The Oak Park Education Foundation, a nonprofit that offers arts and science programs for students in Oak Park District 97, has named Latonia Baker as the new executive director. Baker, who joined the nonprofit last spring, was the foundation’s first full-time program director and now a successor for outgoing executive director Tracy Dell’Angela Barber. A press release reported Barber led the nonprofit for five years and said she is stepping down to pursue other opportunities.
Baker, who officially stepped into the leadership role Feb. 1, said she is eager to continue the nonprofit’s storied work, including engaging with local school leaders, students and families and expanding its learning programs.
“I feel like there’s a lot of commonality with our organization and District 97, and there’s just a lot of opportunities there that are open now — and probably have been before — but essentially are changing [to where] we can really work closely together,” she said, adding one of her goals is to find more ways to meet the needs of the district’s students who have disabilities.
Passionate about youth education, Baker came to the Oak Park nonprofit after an 18-year run as a regional operations manager for iD Tech Camps, a company headquartered in California that provides various virtual STEM programs for children and teens. Baker was also an adjunct professor at the American Academy of Art in Chicago where she established the curriculum for the school’s visual studies department and was once at the helm of a digital design firm that created 3D computer models and graphics for architecture and construction businesses, according to the nonprofit’s website.
Baker told Wednesday Journal that she was drawn to the Oak Park Education Foundation because its mission aligned with her personal values. The nonprofit, which formed more than 30 years ago, has developed a mix of programs that promote creativity and originality. From spoken word to vex robotics, the nonprofit has sought to create a path for students to find those “aha moments” even during the pandemic, and those moments are crucial, Baker said.
“One of the things about the foundation is that they really want to encourage that love of learning, and I think that’s a part of what I like about youth education,” she said. Especially for children, learning is about discovery and possibility, an opportunity that could lead to careers – or not, Baker added.
“Either way, to me, it’s just really inspiring and just really a fun environment to be in. I just feel very fortunate right now. It’s like the best of all worlds,” she said.
Base Camp registration opening
Registration for the Oak Park Education Foundation’s Base Camp, a popular summer youth program, opens on Feb. 16 and 17. For more information about the camp or the nonprofit, visit www.opef.org.