Our North Star

All families across Oakland’s 78 square miles know their children will realize their full brilliance and potential at every public school in any neighborhood. Our community continually takes collective responsibility to reimagine, create, and improve a public education system where success is not predicated by race and class.
Home / Blog / OUSD Superintendents: Now and Then

OUSD Superintendents: Now and Then

CRUNCHED!      February, 2017     

Collage of some of the Oakland district leaders from the past 50 years (not comprehensive, includes photos where available).

With the departure of Oakland Unified Superintendent Antwan Wilson last week, the search is on!
I have a sense of déjà vu: we’ve been down this road quite a bit. As a data nerd, I started wondering about our previous superintendents. Who has led OUSD in the past 50 years? How many superintendents have we really had? How long did they serve? Are there any patterns or trends? I’m hoping some of the facts might help inform our current search.
NOTE: Oakland’s superintendents have been Board-hired, State-appointed (due to 2 state takeovers, both within the past 30 years), and Interim. I’ve focused my analysis on the first two categories.

Of the 24 leaders who guided OUSD in the past 50 years, 10 were interim (42%) while the rest were “permanent” superintendents, either Board-hired or State-appointed.

  • In the past 50 years, 43% of our appointed Superintendents had previous OUSD experience. In the past 20 years, only 29% of Superintendents had previous OUSD experience. This downward trajectory is concerning if we think Oakland background or context matters. But this requires thoughtful, intentional grooming of future talent – or we’re forced to hire from the outside, as we’ve done. For example, there hasn’t been a Black interim superintendent in the last 20 years and all 4 past Black appointed superintendents were from outside OUSD.
  • In the past 50 years, not including Interims, 6 of 14 (43%) of our Superintendents had previous OUSD experience. But in the past 20 years, the percentage has dropped, with only 2 out of 7 (29%) with prior OUSD experience. If we think Oakland experience matters, we need to do a better job grooming, retaining and rewarding our future local leaders.
  • Average tenure of Oakland Superintendents (not including Interims) over the past 20 years is 2.4 years – almost exactly how long Wilson stayed! If we look farther back to the past 50 years, the average is a little higher at 3.4 years. The longest service in the past 20 years? Anthony (Tony) Smith at 4 years. For comparison, J.W. McClymonds served 24 years as Superintendent of OUSD, over a century ago, from 1889 to 1913. We know that continuity of leadership matters in public school education because it takes years to make meaningful changes – so we need to do a better job finding leaders who want to stay for the long-term, and we need to support them so that they do.

Some Interesting Observations:


I’ve heard a lot of people express interest in hiring a local, someone who has prior Oakland experience (myself included). But, over the past 20 years, the leaders with Oakland experience and those with zero OUSD previous experience stayed the same amount of time on average (2.6 years for OUSD experience vs. 2.8 years for non-OUSD experience). So, hiring someone local does not ensure longevity (although local may beneficial in other ways).  Food for thought: what DOES ensure longevity, if not existing ties to district?


Over the past few decades, Oakland’s population has shifted and OUSD students are now approximately 45% Latino (25% Black, 13% Asian, 10% White). But only 2 of our last 11 Superintendents (including interims) in the past 20 years share the racial background of our largest student population.


Women are underrepresented in leadership roles across industries and organizations, and unfortunately, OUSD is not an exception. In the past 20 years, only 2 out of 7 Superintendents were female – despite the fact that staff are disproportionately female.


43% of our “permanent” superintendents in the last 20 years have been state-appointed. Today, unlike all those other times, we have a voice in who leads our district. Let’s use it! Please tell your board representative what you think is important in this selection!

If you are like me and really just want to see the cold, hard data, see here for more in-depth analysis I did to reach all of the above.
*P.S.: Data I would love to add: how many past Superintendents share the background of our highest need students? I think this is a powerful leadership quality.
**P.S.S.: Special thanks to Jean Wing, Executive Director of Data & Assessment at OUSD, for providing data on past superintendents dating back to 1870, and Mara Benitez for her thoughtful insights.

My name is Carrie Chan, and I’m Educate78’s newest staff member. I joined the organization as an Analyst, and I LOVE data (feel free to call me a data geek). As a former OUSD student, I also care a lot about Oakland public schools. That is why I am so excited about this new blog series, “Crunched!” which will take a data-driven approach to important, relevant questions facing Oakland public schools. Please email me with ideas or requests.

Share this post!

[fny id=”1″]


Updates, insights into our perspective, and highlights from our work!