Royal Oak School, the best kept secret in the North Hills, is a family owned and operated preschool which celebrated 50 years of operation in the spring of 2017. Founded by Joanne Potlas at its present location in 1967, and run by her and her brother Frank Harlovic, and now her son and daughter, it is still faithfully teaching and serving the families of the North Hills.
The school was started when Joanne, a working mother, was looking for a nursery school to care for her then three year old son. After much searching, she found a family owned nursery school in the Plum Boro area, where she was living at the time. It was run by a woman out of her home. Holding an education degree from Mercyhurst University, and realizing the lack of facilities dedicated to educating nursery age through kindergarten students, Joanne saw a business opportunity.
Joanne’s educational philosophy was that children as young as two and a half would benefit from all the things a well set up early childhood program could provide to them, including not only academic instruction but social/emotional development as well. Based on the model of the preschool her son was attending, she would want her site to be a warm, nurturing, family-type environment. One day Joanne expressed this desire to the owner of her son’s preschool, who recommended she look towards the northern suburbs of Pittsburgh since they were growing at the time. With this advice in mind, Joanne started her search for the perfect location, which led her to 4413 Mt. Royal Blvd. in Allison Park.
The building was just what she was looking for, a home large enough to support her goals of enough space for the children’s needs, while also keeping it family oriented. After a renovation period and acquiring the proper permits and licenses, Royal Oak officially opened in May of 1967. In the beginning, enrollment was low, and Joanne commuted from Plum Boro, picking up children in her station wagon along the way. From the beginning, she relied on family members to round out her staff. Her mother, Mary Harlovich, known to the children as “Grandma” was incharge of snack and lunch preparation and her aunt, Margaret Spirk, was the early morning and late afternoon assistant. Three years later, Joanne’s brother Frank Harlovic, known to the children as “Uncle Frank”, joined the staff as administrator and official director of student enrichment.
Currently the school is run by Joanne’s children, Lori Smith and Daniel Potlas. Joanne remained the directress until August of 2020 when at the age of 87, due to Covid-19, she took a leave of absence. These days she remains apprised of the school’s activities, and hopes for a day when she can return and see the children again.
The primary purpose of Royal Oak School is to provide skilled guidance, an enriching environment and varied experiences which will help the child to know his/her full potential and attain it. The child will understand and appreciate him/herself, make a successful home-school transition, learn to relate to other children, and become familiar with a group setting. Through this, the child will develop the following: interest and joy in learning, security and self-satisfaction, self-expression, self-control, creativity, and responsibility.