Roger Dobnikar’s whole career has been in Vestavia Hills Schools system. He’s been a part of the Liberty Park Middle School as its assistant principal since its earliest days back in 2008, and his roots in Vestavia Hills go back to the 14 years he taught eighth-grade English at Pizitz Middle School too. This past school year he stepped into a new role at the helm of Liberty Park Middle as its new principal, so we chatted with him as he wrapped up this year—certainly an unprecedented one in many ways.
You started serving as assistant principal at LPMS back when it first opened. What memories stand out from the first few years as being a new school?
In 2008 we opened with not even half of our school building ready and were crammed into a fourth of the building. The choir room serve d as a make-shift office, and the lunchroom was in the gym. We were new and didn’t know each other, and that made us become close from the start.
What makes the culture at this school unique to you?
We are a very small school with around 500 students and compete against schools that are two and three times our size. We offer every program and every sport, and we have worked hard over these past 13 years to compete with those big schools. Our kids know it takes extra dedication and commitment. This year our eighth-grade boys won Metro South in boys basketball. We have a student in Math Counts who has qualified for the national competition. It feels like we are making great strides all the time.
What part of your job are you most passionate about?
I enjoy setting down and working with teachers trying to solve problems. We collaborate ideas back and forth on how to best serve our students. This past year with COVID we had to come back to the drawing board several times, and our teachers did a great job serving these kids. We had to figure out how to design programs for our remote students, and we tweaked our schedule to give teachers more time with remote systems. We are constantly looking at new ways to tweak our programs to give kids the best advantage.
How have you seen the strengths of the Vestavia system not just as an educator but also as a parent?
I think one of the strengths of Vestavia is that they care about the whole child and the unique child. It’s not a cookie cutter pattern system, but we look for needs individual kids have and tailor programs for those kids. We are invested in trying to figure out what our kids need. Having three sons that have come through the system, I was able to experience that through them and the programs so they were ready to face the real world when it came. For example, my oldest son had an opportunity to create a business and market it and get an understanding of how the market worked through a class.
What are we likely to find you doing outside of the school?
I enjoy my family and being with my grandchildren. That’s my number one thing outside of school. I also like to read and am a sports fan.