A chance encounter with a gentleman who had served on a school board in Vermont for 38 years, reaffirmed Aaron Holladay’s belief that he could make a substantial impact as a school board member here in Rutherford County.
Holladay asked the gentleman, whose name escapes him, if he had ever been approached or even considered running for mayor or, perhaps, a position with the state legislature.
SB SpotlightYes. People had approached him numerous times.
Yes. He thought about it and then thought otherwise.
The gentleman said the legislature at the state and national level are both “big party politics” and “money-driven.”
The lesson Holladay learned was simple yet impactful.
“I have more influence on the school board than I would ever have in any of those positions,” Holladay said, and he is now looking to use that influence to find a way for every high school student in Rutherford County to graduate with U.S. citizenship.
People from Middle Tennessee might be as surprised as those unfamiliar with the area to learn that more than 80 languages are serviced by the schools in Rutherford County.
“We have a responsibility to educate anyone who shows up at our door,” Holladay said, “and we don’t ask a question about their citizenship. We educate them.”
He added, “We’re bound by law to educate them and we do that. We fulfill that responsibility.”
As a sixth-year member of the school board, Holladay wants to further define that responsibility.
“That responsibility is to prepare them for the life to come,” he said. “How vital is it? How important is it for them to have a high school diploma? How many doors open when they have a high school diploma? How many doors open when they have U.S. citizenship?”
Holladay hopes to make that a reality for Rutherford County graduates.
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Holladay, the younger of two boys, was born in Winston-Salem, North Carolina.
He was three when the family relocated to Pinson, Alabama, just outside of Birmingham, where he called home until after he graduated from the University of Alabama.
In high school, Holladay played baseball. As an upperclassman he was voted team captain, played leftfield and coached first base. In the fall, he was a soloist on trombone as a member of the school marching band.
He continued playing with the band as a college student from 1990 to 1994, including the year the Crimson Tide won the National Championship by defeating the Miami Hurricanes 34-14 at the Sugar Bowl in 1993.
“One of the stories I tell the bands in Rutherford County is what a privilege it is to march in the band,” Holladay said, “particularly when you go to college.
“It’s great to have a memory of being a fan and say I was in the stadium,” he continued, “but to be in the stadium hours before it starts and be playing touch football out on the field with your buddies in the band, where they’re going to play the National Championship, that’s just really special.”
Holladay’s move to Middle Tennessee came almost as soon as he graduated.
He was dating his soon-to-be wife Carrie.
She had moved south from Kokomo, Indiana. Her father is a Southern Baptist minister, and in fact, much like a military brat she often moved from one year to the next. She attended Samford University and the two were introduced by mutual friends.
Holladay’s first job was in sales with a window manufacturer.
He spent his first year wearing steel-toed shoes and working 10-hour days in the factory, and one day a week participating in sales training sessions. Six weeks before his wedding, they assigned him to a sales territory in Tennessee.
“We need you in Nashville on Monday,” they said to Holladay.
He replied, “You realize I’m getting married next month?”
“Yeah,” he was told, “we know. But we need you in Nashville.”
They originally settled in Hermitage.
Aaron worked in the millwork industry with local lumberyards as customers, while Carrie took a job with an adoption agency. Aaron recalled returning home from a work-related seminar to find his wife with a two-day old infant in her arms.
That night, they used a dresser drawer as a makeshift bassinet.
Later they traveled to Latvia and Carrie also helped a family go to China.
“I look back on when I did start investing in children,” said Aaron, who is now a father of two children—Ben, 17, and Audrey, 13, “that is when I started.”
As a couple, they were putting down roots.
They moved to Hickory Woods, where they bought a house on the Rutherford County side of the Davidson County line.
But Holladay wasn’t comfortable.
Truth is, he’s never comfortable.
In fact, Aaron and Carrie previously owned two white Ford Explorers, so he didn’t ever have to be burdened with the thought of who was going to drive which vehicle. They have since traded in the Explorers for a pair of white Ford Freestyles to save on gas mileage.
“I just don’t want to think about it,” said Holladay, who meticulously plans everything.
“I don’t feel comfortable and that’s one of the things, quite frankly, that I bring to the board,” he continued. “Comfortable is one of our challenges. Let’s not be comfortable. Let’s always be fighting against complacency. When we’re comfortable, we’re not doing our job.”
He rhetorically asked, “Am I comfortable? Can I be comfortable? When am I comfortable?”
Truth is, he doesn’t want to be comfortable.
And, no, he’s not kidding.
Holladay’s path to the Rutherford County Board of Education began in November 2008.
Upset with how the presidential election turned out – Barack Obama beat John McCain in the general election – the very next day Holladay found his way to the Republican headquarters in Rutherford County.
He walked in and asked, “What can I do?”
He spent two years on the executive board when he was encouraged by fellow members to run for a seat on the school board.
When he told his wife he was running for school board, Carrie’s reaction was to remind him, “You remember we home school our children?”
“Yep,” he replied, “Going to have to overcome that.”
The Holladay’s never intended to homeschool their children.
It was 12 years ago.
Aaron and Carrie had sold their house in the summertime and bought a new one in La Vergne. This came on the heels of what Aaron called a “medical event” involving his then five-year-old son, Ben, that would change everything.
Doctors determined he had what is known as a thyroid storm.
They thought it might be leukemia. It wasn’t. Perhaps a growth spurt had caused it. It didn’t. Ben did wind up with sleep apnea caused by enlarged tonsils, and they were preparing him for a tonsillectomy. Unfortunately, two rounds of antibiotics scorched his esophagus, which then bled into his stomach.
Then he caught a virus.
His sister, Audrey, also wound up with the virus.
Dehydrated from the event, Ben spent four days in the intensive care unit and two more days in a regular room in the pediatric ward with a “litany of doctors” looking after him.
“It was an incredibly scary time for us as a family,” Aaron recalled.
This all happened in April, but, in June and July, Aaron said he and Carrie were still “afraid as a family,” especially for a guy like Holladay, who is never comfortable.
They decided to just do kindergarten at home.
Ben would then head off to public school for first grade, but, by the end of the school year he was “reading everything he could get his hands on” and Ben was already doing double-digit addition and subtraction, Aaron said.
Kindergarten led to first grade, which led to second and third, and eventually Carrie was homeschooling both Ben and Audrey.
“We kind of stumbled into being a homeschool family,” Aaron said. “It all started from a medical event that kicked us into a circumstance.”
As a family, they adapted to the situation.
As a community, they accepted Holladay and voted him onto the school board six years ago. He ran unopposed two years ago and will be up for re-election in 2018.
“I’m not here trying to accomplish something for my kids,” Holladay said. “I’m here trying to accomplish something for your children and shouldn’t every board be that way? There is something to be said for having personal interest or a personal stake, but sometimes if it’s a personal agenda, that’s what we see that’s wrong with public service.”
There are 14 schools in Holladay’s zone.
He said he enjoys being invited out by schools when they have bake sales and Title I reading nights, but said his most significant accomplishment was recognizing the need for a coordinator of fine arts.
Holladay said it always takes time to add new positions, especially when the position is extracurricular and supplemental.
However, as a former band member himself, Holladay understood the importance of having an advocate for all the fine arts, visual arts and choral programs in Rutherford County.
“It was essential that we had a voice,” said Holladay, who now works for Grove Park Construction as director of sales and marketing. Grove Park was a customer of his when he first moved to Tennessee.
Speaking of having a voice, Holladay said many of the aforementioned families, in which English is a second language, rely on their children to help translate for them when it comes to everyday tasks like buying groceries or making doctor appointments.
These are the same children who are being taught in RCS.
“Eventually the family learns more and more and more English,” Holladay said, “and not because mom or dad showed up at our classrooms, but because of what we did in our classroom (with the student) helped that family. It helped them at home. We sent something of quality back into that home and it helped that family to become more American. How much can we do if we can show that student the pathway to citizenship? Can we effectively use our students to make the American melting pot work? We are a nation of immigrants, but can we do our part?”
Holladay concluded, “My fight right now is what can I do to help the national crisis of immigration? What can I do as a school board member to help the national crisis and I believe that Rutherford County is the pebble in the pond.”