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Family’s philosophy led principal to Carbondale

John GardnerGlenwood Springs, CO Colorado
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CARBONDALE, Colorado – The Holt family has a philosophy that they live by: “Dream it. Plan it. Do it.”For Rick Holt, the new Carbondale Middle School principal, that philosophy has helped him overcome many challenges in his life. And it helped him and his family find a community in the heart of the Roaring Fork Valley to call home.”We started thinking about places to live outside of Alaska,” Holt said behind his new desk at CMS one morning. “It’s interesting because we didn’t think that we would ever leave Alaska. We thought that we would always be there.”But plans often change. And Rick realized that despite the benefits of living in a remote location, outside the small community of Unalakleet (pronounced: You-na-la-thliq, a native Inupiaq word that means “where the south wind blows”), that he and his wife, Tiffany, wanted their twin 8-year-old sons, Keegan and Rohnan, to grow up in a community.”Our kids were getting older and for the last two years our house was in a place where we didn’t really have any neighbors,” Rick said. “Occasionally you would hear a car go by. But we realized that while it is a quality of life that has a lot of benefits that our kids gained a lot from, we also wanted a different experience for them and wanted them to have friends and neighbors, go to a public school, play organized sports, and play in a neighborhood where they would have memories of growing up.”

Rick worked for the Reinventing Schools Coalition as a consultant when he first heard of the Roaring Fork School District on a trip to Westminster. The Holt family was considering a move and just needed to find a place that called to them like Alaska did.”Some of my colleagues said that the Roaring Fork Valley was still remote enough that I would like it,” Rick said.But Rick wasn’t ready to move to a place just because it appealed to him the way Alaska did.”If I was going to be a principal, it was only going to be in a district that was standards based,” Rick said. “RFSD had all the elements that we wanted, and it all fell into place.”Rick interviewed for the position in June, and by early July, the Holt family had loaded up their possessions into a trailer and were on the road. They were heading toward a new life with new challenges and new dreams.”Moving here was like moving to the big city for us,” Rick said.They rolled into Carbondale as the sun set upon this year’s Mountain Fair. And now they look forward to being part of the valley’s community.”I’m not just new to the school, I’m new to the whole area,” Rick said. “But it’s been great. The staff is great and the community is great, too. It’s been real nice.”

The Holts moved to Alaska 12 years ago from Seattle to the small town of Elam, about 100 miles east of Nome. They were both teachers at a single school that housed kindergarten through 12th grade, for the Bering Strait School District. Tiffany taught preschool and kindergarten, while Rick taught sixth- through 12-grade science mostly.”It was such a small place that we got into all sorts of things,” Rick said. “I was the home economics teacher one year. And, of course, everyone taught P.E.”He also taught reading and math for a spell. But as small as the town and the school was, the district had 15 schools that were spread over a piece of land the size of Minnesota.They spent about six years in Elam. It wasn’t until Tiffany had to be medivacked by helicopter to Anchorage (when she went into labor with their twins) that they began thinking about a more accessible setting.Moving to Unalakleet was an exciting time for Rick. He took a job at the district offices as the quality schools facilitator where he was responsible for the district’s in-services and helped transition the district from a traditional system to a more standards-based school district.”It was a real growing experience working with and getting all the different perspectives from each of the schools,” Rick said.None of the schools were connected by roads, and the district had a plane that Rick would use to travel to the individual schools for work.He found a passion for standards-based education in that position. But while he was there, he found another passion, too.He and Tiffany had adopted two sled dogs before their kids were born and acquired a few more in the years following. It didn’t take long for him to get into the sport of mushing, and with Unalakleet being a checkpoint on the annual Iditarod trail sled dog race, Rick was dreaming of a new challenge.



“Everyone in Alaska who is into mushing, people always ask, ‘Are you going to be in the Iditarod?'” Rick said. “Originally, I was like ‘no,’ that would not be possible for us. But then one year I decided it would be possible. So I said, before I turned 40 I was going to run in the Iditarod.”That only gave him a couple of years. But as his philosophy goes: Dream it. Plan it. Do it. And that’s exactly what he and his family did. In 2006, the Holt family moved from town and built a house surrounded by wilderness and heated by a wood-burning stove.”We moved to a place with access to good mushing,” Rick said. “We made a plan as a team, as a family, that this is what we are going to do.”It’s that Holt family philosophy again, but without it, it would have never worked.”It would be impossible to do unless everyone, including the boys, said OK,” Rick said. “Because this takes up hours and hours of time.”This past winter, at the age of 39, Rick saw his dream come to fruition running in the 2008 Iditarod that races from Anchorage to Nome, a distance of 1,049 miles. He finished 58th out of more than 100 teams, and it took him 12 and a half days. Being his rookie year, it was enough just to finish.”It was life changing,” he said. “What was life changing about it was the whole idea that it seems like such an impossible task to fulfill. Even to plan for and get organized for. The idea that we were able to get it together and pull it off made us think that we could do anything now, as a group.”Dream it. Plan it. Do it.Contact John Gardner: 384-9114jgardner@postindependent.comPost Independent, Glenwood Springs, Colorado CO


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