Rachael Butler soars from CPTC student to Hayes Child Development Center Director

by Jean Borst

Education and career paths aren’t always smooth—or direct.

Rachael Butler spent two years at Evergreen College before shifting gears. After completing the dental assisting program through Bates Technical College, it took two years on the job to realize dentistry wasn’t her passion. So in 2014, Butler walked onto the Clover Park Technical College (CPTC) Lakewood campus ready for something new.

Seven years later, she’s still there, and the “something new” that brought her to CPTC was just the start of something much bigger. In 2020, Butler was named director of CPTC’s Hayes Child Development Center.

“It wasn’t what I’d initially envisioned when I started the Human Services program at CPTC,” she said. “I saw myself on the front lines with the Department of Social and Human Services, working with adults. But the Hayes Center offered the opportunity to be flexible and innovative, while still holding myself accountable. That’s one of the biggest things I’ve learned.”

From volunteer to director

Rachael Butler next to a tree

Because she was on TANF (Temporary Assistance for Needy Families) when she began her studies at CPTC, Butler was required to do volunteer work while she completed her associate degree. She connected with Workforce Development on campus, which helped her find her way to the Hayes Center.

Accredited by the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC), the Hayes Center provides a nurturing environment and programs that help the children of CPTC students, staff and the community learn and develop school readiness skills. The majority of Hayes’ staff members have AA degrees, and most completed the Early Care and Education program at CPTC. The Hayes Center serves as a lab site for students in the program.

Butler’s volunteer gig at the Hayes Center evolved into work study, an externship and full-time employment. When her boss retired, Butler applied for the position. To meet job requirements, she completed her bachelor’s degree while she was working. Her two-year program at CPTC more than prepared her for the next step.

“My instructors were impressed with what I’d learned at CPTC,” she said. “The AA program was rigorous and provided a lot of relevant, real-world experience. I really had the opportunity to put my skills into action. That’s the most valuable benefit of a technical school.”

“I’ll never stop learning. I love soaking up new info and skills, and I want to be as useful as possible. I don’t know what I want to do when I grow up, other than impact individuals in a positive way and empower them to be successful in the way they want to be successful.”

Juggling is her superpower

Last spring when the previous Hayes Center director left the position after sixteen years at the center, Butler and another staff member took over as interim co-directors until a replacement could be found.

When a new hire didn’t work out, it made sense for Butler to shift into the role on a permanent basis. She had the experience, knowledge, skillset and respect of staff needed to do the job. Regardless, taking on the multiple responsibilities of a director is daunting. Taking the reins during a pandemic is another story entirely.

“Rachael had to navigate everything that comes with the directorship, plus the pandemic,” said Cal Erwin-Svoboda, Associate Dean for Student Success. “She’s had to lead teams, build consensus, and make sure people are safe and their concerns are heard. The way she’s been able to respond and adapt is incredible.”

Butler jumped in to offer teaching support; coordinated the move from a virtual environment to reopening to serve students and staff in July; secured COVID-19 relief funding for the Center to expand the use of technology systems; and sorted out the complexities of implementing additional safety measures at the center to minimize close contact of staff and students. Butler’s team also joined forces with college administration to provide free care for the school-age children of CPTC employees due to school closures as a result of COVID-19, and just launched its 2021 summer camp for the school-age children of students, staff and other community members.

To make things even more interesting, Butler has been completing her master’s degree in psychology and helping her son navigate virtual learning over the last year.

Feels like home

Rachael Butler handing a little girl flowers

For Butler, the Hayes Center has been much more than a career ladder. It’s been a home.

“I came to Clover Park at a phase in my life when I didn’t have a lot of self-confidence,” she said. “I was a single parent and unsure how to go about life. The Hayes Center really helped build and shape who I am today. I feel like I’ve grown up here.”

Much like the little lives she and her staff care for day to day, her time at the Hayes Center has laid a strong foundation for what’s to come.

“I’ll never stop learning,” Butler said. “I love soaking up new info and skills, and I want to be as useful as possible. I don’t know what I want to do when I grow up, other than impact individuals in a positive way and empower them to be successful in the way they want to be successful.”

More information about the Hayes Child Development Center is available at cptc.edu/childcare.