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Behind the scenes in the superintendent's office

You already know what happened on Monday during the meeting when the Board of Ed decided not to pursue termination of the superintendent's contract.

What you don't know is what happened after that meeting.

Pretty much every media outlet in town showed up to cover the board meeting. Once the meeting ended, many of the reporters there -- including me -- lingered in the board room for a bit to interview board members.

Then we headed down to the superintendent's office. Because earlier in the day, his assistant, Elena Cala, sent out a one-sentence e-mail to the media: "Dr. James A. Williams is willing to interview in room 712 today immediately after the special board meeting at noon."

When I got down there, I found more than half a dozen TV and radio journalists sitting in the waiting room to the superintendent's office. What was going on?

My broadcast colleagues informed me that the superintendent's staff had allowed several journalists into the conference room to interview Williams, but then the door was shut and everybody else was told that it would be too distracting to the superintendent to allow anyone else in once the interviews were under way.

Would there be a second round of interviews for the rest of us? I asked. Nobody seemed to know for sure.

A few minutes later, Cala popped into the room and proceeded to scold the media for not coming down to the superintendent's office immediately after the meeting.

"There was an interview. You opted to stay upstairs," she told us. 

You can listen yourself to Cala's conversation with the media:

Awhile later, Cala came back into the room and announced that the superintendent would grant additional interviews. So we all stood up to head into the conference room.

I got in there, and Erin Comerford, another assistant to the superintendent, told me to leave. I explained that Cala had told us to go in. Williams told us to leave and said he was ready to meet with board members -- not the press.

So we all headed back to the waiting room.

Awhile later, Cala came back into the waiting room and said the superintendent was ready for the press. Along with everyone else in the room, I stood up and got ready for the interview.

Cala looked at me and said, "You're in the third group, Mary. You're print. This is for video."

I motioned to my Buffalo News colleague, Joe Popiolkowski, and explained that he was the News' videographer.

"Your videographer?" Cala asked.

"Yes," I said.

"You're in a separate group," she told me.

So Popiolkowski and I sat back down and waited.

And waited.

Eventually, all the rest of the press finished up their interviews with Williams and headed out.

Awhile later, Cala walked into the waiting room and said: "Mary, Dr. Williams is done with interviews for today."

Hmm.

Okay.

I called an editor to touch base. If the superintendent won't comment, he said, ask Cala for a statement.

So Popiolkowski and I headed back into the office to do that. He was filming.

Here's what happened:

By way of explanation: Comerford, the second assistant to the superintendent that you see in the video, was apparently referring to a story I wrote in April about several members of the superintendent's staff who did not hold the qualifications posted for their jobs. (Comerford and Cala were among them.)

The statement Popiolkowski made at the very end of the video was: "It's a public building." And as such, there is no prohibition on filming there.

To let you know how this story ends: Cala did call security. When Popiolkowski went back into the office to find out whether Cala would be issuing a statement to us, the security guard very nicely asked him to wait out in the waiting room.

We waited awhile longer. It was still not clear whether Cala planned to issue a statement.

Popiolkowski went back into the office to leave a business card. He happened to catch the superintendent, who asked who he was. After my colleague explained that he was from the News and was hoping to get a comment, Williams said: "I'm not even talking to The Buffalo News, man."

- Mary Pasciak

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About School Zone

Denise Jewell Gee

Denise Jewell Gee

Denise Jewell Gee joined The Buffalo News in 2007 and currently covers education and suburban schools. She also writes a column for the City & Region section and previously covered government in Erie County and Niagara Falls. Gee graduated from Boston University with degrees in journalism and political science.

@denisejewellgee | [email protected]


Tiffany Lankes

Tiffany Lankes

Tiffany Lankes joined The Buffalo News in 2013 and primarily covers the Buffalo Public Schools. She has written about education since 2003 at newspapers in Florida and New York. In 2008, she was a nominated finalist for The Pulitzer Prize. Lankes is an Amherst native and graduate of Sacred Heart Academy and Syracuse University. She started her journalism career writing for the News’ NeXt section.

@TiffanyLankes | [email protected]


Sandra Tan

Sandra Tan

Sandra Tan has been a cityside reporter for The Buffalo News since 2000 and currently covers the Buffalo Public Schools beat. She previously covered the Williamsville school district and was a full-time education reporter for five years prior to joining The News. She graduated from the Columbia Graduate School of Journalism.

@BNschoolzone | [email protected]


Deidre Williams

Deidre Williams

Deidre Williams began working for The Buffalo News in 1999 and currently covers Buffalo Public Schools. She formerly was a suburban reporter on the Northtowns beat and has been a cityside reporter covering communities since 2004. Williams has a mass communications degree from Towson University.

@DeidreWilliamsB | [email protected]

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