Tyrone Olverson has built an impressive career in the world of public education. His professional journey has taken from a middle school social studies classroom, to the principal’s office of Lincoln Heights Elementary, 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 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.

“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 1970s,” said Tyrone Olverson. “The Head Start program was a blessing to me and many from the Village of Lincoln Heights, Ohio. 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.”

Head Start Teachers Instill Values that Last a Lifetime

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.

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

“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.”

Olverson Builds 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.

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. 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 led him to take a superintendent position with another school district facing state takeover. Under his leadership, he was able to right the ship.

Since then, 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.

Malkia Payton-Jackson

Malkia Payton-Jackson is NHSA’s first-ever director of alumni engagement. Back in Cambridge, Head Start is where she made her first best friend — and now, she’s inviting Head Start alumni to connect with one another, share their unique stories, and help keep Head Start strong for generations to come.

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