Oakland Local: Superintendent of Oakland schools resigns, citing family health emergency

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superintendent tony smithApril 5, 2013
By Barbara Grady

Oakland Unified School District Superintendent Tony Smith, who has spearheaded a new strategic direction in Oakland of creating community schools that help kids deal with the adversities of poverty in addition to academics and who put the district on sound financial footing, submitted his resignation this morning.

His said last day will be June 30.

Smith said his father-in-law has been hospitalized and is in poor health and the family decided to move to Chicago to help out and to allow Smth's daughters to spend time with their grandparents.

"I feel very privileged to have been part of bringing quality and stability back to Oakland Pubic Schools. The decision to leave at this time is very difficult. However, my commitment to my family first means this is the right decision at this time," Smith said in a letter to the board of education shared with the media. "I believe in Oakland, value my relationships and our community, and will always be an ally in the effort to create more opportunity for Oakland children."

He continued that Oakland schools are in better shape than they used to be and are primed to continue on that path.

"I am proud of the incredible work we have accomplished together and believe the Board, with your leadership, will continue on a positive trajectory," he said in his letter. "Since the district returned to local control four years ago, we have made great strides in academic outcomes, fiscal solvency, community engagement, and organizational coherence. While there is still much work to do, the district is well positioned to achieve the objectives outlined in the balanced scorecard and meet the goals described in our ambitious strategic plan."

Smith joined OUSD as superintendent four years ago as the first superintendent following half a decade of state control of the district and its finances resulting from the equivalent of bankruptcy. The state has deemed Oakland the most improved school district in California.

In those years he not only balanced the district budget during a deep recession - sometimes with tough and unpopular decisions like closing five elementary schools last year - but he started it on a path to create Full Service Community Schools and other facets of a seven-year strategic plan called Thriving Students.

Under the belief that kids cannot learn if they are sick, hungry or feeling unsafe, OUSD under Smith opened health and community centers at many district schools, providing kids with access to medical care as well as after-school enrichment, counseling and healthy snacks. At some of the health centers, which are collaborations with the county health department and Children's Hospital of Oakland, students' families also have access to medical care.

OUSD also expanded its use of the federally funded Free and Reduced Lunch program to include breakfast at many schools and, this year, even dinner at some schools.

In 2011, on the eve of convincing the board of education to adopt the strategic plan he so ardently worked on, Smith told Oakland Local that "education transformation is a key, if not the primary key to sustainable economic development," in Oakland. He said educational resources need to be "distributed differently" so that all kids can graduate school and become employable.

Friday, Oakland school board president David Kakishiba said, in his own letter, "After four years, the Superintendent will be leaving a legacy that Oakland can be proud of." He added, "As the Board of Directors, we commit to supporting the Superintendent in his transition and to standing with the community of staff, students, and families as we move forward in this new chapter for the Oakland Unified School District."

Oakland Unified, while on stronger financial footing thanks in part to the state of California finally stabilizing education funding, is still facing the challenges of a high drop out rate, particularly among low income students of color, and of decreasing enrollment. In some of its approximately 100 schools it has improved academic performance of low income students and students of color and all but ended discipline practices that sent kids out of school through suspensions and expulsions.

But those improvements have yet to find their way to all schools and the strategic plan Smith so carefully negotiated and built with other officials and teachers is just beginning to be implemented.

Great Oakland Public Schools, a community group of OUSD parents which has pushed the district to revisit policies on teacher hiring and compensation, student absenteeism and other issues, credited Smith with making

"Tony's leadership has stabilized the district, and brought our community together around a shared vision of quality schools for each and every Oakland student. He created spaces for courageous conversations on race, class and poverty. The Thriving Students plan of full service community schools in every neighborhood has broad community ownership," said Jonathan Klein, the organization's executive director.

"We are sad about Tony leaving and wish he and his family the best."

The OUSD Board of Education plans to meet April 10 to accept Smith's resignation and consider steps needed to recruit a new superintendent.

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