Monday, April 25, 2011
Spotlight on Tom Baker - North Hills School Board
1. Please provide our readers with a brief paragraph introducing yourself that provides them with a snapshot of your background.
My name is Tom Baker and I serve as the Vice President of Programs for Big Brothers Big Sisters of Greater Pittsburgh. In this role at BBBS, I manage a 14 member program staff. Our team serves over 1,150 big/little matches annually. I also coordinate our Young Professional Outreach Board, Male Recruitment Advisory Board, BIG Speakers Bureau, and conducts volunteer trainings. My own BBBS little brother, Preston, is a 2010 high school graduate and is attending Franklin and Marshall College. Locally, I serve on the Board of Directors of North Hills Community Outreach and the Baierl Family YMCA. I am also the President of Baker Leadership, author of Get Involved! Making the Most of Your 20s and 30s and Get Involved! Give Our Passion, voice of The Best of Get Involved! audiobooks, moderate the monthly Get Involved! Power Hour series in Pittsburgh, facilitate the Fast Track Pittsburgh Service and Leadership program, and am founder of the annual Get Involved! Pittsburgh Service Summit. All of my Get Involved! efforts are a direct attempt to inspire and educate others to make a difference and become leaders in the region. Since February 2008, I have spoken with over 15,000 students, young professionals, and community leaders at 115 colleges, corporations, professionals associations, and civic groups. Currently, I serve as President of the Pittsburgh East Rotary Club. My wife of seven years, Erin, and I are proud to call the North Hills home and live in Ross Township.
2. What qualifications and skills will you bring to this position? For incumbents, please do not reference the number of years you have served in office as a qualification.
I have two degrees in Education which bring a background useful to serving on the School Board. I was Student Body President while earning my Bachelors degree in Elementary Education from Millersville University and served as President of the Associates for Student Development during my graduate studies in Student Affairs in Higher Education at Indiana University of PA. Being a lifelong learner is important to me and I am also a graduate of Leadership Pittsburgh LDI Class XV, Coro Pittsburgh’s Emerging Leaders in Public Affairs, and Duquesne University’s Leadership Academy. Through my professional role as Vice President of Programs at Big Brothers Big Sisters I work diligently with students and staff every day to provide quality opportunities to children. As a professional speaker who is able to travel all over the country through Get Involved! I also have had a chance to see how educational institutions operate and empower students in dozens of others cities.
3. Why do you seek this elected office?
I truly believe that I can make a positive difference. As a School Board member, I plan to play an important role in providing students from Ross Township and West View with a top notch educational experience that will prepare them for future success. Working collaboratively with the North Hills School District administration to ensure that students are provided with opportunities to excel both within and outside of the classroom will be a priority, if elected. As a school board member, I will serve all parents, students, and constituents with the respect that they deserve as taxpayers in the community.
4. What do you think is the most important issue facing North Hills School District in the coming years? How do you plan to address it?
I really do think that increased taxation can threaten our sustaining population and potential growth in the North Hills. While I would never make a decision to limit the potential of students to learn, I do think that there are ways that we can think creatively to ensure that taxes do not increase significantly in the next four years for families in Ross Township and West View. Anytime that there is a major change in leadership it provides a time for change, which can either be positive or negative. With the retirement of our superintendent and the early retirements of 29 teachers in the district, there definitely will be new faces guiding and educating students. The PSSA reading, writing, math, and science figures from recent years showcase that the district exceeds all of the measurable targets set by the PA Department of Education. Ensuring that students continue to be adequately prepared for a successful future will be a main focus for the next four years. I am impressed with the already inspiring 95% of high school students who are proficient or advanced in the important skill of writing. Recent figures have also showed promising results from students in their SAT scores and Advanced Placement tests. Overall, the North Hills School District is moving in a positive direction. We need to ensure as a school board and school district that this success continues.
5. If elected, what single change will your try to make to North Hills School District? Why this change?
Keeping our tax burden for local residents manageable is vital. Beyond that, I am hopeful to provide the district with a new voice that will inspire students at all levels to become engaged outside of the classroom. I truly believe in the power of the co-curriculum and am a firm believer that students can learn a great deal through their extra-curricular efforts and experiences. Ensuring that students are aware of enrichment programs and ways to get involved through collaborating with the administration, teachers, and parents will be a priority.
6. How are you different from your opponent(s)?
Having a Bachelors and Masters degree in Education will provide me with a solid background when making decisions as a board member. I also make decisions every day that influence the lives of over 1,150 students through my professional work at Big Brothers Big Sisters of Greater Pittsburgh. We manage 22 site based programs in schools all over Allegheny, Washington, and Greene counties. I also will bring a collaborative approach and really enjoy working with people. I am not running for the school board to engage in infighting or petty bickering. I truly want to help provide excellent opportunities for students in Ross Township and West View.
7. For incumbents, what is one decision that you have made in your role as North Hills School board member that you regret? What would you have done differently and why?
8. For new candidates, what is one decision that you feel North Hills School Board has made that had a negative impact? What would you have done differently and why? What is one decision the North Hills School District has made that had a positive impact and why?
While our taxes are lower than 75% of our fellow suburban communities in Allegheny County, there still have been increases in the tax burden on residents in the North Hills in recent years. I especially worry about seniors living on a fixed income and how increased taxes threaten their livelihood. Even though the school consolidation decision and process was certainly not flawless, I do give the board credit for being willing to consolidate services. Had consolidation been taken off the table and not implemented, the current budget process would be even far more difficult. These are tough economic times for educational institutions and non-profit organizations. Every day, I make decisions to help support the 1,150 children that my program oversees at Big Brothers Big Sisters. I see first hand through my work what the climate within the state and federal government means to school systems and community organizations and know that this is a time in which leaders will have to think outside of the box from time to time to ensure success for our students.
9. Why do you live within the North Hills School District?
My wife, Erin, and I really enjoy living in the North Hills. Having a strong school district definitely was important in our decision to live and stay here in Ross Township. We also are fond of McKnight Road (minus the holiday traffic) and the restaurants and stores in our community. I have also really enjoyed my time serving on two local non-profit boards, North Hills Community Outreach and the Baierl Family YMCA.
10. What is the best part about North Hills School District?
The history of the district and the excellent opportunities that exist for students to succeed. It is also quite obvious that the parents, teachers, and administration are fully committed to seeing students grow and develop both inside and outside of the classroom.
11. Where do you think North Hills School District will be 4 years from now? How will you be instrumental in moving it in that direction?
My sincere hope is that the North Hills School District will still be among the top ten for lowest taxes among the suburban district in Allegheny County. I also hope that the percentage of students proficient in writing, SAT score figures, and AP test success rates continue to increase. Overall, I hope to see an increased passion from the students, administration, teachers, and parents in the district with regards to service and community. Empowering, educating, and inspiring others is a big part of what I do through my role at BBBS and in my Get Involved! initiatives. By providing a positive and optimistic voice on our school board I feel strongly that I can help our students to succeed in the North Hills School District.