Nancy Nestor-Baker served more than 14 years on the Westerville City Board of Education before calling it quits in 2005.

Nancy Nestor-Baker served more than 14 years on the Westerville City Board of Education before calling it quits in 2005.

Now, Nestor-Baker seeks to return to the board, throwing her hat into a race of seven other candidates vying for three available seats.

In the race, she joins incumbent Kevin Hoffman and Jim Burgess, Tracy Davidson, Luke Davis, Robert Edwards, John Sodt and the Rev. Rick Vilardo.

Board members Kristi Robbins and Denise Pope are not seeking re-election.

Nestor-Baker, 56, said she was motivated to join the race by other Westerville residents asking her to consider candidacy.

The time seemed ripe to make a return to the board, Nestor-Baker said, as debates on school issues have become contentious and the district needs to create a new vision with a new superintendent.

"Over the past few years, the debate has become contentious to the point of damaging the community," Nestor-Baker said. "It has to stop."

Nestor-Baker said she believes she can help rally the community and find common ground in creating a vision.

She said that's something she has done throughout her professional life. She now serves as the senior assistant vice president of community engagement for the United Way of Central Ohio and previously served 10 years as an Ohio State University administrator.

"Most of my professional life has been centered around community engagement. That's what I am; that's what I do," Nestor-Baker said. "That's one of the strongest roles the board needs to play, being that bridge between the community and the schools."

Nestor-Baker said she also would like to see the district returned to the point of innovation that it once enjoyed.

In her time on the board, the district created the magnet school program, adopted the International Baccalaureate curriculum and piloted Educational Options for Success, which provides intervention to students at risk of not graduating.

"There are still a lot of good things going on, but over the last few years, we have stripped away our innovative core. We need to get back to that," Nestor-Baker said. "It's one of the most exciting things about education."

Innovative programs serve not only the students within those programs but students throughout the district, Nestor-Baker said, as they help the district identify educational elements that work and institute them throughout the district.

While the district does face the reality of a tightened budget, inroads to innovation still can be made, Nestor-Baker said, as other districts with budget constraints have proven. Westerville can learn from those districts, she said.

This election, Nestor-Baker said, will determine where the district is going, whether it will focus solely on the bottom line or once again look to create programs that become models for other districts to follow.

"There is probably more at stake in this year's race than I have seen in recent history," Nestor-Baker said. "We're talking about what the vision for Westerville schools will be."

Nestor-Baker is a Westerville High School graduate and a member of the Westerville South High School Hall of Fame.

She holds her bachelor's, master's and doctoral degrees from Ohio State University.

She is the divorced mother of three grown children living in Westerville, including a daughter who teaches at Genoa Middle School, and three grandchildren.