Whenever Scott Baker, superintendent of Spotsylvania County Public Schools, sees blank space on his calendar, he takes it as an opportunity to leave the office and visit one of the division’s 29 schools.
“I get very excited when I have the opportunity to personalize interactions,” Baker said. “Relationships are the most important thing.”
Both nationally and locally, it is a challenging time in public education, with teachers protesting decades of low pay and increasing responsibility and school divisions advocating for more adequate funding.
For Baker, being in the schools refreshes him and reminds him, “what the ultimate purpose is—the kids.”
Baker, who has been superintendent of Spotsylvania schools for seven years, was named Superintendent of the Year by his colleagues, the leaders of 17 school divisions in Region III—which includes the north-central and Northern Neck regions of Virginia.
Baker will now compete against the eight other regional superintendents of the year for the statewide honor. The winner will be announced May 6.
“This recognition by other division superintendents validates what we have known all along ... Dr. Baker is an exceptional leader,” Spotsylvania School Board Chairman Baron Braswell said in a press release issued by the Virginia Association of School Superintendents. “We are honored that he is our superintendent.”
The association’s executive director, Ben Kiser, said, “Dr. Baker’s keen insight into education issues affecting our school divisions around the state has allowed him to become one of our most articulate advocates for the needs of Virginia’s public-school students.”
Baker said he was “honored and humbled” by the recognition, but quickly turned the honor on the division’s faculty and staff.
“The education business is the ultimate team sport,” Baker said. “I am very proud of the quality of our people—this is a reflection on them.”
Baker is a lifelong Virginian who grew up, and spent much of his career, in Hanover County. He worked as an administrator in Spotsylvania in the late 1990s and returned as assistant superintendent for instruction in 2011.
He became superintendent in 2012 and right away led the development of the division’s new strategic plan. He’s now working on implementing the plan, which involves figuring out the educational needs of Spotsylvania’s children.
“We are not growing in total [school] population, but in the number of students who have needs,” Baker said. “The challenge is meeting the learning needs of a diverse population.”
That includes not only students who need extra support—the division is seeing a growing number of economically disadvantaged students and those with autism spectrum disorder and limited English proficiency—but also those who want more challenges and advanced coursework.
“I want to provide as many equitable opportunities as possible, especially at the secondary level,” Baker said, adding that he wants to grow the International Baccalaureate program and “expand the number of students who can access advanced and AP coursework.”
“I want to advance opportunities that are more suited to what students need and find relevant and meaningful to them,” he said.
This is the intention behind Spotsylvania’s move in recent years to offer specialty programs at some of its schools. Baker said that in addition to those programs already offered—which include the James Farmer Scholars, a dual enrollment program with Germanna Community College, as well as IB, Governor’s School and Career and Technical Education—the division will pilot specialty programs in visual and performing arts.
Students can look for a digital music class and a theater seminar soon, Baker said.
“Many things that are perceived as extras [in education], I believe are fundamental, such as the visual and performing arts,” he said.
Baker also pointed to the Teachers Academy, which will be piloted at Chancellor High School in the upcoming school year and has already enrolled 25 rising juniors.
The division will work with students in the education programs at the University of Mary Washington and Shenandoah University to provide students with field experience in teaching.
“The goal is that in five or six years, they will come back and teach here,” Baker said. “It’s meant to build a more substantial bridge amidst a teacher shortage.”
Baker said he is very conscious of the increasing responsibilities being placed on teachers, who are taking on the roles of social worker and security officer in addition to teacher, all with limited funding and the continuing need to meet state-mandated standards of learning.
He said listening to and advocating for Spotsylvania’s teachers, through his teacher advisory board and by personally assisting in the classroom, is a priority for him.
“I try to tap into voices from all levels in the organization,” he said. “I want to make sure I support the type of conditions and environment that teachers can thrive in. We try to advocate for compensation and making sure that all of our folks have the support they need.
“Hopefully, that makes [the school division] a place where people want to stay,” he added.
Adele Uphaus-Conner: 540/735-1973