Photograph by Gordon Schmidt

Given her long career in education, it might come as a surprise that Victoria Oakley, W’82, experienced some difficulties as a student.

“Having dyslexia really pushed me to be a teacher and to work in an urban environment,” Oakley said. “I wanted to help children who didn’t have the same opportunities that I had to compensate for my learning disability.”

Growing up in Northern Virginia, she attended an all-girls prep school and received additional help with her learning disability in preparation for college. At Richmond, Oakley persevered in an atmosphere in which professors and fellow students were supportive — for example, friends of her sister, Margaret Stender, W’78, helped proofread her papers.

“Because of my dyslexia, college was a little bit of a challenge,” Oakley said. “I appreciate the fact that at that time, [the university was] willing to take young adults that had some differences. It shaped my career.”

An elementary education major, Oakley started her long tenure with Richmond Public Schools a few years after graduation. Oakley worked at elementary schools in some of the city’s most underprivileged communities and quickly moved up the ranks, becoming a principal by her early 30s.

Oakley specialized in changing the climate of the schools and leading significant improvement in academic performance. She was later tapped to be the the director of instruction for the entire district. In that role, she helped the school system attain full accreditation, then served as the district’s assistant superintendent and chief academic officer prior to her 2015 retirement.

“Sometimes you find your niche, and teaching was my niche,” said Oakley, who still works as a part-time educational consultant. “Education is my niche.”