Interview with Lindalyn Kakadelis, Director of the North Carolina Education Alliance

Interview with Lindalyn Kakadelis, Director of the North Carolina Education Alliance

Lindalyn Kakadelis always knew that she wanted to work in teaching. Even as a young student, she always found herself tutoring and mentoring her fellow students. She passionately pursued a degree in education and in 1975 graduated from Bob Jones University with a Bachelor of Science Degree in Elementary Education.

Mrs. Kakadelis started her career as an elementary school teacher. Since her graduation, she's taught 2nd, 5th, and 6th grades in Georgia and Oregon. For Kakadelis, the classroom was a challenging atmosphere that maintained her fascination of the means by which students learned.

Having two children that were youngsters at the time, she stayed heavily involved in the education community. Kakadelis moved to California and lived there for nearly seven years, during which time she taught at the preschool her children attended. Aditionally, she became a member and legislative chairperson of the local PTA and was the director of the preschool ministry at her local church.

When she moved from California to Charlotte, she became the Chair of the Legislative Committee of Smithfield Elementary School, where her children attended. Since 2003, Mrs. Kakadelis has been the Director of the North Carolina Education Alliance (NCEA).

Prior to her involvement with the NCEA, she was the director of the Children's Scholarship Fund (CSF) of Charlotte, a charity which provides low-income students with tuition assistance. Additionally, she served on the Charlotte Mecklenburg Board of Education (CMS) and was a founding board member of Queen's Grant Charter School in Charlotte.

Outside of her involvement with the NCEA, Mrs. Kakadelis frequently makes guest appearances on TV and radio programs in North Carolina, in addition to speaking in public forums about issues related to education. In addition, she writes about education and her articles appear in several publications throughout the state.

Mrs. Kakadelis bases her work on “the belief that all children - poor or privileged - deserve an opportunity to attend the public, private, or religious school best suited to their needs,” and she is dedicated and committed to seeing that all children receive an education of quality. She currently resides in Charlotte with her husband of 29 years, Tom, and stays increasingly active within the educational community.

Going to School in Charlotte

What is your involvement with education in the Charlotte area?

I have held several positions while living in the Charlotte area. One of the most satisfying for me was during my last year on the Charlotte Mecklenburg School Board. During this year I served on the CMS Board of Education, on the founding board of Queens Grant Charter School, and Directed Children's Scholarship Fund – Charlotte. Helping families find the best educational placement for their students was extremely rewarding. Children's Scholarship Fund of Charlotte awards financial assistance to poorer families who wish to attend private schools. The program is currently administered by the Foundation for the Carolinas. As I counsel families, my involvement with various educational providers broadened the choices available for them. All of the various educational providers have success stories regarding students, and all have horror stories of various students. The goal is to find the fight match for each student; successful placement will lead to a successful education experience.

What do you enjoy most about your job and your career? How does working in the Charlotte area play into this?

While the classroom experience was extremely satisfying for me, my six-year tenure on the Charlotte Mecklenburg Board of Education revealed to me the all-encompassing influence of education policy. Elementary and Secondary education is a political, bureaucratic monopoly, for those who cannot afford to pay twice – once through taxes, and again through tuition. Directing the North Carolina Education Alliance gives me the opportunity to follow trends, political decisions, and the latest research regarding education. The Alliance is a resource bank on education issues with a statewide network. We focus on student achievement, teacher quality, funding, and school choice. The years of experience on the Charlotte Mecklenburg School Board launched me into taking the directorship of the Alliance. The high profiled school system in Charlotte keeps me keenly aware of the challenges faced by the larger systems in the state. Working on various committees in Mecklenburg allows me the opportunity to focus on local issues, while continuing to work with smaller districts, and families across the state. This also gives me a unique opportunity to stay involved with a district that I had the opportunity to govern.

In your opinion, is the educational system in Charlotte well supported by the government?

The Charlotte Mecklenburg System is burdened by a very controlling state educational system. The average size of a district in North Carolina is about 6500 students. The fact the Department of Public Instruction does not allow more flexibility for larger schools systems in the state complicates issues. The General Assembly and the State Board of Education allows for little flexible spending of state dollars, so flexible dollars must come from the local funding stream. This is one reason for the struggles during the county budget process. An example of little flexibility is the way in which teachers are paid. The salary schedule is set at the General Assemble. Local school systems must use local dollars for any merit pay program. The state determines teachers' salaries by the number of years teaching, and advance course study. The pay is not determined by the competitiveness of the teaching position, or the ability of the teacher to teach. Money is important, but how money is spent is more important.

What is special about the education system in Charlotte compared to others you may have encountered or heard about?

Charlotte is in a unique position to keep a very social economically diverse student body. In many urban areas school systems have become predominantly poorer, and less racially diverse. While the diverse student population in Mecklenburg County is positive, meeting needs of the diverse population is a challenge. This county has three distinct customer bases; urban, suburban, and yes, even rural populations. Each has very different needs and requires different approaches to insure student achievement. The way in which the system determines to meet these needs in the next few years will determine if the system keeps the diverse student population.

What's happening with the school choice issue in Charlotte?

One of the benefits of living in the Charlotte area is the broad array of school options for families. Charlotte Mecklenburg School System allows for system transfers; however, many of the suburban schools lack capacity for transfer options. The system's magnet schools do offer a unique educational experience, and many families choose this option. Mecklenburg County is home to 9 charter schools, and two schools chartered, but not yet operating. These are public schools chartered by the State Board of Education, and are not under the authority of the local board of education. There is a cap of 100 charters, and until the General Assembly either removes or raises the cap the growth of charter schools is limited.

Mecklenburg County is also the home of over 100 independent schools. While many families take advantage of the independent schools, paying tuition is often a huge financial burden. Lower income families have fewer options, and often miss the opportunity for independent schools. In 1996, when Children's Scholarship Fund Charlotte became available over 6,000 requests came from lower income families for financial assistance. Until the General Assembly decides to remove the cap on charter schools, and allow financial assistance to follow students to schools of choice, little will be changing. School choice will continue to be a reality for some families, but limited by waiting lists, and financial ability.

Why is single-sex education a pressing issue in Charlotte schools?

Single sex education is a pressing issue because it is limited here in Charlotte. Charlotte Mecklenburg's Board or Education has decided not to broaden this educational option. If a family would like this option, they must look outside of the traditional public schools. As the demand for single sex classes grow, the system should respond. You may want to watch Forsyth County, as this system is allowing for single sex classes.

What are some of the top challenges for educators (at any level) in Charlotte?

Educators deal with mandates that seem to constantly make the classroom experience more difficult, beginning with the complicated licensing and certification process of the State Board of Education, to lack of leadership at the principal level. It seems the more focus on student achievement the more regulations come from the central office, or the Department of Public Instruction. However, Dr. Gorman's flexibility with accountability should prove beneficial. Giving teachers who demonstrate “outputs” (student achievement) more flexibility is exactly what should happen. Another difficulty for teachers is the lack of support from Principals, and also from parents. When students, parents, teachers and administration all work together, there seems to be more satisfaction and success with the education process.

Is Charlotte working to implement technology into classrooms, and if so, how?

Charlotte is doing various initiatives implementing technology into the classroom. Every school is wired for the Internet. There are computer labs in each school, with several computers in each classroom. All schools meet the ratio of eight students to one computer and 85% of schools meet the ratio of five students to one computer. Every eight grader must take the computer competency test, and must pass in order to graduate from high school. While technology is extremely important it might be better to place a greater emphasis in the middle and high school levels. Sometimes I wonder if the time on computers at the lower levels reaps the academic benefit for students learning basic skills. Dr. Gorman's Strategic Plan for 2010 calls for students in kindergarten through 12th grade to create a project using some form of technology that studies a country other than the US. While this might sound impressive, I struggle with symbolism over substance.

Is Charlotte working on high school redesign/reform? If so, please elaborate.

High School Redesign – Judge Manning who is overseeing “Leandro,” (North Carolina's school funding case), brought attention to the poor academic achievement of high schools around the state. He instructed the Department of Public Instruction to intervene, overseeing reforms in the worst performing high schools. The problem is many sided, and will take various reforms. However, the best reform will be to prepare students for high school work, have high expectations, and quickly remove students who struggle obeying the rules. Alternative educational opportunities should be available for all families. One size does not fit all, especially in education.

What is the “boy crisis” and are Charlotte schools trying to remedy the situation?

The “boy crisis” has to do with achievement levels and graduation rate for male students. It is extremely low – especially for black students. There are various reasons for this situation and it began to receive national attention after the Newsweek cover story several years ago. This is one reason I feel school choice is so important. Parents should have the option of single sex schools. Lower income families have the least amount of options for their children – education should not be one! At this point schools are focusing on all students who are lower performing, and not just male students.

To the best of your knowledge, what are some goals for the future of education in Charlotte?

Dr. Gorman's 100-day plan is the best place to see what goals are in store for the system. I believe everyone in Mecklenburg County interested in K-12 education should pay attention to this report. However, remember Dr. Gorman is bound by a majority of votes from the Charlotte Mecklenburg Board of Education.

By all means I encourage folks to link to the North Carolina Education Alliance's website. I send out a weekly journal/newsletter regarding educational issues. Folks can sign up for this weekly eLetter at http://www.nceducationalliance.org/contact/index.html.

Related Articles