It takes a lot to operate a school district, especially one the size of Kilgore ISD.
KISD Superintendent Dr. Andy Baker spoke to Kilgore Rotary Club Wednesday, relating some of the challenges of the public school environment, as well as the story of how he created a career in education.
About to mark his twenty-sixth year in education, Baker was at first not interested in the field. Both his parents were involved in education and he pursued other interests. He attended the University of Dallas on a basketball scholarship, earned a bachelor’s degree in history and aimed to begin a career in food service.
One night, after a long shift, he got a phone call from his mother asking him to fill the role of substitute teacher.
He went to work the next morning at South Lake Carroll Middle School. Within a month, he was the school’s full-time substitute teacher, covering subjects from P.E. to Spanish.
“That got me hooked,” Baker said, adding he fell in love with the school environment and enjoyed working with kids.
His career then took him to districts around Texas, including Valley View High School, Collinsville, Prosper ISD, Tioga ISD and Edgewood ISD. He served in a number of positions, from basketball coach to government/economics teacher to, eventually, superintendent.
He began the role of KISD Superintendent this past January and has encountered both challenges and positive situations here, both of which he related to Rotarians.
One of the challenges he described is something more and more parents and grandparents of school-aged children are experiencing throughout the state.
“Think about how it was when you went to school. When I was going through school, it was everything possibly different from how it is now. We are teaching, at Kilgore ISD and across the state, just the basic core math concepts that you guys were taught in fifth grade, sixth grade and seventh grade, we’re teaching to our second and third-graders now.”
The result of this change, Baker said, is that it has become more difficult for students to get help with homework from family members.
“The challenge we face with that is very, very simple: we’re sending home homework to reinforce what we talked about in the classroom with concepts that our parents don’t know.”
One Rotarian with a child in middle school agreed she had trouble helping with her homework.
“That is a challenge for us because we are responsible for teaching our kiddos and our kiddos are responsible for knowing this information but there’s no broader help out there to help them,” Baker said.
This puts more emphasis on classroom instruction to make sure students learn and grasp concepts during classroom time, rather than relying on homework.
Another challenge Baker named for Kilgore ISD was “perception”, the way parents and those outside the school system view the school.
“What’s happening in your hallways, what’s happening in your classrooms, if you’re not part of it, you don’t see it,” he said, adding this situation sometimes results in inaccurate information about the school being shared in the community, from the behavior of students to the timing of the Chandler Street Improvement Project.
His message was that those who work inside the school system have the clearest picture of what’s going on in the district.
He also pointed to the size of KISD as another challenge: student population growth has been slight for several years, holding steady at about 3,500 to 4,000 students in the district.
However, he highlighted a positive aspect of this challenge. Parents of about 260 elementary-age students from other communities outside the district are enrolling their students in KISD.
“They’re coming here to educate their kiddos. You’re doing a lot of good things here in your town and in your community.”
Baker also addressed other district issues, including the need for schools to adapt to computer-based assessment testing, which is expected to be the standard in the next few years and how the Kilgore community felt like “a big small town.”
“Edgewood was a small town. Wonderful, wonderful community, I raised my kids in that community. You guys have the same thing here, you just have more kids.”