While at Emery, Mr Smith was instrumental in getting the Center for Community Life off the ground, insisting that Anna Yates Elementary School be shut as part of the arrangement. His polarizing and rancorous tenure continued and expanded at Oakland, earning him the wrath of many parents in that city.
In Oakland as in Emeryville, Tony's philosophy included generous use of educational consultants and a top down managerial style while disempowering the teachers and their union. Many parents protested his "Cut, Shut & Charter" tactics; those being his proclivities to cut educational budgets, shut down schools and encourage private charter schools to take over under performing public schools. It's part of a larger program of educational entrepreneurialism, much in vogue and touted by anti-unionists including President Obama's Education Secretary Arnie Duncan.
In a surprise move Friday morning, Oakland Unified Superintendent Tony Smith announced that he is stepping down at the end of June. In his letter of resignation, Smith said his father-in-law has recently been hospitalized and his family will move to Chicago to help.
“The decision to leave at this time is very difficult,” Smith wrote. “However, my commitment to my family first means this is the right decision.”
In an official statement from the Oakland school board, board president David Kakishiba wrote that Smith would leave “a legacy Oakland can be proud of.” Smith’s unexpected resignation will not trigger a change in course for the district, which has focused on a community schools model similar to the one Smith piloted in Emeryville, Kakishiba wrote. Oakland is also one of the nine CORE districts that have applied as a unit for waiver to some components of the No Child Left Behind Act.
“If people are worried that there’s going to be a big upheaval, they shouldn’t be,” said two-term Oakland school board member Jody London. “We’re really committed to carrying on the direction.”
Smith was hired to run the 36,000-student district in 2009. That was the first year since the state’s 2003 state financial takeover that the board was able to select its own superintendent, as the Oakland Tribune’s story on the resignation explained this morning. Long-time Oakland education reporter Katy Murphy also put together a Storify post collecting her past reporting on Smith and readers’ current reactions to the news.
Troy Flint, spokesman for Oakland Unified, said Smith has had several strong performance reviews and that the resignation is “strictly a family matter.”
Oakland education activist and leader of Great Oakland Public Schools Jonathan Klein said he had worked closely with Smith over the years and was surprised and saddened to hear about his resignation.
“There is – more than I’ve ever seen – a broader alignment and ownership of this direction” in Oakland toward high-quality, full-service public schools, Klein said.
Klein, whose organization emphasizes community organizing and took heat last fall for its well-financed efforts to elect three new school board members, said that Smith’s leadership and the community focus he helped galvanize has made this a time of hope in Oakland education.
“For the next person in that seat, it’s a huge opportunity,” Klein said. “Being the superintendent of OUSD is one of the most high-impact roles in education, and our city and our system are in the best place for the next person to come in.”