Superintendent’s Spotlight: Gary Polakoff


Superintendent’s Spotlight: Gary Polakoff

May 9, 2024

Where were you when the earthquake hit? One WVHS junior was alongside Orange County Executive Steven M. Neuhaus as his office dealt with the emergency!

See… Gary Polakoff has always had an interest in the executive branch of government.

It’s what led him to become such an engaged member of Warwick Valley’s popular Youth in Government club, one of 13 local high school chapters of the Orange County Amy Bull Crist Youth in Government Program. Youth in Government gives students (our country’s future voters and office holders) unique opportunities to gain an understanding of county and state government by participating in it.

It was one of these very opportunities that set Gary along the path toward spending the earthquake with County Executive Neuhaus.

Back in December, eight members of the WVHS Youth in Government club announced their candidacies for mock government positions ranging from the local to the federal level. Each candidate had to campaign against Youth in Government peers from other schools across the county. Gary earned the Citizens Party nomination for Orange County Executive. Then, it was back on the campaign trail for the general election, which meant multiple speeches, including videotaped addresses that were shown to the electorate of students in social studies classrooms across Orange County.

“Then, they got to decide who they wanted to vote for, and I won the popular vote,” said Gary. “And I want to say that I’m honored to have won in a fair general election.”

Youth in Government has three major events each year, and the culminating event is Orange County Service Day. Youth in Government students are invited to attend meetings at the Orange County Government Building, and get an inside look at the day-to-day functions and operations at the county building that day. It is also when the students who won their mock general elections get the chance to job-shadow their parallel elected official.

“So… Steve Neuhaus came in and picked me up,” explained Gary. “We went to his office for a meeting, me and my opponent, who also got to shadow as Deputy County Executive. I was able to talk to him a lot about the issues he is working on, and I learned a lot him as a person. He’s an incredible guy. I was honored to meet him.”

Gary feels strongly that it is important for people to get to know their politicians, and that the public gets to see them and have their concerns and voices heard. Among the many highlights of Gary’s day was getting to read aloud a proclamation from County Executive Neuhaus during a meeting in the county legislature. The proclamation addressed opportunities to improve the special education system.

“It was an honor to do that,” said Gary. “I spoke in front of a couple hundred people, but it was especially an honor to speak in front of my Youth in Government peers.”

Now back to the earthquake…

“Yes, I was in his office when it happened. I remember it vividly,” Gary shared with a smile. “I was right there with him; his phone was blowing up!”

Gary said that in a day full of unique and invaluable experiences, he couldn’t believe he was getting to experience this firsthand. For someone whose aspirations include a career in some facet of government, Gary relished the opportunity to see it in action. He appreciated seeing firsthand the gravity with which government agencies approach emergency management, noting that the County Executive and his team leapt right into action to assess the situation and prepare for any next steps.

“They had to get an emergency statement out; he took a phone call from Governor Kathy Hochul,” said Gary. “She was checking in to make sure everything was all right.”

Gary is looking forward to his senior year and continuing his involvement with Youth in Government.

“This program has given me incredible opportunities; I’ve met a lot of politicians and people of power through this program,” said Gary. “And, I would like to thank Mr. Ottochian and Mr. Safier specifically, for all the opportunities they’ve given me and my fellow Youth in Government peers – who, I want to say, have also been awesome to work with throughout this program!”


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