Dec 8, 2017

Olshefski Ends Second Term on BOE; Reception Monday

Picture of Cathy Olshefski

 

During the past eight years while Cathy Olshefski has served as one of Pickerington’s school board members, she has seen one thing as a constant: Change.

“The dominant theme over the past eight years has been change. I’m proud of the fact that I’ve been given the opportunity by this community to be a part of that evolution,” said Olshefski, whose second four-year term on the board wraps up this month. A farewell reception is planned for her at 5:30 p.m. Monday, Dec. 11, at Heritage Elementary School Auditorium.

The hardest changes were probably those that occurred in her first term on the board, when the district was faced with financial challenges and board members had to make difficult choices that resulted in cuts to programs and people.

“The light at the end of that tunnel was that we were able to hyperfocus on what we do as a school district,” Olshefski said. “When the levy passed and we came out of those dark financial days, we were able to make important changes that allowed us to move forward.”

Since then, the district has made significant enhancements to its approach to academics, reflecting new demands by the state and new opportunities for students looking forward to college and careers in the 21st century. The district has changed how and what it teaches. It has ramped up the use of technology and expanded its curricular pathways and built significant partnerships the business community.

“We’ve gone from educational methods and processes that had been in place for decades to approaches that are new, challenging, and frustrating, but also that are encouraging,” she said. “I hope these changes are what’s best for students and all of us who care about the public education process.”

One of the difficulties of being on the school board is that the community has not always agreed with every decision that must be made. Indeed, no decision will ever please everyone, she said. But Olshefski said she has always had the interests of the children – and the community – at the front of her mind when she cast her votes.

“I’ve lived in this community 20-plus years and I care about it, for all of its pluses and minuses and occasional warts and pimples,” she said. “This is my home town. It’s the place I’ve lived the longest. I believe in the community. I believe in these schools. My son went through school all 13 years here and got a great education. And I have enjoyed having the opportunity of trying to make this district – and, by extension, this community – a better place. That’s really, at the end of the day, what I ultimately wanted to accomplish when I got on the board, was to just make things better.”

The school board also has had to help manage the effects of growth in the community.

“I remember the days before I got on the board. We were sticking a couple desks and chairs and kids in a custodial closet so we could teach them,” she said. “We just had so many kids and they were coming so fast and so furiously. Fortunately, we’ve seen significant changes in our facilities, not just the number of buildings but how we construct them, the technology we include, and how we staff our schools.”

Safety also has continued to become a big issue in schools. Pickerington has dealt with that change, too.

“Educational institutions exist to teach our kids stuff,” she said. “But society has changed and the world has changed around us. At the end of the day, the safety of our students is probably our number one priority. Yes, it’s difficult to have dogs walking through our schools, sniffing for bombs and drugs. It’s difficult to lock a building down because somebody is running around with a gun in the community. It’s difficult to shut a school down when there is a bomb threat called in. I think this school district has risen to the occasion.”

Olshefski has seen changes in her personal perceptions about being a school board member.

“I had a U.S. congressman tell me one time that being a board member is the hardest elected position because you are the closest to the community in which you serve,” Olshefski said. “He was right. You bump into the people you represent literally every day. You bump into people who want to talk about their kids, which is one of the most passionate things in their life.”

With experience on the board has come some understanding that you can never please everyone with your decisions. You can only do what’s best for students and the community as a whole.

“We believe, universally and wholeheartedly and purely, that we are making the best decisions for our kids every day,” she said. “That does not necessarily mean we’re making the best decision for your individual child every day. That can be difficult to embrace. What I’ve learned is that I have to continue, as a board member or an administrator or a leader in this district, to focus on the decisions that will be best for most, if not all. And when it does come to decisions for specific individuals, they have to be fair, consistent, balanced, and based on policy or law.”

Olshefski said she hopes she is leaving the district in a better place than when she joined the board eight years ago.

“This community needs to continually be reminded what a great thing we have in this school district,” she said. “And I’m not just saying this because I’m the outgoing cheerleader for the schools. I am so proud to have been given the opportunity for my kid to have gone through the system, but also to watch others go through it, watch the positive changes we are making, and just realize what a great experience these kids have in a public educational institution in a bedroom community outside of Columbus, Ohio.”

Although her time on the school board is done for now, Olshefski said she will still find ways to make a difference in the community.

“I have a strong faith. I believe that God is leading me to something,” she said. “It may be to come back to the school board. It may be to do something else in the schools. It may be to do something for the community. There are some ideas running around in my mind. I won’t sit still for long.”