Head Start Inspires Alum to Become Superintendent, Advocate for Educational Equity

To celebrate Head Start Awareness Month this October, NHSA is catching up with Head Start alumni who are doing amazing work in their fields.

Tyrone Olverson has built an impressive career in the world of public education. His professional journey has taken him down a winding path from a middle school social studies classroom, to the principal’s office of Lincoln Heights Elementary, where he was once a student, and up through many high-level administrative roles in Ohio’s schools. All the while he has brought with him the belief that every child should have the opportunity to succeed and the drive to make it so.

Olverson shared with us that his early days at Head Start set the foundation for those values, for his career, and for his desire to leave a legacy in education.

The Head Start experience that started it all

One day this past summer, Tyrone Olverson stumbled upon NHSA’s office. He was in the neighborhood attending a meeting for school superintendents, and he noticed the “National Head Start Association” sign on our building. Being a Head Start alumnus himself — and a curious and ever-eager learner — he came inside to share his story and hear about ours.

“I am thankful to be able to say that I am a proud product of the Cincinnati Community Action (CAA) Head Start program from the early 1970’s. The Head Start program was a blessing to me and many from the Village of Lincoln Heights, Ohio,” Olverson said. “Head Start really was a head start for many in my community, the only all-black community east of the Mississippi River, who needed the additional support in leveling the academic playing field.”

Olverson thinks so highly of his Head Start experience that he often compares it to a private school program. Like early childhood experiences that come at a much greater cost to families, it was an opportunity only some in his community were afforded, and it was an environment where he felt everyone knew his name and cared about him as an individual.

Olverson credits his beloved Head Start teachers, Ms. Shelton and Ms. Eleanor Simpson, with instilling values in him that he believes set him up for success in his elementary school years and beyond. He recalls learning the “invaluable soft skills” he needed in the classroom, things like the ability to share with others, to be caring, to have empathy for the people around him. He remembers feeling a sense of responsibility, gained by learning life skills like teeth brushing, cleaning up the classroom kitchen, and sitting still during circle time. Olverson explained:

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“Especially growing up in an impoverished community, where maybe the individuals there couldn’t always model some of those skills we needed to learn, the Head Start program was able to give us that.”

And the learning and support did not end when Olverson and his sister left the classroom each day. They felt the true comprehensive, community approach Head Start offers, and even more so because of his family’s close relationship with his teachers. “The teachers at our Head Start program were truly acting ‘“in loco parentis’” and many times picked me and my sister Yulanda up on weekends to take us to camps and exposed us to additional experiences outside our community,” Olverson shared.

Olverson firmly believes that the exposure to resources and experiences he could access because of Head Start gave him big advantage upon entering kindergarten. Explaining that impact he said,

“I think I benefited from an academic standpoint, just being exposed to language, to literature. And through those other experiences, you know, going to the zoo, to the park, and things like that... I’m not sure I would have had that.

My mom was doing the very best that she could, but she was limited with the resources that she had. Head Start provided a lot of those opportunities growing up. And not only to me and my sister, but also to the community.”

“The program challenged us to be critical and curious thinkers and demonstrated that learning could be fun,” he said. “I am truly thankful for my Head Start teachers, Ms. Eleanor Simpson and Ms. Shelton, who helped to raise a village!”

Building a student-centered career

After earning a bachelor’s degree in comprehensive social studies education from Ohio State University, Olverson, a big believer in giving back to the community, returned to the Cincinnati area where he grew up and began his career as a teacher. After years in the classroom and completing his master’s degree in educational administration, Olverson stepped into his first administrative role as an assistant high school principal. Next, Olverson’s educational and professional journey came full circle when he became the principal of the elementary school he attended as a child, which also was home to a Head Start program.

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Over the following decade, Olverson expanded his expertise to elementary, middle, and high schools across rural, suburban, and urban areas. The broad reach of his experience led Olverson to his first superintendent position, where he worked to elevate the high school’s academic rigor by improving its Advanced Placement curriculum.

When Olverson began his role as superintendent, he was distraught by the under representation of students of color in high level courses in the school district. He was determined to provide more students with the opportunity to learn in challenging courses that would help them reach new heights after graduation. Olverson led changes that allowed more students to participate in Advanced Placement courses in their first year of high school, and by the time he left the school district in 2016, over 40% of freshman students were enrolled in AP classes.

That kind of student-centered approach to improving school performance made him a strong candidate to serve as the Chief Academic and Operations Officer of another Ohio school district following their takeover by the state government in 2016. When Olverson entered the role, he faced confused families and students in need of support, and he worked closely with the district’s CEO to help turn things around. The work he did with that community in crisis then led him to take a superintendent position with another school district facing state takeover. Under Olverson’s leadership, the district successfully avoided the state takeover and saw many improvements that went beyond that goal.

In recent days, Olverson has been embodying his identity as a lifelong learner, working towards a doctorate degree while also serving in a senior position with an educational consulting and publishing company.

We are truly thankful to have Head Start alumni like Ty Olverson who bring the lessons they learned in Head Start into their careers! Do you have a Head Start success story to share? Contact NHSA at marketing@nhsa.org.

Head Start Alumni Stories

Head Start has improved the lives of more than 35 million…

National Head Start Association

Written by

NHSA is a nonprofit organization committed to the belief that every child, regardless of circumstances at birth, has the ability to succeed in life.

Head Start Alumni Stories

Head Start has improved the lives of more than 35 million children and their families. Educators, doctors, lawyers, military personnel, artists, engineers — from all across the country — remember it as the place where they acquired a life-long love of learning. #OurHeadStart

National Head Start Association

Written by

NHSA is a nonprofit organization committed to the belief that every child, regardless of circumstances at birth, has the ability to succeed in life.

Head Start Alumni Stories

Head Start has improved the lives of more than 35 million children and their families. Educators, doctors, lawyers, military personnel, artists, engineers — from all across the country — remember it as the place where they acquired a life-long love of learning. #OurHeadStart

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