Podcast: Discussion with Superintendent Dr. Tony Knight about his retirement

Superintendent Dr. Tony Knight is planning to retire on July 1, 2021. Knight hopes to go sailing, scuba diving, hiking and visit his daughter more


Emily Francis: Hello, my name is Emily Francis and I’m a senior and one of the Editor-in-Chiefs of our school newspaper at the Talon. I’m here today with our Superintendent, Dr. Tony Knight to discuss his retirement announcement. So my first question is very general just what prompted you to announce your decision to retire?


Tony Knight: Well it’s about time. I’ve been at this for a really long time here in public education since I was 21 years old, I started right when I graduated from college, and I’ve been a teacher and a principal and a district level administrator, a superintendent most of, the very vast majority of that time in Oak Park. And so I just really felt that it was about time to go on and do some other things with my life. You know, while I’m still young enough healthy enough, able to do some different things that I really want to do. And I’m really going to miss Oak Park and everybody here, of course.


Emily Francis: What has been your favorite part of working in Oak Park?


Tony Knight: That’s easy. The students. The students I get to meet and work with every day. Or, I mean, I just say it’s a privilege and an honor to work with them. And the students in Oak Park schools are, in my opinion, just exceptional. Every one of them, and that’s the hardest part of leaving and one of the reasons I probably stayed so long.


Emily Francis: What would you say you’re most proud of during your time in Oak Park?


Tony Knight: Well I think we’ve developed a real strong student based program in Oak Park. So, you know, a lot of concern. If you go back and look at you know the things I said when I first became superintendent, and newspaper interviews and such. One of the things I said is that it’s important to focus on the mental health of our students. And that’s become more and more important every single year. And so everything we do is really focused around that so you know it you know people say oh well you know we have a big focus on the environment and getting kids outside and yeah that’s all true and it’s really important. A lot of that is about improving students. You know their connection with the school, how they use school, what they do in school, do they like school, is it a positive and joyful experience for them. If I had to sum it up and we’ve done a lot of different things, believe me in 17 years, but if we had to sum it up, I’d say that that was been that’s been the thing I’m the most proud of in the school district and, and I’m leaving a lot of things off the table. Like, you know, our increase in academic achievement, passing three bond measures, improving the district’s environment, the district of Choice Program, improving equity and diversity in the school district, all those things, you know, I can point to not as an individual, but as a team that we’ve all worked on. But I still go back to trying to improve student mental health is the biggest focus and I think it’s also something that we’re not done with. I think we’re really still just starting that work, I hate to say that because it takes a long time and it’s very hard.


Emily Francis: And what would you say you hope your impact has been on the Oak Park community in the school district?


Tony Knight: Well I hope that you know we have our motto as it says it all: educating compassionate and creative global citizens, we do that. And we also add and we do that in a climate of care. And so I think that that’s my impact on the district, as a whole, you know, if I wanted my name on something, you know, that would be that would be the thing that I think is the most important. And the important thing that my impact will be.


Emily Francis: And the rest of your time as superintendent will look any different than it was before. In regards to also, you know, looking for the next superintendent?


Tony Knight: Well, you know, we have a mess in the moment, I’ll be honest with you, with COVID-19 every school district in the country does, and getting us through this situation safely is going to require very careful navigation. And so, you know, and I also know that decisions have to be made that won’t be popular. And so I have to, I’m responsible for those and for making recommendations to the school board and, you know, working with teachers and supporting them and families and this is, as I said in my, my letter, this is a heavy lift. I mean it’s the hardest thing I’ve had to do in my career, which is really long. And, and we’re not done with that we’ve got the hardest part ahead of us. So that’s going to be, what I’m going to be needing to do in the next several months and I’m hoping that by the time that July 1 comes and the new superintendent is in place that that person doesn’t have to deal with this kind of a situation that they can deal with more of a normal school setting.


Emily Francis: And then with what you can tell me, how will the process work for selecting the new superintendent?


Tony Knight: So the board is going to be selecting a cert firm. These are companies that all they do is look for superintendents for school districts. So, I’m sure you realize or maybe you don’t, but staying 17 years is really really unusual for a superintendent in California, the average time that superintendents stay is three to five years. So the search firms go out and they look for. First of all, they’ll come in, the board will interview the search firms they will choose one of them, make a contract with them and then that group of people will be responsible for like collecting community input, getting different points of view of what kind of traits they want to see in the new superintendent. And then they’ll go through the process of, you know, running applications anybody will be able to apply. They may tap certain people that they know to apply for the job. And then the board will ultimately conduct the interviews, and then make the selection so it’s important to note that this is a board process, the school board is responsible for the selection of the superintendent that’s one of their most important jobs, and they have to do that job and they’re 100% responsible for that. So, using the search for it makes good sense and I have a high confidence that this board, you know, is super intelligent and involved and engaged and they’re gonna do a good job with this.


Emily Francis: And how do you hope the future of Oak Park will look and what do you hope to see in this community in the future?


Tony Knight: I think if you looked at our moral imperatives and our goals that we have on our website that in a year or two or three or five or 10 from now, we’re continuing to make progress towards those goals. They’re they’re highly aspirational, in other words, they’re not the type of goals that you just check off. They’re the type of goals and, and our moral imperatives that they point the direction for continuous improvement and continuous work. And so I hope that that direction continues in Oak Park and I see no reason why that it wouldn’t.


Emily Francis: And then what are your hopes for the transition; how do you hope that will go?


Tony Knight: Well, I want to work with. When the new superintendent is selected hopefully that’s in the spring, in the way the process is sort of mapped out right right now. I’m wanna meet that person and work with them. Tell them a lot of things about Oak Park, help them with the smooth transitions that, you know, that way when they take over on July 1, that it’s easy for them. And then I’m also not going anywhere so that if they wanted to call me, they could do that if there’s any advice that they need, I’m happy to help with any of that. So that’s how you make a smooth transition. And because this is, you know, that’s the kind of process that we’ll be going through and that’s what I’m committed to making sure happens.


Emily Francis: And how do you hope all of this is received by the community?


Tony Knight: Well I hope it’s received.  I’ve received many emails from parents and staff, and some students about, you know, wishing me well and  expressing their gratitude and it’s just been really really nice. And my hope is that the entire learning community will receive the new superintendent in that same spirit and look for a refreshing change in leadership. It’s a positive thing. After 17 years, you know, a nice change will be good for the school district. I’m confident in that.


Emily Francis: Is there anything else you would like to add or share out?


Tony Knight: I just want to say you know again I’m so lucky. I have such gratitude for everybody in Oak Park, to the school board for their confidence in me ,to the teachers and administrators counselors, all the support staff, the students, the parents. I mean, everybody. I have gratitude that I’ve been able to, I was tasked to lead the group, and to create an inclusive environment for everybody in the school district. I think we’ve created something really exceptional over this period of time. And I’m really proud of what we’ve accomplished together. And so, that’s all I guess I would say.


Emily Francis: Thank you so much for your time and for answering all my questions.


Tony Knight: You’re very welcome, Emily.


Emily Francis: And thank you for everyone listening.