Victoria “Vickie” Oakley knew at a young age that she wanted to become a teacher to help children learn how to read. Growing up in Alexandria, VA, right outside of Washington D.C., she suffered from dyslexia, a learning disability that challenged her ability to master language arts, writing, and reading. Vickie received extensive tutoring growing up, and her family supported her learning by coaching Vickie while at home.
“I was a reader, but I had to really work at becoming a reader,” Vickie says.
Motivated by her struggles, Vickie attended the University of Richmond for her undergraduate degree in Elementary Education and received her master’s degree in Reading and School Administration from Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU).
Upon graduation, she moved to Emporia, VA, home of Greensville County Public Schools, to begin her teaching career for four years. Her first two years, she taught sixth-grade students, none of whom were able to read at a sixth-grade level. She instructed mainly boys that had previously not been very successful in school. She taught these students for two years in a row and takes pride in knowing they all learned how to read. Vickie even gets the chance to interact with these former students, when traveling to Emporia to visit her husband’s family. Now, grown men, she reports that they are successful in their current lives. Her last two years at Greensville County Schools, she utilized her skills to continue to help students by becoming a Title One reading teacher.
Vickie then moved to Richmond, VA, to continue her career at Goochland County Public Schools. Always wanting to teach elementary students, she taught first grade at Goochland Elementary and second grade at Randolph Elementary. She specialized in reading and curriculum and loved the ability to have more hands-on teaching with students.
“What was unique about the experience at Randolph is I was able to use all my reading skills that I had gotten from VCU. Many, but not all, of the children in my second-grade class, were either gifted or had learning difficulties. It was quite a unique mix and a wonderful experience.”
With successful years of teaching under her belt, Vickie earned her first principalship at Robert E. Lee Elementary School. She was a young principal, in her early thirties, with a large group of special needs children. Her staff worked well together to make great strides with those children, and she says the role of principal was very rewarding. She had a direct influence on students, getting to know and work with each one, while also influencing outstanding teachers.
Shortly after, she was asked to lead Ginter Park Elementary School as principal and turnaround specialist. The school was not doing well academically, resulting in many discipline problems and a lot of turnover of staff, so she brought along many members of her staff from Robert E. Lee. With a big push nationwide for improved reading amongst students, the school was awarded a reading grant of over a million dollars. With the help of the grant, the staff was trained, students received materials and books, and a unique reading plan was implemented. Ginter Park became a recognized national Title One school that was fully accredited, meeting state and federal guidelines.
“Principals don’t do that alone,” Vickie says. “The job of a principal is to create a great staff and then train and support them. It was my job to provide them with what they needed, such as professional development, so they could have the tools of the trade to be a successful teacher. For me, the greatest part of becoming an educator was really working with teachers and creating an environment where kids want to be learners. That permeates throughout the whole school.”
Five years later, Vickie was awarded the role of director of instruction, assisting in all K-12 content areas, and overseeing a team of specialists in each area. Dr. Deborah Jewell-Sherman was superintendent of Richmond Public Schools (RPS), and Dr. Yvonne Brandon was the assistant superintendent. Vickie recognizes them as outstanding mentors, and together, they created a well-developed instructional program for RPS. They charted the course to help RPS become accredited by monitoring and supporting schools in the district.
During this time, Dr. Sherman, Dr. Brandon, and Vickie met President of UI, Jim Popp. RPS became UI’s very first school district partner in 1998, and together the RPS team and Jim worked to place tutors in almost every RPS elementary school.
“It was a true partnership, that now has continued for twenty years,” says Vickie. “Sometimes, people believe that outside entities just come in and provide a service. What’s unique about UI is the team listens to their clients. It was extremely beneficial to us, and even our schools that were higher performing received tutors to support.”
Vickie, along with the team of specialists and lead teachers, created and implemented the curriculum for the district by training teachers and principals on how to monitor the curriculum for academic success. Although the position was not hands-on like her past positions of reading specialist and teacher, Vickie says a director of instruction must be organized to have a vision and implement a plan in forty-plus schools district-wide. Her instructional team traveled to different schools every week, monitoring the instruction, and working with teachers and principals. Vickie says listening skills were key to her team because she was no longer in the classroom on a day to day basis.
“In my role of director of instruction, and later chief academic officer, it was important to listen to the principals and teachers because they were there every day, hands-on, seeing the curriculum being implemented in the trenches. They helped me know if something wasn’t working or needed to be changed.”
She also notes that her philosophy was to engage, train, and support principals because they then run their schools accordingly. It was necessary to have a very detailed process since each school must work within the infrastructure of the district.
Dr. Sherman left RPS in the mid-2000s to take on a position at Harvard University, resulting in Dr. Brandon becoming the superintendent and Vickie becoming the chief academic offer (CAO). As the CAO, she oversaw the various directors and executive directors of instruction, professional development, special education, and elementary education and secondary education, as well as grants, testing, and partnerships. Vickie says she had a wonderful team that worked in collaboration to develop instructional programs for schools. She worked with her team to ensure the instruction was aligned to the state standards and implemented with fidelity. Together, they trained and supported teachers, executed the state-wide testing program, and organized federal and state grant money to support schools.
She found it was also important to incorporate the support schools were receiving through different avenues, such as outside partners and agencies, into their overall plan. For example, RPS had large partnerships with local churches, so churches members would read to students, work with them on math, and help beautify the buildings.
Vickie retired from RPS in 2015, leaving to work part-time for the Virginia Department of Education and the Office of School Improvement. In this role, she provided help to schools that needed assistance with receiving federal and state accreditation. She briefly returned to RPS as the interim CAO for solely the 2017-2018 school year, wanting to help the district with her experience.
A year ago, in July of 2018, Vickie reconnected with Jim. After talking with him about opportunities and meeting with Vice President of UI, Tamu Thomas Walker, along with two leaders of the EdForce team, Josh Ellis and Andrew Feller, she decided to join the EdForce team as a program manager. In her role, she conducts leadership coaching for induction programs, assists with test prep programs, and finds instructors for schools in need of instructional coaching. She assists Josh and Andrew to create strategic plans and processes for the various areas under EdForce, putting the systems in place to make all three of those entities run appropriately.
“I enjoy working with the EdForce team. They are very open, and they’re excited, as they should be.” Vickie continues, “They’ve done a good job developing a unique product that can be used in the K-12 arena. It’s fun for me and exciting to provide expertise, but it’s also great to work with a team of very innovative thinkers and individuals that are really trying to make a difference in K-12.”
Last school year, her newest position came full circle as RPS staff needed instructional coaches, and Vickie worked to place several coaches in schools to support teachers in implementing the instructional process.
UI would like to thank Vickie Oakley for her thirty-two-year career in K-12 education, dedicated to serving students. We are overjoyed that she can bring her years of expertise to help the team.