New Guilderland School Board member, Butterfield, is a pediatrician

— Screenshot of interview session posted on the GHS Media page on YouTube

Rebecca Butterfield, M.D., introduces herself to the board and the public and discusses her qualifications during the Oct. 2 forum to interview five candidates seeking to fill a vacant seat on the Guilderland School Board.

GUILDERLAND — On Oct. 2, the Guilderland School Board chose a new member, Rebecca Butterfield, M.D. — a pediatrician who specializes in caring for children who have been abused. She is replacing Christine Hayes, who resigned in August.

Butterfield will be sworn in at the next school board meeting, Oct. 15.

The vote was taken after five candidates were interviewed in a televised public session. The vote was 6 for and 0 against, with 1 abstention, by Benjamin Goes, according to Linda Livingston, the school board’s clerk; she added that member Gloria Towle-Hilt had not been present.

Goes did not return an email asking for comment by press time. 

Butterfield’s appointment will last until the new board is seated, after the May election, at the annual reorganizational meeting in July. If she wants to remain on the board, Butterfield would need to file a petition to run in the May 19 school board election when the usual three seats will be open as well.

At this point, Butterfield said, she plans to run to remain on the board in May.

Butterfield, 41, a pediatrician with Albany Medical Center’s department of pediatrics, lives at 186 Pine Ridge Dr. and has one child in Farnsworth Middle School. 

She told the board in the public interviews held on Oct. 2, ”The reason I got interested in this position was because I really want to be able to serve my community in our mutual goal of making sure that all children in the district achieve their highest potential in an ever-changing community.

“As a pediatrician, I think I would bring a different perspective and a different area of expertise on child health and development,” she continued. “Every day in my professional life I spend talking to children and to parents, and I think by doing that for so many years, I’ve really honed the skills of active listening and effective communication, both of which are really essential for board members.” 

Butterfield mentioned to the board that she has a special interest in the effects of childhood trauma and poverty on child development. 

She told The Enterprise this week that she works as a child-abuse pediatrician. She cares for and assesses children who have been victims of physical or sexual abuse, or who are suspected to be victims of abuse, she said, adding that this is a relatively new specialization. 

That specialization may sound somewhat dark or depressing to some people, she said, “but there are a lot of inspiring moments.” 

Asked about this, she wrote in an email, “Just the act of disclosure of abuse by a victim can be therapeutic, and certainly taking care of a victim’s medical and mental health needs and watching them (hopefully!) improve to be in a safer place is really a heartening thing to behold.” 

She told The Enterprise there is a growing body of research that shows that trauma and poverty during childhood have long-lasting effects on physical health and educational health; she gave examples of effects on physical health such as cardiac disease or obesity. Effects related to education can show up years later, including in high-school graduation rates, teen pregnancy rates, and employment. 

According to the New York State Education Department, almost 19 percent of Guilderland’s students in kindergarten through 12th grade were economically disadvantaged, as of the 2017-18 school year. A United Nations report from 2018 found that 40 million Americans live in poverty and 40 percent of the adult population nationally say they would be unable to cover an unexpected $400 expense. 

Butterfield said her interest in joining the school board was awakened after she joined the district’s task force that started meeting a year ago to look into whether the high-school day should start later, and if so, how the change could be made.

The topic, which a student broached with the school board in 2004, is being explored by Guilderland and many other area school districts because of science showing that teens need many hours of sleep but also tend naturally to stay up late.

The Guilderland High School day now starts at 7:30 a.m., earlier than the district’s elementary or middle schools. Serving on the task force was pivotal, Butterfield said, in seeing how a board works and “how it is to work with other people in an endeavor like this.”

The other candidates were:

— Kimberly Blasiak, who has four children in the district, ranging from elementary to high school and who is very active in the Guilderland PTA and who also chartered and now serves as co-president of the Guilderland special-education PTSA and is also family-engagement coordinator for the New York State PTA;

— Gregory C. Buck, who attended Guilderland schools, graduating in 2006, completed the Reserve Officers’ Training Corps and became an officer in the Marine Corps, and now works for National Grid in labor relations and has a 2-year-old daughter;

— John E McKinney, a retired teacher and superintendent, in the Green Island school district, whose three children went through Guilderland schools; and

— Blanca Gonzalez-Parker, a nurse and former emergency medical technician who works in safety and health for a labor-management organization, attended Guilderland schools, and has three school-age children, two in Guilderland schools and one who is home-schooled. 

Board President Seema Rivera told The Enterprise this week, “All five candidates were great in different ways. I can’t say anything negative about any of them …  I don’t think we could have gone wrong among our five choices. 

“We had to pick one,” Rivera continued, “and we chose her because she seems very knowledgeable, seems focused on kids, and was thoughtful and reflective with her answers.”

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