A career spent educating

Aug. 21, 2014 @ 01:11 PM

Occasionally, demographics combine and goals align and the magic of education overcomes a loud, unmistakable voice.
Such is the case for Stephen Halkiotis, Orange County Board of Education member, former Orange County Commissioner, former principal at Orange High School, former principal at C.W. Stanford Junior High (before it was a middle school), and lifelong, never-to-really-retire, (even though he is technically retired) mentor and educator.
“If I was good and successful it was only because of the people that surrounded me,” Halkiotis said.
On the eve of a new school year in the region, Halkiotis remains passionate about the school system that took him in and allowed him to affect change and move the schools he guided in positive directions.
“When I took over at Stanford, it was a school of stress. We had 20 men that were 19 to 20 years old in the eighth grade; it was a challenging group. But, I promised them that if they worked with us and the system and the courts and followed our guidance, we would find a place for them. Some of them went on to good careers -- some didn’t -- but we gave them all a chance,” Halkiotis said.
At a time when Orange County Schools are working to engage the community to assist in developing a vision and strategic plan for the school system, the present fervor of why Halkiotis remains passionate about the success of the school system remains, as it did the days he roamed the halls as principal. “We are at a good place with our schools and we want to move them towards a better place; we know that the most important times for a child’s life are from kindergarten to third grade, and we want to make sure that we are preparing kids during those years and preparing them to excel in middle school and high school, because they are a reflection of our community,” Halkiotis said.
Halkiotis can identify moments of being a teacher or administrator that foster warm feelings about his time with the school system. “I gave out over 4,000 diplomas and we sent some amazing kids on to do great things. Some of our graduates from Orange are welders and some are doctors and some came back here to teach and some are business owners, and all of them are appreciative and cognizant of the impact our school system had on their lives,” Halkiotis said.
From the small town of Harverhill, Massachusetts, Halkiotis says that he never once experienced any difficulties with his accent and mannerisms, not being from Orange County. “The people of this county are wonderful and kind and amazing, and though I dealt with some people that thought they were tough, they have no idea what tough was, coming from where I was raised,” Halkiotis said.
Having arrived here in the 1970s, Halkiotis migrated through elementary education and the various ranks of administration, and completed his studies at UNC in Chapel Hill, amassing some three decades of service and foundational support for youth and the community which he lives and loves.
“The way forward for Orange County Schools will be through the initiatives we develop through strategic planning by engaging our community and forging ahead together,” Halkiotis said. Perhaps there is not a more accurate statement to how his own service to this community, despite not being from here, is best described. From his work with lost youth and guidance in nurturing schools forward and his role as an elected official, this tenured educator remains an educator with tenure.

SCHOOLS OPEN: Both Orange County and Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools open Monday.

Have a feature or story idea for Jason Hawkins, please email him at hawkinsoutdoors@msn.com.