Local News: Asheville and Hendersonville

‘Madam Chair’ Holt sparks new school security measures

Amy Lynn Holt

Here is a synopsis on each candidate’s skill-set, and sample of their pressing school issues:

Egolf wants to apply business and budgeting sense to the board. He has conferred with all 23 principals in the local system. He realizes varying roles of elected boards with the school board most hands-on for school projects, but commissioners with taxing authority and ultimately controlling school budgets. The 1989 grad of Hendersonville High has three children in local public schools.

Beddingfield (1965) and Ward (’77) are East Henderson alums. Beddingfield wants a second school resource officers (SROs) per school, in arrival/departure times. He worked for DuPont for 28 years, held human resource posts elsewhere, did missionary stints, and is an Army Vietnam-era vet. His business administration/accounting degree enhances his ability to budget, help oversee a project such as HHS and its specific costs. He also cites his DuPont computer operations and programming experience, and dealing with industrial production systems. He coached elementary school girls in basketball, and was a PTO president.

Caskey runs Biltmore Tutoring. She has been in teaching and tutoring for 28 years, starting in New York City. She taught nearby in Claxton Elementary for nine years, and was Asheville City Schools’ teacher of the year in 2007. Caskey calls for updated text books and computer labs, self-promotion skills as part of vocational training, and metal detectors at school entrances. She noted she wrote tech grants (securing over $3 million) and curriculum for reading, math and science in her districts. Caskey trained other teachers. Her husband Brian is on Mills River Town Council.

Case also has first-hand knowledge of classroom needs, as a 47-year instructor in Edneyville. She has been part of school lockdowns, sharpening her views on security. The West Henderson alum (Class of ’65) suggests HHS’ main gym be retained, as its auxiliary gym on a revamped campus. She touts “blended education” of vocational and classroom, and greater college entrance exam preparation.

Ward is a former youth baseball organizer. His safety concerns extend to what he said are harmful intercom sound frequencies. Embracing tradition, Ward is among candidates wanting HHS’ historic Erle Stillwell-designed 1926 core building retained for classroom use in addition to any new structure.

Holt is long a proponent of renovating HHS’ main building, and upgrading classrooms to still use them. She points to ongoing steps in security and technology such as equipping students with individual computers, and greater high school vocational training. Her son Connor Holt, 14, goes to the Innovative High School at Blue Ridge Community College. She calls for greater educator state pay, and an allotment to help a teacher buy supplies.

‘Madam Chair’

Mrs. Holt was first elected in 2010. Two years ago, colleagues voted her to lead their board. She was chosen over retired West Henderson principal Mary Louise Corn. Holt succeeded longtime Chairman Ervin Bazzle, who had stepped aside from the board.

“Madam chair” is what school senior staff concluded was her most appropriate title, after researching the matter. Holt said she is flexible whether she is addressed as “madam chair,” “chairperson,” “chairman” — or, she quipped — “anything else, I guess, if they’re not cussing at me.” That reflects her lighter side, and ability to deal with pressures of many pivotal budgetary and policy decisions.

Holt is versed in finances of the schools and in her family business. She has been corporate finance officer (CFO) of Champion Comfort Experts heating and cooling, for its entire 14 years. Her husband Ritchie Holt and she started and run it. They employ 30 people. Thus, she also has insights for HVAC systems in renovated schools.

“My knowing budgets — I can’t imagine the learning curve, if I did not have that knowledge going in,” she told The Tribune. “I know how debits and credits work,” and other financial facets.

Holt realizes restraints of public spending, as caretaker of tax dollars. “I have more freedom to do what I want to do, when I run my own business. In everything with government, you don’t have flexibility to move certain money. For instance, we have to go to the state, to try to get teacher raises.”

Amy Lynn Holt, 45, said “I’m a conservative individual, when it comes to spending and in general. I’m a Christian. But, I also understand that to get results you also have to spend money. If I feel the school system really needs it to move forward, I’m not afraid to ask commissioners for extra funds.”

However, she emphasizes “we’re not going to be frivolous with it. I want to stay within the budget, such as with a new Hendersonville High School. We should not build a budget around the school.” County commissioners have planned $52.6 million for a new-renovated HHS, most have targeted that for a revamped HHS plan, and they need to anticipate the preliminary cost of that and other school projects by their budget-planning sessions in January.

Working with commissioners is part of school board tasks. “A big part of chairing is developing relationships with other officials such as the commissioners and county manager, and seeing how things work,” Holt said. “I take (leadership) pretty seriously. Facilitator describes my role the best. I don’t lead the meeting with a dictatorship. Baz (Bazzle before her) didn’t either. He has a great personality. He’s someone to learn from. He is humble. You respect him. I look at myself (similarly) as a servant leader.”

As she notes, In the past two years, we’ve had a lot more on our plate than normal.” Her campaign slogan is “Proven, Passionate, Protective.” Protection starts with campus security against intrusions, in the wake of several school-related shootings across the country in recent years. One was in 2012 that killed a girl on a private school bus in Homestead, Fla., where she is from. Also in Florida, 17 people (12 inside a high school) were fatally shot by an expelled student early in February in Parkland, Fla. This year there were 11 reported school shootings nationwide in the first three weeks and 23 in the initial 21 weeks.

“We want to make campuses safer,” said Holt, a key member of the School Safety Committee that includes law enforcement and other community players. “We’re putting SROs (trained school resource officers) at every school.” She was “jumping up and down and screaming for SROs in every school,” from her first year on the board. Also, more social workers and therapists are in schools this year.

Already, campuses now limit motor access typically to one entrance, and streamline visitors’ foot traffic into the main entrance and office within policy of “contain and confirm” a valid purpose on campus before granting access.

Two new safeguards are on Holt’s mind. In the last month, each school got a master lock box of keys to provide emergency access to responders and officers. It is the Knox-Box Rapid Entry System. “The fire departments have keys to get into” the box, which in turn has keys to various buildings, Holt said.

Next in about a month, look for school buildings’ doors to be usually locked, but opened between classes and also on a need basis with electronic key cards similar to those for fancy hotel rooms. These are “magnetic locks with a timer,” Holt explained. “So when a bell rings, doors automatically lock or open.” Doors open when class lets out, then re-lock once the next class hour begins.

The doors will also still open with conventional keys, so school staff or emergency responders can get in or let someone in or out. This system is a work in progress with inevitable “hiccups,” Holt cautioned. But she and school board colleagues thought of various scenarios and exceptions, where doors need to be unlocked. This includes to let an athletic team leave early for a game, perhaps an intercom system so a student can call to get let in such as a slow-moving student on crutches after the tardy bell.

“If a kid is late, an administrator can let the student in and walk with that kid and ask why he or she is late again” and how to curb that.

Further, an initial plan is for each classroom teacher to have two key cards as electronic hall passes, Holt noted. “Kids can get from one building to another” on their own.

A safeguard against misuse is the student “signs out the key card, and signs it back in,” Holt explained. “If it’s not returned to the teacher that day, that key is ‘terminated.’ The school’s computer system will ‘kill’ that card, and issue the teacher a replacement card. Teachers will do daily safety checks on their cards.” She said such a system of auto-locking doors and key cards has been utilized at other school campuses with success.

A design and security agency under contract, Safe Haven, began last week visiting every school to audit facility and security needs. “An architect visited every facility,” Holt said. “They’ll let us know what capitally needs to be done, and make suggestions safety-wise.”

For instance, she anticipates that East, North and West Henderson high schools will have fencing around “areas where kids walk off on campus,” as a prelude to possibly putting up walls as firmer security barriers. She figures this gets phased in a school at a time, to cushion the cost impact. “We’ll figure the safest and most economic way to do this.”

Holt calls for a ten-year school plan of priority projects, going beyond the usual four years commissioners work on.

We’re updating our policies and procedures on campuses. sometimes we’re studying and changing 40 policies per month.

Holt is “resolute concerning school safety,” stated Glo Jackson Nock, retired sheriff’s sergeant and DARE (Drug Abuse Resistance Education) officer who was a mentor to youths.

Nock touts Holt as caring, dedicated and energetic. “She thoroughly researches the issues…and seeks to fully understand all sides of a topic,” Nock said. “She is level-headed, and works well with a wide variety of people” and in outreach “gathers input from citizens about what has been successful” in schools and areas to improve. “She is willing to take a stand. Amy Lynn Holt believes in the value of ‘getting back to basics’ in the classroom.”

Regarding the new HHS project, Holt is proud the school board on Sept. 27 went beyond prior split votes to reach a unanimous selection of firms PFA Architects and LS3P over prior project architect Clark Nexsen. “PFA explained things so much more in depth,” Holt said. They said, ‘We can do this. We have the resources, we have the budget.’ This was a no-brainer.” As a bonus, PFA architect Scott Donald “renovated Stillwell in the Nineties. He knows that building real well.”

Feature-expense options include whether to renovate (i.e. roof, bathrooms, windows) the 1974 Jim Pardue Gym to remain as the main gym, or preferably as the next auxiliary/practice gym if a new gym is within budget. “They might say it takes only $2 million more to build a new gym altogether.”

As with Stillwell, an issue with a renovated Pardue Gym is how long it lasts compared to a new facility. Structural “life span” is a prime topic for Holt, with PFA-LS3P. “Clark Nexsen had said a new school will last so much longer than a renovated building. But PFA said it doesn’t matter if it’s new or renovated, in ten years you have to put in a new chiller. You have to completely redo the plumbing in 30 years, and the electrical in 50 years.”

Next, PFA-LS3P will present the school board not with five optional project plans but merely two, Holt said. She noted this at the board’s urging, so it can focus sharper on options and decide sooner. “We want to nail it down, and get moving on this. We’ll take to the commissioners something they can’t say ‘no’ to — a great facility, within budget.”

The Holts, high school “sweethearts,” have lived in Henderson County for 21 years. They live in the Valley Hill fire district. Their elder sons Kyle, 23. and Christian, 19, are HHS grads. Their daughter Aliyah Faith is six, and their foster daughter Brooklynn is three. Their sole grandchild, Elle, is 20 months young.

Her online campaign site is via Facebook, as Amy Lynn Holt for School Board.

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