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

Baker wraps up her time as “Mama Wildcat”

Baker stands at graduation. During her time as principal, Baker graduated over 6,000 students. Baker hopes that she can attend graduation in 2024 following her retirement.
Courtesy Jennifer Baker
Baker stands at graduation. During her time as principal, Baker graduated over 6,000 students. Baker hopes that she can attend graduation in 2024 following her retirement.

Jennifer Baker walked through the dark green doors of Walter Johnson High School in the Fall of 1995, eager to begin teaching her first class as a full-time math teacher. For the next 28 years, Baker worked as a math teacher, math resource teacher, student support specialist, assistant principal and middle school principal before landing in her current role as the principal at WJ. On Oct. 2, Baker announced that she would be exiting the double green doors for the final time on Dec. 1 and ending her 12-and-a-half year run as the head administrator at WJ.

“I just started thinking about what I could do with my life and where I am. I lost my husband [of over 30 years] last year, so I feel like there is more I can do in my life and if I have less obligations … I feel like I could do some things for myself and just enjoy some things without a lot of stress,” Baker said.

On Friday, November 17, 2023, Baker announced that Principal Intern Nicole Morgan would become the acting principal through the end of the 2023-2024 school year. An official selection process for the principal position will take place during the Spring which will include the input of community members and staff.

Jennifer Baker poses outside the tennis courts during her first stint at WJ. Baker’s first full-time teaching job was as a math teacher at WJ and after leaving for other jobs in the county, Baker came back to become the principal, a position she has since held for over a decade. (Courtesy Jennifer Baker)

“I didn’t mean to leave in the middle of the year, but since I had an intern this year and Ms. Morgan was going to step into this office anyway Dec. 1, I thought that seemed like maybe a good time to do that,” Baker said. “Knowing that there was someone that was capable that could possibly follow in my footsteps, that’s obviously not a decision of mine or hers, but Ms. Morgan is very capable.”

Baker made it a focal point during her tenure to build relationships with many students and always had an open-door policy when students wanted to share ideas for new events and other activities. The relationships that Baker built during her time as principal has made her upcoming retirement extremely bittersweet for much of the student body.

“I was saddened [when I heard the news]. Mrs. Baker was a principal that did really care about the students and I know she showed that in her policies too … We were able to easily schedule meetings with her and she was very helpful, especially [with] clubs,” junior Dylan Himelfarb said.

Baker has placed a lot of trust in teachers by giving them the ability to teach and work with their own style in the classroom. In most cases, this has paid off and led to a more seamless learning environment in the school.

Baker celebrates with the Class of 2022 leadership team at Prom. Baker was known for promoting positivity and being very welcoming. (Courtesy Jennifer Baker)

“Jennifer really brought a different feel to the administration than we’ve had before. She was extremely hands-off, she did not try to micromanage us, she also really treated her faculty with respect and if we worked hard, she left us alone … If you had an issue, if you had a concern or if you had a problem, she would always carve out time to talk to you about it,” math teacher Michael Laukaitis, who began working at WJ while Baker was a math teacher, said.

Morgan was certainly not the first intern Baker had during her time in MCPS. Baker mentored many other principal interns including the Director of School Administration and Instructional Leadership of Frederick County Public Schools, Dr. Afie Mirshah-Nayar, and MCPS’s current superintendent, Dr. Monifa McKnight. The next principal will have large shoes to fill at the second largest public school in Maryland. Many WJ community members have ideal qualities in mind that they hope the next principal possesses.

“In the next principal, I’m looking for someone who is not super hierarchical. Yes, obviously the principal deserves respect, they are the principal, but it’s great to have someone at the very top who is approachable, who you can feel comfortable going to with a new idea or with something risky and they’ll at least be open to listening to you, someone who is receptive to growth, someone who is open-minded and someone who is very organized,” senior Mallory Striplin said.

Principal Jennifer Baker takes a photo on senior night with seniors of the girls’ volleyball team in 2022. Baker made it to senior nights often and was a huge supporter of athletics. (Courtesy Jennifer Baker)

In her retirement, Baker said she is most looking forward to spending time with her grandchildren, stepkids, extended family and friends. Baker said she is excited to visit and travel with her family and friends who live in other parts of the country.

Throughout her time at WJ, Baker was known for leading with positivity and an attitude that both motivated staff and students as well as made others feel good about themselves. Throughout her career, if a student or teacher saw Baker in the hallway, there was a high probability that they would be welcomed with a smile. Baker’s positivity often led to high productivity that has helped shape the success of the school.

“One thing that was really important to me was that I was never that person that went to work where I didn’t enjoy coming to work. I love coming to work. I wanted to leave where I felt like the building was in a good place, everybody was in a good place, we were doing the work that we should be doing and I could feel really proud of that,” Baker said.

While Baker’s future remains uncertain, she did not rule out the possibility of working for MCPS or starting another career. She also said that she would like to attend graduation this year.

Growing up in California, Baker promised herself that she would not follow in her father’s footsteps and become a principal. This serves as a lesson to all students that what they think they would like their job to be now may be completely different a few years from now. Baker will retire having graduated over 6,000 students as principal and having left a positive impact on thousands of students and faculty.

“I feel like we impact lives in ways that people don’t even think about and that’s what I leave with and I think, ‘this is the best job.’ If you want to do something where you feel like you’re making a difference, then become an educator,” Baker said.

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Joshua Singer, Print Editor-in-Chief
Joshua Singer is a junior and is ecstatic to be a Print Editor-in-Chief in his second full year on The Pitch. In his free time, Josh enjoys running, playing guitar and announcing sports.
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