Working to fundamentally shift how students approach life after high school, Dr. Olivia Bagby questions just about everything about education’s status quo.
As Future Ready Students Director, she is leading Hamilton County Schools’ systematic, hands-on approach to connecting students with promising career paths—from tech worker to welder.
“I say I’m in the business of making opportunities,” said Bagby, who got the job after earning a doctorate from the UTC School Leadership program in 2020, including the requisite state principal licensure for district specialists, a step above principal in Hamilton County and most public school systems.
“It was an opportunity to get into the next tier in terms of pay grade. I didn’t know school leadership was in my future, but I knew the license was necessary to take the next step in my career.”
Bagby said that she never wanted to become a principal, but that her work with principals (and future principals) in the UTC program—both as classmates and as mentors—has proven clutch in her current role. It also reignited her passion for research.
Her aim to deliver more career opportunities to students can be an evolving target and sometimes involves countering blowback from old-guard educators and even those who are open to but scared of change.
That’s why collecting, tracking and analyzing data and using it to constantly adjust and improve the Future Ready program and education policy more broadly is so important, she said.
“You can’t rest on your laurels, on one success, you have to keep pushing for more. What drives me is students finding careers by choice, not by chance.”
In approaching her job through a school leadership lens, Bagby said she optimizes her relationships and research with principals to further her work as a change agent in schools across the county.
“There is a huge benefit from the conversations alone,” said Bagby, who understands the principal mentality and enjoys deep dives into highly technical aspects of education—from master scheduling to building curriculum.
She earned a master’s in education from UTC in 2012 but didn’t have the classroom experience required by the state to move into administration until she returned to UTC.
“Olivia is a go-getter. She’s not afraid to question anything when it comes to education and policy and why things are done the way they’re done,” said Dr. Barry Kamrath, associate professor and head of the UTC School Leadership program.
“She liked to debate and I love it because she challenged me to support everything I was teaching,” Kamrath said.
Bagby contends incremental change can be powerful if you don’t give up.
For example, she said, there are many state and federal laws that govern public education and operations, “but where is the flexibility? Where can we work within our limits to change things for the better.”