Credit: Credit: Albemarle County Public Schools

DATE: September 16, 2015
CONTACT: Phil Giaramita, Public Affairs and Strategic Communications Officer
PHONE: 434-972-4049

John E. Baker Legacy Dinner is October 23; Proceeds Benefit College Students of Color Who Want to Teach in Charlottesville, Albemarle

(ALBEMARLE COUNTY, Virginia) – John Charles Thomas, the youngest Supreme Court Justice for the Commonwealth of Virginia who also was the court’s first African-American jurist, will be the keynote speaker this fall at the fifth annual John E. Baker Legacy Dinner. The dinner benefits African American Teaching Fellows (AATF), an organization that collaborates with local school divisions to broaden the diversity of their teaching staff.

According to AATF, there is one African American teacher for every 122 students in the Charlottesville City and Albemarle County school divisions, a ratio that affects every student regardless of race or ethnicity. “Our students rarely witness cross-cultural collaboration or benefit from diverse mentorships,” the organization says, adding that “too many students are growing up without an appreciation of cultural differences and without an understanding that despite a community’s varied experiences, it is united by common values.”

The organization is in its tenth year and has provided financial and professional development support to 32 African American fellows, seven of whom are teaching in the Albemarle County public school division and six in Charlottesville City Public Schools. Eleven other fellows are working toward their teaching license, and one fellow is with the University of Virginia’s Curry School pursuing a graduate degree in education.

“With the assistance of so many outstanding volunteers, educators and business and community partners, we have made significant progress over the past decade in creating an awareness of the importance of diversity in local schools,” said Dr. Bernard Hairston, the initial chair of AATF’s Board of Directors and a co-chair this year of the Baker Legacy dinner. “If schools are to prepare students for success in college, in careers, and as citizens, faculty should look more like the world that students will enter when they leave high school,” Dr. Hairston added.

The John Baker Legacy Dinner also features four special awards, two to community leaders and two to students. The Baker Legacy Award this year will be presented to Dr. Pamela R. Moran, Virginia’s Superintendent of the Year and the Superintendent of Albemarle County Public Schools. The award recognizes an individual “whose life work has emphasized the importance of quality education for all children in Albemarle County and the City of Charlottesville,” according to Will Harvey, co-chair of the Baker Legacy Dinner.

The John Baker Community Education Award honors an African American professional educator who, among other attributes, has created “a love of learning in students of all abilities and backgrounds,” Harvey added. This year’s recipient is Holly M. Edwards, a medical professional and community leader who has served on the Charlottesville City Council and for a broad array of community service organizations in health care, housing, education, and employment. She currently works for the Jefferson Area Board of Aging in nursing clinics located in two public housing communities—Westhaven and Crescent Halls.

The student awards will be presented to two former students from Baker-Butler Elementary School, Teddy Cross and Amy McDonald. “Both Teddy and Amy embody the legacy of John Baker,” said Harvey. “They are excellent role models, leaders in their school, selfless in their support for their peers, and energetic in their willingness to take on challenges,” he added.

This year’s Baker Legacy Dinner will be on Friday, October 23, at Farmington Country Club. There is a reception at 6 p.m. followed by the program and dinner beginning at 7 p.m. Tickets are available at $100 per person by calling the AATF office at (434) 220-4264.

The African-American Teaching Fellows is a 501(c)(3) organization that recruits teaching candidates from throughout Virginia. Fellows who agree to teach in either Charlottesville City or Albemarle County schools receive a $5,000 scholarship per year. In 2014, AATF provided over $40,000 in tuition support to its fellows. The organization also supports fellows through a series of professional and leadership development programs throughout the year, including its Teacher-Leader Institute each summer.

John E. Baker was a highly respected and accomplished education and local community leader and the first African-American elected to the Albemarle County School Board. In a joint resolution by the Virginia House of Delegates, it was noted that Baker “gave his time and immense talents to numerous civic organizations, including the Charlottesville/Albemarle Community Foundation Advisory Committee, the Red Cross, the Multiple Sclerosis Society, the Charlottesville/Albemarle Youth Orchestra, and the African-American Teaching Fellows.” The county’s Baker-Butler Elementary School is named in his honor.