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The official student newspaper of Walter Johnson High School

The Pitch

The official student newspaper of Walter Johnson High School

The Pitch

The official student newspaper of Walter Johnson High School

The Pitch

Principal Jennifer Baker celebrates retirement with schoolwide clap out

Sam Mayster
Principal Jennifer Baker and new Acting Principal Nicole Morgan share a long, sentimental hug. “I am grateful to Mrs. Baker for mentoring, coaching and allowing me to lead this school community,” Morgan said.

As the clock ticked toward the beginning of seventh period on Nov. 30, a tangible sense of anticipation and excitement enveloped Walter Johnson High School. Students and staff lined the hallways in a hushed, eager silence. Jennifer Baker, after over 12 years of serving as school principal, or “Mama Wildcat,” was about to experience an unforgettable send-off on her final day before retirement.

As Baker stepped up the main staircase, the silence was shattered by resounding cheers and claps. She was then crowned and given a sash with the words “I’m retired” and a bouquet of flowers.

Juniors Erin Dobbs, Navit Bemnet and Anah Simwenyi crown Baker and hand her flowers as she reached the top of the main stairwell. “It was an amazing surprise and I cannot think of a better way to end my last day,” Baker said. (Sam Mayster)

“I was very surprised and had absolutely no idea about the clap-out … I cannot think of a better way to end my last day. It was so emotional that I still get teary just thinking about it again … If I had it to do all over again I would walk much slower and just soak it all in,” Baker said.

The idea of the clap out started in late October, with Student Advisory Board Advisor Allison Hoefling and the Student Advisory Board members.

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“I didn’t want her last day to just come and go without some type of celebration,” Hoefling said. “We wanted to make her last day a memorable one and make sure that she left here feeling loved and appreciated for everything that’s done.”

Hoefling and the Student Advisory Board worked with various student groups, including choir, cheer, poms and drumline to coordinate performances throughout the clap out.

“We do a lot of community singing events, but this one felt way more personal,” senior and choir member Sawyer Chism said. “It was awesome that everyone could show her some gratitude for the things she’s done for us students in her time working here.”

Baker walks through the halls of WJ in her last period as Principal. She carried flowers and, and students gave her thank-you cards. (Sam Mayster)

As Baker walked through the pre-planned route covering all school levels and the portables, students handed her thank-you cards, cheered enthusiastically and congratulated her.

Juniors Erin Dobbs, Navit Bemnet and Anah Simwenyi served as escorts to guide Baker through the route. “I started to get emotional as we went through the school and was excited to see everyone,” Dobbs said. “I know that [the clap out] meant a lot to Mrs. Baker.”

Baker concluded her clap out route back in front of the student commons, where she said farewells to more students and staff. “It was amazing to see all of the students and staff out to offer congratulatory accolades to Mrs. Baker,” acting principal Nicole Morgan said. “The smiles, claps, cheers and excitement really warmed my heart to see her so happy.”

The ending of the clap-out in the student commons was especially emotional. The choir’s performance and the sight of students and staff celebrating Baker’s time at WJ brought tears to Baker and Morgan’s eyes, as the two exchanged a long hug.

Baker worked at WJ for over 17 years, starting her career as a math teacher for five years. When she temporarily left in 2000, she worked at various different schools, including Tilden Middle School. Baker returned in the 2011-2012 school year as WJ’s principal. Throughout Baker’s time at WJ, she’s made a lot of great memories, including how she became known as “Mama Wildcat.”

“It was a snowy day and I was really worried about students driving on slippery roads. So I got onto the P.A. and warned everyone to drive slowly and safely with lots of room in between cars and at the end I said, ‘Because Mama Wildcat is worried about you.’ So, I named myself that and it just came out when I was truly concerned about my students,” Baker said.

Over the course of Baker’s time at WJ, she has made a positive impact on students, teachers and parents that reaches beyond the WJ community.

At the end of the clap-out, Baker, staff and students gathered in front of the student commons to celebrate her final moments at WJ. (Sam Mayster)

“She is so optimistic. There’s not really a problem that’s a big problem. She always finds a way to get through it and solve it. Her optimism is contagious and she’s very kind and caring to her staff and to her students,” Hoefling said.

Not only did Baker form connections with her staff in the school, but also outside the school. “I’d have to say that I will miss our friendship, not only are we colleagues but we’ve grown to be friends,” Morgan said.

Morgan, in fact, returned to WJ in 2019 because of the student-centered and positive working environment Baker created. “Our core values align, she believes that building relationships with staff and students makes a difference in transforming a school community … She believes in supporting the ‘whole student,’” Morgan said.

Baker’s time at WJ will certainly be remembered for the way she managed and cared for the WJ community.

“I will never forget being a high school principal … I will miss all of our Wildcats and always carry a special place in my heart as Mama Wildcat,” Baker said.

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About the Contributors
Allison Xu
Allison Xu, Online Editor-in-Chief
Senior Allison Xu is excited to serve as Online Editor-in-Chief for her third year on The Pitch. In her free time, she enjoys writing short stories, playing with her beagle, and spending time with family and friends.
Rachael Wolfson 
Rachael Wolfson , Print Editor-in-Chief
Rachael Wolfson is currently a senior and this is her third year on The Pitch. During her first two years, Rachael was a Print Opinion Editor and now she is a Print Editor-in-Chief. In addition to The Pitch, Rachael runs on the cross country and track team. She's also the Co-Founder and Co-President of The WJ Gilmore Girls Club. Her two older brothers (Thomas '20 and Alexander '22) also served as Print Editors-in-Chief when they were Wildcats/Madcows (take your pick). Rachael is looking forward to ending the Wolfson Dynasty (2017-2024) on a high note!! 
Sam Mayster
Sam Mayster, Photography Editor
Sam Mayster is a Senior and is excited for his first year on the Pitch as a Photo Editor. Along with editing photos for the Pitch, Sam loves taking pictures at sporting events and playing hockey.
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