Stacey Oakley: Ecosystem Builder in Action

By: Sunnie Dawn Baker

If you are in the Ada area and don’t know Stacey Oakley, chances are high that you know somebody who does. Though Oakley has been a part of both the Ada and Latta school systems, she is an institution unto herself, leaving a mark everywhere she goes and enhancing the lives of everyone she meets. As an educator of 38 years, Oakley has had a lasting impact on the community. While she has made many contributions, perhaps most significant is her emphasis on entrepreneurship within her classes and extracurricular activities.

One of the reasons entrepreneurship is so important to Oakley is because she is an entrepreneur. She has two businesses that she has run over the past 38 years: Oakley Aquatics and Oakley Photography and Video Services. Oakley Aquatics, while a business, also provides an important community service, teaching American Red Cross Programs including Water Safety Instructors, Lifeguards, Learn to Swim Program, CPR, and First Aid. Her time working with this program has enriched her life as well as the community and connected her with generations of Ada residents. Oakley Photography and Video Services gives her a chance to use her own creative skills, though her experience with this business also served to change the programs and opportunities at two local school districts.

Oakley began her tenure at Ada High School in 1985 and stayed there for 15 years. She taught Mass Communications and Speech and Debate and eventually added a Sports and Entertainment Marketing program, Mock Trial, and Cougar News Network. The Public Relations Marketing program at Ada was the first in the United States. The marketing program fit in perfectly with her goals; she wanted to give her students marketable skills they could use in the future. Her own business experience in the field of photography and videography helped her create this program and enrich the lives of her students with real world practical experience. As a part of this program, she even had students building computers and creating banks of images that could be used for their marketing projects. Her passion for providing her students with practical experiences led her join Susie Overturf as a second teacher in the DECA program at Ada High School in 1997.

DECA (Distributive Education Clubs of America) originally focused on students getting jobs while they were in high school. Over time, though, it has become so much more. It has evolved into a marketing and management association that is also focused on entrepreneurship. While the DECA chapter in Ada originally began in the 1960s, Oakley had the chance to grow the program, providing the students with more opportunities to develop the skills of marketing and management while also encouraging them to develop an entrepreneurial mindset.

DECA was so important to Oakley that when she was asked to teach at Latta she continually said no because they didn’t have a DECA program. Eventually, she asked the superintendent if she would be allowed to start a program at Latta and he agreed. So, in 2000, Oakley switched from Ada to the Latta school district and built their DECA program. For Oakley, this was an opportunity to grow a program she was passionate about throughout the region.

When Oakley came to Latta she brought her wealth of experience with marketing and public relations to their program. After she started the DECA chapter, it wasn’t long until her students were running the multimedia for the state DECA conference. They would take care of all of it—the camera work, production, editing, everything. From that experience she had students learn how to host events and work with multimedia technology, skills that they took with them after graduation and were able to use in significant and marketable ways.

One of the things that Oakley loves so much about her work is getting to see her students expand their views of future possibilities. DECA fits into this because it is so career focused. In her chapter, the students have the opportunity to run a school store, but they also work with career development projects, career awareness, community giving, financial literary, business plans, and innovation plans. Many of these skills that they learn are then demonstrated by presentations at competitions. They present their ideas at the Tiger Tank competition at East Central University and at other pitch competitions in the state. This year, she has 30 students going to the International DECA competition in Orlando, Florida, though she has had students go to the international competition every year since she has been at Latta.

Oakley’s extensive experiences in the area, working with two school districts as well as the community, position her perfectly to be a true ecosystem builder. She is always thinking of ways that she can make connections—for her students but also for all those that she knows. She doesn’t care about the various silos in the community, she just wants the community to work together to make everyone’s lives better. Encouraging entrepreneurship in her students is one significant way that she accomplishes this goal. She encourages her DECA students to work with the younger students, teaching them skills, but also encouraging them to see themselves as role models, while also making connections in the community for the same students, establishing a chain of mentorship.

For Oakley, it is important to encourage the entrepreneurial spirit in her students from the earliest opportunity. She says, “Entrepreneurs are risk takers—people with a dream and ready to take action. They will try and try again. It might not happen the first time, but it might happen the 37th time. The important thing is to try and take the risk.” In 2019, Oakley won the “Game Changer in Education” award for everything she does in education but also the community at large. She isn’t afraid to take risks and try new things and because of this, the title of the award is apt; Oakley most definitely works to change the game. She is more than just an educator; Oakley is a connector, an investor in the lives of her students past and present, and an ecosystem builder in action.

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