Gene Baker has taken leaps of faith many times throughout his life, as a career soldier, paratrooper, business executive and educator. Now, the 57-year-old Assistant Superintendent of Rockdale County Public Schools is looking forward to another life leap - retirement.
After more than 14 years at RCPS, Baker's last day was November 21.
Baker grew up as the oldest of three siblings, surrounded by extended family in Clayton County. He finished high school at University of Georgia in 1975 and transferred to Georgia State University and graduated there in 1979. During that time, he enlisted in the U.S. Army.
Baker followed in the footsteps of the men in his family and became a paratrooper. His uncle was in the original platoon that tested out the then-unheard of concept of soldiers jumping out of perfectly good planes to fight. His father served in World War II as part of the corps that became the 101st Airborne Division. "He survived the jump into Normandy, Battle of the Bulge... taking of the Eagles Nest," and more, said Baker.
"You have your own hero in the family," said Baker of having the example of his father and uncles.
During Baker's time in the military, he served in a wide variety of positions, as a platoon leader, company executive officer, tactical officer, senior officer for OCS, war plans officer, battalions officer, operation officer, company commander and more. He retired as a Captain.
"When the Berlin Wall fell, I got out," he said. "It was just that time in my life."
He became a business executive in Los Angeles for a short time before his parents retired and he moved back to south Georgia to take care of them. He had been interested in teaching in college. "There wasn't a college where they were, but I started teaching high school and fell in love with it."
"I enjoy getting people to learn, to understand things," he said. "I've always enjoyed understanding why things happened and what happened. Why people act the way they act, talk the way they talk, make the decisions they make."
He was a history teacher in Pierce County High School for 12 years. He came to Rockdale County as the assistant principal at Conyers Middle and then became principal. He joined the cabinet as a director of student achievement, executive director, assistant superintendent, and had more schools placed under his supervision before he was named Chief of Staff last year and tasked with overseeing the technology improvements and projects funded by the voter-approved education penny sales tax.
"I feel very good about the trajectory we're on in technology. We've made huge improvements in technology, after six years of not investing in it at all as we tried to get through the recession," he said. With the school system reinvesting in technology infrastructure and one-to-one device per student plan, "Rockdale will be back on the cutting edge of technology. It's one of the things we're known for," he said.
With his departure, the responsibilities of cabinet-level directors and heads were reorganized and a Chief Technology Officer cabinet level position was created.
"We have a lot of depth in leadership in Rockdale County," said Baker. "One of the best kept secrets about Rockdale and why RCPS continually defies the norm, we have a very family/team oriented culture here."
"I will tell you everything we have in the strategic plan that the voters voted on in the ESPLOST is going to happen. It's going to happen whether I'm here or not. It's a team, it's a group effort... I guess I don't look back and say ‘I did that.' I look back more as a matter of pride that I got to be part of a team."
Baker says he will be busy helping his wife Angela Carbon with her Atlanta antiques business, Highland Row Antiques, and continuing to care for his aging parents. And he'll have time to rediscover hobbies he hadn't had the time to do before.