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Oliva selected as new K-12 education commissioner

By: - January 12, 2023 6:58 pm
Arkansas Secretary of Education nominee Jacob Oliva

Jacob Oliva (Photo courtesy of the Florida Department of Education)

The State Board of Education unanimously elected Arkansas’ new education secretary as the Arkansas Department of Education’s Division of Elementary and Secondary Education commissioner on Thursday.

The board unanimously selected Jacob Oliva following an executive session at its regularly scheduled meeting. 

“I am honored to receive the board’s approval today, and I look forward to working alongside the board and the division team to implement best educational practices that will ensure all students across the Natural State receive the high-quality education and supports they need to thrive,” Oliva said in a statement.

The Miami native comes to Arkansas from Florida where he worked at the Flagler County School District for 17 years, serving as a special education teacher, principal and superintendent

In 2017, Oliva moved to Florida’s Department of Education where he was senior chancellor when Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders nominated him for Arkansas Secretary of Education. The Arkansas Senate confirmed Oliva’s nomination on Wednesday. 

“Mr. Oliva’s experience as a teacher, administrator and department leader is quite impressive,” state board chair Ouida Newton said in a statement. “His dedication to student learning is evident in his leadership and efforts to implement successful programs and initiatives that support learning. I am confident that the students and educators of Arkansas will benefit from his expertise, and we look forward to working with him.”

Sanders said she wants to become the “education governor” during her inauguration speech on Tuesday. Two of the eight executive orders issued by Sanders during her first two days in office address education.

One prohibits the “indoctrination” of public school students with ideologies like critical race theory. Critical race theory is typically not taught in K-12 schools in Arkansas, and is reserved mostly for graduate-level college coursework.

The second executive order covers a variety of issues including literacy, school choice and early childhood education. It is “a comprehensive approach [to] education that we want to parallel” with a single bill that will encompass these issues and teacher pay, Sanders said at Wednesday’s signing ceremony.

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Oliva attended the House education committee’s meeting on Thursday and told lawmakers, “We’re acting with urgency.”

“What that executive order did, which gets me really excited, is it set the vision for how we’re going to improve learning,” Oliva said. “It’s the roadmap, it’s the blueprint, it’s the foundation that we’re going to build on, and it tasks the agency to do a lot of work in a short amount of time.”

Oliva has also met with the Senate education committee and the Arkansas Association of Educational Administrators this week.

At Thursday’s House education committee meeting, he emphasized the importance of a collaborative relationship.

“We’re accessible. We want to be a thought partner,” Oliva said. “I’m not going to tell you I have all the answers, but the answers are in this room. There’s a lot of experts here and there’s no challenge that we can’t solve if we’re not doing it together.” 

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Antoinette Grajeda
Antoinette Grajeda

Antoinette Grajeda is a multimedia journalist who has reported since 2007 on a wide range of topics, including politics, health, education, immigration and the arts for NPR affiliates, print publications and digital platforms. A University of Arkansas alumna, she earned a bachelor’s degree in print journalism and a master’s degree in documentary film.

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