Carol Keene Baker

Carol Keene Baker, who will take over as the new superintendent in Lyons-Brookfield Elementary School District 103 on July 1, says she’s well aware of the politically charged atmosphere that has driven wholesale changes in the administration and school board.

But the veteran educator, who brings an impressive resume in curriculum and instruction at the high school level, says she wants to focus on improving academic achievement in District 103, which serves Lyons, Stickney, McCook, Forest View and the southeast quarter of Brookfield.

“I’m not coming here to engage in politics; I’m coming to work on academics,” Baker told the Landmark during a telephone interview last week. “Honestly, I haven’t seen anything that gives me pause.”

A high school physics teacher and administrator, Baker has served in both capacities in Community High School District 218, which includes Eisenhower, Shepard and Richards high schools.

Baker has spent her entire career in District 218, where she was named director of curriculum for science and music in 2006 and began her teaching career in 1988. 

She’s an educator of some note at the high school level. Baker earned a Ph.D. in educational leadership from National-Louis University and holds a master’s degree in educational administration from Governors State University.

Baker was chosen to be a member of the writing team that developed the Next Generation Science Standards for the Common Core standards and has led many workshops to help teachers implement those standards into their curricula. Baker has also written test questions for the ACT exam and for the state of Illinois’ annual assessment for high school students.

While she’s never worked at the elementary level, Baker said she began to be drawn to the K-8 level while working on developing the Next Generation Science Standards, which brought her into contact with elementary school educators.

“Through working with individuals on that project and helping schools rewrite their curriculums, more and more I wanted to work in K-8,” Baker said.

Baker said she saw District 103, which has struggled in terms of standardized test scores, as a place where her work to develop new academic standards and her background in curriculum would bear fruit.

“During my first interview with the board they said the one thing they were looking for was someone with a strong academic background, because they wanted to improve test scores,” Baker said.

Baker also comes closely connected to the present administration.

When she takes over as superintendent of District 103, she’ll have a familiar face greeting her as the district’s No. 2 administrator.

Kyle Hastings, whom the school board gave a four-year contract to be the district’s part-time assistant superintendent after serving as interim superintendent during the 2015-16 school year, is the father of one of Baker’s former colleagues on another school board.

In 2009, both Baker and Michael Hastings were elected to the Consolidated High School District 230 Board of Education. The younger Hastings didn’t finish his full term in that office, however. Instead, he chose to run for and won a race for Illinois state senator in the 19th District in 2012.

Baker’s husband, Christopher, donated $775 to Michael Hastings’ campaign fund in the run up to that election.

Carol Baker no longer serves on the school board in District 230, which comprises Carl Sandburg, Andrew and Stagg high schools in Orland Township. She lost her bid for re-election in 2013.

Kyle Hastings also is no stranger to District 230 politics. In 2015, Hastings, who is the longtime mayor of Orland Hills, backed a slate of candidates, which did not include Baker, but none of those candidates won election to the board.

While a teacher and administrator in District 218, Baker was also a longtime colleague of Kevin McCaffrey, who was hired by the Lyons-Brookfield District 103 board in April to serve out the remainder of the 2015-16 school year as interim superintendent after Kyle Hastings reached the 100-day limit state law allows a retiree to work before affecting the ability to draw a pension from the Teachers Retirement System.

McCaffrey, according to his LinkedIn social networking webpage, was assistant superintendent for instructional services for District 218 from 2002-12.

Baker said she was unaware while interviewing for the District 103 job that her former colleague had been appointed interim superintendent. But when she found out, she was elated.

“I worked with Kevin for 10 years,” Baker said. “What I learned about curriculum and instruction I learned from him.”

Baker said she’ll be working with McCaffrey as she transitions into her new job and looks forward to getting his perspective on things.

“I consider that an added bonus for me in that position,” Baker said.

Baker was one of two finalists interviewed in March for the superintendent’s job in Lyons-Brookfield District 103. The other was James Calabrese, who might be familiar to some District 103 residents.

Calabrese between 2000 to 2007 was a teacher and administrator at George Washington Middle School in Lyons. He served as assistant principal from 2005-07 and has been principal at Freedom Middle School in South Berwyn District 100 since that time.

Although he said he thought he would have been a good fit and was disappointed not to be offered the job in District 103, Calabrese told the Landmark in a phone interview that he felt the interview process was a fair one.

Calabrese said that school boards have to hire the person with whom they feel they can work most effectively.

“They need to find someone that’s a good fit for them,” Calabrese said. “Certainly Dr. Baker has the curriculum experience, albeit at the high school level. I felt the process went as it should.”

Calabrese also confirmed that he met with Lyons Village President Christopher Getty as the school board was deciding on its top choice. It’s unusual that a school superintendent applicant would meet privately with a municipal leader during the board’s vetting process.

Baker told the Landmark that she did not meet with Getty during the district’s superintendent search, though she had heard Calabrese did.

“I wanted to stay out of the political end of it,” Baker said.

Getty’s influence on the District 103 school board is pronounced. Several board members are either employed by or have relatives who work for the village of Lyons. Getty also largely bankrolled a slate of candidates in the 2015 election, which flipped the board majority and paved the way for sweeping changes on the board and the central office administration.

Calabrese said that he didn’t feel as if the meeting with Getty was to obtain any sort of blessing, adding that he would have welcomed talking to the leaders of the four other municipalities served by District 103.

“If I could have met with the mayors of all five communities, I would have,” said Calabrese, who added he visited local restaurants and grocery stores and struck up conversations with people about the district as part of his research into the job.

Baker’s curriculum experience certainly will come in handy. District 103 is losing its curriculum director, Kelly Baas, who submitted her resignation, effective June 30, back in March. The district so far has not hired anyone to replace Baas, though the job opening was posted on the school district’s website on April 8.

Baker said she hoped to replace Baas, saying it’d be difficult to handle both the curriculum end of things and the superintendent’s position. Still, Baker said she’s likely to be picky about who ends up directing the district’s curriculum.

“I want to pick the best person I can for this district,” she said.

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