COLUMBIA — Darin Preis doesn’t really have typical days. When he’s not catching up on e-mail, returning phone calls or attending a meeting for one of his many Columbia involvements, Preis can be found at a number of places throughout the city.
Some days, he’s speaking on behalf of Central Missouri Community Action, where he is executive director, to classes and student groups at MU. On others, he’s questioning education committees on their recommendations to the Columbia School Board until late in the evening.
But there is one part of Preis’ day, a major motivator for his work, that the public rarely hears about: spending quality time with his 6-year-old son, Hayden, and his wife Stacey.
“I try to get home in time so I can get Hayden in the bath and do all that good stuff,” Preis said.
After their son is put to bed, the Preises finally have time to be alone, though work typically occupies their minds until they, too, are in bed around 11 p.m.
“That’s usually when my wife and I get time to catch up, but we’ll have our laptops out with us on the couch,” Preis said. “That’s when I tend to write on my blog either for work or for the school board.”
Stacey Preis is a career advisor for the MU College of Engineering and is working toward a doctorate in education policy at the MU College of Education.
They said they have managed to separate their role as parents to a child in Columbia Public Schools and Darin Preis’ role on the school board.
“We don’t make issue of it at Hayden’s school,” Stacey Preis said. “We told Hayden that if he ever tries to use that on one of his teachers he’ll be grounded for a very long time.”
With weekdays consumed by work and civic involvement, Darin Preis holds his weekends for spending time with family.
“I love to go out to Rock Bridge State Park. Hayden and I and the dogs go out there and walk around,” he said. “We go to the library quite a bit and get books and music for Hayden and I both.”
Since Preis was elected to the school board in 2005, he has tried to push for the five things on his to-do list: increasing early childhood education; advocating for innovations in Columbia schools; improving the health and nutrition of Columbia children; supporting teachers and staff; and building a budget that will allow the district to focus more on improving the schools and increasing salaries.
Preis said his involvement with Central Missouri Community Action in the past two years has framed his way of thinking about these issues. “Everything I do professionally and in my volunteer time with the school board, I am thinking about how to avoid poverty or how to get people out of poverty,” he said.
Like Preis, Steve Hollis addresses poverty issues for Columbia and Boone County, and he agrees that poverty can hurt the education system because he sees the effects first-hand.
“What I like about Darin is I think he gets the big picture in that education is a continuum,” Hollis said. “And he understands just how important it is to equal the playing field as much as possible.”
Hollis said he also supports Preis because he is a proponent of open communication at a time when the board has been perceived by the public as secretive.
“I think Darin, in my experience, is always very open and transparent in his professional life,” Hollis said. “And as a peer in the community, I can’t help but think that same value of open communication would be carried into his work on the school board.”
Preis has also defended the school board when accused of keeping its doors closed.
“We’ve really been trying to communicate with the public and provide information ... but people believe we are operating in secrecy,” he said. “Board meetings are open to the public, and they are televised. People may think we are making decisions behind the scenes, but we are really not.”
In his free time, Preis has remained physically active because it helps him to focus better. As a member of the district’s wellness committee, he has worked toward removing soda machines from the city’s public schools and improving the quality of the food served. He has also supported decisions to move recess before lunch and add breaks within classes.
“Children need to be healthy to be able to learn,” Preis said. “There’s lots of research that says when kids are physically active, they are able to focus more. There’s a big difference between having 30 minutes of focused class time versus 40 minutes of sleepy-eyed yawning class time.”
Still, Preis said, much more is left to be done. While Columbia’s public schools have adopted Missouri’s wellness recommendations, “I would like us to be leading the state,” he said. “We haven’t gone nearly far enough as far as nutritional quality of food and vending options go.”
Preis has been vocal in his support of a proposed increase in the property tax levy, which would total more than $10 million for the district. He said it’s appropriate for school boards to ask citizens for more money from time to time to keep up with rising costs. For example, he said, employee health insurance costs have increased 47 percent since he was elected three years ago.
“Either you need more money or you have to cut programs and services,” he said. “We are committed to doing a little of both.”
Click here to read Darin Preis' response to a questionnaire from the
Columbia Community Teachers Association.