Since 2003, Olivia Buatsi has been a mainstay at the North Shore School District. But on July 1, she will be retired, and her time at the district will have come to an end.
Buatsi is a native of Alavanyo, a town in the Volta region of Ghana. In 1983, after graduating from the University of Science and Technology in Kumasi, Ghana, she came to the United States.
She moved to be with her husband at the time, who was a professor at Hofstra University. Buatsi decided she needed to go back to school to better prepare herself for working in the states earning an MBA in managerial and public accounting from Hofstra.
She began working at the North Shore School District in 1997 as assistant business manager, a position she held until 2002. After a 17-month stint as assistant business manager at the Hempstead School District, she came back at North Shore. It was former superintendent Dr. Ed Melnick —who recently died — who hired her back this time as assistant superintendent for business. It was a position she would hold for the next 19 years.
Buatsi said that in her time at North Shore, she came to appreciate the unique way the district teaches students to embrace learning and creative thinking.
“This is the only school district I have worked for where the focus has been on teaching the kids to think, and bringing out their creativity,” Buatsi said in an interview. “That is something that I think this district, and this Board of Education, do very well, because the focus should not on the test scores. The focus must be on how we develop the kids.”
In this position, she has overseen various and varied aspects of the district’s operation. These include transportation and food services, buildings and grounds, personnel and civil service, among others.
Buatsi said her most important work was improving the district’s lunch program by bringing it out of a deficit and providing healthy food for the students at an affordable price.
She claimed that this project was especially personal to her, since growing up in Ghana lunch wasn’t provided by her elementary school. At noon every day, Buatsi and the other students had to walk home to eat lunch and make sure to be back by 1:30 p.m. Buatsi had to walk two miles in 90 degree heat every day and explained that this inspired her to take extra care to ensure North Shore was providing their students with the benefits she didn’t have in school.
“I looked back to myself and said, “What a waste of time,” because if I had those two hours to work with my teachers, think how much more I could have learned,” Buatsi said. “That made a strong impact on me, and although we are in an affluent district, I had to think, “Are there any children like me?” Now, we have one of the best food service programs in the whole state.”
Dave Ludmar, president of the district’s Board of Education, explained that her compassion was at the heart of everything Buatsi did for North Shore, and the students in particular. Ludmar has worked with her ever since he was first elected to the board in 2016. He said her experience and dedication to the students made her truly special and a pleasure to work with.
“Olivia could be working for a Fortune 500 company and be an incredibly valued person there for her financial knowledge and foresight, but it’s her humanity that she’s always shown that makes her so special,” Ludmar said. “She has always gotten the big picture, and she knows when you’re talking about saving 25 cents on a pre-packaged meal, it’s not just about the cost of materials, but the creation of the best learning space for our children.”
Dr. Thomas Dolan, interim superintendent in the district, has also worked closely with Buatsi in his time at North Shore. He said what struck him most about her is her intelligence and insight, as well as her fun and resilient attitude. The entire district has been left better thanks to Buatsi’s work, Dolan said.
“I’m privileged to thank Olivia on behalf of the tens of thousands of students and thousands of teachers who have benefitted from her wisdom and her heart,” Dolan said in an interview, “and I wish her well in all her future endeavors.”
She looks forward to relaxing at her home in Greenlawn, going back and visiting her extended family in Ghana, and spending more time with her daughter Christina, who works for the New York Times.