AUGUSTA — Amanda Olson believes the future of Augusta relies on the students who make up its public schools.
An at-large member of the Augusta Board of Education, Olson’s name will appear on the Nov. 3 ballot when she runs unopposed for the three-year position of school board chairperson. She would succeed Ed Hastings, who is not seeking reelection.
Olson said she wants to provide innovative thinking and guide the conversations she believes are necessary to make decisions in the best interest of Augusta’s 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 Authority, where she has worked since 2013.
Four of her children are enrolled at Cony Middle School, and her oldest son is a young adult living on his own. With her husband, Andy, she owns Maine Mushroom Co., a farm that grows gourmet mushrooms for restaurants and to sell at farmers’ markets.
Olson said her approach to running the school board would be similar to what it takes to run a business, she said, explaining how she helped the Augusta Housing Authority address financial issues.
“I came into a position that was very limited, and in a very difficult financial position. 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, and we have been incredibly successful in doing that.”
Although her background at the Augusta Housing Authority is different than running a school board, she said innovative thinking will also benefit the school board.
She said the board can sometimes make decisions in a “reactionary way instead a of a proactive way,” and she would encourage team-building activities for all members of the board.
For remote learning, Olson said she wants to make sure Augusta’s public schools have the technology needed to implement the learning model. There are certain tools necessary, she said, such as making sure each student has a device, but also tools like “Swivl,” a camera that follows and records teachers as they walk around the room.
She said most of the technology the district ordered for remote learning is on backorder because of increased demand across the country. Students in prekindergarten through second grade still do not have necessary technology.
“I think COVID-19 has forced us to get to a place that we would have gotten to eventually. 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.”
Olson said she would like to form a committee to jumpstart reconstruction of Hussey Elementary School, which she said “has to happen.”
And one of the larger changes Olson would like to see is bias training for the Augusta Schools staff.
As chairperson, Olson said she would bring conversations and ideas to the board. In the past, as an at-large member, she has suggested bias training, 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, 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. 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.”