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Oakland Unified School District state Administrator Kimberly Statham asks a girl about a lesson Tuesday while touring Lafayette Elementary School in Oakland.
OAKLAND — On Friday, the eve of her one-year anniversary at the helm of the school district, State Administrator Kimberly Statham gathered her top staff members and announced her resignation.

The news surprised even some of her closest colleagues, but it would be an exaggeration to say they were stunned. When Statham came to Oakland in May 2005, she left her husband and children in Maryland.

As the district's chief academic officer and later, state administrator, she struggled to balance her work and her family life — a difficult proposition when home is thousands of miles away.

Her last day will be Sept. 27.

"It's something my family and I have been contemplating for some time," Statham, 48, said in an interview Friday morning. "They feel like it's time. They've sacrificed."

Hours after Statham's announcement, State Superintendent of Public Education Jack O'Connell named Vince Matthews, the district's chief of staff, as Statham's interim

replacement. O'Connell said the new leader will have the same marching orders as Statham did: "Academic achievement, fiscal integrity and put yourself out of a job."

Hilary McLean, a spokeswoman for O'Connell, said Statham's bicoastal living arrangements were not counted against her when she was named to head the Oakland schools.

"We don't judge people's family situations," McLean said. "If they're the right person for the job, we'll avail ourselves of their talents.


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O'Connell said he would have appointed Statham to the job even if he had known she would last for just a year.

"It's been a good year for the district," O'Connell said.

Jeanette MacDonald, the principal of Franklin Elementary School, said Statham surrounded herself with talented people and instilled a spirit of collaboration that will persist after her departure.

"We'll miss Dr. Statham and her gentleness and her kindness," MacDonald said. But, she added, "Her goals are very clear, and everyone knows them. It's not like, 'Oh my goodness, we don't have a plan.' There is a plan for everything."

Others seemed disheartened to learn the Oakland school district, which has experienced so much turnover at every level, faces yet another change in leadership. Matthews will be the third state administrator to run the city's public schools since the state takeover in mid-2003.

School boardmember Kerry Hamill said it's important for parents and students to remember their primary contacts — teachers and principals — will remain the same during the transition.

"Those relationships will stay steady despite the constant upheaval at the top," Hamill said. But, she added, "As things keep wobbling at the top, it's going to be hard to stay steady at the classroom level."

Hamill and David Kakishiba, the school board president, said they believe it is time to choose a superintendent who will stay long enough to see through the reforms.

"We need to move to a different model, and this is the perfect opportunity to do it," Hamill said.

This week, a bill that could speed the return of governing powers to the Oakland school board passed the state Legislature and headed to the governor's desk.

O'Connell opposes the legislation. He said he believes the school district has made substantial progress under state governance, but it's premature to return full powers to the board.

But Kakishiba doesn't sense the same forward motion. He noted the district's test scores flattened this spring for the first time in years. And when Statham leaves, he said, the two top executives at the district will be temporary.

Statham fired her chief financial officer, Javetta Robinson, in July and replaced her with Leon Glaster, who came out of retirement to serve until the district found a permanent CFO.

"From a business standpoint, this is not a good way to transition your chief executive," Kakishiba said.

Although Statham decided earlier in the week that she would leave her post, she kept the news to herself during interviews for a Tribune profile about her tenure that was published Friday. She did so, she said, so that her staff would not have to read the news in the paper.

Statham said that when she accepted the position, she didn't anticipate how difficult it would be to lead a district and be there for her family.

"I still feel it was the right decision to take the job," she said. "We really needed some stability."

While her predecessors, Randolph Ward and Dennis Chaconas, had big ideas and larger-than-life personalities, Statham had a softer and more methodical approach. She delegated authority and often ducked from the spotlight.

Statham was also less visible than Ward or Chaconas. Some questioned whether the head of the school district could do the demanding job effectively while traveling back and forth across the country. She said she flew back East about once or twice a month to visit her Maryland home.

With the improvements her team made during the last year, she said, "I'm feeling really confident and comfortable leaving now."

She said she had not yet accepted another job but that she planned to do the same kind of work closer to home.

Read Katy Murphy's Oakland schools blog at http://www.ibabuzz.com/education.