Baker wants to represent diversity as city BOE member

By Thomas Wilson
star staff
twilson@starhq.com

  Connie Baker is seeking to sustain academic success of Elizabethton City Schools and champion diversity in both academic learning and classroom teaching.
  "I feel like there is a need for more direction in our school system," Baker said in a candidate profile interview with the Star.
  Baker, 811 Watauga Ave., is seeking one of three at large seats to the Elizabethton Board of Education in the Nov. 2 city election. Baker retired as a teacher from the Knox County School System as a business-office technology instructor. She has worked in the private sector as a human resources professional for several years. She lived in Minnesota for several years before returning to her hometown of Elizabethton two years ago.
  As a human resources professional for several years, Baker said she saw some students looking for jobs were ready to jump into the workplace while others were not. Public education must bridge the skills gap and prepare students for the realities of finding and keeping a job, she said.
  "Two-thirds of the jobs today are requiring more education," Baker said. "There are a lot of things that can be done to bring the world into the classroom.
  "We also need to look at programs going on in other sites so we can provide them."
  Baker referred to a study done by an East Tennessee State University professor regarding a lack of technology skills by the local population. The skills gap put area residents at a distinct disadvantage to other areas recruiting industrial jobs. Baker said educating high school students for a changing job market could close the gap.
  "High school can play a large part in that," Baker said. "That will enable them to take advanced courses and be prepared when they enter the work world."
  The Elizabethton City School system endured its share of upheaval in the past four years. The system has had three superintendents, saw the entire upper echelon administrative staff depart, and underwent a public dispute between former superintendent Dr. Judy Blevins and high school principal Edwin Alexander last year.
  Baker said if elected she wanted to be a cohesive force to put the board's focus back on education.
  "The attention should be on the students," Baker said. "We want to be sure they are capable productive citizens."
  The school board spilt 3-2 in a vote giving the board approval authority over all requests for leaves made by the superintendent or central office administrators. The state requires attendance by school system administrators over programs such as special education and curriculum.
  Baker said she favored the board reviewing travel destinations of administrators as a means of keeping board members apprised of their work and issues affecting the system.
  "I think it would be good for us to have that knowledge," she said. "It also lets the system know that person is keeping up with our jobs and our skills."
  The school system met all federal benchmarks set forth by the No Child Left Behind legislation for the 2003-2004 school year. Baker credited the system's success to the teachers and said she would maintain support for higher pay and additional funding to supply teaching needs.
  "We do have to increase pay and place more emphasis on education," she said.
  Baker said her experience as a teacher and desire to represent a more diverse philosophy gave her an edge among candidates. As a black woman seeking her first public office, Baker said she wanted more and better representation for the town's minority community in the both the classroom and the faculty office. She said the benefits of a diverse educational atmosphere enriched all students.
  "I feel like there is a need for more diversity in our school system," she said.
  A graduate of Elizabethton High School, Baker earned a degree in business from Knoxville College and a graduate degree in Business Education and Office Administration from the University of Tennessee at Knoxville. She has worked as a volunteer tutor and been active in a number of community activities. She has one daughter, Georgetta, who is in graduate school.
  Baker said as a board member she would work to keep children and teachers as the system's top priorities.
  "Your goal is to make quality citizens and quality individuals," she said.