Different paths: Baskin’s journey has been changeable, fulfilling

Published 7:41 am Thursday, May 31, 2018

Amy Baskin had no idea she would end up with a career in education – in fact, she thought that her career would be found in selling Jiffy Pop popcorn.

She chuckled as she sat in her office at the Community Learning Center. Baskin, 60, is winding down her career as Community Education director for the Austin Public Schools and as the head of the Community Learning Center.

“Actually, my dream was to be a timpanist with the Chicago Symphony,” said Baskin, a Gary Indiana native. “But in college, I realized I just wasn’t good enough” so she switched to a sales and marketing degree.

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And it was in sales she met her husband Greg.

“I was Chef Boy-Ar-Dee and he was Hormel,” she said with a grin, adding they met while both were selling products for different companies. While Greg was promoting SPAM for Hormel, she selling Beefaroni for American Home Foods.

They married, and Greg’s job took them to Tennessee for a short time, and then to Austin, in 1986. Here they raised two sons – Jason and Patrick.

After a short stint with work at Riverland Community College, working thanks to a National Science Foundation grant to bring the internet to Austin, she served for 10 years as the head of United Way of Mower County, and 10 years on the Austin School Board.

“I was a parent and at that time, class sizes were growing, and I started to get involved in the Banfield parent group” – and then found herself serving for two terms on the school board.

In 2005, a friend suggested she apply for the head of the district’s Community Education.

“I didn’t have an education degree – but I could get a community education certification,” she said. And that’s what she did.

She gained lots of responsibility, but the first big effort was moving the preschool to Queen of Angels Catholic Church, which had a vacant school building.

In addition to overseeing the preschool and Community Education, she was also overseer of the Adult Basic Education program, which covers English Language courses for adults, and the Transition to College program, where GED’s are earned. She also served in public relations and communications for the school district.

She has been busy, but as her husband Greg says, “she has really enjoyed it – outside of raising her children, I think more than anything else she has done.”

The increase in inclusion programming for early childhood is one change that has occurred under her time; other changes have been seen in the growth of technology, she said, and the growing need for daycare.

The sheer numbers have grown as well, as has the diverse nature of the younger children. About 80 percent of the student early childhood population is non-white, she said.

They are good challenges to have, she said, and she is impressed with her colleagues, who “are passionate about serving” young children.

“They love what they do, every day,” she said.

Her colleagues say she is equally as passionate.

“She is so supportive of us, so helpful,” said early childhood instructor Michelle Holt. “She really is so good at everything she does – and that is a lot.”

Fellow teacher Suzanne Ryner agreed.

“She is a great mentor,” she said . “Amy is actively involved; a really strong advocate for early childhood education.”

Baskin said her aim is to stay involved “and spend more time with the grandkids,” Ava, 5, and Olivia, 3.

“We want to stay in Austin,” she said. “And we love to travel, so we’ll do some of that, too.”

The journey has been one of variant paths, but, Baskin said, “I’ve always thought things happen for a reason.”

“If I would offer advice on anything, it would be to look at every open door – you never know, you could be passing up a great opportunity.”