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Holt: Experience comes firsthand

Monday, March 23, 2009 | 5:00 p.m. CDT; updated 9:34 p.m. CDT, Monday, March 23, 2009
Dan Holt and his daughter Emily sell MSHSAA programs as a fundraiser for Rock Bridge High School Booster Club at Mizzou Arena. Holt is one of the candidates running for the school board.

COLUMBIA — Through the years, the Holt family has been a staple in Columbia Public Schools.

Dan Holt's wife, Lisa, is a teacher and the math department chairwoman at Rock Bridge High School. His sons, Daniel and Kevin, graduated from Columbia schools, and his daughters, Emily and Audrey, play sports and now attend Columbia schools.

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For Holt, 51, running for Columbia School Board is committing to planning a system in which he has been invested for many years. He is one of nine candidates running for two seats in the April 7 election.

"A good part of how my passion developed for education was helping parents and students finance their education," Holt said.

Through his work helping families finance higher education, he got involved in a program called "Make High School Count," which assists junior high school students in planning their academic careers. The program helps students decide what classes to take to best prepare them for the college of their choice; it also helps parents figure out how to finance their child's education.

Holt knows helping students move into higher education is contingent upon the success of K-12 schools. Holt likes that Columbia has a collective mindset of preparing children for college but said he would like a district-wide effort to educate students about vocational schools.

It is a passion for him because he benefited from a vocational education. A Salisbury native, Holt attended Missouri Western State College (now designated a university), where he studied construction engineering. Afterward, he worked as an architectural draftsman.

At a school board forum in February, Holt mentioned the need to show students the benefit of vocational colleges and to begin training Americans how to make things again.

"I'm a very big advocate of vocational education," he said. "What has been critically missing is technical skills that you can immediately apply in part-time work." He said some of the classes are exceptional that are offered by the Columbia Area Career Center, which is part of Columbia Public Schools.

For Holt, running for the board is an issue of timing.

"I'm at the time in my life where I'm like, 'You know what? I can do this,'" Holt said. "I have a passion for it, I feel like I have the background where I can make a difference. It just seemed like I had a calling for it."

Running for school board has had a few costs to his family life. As he spoke of missing his daughter Emily's last home basketball game of the season to attend a candidate forum, he was visibly irked. It was one of her best games, Holt said.

But the sacrifices haven't tempered his excitement for the job.

"It's been excellent," Holt said. "There has been a surge in community involvement. So many people have congratulated me for running and expressed that they thought I could be a good voice for them, which pleases me."

As Holt explains a typical weekend, he nearly runs out of breath.

"Valentine's Day, I took my wife to the MU basketball game," he began. "We left early and picked up my son, who's handicapped, took him to our house and got my daughter and brought her to Rock Bridge and was there for the balance of the evening for the JV and varsity games. Then got my son and brought him back at 9:30 at night. Woke up at 5 a.m. the next day, drove to St. Louis, got back at 9 p.m. at night." He ended by laughing.

"It's a pretty hectic pace," he said. "But idle hands and idle minds, they just go to waste."

Holt and his family are avid Columbia sports fans. Lisa Holt is a former girls' basketball coach at Rock Bridge and a member of the all-female "chain gang," or the group in charge of the down markers for Rock Bridge football.

When the state basketball championships came to Columbia, Dan Holt served as a team host. Team hosts help acclimate the visiting teams and fans to the community, as well as help coordinate the busy schedule so they can enjoy the experience, he said.

"It's most fun when you get a team from a small town in Missouri come into Columbia and show them around our big town," Holt said. "For many, it's the highlight of their season. It's easy to get caught up in the fun aspects of it all."

At a candidate forum, a question was posed about Columbia's special education program, a subject with which Holt is familiar because his son Kevin has cerebral palsy and went through the program.

"I may have an unfair advantage in answering this question," Holt replied. There is, he said, "tremendous" integration between the medical facilities and services at MU for people with disabilities and special education teachers and programs in the public school district. That integration sets Columbia apart and should be preserved, he said.

"There are parents that will move into the community because of the medical facilities available," he said, "but also because the school embraces them and makes them feel like they are an active part of the student body."

"Students (with special needs) are in the hallways and are embraced," Holt said. "That is a social experience as well as a learning experience (for all students)."

Kevin Holt owns a duplex in northeast Columbia with two other roommates with disabilities, where caretakers check up on them.

Dan Holt has been following the concerns of the school board. For example, last year the board hired 70 people, though doing so helped create a deficit for the district that has resulted in significant budget cuts this year. Hiring the people was a great idea, Holt said, because it brought needed resources to the students. "It just wasn't thought out long range," he said.

Holt has done more than watch education policy from the sidelines. Until recently, he was an education finance consultant for his own firm, DGH Consulting. He now works in corporate sales for Guy's Snacks Corp.

In 1989, Holt graduated from MU with a bachelor's degree in economics, which propelled him into his career in financial consulting. In 1996, Holt worked for Missouri Higher Education Loan Authority. He then moved on to work for Sallie Mae, the country's largest student loan organization.

Holt said he loves to read financial journals and newspapers to keep up with the financial world.

"Finance is something that is integral to everybody's life on some level," Holt said. "If you can help people be better informed on what you’ll be doing along the way to make good informed decisions that they can feel good about, it's better for the rest of us."


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