There’s a change at the top of the Illinois State Board of Education. The board Wednesday agreed to hire Tony Smith for $225,000 per year. He is executive director of the W. Clement and Jessie V. Stone Foundation, an Oak Park-based group which gives money to educational causes. He also spent four years as school superintendent in Oakland, Calif.
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Smith was not available for an interview, nor was the man he's replacing, Christopher Koch, who was on the job for nine years.
The board chairman, the Rev. James Meeks, had nothing but praise for Koch. But Meeks also reminded reporters the superintendent serves at the pleasure of the board – a majority of which is appointed by the governor. As for Smith, Meeks says, “he started a district just for African-American boys who were the underachievers; who were flailing.”
While both the Smith contract and Koch's $89,000 severance package came by unanimous vote, board member Steve Gilford voiced his misgivings. “I have some grave concerns about the decision to change superintendents at this time,” Gilford said, “and about the process that has been used and the way this has come about.”
Smith, who lives in River Forest, played college football at Cal (the University of California at Berkeley) and was in camp with the NFL’s Green Bay Packers and San Francisco 49ers before injuries ended his playing career.