Knight says goodbye to Oak Park Unified School

His legacy is marked by the “warm and enriching environment” he created

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Dr. Knight stands in front of a crowd of retirees and speakers at the district’s retirement reception. The event was held to commemorate retiring staff on their work with the district. (Photo courtesy of Minnoli Nori/Talon)

After 17 years as Oak Park Unified School District’s superintendent, 39 years in the district and 42 years in education, Dr. Tony Knight will be retiring this summer. Knight started as a teacher in OPUSD in 1982, later became a principal at Oak Hills Elementary School and finally became our Superintendent. He has never applied for a job elsewhere. Students, teachers and administrators alike fondly remember their time working with him.

AP United States History teacher Victor Anderson believes that Knight’s leadership in the district has created a positive atmosphere.

“He’s created a real warm and enriching environment, because he’s a caring individual, he’s an intelligent individual, and he cares about the environment,” Anderson said. “That comes through in his leadership.”

Knight dedicated some of his time to working with students and student organizations such as the Oak Park Rocketry and Aviation Team

“He made everything more fun,” Rocketry Captain and senior Forest Siewert said. “He would take us on trips, and it would always be fun to talk to him about things besides rocketry –– scuba diving, sailing, anything.”

President of Our Future Club and junior Leo Mazzocco served with Knight on the Environmental Education and Awareness Committee (EEAC). 

“Every single idea that was given to Tony Knight was given not just because he was the boss, but because people were genuinely excited to see his input,” Mazzocco said.

Director of Curriculum and Instruction Jay Greenlinger began his career in OPUSD as a teacher.

“I took the first opportunity to come back and work for Dr. Knight, and I was lucky enough to be selected,” Greenlinger said. “A lot of why I wanted to work for Dr. Knight was that there’s so much to learn from him about running schools, about leadership and about creating programs that are meaningful for our students.”

UCLA student and OPHS alumnus Sean Cunin worked closely with Knight in a club called Students for the Protection of Animals and the Environment, an animal rights club. He also believes that Knight’s focus on students is part of what made him special.

“He always took an interest in my life as an Oak Park student while also caring about helping the environment and the world outside the school,” Cunin wrote to the Talon. “I believe this shows how much he cared about balancing a commitment to education with his commitment to making the world a better place.”

Siewert underscores Knight’s can-do attitude toward student learning and achievement, recounting times when Knight quite literally encouraged him to reach for the stars.

“When I said I wanted to build a crazy minimum-diameter rocket that goes Mach 1.5 and 13,000 feet, he said, ‘Just tell me what you want and we’ll do it,’” Siewert said.

Rocketry team member and junior Jordan Lindman loves spending time with Knight spotting planes at local airports. He believes Knight played a crucial role in helping him adjust to high school life.

“Dr. Knight is the kind of guy you can depend on because he has that mentor personality,” Lindman said. “He’s a superintendent, but he’s extremely close with the students.”

Knight’s in-depth involvement in the district’s extracurricular activities is complemented by his involvement in the district’s academics. English teacher Kathy Schultheis highlights some of the key contributions he has made to the English department.

“He’s sung the praises of Herman Melville and led us on whale watching trips. He’s created a sense of value in the humanities even though he is very STEM-oriented,” Schultheis said. “He is so supportive of English, and would always lecture on animal rights when we read Thoreau.”

OPHS has a 100% graduation rate and works to ensure that not a single student is let down. Greenlinger explains that Knight has been integral in getting the high school to this point.

“His views on education influenced what makes Oak Park special,” Greenlinger said, “and why people want to come and work here — why people want to bring their children here.”

In his retirement, Knight plans to, among other things, become a sailing instructor and give natural tours of the Channel Islands. 

“Hopefully it’s for a long time, so I’ll get to try a lot of different things,” Knight said.

He has already been certified by the American Sailing Association to teach basic keelboat sailing and basic coastal cruising. This June, he will begin teaching adults. He later plans to teach disadvantaged youth. 

Next year, Knight plans to apply to be a guide with the Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary. Already a certified naturalist, Knight hopes to use his expertise to work on whale-watching boats and give tours of the Channel Islands.

“It’s something I’ve done many, many years in Oak Park with kids,” Knight said. “I’ve probably been to the islands with students over a hundred times.”

Knight also enjoys scuba diving and underwater photography. He plans to continue writing photo essays and encouraging  others to dive in and photograph marine-protected areas. 

Knight has always integrated environmentalism into his work as an educator and has implemented changes such as introducing solar power to our schools and changing cafeteria offerings to be healthier and more environmentally-friendly. He plans to keep environmentalism and education at the core of his life in retirement.

“One of the things I say I like to do is to introduce people to nature, to help people make friends and make peace with the natural world. I think there’s a great need for that today. I’m an educator and a teacher, and I don’t think I can ever stop teaching,” Knight said.

Knight has greatly enjoyed his time with the district and says that his decision to retire was a difficult one.

“I have a lot of difficulty with this retirement. The longer you work in a particular position the harder it is to leave it, especially when you love it,” Knight said. “But, it’s a natural part of life, and it’s something you have to know when to do. You have to know when to give others a chance, and I know it’s my time to do this. I’m incredibly sad to leave everybody, but I feel good about the new superintendent, Jeff Davis. He’s going to be terrific, and I have high confidence in everybody in the school district to keep the good things going.”

While Siewert will miss Knight, he is excited to see him get to spend his time doing things he loves.

“I’m actually very happy for him. I think everyone works to do what they love; I know he loves his work. But, there are other things in life,” Siewert said. “I’m happy to see him get to retire and have fun and do everything he’s always wanted to do.”

On behalf of the student body and the Talon, I would like to thank Dr. Tony Knight for an incredible high school experience. These past four years would not have been the same without you. Happy retirement!