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Getting to know the new "mama bear" superintendent of Buffalo Public Schools

Posted at 2:35 PM, Mar 04, 2022
and last updated 2022-03-04 14:35:58-05

BUFFALO, N.Y. (WKBW) — Dr. Tonja Williams is in her 32nd year working in the Buffalo Public School District. A life-long Buffalonian, she says her upbringing has shaped her values.

"With hard work, with perseverance, treat people well, play by the rules, and things work out well for you," said Williams.

Those who have worked in the District with Dr. Williams say she is the ultimate collaborator.

"She is the most humble leader that I have ever met and truly cares about not only the students and parents and teachers of the area, but she cares about the community," said Naomi Cerre, a retired BPS principal who has known Dr. Williams for three decades.

Dr. Williams is also known for her love of family and community. She holds an annual fundraiser in honor of her late husband, Charles, who was a dialysis patient. The event collects blankets for people in hospitals across Western New York.

"We spread the warmth," said Williams.

Williams will take that community approach to her new role as superintendent. Only a day on the job, she has already scheduled community tours to hear from parents about the change they want to see in Buffalo Public Schools. She has also met with senior staff to discuss her two priorities as superintendent: school safety and educational excellence.

"I've become the mother of the district, and like a mama bear, I will be attuned to the smallest of details, making sure our children get everything they need."

Dr. Darren Brown-Hall, who was Buffalo's interim superintendent in 2015 and now leads the Williamsville Central School District, spoke with Dr. Williams by phone the morning after she was unanimously voted in by the Board of Education.

"She used to be a building principal, she used to the Director of Guidance, so she knows the inner workings of the District," said Brown-Hall. "But the job of superintendent is of course non-stop, so anything that happens, she will know about."