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Baker is first black Liberty BoE chairwoman

Black History Month

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POSTED: March 16, 2007 5:12 a.m.
Liberty County voters made history when a black person was elected to chair the Liberty County Board of Education last year.
While Lily H. Baker is the first African-American to chair the board, making history is not on the forefront of her mind — making the Liberty County school system a state of the art system is. “It’s not about being the first black,” she said. “I didn’t enter the race thinking about being the first black. I entered to make things better for our children.”
Baker’s long career in the local school system fueled her passion to run for the office.           
“I’ve been in the school system for 29 years and as teacher in the trenches I often wondered ‘how did they make that decision.’” she said.
 After retiring in 2005, the hunger to know how decisions were being made turned into a drive.
“I had no plans to run for office. I just wanted to go home, go fishing and be with mama,” she mused. “It was thrown into my spirit by God and I just couldn't shake it.”
She announced her plan to run for election in January and by November had gained enough support to force the incumbent to a runoff election.
There was some drama added to the race after the November election when a mysterious unsigned letter was floated throughout the community urging white voters to consider “race” as the determining factor.
“I didn't comment. I didn’t make a stir about it. The letter itself spoke for itself. I didn’t give life to it because I didn't feel that I needed to,” she said Tuesday. “I always just wanted to say to people what I was about and what I was planning on doing.”
What Baker was doing was winning. She stayed ahead of incumbent Chairman Barbara Martin and won 59 percent approval with 2,917 votes. Martin lost her seat with less than 42 percent and 2,068 votes.
Baker said she realized the impact of the election when her phone started ringing.
“I didn’t realize the impact of what had taken place until after it had taken place. People were excited about me being black. Some were excited about me being female. But most were excited about just having someone new with fresh ideas,” she said.
With almost two months in office, Baker has immersed herself in training and listening. She has attended state level training and a military schools impact training session.
“Even before taking office I was doing research on boards and how the board should run,” she said. “I’ve attended training to help me learn more about being a member and a chairman.”
After attending the training she said the board would work to set goals and improvements during an upcoming retreat.
“We'll do it locally in somebody's conference room. I'm learning some things we should be doing differently and we’re going to work on that together,” she said.
The BOE is facing public concern about issues within the system and people should feel confident the board would listen.
“I want parents to feel comfortable speaking with me and all of the board members.  We may not always agree with them, but I want them to feel comfortable presenting their concerns,” the chairman said.
Baker hopes people remain interested in the school system.
“I hope they continue to come and stay informed,” she said. “It  (school system) affects every one of us. These are our children and one day some of them will be sitting where we’re sitting.”  
The board is going in a new direction and keeping pace with systems around the country by adding career technical courses.
“I'm very excited about that,” Baker said. “These courses will help with economic development, reduce our dropout rate and help our alternative school students.”
All students won’t go to college, but the technical program will help their future quality of life.
“All children can come out of high school and make a good living,” she said. “These are the kinds of things we want to do. I want people to look and say that’s where I want to move. They have jobs there and they have a good school system.”
Baker complimented the board members’ contributions and significance in the process.   
“They’ve been very helpful. I’m enjoying it and everyday there is something to do concerning our children. I’m working everyday to help make this a state of the art school system and I’m having a good time.”
Back to the question about being the first black to serve as the chairman, Baker still said “it is not about being the first.”
“I am, but it’s not about that.  I appreciate the community for trusting in me and giving me the opportunity,” she said.
 

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