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Superintendent Tony Smith at a school board meeting last fall. Photo by Lauren Kawana

OUSD Superintendent Tony Smith announces resignation

on April 5, 2013

Oakland Unified School District Superintendent Tony Smith is resigning, according to messages posted Friday morning on the district’s website.

In a letter addressed to school board president David Kakishiba, Smith wrote that his father-in-law was “recently hospitalized and is in poor health,” and that his family will relocate to Chicago at the end of June. In his letter, Smith wrote that he and his wife Kathleen decided to move “so that we can be there to help and so that our daughters can spend time with their grandparents.”

Smith ended the letter saying: “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. 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.”

A separate letter issued on behalf of the Oakland school board stated the resignation was “unexpected and came as a surprise.” It said the board will address the situation at its next meeting on Wednesday, April 10.

“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,” the letter continued.

Smith’s last day as superintendent will be June 30, 2013. Smith began his term on July 1, 2009.

“It was something that wasn’t in planning for a long time, but it was obviously a decision the superintendent needed to make in support of his family,” said district spokesperson Troy Flint. “I’m sure it wasn’t an easy decision and the board is not happy to see him go, but they understand his motivations.”

The school board has the right to appoint a replacement. Kakishiba said the board will discuss its selection process options during closed session at Wednesday’s meeting. Kakishiba said some options include hiring a national search firm to find qualified candidates (which was the method used in Smith’s appointment), appointing an interim superintendent, or appointing someone internally without a search process.

“As far as determining which route we will go at this time or how long it will take, there will be more news after the meeting,” Kakishiba said.

The Oakland Education Association’s vice president, Steve Neat, said he hopes that the board will solicit input from teachers, parents and students, and that Smith’s departure will hasten the teachers’ union’s contract negotiations, which are still in the bargaining stage.

“Bargaining has been cordial so far,” Neat said. “We feel like we have a reasonable contract demand and I think that would definitely be a way to leave on a positive note if it’s done by the end of this school year.”

Neat said he also respects Smith’s decision and recognizes the steadiness he brought to the district. “He’s been in OUSD for four years, which I’m sure is more than the average urban superintendent, and more than most of the people who had come before him. He had brought at least a degree of stability in terms of the leadership in OUSD,” Neat said.

Kakishiba said the board still supports the educational ideas Smith endorsed during his term. “We are committed to the vision around building a full-service community school district and working to eradicate racial disparities in academic achievement and other life outcomes for young people,” Kakishiba said.

“Staff and the board are confident that this new development will not derail our work,” he said. “We’re going to be able to absorb this loss and be able to move forward.”

You can read Oakland North’s in-depth interview with Smith shortly after he took office here.

The April 10 meeting at La Escuelita Elementary School starts at 5:00 p.m.


  1. n on April 9, 2013 at 1:54 pm


    • Bob on April 10, 2013 at 11:32 pm

      I assume you mean “hooray”.

      You couldn’t be more wrong. Like when we lost Chief Batts, this is just another symptom of the “brain drain”.

      Smart, qualified people like Tony Smith have many opportunities elsewhere. When they get uneducated protests from parents for closing schools, even though we have at least twice as many schools as we need, it’s no wonder they leave.

      And we’re all poorer for it. Thanks, Tony, for the good work that you did. We appreciate you!

  2. Timothy Terry on April 11, 2013 at 6:55 pm

    Smith’s reign in Oakland was controversial at best. A divisive figure, it was his way or the highway and the public be dammed. Smith prides himself in being a corporate reformer and he was trained at the Broad Foundation School of Privatization. Smith spent two years preparing a “strategic plan” and vision that no one really understood or could rally behind because he led off with closing schools and attacking Teachers. The school closures were a complete disaster. In the end we lost so many families from the ensuing chaos that there was no savings. Last year was spent investigating Oakland’s three top charter schools, which were accused of stealing $3.5M from the district. Smith is a big fan of charter schools and Oakland now has 40% charters and a weakened public education system.

    Our teachers had an imposed contract under Smith’s entire tenure. We have lost too many of our experienced teachers. Since when has our most respected profession become public enemy #1. Worse, OUSD has been on a green-teacher hiring spree. The district has been flooded with teachers without full credentials. Parents should be informed of this immediately.

    Smith speaks of wrap around services but did nothing to bring in counselors, librarians or teacher support. Moving the District towards privatization is his legacy in Oakland. This past election Smith worked with a corporate backed PAC, Greater Oakland Public Schools (GO) and packed the school board with his supporters. $77K was spent to obtain 9,658 votes in West Oakland alone. Two other of our new Board members are fully bought and paid for by GO’s billionaire funders whose goal is to “reform” our schools to match corporate needs. He was forced to face the problem of suspensions among African American males only after the Department of Education’s Civil Rights office imposed a Consent Decree.

    Smith is leaving OUSD a month after announcing $7M is somehow missing from the current budget. What Smith leaves behind is a divided district, which has isolated itself and lost trust from Teachers and the community.
    One thing Smith does well is self-promotion so look for him to be appointed by Arnie Duncan or President Obama’s Chicago crew. Smith didn’t bring individual leadership to Oakland, he was a spokesperson for the nations failed Choice policies. Shaving 5% off of a 48% dropout rate is simply not good enough after four years. 

Our new Superintendent doesn’t need grand visions for the “feel good.” We need someone who is going to support our Teachers not alienate them, rally the community and execute in detail in educating All the gems of our Great City.

    • Marty Price on April 22, 2013 at 9:08 am

      Wow I could not have said ti better. He alienated every group that actually works in the schools. He talked white priviledge while brooking no dissent from men of color. His most successful middle school principal(a man identified by Chaconas) garned Calif Distinguished School honors for Montera without the support of Mr. Smith, and consquently left the district. His appointment of the empty chairs at Skyline left that school without counselors and he made no effort to replace them. His cronyism was rampant and there are now probably as many adminstrators working downtown as in pre-Chaconas days. His rigged appointment of teammate Russell White to lead our OAL was a sham. None of th credentialed coaches, who actually work in our schools, and coach teams were selected. Instead we get Mr. White who in two years as a walk on football coach at Castlemont forfeited all of his games but two!! He put the teachers at bothCastlemont and Fremont on blast for their failure to sign onto his “new” reforms at those campuses while not owning up to the fact that he was part of the “reform” apparatus that instilled the “failed” model. In North Oakland we are all chartered below Telegraph. Golden Gate should have been returned to it’s old model as a k-9 school which it was for most of it’s existence as it is really to far from the nearest middle school not to expect dropouts from the area. Then again our school board rep knows little about this history as well. He creates an African American task force at the sametime he closed adult schools, yes the state dropped funding but where the hell do you think dropouts go for the diplomas?? He will fit in well in Chicago where he can send his kids to the same private schools that Arne, the Obamas and the rest do.

  3. SF2OAK on May 12, 2013 at 9:50 pm

    Apparently Smith like Jordan ran from the exit just as the s”it is about to hit the fan. Jordan left a day before a scathing report note 1 burglary investigator to 10,000 burglaries among other outrageous acts of complete mismanagement. I would have hoped Oaklanders would have run him out on a rail anyway for being a TERRIBLE police chief. Likewise Smith left before the story broke big about an Oakland School Police Department officer shot and killed a kid and Smith went down to the scene and will probably at least be investigated for witness tampering. Read story here:

    While the jury is mixed on Smiths accomplishments- he’s a hero in my book for closing dismal Lakeview- but that is true self interest and I don’t follow OUSD too closely. At this point I think it’s possible your child can get a decent education within OUSD But why bother with it? I digress.

    Read the above link. Burris is handling the case for victims family I’m sure we’ll be hearing about this case more. And you’ll understand why Smith cut and run. It just ain’t worth it here.

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