District Set to Name Headquarters for Tam

Neilsen Tam made a significant impact during his 40-year career with Alameda schools.

At its June 11 public meeting, the Board of Education for the Alameda Unified School District (AUSD) approved a resolution to name the district office after Nielsen Tam, a former Board of Education member who died in 2015.

A recipient of master’s degrees in both special education and school administration, Tam dedicated his 40-year career to AUSD schools, students and employees. Early in his career, he worked as a special education teacher and union grievance officer. In the 1990s, he served as an assistant principal at Wood Middle School. After vociferous community debate around the under-representation of people of color in school leadership roles, Tam became the district’s first Chinese-American principal when he was hired to lead the now-closed George P. Miller Elementary School in 1997. He became the principal of Washington Elementary School (now Maya Lin School) in 2006.

Tam was elected to the Board of Education in 2008, re-elected in 2012 and served as school board president in 2013.

Throughout his career, Tam was especially devoted to AUSD’s most vulnerable children and families and advocated for those who had special needs, were low-income or English learners. A pillar in the community, Tam also took a leadership role in a wide variety of civic organizations, including: the Alameda Multicultural Community Center; the Alameda Collaborative for Children, Youth, and their Families; the Alameda Boys and Girls Club; the Alameda Community Fund; Alameda Family Services; the Alameda Point Collaborative; and Girls Inc. 

He also volunteered for the Alameda Soccer Club, the Alameda Food Bank, the City of Alameda Traffic Commission and the Alameda Library Strategic Planning Committee.

Because of his deep level of civic engagement and selfless devotion to community, Tam received numerous awards, including the San Francisco Foundation’s Koshland Civic Unity Award for community leadership (2002), a Coro Northern California Community Leadership Program Fellowship (2006) and the American Red Cross Award for Community Service (2008). In 2015, the Asian Pacific American Democratic Caucus of Alameda County honored Tam with a plaque engraved with a Chinese character for “bright light” and that recognizes him for “shining a bright light on injustice and showing us how to fight with honor.”

“Many of us knew and loved Niel, and Niel knew, loved and mentored many of us in the Alameda community during his decades in AUSD,” said Superintendent Sean McPhetridge. “A number of community members have asked that we memorialize Niel by naming a facility after him. I am thrilled to have this opportunity to honor his legacy by naming our district office the ‘Niel Tam Educational Center.’ His values of loving-kindness, humility and fairness should be models for all of us who work in public education.”

AUSD’s district office is located at 2060 Challenger Dr. A naming ceremony is being planned for later this summer.