Butts pioneered the school’s French Club, the Academic Booster Club and the Harrison High School I-Team, an organization that promotes integrity in the Harrison community.
After witnessing some cheating and attempted cheating by students at Harrison, Butts decided to launch the I-Team, which would allow a group of students to write their own student conduct code for the school and encourage one another to follow that code. The I-Team student conduct code was even painted onto one of the walls at Harrison.
“About seven or eight years ago, we had an overall school discussion about the students understanding the value of being honest and the honor code,” Butts recalled. “A group of us thought it would be a good idea if students wrote an honor code and perhaps since the students had written it, they would encourage one another to follow it.”
Butts also established the French National Honors Society chapter at Harrison, which awards scholarships to select students who graduate from Harrison with a 3.75 GPA in their French classes and a 3.5 cumulative GPA.
Inspired by a teacher
Butts began her teaching career at East Cobb Junior High School in the 1970s before teaching at Wheeler High School for 10 years, then North Cobb High School and finally landing at Harrison High School in 1991.
Butts said one of her high school French teachers inspired her to pursue a career in teaching.
“She came in and taught us about things I’d never learned before,” Butts recalled. “We read ‘L’Etranger,’ which is a book about existentialism, and I had never heard of existentialism before as a junior in high school, and I was excited to learn about something I didn’t know anything about in French. I thought, ‘This is what I want to do.’”
‘Willing to do anything’
Butts’ colleagues and former students agree she is a model for all teachers and a legacy for Harrison.
Lauren Oden graduated from Harrison in 2012, was a student of Butts’ and is now a student at Samford University in Alabama. She visits Butts whenever she visits her hometown, she said. Oden, who served as president of the French Club at Harrison and took four French classes with Butts, said she enjoyed spending time with Butts and learned many life lessons from her.
“She is honestly the one teacher I’ve had who has always gone out of her way to do anything,” Oden said. “She’s always at school and is willing to do anything for her students. She has really influenced me, and she really doesn’t know how much she’s impacted people because she is so humble.”
Marie Bruner is a colleague of Butts and serves as the adviser for Harrison’s student government. Bruner said Butts’ influence on the Harrison community has been invaluable.
“Cathy supports whatever is going on at Harrison, so in my capacity as student council sponsor, every time I’ve done something, she just comes alongside and supports the effort and gets her kids involved,” Bruner said. “If there’s something going on, French Club is involved. She is a total school person and she’s been here since Harrison opened so she’s like the ultimate Hoya.”
Butts was voted Teacher of the Year at Harrison for the 2005 to 2006 school year by her colleagues. She regarded the award as an honor, but recognized the contributions of many other teachers she worked closely with.
Butts said she plans to volunteer with several organizations after her retirement. As a life-long learner, she said she may pursue a law degree because she has always wanted to know what lawyers know.
She said it is her students that she will miss the most after her retirement.
“I’m going to miss the kids coming into my classroom smiling,” Butts said. “It’s just fun to work with kids. When you teach ninth grade English or senior government or something, you only have them once but in my case you get to watch the kids grow up.”
And it’s those grown up kids who will remember Butts for instilling in them more than just knowledge of a foreign language.
“Cathy has always had the students’ best interest,” said Elsa Brown, a Spanish teacher at Harrison High School. “Her passion for her students, knowing what’s right and what’s wrong, developing character and developing a sense of community has always been one of her strongest characteristics, and I think she embodies that for Harrison.”