“It’s about kids” is not just Cabot Public Schools’ motto; it’s the most important thing to Lisa Baker, director of personnel for the district. This year, Baker was recognized by the Arkansas Association of Education Administrators as the Arkansas School Personnel Administrator of the Year, and her passion for students and their education has touched multiple parts of the district.
“Focus on the kids. Focus on them,” Baker said. “‘It’s about kids’ — it’s our school district’s motto. We say, we do; we believe it’s about kids. I think every decision and everything you do, if you base it on ‘it’s about kids,’ everything will work out.”
Baker said she has known she wanted to work in education since she was in the third grade. Her teacher that year, Ms. Kirspel at Mount St. Mary Academy in Little Rock, was Baker’s inspiration.
“She made learning fun,” Baker said. “We knew she cared about us. She told us. She loved us, and she wanted the best for us every day. She engaged us. She was patient, kind, gentle. From that moment on, I knew I wanted to have my own classroom one day and be just like Ms. Kirspel.”
Following in Ms. Kirspel’s footsteps, Baker started her career 25 years ago, primarily teaching third grade. In 1995, Baker helped open Cabot Middle School South as assistant principal, then in 2001 opened Magness Creek Elementary School, where she served as principal until she took the job as the district’s director of personnel in 2004.
“My heart will always be in those buildings and with those kids,” she said. “That’s the hardest part.
I miss those connections. I miss those daily interactions with children.”
When she was in the classroom, Baker specialized in math, science and reading. She said she does not have a favorite subject to teach; she just enjoys teaching. Baker said the age of her students did not make much of a difference to her: Students are students, and all deserve to learn in a loving environment.
“They’re still kids,” she said of moving from the elementary school to the middle school. “They’re just in a little bit bigger bodies. You still treat them the same. They still need the same love and compassion, and they want to have fun as well.”
Though her administrative duties have taken her to the central office, she said she still finds ways to interact with students. She said she enjoys seeing students and hearing of their accomplishments during school board meetings, and she jumps at chances to go read to students when the opportunity presents itself.
“It’s on a larger scale,” she said. “I get to see the whole process — maybe not daily interaction, but as a whole.”
Baker has spent her entire career in the Cabot Public School District, and she said she is continually humbled and grateful for the supportive community and parents who are involved. In being directly involved with opening two schools, Baker said the district’s growth is a testament to that strong community.
“I think families want to be here,” she said. “It’s a great place. We take care of kids. I think they want to be a part of that. Their child or children come first. Cabot is a wonderful place to raise a family, to educate. I think as educators, we’re taking care of those needs and those families and those kids, and we’re really doing some wonderful things, and I think they want a part of that.”
On Aug. 6, Baker was named Arkansas School Personnel Administrator of the Year at a statewide conference for education administrators held in Little Rock. The award is given to someone who has shown leadership in providing educational opportunities in his or her school district.
“I’m humbled, honored, blessed to be in the circle with some amazing [human resources] administrators and to have been mentored and to now mentor new HR administrators coming in,” she said of the award.
Baker said it is important for education administrators across the state to make sure students get the best teachers possible, and through professional organizations such as the Arkansas Association of Education Administrators, the Arkansas Association of School Personnel Administrators and the American Association of School Personnel Administrators, Baker and other professionals work together to take applicable and exemplary ideas back to their districts.
“It’s all about making sure our student has the best teacher,” she said. “It’s a collective and a collaborative goal for all of us to do that as a state. We work very well together. I feel responsible not just for Cabot students but for all students. We’re all in this together for all kids.”
Outside of the school district, Baker is an active church member and serves on a women’s leadership team at church that allows her to interact with and mentor other professional women.
Staff writer Angela Spencer can be reached at (501) 244-4307 or firstname.lastname@example.org.