In a large office on the third floor of the Government Services Building, in Bunnell, Jacob Oliva’s desk is loaded with technology: two computer monitors and an Apple laptop are out in the open, and nearby he also has an iPad. It’s fitting for Oliva, who has become not only Flagler’s Mr. Technology when it comes to education, but also risen to the position of assistant superintendent quickly, at the age of 38.
Fresh out of college
Oliva grew up in Dade County Public schools, where his classroom experience was luck of the draw — some teachers were great, others not so much.
“I’ve always thought about what made them so special, and it was something that I always wanted to do,” Oliva said recently in an interview, as he played with the case on his iPhone.
“To make a difference in people’s lives — that’s what attracted me to becoming an educator.”
As a senior at Flagler College, Oliva did his internship at Wadsworth Elementary School, when Stewart Maxcy was the principal. After graduating from college in 2000, Maxcy hired Oliva as a teacher.
“He came in and took over an exceptional education class and really did a great job at it,” said Maxcy, who now serves as the charter school liaison for the district. “And that’s probably why he does so well with the staff and the county — because he can relate to all students, parents and community members. He has that sense of empathy, which is a good thing.”
Oliva, who is in his 13th year in the district, was appointed in June as the assistant superintendent, which came on the heels of Superintendent Janet Valentine missing a few days because of a family emergency. This is the first time in three years the district has had an assistant superintendent.
It was a quick rise to the top for Oliva, who was the principal at Flagler Palm Coast High School before accepting his new role.
“I’ve always enjoyed learning more and growing professionally,” he said. “I’ve always tried to put myself in a position where I’d have opportunities to take on different tasks. That has made me more well-rounded, so when opportunities for more positions (come up), that made me a good choice.”
Technology and adapting
When Oliva first joined the school district, there were about 6,500 students. Now, about 13,000 students fill the classrooms. And with mandates increasing and funding decreasing, the school district continues to face challenges. That won’t change in 2013. Those challenges start with technology, Oliva said.
The way youth get their education is always evolving, and that includes students using iPads instead of books, and high school students choosing online classes and dual enrollment instead of the traditional style of learning.
“I think, moving forward, education will see more personalization for the students, and technology will have a big impact on that,” Oliva said. “Hamburgers, paint colors of your car — people like to individualize what they’re doing, and technology will be a big vehicle to help us make those changes happen.”
Having Oliva lead the charge is a good thing for the community, Maxcy said.
“He’s ambitious and a real goal-setter,” said Maxcy, who said he often talks to Oliva, whether it be about education or personal matters. “He is heavily involved in technology, and he reads a lot so that he’s up to date on the trends.”
Lynette Shott, who was assistant principal during Oliva’s tenure as principal at FPC, couldn’t agree more.
“It’s the dynamic force of his personality and it’s hard to grasp that and put it into words,” Shott said. “He has such a gift for inspiring people and making people get really excited about moving in the direction that he is focused on. He’s very goal-oriented.”
Specifically, Shott remembers a time when several departments got together for a team-building meeting. The focus was on research-based information, “which could be very dry,” Shott said.
But within minutes, Oliva had the entire room tackling the project, laughing and sharing thoughts.
“He got to that personal level with just his personality,” she said of Oliva.
As the School Board continues to discuss rezoning and the possibility of making certain schools K-8 (kindergarten through eighth grade) centers, Oliva said funding will continue to be a challenge next year.
“We’re constantly asked to do more with less,” he said. “Fortunately for us, we have great teachers and employees who continually rise to the challenge.”
The next step
Both Maxcy and Shott said Oliva is a family man who enjoys fishing and spending time on the golf course.
Many people might not realize that although Oliva has shot a hole-in-one, he’s better known for his bowling ability. He’s bowled several 300 games, he says, and has bowled an 837 series — he got 33 out of 36 possible strikes. He started the bowling team at FPC, and that’s why he was given a bowling bowl when he left the Bulldogs community to become assistant superintendent.
Throughout his tenure in Flagler, Oliva has served in almost every capacity: teacher, dean, assistant principal, principal and now assistant superintendent. There’s one remaining position for Oliva to fill. With Valentine about halfway through her contract, it’s a possibility. Maxcy said Oliva used to constantly tell him that being an educator was just a stop on his way to becoming the governor of Florida.
Although it’s not definitive that he could become the next superintendent — or the governor — it wouldn’t surprise those who are close to him. Those close to him also agree that, regardless of what his title is, Oliva builds people up around him. And he wants to build up the students of Flagler County.
“On a personal level, I can look back at how he helped me grow as a professional and a leader just with his mentorship,” Shott said.
Email Andrew O’Brien at [email protected].