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Tell Kate Baker a compelling story, and no isn't an option

MANCHESTER - Kate Baker enjoys pushing her way through an ever-growing pile of commitments and responsibilities.

There have been chances to lighten the load, but that would involve saying "no," something Baker has difficulty doing once she hears of a compelling cause or touching story.

"Just make the mountain higher," Baker said. "I'll climb it."

Baker has made education her mission. As executive director of the New Hampshire chapter of the Network for Educational Opportunity, her job is to raise money and distribute it under the state's new Education and Tax Credit Scholarships.

"A lot of families have limited resources and I feel they deserve the same education options that a family with a lot of resources has. I'm working to really kind of level that playing field," she said. "It's a mission rather than a job. Stories about families needing help are so compelling that I feel I need to help them. I do this work because of that."

Baker, 38, grew up in Manchester and put herself through the University of New Hampshire, earning a business degree

She started post-graduate life managing a friend's business, then started a dual role as business manager and teacher with the Bedford Youth Performing Company, a performing arts school where she taught music and theater.

As a music lover and jazz singer, Baker found she loved teaching and being able to do it outside the traditional forums. She also helped start the Polaris Charter School in Manchester and still is a member of the board. She also volunteers as president for the Greater Manchester Alliance for the Gifted.

She said her job is finding the right curriculum and atmosphere to match a particular student's needs. Sometimes that means stepping out of the public education system and looking at private or charter schools, which offer different programs and learning methods that work better for some children.

Baker's three daughters all attend public school, but she understands when other parents feel their child would prosper in a different environment.

"One size doesn't fit all," she said. "We do have some great options available in New Hampshire schooling statewide. We just need more."

More than 100 applications have come in since Baker started the New Hampshire office of the NEO in August. So far, she has raised about $105,000 from businesses that receive a tax credit for contributing to the scholarship fund.

"I'm excited about the response from families and from businesses who want to contribute to this. I'm feeling good about it," she said. "These stories are very compelling. It's easy to do the work when the need is so great. People make these incredible sacrifices to give their children the best possible life and education."

While funding education - public or private - has been a challenge in areas of her native state, Baker said she has found New Hampshire to be full of people and businesses ready to contribute to a worthy cause.

"I really appreciate the New Hampshire feeling, the ideals. It feels like a small town," she said. "People are connected and it makes it easier to do my work and reach people."


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