ONEIDA, Ky. – Larry Gritton Jr. has a long history with Oneida Baptist Institute as a student, teacher, coach and athletic director.
Those experiences have given him a unique perspective in his current role as president of the Christian boarding school nestled in the mountains of southeastern Kentucky.
Gritton and his wife, Angie, were working in a similar school in Florida when they got a call asking them to consider returning to Oneida to fill a vacancy left by former President Paul Davidson.
They started praying about it, and soon had the answer. They’d be leaving the sunny shores of Florida for the Appalachian foothills.
“We ultimately felt like the Lord said, ‘Yes, it’s time to return to Oneida,’” Gritton said. “We know Oneida. We were students here. We were staff members here. We know the school’s history. We know its mission. Oneida is in our blood.”
Oneida, affiliated with the Kentucky Baptist Convention, serves children in grades 6 through 12, with a mission of providing a structured living, learning and working environment. The goal is to see students grow mentally, physically, socially and spiritually. That includes the Gritton’s own children—12-year-old Trey, 10-year-old Madison and 8-year-old Alexander.
“We feel strongly about the quality of education kids get here,” Gritton said. “There’s no school anywhere that can match our faculty and staff,” Gritton said. “They love these students and want the very best for them. If it’s good enough for our own three children, I’d like to think it’s good enough for anyone.”
Kentucky Baptist Convention Executive Director Paul Chitwood said Oneida is prospering under Gritton’s leadership.
“He’s a man of high energy, fresh ideas, great character and Godly wisdom, and that bodes well for Oneida,” Chitwood said. “It appears to me that he’s been prepared by God for this role. He has a heart for Oneida, and he’s made great strides in his first year. I anticipate greater things yet to come.”
The 115-year-old campus in rural Clay County offers an ethnically diverse environment, which is unusual within Kentucky’s Appalachian region. Of the 277 students enrolled last school year, 50 were from other countries.
“Every student has a different story about why they’re at Oneida,” Gritton said. “For some, it’s because their parents serve on the faculty and staff. Others come because their parents feel they can get a better education here than in local public schools. Yet others are here because of broken homes or because their parents don’t want them in inner city schools. Some have academic challenges or behavioral issues that require closer attention than they could get elsewhere. Most international students come because they see Oneida as a springboard into U.S. colleges and universities.”
Gritton has big plans for Oneida, including building renovations to accommodate the anticipated growth in enrollment at what is one of the least expensive boarding schools in the country.
Besides the affordable tuition, one of the top selling points for Oneida is the opportunity for students to interact with their counterparts from all over the U.S. and around the world. Students learn about different countries simply by chatting with their peers around campus.
Students also are introduced to the working world. Everyone has a job on campus. Some help tend to the pigs and cattle on the campus farm. Others do office chores. Some help keep the campus looking neat and clean. But there’s plenty of time for fun, too.
“I believe the Lord has used my first year as Oneida president to make everyday life a little bit better for students,” Gritton said. “I added the position of events coordinator this year, which is a position Oneida has never had. This person has gone far beyond what I ever envisioned as far as events and activities for students. If showing a movie and popping popcorn makes weekend life better for our kids, or if additional co-curricular programs make student life better, then I am all for it.”
Gritton encourages a warm Christian atmosphere on campus, and students like Aaron Grinnell of Elizabethtown have taken notice.
“What I like about Oneida is just the love shown to students by the staff,” Grinnell said.
Gritton, 39, graduated from Oneida in 1993. From there, he went to Montreat College in North Carolina where he received a bachelor’s degree in history. He followed that with a master’s degree from Eastern Kentucky University in educational leadership.
He worked seven years at Oneida before moving to Florida, where he worked nine years in two different Christian schools as athletic director and dean of boys and serving two years as pastor of New Hope Baptist Church at Fort Myers, Fla.
”For the nine years we were in Florida, if Oneida wasn’t always on our minds it was always in our hearts,” he said. “Oneida’s meant a lot to us. We can look back now and see how the Lord was at work preparing us to lead such a unique ministry.”
In August, Gritton will have completed his first year as Oneida president, and is now even more convinced of the value of the school’s mission.
“In my opinion, there’s a need now more than there’s ever been for a place like this for kids who need the Lord, need a great education, need a fresh start,” Gritton said. “This is a great place to do that.”
In fact, Gritton calls it the “greatest school in the world.”
“I want Oneida to help as many young people as possible and am willing to do whatever it takes to make this happen,” he said.