here).
Guidance counselors like Williams, Abraham and Myers-Small tend to be "out of touch" with the real workings of a school as they spent much of their careers in the guidance office making schedules and talking to students about their feelings, far removed from the day to day grind of teaching 5-6 classes of 30+ students per period. When guidance counselors parlay their connections into becoming upper level administrators they usually fail miserably due to their lack of real knowledge of what must be done within a building and/or district to foster a positive and safe learning environment.
MarckAbraham.com’s sources report that in the months leading up to Williams’ appointment multiple media outlets repeatedly reached out to Williams and requested to interview her. Each time their requests were denied. On occasion Williams’ public relations director flirted with potentially allowing Williams to be interviewed. During that process the PR director requested that all questions be presented ahead of time. More than one News outlet obliged this telling request and agreed to provide the questions up front, yet none were ultimately granted an interview with Williams. Instead, Williams conducted a “listening tour” (click here), during which she “listened” to the community express their concerns, yet as mentioned earlier, she never produced or provided her plan, provided her resume or spoke to demonstrate her understanding of the needs of the district and how she was going to meet those needs. It is believed by many that her handlers (the board) forbid her to be interviewed by the press and/or to provide the public with her “vision”, as doing so would reveal that she lacks the prerequisite skill set and cerebration to manage such a large district. In essence Williams has been kept on a shelf, like fine china, to be seen but not heard or touched. This revealed that the BPS board of education’s predominant qualification for a superintendent, is that they do as they are told by the board. It should be noted that the educational system is set up in such a manner that the board of education and superintendent act as a “checks and balance” system to keep each other in check. Although the superintendent serves at the pleasure of the board, the superintendent position was created to be filled with a highly qualified educator, with vast experience to help GUIDE THE BOARD and guide the district down the path of providing a quality and safe educational experience for its children, not to be filled by a “good listener” and minion for the board.
Undoubtedly, many will point to the fact that Williams is a "women-of-color" who also comes from BPS as justification for her appointment in an attempt to quell concerns over the board not conducting a search, not holding interviews, not gathering input from the community and teachers (BTF) and other stakeholders. If the board was set on hiring a women-of-color, within the district, there are many others who are employed within the Buffalo Public School system, that are highly qualified, who could have and should have been given the opportunity to apply for the position and be potentially interviewed by the board and the community. Although, it is MarckAbraham.com's stance that gender and color should not be qualifications or requirements to become the superintendent of Buffalo Public Schools or any other school district. It should be noted that Williams boasts about growing up on Buffalo's eastside, but she has not lived in Buffalo for decades. According to several sources, Williams lives in a suburb where her children grew up and attended schools. Reportedly, it is a condition of her contract that she move into the City of Buffalo, but her obvious preference is to live in the suburbs.
Scroll down to the next section below
Prior to appointing Williams, many board members stated that they felt that they found the right person to lead the district and a search and subsequent interviews were just not necessary. One of the most telling signs that Williams is not the right person to head the district is the fact that McKinley High School remained unsafe throughout the spring of 2022, right up until the last day of classes. As previously mentioned, Williams took over in early March 2022, less than a month after the February 9, 2022 shooting and stabbing at McKinley. Securing McKinley and ensuring student safety should have been her 1st, 2nd and 3rd priority, but it was not. Newly appointed principal Moustafa Khalil initially attempted to implement new procedures along with a stricter stance on insubordination and fighting when students returned to the building in March of 2022, but within a month of their return the students were back in charge of the building as the inexperienced administrative staff seemed meek and often times more concerned with making friends with the students (kiddos) than running a tight ship. Throughout the spring of 2022 there were almost daily fights throughout the building, just as there were for the preceding 3-4 years. Williams publicly stated that McKinley was “now safe” but any teacher in the building will tell you otherwise. Look no further than the party/ice cream social that Principal Khalil planned and publicized for the students which was slated to take place on the last day of classes, June 23, 2022. There were so many fights on the day preceding the party (June 22, 2022) that Khalil canceled the party and tens of gallons of ice cream went to waste. As evidence of the continued violence, view the barbaric fight footage to the right of this paragraph, which took place on April 26, 2022.
The nail in the coffin is that, since her appointment as acting superintendent and to this day, Williams has never set foot in McKinley High School (at one point Williams was scheduled to visit McKinley, but she canceled the visit). Clearly she does not understand the assignment. Conversely, after the BB gun incident at Olmsted High School on May, 31, 2022, Williams immediately ran to Olmsted High School and demanded every issue be addressed expeditiously. The board lauded Williams for her responsiveness. Williams and the Board of Education clearly understood the assignment as it pertains to the children and families of Olmsted. (Olmsted has a far more affluent and politically connected student/parent population than McKinley H.S.).
Scroll down to the next section below
The people in the city of Buffalo were deserving of a fair and open process for the selection of the Superintendent. Any board that unilaterally selects a superintendent after a myriad of clandestine meetings, without any input from the public, does not lead with a spirit of democracy, disrespects the voice of their constituency and operates more like mobsters than a shared decision-making body. The current board leads with secret meetings. How can we ensure that Williams is the best person to serve the second largest district in the State of New York, when she has a marred professional history and has not been properly vetted by the public? This egregious act is very concerning, and it seems like our Board members are trying to hide something. The board's selection process has violated their oath and the law, as they failed to be transparent and open. The megalomaniac strategies of this board to control parent voice and millions of dollars coming into the district won't be forgotten by those who so strongly oppose this questionable appointment.
While education law may not forbid a board of education from hiring a superintendent without conducting a search and subsequent interviews, the current board should have understood that "just because you CAN do something, does not mean that you SHOULD do something." The students, parents, teachers and community deserved better than what took place on July 14, 2022.