Ten Minutes With: Karen Baldwin
We sat down with Ridgefield's Superintendent
Photo by Claire Grummon
Karen Baldwin has been superintendent of Ridgefield public schools since 2015, a position she filled after leaving a similar post in Suffield. She graduated from the University of New Hampshire, and has a Master’s from Columbia. Baldwin lives in the west end of Hartford with her partner and three children—ten, 11, and 14. We spoke with her in early August in her office in the Venus building.
How can today’s schools improve?
Our system was built when the only time you could learn algebra or Shakespeare was if you went to a community school and you sat in chair from 8 o’clock to 3 o’clock. Now kids can learn anytime, anywhere.
Have you seen the movie Most Likely to Succeed, whose premise is that American-school teaching philosophy is dated in a time when kids can learn anywhere, anytime?
Yes, I have. In fact, we are screening it in October. I think it will help shape our strategic planning and get a community-based conversation going.
Do you agree, generally speaking, with the premise of the movie: that we’re teaching to standardized tests and not teaching needed life skills?
I don’t think that we’re just teaching to a core test. The standards we adopted in 2010-11 are good and right for all kids.
Do you think that the theme of the movie could live alongside standardized teaching?
I do. We can focus on these standards and shift toward demonstration of mastery, toward learning in real time. Relevant, engaging internships and authentic opportunities where kids can demonstrate mastery is important. But we also need an accountability measure.
If you could suddenly have a 25-percent increase in the budget, where would you put those resources?
Into making sure that we had facilities to promote anytime, anywhere learning. Some of the most engaging spaces for learning that I have experienced have been in settings where there might be couches, and open space, and opportunity to talk and work together in small groups. And into technology—we could invest in our infrastructure.
Are you a user of social media?
Not really. We have accounts for the board of ed to improve our engagement.
Have you ever yourself sent a tweet?
No, I am not a user of social media. In my role, I don’t want to go down that road.
Does social media have a role in education?
Yeah, it does. It’s a powerful communication tool. Our responsibility is to make sure that children are safe using it.
What do you do when you’re not superintendent?
Part of what I do is commute between here and Hartford. Last spring I coached youth soccer—it was great to connect with kids that way. I enjoy cooking, but don’t have time so I find food out.