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Arkansas governor-elect names Jacob Oliva of Florida to education post

Gov.-elect Sarah Huckabee Sanders on Thursday announced her Education Secretary pick, Jacob Oliva of Florida.
Roby Brock
Talk Business & Politics
Gov.-elect Sarah Huckabee Sanders on Thursday announced her Education Secretary pick, Jacob Oliva of Florida.

Arkansas Governor-elect Sarah Sanders announced Thursday she would nominate Jacob Oliva of Florida as Arkansas’ next Secretary of Education. He will replace Johnny Key, the current education secretary.

Oliva is the senior chancellor for the Florida Department of Education and was a former teacher, principal, and superintendent in Flagler County, Fla., where he was hailed as a progressive and innovate educator and helped improve the district’s student achievement rankings.

“Education is the foundation for success, and, with my nominee for Secretary of Education and Commissioner of Elementary and Secondary Education, Jacob Oliva, we are ready to transform Arkansas education with bold reforms that will empower every kid to succeed,” Sanders said. “Jacob’s proven success increasing student achievement and his experience serving in many educational roles will make him an asset to my administration. Through my Arkansas LEARNS plan, we will expand access to quality education for every kid growing up in our state, empower parents, not government bureaucrats, and prepare students for the workforce, not government dependency, so everyone has a shot at a better life right here in Arkansas.”

He said he shared Sanders’ vision for empowering parents, expanding school choices, increasing reading proficiency, and improving teacher pay. Sanders issued an education platform called LEARNS late in the 2022 campaign.

“We’re not going to stop until we reach the highest objectives in this space,” Sanders said at a press conference to introduce Oliva.

Oliva began his career as an elementary teacher for students with special needs in Flagler County. He would work as a principal at the elementary and high school level, and as an assistant superintendent and superintendent of Flagler County Schools.

“Governor-elect Sanders has the right vision to unleash Arkansas education, and I’m excited to get to work on day one to enact it,” Oliva said. “Education is the key to the future, creating opportunity for all, which is why I’ve spent my career implementing successful early learning programs, empowering parents with choices, and investing in career readiness. I am ready to continue that work here in Arkansas and look forward to working with Governor-elect Sanders to build a bright future for our students.”

In response to reporters’ questions, Sanders and Oliva said there will be legislation developed to “empower parents” and put “power back” into their hands. He described himself as a proponent of “local control” related to school decisions, but with well-defined state guidelines for achievement.

Oliva has been in the middle of controversial Florida education debates over school policies dealing with LGBTQ and racial issues. From his Florida post, he has issued guidelines to school districts on how to deal with that state’s so-called “Don’t Say Gay” and “Stop WOKE” laws.

The “Don’t Say Gay” law, a term used by critics of the bill, is actually part of a parental rights measure that states “classroom instruction by school personnel or third parties on sexual orientation or gender identity may not occur in kindergarten through grade 3 or in a manner that is not age-appropriate or developmentally appropriate for students in accordance with state standards.”

The “Stop WOKE” law, part of Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’ Individual Freedom Act passed earlier this year, expands that state’s anti-discrimination laws to prohibit schools and companies from leveling guilt or blame to students and employees based on race or sex. It also takes aim at lessons over issues like “white privilege” and prohibits instruction of students to “feel guilt, anguish, or any other form of psychological distress” due to their race, color, sex or national origin, according to news reports. It is being challenged in federal court.

Sanders and Oliva spent time at the press conference discussing teacher pay and reading proficiency. Sanders said she hoped to work with legislators for teacher salary improvements that will “reward good, hardworking teachers.” Oliva said the state would need to focus more resources on reading programs, especially with kindergarten through 3rd grade students to improve their proficiency.

Roby Brock is the Editor-in-Chief and Host of Talk Business & Politics.