When Cecilia Oakeley, deputy chief of Evaluation and Assessment, received her doctorate in educational research in the 1980s, there were few women practicing in the field and even fewer who were also ethnic minorities. When she was promoted to head the department in 2005 not many women were in charge, especially in districts as large as Dallas ISD.
“When I was getting my Ph.D., there were very few women, so I felt like I was breaking ground, and even more so when I started getting leadership roles,” Oakeley said. “I am glad to see that we now make more of an emphasis on girls getting into math and science, and that there are many more women in the field of educational research now. It’s gratifying to have seen the future being forged when I first started.”
Women’s History Month is celebrated annually in March to recognize and celebrate the countless roles women play in history and society, including those of trailblazers like Oakleley.
Since she joined Dallas ISD 40 years ago, Oakeley has witnessed history being made and many of the district’s accomplishments under 15 superintendents.
Oakeley’s team manages local and state assessments for the district, evaluates district programs, tracks campus data, tracks student growth measures in several areas, manages changes in accountability, reports data to agencies, ensures compliance, provides key information for school board presentations and much more. She and her team led the design of the district’s Teacher Excellence Initiative, the first of its kind in Texas when it was first approved by the Board of Trustees. Since then, the district has adopted performance evaluations based on that model for principals, assistant principals and some district departments.
Some of her more personal standout memories in Dallas ISD include meeting her husband, a retired analyst from the district’s Information Technology department, and seeing her two children graduate from Dallas ISD’s School for the Talented and Gifted at Yvonne A. Ewell Townview Center.
In addition to her work in the district, Oakeley has been a leader by serving as a policy council member for the National Center for Analysis of Longitudinal Data in Education Research (CALDER) and as a council advisory member for the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), also known as the Nation’s Report Card.
What accomplishments are you proudest of?
“One accomplishment during my time was incorporating our own value-added model into the achievement component of the Principal and Teacher Excellence Initiatives (PEI/TEI). Both were highly regarded accomplishments that ultimately affect our students.
“Another proud moment was the evolution of my team forecasting online testing—before the pandemic struck. Because of this initiative, we were able to transition smoothly during the pandemic by anticipating the constant challenges. My team has expertise that allows flexibility and growth.”
What advice or words of encouragement would you give your younger self or someone following in your footsteps?
“Be curious, keep learning and be passionate in your area of expertise because the educational system is constantly evolving. Understanding leadership methods will be an advantage as every day brings new opportunities and challenges, and leadership qualities allow for smoother transitions. Be flexible as leadership and district policies change and learn to pivot and embrace each day with excitement. Finally, make sure you are taking care of your physical and mental health so you can continue doing this for 40 years.”
What helps you persevere during hard moments?
“Being connected with my team and colleagues by working toward a common goal enables me to persevere during challenging times.”
What drew you to the field of education?
“I love my job! I enjoy the work I do, my colleagues, constantly learning and ensuring Dallas ISD achieves high goals.”
What is a favorite memory at Dallas ISD?
“Being part of the court-ordered desegregation where I participated in providing district reports to the court and finally going to court to show that the district was no longer segregated. I was in the courtroom of Judge Barefoot Sanders! Just being part of that whole court case was very exciting and impactful, and it really helped the district to no longer be under a court order.”
In your 40 years in the district, what change has impacted you the most?
“Women in leadership positions were once limited when I began working with Dallas ISD. I am proud of all the district women and diverse leaders who reflect the communities we serve.”