Holt superintendent looks to take district to the next level

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Eric Bach

Holt superintendent Dr. David Hornak edits “Talk with us Tuesday,” a weekly podcast done with Township Supervisor John Hayhoe.

HOLT — “District pride, community wide.”  The Holt district slogan is on a pin on the lapel of Dr. David Hornak’s suit every day when he works in the Holt administration offices near the Holt High School campus.  Hornak is in his fourth year as superintendent of the district.

“I’ve done a little bit of everything,” Hornak said.  “But I love this school and this community, so there’s no place I’d rather be.”

Hornak has been a staple in the Holt community for more than  25 years. A native of Mt. Pleasant, he attended Central Michigan and played four years on the Chippewa men’s soccer team. After graduating in 1994 with a child development degree, he was immediately hired as a kindergarten teacher in Holt. He has taught kindergarten, developmental kindergarten, first grade, reading recovery and has served as the high school varsity soccer coach.  Before taking over as superintendent in July of 2015, he was principal at Horizon Elementary.

“One of my priorities is connecting with the parents and the community,” Hornak said.  “We do that in a variety of ways, with a weekly email that I send called ‘peek at the week,’ which basically outlines the events of the next week. We have various newsletters and communications, so we’re always in contact with parents in the district.”

Hornak also connects the district with Delhi Township, co-hosting a weekly podcast with Township Supervisor John Hayhoe called “Talk with us Tuesday.”  Topics vary, but mostly stay within the school and community. They also have guests almost weekly.

“The podcast is something we really enjoy,” Hornak said.  “I think it also makes the relationship between the township and the schools tighter.  We share the facilities with parks & rec, but the goal was to make all of our work more visible.  So I asked John to join me, and off we went.”

“It really works pretty well,” Hayhoe said.  “We’re two pretty different people with different personalities, so it works out.  I didn’t even know what a podcast was at first, I thought he was talking about some type of barbecue or something! But we’ve got a good thing going.”

District looks to balance calendar

Hornak’s vision for Holt schools goes beyond connecting to the community.  He is a nationally recognized leader in the movement to a balanced calendar in school districts, serving as the Executive Director of the National Association for Year-Round Education.  A balanced calendar, also known as year-round school, shortens summer break to six weeks but provides longer and more frequent breaks during the school year.

“The current calendar that most schools use was designed in the 1890s,” Hornak said.  “It’s an agrarian calendar, meaning it was designed to make students available to work on the farms during the summer months.  Kids and families aren’t doing that anymore.

“When I was growing up, in the summer months, I was permitted to leave after breakfast and come back when the streetlights came on.  That is not the case anymore. Parents are more worried about what’s happening in their neighborhoods, and kids are connecting more electronically than they are face-to-face.  So while I think we all long for those wonderful, long summer days that we all had growing up, I’m not sure that our current school calendar matches very well with our current lifestyles.”

Hayhoe noted that there are also benefits to families who want to travel during breaks when most schools are in session.

“Disney World during spring break is a nightmare,” Hayhoe said.  “Imagine going when everyone else is in school. It’d be way cheaper and less crowded.  I mean, there are so many benefits to a balanced calendar outside of academics. Even parents’ work(places) like it better because their employees aren’t taking all their vacation time during the summer.”

Eric Bach

Holt superintendent Dr. David Hornak and Delhi Township Supervisor John Hayhoe finish recording the latest episode of “Talk with us Tuesday.”

Horizon Elementary currently runs on a balanced calendar schedule. As for a balanced calendar in the rest of the district, Hornak said a lot has to happen before the policy is implemented.

“It’s going to be driven in part by what our community thinks,” Hornak said.  “We’re not going to move forward until we have air conditioning in all our buildings and the community is behind the idea.  We know it works. We have the longest functioning balanced calendar school in the state in Horizon Elementary, and those families have given a ton of positive feedback on the schedule.”

Holt High School was built in 2003 after a bond passed by a mere seven votes.  Hornak said another bond would probably have to pass for air conditioning to be added to schools.  There is no timetable for when another proposal is coming to the ballot, but Hornak said it is “in the works.”

Holt Athletic Director Renee Sadler is also on board with the balanced calendar idea.

“Athletics wouldn’t really be affected,” Sadler said.  “Kids are already back for fall sport practices in early August, and with this change, they’d be in school, too. In fact, for student athletes that may be struggling academically, the balanced calendar breaks could potentially help our athletes by giving them time to work on their academics.  Also, for our employees that work on an hourly wage, like our bus drivers, our breaks can impact them financially. Holding athletic events during our breaks could potentially allow them to earn some wages. ”

Public schools are mandated by the state of Michigan to start after Labor Day, but schools can apply for a waiver to start earlier.  Holt is part of the block of districts that have been approved to start before Labor Day.

“(A balanced calendar) is something that I think our students would really benefit from,” Hornak said.  “It’s just a matter of getting everyone on board at this point.”