New faces of the SBE: Olivia Oxendine

New faces of the SBE: Olivia Oxendine

- in Education


NC Policy Watch is talking with nominees for the State Board of Education to give our readers a sense of their backgrounds and philosophies on education policy in the state of North Carolina.

The three open slots on the State Board of Education were slated to be filled under Governor Perdue back in 2011. Her nominees were ignored by state lawmakers until the end of her term, and the nominees we had in January were Governor McCrory’s picks. Three additional slots, also nominated by Gov. McCrory, have now opened up in late March.

Name: Olivia Oxendine

Occupation: Assistant Professor, Department of School Administration and Counseling, School of Education, UNC Pembroke. Teaches aspiring school principals.

Education and training: All of her background is in education. Received her BA from UNC Pembroke, MA from Appalachian State in school counseling, and PhD in educational leadership and cultural foundations from UNC Greensboro.

Oxendine began her career as an English teacher in 1970, the first year of court-ordered school integration. She lived in Chicago for a few years, where she became director of a Native American support program at the University of Illinois-Chicago. In that capacity she worked with Native American students from 50 different tribes who migrated to Chicago. After moving back east to South Carolina, Oxendine moved into central office administration and served as a director of language arts and as an assistant principal of a primary school. In 1987 she moved back to North Carolina and served as principal of a middle school in Moore County. She then served as a regional consultant for dropout prevention at the Department of Public Instruction from 1990 to 1996, earned her PhD in 2005 and became a faculty member at UNC Pembroke.

Current residence: Lumberton, NC

From: Lumberton, NC. Oxendine is a descendant of the Lumbees, a Native American tribe from Robeseon County. Growing up, she also lived for a period of time in Michigan.

Family: Married to Gervais Oxendine. Has two sons: Eric, a commander in the navy who lives with his family in Fredericksburg, VA; and a younger son named Brock, who is married and lives in the Lumberton area.

Hobbies: Enjoys reading historical novels, and taking on research projects that are a slight deviation from her educational specialty. Recently she completed an oral history project on Lumbee teachers who taught during segregation.

Oxendine also enjoys racquetball and tennis with her grandsons. She recently took part in Dancing with the Stars with United Way of Robeson County, which raised $180,000 to purchase books for children ages 1-6 in Robeson County.

Why she is interested in serving on the State Board of Education: Been in education for 4+ decades, during those years has had very rich opportunities to learn about education inside-out. At the stage in her career whereby she can step into this new role and bring rich insights to policies, initiatives and the whole agenda of school reform. Looking forward to making a difference.

What do you see are the major issues facing public education this year? “I would say the challenge is putting our full weight in terms of leading, teaching, financing and supporting school reform in North Carolina. We give the topic of school reform a lot of lip service and research studies, but now is the time. Society is demanding that we put meaning and action into the words of school reform.”

Part of my responsibility is to help sell the concept of school reform across the state. Educating the public about what it means to reform schools, what is the role of the parent or a classroom teacher or a school board member. Not necessarily my role to shape reform, but to help the public understand there is no need to be afraid of reform. The maze of reform is doable and very necessary.”

What is your position on:

  • Online virtual charter schools: “I am a believer in innovation and change. We have to look at whether it’s online, vouchers, or charters and we have to think about those initiatives within the broad context of school reform, and what are the best ways to bring about reform. Online virtual charter schools are just one option. It really depends on needs of students, wishes of parents, the availability of resources to establish infrastructure, monitor implementation, and develop curriculum.”
  • Vouchers and education tax credits: “I would say ditto to my previous comments. My position going forward is this – we have to set aside vouchers vs. charters vs. traditional public schools and focus on one single element, which is a child, adolescent, college student, and ask ourselves as taxpayers/policymakers/newspaper reporters – what is best for that child? It could be a voucher model, a charter school, or one outstanding principal who is innovative. It’s not so much about my position on vouchers, it’s my philosophy on what is the very best model that we can conceive of and finance. But I am a full supporter of reform in North Carolina.
  • Current funding for public schools: “I do know that North Carolina is lagging behind other states in per pupil spending. We need to do better to do better on that front in order to push forward school reform. We need to put this in the bigger picture of school reform. Changing the formula of how we pay for education has to be part of the school reform movement.”
  • Merit pay for teachers: “I believe that we should reward excellence. How we go about doing that – we will have to roll up our sleeves and figure it out. What do we mean by outstanding performance? Mediocre performance? Weak performance? We do merit pay when we give school superintendents bonuses at the end of the year. That’s based on merit. I see this as a challenge that is nothing but exciting. Human nature is driven by a little bit of competition and self-improvement.”
  • A-F grading system for schools: “I’ll have to dig into that a little deeper. Probably tied to the theory of accountability and aiming for excellence at the school level. I think that whatever system is in place that is going to cause a group of teachers and a principal to reflect on the collective performance of the professional staff to do a better job for kids, I’m in favor of.”

How do you describe your politics? “I am a backer of the Governor’s proposal for education. I was given birth by my mother as a conservative.”

Something about you most people don’t know: “I’m writing a book, and I do a chapter once per week. The book is named after a highway near my home – the title is ‘Local Traffic | Highway 301’ and it’s about my life experiences in Robeson County.”

About the author

Lindsay Wagner, former Education Reporter for N.C. Policy Watch. Wagner now works as a Senior Writer and Researcher at the NC Public School Forum. She has also worked for the American Federation of Teachers in Washington, D.C., as a writer and researcher focusing on higher education issues and for the National Education Association, the U.S. Department of State's Fulbright program and the Brookings Institution and an Education Specialist at the A.J. Fletcher Foundation.
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