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VIProfile: Sandra Baker

Story by Emily Robertson

With a life devoted to education, Sandra Baker has always worked for the betterment of local schoolchildren in several different roles in her career and has always worked to see the good in every situation that she is in, both professionally and personally. Now, as she receives treatment after receiving a breast cancer diagnosis earlier this year, she works to balance the work she loves, while also focusing on her health, beloved family and her dear friends.

Baker was born and raised in Hart County, Kentucky, near Mammoth Cave National Park, and after graduating from Western Kentucky University with a degree in Mathematics and Psychology, she never left Bowling Green. “This community is very important to me and watching it grow is very important,” Baker says. “My career has lead me in different paths, but it has always been focused on education.”

Baker first worked in the classroom, student teaching at Bowling Green High School and then teaching mathematics at Warren Central and Greenwood High School for a combined 12 years. She then went on to serve as a mathematics consultant for the assessment division of the Kentucky Department of Education for four years before spending 14 years at Green River Regional Education Cooperative as a consultant, and then the Associate Executive Director.

“I worked with writing and implementing state and federal grants,” Baker says. “I spent several years where I procured grant funding for mathematics teachers and classrooms in our region. Around $10.4 million went towards training and supplies in our classrooms.”

The last four years that Baker worked at GRREC, she worked with a team of 68 to support 121 schools in 24 districts across Kentucky on the $41 million U.S. Department of Education Race to the Top grant. “I’ve always loved the work that I did in all areas of education,” Baker says. “As a parent, I was an advocate for my two sons, and in my career, I was a passionate advocate for all the children across the state.”

When Baker retired from GRREC, The Bowling Green Area Chamber of Commerce approached her to work as the Education and Workforce Director, and she was excited to focus back on local schools. “Seven years ago when I came to work at the chamber, I was excited to focus on Bowling Green and Warren County Schools. We are so blessed here. I’ve been in schools all across the nation with GRREC and we truly have two successful districts and wonderful teachers.”

In her position as Director of Education and Workforce, Baker works on talent development, K-12 initiatives, as well as establishing connections and partnerships with higher education institutions.

She leads Leadership Bowling Green and also worked to begin SCK LAUNCH (Learning about Unique and New Careers Here). SCK LAUNCH is a partnership between the chamber, area school districts and local businesses that provides a hands-on career fair with student ambassadors in each school.

“I’m really proud of SCK LAUNCH,” Baker says. “I’m so proud to be a part of the chamber as we build SCK LAUNCH - providing high school juniors and seniors the opportunity to job shadow, along with an 8th grade career experience, helps so many local students in career planning. We have built something that is sustainable and will make an impact in local education and work force.”

This past spring, Baker had to restructure her work that she loves at the chamber after a routine mammogram found that she tested positive for triple negative breast cancer. “I have always been faithful about getting mammograms, which is why it was caught early.

The gap between when you find out something could be going on until you get your diagnosis feels like the longest period of time and no one wants to hear the word ‘Cancer,’ but one in eight women are diagnosed with breast cancer in their lifetime,” Baker says. “I will have 16 rounds of chemotherapy, then surgery and radiation, which will be close to a year. I’ve learned that there is a lot of research and changes in the last 10 years, and we are really blessed that this work is going on.”

As a natural-born planner, Baker says the unknown about treatments is difficult, but she says one of the things that helped her through treatments and losing her hair is hearing the journey of so many other women that were just a few steps past her in their journeys.

“Through this experience, I’ve been blessed with so many women that weren’t a part of my life that are now,” Baker says. “I met one woman who has become a dear friend and she is an absolute beacon of light. She laid out the good, the bad and the ugly.” Baker says her family, her husband and two adult sons, as well as several extended family members, has been such a support for her as well. She says her husband is her rock and they have weekly Zooms with their sons who live out of town to update them on her progress. She encourages those who are going through cancer, and those who are caregivers for those with cancer, to build a support system.

Baker now looks to find joy in the small things, like picking out wigs and scarves, reading and participating in her book club she’s been in for 12 years and planning to travel and see her sons after she is finished with her treatment. “I had a plan for all I wanted to do and then with cancer, it stopped,” Baker says. “But my whole outlook has changed. I’ve loved my work and I’m blessed to do something I’m passionate about, and now I am focused on getting stronger and healing and once treatment is over, we are going to visit our sons and spend time doing things we’ve put off while we have faced this.” 

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