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Seize energy generated by Williams' exit

Buffalo Schools Superintendent James A. Williams seemed pleased.

He cracked a few jokes. He looked back on his six years in the district. He said he was leaving with "happiness."

"On a whole," he told reporters last week, "Buffalo has been very, very good to me."

This hardly seemed like a man heading out of town amid calls for his ouster. It didn't sound like a superintendent wrapping up his tenure with dismal graduation rates and lackluster student scores.

You'd think the man had been given a grand retirement party with toast and accolades, rather than being pushed out with the door slamming behind him.

But there he was, surrounded by reporters in an office conference room, looking back at what he called "six great years here in Buffalo."

"They went by fast," Williams said.

There was a disconnect between Williams' view of his years heading Buffalo Public Schools and the months of negative energy that culminated in a Board of Education vote earlier that afternoon to accept his resignation.

The six years might have gone by fast for Williams, but the last six months have gone very, very slowly for the city's schools.

A torrent of concern -- from parents all the way up to the state's new education commissioner -- was unleashed this year over city schools.

Parents went to Albany to lobby. Stakeholders gathered in June for what they called a "historic" education summit. Protesters beat the education drum on the steps of City Hall.

The list of concerns went well beyond Williams: spotty student attendance rates, low graduation rates for black males, failing schools, low proficiency levels in math and English, turnaround plans that haven't lived up to expectations. The list goes on and on.

Williams may be leaving, but this is no time to stop community focus on schools.

It would be far too easy to watch Williams pack up Sept. 15 and pretend that things are going to change. It would be a cop-out to think that problems that have persisted for decades will clear up with his departure.

It would be a travesty to let this energy slip away.

Now, more than ever, this city needs everyone -- from those gathered at the bus stops to those who work on the second floor of City Hall -- to be focused on education.

The job has not been done.

The real work is still ahead, and count on it being much more difficult than calling for a change in leadership at the top of the district.

We need to find a way to get all children to school. To make sure they're ready to learn when they get there. To get more parents not just engaged in their child's education, but actively working toward changing the system.

There shouldn't be a parent with a child in a "persistently lowest-achieving" that is complacent with the results.

Now is not the time to let the anger slip away.

James Williams will leave this district and its problems behind in 24 days. He will head off to retirement, spend more time with his family and enjoy some sort of buyout package that has yet to be disclosed.

Meanwhile, a new flock of children will enter kindergarten in two weeks. If things don't change, too many of them will never make it to graduation.

Williams says Buffalo has been good to him.

We'll find out this week just how good Buffalo has been to the departing superintendent when the terms of his buyout package come to light.

If only we could say that Buffalo has been good to the children.