Jeff Michalski | Candidate Questionnaires | Indy Week
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Jeff Michalski 

Candidate for Orange County Board of Education

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Name as it appears on the ballot: Jeff Michalski
Date of Birth: 10/23/1969
Campaign Web Site: NA
Occupation & Employer: Resource Developer, Caring Family Network
Years lived in Orange County: Nearly 10

1) What do you believe are the three most important issues facing the Orange Co. school system? If elected, what are your top three priorities in addressing those issues?

There are many issues, but the three I would identify as most important and those which have prompted me to get involved are the following:

  1. A major issue as you may know is, the board is attempting to achieve "socio-economic balance" at HES. Rather than aggressively marketing the very successful school of choice to the population that they feel is lacking at HES; they have taken on a plan to systematically dismantle the school. They have targeted current HES rising kindergarten, first graders and second graders from the school zones of Efland Cheeks and Central for expulsion from the only school they have ever known. They specifically chose this small group to limit the numbers of families affected, thus limiting the level of dissent that their plan might face. They counted on HES families grand-fathered with their plan to be passive – they counted wrong. HES is a family and all families have stood their ground against an out of control board. These families know that right now it is one group that has been targeted, but eventually the school will be taken away piece by piece. There is a vendetta against the school by specific board members.

    My message is a call to action by all Orange County Parents. In order to make their plan work, the board had to rid Efland Cheeks and Central of the dreaded Title One status that came along with not meeting, "No Child Left Behind" standards. In an effort to do so, they have forfeited $300,000 in federal Title One money earmarked to help improve Efland Cheeks and Central. So not only will the board be expelling children from the only school they have ever known, they will be sending them to failing schools from which they have forfeited the very funds designated to improve them. They are stealing funds from the children and parents currently enrolled at Efland Cheeks and Central. All parents should be outraged.

  2. What my constituents tell me is that fiscal responsibility has been sorely absent in Orange County Schools. We need to get a handle on where the money is going. On a per pupil basis there is plenty of money, but is the money getting to the teachers and students? We need to build our credibility with the County Commissioners.

  3. Choice in Public Education – all of our schools could be schools of choice and parents should be free to choose the school and program best for their child.

2) What in your record as a public official or other experience demonstrates your ability to be effective on the board? This might include career or community service; be specific about its relevance to this office.

I have my Masters in Education from Widener University and have been a lifelong educator working with pre-school children to adult learners. I am a former teacher (behavior specialist) and coach in the Durham Public Schools. I was a deputy with Orange County and the original SRO at both Cedar Ridge High School and The Partnership Academy. I taught DARE and GREAT in the Orange County Schools. I continue to work with adult learners with my current company. I have been in the trenches. I know what works and what does not work.

3) How do you define yourself politically and how does your political philosophy show itself in your past achievements and present campaign platform?

I am not a politician. Relative to the job at hand, I have a personal philosophy that includes personal responsibility, parent empowerment and choice in education. Parents and the community at large need to take a personal interest in our student’ and school’ drive for excellence. Our teachers and administrators only have our children for a limited time. Excellence is as much a product of what parents are doing in the home and the schools. We have such vast people and business resources in Orange County. Those people should be invited and encouraged to a part of what we do. Parents should be empowered with the ability to be a voice for their children. Parents should not be looked upon as a burden to the powers that control our schools. Finally, we are free to choose what kind of car we own (at least for now). We are free to choose what kind of food we eat (at least for now). We can choose where to vacation. But in terms of preparing our children for their future and giving them the best opportunity at an education, we are not free to choose where our kids go to school. Every school in Orange County has something special to offer. Parents should be free to send their kids to the school that will best meets their child’s interests and gives him/her the best opportunity for success.

4) How many Orange County Board of Education meetings have you attended in the past two years?


5) Academically and intellectually gifted (AIG) and exceptional children present particular educational challenges to the district. How well is the district meeting the needs of these children? How could the district better meet their needs? What are the obstacles to these goals and how can they be surpassed?

In pursuit of excellence rather than mediocrity, all of our populations need to be addressed. In my experience, our top performing kids (academics, athletics and arts) and lower performing kids (failing or trouble making) seem to garner all of the attention. While our vast middle performing kids are forgotten. A lot of the children in the vast middle are AIG or EC. We need to do a better job of identifying the strengths and needs of all of our students, to help them succeed at the highest level possible. Mediocrity should not be acceptable. Yes, we want well rounded students who are well versed in all subject areas. But I think we could better serve our kids, by identifying their strengths and focusing time and energy on developing those strengths. Our current system puts a lot of time and energy into attaining mediocrity. When a child does poorly, he/she is expected to do a lot of extra work and testing to get him/her to the middle of the pack. Meanwhile, the areas in which he/she functions with excellence suffer as his/her time is spent on endeavors that they neither enjoy nor do well. I feel we can achieve both a well rounded student with excellence in areas of strength in the following way. We utilize this principal in therapeutic foster care. Parents, teachers, mentors should always work with children to continually develop their strengths. Adequate time should be given to always find activities and learning opportunities to enhance a student’s strengths. Meanwhile, we do not forget their areas of need (weaknesses). But instead of focusing on the weaknesses as we always have, we can instead address the weakness through a child’s strength. As an example, we may have a child is excellent mathematically and athletically, but weak in reading and writing. Rather than quelling their interest in math and sports, by focusing on typical reading and writing activities, we can use these strengths and interests to work on their areas of need. Reading skills could be developed while simultaneously strengthening math skills by doing word problems. Utilizing texts and biographies about the sports in which the child has an interest, could greatly enhance not only reading skills but reading interest while continuing to enhance their interests and skills in an area of strength. Such principals could and should be applied across the board. Such methods would greatly enhance how we address our AIG and EC kids.

6) What are your thoughts on the “Raising Achievement and Closing the Gap” report presented to the Board of Education in November? As a board member, how would you address the achievement gap?

I can tell you, I would not close the “gap” by watering down school populations. I want to let the teachers do what they do best. Give them the support they need (community support, parent involvement). There is no magic bullet (program). Money is not the answer. We need a return of discipline to our schools. Not punishment but discipline. We must engage our students and their parents. We must recognize our children’s strengths, build on those and utilize their strengths to address their needs (weaker areas). Teachers, Parents and Students must shoot for excellence, mediocrity is not acceptable.

7) The Orange County Board of Education recently decided to address an imbalance in economic diversity between Central Elementary and Hillsborough Elementary by setting a cap on the number of students from a given attendance zone who can be enrolled in HES. The board also chose to use federal Title One School Improvement money (available to the district because neither CES nor Efland-Cheeks Elementary made Adequate Yearly Progress in math last year) on pre-K programs. Both decisions have proven controversial. Do you agree with the board’s actions?

No, please see above.

8) Three Cedar Ridge High School students were sent to an in-school suspension classroom after refusing to take the Armed Forces Vocational Aptitude Battery in February. That school requires all juniors to take the test; Principal Gary Thornburg was quoted as saying, “I don’t have a lot of patience with people” who refuse to do so. Do you think any Orange County students should be required to take the AFVAB? Should the district make a greater effort to protect the privacy of families who do not want their information made available to military recruiters?

There are two different issues here. Having worked at CRHS, I know the exam is not required, but highly recommended to the students in order to provide access to as many future career options as possible. The students do have a choice to take the test or be assigned to a separate classroom. Seeing as all other grade levels are in class and all junior classrooms are involved in the exam, there are few if any other classrooms available to place the students who do not wish to be tested. Secondly, as long as schools are accepting Federal Dollars for education, I think they are held accountable to the Federal Government in many ways. Should we preclude the military from having access to our schools? Should we be accepting Federal Dollars for local education? You can not have your cake and eat it too.

9) What method would you use to determine how resources should be allocated within the school system? Do you believe that resources are well now? If not, what would you change?

his question relates to a lot of what I have already talked about. The resources should be allocated for teachers and students first. The problem we run into again is with the vast involvement of the Federal Government. With those dollars comes accountability, which means red tape and bureaucracies. So, we end up with personnel and money utilized in the endeavor of pushing paper and moving money, not teaching kids.

10) In 2005, a report identified inequities between the Orange County and Chapel Hill-Carrboro school systems. How well do you believe those inequities have been addressed or remedied in the three years since? What more should be done, and how?

The inequities exist because Chapel Hill chooses to have additional taxes to support their schools. The inequities have not been addressed as the rest of the county has opted to not have additional taxes. I do not think anything additional needs to be done. I am of the mind that we spend plenty of money per pupil already. We simply need to get a grasp on where that money is going and then re-directing it to the students and teachers.

11) How would you like to see school funding and other county needs met: Property taxes? Impact fees? Other revenue-raising or cost-cutting methods? Do you personally support the land transfer tax as a county funding option?

I do not support any additional taxes. Cost cutting and prioritizing the budget are going to be keys in my mind. But do not forget about the untapped potential of volunteers in our community, parents individuals and companies and businesses that realize they have a vested interest in the success of our schools and students.

12) The Independent’s mission is to help build a just community in the Triangle. How would your election to office help further that goal?

There is nothing more “just” than the rights of our students and parents to a “free and appropriate education.” Appropriate is the key word. My candidacy proposes that I am the “Choice for School Choice.” We have excellent schools and parents should be free to choose which schools their children attend to best meet their strengths and develop their needs.

13) Identify a principled stand you have taken or would be willing to take if elected, even if you suspect might cost you popularity with voters.

I will not support new taxes or increased taxes. The entire Triangle, including Orange County is expanding. That includes the tax base. Revenues continue to increase to meet our increasing needs. We simply need to utilize funds in fiscally responsible way that will decrease waste, get resources to our students and teachers, and finally meet the mission of educating our children.

  • Candidate for Orange County Board of Education

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