Returning Columbia School Board member Darin Preis has potential of children in mind

Thursday, December 20, 2012 | 6:00 a.m. CST
Newly-appointed member of the Columbia School Board Darin Preis signs in his son Hayden, 11, at Adventure Club at Mill Creek Elementary School in late November.

COLUMBIA — Darin Preis is a new member of the Columbia School Board. Again.

Preis served on the board from 2005 to 2008, until he lost a bid for re-election.

Darin Preis, at a glance

Age: 42

Work: Executive Director, Central Missouri Community Action

Related service: President of the PedNet Coalition board of directors; Missouri Foundation for Health board of directors 

Education: Bachelor's degree in English from Missouri State University and master's degree in public administration from MU

Personal: married to Stacey Preis; they have one son, 11-year-old Hayden

When Paul Cushing's departure for a job in Minnesota left an opening on the board, Preis was appointed from among eight applicants. His appointment goes through April, when, according to his plans now, he will run for the remaining two years in Cushing's term.

At Preis' swearing-in ceremony at the start of the board meeting Nov. 12, there was a slight hiccup.

"I hate to do this to you," deputy superintendent Nick Boren said. "But attempt to raise your right hand."

Boren was teasing Preis about his shoulder sling, the result of surgery in October to repair a torn labrum and a cyst under his right arm. An old injury resurfaced last summer when he was playing catch with his 11-year-old son, Hayden. 

The following excerpts are from a longer interview with Preis about his return to the Columbia School Board and his plans.

Why did you decide to apply for the board opening?

Last year, I became the president of the PedNet Coalition board of directors, and the year before that, I was appointed to the Missouri Foundation for Health board of directors. Each year, I’ve found other outlets for my volunteer time, and all in really good and exciting ways, all things that fit into my kind of general outlook on life and what I want to be involved in.

But I couldn’t shake this idea that I wanted to try again for the School Board at some point. I care a lot about the issues that they’re dealing with. I care a lot about the schools, so when someone told me, I didn’t even hear it from the School District, someone mentioned that Paul was resigning ... I went back and talked to my wife and my son about it because they understand the time commitment, and I needed their support.

My wife had always, every time I brought it up the last couple of years, she’s like, "No, no, no, no, no, it’s too much." And this time, she sort of said, "Well, maybe if you’re not going to shut up about it, maybe this is a good time."

And I’m not going to hide from the fact that not having to campaign to get in the seat was very appealing to me. 

What changes are you pushing for? Is there anything you want to see done?

I like the trajectory that we’re on. I like that there’s a plan to keep building new schools.

We still have overcrowding problems; we still have too many trailers. My son goes to Mill Creek Elementary, and there's a huge overcrowding problem down there.

So, I would love to see us move up the timeline on another school in the south side of the district. But, you know, we've got to do it according to plan, and I intend to follow that and be supportive.

I like that we’re trying out some new things. I mean, Ridgeway (Elementary) is going to a more autonomous model — I think that’s fascinating. I love that we’re trying the science and technology approach at Benton.

You know, something else I’ve been very impressed with is the Nutrition Services — hiring a chef and changing the menus around. I’m seeing it in my son’s menu, and I have been very impressed with the quality of the offerings in the cafeteria.

Hopefully, kids across the district are taking advantage of it because it’s very, very good food that they’re serving.

How will this time be different? Now that your son’s a little older and at Mill Creek, how do you think that’s going to affect how you see things as a parent and as a board member?

I don’t think that my son’s experience will influence my role as a board member very much because I try to separate that. And you know, it’s my responsibility as a parent to make sure that he’s getting the most out of this district. I’m going to make sure that he’s successful — I mean that’s my role as a parent.

But I separate that from my role as a board member now because we have to be thinking about every student in the district, and every student in the district has different circumstances. Some better, some worse. And it’s our job to take all of those things into account and make sure that everybody has opportunities to reach their potential.

When I look at achievement gap statistics, I don’t see failed people. I mean, we’re letting them down because those kids have great potential, and it’s a matter of pulling it out of them and figuring out how to get to it.

Is there anything else you want the public to know?

I’m very interested in perspective and recognizing that my perspective on the world isn’t everybody’s perspective on the world.

I want to draw in as much perspective as we can. That’s why it’s good for board members to be different and to look at things differently because, you know, we can bring out those different perspectives and, hopefully, come to the best kind of vision for the district.

But again, I’m interested in supporting the core of great teaching that we have and adding elements to the students' experience that just make sure that every kid has the opportunity to be successful.

Going back to one of your earlier questions even, you asked about what I want to do. One of the things I want to do is work on a policy — and I know that (board members) Jonathan (Sessions) and Tom Rose are already working on this, so I’m interested to get in on the conversation — I want to work on a policy that promotes active transportation options.

I would like to see more walking to school. We have this phenomenal Walking School Bus program that as a PedNet board member I’m so proud of how well that’s going. It’s really a model for the entire country. And as we consider the opportunity to take transportation in-house, I’d like to really look at all the options on the table.

Can we work with the public transportation system to offset some of the transportation lines? Can we add more walking routes to bus stops to decrease the amount of idle time the buses have and make those routes more efficient? Can we decrease congestion for parent drop-offs at the schools by using more offsite walking kind of satellite sites?

We’ve done that at West Boulevard Elementary; we’ve done it at Lee Elementary. You know, I’d like to explore policy that says it’s a priority and we can make it work if we want to.

Supervising editor is Elizabeth Brixey.

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