Stephen H. Halkiotis | Candidate Questionnaires - Orange County | Indy Week
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Stephen H. Halkiotis 

Orange County Board of Education

Orange County Board of Education
Stephen H. Halkiotis——Name on Ballot
Phone Number—-919-732-4813
Years lived in Orange County—-46

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1) My top priority is to continue to address the long standing issue of “Raising Achievement and Closing the Gap” for minority and all disadvantaged students in order to increase graduates and reduce dropouts.
All of these efforts must begin in a meaningful pre-K program and children must be on grade level by the end of third grade if they are to experience success in middle and high school. As a former junior high principal of 2 years and high school principal of 15 years, I saw first hand the challenges presented to students, staff, and parents of not being adequately prepared.

‘Raising Achievement and Closing the Gap” and dropout prevention must be studied together and need to be a top priority all the time and not just four months before an election cycle. We must pay attention to expanded literacy efforts across the system, we must stay focused and understand testing results that show where additional work is needed, and we need to change the mindset of heretofore low performing students into one where success is achievable with a good honest effort. Our Title I elementary schools have always and will always have my complete support. The main lesson my 17 years as a junior/senior high principal taught me was that I had to be just as concerned as to what was happening at the elementary school level. The elementary level is where the strong foundation must be built to support the entire K-12 program.

A second critical area of concern is to continue to provide a strong literacy initiative throughout the system. The ability to read and write in a coherent manner is of utmost importance for a successful learning experience and for later success in life. According to NCDPI(North Carolina Department of Public Instruction) statistics third grade reading proficiency actually fell from 79% in 2013-2014 to 76% in 2014-2015(summary results of 89,906 third grade public school students in North Carolina). Obviously there is much work to be done across the entire state in promoting literacy.

My third focus area is to continue to work on school safety issues and further the implementation of specific safety related enhancements that were highlighted in our recent “Safe Havens Study,” undertaken by a highly recognized school safety consulting group. Many of our buildings are over 50 years old and were designed in a different period in our history when extreme acts of violence were rare on our public school campuses. We have been working diligently for the past two years to enhance our security at all our facilities and we need to continue on that path for the next decade.

2.) I spent 30+ years of my life employed by the Orange County School System as a Social studies teacher, assistant principal, principal of C.W.Stanford Junior High for 2 years, 15 years as principal of Orange High School, and 8 years as Director of Auxiliary Services until 2004 when I retired. I also served as an Orange County Commissioner from 1986-2006 and proudly voted to increase per pupil funding for both public schools systems and provided strong support for several successful bond referenda to build new schools and upgrade older school buildings. I understand the perspective of being a county commissioner at budget time and I understand the need to provide the best educational opportunities for all of our children. I was first elected to the Orange County Board of Education in 2008 and then re-elected in 2012. Both in 2008 and 2012 I was honored to receive the Independent Weekly endorsement as I did in 5 elections for County Commissioner from 1986-2002.

3)I have always defined myself politically as a Liberal and I have been a devout Democrat for 72 years and very proud of it. I have always believed that in order to work towards a greater society that is tolerant of all people and strives to uplift rather than put down, one has to take a stand on issues and not just sit idly by on some fence. I make my positions known very clearly on issues and sometimes my blunt manner puzzles some who can’t understand my passion. I was born with passion and will pass away with passion. I fight for all children to help them have a better life so they too can become agents of positive change in the future.

The very bedrock of our Democracy is based on system of free and public education for all of our children. Without our strong commitment to providing the best possible public education program for our children, the United States of America faces a bleak future.

4) Dealing with reducing the dropout rate continues to demand constant attention by teachers, building level administrators and support staff(clerical, custodians, counselors, social workers, nurses, etc..), parents, Central Office staff, the Superintendent, and the Board of Education. For the past 40 years the biggest block of dropouts from OCS continues to be white 15 year old males turning 16 and then becoming legally eligible to dropout.

We need to continue our efforts to further reduce the dropout rate and there is a new initiative coming on line
from the Director of Student Support within our Human Resources Division to establish a system wide dropout prevention committee to better coordinate efforts being carried out now independently by counselors and administrators at Orange High and Cedar Ridge High School.

Conservative legislators and conservative think tank groups and their respective leaders should always remember that the money we devote to educating our young pales in comparison to the far greater dollars we spend on keeping adults in state prisons and county jails. That has always been the case and will continue until that conservative legislator mindset changes.

5) I retired from the Orange County School System after 30+ years of service in 2004 and served as a social studies teacher, assistant principal, principal(2 years at C.W.Stanford Junior High and 15 years at Orange High School), and Director of Auxiliary Services(8 years). I was very familiar with local school board policies, superintendent expectations, school law(federal and state) and I clearly understood all of this both as a classroom teacher and administrator.

The board of education in consultation with the superintendent and the school board attorney and with additional assistance from the North Carolina School Board Association all work together to develop policies that govern the day to day operations of the school system. Once the entire board votes in open session to approve a policy then that policy is expected to be followed by all in the system. Adherence to applicable federal and state laws, adherence to State Board of Education procedures, Department of Public Instructions guidelines, and local school board policies all come together to provide a seemingly complex system of laws, rules, regulations, and policies that provide a regulatory framework that all public school employees and officials must adhere to.

Being a public school system and not a private or religious based school also means that we have to be respectful and mindful that all parents, students, and staff may not feel comfortable in participating in controversial issues that the greater society is dealing with. It is my opinion that the teacher in the King and King issue failed to give the parents of his students an opportunity to opt out of his presentation. Years ago some parents at the high school level didn’t want their students to go on a field trip to see the “Last of the Mohicans” because they felt there was just too much violence in the movie. Students were assigned a supervised alternative assignment in the media center. Once again the pivot point here is we are a public school system that has to be respectful to all views.

The King and King issue went to a school based review committee that looked at what happened, reviewed that the book was never part of the school library collection, discussed age appropriateness of the book and sexuality issues and thus allowed an opportunity for other staff members to offer their opinions. The teacher then chose to embark on a media campaign and then decided on his own to resign his position. With the resignation of the teacher the issue never went forward to either the superintendent or in any sort of final appeal to the board of education. It is not the function of the school board to inject itself into the daily operations of the schools.

The public school board is the last level of appeal within the system after all issues have been addressed at all clearly defined and appropriate levels. It was totally inappropriate for the school board to get involved while the discussion was ongoing at the school level. Issues have at least 2 sides if not more and the required school system due diligence to conform to confidentiality statutes allowed only the teacher’s version of the issue to be discussed in the public arena.

In a 2014 case at A.L.Stanback Middle School the principal wouldn’t allow students to establish a “Gay Straight Alliance Club.” It was reported that the principal stated to her faculty that “she was heeding a new system-wide policy from Orange County Schools” in barring the new club. Both Interim Superintendent Del Burns and I as chair of the board clearly stated to the Independent Weekly reporter Billy Ball that no such policy existed(September, 17, 2014 article). I clearly stood up for the right of students to establish the club. My direct involvement at that juncture was the fact that term “system-wide policy” was first used by the principal and what she stated to the faculty wasn’t the truth, but rather an outright lie.

6) Economically disadvantaged students face huge challenges upon their first entrance into the public school door. When you come to school hungry, when you lack access to proper medical care, when you are suffering from nutritional deficits, when you lack adequate clothing for cold weather, and when you arrive in Kindergarten without a meaningful pre-K experience(both academically and with age appropriate social skills) then the student is already significantly behind.

In my opinion we are beyond 13.4 % of our school population living in poverty and the number has been growing over the last decade. We have three new exciting initiatives underway at our Title 1 elementary schools that we feel will help our economically disadvantaged students achieve greater success and further “Raising Achievement and Closing the Gap.”

Central Elementary School(which actually has 71.83% free and reduced numbers) is restructuring its STEM(Science,
Technology, Engineering, and Math) program with the addition of 3 new teaching positions, a new Math interventionist, additional “appropriate/leveled reading materials,” and the addition of a new Behavior Specialist position. The Superintendent recommended and the board approved the additional resources to help the staff at Central Elementary better meet the needs of their student body.

Efland Cheeks Elementary(which actually has 67.61% free and reduced lunch numbers) has instituted their new “Eagles Fly Program” received 5 new teaching positions in addition to childcare staff for adult ESL classes. Students at Efland Cheeks are learning how to become leaders through “critical thinking and supporting each other” in their day to day activities. The approach is to create and establish a new “mindset” in teachers and students that 20 years from now students will remember that special teacher(s) who truly impacted their lives in a most positive way.

New Hope Elementary(62.48% free and reduced lunch numbers) is embarking on their new “Superhero in Me” program where there is an emphasis on “The Power of Yet.” This exciting initiative doesn’t dwell on socioeconomic status as “an excuse for success or failure” but rather attempts to instill in students a “can do it” attitude. The concept of working hard and that it takes work and time to achieve meaningful things emphasizes “patience and belief in one’s self.” New Hope also received 4 new teaching positions with assistance for childcare staff for evening Adult ESL classes. These 3 examples of innovative and far reaching initiatives at our 3 Title 1 schools hold great promise for positive results and received enthusiastic support from the entire board.

7) The constantly changing array of “revamped scoring systems” appear at times to be more politically motivated rather than a true indicator of whether or not children are learning at appropriate grade levels. All of the hoopla becomes even more convoluted when the Lt. Governor of North Carolina defends the delay in releasing charter school test results for reasons that aren’t easily understood. The really interesting and highly concerning fact is that for the first time in the history of public schools in North Carolina “the majority of public school students are non-white.”(see Public School Forum’s most recent Top 10 Education Issues 2016, page 10).

The same Public School Forum report also states that
“In several districts, we are witnessing the resegregation of school systems along racial lines”(page 10). The aforementioned new programs(response to question #6) initiated at our most “High Needs Schools” and the solid board support(acting on the recommendation of the superintendent) to dramatically shift resources to help low achieving students is what exactly needs to happen.

8) Our new Superintendent Dr. Todd Wirt is working with our principals to take a fresh look at our suspension procedures and work together to look at alternatives to out of school suspension. We have had “in school suspension” teachers and classrooms in our secondary schools for well over 30 years and opened an alternative school for secondary students who were having problems behaving in a big comprehensive high school setting over 10 years ago.

Developing attitudes of positive and acceptable behaviors in students begins in elementary school and continues through middle and high school. My years of experience as a teacher and middle/high school principal was based on the premise that I gave respect first to students and then expected it in return. I expected teachers to employ the same concept of giving respect first. My experience showed that I could build a positive working position with students by clearing explaining and modeling “giving respect first” in my day to day behaviors as both a teacher and as a principal.

9) I have taken “principled stands” on a number of issues over my 30+ years as a public school educator. My response to question number 5 with respect to the”Gay Straight Alliance Club” at A.L.Stanback Middle School I publicly defended(previously cited Independent Weekly reporting by Billy Ball) and clearly stated my standing up for the right of students to set up the club. I did all of this while staying within the confines of confidentiality statutes as they apply to personnel matters. In the June 25, 2015 issue of the Independent Weekly I was quoted as saying “As a principal at the school you have to be respectful of the needs of all your kids, not just the 98 % majority…You’re responsible for the 2 % too.”

An additional example of speaking out are my comments reported out in 20, 2015) in “Hundreds March in Hillsborough to Celebrate MLK, Reflect on History.” I was cited as “Chair of the Board of Education and longtime Orange County Educator…railed against politicians that seek to move the nation back to old, discriminatory policies.” I stated very clearly in that report that “there are people in Raleigh and Washington, D.C. today that want to turn back the clock. They want to bring back what were the good old days for them. They were not the good old days for Dr. King.”

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