School & District Management

Buffalo Chief’s Remarks at Issue

By Catherine Gewertz — December 06, 2005 1 min read
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The superintendent of the Buffalo, N.Y., schools has infuriated educators by suggesting that his black principals are not doing as good a job as their white colleagues.

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James A. Williams, an African-American who has led the 43,000-student district for five months, said at a public breakfast meeting in October that black principals were not cooperating as fully in carrying out parts of his agenda as were white principals.

On another occasion, he remarked that in hiring teachers, “we’re not getting the number-one draft picks. We’re not even getting free agents.”

The Buffalo Council of Supervisors and Administrators and the Buffalo Teachers Federation have called for a school board investigation. In a separate grievance, the principals’ union accuses Mr. Williams of violating district anti-discrimination and anti-harassment policies.

The debate comes amid months of testy relations over insurance changes and staff cutbacks.

Mr. Williams said last week that his remarks had been taken out of context. In discussing teacher-candidates, he was referring to the nationwide pool, not just Buffalo’s, he said.

He made his comments about principals because he perceived that a disproportionate number of those complaining about attending after-school meetings without pay were black, as were those who failed to fully implement his SAT-preparation pilot program and special “academies” for struggling 9th graders, he said.

Mr. Williams said his remarks were a plea for black principals to “step up and take leadership” in the predominantly minority district.

Crystal Barton, the president of the principals’ union, said the principals scolded by Mr. Williams were not uncooperative, but were dealing with legitimate contractual and programmatic issues.

Linking principals’ behavior to their race was “unprofessional,” Ms. Barton said.

Board member Catherine Collins lamented that Mr. Williams’ comments “make it seem like we have to be more careful about the minorities we hire.” But board member Donald Van Every said he thought Mr. Williams “has raised legitimate issues for his staff.”

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