Name as it appears on the ballot: Stephen Halkiotis
Date of Birth: April 5, 1943
Campaign Web Site: NONE
Occupation and employer: Retired from Orange County School System
Years Lived in Orange County: 40

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?

Student, Teacher, and Parent Success at all schools, a fully transparent budget process that the entire community can understand, and a complete review and analysis of all existing programs and the combined resources which support all those programs. Developing a system to measure success across the system(test results, closing the achievement gap, parental involvement, school system involvement in reaching out to the total community before the children are even of school age, etc…), putting forth a realistic budget proposal that is based on a thorough review of all existing resources, and conducting a thorough review of all existing programs(aimed at understanding their effectiveness in promoting student achievement) with an eye to the 4 R’s of Review, Reassess, Redesign, and Realign.

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 feel that my 20 years of service as an Orange County Commissioner(1 year as Chair and 14 years as Vice-Chair) and my understanding of both the Orange County Government Budget and of the Orange County Board of Education Budget provides me with the unique vantage point of seeing how both budgets impact each other and ultimately impact the achievement of students. My 30+ years of service with the Orange County School system provided me with the understanding of a classroom teacher, junior high school principal(2 years), high school principal(15 years), and director of auxiliary services(8 years)and how all of these positions ultimately came together to help students, teachers, and parents feel successful.

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

I consider myself a liberal/progressive who believes the function of any elected office is to serve to the best of one’s ability for the betterment of all people and society. With respect to serving on a Board of Education I would add that a finer focus has to be achieved on ensuring that community resources(tax dollars) are spent wisely with the stated purpose of maximizing the impact on helping all students achieve to the fullest of their ability.

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

In my 30+ years of employment with the Orange County Schools I attended numerous meetings and made presentations as both a principal and director of auxiliary services recognizing student achievement to planning and overseeing construction of multi-million dollar building projects for the Orange County Board of Education. As an Orange County Commissioner for 20 years I attended over 500 regular and budget meetings from 1986 to 2006.

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?

I feel that the Orange County School System has done a good job in meeting the needs of AIG students and with the availability of nearby community colleges and universities the opportunities for AIG students are limited only to the availability of resources to support such a program. The AIG resources should also be reviewed and reassessed as to their effectiveness and modified if necessary. The school system must provide opportunities for all students at all ability levels and constantly strive to challenge students to do their very best.

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?

“Raising Achievement and Closing the Gap” has been around since the advent of public education efforts and has been called a myriad of other names over the years. I strongly believe that the school system has a responsibility to reach out to parents even before their children are of school age and assist parents in preparing their children for the day that they formally enter the world of public schools. Reading to the unborn and sharing any and all available information and resources to new parents to assist them in the positive development of their own children before they arrive at the school house door is not as daunting a task as it may sound. While originally “Raising Achievement and Closing the Gap” referenced achievement levels of African American students as compared to white school children, there needs to be a greater understanding that all children should fall under this consideration. Achievement enhancement for all children(African American, Latino, Asian, Native American, White European ancestry, etc….) should include all children. While the study calls for a total community wide commitment to help all school age children, I would take this call for assistance one step further and remind all school system administrators that they should be willing to give the additional commitment that the study asks from the entire community. As someone said a while back, it does “take an entire village” and in this case an entire school district and school community to raise the achievement level of all children.

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?

I don’t agree with what the Board tried to accomplish at Hillsborough Elementary School and the manner in which it chose to do it has left an entire school community very upset and created much anguish which could have been avoided. The original proposal put forward by a former chairperson was to merge Hillsborough Elementary and Central Elementary and then that fizzled out after several months and this new and disruptive idea came forward. School Boards should not be in the business of micro-managing a school system that already employs many specifically trained school personnel(teachers, principals, assistant principals, directors of this and that, associate superintendents, a superintendent and countless other Central Office administrators) and to whom they pay millions of dollars in administrative salaries and benefits. The Board rushed headlong into a situation with the best of intentions and should have been advised by their former superintendent that this was not a prudent course of action. No such advice was given and the very minimum involvement of parents, teachers, and school administrators was a mistake.

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?

As Principal of Orange High School for 15 years the one thing that I had to learn early on was to develop a “lot of patience” and hold onto it. Sending students to “in school suspension” for refusing to take the AFVAB sends the wrong message of the “punishment should fit the crime.” Students( with the full knowledge and consent of their parents) should be able to opt out of taking the AFVAB without incurring punishments at the school level. While some information is required by law to be provided to the armed forces of the United States of America, the school system can let it be known that some parents wish to maximize their privacy to the extent they can and that excessive contacts from military recruiters to students at home and at school isn’t acceptable. Some students and their parents welcome military recruiters contacting them and others don’t.

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?

I don’t believe that resources(human, financial, and others) are being efficiently and effectively utilized at this time. There needs to be a complete audit of all resources within the Orange County School System, a performance analysis of what is currently being spent for what and what benefits are being achieved. A position by position assessment coupled with a program by program evaluation and a cost benefit analysis should be done across the system without having to go to an expensive outside consultant to find out something that most people in the system already know exists. There has been a long history in the Orange County School system of passing out resources based on an equal number of this and that to each school and not actually on what each individual school may actually need. A school that has a significant number of students who need more of math or reading instructional time then should be given additional math and reading resources. All school administrators and central office administrators should be willing to adopt a classroom for 4 hours a week and stay with that class for one full school year to better understand the challenges facing teachers today. I served as a ½ time high school assistant principal and taught 3 classes of Social Studies students for 2 years and that was a most enlightening experience. Too many Central Office administrators have forgotten the challenges of the regular classroom. I am willing to volunteer 4 hours a week in a designated classroom that is in need of help and I will do that as a member of the Orange County Board of Education. I have never asked anyone else to do something that I was not willing to do myself.

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?

Once again, I believe that you have to do the best you can with all the resources at your disposal. Waiting around for some remedy to happen in the face of ever challenging economic times at both the local, state, and federal level merely adds to the number of children falling further behind. I believe there are more than sufficient resources available in the OCS to do a good job, but, it is going to take a major reassessment of how those resources are currently being utilized. Student needs must take precedence over adult needs and wants. The schools were constructed as a place to educate the young and not as a place to provide employment opportunities for adults.

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?

We currently rely on both property taxes, sales taxes, and impact fees to support the schools and many citizens on fixed incomes are growing more concerned about their ability to pay even more than they are currently paying. My proposal to take a long, hard look at what the school system already has and to “review, reassess, realign, and reassign” could generate significant new resources without asking for even bigger tax increases. I don’t support the land transfer tax and I would be totally surprised if it were to pass even in Orange County. It has already failed in 16 counties due to the strong efforts of the realtors and the home builders and they have the multi-million dollar war chest to defeat it everywhere in the state. I think that the stated plan of the new superintendent to look within the system at already existing resources is the smart thing to do and I applaud his efforts.

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?

I feel that my efforts over the past 30+ plus years as a public school educator and my 20 years of service as an Orange County Commissioner have all been focused on helping students, teachers, and parents in their educational pursuits and the betterment of all citizens and the entire community in my capacity as a county commissioner. I take great pride in the fact that the Independent Weekly endorsed me in my election efforts as an Orange County Commissioner in 1986,1990, 1994, 1998, and 2002.

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 feel that I have taken numerous “principled stands” over the years and have always voted for what I felt was the right thing to do(setting the tax rate to support both school systems, providing the Sheriff with the necessary vehicles and personnel to do the job, investing in watershed protection to protect our most valuable natural resource, providing adequate Social Services and Public Health programs to ensure the well being of all our citizens, supporting affordable housing initiatives, providing a public swimming opportunity for central and northern Orange County via the Triangle Sportsplex, etc…..) and not some vote geared to ensure a steady stream of votes. I vote on issues based on what my heart and mind tell me to do and not some projected vote count benefit if I vote this or that way. I speak in a straightforward manner that some find to abrupt and to the point for I feel that “life is too short” and I don’t have forever to keep on studying some issue that has been analyzed over and over again for various and sundry reasons.