By Barbara Grady

Oakland Unified School District board member Dr. Gary Yee has stepped forward as a candidate for acting superintendent, the board announced to employees Sunday in a letter heartily supporting Yee's potential appointment.

An Oakland native and a former student, teacher, principal and administrator in OUSD, as well as twice board president, Yee has been a big supporter of the strategic plan put forth for the district by current Superintendent Tony Smith. Two weeks ago, Smith unexpectedly announced he will be resigning June 30 because of a family health emergency.

David Kakishiba, president of the OUSD board of education, said in the letter to OUSD employees that the board wants to conduct a thorough search for a permanent superintendent and meanwhile Yee is “an excellent prospect” to lead the district.

He said the board will hold a press conference about the nomination Monday and vote on Yee's candidacy on Wednesday night at the board's regular meeting.

“Given the demands of the superintendency and its importance to the fate of the district, we don’t want to make a rushed decision. Our preference is that the next superintendent be the product of a comprehensive search process and that he or she enters that role positioned for success,” Kakishiba said. “The four months remaining before the start of the 2013-14 school year will not allow us to reach this objective. Fortunately, the board has identified an excellent prospect for the position right here at home.

“Yee's roots, relationships, academic background and professional experience make him uniquely positioned to take the reins of the district,” Kakishiba wrote in his letter.

Yee graduated from Castlemont High School, the University of California, Berkeley, the California State University at Hayward and Stanford University. In the 1970s, he taught third grade at OUSD's Cleveland Elementary School and science in several other elementary schools. A decade later he become assistant principal at Franklin School, principal at Hillcrest School and then assistant to the superintendent, before he joined the faculty of Boston College and St. Mary's College of California and Holy Names University. Yee was executive director of the Oakland Education Cabinet under then Mayor Elihu Harris and the executive director of the Safe Passages Initiative of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. 

Most recently, Yee was Dean of Instruction at Merritt College and Vice Chancellor of the Peralta Community College System before retiring in 2008. Two of his three children graduated from Oakland public schools and the third still attends school in the city.

“His understanding of the governance role can help us navigate this transitional period with the discipline required to meet the board priorities, attain our Balanced Scorecard goals, provide a high-caliber education for all students and produce better outcomes for Oakland’s children,” Kakishiba said.

Great Oakland Public Schools executive director Jonathan Klein said recruiting Yee to step in as interim superintendent was a good step by the board. 

“We look forward to working with Dr. Yee, who has dedicated so much of his life to Oakland children and public schools, in service of the vision of quality community schools for all students,” Klein said. “We applaud the board's decision – both for ensuring important work continues in the short-term and for setting up Oakland to benefit from a comprehensive search.”

Smith announced his upcoming resignation April 5, citing a family decision to move to Chicago to help care for his wife's hospitalized father.

At a OUSD board of directors meeting later that week, Yee, Kakishiba, as well as most other long time board members praised Smith and committed to continuing the work they had begun with him of developing full service community schools and trying to close the achievement gap between low income students of color and wealthier white students.

Yee at that same meeting several times praised Smith for programs he had begun in Oakland.

“Dr. Smith, I remember when I first met you you pulled out this Balanced Score Card book. I want to commend you. Superintendent I really commend you,” Yee said at a point in the meeting when staff was reporting a Balanced Score Card approach to evaluating schools.

Later he said, “I want to thank the superintendent for your crafting of a plan that hopefully will be doable beyond your tenure.”

About The Author

Barbara Grady is a freelance journalist in the San Francisco Bay Area. You can reach her at

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