Above & Beyond
Plainfield Superintendent Scott Olinger Talks 10 Years In School Administration
Writer / Christy Heitger-Ewing
Photogrpahy / Provided
Superintendent Scott Olinger just finished his tenth year as Superintendent of the Plainfield School District. Prior to this position, he served as a principal at Plainfield High School and Batesville High School. Early in his career, he worked in Shelbyville as a teacher, coach and administrator.
“What drove me to this profession were the teachers and coaches I had growing up who had a big impact on me,” says Olinger, a Butler alum and football player who earned his superintendent’s license from Indiana State.
“It has a small-town feel yet we still have big-city amenities practically in our backyard,” Olinger says.
One thing that people may not realize is that the majority of the employees who work in the Plainfield school system also live in and around Plainfield.
“That says a lot — that folks not only want to work in a community but also raise their families here,” says Olinger, who is immensely proud of the unrelenting dedication of his staff.
“These individuals are some of the best around. They care so much for our students,” he says. “I don’t think people understand how hard our teachers work — how much time they take away from their own families in order to help their grade level or class.”
He notes that the teachers are always trying to brainstorm improvements.
“I’m not a status quo guy, and we don’t have status quo teachers,” he says. That’s why, year after year, the Plainfield schools are rated as 4-star, “A” schools.
“We’re proud of those factors,” Olinger says. “Our goal by graduation day is for every student to either be accepted to college, have a job lined up or have signed with the military.”
Just this month the Imagination Lab opened its doors to Plainfield elementary students. A STEM Center, this space is designed to engage and enrich students in grades K-5 through hands-on learning and by utilizing wide-open spaces, natural light, bright colors and collaborative learning techniques. In addition to the Imagination Lab, which is focused on elementary students, Olinger and his team hope to later open a STEM Center for middle school students.
“We are constantly looking at what we can do to improve what we do for our kids,” Olinger says.
At the high school level, they involve students in mentorships and internships. Though it’s hard to convince families that the four-year route is not always the best option for all kids, Olinger’s goal is to change that mindset.
“There are a lot of exciting opportunities for kids pursuing different paths,” he says. “We’re trying to help them determine the path that’s right for them.”
One way they do this is by enabling students to leave campus and enter the workforce for part of the day. Another off-campus option is for students to sign up for college credit classes outside of school.
“We hope that a lot of our kids will graduate from PHS with several college credits under their belts,” Olinger says. “Or possibly save some money, allowing them to graduate from college in 3-3.5 years rather than the traditional 4-5 years.”
To aid in that process, PHS employs two college and career advisors who help students navigate the process. The traditional high school counselors are still there to guide students in finding their true passion by bringing in various speakers and career people to offer fresh insight.
“This is one way we’re unique from other districts,” Olinger says. “These career advisors provide a whole separate role as we partner with outside businesses to give kids work experience.”
Part of the curriculum with the Imagination Lab will be to engage individuals in all aspects of work life, starting at the elementary level.
“What we’ve found is that often we don’t reach students until middle or high school and by then they’ve missed out on a lot of opportunities,” Olinger says. “We will constantly be putting people in front of our students in grades K-5, talking to them about careers and discussing what these jobs might be like in 10-15 years from now when they’ll be entering the field.”
This proactive approach better equips students to navigate through middle and high school as they make course selections.
“We’re all about fostering the joy of learning,” Olinger says.
So often today’s generation of students grumble about how much they dislike school. That’s due, in part, to so much testing, and though testing is important, Olinger maintains that it’s not the end all, be all.
“We don’t want to be drilling all the time because we don’t want students to lose their thirst for knowledge,” he says. “We want them to be lifelong learners.”
Olinger, a lifelong lover of all sports, grew up in athletics, having coached football, basketball and track. He even coached football at Franklin College for several years. Olinger and his wife like engaging in outdoor activities, especially hiking, biking and kayaking. To unwind, they travel to Nashville, stay at a cabin, and kayak the rivers in the area.
Still, he likes to blend his two loves — school and nature — by participating in various events to raise money for the PTO, such as Polar Plunge and the annual spring Walkathon, which raised more than $80,000 in 2017-2018. In addition, last year Olinger accompanied third-grade students on field trips to college campuses where he enjoyed watching kids’ faces as they took it all in.
“They liked walking the campus, but the thing they loved most was dining in a college cafeteria because they could eat all they wanted,” he says. “But the whole idea is exposing kids at an early age so that we might open their eyes to the endless possibilities.”
He appreciates such opportunity because it simply didn’t exist in generations past.
“When I went to school, things were more traditional. We all followed a certain path,” Olinger says. “It’s a bigger world out there now, and that’s exciting.”
Each year Olinger looks forward to graduation day when he gets to witness the joyful culmination of students’ success. This year was especially poignant as he watched his youngest daughter, Samantha, move her tassel from right to left.
“That’s definitely one of the perks of this job — being able to stand on stage as both father and superintendent and hand my daughters their diplomas,” Olinger says.
He also likes hearing students and families talk about the next phase of life.
“Once they cross that stage, they’re on their own,” Olinger says. “But I feel good about that because I know that we’ve provided them with those abilities and tools to go on to that next level of their journey with confidence.”