Stephen H. Halkiotis | Candidate Questionnaires | Indy Week

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Stephen H. Halkiotis

Candidate for Orange County Board of Education


Full Legal Name: Stephen Herman Halkiotis

Name as it Appears on the Ballot: Stephen H. Halkiotis

Office Sought/District: Orange County Board of Education

Date of Birth: April 5, 1943

Campaign Web Site:

Occupation & Employer: Retired from Orange County Schools in 2004 after 30+ years of service, (Social Studies teacher; Asst. Principal/Teacher at Orange High School; Principal C. W. Stanford Jr. High - 2 years; Principal, Orange High School - 15 years; Director of Auxiliary Services - 8 Years)

Years lived in Orange County: Resident of Orange County for 42 years


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?

The most critical challenge facing the Orange County School System for the 2012-2013 school year is addressing the ongoing series of state budget cuts and reversions of state funding that have, over the past two decades, helped us achieve higher graduation rates, lower dropout rates, and increased literacy rates for Orange County students.

The Republican controlled legislature seems determined to turn back the clock on the educational reforms and improvements of the last 25 years that lifted our state from its previous nearly bottom ranking. As a result they have sent us back to the bottom in record time. In just the past two years North Carolina has dropped to 48th in Per Pupil Funding. We must continue to advocate for our students and parents and teachers and ask the Orange County Commissioners to maintain and expand their historically strong support for both public school systems in Orange County.

The second challenge will be to continue our strong efforts to "Raising Achievement and Closing the Gap" for minority and disadvantaged students in order to increase the number of students who graduate and decrease dropouts. Dropout prevention efforts must be considered as a continuum beginning in pre-school and kindergarten programs and need to be fully in place by third grade if we are to have successful learners in middle/high schools and beyond. We are working hard in this area through: 1) expanded Literacy efforts across the system, 2) focused evaluation by administrators, principals and teachers of achievement results, 3) expanding the Socrates program from the high schools to middle and elementary schools, 4) the newly established STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) program at Central Elementary, and other such efforts. I pledge my full support to these programs.

The third area of concern is that we must continue our strong support for our expanded efforts in promoting Literacy at all grade levels. We must improve our literacy proficiency rate (currently approximately 76%) and raise it higher. The ability to read and write in a coherent manner is critical for a successful learning experience and for later success in life. The school board and the superintendent must continue support for our excellent Literacy staff and the support team from the UNC School of Education.

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 served as an Orange County Commissioner from 1986-2006 and was chair for 1 year and vice-chair for 14 years. I was always a strong supporter of both public schools systems in Orange County and firmly believed that it was entirely reasonable for nearly 50% of our total county budget to be dedicated to the public schools.

I was elected to the Orange County Board of Education in 2008 and have been a vigorous advocate for our students and parents and for our system. I am proud that the Independent Weekly endorsed me five times in my 20 years as a County Commissioner and again as a school board candidate in 2008. I understand the educational needs of children. I understand both county and school system budget issues. I understand that we have a mission to serve and improve our entire community and I strive to accomplish precisely that.

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

I define myself politically as a Liberal and I am proud of it. I have been a Democrat for all of my 68 years and I am also proud of that. I believe 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 rearrange where they sit on some imaginary fence.

I make my positions known very clearly on issues and sometimes my forward and blunt manner puzzles some who can't understand my passion.

I was born with passion and will pass away with passion. I fight for children to help them make their lives better for themselves and their future families.

The very bedrock for our democracy is based on a system of free and public education for all our children. Without our strong commitment to providing an excellent public education program for our children, our democracy faces a bleak future.

4. 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 our district is doing a good job of meeting the needs of our Academically and Intellectually Gifted (AIG) and Exceptional Children (EC) with the resources we have available to us. We have continued to add advanced level courses at both the middle/high school level, we offer middle college opportunities through our partnership with Durham Public Schools and Chapel Hill-Carrboro Public Schools, and we have provided opportunities for taking courses at local universities for those students who have mastered all of our top level courses.

We have continued to expand our EC programs so as to help our EC students access the resources of nurses, physical therapists, psychologists, off campus therapeutic learning centers, and even cooperative programs through the Chapel Hill YMCA like the "Boomerang" program designed to keep previously suspended students engaged in pursuing an education but in a totally different off campus environment. The Orange County School System joined the "Boomerang" network in 2010 and it has proven to be of great benefit to students and parents alike.

5. Given the expected dip in federal funding this year that could mean cuts of as many as 32 teachers and recent cuts to subs, guidance counselors, literacy coaches, etc., what will you do to make sure that the impact of the budget is felt as least as possible in the classroom? Despite the financial difficulty, how will you make sure that the quality of education stays, at bare minimum, at its current level, and, ideally, improves?

Building off of that, how will you balance upcoming budgets during these economic times? What's one thing that is currently overfunded that could be cut?

I have been very vocal in stating during numerous public meetings that I am dedicated to saving teacher positions at all costs. We are trying to keep the classroom whole for teachers during these unprecedented bad economic times. We have avoided teaching position cuts over the past 4 years while we have witnessed the loss of 15 Central Office positions from District Math Specialist, to Director of Student Services, to District Secretary, and others. We have not filled teacher assistant and custodial positions that became vacant through retirements.

We can't endure any additional non-teaching cuts without seriously taxing already overburdened staff members who have assumed responsibilities as a result of unfilled positions. We need additional help from our Board of County Commissioners as we are faced with fewer dollars from both the state and federal governments.

We have reduced months of employment for assistant principals from 12 to 10 months, we have seen reductions in funding for guidance counselors, social workers, technology staff and others in an effort to save teaching positions. While the conservatives in control in Raleigh claim to have increased the number of state teaching positions, they don't want to acknowledge that schools systems have been forced to send monies back (REVERSION MONEY) to Raleigh since the 2008-2009 school year.

We sent a total of $195,048 for 2008-2009; then $1,076,282 for 2009-2010; then $1,485,386 for 2010-2011; then $2,106, 447 for 2011-2012; and a projected $2,470,177 for the 2012-2013 school year. The state gives with one hand and then takes it right back with another. This is the wrong way to approach educating our children. It appears that some folks (unfortunately the ones in power!) don't understand that it costs far less to educate a child than it does to keep an adult in the prison system in North Carolina. This foolish mindset has resulted in North Carolina's current ranking of 48th in Per Pupil Funding. We have been thrust backwards to the mid-1970s when we had a similar national status.

If we fail to get additional consideration from our last hope via the Orange County Commissioners, then we will have to undertake the unpleasant task of looking for any possible revenue streams to save teaching positions. Possible steps would include increasing class size, allowing positions opened up via retirement to go unfilled, and dipping into fund balance monies which should not be used for recurring costs (such as teaching salaries). This is going to be the toughest budget year ever with the ending of federal Education Jobs dollars and anticipated additional cuts and reversions from Raleigh. Over the past 4 years we have cut and cut our operating budget and we are now down to the bone! There is simply nothing left to cut without directly impacting the classroom and teachers.

6. What is the district doing now to receive and value parent input? What more should be done? How will you be responsive to those concerns?

As a former Principal (C.W. Stanford Jr. High School, 1979-1981 and Orange High School, 1981-1996) I always valued and solicited parent input in many affairs concerning the schools where I served. Parents are an essential part of their children's education and therefore they must be viewed as partners in the process if we are to be successful. Parents need to know that they are included and that their opinions are valued.

We encourage all schools and their respective staffs to treat the parents of the children they teach with proper respect and to listen to their concerns and suggestions. We have over 1,400 parents/volunteers in our schools and countless others who serve in a wide variety of booster clubs (Band, Athletics, PTAs, and Advisory councils) that further support a myriad of other activities all designed to help our students (their children) achieve success. I always listen to parents and citizens who come before the board to raise concerns and fully expect staff to follow up on these concerns and report back to the board of education.

7. Please access, citing statistics, programs such as SOCRATES, and other examples, the district's progress in closing the achievement gap for low-income and minority students. Are you satisfied with the direction? What else should be done?

The Orange County School System, with the dedication of both system and community supporters, has made significant positive gains in "Raising Achievement and Closing the Gap" for minority and disadvantaged students over the last 5 years. The African-American graduation rate rose from 74.1% in 2009-2010 to 81.1% for the 2010-2011 school year (state average was 66.9% and 71.3% for the same two years.). The numbers for Hispanic students for the same two years were 70% and 68.3% (state numbers for Hispanic students were 61.4% and 68.7%). Graduation numbers for Caucasians in OCS were 83.7% and 82.8% for the same two years while the state numbers were 79.6% and 82.4%. The evidence is clear that we need to continue to focus in on increasing the number of African-American graduates and refocus on raising the number of Hispanic graduates. The district has learned that Hispanic students need additional help with literacy initiatives that have a direct outcome on performance.

Reading scores for grades 3-8 show excellent gains for African-American students from 36.5% in 2007-2008 to 51% at 20010-2011; Hispanic students from 36.3% in 2007-2008 to 53.1% in 2010-2011; Caucasians from 70.5% to 83.1% in 2010-2011.

Algebra I scores show growth in African-American student achievement from 38.5% in 2007 to 62.7% in 2011; Hispanics from 33.3% in 2007 to 77% in 2011; Caucasians from 71% in 2007 to 87% in 2011.

English I scores for African-American students grew from 47.9% in 2007 to 76.3% in 2011; Hispanic students grew from 55% in 2007 to 79.7% in 2011; English I scores for Caucasians increased from 86.1% in 2007 to 92% in 2011.

The Orange County School District is doing an excellent job of tracking student performance, sharing the results with teachers and administrators to focus on areas that need greater attention, and working with community partners, such as the Northern Orange Education Task Force to honor high school students who achieve a 3.0 GPA.

The school system has actively pursued the creation of pre-K classrooms, Elementary Community Learning Centers, middle school after-school programs, summer enrichment programs, high school after-school programs, and the SOCRATES (Students of Color Reaching Academic Achievement through Enhanced Support) program. SOCRATES was established at Orange High and expanded to Cedar Ridge High and is now expanding to the elementary schools. This program format encourages students of color to actively participate in higher level courses.

All of these positive gains are a direct result of the Orange County Schools willingness to reach out to the community via the Ministerial Alliance, the business community, parents, at large community members and civic groups, various university personnel, school based support groups (PTAs, Booster clubs, etc...) with a strong focus on promoting minority achievement.

8. What challenges do Orange schools face attracting and retaining top teachers? How will you overcome those, if elected?

The Orange County School System is blessed to be located in the Triangle area -- a very desirable location for aspiring teachers to reside and work. While we don't have financial incentives such as sign up bonuses to offer new teachers, we do have the support of the business community via incentives and discounts that give special consideration to employees of the school system. We have a reasonable teaching supplement that enhances the state salary schedule. I try to offer my strong support to any and all attempts to bolster our teachers and their efforts to help our students. When I started teaching in 1973 at Orange High School my yearly salary (with an M.A. in History from UNC-Chapel Hill) was approximately $5,895 for the entire year with no local supplement. As teachers, we fought to get a local teaching supplement a few years later. The current mood by conservative Republicans and some conservative Democrats in Raleigh is to cut state funding for public schools and legislate more and more reversions of dollars -- they literally give one day and take back the next.

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

When I first ran for political office as a Democrat for County Commissioner in Orange County in 1986, my campaign slogan was "Truth, Honor, and Justice." I have always adhered to those three words as a motivator in my work as a teacher, principal of Orange High School who awarded approximately 4,300 diplomas to graduating seniors over 15 years, as a County Commissioner for 20 years, and most recently as a school board member for the past 4 years. Over the years I have fought for and proudly advocated for efforts to build and support alternative intervention programs for at-risk pre-school children, for two new Orange County Senior Centers, for recreational opportunities via the Triangle Sportsplex in Hillsborough, for a new hospice facility in central and northern Orange, and for numerous other facilities and programs that improve the lives of all people. When I work hard as a school board member to better the lives of all of our students, then I help better the entire community.

10. 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 have taken principled, and sometimes controversial, stands on a number of issues during my 24-year political career. The most recent was supporting the successful cent sales tax referendum with the proceeds going to both school systems and economic development in Orange County. We have some extremely vocal anti-tax citizens in central and northern Orange who feel that the schools are getting enough money and don't need any more. I felt the exact opposite and was willing to stand up for the tax and joined the School Board in a signed endorsement of the efforts by the country commissioners to get this tax approved. I feel that it is much wiser and more progressive to spend money on school age children to provide them the best possible education than spend four times as much money to house them in jails and prisons later on. Unfortunately that simple message seems to have fallen on deaf ears with the conservative legislative leaders in Raleigh.

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