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Oakland Superintendent Tony Smith hugs Vasti Means, a parent and School Site Council Chair, after she spoke personally about how Kaiser's major investment in youth will positively impact her and her children at a press conference at West Oakland Middle School in Oakland, Calif., on Friday, May 3, 2013.(Laura A. Oda/Staff)

Over the past few decades, in city after city, school districts brought in new superintendents who ignored the past while making extravagant promises about the future. Predictably, a few years after those leaders came and went, little had changed.

In a district known for its critique and discord, there is an emerging consensus in Oakland that the next superintendent must be someone who can carry forward and implement the vision of full-service community schools Tony Smith and his team crafted.

With the interim appointment of school board member Gary Yee, the Oakland Unified School District has taken an important step in this direction. Yee has not only served for 10 years on the board, but he was the board's president while Smith, his staff and the board developed the current strategic plan.

Like many urban districts, Oakland has its share of challenging conditions impinging our ability to provide the kind of education our children deserve, including an impossible budget situation, low salaries and intractable crime and violence. As a result, we often default to finger-pointing and ascribing blame.

We should celebrate our achievements under Smith's leadership. Smith possesses a rare combination of sharp intelligence, thoughtfulness and ability to articulate a powerful vision while maintaining interest in learning from and with others.

In the interest of continuity, we need to search for a permanent superintendent who will build on Smith's accomplishments and communicate a vision to the wider community. Perhaps most importantly, we need someone with a complex understanding of teaching and teachers' central role in successfully implementing change.


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Our challenges first and foremost are in the classroom. The work of our next superintendent should be grounded in a deep respect for teachers and knowledge of classroom life in urban schools. She or he should have proved experience with collaborative work across the various education sectors and serious understanding of current research and practice.

The incoming superintendent must do more than commission reports on teacher quality based on current testing metrics. She or he must be able to work with school leaders to develop metrics that illuminate current gaps while pointing the way toward the most productive reform strategies.

Knowledge of teaching and learning, and particularly the challenges of urban classrooms, cannot be found solely in books. Teachers who have spent 10 or 20 years in a classroom demonstrate a robust understanding of children, curriculum and communities. In them lies the knowledge of how to engage the most recalcitrant students in learning that connects to their lives and opens opportunities.

Our next superintendent must also bring a commitment and ability to work as a partner with teachers unions and understand the importance of building pathways for teacher development and leadership. We need a superintendent who can navigate the very real divide between traditional public and charter schools while opening a dialogue about the meaning of "public" schools.

Smith is a compelling leader who understands that education begins with the small things that are learned when people work closely together and value each other's knowledge, skills, and experience. Smith brought us a vision. Over the next five years, we need leadership that will build on that foundation, for the future of our city and for our children.

Katherine Schultz is dean of the Mills College School of Education in Oakland.