• Go Beavers!!!

Pratt Community College led Darren Oliver to lifelong passion and career

07 November 2018

“When I went to university, I felt I was lightyears ahead of everybody else because of my time at Pratt Community College. I was lightyears ahead of the juniors I transferred with as far as my experiences.”

Darren Oliver graduated from Northglenn High School, located in Northglenn, CO, in 1988. From there, he wasn’t sure exactly what he wanted to do or where he wanted to go. He was left with a choice that made him the person he is today.

“My choice was either to go to college or go into the military,” said Oliver. “I found out about Pratt Community College through my aunt and uncle who live in Pratt. I used to visit them in the summers. I reached out to the baseball coach, Coach Froom, and he had me send all of my baseball information to him. He called me back and offered me a scholarship.”

At the time, Oliver was an undecided major.

“PCC had us fill out a survey to get information about what we liked, our passions, and stuff like that,” said Oliver. “I was standing in a line in the auditorium when Dr. Muriel Jones called out, ‘Darren Oliver! Get down here young man!’ I went down to the front, where she looked right at me and said, ‘I’m going to make you an elementary school teacher!’”

At first, Oliver was hesitant.

“I said to her, ‘Oh, you are?’ while laughing,” said Oliver. “She replied, ‘Yes – and not one of them PE teachers either!”

Oliver took a few early childhood classes he enjoyed while in high school. Following the advice of Dr. Jones, he made the decision to study elementary education rather quickly.

“Dr. Jones said you want to figure out whether you want to be a teacher or not when you are 18 or 19, not in your 20’s,” said Oliver. “So I jumped on board and began studying elementary education.”

Within a couple of weeks, Dr. Jones placed Oliver in an elementary classroom in the Pratt school district.

“Getting us students straight into the elementary school was huge,” said Oliver. “We spent tons of hours at the elementary school. When I went to university, I felt I was lightyears ahead of everybody else because of my time at the junior college and in the public school setting in Pratt.”

While Dr. Jones was imperative to Oliver’s decision to enter elementary education, another instructor also made a lasting impact on the aspiring teacher.

“Dr. Jones, and her replacement after she retired, Mary Pat Brooks, took me under their wings since I was the only male elementary student during my two years at Pratt,” said Oliver. “They gave me their ideas on what it takes to be a quality teacher.”

Oliver was involved with a variety of clubs and activities during his time at PCC. Along with playing baseball his freshman year, he also participated in the Education club and served as an RA during his sophomore year. His favorite memories revolve around hanging out with his baseball teammates and supporting other student athletes by cheering them on in their respective sports.

“My friends and I supported every extracurricular, since we were scholarship kids,” said Oliver. “We knew how hard it was to balance school and sports, so we always tried to give them our support.”

Oliver recalls attending rodeos and volleyball games, but his most vivid memories stemmed from supporting the basketball team.

“The basketball games are some of my favorite memories,” said Oliver. “The team was really good that year. I want to say they took third in the nation. The tournament was in Hutchinson, so roadtripping with all of my baseball buddies to Hutch to cheer on the Beavers was super fun.”

Oliver also enjoyed participating in intramurals and supporting the performing arts department by going to their plays.

“There’s not a lot to do in Pratt, so the college did a good job making the campus come alive with various extracurricular activities,” said Oliver. “Once in a while, my friends and I would sneak away to another friend’s house, but usually we were so busy, we didn’t have time to go anywhere outside of Pratt.”

After graduating from PCC, Oliver went on to the University of Northern Colorado, where he obtained his bachelor’s degree and teaching license. He went straight into teaching and taught for eight years before obtaining his master’s degree and principal’s license from the University of Colorado. He became a high school dean, where he dealt with attendance and disciplinary issues before accepting a position as the assistant principal at Silver Creek Elementary in Thornton, CO. He served as an assistant principal for five years before being announced as the principal in the summer of 2015.

“I’ve done the whole gamut,” said Oliver. “I look at my days of when I was at one of those little elementary schools in Pratt, and now I am running an elementary school, which is a very big school. We have about 610 kids at the moment and are very successful.”

Oliver proudly displays his Pratt Community College diploma in his office. As a former high school dean and current assistant coach to high school varsity baseball, he preaches the benefits of junior colleges every chance he gets.
“I tell them, ‘Here I am successful, and I came from the junior college ranks,’” said Oliver. “I am a big supporter of junior colleges. You can save a lot of money. In my experience, I was also lightyears ahead of the other juniors at UNC due to my experience at PCC.”

When Oliver is not working, he enjoys spending time with his wife, Katie, and their family. He has two adult sons who have followed a similar path by playing college baseball. He also has two younger daughters, ages seven and two, which keeps the family busy. While he has been successful in life, Oliver has even more ambitious goals for the future.

“When I retire, I want to return to junior college,” said Oliver. “I want to teach aspiring teachers how to be teachers from my perspective of what teachers need to do now days from a principal’s perspective. That’s my goal when I am older and when the kids are older. I want to go teach JuCo.”

September 6, 1938, Pratt Junior College opened its doors as the 14th junior college created in Kansas. Pratt “Juco” welcomed 150 new students to its original campus located on 401 S Hamilton St. Eighty years later, Pratt Community College, is proud to have helped build the futures of thousands of students on-campus, online, at our Winfield and Wichita learning centers and through high school concurrent enrollment.

The mission of Pratt Community College is maximum student learning, individual and workforce development, high quality instruction and service, and community enrichment. PCC is proud to be a part of the community in Pratt, Kansas. With more than 80 years of history, PCC remains humbled to serve our community and students who come to build a foundation for their lives.

This year we celebrate this grand anniversary and remember those who’ve walked through these halls. Each month during 2018 PCC is proud to feature stories and memories from alumnae, community members and faculty who have helped see our institution and mission grow. If you would like to share an experience or memory or be considered for one of our monthly features contact Jessica Ward, 620-450-2192, jessicaw@prattcc.edu.