Education and leadership was the theme at the Ashe County Chamber’s 2014 Annual Meeting and Luncheon, held at the West Jefferson United Methodist Church, Tuesday, May 20, where Ashe County Schools Superintendent Dr. Todd Holden gave the keynote address.
Holden was introduced by Joallen Lowder, chairperson of the Chamber’s Education Committee, who first met Holden in a graduate class in 2000.
Holden was hired by the board of education in June 2013 and is finishing up his first year as a public school superintendent. He had formerly been the principal at West Iredell High School and previously applied for the job of ACS superintendent but wasn’t hired.
Turns out the second time’s a charm.
During his second interview, when asked by a member of the board of education why he still wasn’t a superintendent Holden replied, “I’m very selective on where I wanna be superintendent.”
During his address, Holden gave a powerful, often moving speech about his tough upbringing — a stern father and rocky road through high school —and the unconventional path he took to where he is today.
“In the late 70s, a young man was told by his counselor that he needed to start thinking about something other than college,” Holden said. His father didn’t offer up much emotional support either.
Holden said his father told him that he “wasn’t smart enough to go to college,” and that he would be better off going into the military.
Holden attended three different high schools, but at the age of 17 something changed in him forever after he read popular Western novelist Louis L’Amour’s “To the Far Blue Mountains.” That book ignited his passion for the mountains, a passion that eventually took him to Appalachian State University (ASU) and ultimately, Ashe County.
“I believe everyone has a calling,” Holden said.
Holden’s calling wasn’t the military, although he served one year in the U.S. Coast Guard in 1986, where he was stationed at Cape May, New Jersey.
“The military didn’t work out,” Holden said.
Holden was discharged from the Coast Guard, returned home to Mississippi and enrolled in Hines Junior College. He eventually transferred to Mississippi State University and completed his undergraduate studies at ASU before beginning a career in education.
Holden’s first teaching job was in Lee County. He taught history and psychology for seven years before going back to school to get a master’s degree in school administration. He even did a stint teaching at Davidson Correctional Facility.
“Everyone needs help, everyone needs a mentor,” Holden said. “Everything that had happened in my past, had prepared me for my future.”
According to Holden, the three most difficult jobs he’s ever had were being the assistant principal of a high school, because of the 60-70 work hours per week, being a principal of a high school and being the superintendent of a public school system.
Difficulties aside, Holden loves his job.
“Ashe County Schools is one of the best in the state,” Holden said. “Each of our kids has a story to tell, and its vital for us to listen to hear what they need. Our young people need to have someone to believe in them, which helps them believe in themselves.”
Holden also levied praise upon America’s public education system.
“I believe that it is the duty of public education to help our young people explore themselves and explore subjects they really hate, because I’ve been right there with you,” Holden said. “But it helps you to get a good liberal arts education so that you kind of have an idea of what you want to do post-education.”
In addition to Holden, newly appointed Wilkes Community College President Dr. Jeff Cox also spoke during the meeting.
Alan Bulluck can be reached at (336) 846-7164 or on Twitter @albulluck.