Joshua Heath: Standing up for Julie Olsen

FILE PHOTO: Saugus Union School District Governing Board member Julie Olsen addresses topics facing the district during a candidate forum on Thursday, Oct. 20, 2017.

Recently KHTS, a local news outlet, got a hold of several Facebook messages sent by Saugus Union School District board member Julie Olsen, which contained insulting language toward various local figures. Considering she is an elected official, these messages will likely have a detrimental effect on her public career and provide rich material for future campaign opponents to attack her with.

It would be a grotesque injustice, however, for Ms. Olsen to lose her seat on the board because of these messages. For starters, these remarks were made in private and meant to stay private. Like any normal human being caught in the rough-and-tumble world of politics, she on occasion had to blow off some steam about the individuals she encountered.

Who among us hasn’t done the same, and said things out of anger that we would never want seen in the public spotlight?

The more pressing issue to be considered is not that Olsen made some regrettable comments, but that these messages made their way to the media in the first place. It is clear that Olsen’s privacy was breached by a close friend or hacker, who had to have leaked her private communications to KHTS.

The radio station and website should have shown better judgment and not printed the remarks for the entire community to see.

Olsen, like every other citizen, has the right to her own private life. Since the messages had nothing to do with her duties as a public official, and were clearly not criminal in nature, KHTS had no business publishing them. The choice to do so is one of the reasons why so many have a low opinion of the media nowadays, as they often seem more concerned with salacious headlines than doing serious, quality journalism.

Second, the Saugus Union School District Board is an important institution in Santa Clarita, tasked with making policy for 15 schools and more than 10,000 students. For it to succeed, it needs dedicated, competent public servants to serve as members and solve the problems facing our local schools.

It is clear Julie Olsen fits those criteria. Over her 25-year career, she has achieved remarkable things in the private sector as a manager of multimillion-dollar corporate education centers and senior leader for a Fortune 500 company.

Before being elected to the board, she also had extensive experience working in the community, spending time assisting the SCV Senior Center, the SCV Food Pantry and a local economic development agency, as well as a host of other non-profits.

During her campaign for the school board she provided a clear vision for improving local education. And since being elected, she has worked tirelessly to make that vision a reality.

Among the policies she called for was an elimination of the “direct instruction mandate,” which makes teachers use a single teaching method for all new lessons in all subjects and grades. Instead, she argued, teachers should be given the leeway to choose from a variety of effective strategies to meet the needs of students.

Considering a lack of autonomy is something many teachers complain about bitterly nowadays, Olsen’s proposed change is exactly what our schools need.

In addition, Olsen proposed expanding the latest Arts and STEM (Science Technology Engineering and Math) curriculum to every student in the Saugus Union School District, scheduling school board meetings to accommodate working parents’ schedules, and enacting programs to ensure parents have all the information they need to support their child’s education.

These policies are just a sampling of the solutions Olsen is working to enact so that the Saugus Union School District is a better place for every Santa Clarita Valley family.

The empathy and practical commonsense that guides Olsen’s service is far more important than the few Facebook messages that made their way to KHTS. All those missives showed is that she is a human being, imperfect like the rest of us.

But they do not make her any less of a public servant or any less necessary to the future of the Saugus Union School District.

Last year, Julie Olsen spent thousands of hours away from her family to campaign for a school board seat, a little-publicized position that affords none of the celebrity or salary given to Congress members, state legislators and senators. Nonetheless, she pursued that office because she had a vision for making our schools a more just, humane, and merciful place for Santa Clarita’s children.

For that reason, and many others, Julie Olsen is a credit to this community and deserves the support of every citizen against the undignified, crude attacks currently being made against her.

Joshua Heath is a Valencia resident and a political science student at UCLA. He has served two terms as a delegate to the California Democratic Party.

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