Walking down the halls of Hunters Woods Elementary School for the Arts and Sciences last week, Olivia Toatley doesn’t make it that far without a hug from a student.
Greeted by countless high-fives, hugs and smiles from students, Toatley received a hero’s welcome upon the announcement two weeks ago that she would be returning as the school’s new principal.
“I’m just thrilled to be back to Hunters Woods, and I’m thrilled at the opportunity to lead,” said Toatley. “It’s a wonderful school where students love to learn and where teachers are always looking for the best way to provide instruction to their students.”
She should know. Since November of last year, Toatley served a short stint as assistant principal at McNair Elementary in Herndon, but before that she had been the assistant principal at Hunters Woods for five years.
Away from Hunters Woods for less than a school year, Toatley has few at the school or in the community to get to know. Instead, she said she is focusing on leading instruction at Hunters Woods. “I think the leap for me will be delegating,” she said. “But that doesn’t mean that I’m not ultimately responsible.”
WHEN THE WORD got out, Toatley said her e-mail tripled. She said parents and colleagues began welcoming her back.
“The community has been very positive,” said Angie Loving, in charge of student records at the school. Loving, who has been at Hunters Woods for 12 years, including when Toatley first came to Hunters Woods as a teacher, said the staff and community were sad to see her leave last year and are now glad to have her back.
Toatley has lived near the Reston border at Fox Mill for the last 30 years, and her service in education has been almost entirely made up of service at Reston elementary schools, including 19 years as a teacher at Forest Edge Elementary. Her children also attended Reston schools: Forest Edge, Dogwood Elementary, Langston Hughes Middle School and South Lakes High School.
CALLING HER TIME AWAY “valuable,” Toatley said she first got excited about a possible return to Hunters Woods over the summer when former principal, Stephen Hockett, transferred to McNair.
“Here’s the thing about Hunters Woods: this is a staff that is collaborative and creative when given an opportunity,” she said.
The school, an arts and science magnet, has more than 1,000 students and more than 150 staff. “This is a big job,” said Toatley, adding that she plans to build on past successes.
“My job is to make sure my staff has what it needs to teach students,” said Toatley. “Student achievement is optimum when the people around work well together.”
Working with Fairfax County Public Schools since 1971, Toatley also prides herself on getting to know students. “I think students feel safe with me and I think they know that I care,” she said. “I think the most important relationship I develop is the relationship I have with them.”
She noted that students and staff are used to seeing her in the classroom from time to time.
THE LAST TWO MONTHS, Mary Ann Chung stepped in as interim principal. Pulled out of retirement, Chung has been credited with guiding the school through uncertain times and helping facilitate a smooth transition.
“That’s a difficult job, and she’s handled it beautifully,” said Loving of Chung’s leadership.
“The incredible staff,” Chung said, will be in good hands with Toatley.
Although at Hunters Woods for a short time, Chung said she’d miss the school and its teachers.
Toatley officially took over the reigns Oct. 3. “I just want people to know that I’m going to take care of this school,” she said. “Because were such a strong team here, it will continue to grow and prosper.”
Toatley is also in the process of finishing her Ph.D. in educational leadership at the University of Virginia. Of the requirements, all she has left is writing her dissertation.