New Oak Hill principal says school's size comes with benefits, challenges
Brian Oliver isn’t new to the Caldwell County Schools, but he has been away for a while.
Oliver was principal at Hibriten High School from August 2010 to July 2012, when he was called into active duty in the Marine Corps Reserves.
Now he’s back as the principal at Oak Hill School, the fifth school where he has served as principal – the second K-8 school and the third elementary school. He replaces Dr. Phyllis Blair, who was Oak Hill’s principal for 10 years and will now serve as the district’s director of grants and the academically or intellectually gifted program.
“I’m here to serve three different groups of people,” Oliver said. “Number one, the students, and the teachers, parents and community. It’s important that I treat all of them with the respect they deserve.”
Oliver said Oak Hill School is anchored in a supportive community, which provides a nurturing environment for students.
“It’s very clear that Oak Hill is a family,” he said. “The Oak Hill School community and the Oak Hill community are very tight-knit.”
Oak Hill’s small size also keeps the student-to-teacher ratio low, at about one teacher for every 15 students – another strength for the school, Oliver said.
Still, Oliver said he would like to see enrollment – which has been dropping at the K-8 school for several years – go up. As the result of both lower enrollment and budget cuts from the state legislature, the school’s staff is smaller this year, down to eight classroom teachers from 10 the year before.
“A smaller school feels it especially, because you’re already small,” Oliver said. “When you had 10 classroom teachers and now you have eight, that’s tough. You just have to be creative with your staff and try to marry the staff that you have with student needs.”
In the coming school year, Oak Hill parents can expect two major changes, Oliver said. First, there will be three new faces: Oliver, school psychologist Katy Bagnato and instructional facilitator Tara Tucker.
And the school will join the district’s Wraparound program, which provides in-school child care before and after the school day begins.
Oliver holds a bachelor's degree in business administration from Appalachian State and a master's in educational leadership from Troy University in Troy, Ala. He has worked in public education since 1996, for the Burke County Schools and Watauga County Schools in addition to Caldwell, and holds the rank of colonel in the Marine Corps Reserve.