Oak Hill School sprang from the seed of an idea.
OHS can trace its founding back to that wet, wet winter of 1993-1994…
Ed King, a Eugene businessman, vintner, and president of King Estate Winery, was struck by a nostalgic thought—he wanted to create a new type of school for his young children and really, all the children of the Willamette Valley.
During those first days and with the crucial help of investment partner TimberKing, a former horse ranch on the outskirts of Eugene was purchased and this misty, picture postcard site was to become the home of the Oak Hill School. The handsome grounds (with panoramic views of the Cascade Mountains) consist of a 72 acre hillside adjacent to Lane Community College, crossed by a running stream and stippled with apple trees, pear trees, a quince, and the ubiquitous mossy oaks.
Mr. King’s vision for the school grew from his own education and upbringing. As a transplant and as a business owner, he occupied a good spot from which to observe the economic climate of Eugene. And, to be very honest, with the timber industry struggling, the financial ecosystem of Oregon was fragile and damaged. It was a period of transition, a period of turnover. The local public school system suffered from chronic, systemic financial shortfalls and gaping holes in the budget. The classrooms were over-crowded, teacher morale was low, and the once fine reputation of the school district was sadly losing ground.
Mr. King’s was but one of many families desperately seeking better educational options for their children. But at the time, the choices were limited or non-existent. During his own childhood back in Kansas City, Ed King had attended a non-denominational, college-prep school and he’d come out of it with a fine education. He wanted to create and grow a school upon a trellis framework that was familiar to him, a school where all families and all children would feel welcomed, nurtured, and intellectually challenged. He and other creative like-minds put their heads together, they got their hands dirty, and Oak Hill School was brought to life.
At the time of the original purchase, the grounds included only a large farmhouse and a few scattered, leaning outbuildings. This original dwelling was remodeled to include Lower School classrooms and what we now call the ‘Gather Room’ with its marbled fireplace that was to be used for music instruction, dances, exhibits, and celebrations. Two pre-fab modular trailers were purchased to provide another six rooms, including the school’s first library and a science lab. There were some 2nd hand study carrels, some donated books. There was an overgrown back 40. (It is said that one could still discern the “earthy” smell of livestock in the air back then.) But it was such a fertile time, vibrant and maybe naive. Perhaps Ed King and the original Board of Trustees didn’t fully appreciate just how much work they were about to take on.
Luckily, they were seekers and strivers and involved parents. This was a journey off the map, an experiment, and they were yet only taking the first steps.
A faculty of young, vibrant, and excitable teachers was hired onto the project. They came with fresh eyes and new ideas, brought with them a sense of adventure and idealism and passion. They argued and bandied and batted about ideas regarding educational philosophy and theory– so many arguments and opinions. But like the Board, most of the early staff were parents too. They came together to design a curriculum that encouraged children to follow and chase after their own interests.
Innovative and radical (for the time) ideas were grafted onto the learning model such as a belief in the priority of evolving classroom technology, and the development of a handbook that included input from students and parents for the crafting of grading policies and an honor code. A thousand decisions would affect the nascent school but everyone did what they could to pitch in. While teachers hurriedly pounded out curriculum, parents and kids repainted the buildings and mowed the grass and knocked down the tangled blackberry brambles. It was collaboration in all the best meanings of the word without time to pause or panic as the last days of summer flashed past.
Finally, on September 6, 1994, Oak Hill School opened its wooden doors to 77 students of all grades.
What might have been a disaster blossomed into something special. It was an adventure. Those first students did their jobs admirably. They earned good grades. They scored high test marks. Those first students put us on the path to the prestigious academic recognition we enjoy today and we haven’t looked back. Those first students pointed out ways in which we could improve and they brought enthusiasm and laughter and their own ideas about what a school might be. They complained when it was warranted (and sometimes when it was not) but they also excelled in every single way that they could. Parents attended events and volunteered uncountable hours. OHS teachers held themselves accountable as much as their students, set the standards we still follow today. This holistic, energetic community dynamic continues today as much as does the constant evolution of a distinct Oak Hill culture and identity. There is an OHS way of doing things, but we’re not afraid to adapt in new, unexpected directions.