Q&A with Lee Baxter

Leo J. “Lee” Baxter donates a great deal of his time to civic and community matters, and to Signal Mountain Associates, Inc., which he founded in 1999. The company provides consulting services in business development and marketing to a wide variety of defense and training management companies across the country. A native of Minnesota, he spent 31 years in the military, retiring as an Army Major General in 1999. Baxter previously served as vice president of Cameron University, as a market president for BancFirst, as a vice president of Communication Technologies, Inc. in Chantilly, Virginia, and as president and chief operating officer for JB Management, Inc., in Alexandria, Virginia.

Education Focus: What is public education’s biggest challenge?
Lee Baxter: “
Our biggest challenge is resourcing and efficiency, plus the relative imbalance in state funding for higher ed, career tech and common education. Common ed needs more, and higher ed might sacrifice a little for that...teacher pay is a HUGE problem.

EF:  What do you think the biggest difference is today in public education compared to when you were in high school?
LB: “
I went to a school in rural Minnesota with less than 500 students. We had four years of math, four years of science, foreign language. Our rural youth had the same academic advantages as city schools. Today? Not happening.”

EF: During your time on the State School Board, what has been the most inspiring achievement you’ve seen in a public school?
“The progress in academic performance based on reform ... it is happening every day across Oklahoma. The reforms undertaken in Tulsa Public Schools by Dr Keith Ballard and his staff have been remarkable in a tough environment ... very impressive to me.”

EF: What do you think has been the State Board’s biggest accomplishment during your term?
LE: “
I think the reforms which have been undertaken by this Board are unprecedented in Oklahoma history. ACE standards, Teacher evaluation and A-F are bringing accountability to the classroom in a quantitative manner, and that helps all constituencies.”

EF: What will be the most significant changes in public education in the next 5-10 years?
LE: “
In the next 10 years we should see the true proliferation of online education to offer all parts of the state a full curriculum, and we will see great pressure on the public school system to continue to improve academic outcomes for our kids.”

EF: Public education is going through a great deal of change via a number of different reforms. Is there a reform that you’d like to see that hasn’t been broached?
“I think we have initiated a rather complete system of reform. Gaining efficiencies through joint efforts of school districts in area such as procurement can save large dollars.”

EF: If you were a teacher, what subject or grade would you be teaching and why?
“I would teach English literature. (That was) my undergraduate degree and (it’s) still a passion.”

EF: Why should we care how our student test scores compare to other countries, especially when our education systems and cultures are so very different?
“Our children must compete. The world is getting smaller and smaller and smaller. If we don't achieve academic excellence, we become irrelevant.”

EF: Who was your favorite teacher, and why?
“My high school English teacher ... wow!!!”

EF: What piece of technology has advanced education the most?
“It may not be yet, but will soon be the iPad or a variant!”


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