Kilgore ISD's new superintendent started work Monday morning before students had returned to campus from their winter break.
Dr. Andy Baker toured all five KISD campuses Monday to host meet-and-greet sessions with faculty, staff and administrators across the district.
Starting in the Kilgore High cafeteria at 9 a.m., Baker introduced himself to teachers and invited them to ask questions.
“It's Dr. Baker, it's Mr. Baker, it's Mr. Andy, it's Dr. B, Baker said to a group of Kilgore Intermediate School teachers in the campus library. “I am not that concerned with a formal title, please understand that. If you see me out and about, it's Andy.
Baker described his 25-year career in education, from his early years as an athletic coach and high school teacher to his tenure as a principal and superintendent at several Dallas-area school districts.
He described his introduction to school administration as a “baptism by fire. During his eight-year tenure at Prosper ISD, the district grew from less than 1,000 students to more than 5,600. At the same time, Baker served as campus principal, assistant principal, government and economics teacher and boys basketball coach.
“I got thrown into it very, very quickly and it was a whirlwind ever since, he said. “That's how I got into the administrative side of the business.
Following his time at Prosper, Baker was superintendent of Tioga ISD, a small district north of Dallas with only 126 students enrolled through the eighth grade. Working at a small district had Baker filling many roles on campus.
“I've mowed grass, I've served mashed potatoes, I can flip a mean burger on a Wednesday afternoon. I've driven a bus, I've done it all, Baker said.
After two years at Tioga, Baker was superintendent of Edgewood ISD for eight years before applying for the superintendency of KISD.
Baker told teachers at KIS and Kilgore Middle School he had been asked the question “Why Kilgore?
“I was asked during the interview process, when did you know that you were ready to leave Edgewood? I'm telling you guys, I wasn't. I told them flat-out, I'm not. So then why Kilgore? I'm going to tell you this, because Kilgore, from my outside perspective looking in, is exactly what I currently had at Edgewood, he said.
He described Edgewood as a district with good students who worked hard and exhibited good conduct.
“Edgewood was a wonderful, wonderful place to raise my family, he said. “I see that here.
Campus principals and teachers expressed optimism about Baker leading the district.
“We're excited that he's here. Everybody seems really excited about him being here, said KIS Principal Kim Slayter.
“I'm very excited, said Victor Tuttle, seventh grade Texas History teacher. “He brings some stability with a proven track record.
KMS Principal April Cox said many in the district felt Baker could help KISD develop and improve.
“I think that there's an energy, a definite energy, that we are ready for someone to come in and move the district forward. We're at a great place and it's a perfect time for someone to come in and take us to that next step, Cox said. “We feel confident that Dr. Baker is going to be able to direct and lead and guide us.
Following his tour of the campuses, Baker met others from the Kilgore community in a special reception held at the Old Post Office downtown Monday evening.
Mayor Ronnie Spradlin, KISD board members, Dr. Kays of Kilgore College and many others attended to get to know the new superintendent.
At the reception, Baker said he was looking forward to the semester ahead and his experiences in Kilgore so far had been good ones.
“I've been given a very warm welcome. I'm excited about this. This is going to be a really, really good thing, he said.
Having raised his family in Edgewood, Baker said the similar, family-friendly environment of Kilgore was one of his main influences when he chose to pursue the superintendency.
“That's one of the things that got me to look at the possibility. It was the community, it was the way the kids act, it was the expectations that the kids have. My son played baseball and basketball, he played here several times. It has a very strong community feel. Quite honestly, if it hadn't had that, we would never have even looked into it. I'm not going to bring my family some place I'm not comfortable. We've been very, very comfortable here. We're excited.