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West Orange Times & Observer Wednesday, Oct. 20, 2021 8 months ago

Castleview Elementary's Dr. Julie Helton inspires through experience

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Dr. Helton is a finalist for OCPS Principal of the Year.
by: Jim Carchidi Former Associate Editor

Dr. Julie Helton understands how education can change lives. Her 23-year career with Orange County Public Schools includes teaching and district-level experience.

She currently is a finalist for OCPS Principal of the Year, but her motivation to educate goes beyond classrooms.

“Helping people learn and grow can help people change their future,” she said.

Helton’s desire to help stems from her desire to learn, which began when she moved to Florida from Cambridge, Ohio, at age 14. 

“My parents owned a restaurant, and it went under, and they were no longer able to make ends meet,” she said.

Family members loaned them a condo in Naples, where they lived throughout her high school years. 

“My goal is to give a lifeline to anyone new who needs support and has questions.”

 

Castleview Elementary Principal

Dr. Julie Helton

“I saw my parents really struggle with getting jobs that could pay the bills,” Helton said. “I didn’t want to have that kind of struggle, and I knew my way out would be to get an education.”

High school came with a different kind of struggle, which Helton overcame through the performing arts. 

“I was painfully shy,” she said. “I was interested in dance when we lived in Ohio, but it was a very rural area, and my parents couldn’t always take me, and they didn’t have a lot of money to put me in classes.”

After moving to Naples, Helton put her basic dance knowledge to work by teaching younger age groups at a local studio to pay for more advanced classes. 

“It helped me to get on the dance team at my high school, which helped me to come out of my shell,” she said. 

Her experience led to academic success while reinforcing her desire to learn and teach.

Helton earned a full scholarship to the University of Central Florida then earned a master’s scholarship through the Lockheed Martin/UCF Academy for Mathematics and Science. After earning her doctoral degree, Helton taught second grade at Durrance Elementary — now Sally Ride Elementary — from 1998 to 2004. She then served as curriculum resource teacher at West Creek Elementary from 2004 to 2005. 

Her district-level experience began as senior administrator in the Curriculum Services Department from 2005 to 2009. She continued as director of multilingual services until 2011, when she accepted the position of assistant principal at East River High School. 

Helton served as principal at Winegard Elementary and Eccleston Elementary before helping to plan and open Castleview Elementary in 2019. 

“I had a great time doing that,” she said of opening Castleview. “I thought it was really fun to build a school from the ground up.”

To inspire a sense of belonging, Helton takes inspiration from the “Harry Potter” books and sorts Castleview students into houses, where they work together to earn points. She also strives to foster self-confidence through the same outlets she found as a child. 

“Without the performing arts, I don’t know that I would have been able speak to a room full of parents or community members,” she said. “You don’t get enough of that opportunity during the regular school day, so I really try to offer various outlets before and after school for the kids, so they can develop those talents.”

Helton’s dedication to education includes helping her OCPS colleagues. She currently mentors three principals and leads training programs. 

“My goal is to give a lifeline to anyone new who needs support and has questions,” she said.

After more than a year of COVID-19, Helton is looking forward to some normalcy on campus but cannot wait to see live shows again. Her favorite production, “Come from Away,” is based on the true story of airline passengers who were diverted from their destinations on 9/11 and the small Canadian town that welcomed them.

“The cast is small, and each cast member plays several different roles,” she said. “People from the town and the people from the planes come together and make life work in this little space without knowing each other.”

Helton appreciates the parallels between the production and her job — and how it all underscores her belief in the power of education. 

“One of the greatest things about being in the school system is that it’s society,” she said. “Theres so many different people, family structures, lifestyles, beliefs … and those things can bring us together. That’s what makes it so beautiful.”

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Jim Carchidi was an associate editor for the West Orange Times & Observer, Southwest Orange Observer and OrangeObserver.com. 

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