This election a breeze for uncontested school board incumbent

This election a breeze for uncontested school board incumbent

Hear from school board president Chris Kloeppel Thursday at 7:40 on WDWS.

CHAMPAIGN — For incumbent Unit 4 board member Gianina Baker, the appointment interviews she went through last year to earn her seat on the board were a lot more stressful than this election season has been.

Given the uncontested race for Champaign school board — three open seats and three candidates running — Baker said she has had more time to focus on her responsibilities as a current board member this spring, instead of worrying about re-election.

"I'm not getting the full experience, but I heard last time there were seven or nine debates during the spring, so it's nice to be able to just be a board member now," she said.

Baker was appointed to the school board last February after former board President Laurie Bonnett resigned.

She was chosen from a field of six other candidates, two of whom are running in next week's election, too: Bruce Brown and Heather Vasquez.

"The recent political climate was most instrumental in me deciding to run. ... I kept asking myself, 'How do I want to be involved? Where can I have the most influence?' And I realized it was the school board where I could have the most influence and be most impactful," she said.

In the past year, Baker has been part of a board that has crossed major goals off its to-do list: It passed the most expensive bond referendum in Champaign County history to fund improvements at six schools; negotiated a new contract with the Champaign Federation of Teachers; and hired a new superintendent.

Baker said she's proud of all these accomplishments, but said the personal relationships she has established with employees of the district — especially teachers — has been the most rewarding part of her service.

"I've always known teachers care and are supportive, but I think I get to see it on a deeper level and know it on a deeper level now. It's enough to just talk about how great our teachers are, but when I actually get to see that in action, it makes me even more proud of Unit 4," she said.

As one of two African-American school board members, serving a district where 35 percent of the student body is black, Baker — who holds a doctorate in education policy from the University of Illinois — offers a unique perspective to the team. But so does everyone else, she said.

"Bruce and Heather bring their own perspective as well, which is exciting, and we need more of that. It's not only how I think, but my perspective influences my beliefs and values and how I go about thinking about different things. We have important decisions we've made in the past year that have affected our entire community," she said. "So the more we can get different voices involved, the better, the stronger we are, the more progress we can make. I offer one lens of this community, but I really hope I can work to involve more as I continue this journey."

Baker said her primary goals for the next four years are: helping the board reflect and take stock of where Unit 4 is at as a school district; addressing the achievement gap and supporting teachers to make sure they have what they need to help close the gap; and continually evaluating district policy to make sure it is equitable.

As a wife and mother of three children in Unit 4, Baker said her life is a bit of a balancing act. But she enjoys the challenge of being a public servant and looks forward to what the district can accomplish in the next four years.

"I want to get out and do something, where it's not just me and my family I'm advocating for, which is a big thing, but also advocating for others who may have a voice, but no one's listening or people who don't have the agency yet for themselves. Deciding to run again was definitely a decision bigger than just me," she said.

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