Calvin Baker

As residents of Vail, we have a lot of pride in our school district – and for good reason! The awards, consistent high ratings, and achievements of all of the students here make the Vail School District one to admire.

Behind all that success is the Superintendent, Calvin Baker.  

Calvin Baker lives, eats, and breathes his work – and he loves it! He regularly posts pictures from walking around the school district to the various Facebook forums in our area and works tirelessly to keep the community working in line the school district’s goals. With the passing of Prop 424, the school district is gearing up for more major improvements. We can’t wait to watch the continued forward momentum of this world class school district. 

Now, to face the firing round of questions, here’s Calvin Baker’s story in his own words.

1. What’s the one event you look forward to the most each year?

There are so many great events like Vail Pride Day and graduation to look forward to. My favorite, however, is the first day new teachers report to work. It signals the start of a brand new school year — the true “New Year’s Day” for those of us blessed enough to be educators. We get to hit the proverbial “reset” button and start fresh. And, the energy of the rampantly idealist new teachers overwhelms the room, feeds my soul, and overflows my “motivational tank.”

2. What do you love the most about living and working in Vail?

Just like other educators, I love being part of something that is truly making a difference. I sometimes reflect back to the very small, insignificant, one-school district that we used to be. Then I think of today with our high ratings for high student achievement, the many recognitions earned by our staff and students, and the impact we are making with our 100+ Beyond Textbook Partners. The contrast between the two realities is both astounding and humbling.

I also greatly appreciate the people with whom I work. I could not be any prouder of who they are and what they accomplish. Equally important, the people with whom I work the most closely are simply quality people — I would be glad to have anyone of them live next door, and I would trust them with my grandchildren.

Finally, our community is a special place with special people. I am continually amazed by the spirit of giving, the “connectedness” of people, and the support provided to our schools. I’m also consistently encouraged by the people who step forward to lead in our community. Vail is a good place to be — the reason I’ve decided to return at the end of every one of the last 26 years.

3. Tell us about how you reward teachers and staff members with incentives.

People who choose to work in education long to be part of something that is truly making a difference. Being that “something” is the biggest incentive we can provide.

We also provide a wide variety of specific financial rewards. Extra compensation is provided for staff who:

    • are chosen (based on their competency) for additional responsibilities — i.e., being a grade level leader, coaching other teachers, doing curriculum work, or teaching intersession.
    • volunteer for additional duties — i.e., teaching an extra class or coaching a sport.
    • achieve specific school-wide goals set by the staff and approved by the school’s site council and the District’s governing board.
    • gain approval for leading what we call EEP’s or Educational Enrichment Plans — these are like “extra duty” assignments initiated and designed by a teacher.

Teachers in Vail earn an average of over $6,000 per year from the above opportunities.

4. In your spare time, what do you love to do?

What spare time? There is always a school or community event where I should be, and there is never any end to the emails that just keep flowing into my inbox. I do pretty much live my job — and I’m okay with that because I love what I do.

I am also blessed to have a supportive wife, six children, eleven grandchildren, and many good friends. It is good to spend time with them.

Over the years I’ve also learned the value of staying fit, so I exercise regularly and enjoy training for runs and marathons . . . which also provide more opportunities to spend time with good friends.

And, like most other people, there is always yard work and several projects calling my name.

5. What’s one thing about yourself that might surprise people in Vail?

It is common for people to assume that because I’m the superintendent of a successful school district, I must have loved school and been a successful student. The truth is that attending school has never been one of my favorite activities. I begrudgingly tolerated elementary school and achieved only moderate success. My high school years included heavy doses of rebellion, resentment, and failure.

I did find success in college and grad school, but even then I treated school as “means to an end.” Leading a school is far, far better than going to school.

Let me be very clear: I absolutely love to learn, love to read, and love to understand new things. I just don’t like sitting still and doing “assignments.”

Over the years I have learned to greatly appreciate people who love school just because it is school. At the same time, I know there are many students in our schools who, like me, simply don’t like just sitting still and doing assignments. I’m an advocate for those students. I don’t want them to be devalued because they don’t easily fit in. The truth is that many successful leaders and successful entrepreneurs used to be students who couldn’t sit still and didn’t like doing what everyone else was doing. That said, even students who have trouble conforming to school must eventually figure out a way to be successful at it. Success at school is usually essential to develop necessary skills and gain entrance to a successful adult life.

6. What inspired you to get involved in the Vail School District?

I grew up in a small, rural farming community in Minnesota. Before coming to Vail, I had been working as a principal in rural Northern Alaska for nine years. My wife and I decided we needed to move to Arizona because my parents were living here, getting older, and needed our attention.

Connection to community was an important part of life for us. As such, the only criteria we set for a new job in Arizona was that it could not be in a big city. I applied at multiple rural districts. Vail offered me a job as the principal of the only school in Vail. It was a K-8 school known simply as “Vail School.” I came to Vail because it was the school district that chose to offer me a job.

I can claim no credit for choosing wisely. In fact, I had no clue what I was getting into or what I was possibly missing by not being selected by another school district. From my perspective, it is simply a miraculous blessing that I landed here. After almost 27 years in Vail and after gaining an intimate knowledge of school districts across the state, I can’t imagine any other place that would have provided the opportunities I’ve been provided in Vail or been a better fit.

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Lucretia Free