Bias training and technology are Amanda Olson’s top priorities

Amanda Olson, executive director of the Augusta Housing Authority, speaks during the annual city council goal setting meeting Jan. 28, 2017 at the Augusta Civic Center. Olson is running unopposed for the chairperson seat on the Augusta school board. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal file

AUGUSTA — Amanda Olson believes that the future of Augusta is through the students that make up the public school system.

A current at-large member of the Augusta school board, her name will appear on the Nov. 3 ballot when she runs for the three-year position of school board chairperson, replacing Ed Hastings, who is not running for reelection.

Olson wants to provide the innovative thinking and guide the conversations she believes are necessary in order to make decisions in the best interest for the Augusta students.

“I am very passionate about education,” she said. “I truly believe that these students are the future of Augusta, whether it’s through economic development or housing development — the children that we are educating today are the key to all of those possibilities coming into fruition.”

Olson is the executive director at the Augusta Housing Association, where she has worked since 2013.

Four of her children are currently enrolled at Cony Middle School and her eldest son is a young adult living on his own. With her husband, Andy, she owns Maine Mushroom Company, a farm that grows gourmet mushrooms for restaurants and to sell at farmers markets.

Olson’s approach to running the school board is similar what is necessary to run a business, she said, explaining that she helped bring the Augusta Housing Authority out of a financial rut.

“I came into a position that was very limited, and in a very difficult financial position, and the long-term outlook wasn’t good,” she said. “I saw that if our current trend continued, we wouldn’t be able to stay in operation for more than three years.

“We started doing new approaches to housing development, which was new to us,” Olson added, “and we have been incredibly successful in doing that.”

Though her background at the Housing Authority is different from running a school board, she points out that “innovative” thinking is what will provide success to the school board, as it has in the past for Olson.

She said the board can sometimes make decisions in a “reactionary way instead a of a proactive way,” and that she would encourage team building activities for the board to push discussion outside of meetings.

For remote learning, Olson wants to make sure the public schools have the technology needed to successfully implement the learning model. There are certain tools necessary, she said, like making sure each kid has a device, but also tools like “Swivl,” which is a camera that follows and records teachers as they walk around the room.

She pointed out that most of the technology the district ordered for remote learning is on back order because of the increased demand across the country. Students in grades pre-Kindergarten through second grade still do not have technology.

“I think COVID-19 has forced us to get to a place that we would have gotten to eventually and we had to do it quickly without the right resources to make it run adequately,” Olson said. “There is still more work to do, and we learned a lot along the way that the focus needs to be on technology.”

She would like to focus on gathering a committee to jumpstart the reconstruction of Hussey Elementary School, which she said, “has to happen.”

But one of the larger changes Olson would like to see is bias training for the Augusta Public Schools staff.

As chairperson, Olson said she will be able to bring conversations and ideas to the board. In the past, as an at-large member, she said she has brought the idea of bias training up, but it often becomes a “political discussion.” Olson, however, believes it is a “human issue.”

“We have a quite a bit of diversity in Augusta,” she said. “We should shed a light on diversity and inclusion and how policies can impact people of color, and to be mindful of that and explore options.

“We need to have the conversation with educators and ensure that they have implicit bias training,” Olson added. “We want to teach children to be kind and include everyone and make sure that we are treating everyone the same regardless of what they look like or what religion they practice.”

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