There’s a time and a place to talk about “adult issues,” and it’s not at the Board of Education, according to Olga Butler.
The Elkridge resident is one of 15 candidates running for a seat on the Howard County school board, and in her pitch to the Greater Elkridge Community Association (GECA) at its recent meeting, she led with this idea.
“The school board currently … gets involved with a little more adult issues than kid issues,” said Butler at the Jan. 26 GECA meeting, alluding to what blogs, newspapers and the County Executive have termed "dysfunctional" behavior on the board.
Butler said she would bring something different to the table.
“I think what’s important is building healthy relationships … being visible [and] being accountable to our children first—the school board is for our kids, after all; that is our main concern,” said Butler in an interview with Elkridge Patch following the GECA meeting.
Butler has worked on behalf of children as a human services professional for a decade.
She's also the mother of a Long Reach High School sophomore and a product of the Howard County Public School System.
Since getting her degree, “I’ve spent the better part of 10 years working with children,” Butler said. Her employers include the Governor’s Office of Crime Control and Prevention, the Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services and the Domestic Violence Coordinating Council, to name a few.
“Working with [children and domestic violence victims] allowed me to understand why there might be an achievement gap,” Butler said. “It’s social, it’s economic, it’s cultural…”
Wanting to be more involved in her son’s school, she found opportunties to be of service at Long Reach.
“When he started ninth grade … I wanted to see what was going on,” said Butler of her son, CJ, who is in the class of 2014. “I started going to school board meetings and I became part of the of the interscholastic advisory board.”
Now in her first year as president of the Long Reach High School Boosters Club, she has broadened the scope of what that club does.
“Prior to [this year], we did not open concessions for all events," said Butler. "To support the entire student body, we opened concessions for everything from dance to theater and plays to wrestling matches. We are there to assist the teachers if they’re having events. We support more than athletics—we support academic programs, we’ve helped with the literary program … overall, we’re more visible in our school.”
Her son plays travel soccer for the Western Howard County Thunder and as a result, Butler became interested in coaching policies within the school system. Then she became interested in how other policies were handled.
Watching the school board over the past year is what Butler said compelled her to want to run in the election.
“I’ve spent a lot of time observing and listening, listening to what other people were testifying and the board’s reaction,” Butler said.
“The common thread there was that no one was really listening and no one was really paying attention to what was happening to make accurate and effective decisions for the next year,” Butler said.
“If somebody has to make a decision [and] make an assessment, they need parents, students and teachers—they are the soldiers in the front really,” Butler said, “and the school board should listen, [and] the superintendent should listen.”
She said she saw value in seeing issues firsthand, like overcrowding in Elkridge.
“It would be nice if the board and superintendent … would be able to look in our neighborhoods and see what’s happening here,” said Butler, who is secretary of the Willowood Homeowner’s Association in Elkridge. She said she sees five buses pick up students from her neighborhood to go to Bellows Spring Elementary School each day.
“The issues in Elkridge are unique,” said Butler. “I didn’t necessarily expect [the board] to understand overcrowding and appreciate that this is an issue. When you live it, when I see how many kids are going to Bellows, when I see how many kids have to go to Mayfield, then…it’s just a lot, and I realize that one person on the board … brings a perspective on behalf of the community.”