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Buffalo Public Schools superintendent resigns, interim appointed

A headshot of Tonja Williams wearing a red and red dress and strong of white pearls.
Mike Desmond
Tonja Williams is the new interim Superintendent of Buffalo Public Schools.

There's a new name on the door on the seventh floor of City Hall, with the surprise resignation Wednesday evening of Buffalo Public Schools Superintendent Kriner Cash and approval of his interim replacement, Tonja Williams.

The relationship between the Buffalo School Board and the superintendent had deteriorated badly recently and there were vocal members of the public who protested against his continuing service, including shouts at board meetings.

After a discussion of the McKinley High School reopening, the board retreated to a closed-door session which ran more than an hour. They returned and Board President Lou Petrucci read a resolution to approve the superintendent's resignation. It was accepted unanimously and Williams was immediately appointed.

Details of what led to the resignation were unclear.

"Dr. Williams has been employed by the district for a long time. She's a product of the district. She's familiar with it. What we have done as a board is to ask the board to prioritize what the board's priorities are and then we'll engage in a conversation with her, as well," Petrucci said. "But Dr. Williams knows how the district operates. She knows what our priorities are and we want to make sure that they're finalized, that there isn't any miscommunication. We want to have that discussion with her as to what her cabinet's going to look like, as well."

Cash had been superintendent for six and a half years. He was paid to go away, although it's not clear how large the check will be. He's been on vacation and then on family leave, apparently at his home on Martha's Vineyard, MA.

Late Wednesday, the district released a statement attributed to Cash:

“It has been my distinct privilege to serve the children and families of the Buffalo Public Schools. You have a fine school system. Take full advantage of all of the wonderful array of programs and services it has to offer. Best wishes for continued success!”

It also released a statement attributed to Williams:

“I’m honored and so very excited to be offered an opportunity to serve as the Interim Superintendent. 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 to elevate the accomplishments and vision for school safety at every campus and educational excellence for every single student, in this district.”

She described her leadership style as a “servant leader who works tirelessly in deliberate, skilled and strategic ways to get improved outcomes which benefit all.” Her two priorities will be "ensuring all school campuses are safe" and "educational excellence ensuring that all children are learning at high quality levels."

Dr. Kriner Cash, superintendent of Buffalo Public Schools, advocates for electric school buses at the First Student lot on Walden Avenue in Buffalo Oct. 15, 2021.
Tom Dinki
Dr. Kriner Cash, superintendent of Buffalo Public Schools, advocates for electric school buses at the First Student lot on Walden Avenue in Buffalo Oct. 15, 2021.

Board Member Larry Scott said so many issues need to be resolved.

"Transportation, youth violence, after-school programming, re-opening schools up from the COVID restrictions that we've had so that parents can have access to our buildings," Scott said. "We can have events and celebrations and performances in person. Our students need that. Our families need that. They need those experiences. We have to bring them back and bring them back as soon as possible."

Scott has two kids in city schools. The board will meeting soon to talk about a search process for the new superintendent. Some members Wednesday evening — as others have in the past — the new boss should be from Buffalo.

Williams qualifies, as a graduate of city public schools, Medaille College, Canisius College and St. John Fisher for her doctorate. Most recently, she has been associate superintendent of student support services.

She promised a news conference next week at Riverside High School, her alma mater, as well as meetings with the school and community members.

“The next plan of action will be to conduct a Community Listening Tour (Coffee and Conversation Chats) that will serve as an opportunity for school staff and faculty, parents, caregivers, students, clergy and community stakeholders to meet,” she said in her statement.

Board member Terrance Heard said appointing a city native was the way to go.

"This is a great day for the City of Buffalo," Heard said. "This board came together and we actually made a decision that's based upon Buffalo, somebody who's from Buffalo, who understands Buffalo, understands our families, understands our children, and this right now is a time to be celebrated here in Buffalo because we are one family and Dr. Tonja Williams shows it the most. She's very invested into the City of Buffalo. She knows the families, the people that's here."

Assemblymember Sean Ryan (D-Buffalo) also issued a strong statement of support for the change:

“I am glad to see Superintendent Cash has resigned from his position. His failed leadership has once again been on display following the events at McKinley High School and there is no doubt the community has lost faith in his ability to lead the district. He failed to lead during the pandemic, he failed to keep students safe at McKinley, and in the last few weeks he has cut and run when his presence was needed during a difficult time. The students, parents and teachers of Buffalo deserve a superintendent they can count on. I wish Dr. Tonja Williams well as she takes over as interim superintendent.”

WBFO's Jay Moran talks with longtime Buffalo Public Schools advocate Sam Radford about Kriner Cash's resignation
A bust shot of Sam Radford, wearing a light blue suit, shirt and bow tie, in front of a blue, white and orange striped background.

The board also approved hiring a special counsel to probe the violence at McKinley High School Feb. 9. A 14-year-old student was stabbed and a security guard shot during a fight outside the school.

Mike Desmond is one of Western New York’s most experienced reporters, having spent nearly a half-century covering the region for newspapers, television stations and public radio. He has been with WBFO and its predecessor, WNED-AM, since 1988. As a reporter for WBFO, he has covered literally thousands of stories involving education, science, business, the environment and many other issues. Mike has been a long-time theater reviewer for a variety of publications and was formerly a part-time reporter for The New York Times.
Monday - Friday, 6 a.m. - 10 a.m.

Jay joined Buffalo Toronto Public Media in 2008 and has been local host for NPR's "Morning Edition" ever since. In June, 2022, he was named one of the co-hosts of WBFO's "Buffalo, What's Next."

A graduate of St. Mary's of the Lake School, St. Francis High School and Buffalo State College, Jay has worked most of his professional career in Buffalo. Outside of public media, he continues in longstanding roles as the public address announcer for the Buffalo Sabres of the National Hockey League and as play-by-play voice of Canisius College basketball.
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