Former Oakland Superintendent Tony Smith Picked as New Illinois Chief

By Andrew Ujifusa — April 16, 2015 1 min read
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Former Oakland, Calif. Superintendent Tony Smith has been picked by the Illinois state school board to be the next state chief, replacing Chris Koch, who had held the superintendent’s job since 2006.

Smith is currently serving as the director of the W. Clement Stone and Jessie V. Stone Foundation in Oak Park, Ill., a Chicago suburb. The foundation works in early-childhood development and awards grants to nonprofit organizations working in the field including the Juvenile Law Center, the New America Foundation, and United Way. He previously worked as superintendent of Oakland schools from 2009 to 2013.

Smith will take over as the chief May 1, and earn $225,000 annually, a tick up from the $222,000 salary given to Koch, who will receive an $89,000 severance package.

The nine-member board has five new members who were appointed by first-year Gov. Bruce Rauner, a Republican who indicated that he wanted to have a “transformational” chief in Illinois, and that Koch didn’t fit the bill. The board voted unanimously April 15 to make Smith the new chief. The new board chairman, James Meeks, said Smith was the only candidate the board considered.

A spokeswoman for Rauner said in a statement that Smith is “a transformational leader and has a proven track record of increasing student achievement, while successfully addressing fiscal and structural issues at the local district level.”

Smith unexpectedly resigned from Oakland in 2013, and leaving a record that attracted fierce support and criticism. Reporting on his resignation two years ago, the Contra Costa Times said that Smith helped steer the district through budget woes while avoiding teacher layoffs and furloughs, and the academic performance of schools improved on his watch. But he also drew fire for closing four predominantly African-American schools and for forcing some teachers to re-apply for jobs.

In the video below at a 2013 conference, Smith, a vocal advocate for the idea of a “full-service community school,” talks about students being “community ready” as well as prepared for college and careers.

One more note: Smith played briefly (though not in any regular-season games) for the San Francisco 49ers and the Green Bay Packers in the NFL.

Photo: Tony Smith speaks to a math panel at the Mathematical Sciences Research Institute in 2013 in Berkeley, Calif. Jessica Olthof/San Francisco Chronicle/AP-File

A version of this news article first appeared in the State EdWatch blog.