Victoria S. Oakley, former RPS educator, dies at age 63

Jeremy M. Lazarus | 1/18/2024, 6 p.m.
Victoria Stender “Vickie” Oakley, a former principal and instructional leader for Richmond Public Schools, has died.
Ms. Oakley

Victoria Stender “Vickie” Oakley, a former principal and instructional leader for Richmond Public Schools, has died.

Ms. Oakley, 63, succumbed to the breast cancer she had fought for 16 years on Monday, Jan. 8, her family said.

During her nearly 24-year career with Richmond, she led such schools as Robert E. Lee Elementary and Ginter Park Elementary. She went on to become director of instruction and later served as chief academic officer.

Most recently, she was best known for her service as board chair of Dancing Classrooms Richmond, a program that promotes student development through ballroom dance, and as a senior adviser and program manager for University Instructors, a tutoring operation that includes RPS among its clients.

A Baltimore native who grew up in Alexandria, Ms. Oakley said her passion for education was fueled by the learning challenges she faced.

Ms. Oakley had dyslexia, and she told an interviewer that the work she put in to overcome her learning disorder “really pushed me to be a teacher and to work in an urban environment.

“I wanted to help children who didn’t have the same opportunities that I had to compensate for my learning disability,” she said.

A graduate of the University of Richmond, Ms. Oakley began her career in 1982 as a sixth-grade teacher in Emporia.

She became a remedial Title I teacher and then moved on to Richmond where she secured her master’s degree in education from Virginia Commonwealth University and joined the RPS faculty.

In 1991, she began her climb into the administrative ranks, first as assistant principal at Swansboro Elementary School and then as principal at Robert E. Lee and Ginter Park elementary schools.

Superintendent Deborah Jewell-Sherman tapped her to be director of instruction in 2004, the next superintendent, Dr. Yvonne Brandon, promoted her to chief academic officer in 2009.

Five years later, Ms. Oakley joined the Office of School Improvement at the state Department of Education where she coached principals and monitored turn-around efforts in struggling school districts.

Ms. Oakley also served nearly nine years as a lead school accreditation evaluator for AdvancED, now Cognia.

Along with working with University Instructors, Ms. Oakley embraced the work that Dancing Classrooms undertakes to teach life skills to students in fifth and eighth grades — along with the tango, waltz, polka, swing and other ballroom dances to students in the 5th to 8th grades.

“It instills a sense of joy and accomplishment, but also respect, teamwork and confidence,” Ms. Oakley said in a 2020 Personality feature in the Richmond Free Press.

The program she oversaw as a board member currently serves 23 Richmond-area schools, including 17 in the city.

She also was a past president and active member of the Virginia State Literacy Association.

Along with her husband, Bob Oakley, Ms. Oakley is survived by a sister, Margaret Stender of Chicago.

The family requests that memorial donations be made to Dancing Classrooms Richmond, the VCU Department of Edu- cation or any organization that encourages and supports reading.

Plans are still being made for a memorial service, the family said.