By Curt Peterson
After 10 years as superintendent of Windsor Southeast Supervisory Union (WSESU), David Baker is leaving to accept the position of superintendent at Orange Southwest Supervisory Union (OSSU), in Hardwick in the Northeast Kingdom.
WSESU includes the towns of Hartland, Windsor, West Windsor and Weathersfield.
“This should be it,” Baker told the Mountain Times. “I’ve promised [OSSU] five good years, health permitting.”
WSESU and OSSU have a lot in common. Windsor consists of four boards, OSSU has five, but one board doesn’t oversee a school. WSESU and OSSU each serve about 1,200 students pre-K through grade 12, and are supported by staffs of similar size.
“OSSU is more rural,” Baker said. “Some would call it ‘authentic Vermont.’ It does feel like I’m coming home, so to speak.”
Originally a Rhode Islander, Baker moved to the Northeast Kingdom in 1984 and has stayed. He and his wife Mary Ann, both educators, have been married 43 years and raised seven children.
“They all went into some form of education,” he said.
“They must have noticed something noble in the profession.”
Baker dabbles with his guitar and singing, and finds the bandwidth to support his local Catholic parish as a permanent deacon.
Much of his time at WSESU, and previously as assistant principal at Hartford High School for six years, has been spent commuting. Windsor is more than 80 miles from his home in Danville, a trip Vermonters might call “uphill both ways,” and the setting for lots of adventures.
“I’ve seen lots of wildlife,” Baker said.“I ran out of gas a couple of times. I’ve seen a few accidents. I know the best places to eat – late night chocolate cream pie from P&H Truck Stop in Wells River, and I also know the favorite spots for the state police.”
Reducing his commute by 75%— Hardwick is 15 minutes from his home — incentivized his OSSU career move.
Baker said the pandemic and current political divisiveness have made educating more difficult, especially for students.
“Covid was tough. Kids are struggling emotionally,” Baker said.“The pandemic placed a big spotlight on inequities of all sorts – mostly financial in our area.”
Baker is no stranger to youthful challenges himself. Raised as an only child by a single mother, in the eighth grade he encountered “Mr. Brazil,” the first male teacher he’d ever met.
“[He] took me under his wing,” Baker said of Brazil. “One Saturday morning … he took me and two [also fatherless] friends to a Red Sox game. One of the best days of my life. He ate with us, threw the football, and always liked a good joke. I decided that year I was going to teach and try to make a difference.”
What will Baker’s legacy be?
Nicole Buck, Hartland School Board chair, credits Baker with significant accomplishments for the district.
“First, he created an environment where the four schools and three districts all work together to benefit and support all the kids in the SU,” Buck told the Mountain Times. “Second, he initiated … a visionary strategic planning process and plan despite the pandemic. The one thing that sets David apart is his genuine care for each and every kid in the district. In some of the darker, more frustrating moments he never said a negative thing about the child and only searched for a way to better the situation.”
Sherry Sousa, superintendent of Windsor Central Supervisory Union (WCSU), said she will miss having Baker as a supportive colleague.
“[He] has been a good resource and strong partner in my short career as a superintendent,” Sousa told the Mountain Times. “None of us in this position could have survived the pandemic without each other’s support, and I could always rely on Dave to be available to answer a question or to share an idea.”
Hartland’s Nicole Buck summed up Baker’s legacy this way: “While he will be missed in our SU, he has set us up well for future successes.”