PLAIN TWP. — John W. Halkias calls his former school teachers, along with the educators and administrators he works with today, his second family.
It was the teachers at McGregor Elementary in Canton who helped him, then a kid who couldn’t speak English, thrive and love to learn.
When he became a Plain Local school board member in 1999, he saw the dedication of the administrators and staff to make a difference in students’ lives no matter their circumstances and he wanted to help in any way he could. In 2000, then Assistant Superintendent Jacqueline DeGarmo challenged Halkias to be more than a local school board member, telling him that one day he would become president of the statewide association for school board members.
During his recent installation as the Ohio School Boards Association’s president Halkias thanked DeGarmo, telling her “Jackie, I couldn’t let you down, so here I am today.”
Halkias, in his 20th year as a Plain Local school board member, is the first Stark County school board member to become president of the Ohio School Boards Association.
The 63-year-old statewide association helps Ohio school officials better serve their students and advocate on behalf of public educators in Ohio. The OSBA is made up of more than 700 Ohio school boards and more than 3,000 elected board members.
Halkias was sworn in as OSBA president during a Jan. 12 ceremony at GlenOak High School before friends, family, former teachers and educators. He thanked his wife, Amy, and children, Alex and Sophia, for their patience and understanding as he takes on the new duties and gave a Greek thank you very much — Efharisto polli — to his former teachers in attendance.
“All of you in public education are my second family, and I further dedicate my service to you and everything you taught me,” Halkias said. “I keep learning from you all every day, and I am eternally grateful to all of you. Your service to children as educators is what moves America forward, and ensures the success of this great country and the great state of Ohio.”
Among the speakers at Halkias’ ceremony was U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown, who pledged to continue working with the association to make public schools a priority.
“John has been a leader in Stark County, and has a deep appreciation for the difference public education makes — not just in individual students, but in the entire community,” said Brown, who is considering a run for president. “John, you will have the privilege and the responsibility of guiding an institution that has the potential to make a difference in the lives of Ohio students. And I mean all students.”
As OSBA president, Halkias is the face of public school boards across Ohio.
“It’s similar to being president of a school board,” said Halkias, who has served as president of Plain’s school board six times. “You’re the focal point or the voice that talks to people like the media, state legislators and ... the new governor.”
He recently drove to Columbus to begin planning the association’s upcoming annual conference and will be driving across the state this spring to attend each of OSBA’s five regional conferences. Halkias also has been appointed to serve on the national school board nominating committee, which chooses the school board committee for the National School Boards Association.
“It is a big commitment and a lot of people in the past have been retired,” said Halkias, who works in Broadview Heights as a fund administrator for United Food and Commercial Workers’ Local 880 union-employer health care and pension funds.
Next week, Halkias will travel to Washington, D.C., where he will be one of two representatives from the local congressional district to attend the National School Board Association conference and meet with Ohio congressional representatives.
Halkias said he will be talking to legislators about the federal Individual with Disabilities Education Act, which outlines the funding for students with disabilities.
“When that law was passed, and it’s been a while, Congress said they would appropriate 40 percent of the cost of educating those students (with disabilities),” Halkias said. “They’ve never have gotten above 18 percent.”
Halkias said underfunding hurts local school districts.
“This is one of those federal mandates that we’re happy to comply with but the cost of educating those kids has just exploded,” he said.
Halkias said some of the major initiatives OSBA will tackle this year including continuing its leadership in helping local schools with safety and security, as well as getting schools the mental health resources they need.
He said while he believes many districts, such as Plain Local, are doing a great job addressing student mental health issues, there’s room for improvement.
“We always can do better,” he said. “I think we need to help kids as a preventative measure rather than cleaning up the mess after it happens.”
Reach Kelli at 330-580-8339 or firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter: @kweirREP