For Tom Baek, education is the first infrastructure responsibility of local governments.
"I believe it is as important as our defense, as important as our economy, and as important as the care for our seniors," he said. "The true pathways and the true bridges are our schools."
Baek, a technical editor and writer, is one of 13 candidates seeking a position on the Howard County Board of Education.
This is his first run for public office.
The Clarksville resident and Princeton University graduate has three children, two sons enrolled at River Hill High School and a daughter enrolled at Clarksville Middle School.
If he were judging the Howard County Public School System, Baek said he would grade it 9.8 out of 10.
The quality of Howard County teachers is the number one driver of that rating, Baek said.
"The quality of the teachers is clearly evident when I speak with them and it's clearly evident by the assignments they give," he said.
Baek, 46, originally considered a run for the board two years ago at the suggestion of some friends.
He dismissed the idea, but while recovering from surgery, he volunteered to help with Congressman John Sarbanes reelection campaign going door to door meeting with neighborhood residents.
During that time, he also started following the Board of Education more closely and with his children progressing through the school system, Baek became more interested in the actions of the board.
Baek, a native of South Korea, moved to Ohio in 1974 with his parents knowing very little English.
He sees his experiences as a naturalized American will be beneficial on the Board of Education.
"Obviously the perspective from my 40 years of experience is quite valuable to say the least," Baek said.
One of Baek's primary campaign issues are universal pre-kindergarten.
He is a strong supporter of universal pre kindergarten for all students saying without it, many students start their education too far behind their peers.
"It's like the starting gun at the track already went off and 20 of your classmates are a mile ahead of you," he said
Baek credited universal pre-kindergarten as one way to close the achievement gap.
Baek also said that it would be unfair to judge any superintendent of a sizable school district through their first 22 months on the job.
"It's reasonable to have an opinion and to have an impression," he said.
Based on what he's read and seen, he believes Superintendent Renee Foose is doing a "very good job."
"I think her better days are ahead," he said.
Baek said he believes that the Howard County Education Association is correct in its advocacy for a multi-year agreement for teachers.
"They [teachers] should have the security of going to work with a multi-year contract," he said. "Our teachers are not free agent athletes in baseball or football that you buy year to year. They're part of our community," he said.
If elected, Baek said he has no "grand expectations" as a Board member. He sees the seven member board as a team.
"Education is about teaching," he said. "PreK through 12, these are the formative years. These are the years that the students build their bridges and their pathways to their careers, their colleges and the American dream. We should be in the business of teaching."
This is part of a series of profiles of Howard County School Board candidates.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun