Most Courageous School Official

Tony Smith

Most school superintendents purposely shy away from controversy. Not Tony Smith, superintendent of the Oakland Unified School District. Since taking over the troubled school system three years ago, Smith not only has righted the district’s financial ship, but he’s taken on some sacred cows in the process. Smith realized a couple years ago that the cash-strapped district could not afford to have the same number of schools that it did back in 2000 when its enrollment was 40 percent higher. So he grabbed the electric third rail of education politics and pushed through a controversial plan to close schools that the district could no longer afford to operate. Then, earlier this year, he recommended that the school board shutter the highest performing charter school in the city — American Public Indian Charter School II. Why? Because the school appears to be running a fraud that includes rigged test scores, the misuse of public funds, and the mistreatment of students. Unfortunately, four less-than-courageous school board members, led by Noel Gallo and Alice Spearman, voted to ignore Smith’s advice.


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