GUILFORD COUNTY — The best candidate to run the Guilford County Schools is a woman who has been either a student, teacher or administrator in the school system most of her life, school officials announced Wednesday.
Acting Superintendent Whitney Oakley has accepted an offer to be the next superintendent of Guilford County Schools, the Guilford County Board of Education said at a specially called meeting. She is the first Guilford County native to lead GCS since it was formed in 1993.
School board chair Deena Hayes-Green called Oakley “a collaborative leader who’s deeply invested in the success of our community.”
Oakley spoke about growing up in Guilford County and her first day of school when she was almost 5.
“I know today is not the first day of school, but in some ways it does feel like my first day — a new beginning,” she said.
She also talked about the challenges ahead, particularly building the schools of the future with the $1.7 billion in bond money that voters approved in May. She said she plans a series of “community conversations” to gather input on what people want to see in their schools.
“We will be good stewards of the precious resources you have entrusted to us. I promise,” she said.
Oakley had been acting superintendent since the departure of Sharon Contreras after the end of the 2021-22 academic year. Contreras announced in January that she would step down to start work in August as CEO of The Innovation Project, a Raleigh-based educational nonprofit.
What was described as a national search for Contreras’ successor officially began in July, and a representative of search firm Summit Search Solutions told the school board in a late-July meeting that there were about a dozen top-tier candidates. Since then the board has held several closed meetings on the subject, most recently this past Sunday.
A Greensboro native, Oakley attended Guilford County Schools from kindergarten through high school. She started her career as a teacher at Frazier Elementary in Guilford County before serving as an assistant principal and principal in the Alamance-Burlington School System.
In 2012, Oakley returned to GCS in an administrative position, and in 2019 she was named the chief academic officer. She was appointed deputy superintendent in September 2021.
After the COVID-19 pandemic prompted schools to switch to remote learning, Oakley led GCS’s 164-member re-entry task force of parents, teachers, staff and other community members to form a plan for safely reopening schools. The plan was replicated by districts across the country and won top awards from the North Carolina and National School Public Relations Associations.
Additionally, Oakley has been instrumental in designing the new schools as part of the $300 million school bond package approved in 2020, launching nationally recognized learning hubs and one-on-one tutoring programs to accelerate learning after schools reopened, and strengthening professional development opportunities for principals and teachers.
Oakley has received numerous awards, including the Piedmont Triad/Central Region Principal of the Year.
She holds a bachelor’s degree in special education from East Carolina University, a master’s degree in elementary education from Greensboro College and a doctoral degree in educational leadership from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro.
RANDOLPH COUNTY — Toyota Motor Corp. announced Wednesday an additional $2.5 billion investment and plans for 350 more jobs at its electric car battery manufacturing factory under construction at the Greensboro-Randolph Megasite, further bolstering a project that’s already one of the largest-single economic developments in North Carolina history.
The announcement brings the total planned investment to $3.8 billion and potential job creation to 2,100 workers, Norm Bafunno, senior vice president of unit manufacturing and engineering at Toyota Motor North America, said in a press release.
“This marks another significant milestone for our company,” Bafunno said. “This plant will serve a central role in Toyota’s leadership toward a fully electrified future and will help us meet our goal of carbon neutrality in our vehicles and global operations by 2035.”
Production at the megasite in northeastern Randolph County is scheduled to begin in 2025.
Toyota North Carolina has begun hiring and is taking applications through the website www.toyota.com/careers. Production and maintenance employee positions will be available in early 2023, company officials say.
In December, Toyota announced plans for the electric car battery manufacturing operation. The company at the time pledged to create initially at least 1,750 jobs and said the operation could grow to a $3 billion investment and 3,875 jobs.
The project near the town of Liberty received $338 million in incentives for site and road improvements and other purposes for the Toyota project.
The N.C. General Assembly hinted at a possible expansion beyond what was initially announced, though, through a provision in the state budget that was adopted in July to set aside $225 million in economic incentives for a major project in Randolph County. It didn’t specifically mention Toyota or the Greensboro-Randolph Megasite.
As with previously announced incentives, the new incentives in that budget provision would be contingent on meeting investment and job benchmarks.
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HIGH POINT — The proprietor of an ice cream parlor franchise in High Point says an opening date for his new location is in sight after lengthy delays.
Emad Ali, owner of the Cold Stone Creamery at 2010 N. Main St., said he hopes to begin serving customers by late September.
Renovations to the space — a former Wendy’s that also includes a Jimmy John’s sandwich restaurant — started last year but have been beset by supply-chain delays, Ali said.
These, along with a worker shortage, have been problems “every single day,” he said. “It’s been really terrible. Nobody wants to work an everyday job anymore. A lot of people have that mentality. It’s affecting every business, not just us.”
Ali said preparations to the space are almost complete and awaiting final inspections.
He said it’s taken four or five months longer than normal to obtain needed materials like tiles and paint for the new shop.
“With everything, you have to wait and wait, and of course, you’re paying more for everything,” said Ali, who is also the longtime owner of the other Cold Stone Creamery location in High Point, on John Gordon Lane next to Starbucks at the Palladium shopping center.
Ali subleases the Cold Stone Creamery space from Jimmy John’s, which opened last year. “They’re actively exercising their lease,” said Rick Vaughn with Price Realtors in High Point, who represents the owners of the property, who are the operators of the adjacent University Kitchen restaurant.
The Cold Stone Creamery will have seating inside and a walk-up window, but not a drive-thru. Vaughn said the model is similar to Bruster’s Ice Cream, which operated a location for years across N. Main Street.
“Bruster’s didn’t have a drive-thru either, and did very well,” he said.
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