Guilford native chosen to run schools

·3 min read

Aug. 31—GUILFORD COUNTY — The best candidate to run the Guilford County Schools is a woman who has been either a student, teacher or administrator in the school system most of her life, school officials announced Wednesday.

Acting Superintendent Whitney Oakley has accepted an offer to be the next superintendent of Guilford County Schools, the Guilford County Board of Education said at a specially called meeting. She is the first Guilford County native to lead GCS since it was formed in 1993.

School board chair Deena Hayes-Green called Oakley "a collaborative leader who's deeply invested in the success of our community."

Oakley spoke about growing up in Guilford County and her first day of school when she was almost 5.

"I know today is not the first day of school, but in some ways it does feel like my first day — a new beginning," she said.

She also talked about the challenges ahead, particularly building the schools of the future with the $1.7 billion in bond money that voters approved in May. She said she plans a series of "community conversations" to gather input on what people want to see in their schools.

"We will be good stewards of the precious resources you have entrusted to us. I promise," she said.

Oakley had been acting superintendent since the departure of Sharon Contreras after the end of the 2021-22 academic year. Contreras announced in January that she would step down to start work in August as CEO of The Innovation Project, a Raleigh-based educational nonprofit.

What was described as a national search for Contreras' successor officially began in July, and a representative of search firm Summit Search Solutions told the school board in a late-July meeting that there were about a dozen top-tier candidates. Since then the board has held several closed meetings on the subject, most recently this past Sunday.

A Greensboro native, Oakley attended Guilford County Schools from kindergarten through high school. She started her career as a teacher at Frazier Elementary in Guilford County before serving as an assistant principal and principal in the Alamance-Burlington School System.

In 2012, Oakley returned to GCS in an administrative position, and in 2019 she was named the chief academic officer. She was appointed deputy superintendent in September 2021.

After the COVID-19 pandemic prompted schools to switch to remote learning, Oakley led GCS's 164-member re-entry task force of parents, teachers, staff and other community members to form a plan for safely reopening schools. The plan was replicated by districts across the country and won top awards from the North Carolina and National School Public Relations Associations.

Additionally, Oakley has been instrumental in designing the new schools as part of the $300 million school bond package approved in 2020, launching nationally recognized learning hubs and one-on-one tutoring programs to accelerate learning after schools reopened, and strengthening professional development opportunities for principals and teachers.

Oakley has received numerous awards, including the Piedmont Triad/Central Region Principal of the Year.

She holds a bachelor's degree in special education from East Carolina University, a master's degree in elementary education from Greensboro College and a doctoral degree in educational leadership from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro.