"The Job I have Been Preparing For My Entire Life"

A Conversation with Dave Baker, Head of Middle School

Q: Many people know you as the technology director and math teacher.  What made you want to lead the MTS Middle School?
DB: In the 30 years I have spent in the classroom I have taught every age of student from Kindergarten through college and I have learned that the middle school years are the sweet spot for the age I enjoy working with the most (besides the kindergarten students in computer class). Students in their middle school years begin developing the intellect, passion and self-identity that makes them so much fun to work with. When people I meet learn I am a middle school teacher the usual response is something like, “Wow, I could never work with that age group!” yet it is, for me, a group that has so much to offer.  Middle schoolers have an energy that, when well directed, can take them to places and discoveries they never imagined. I want to lead the MTS Middle School because I get to work with an amazing faculty that teaches a wonderful group of students who are just discovering how great they are.

Q: How have you professionally prepared to lead a school division?
DB: I feel like leading the Middle School has been the job I have been preparing for my entire life. People do think of me as being focused on math and technology, and these are both passions of mine, but my interest in education has always been about working with children. Having worked at Four Winds Westward Ho Camps in the San Juan Islands while in college I decided to study psychology with an emphasis on child and brain development.  I continued to study and teach and took on greater and greater leadership roles at  Four Winds Westward Ho, eventually acting as the Head of Westward Ho.  My mentor at that wonderful institution noted that I like to be a part of organizational change and have an impact.  For this reason I completed a Masters in Private School Administration and a leadership fellowship with the National Association of Independent Schools.  These programs, along with the work I’ve done as Associate Head have given me a great foundation to move into this next phase of my career.

Q: You have been at MTS for quite some time.  What has kept you here? 
DB: Simply put, I have always believed that MTS is a gem that, with the right leadership, could go from being a really good school to one of the best in the area. I wanted to be an integral part of that change. 

Q: What changes are you most excited to make in the years ahead to the MTS middle school program? 
DB: The three that immediately come to mind are not changes I’m excited to make, but rather changes I’m excited to be a part of facilitating with the amazing group of educators at MTS. On the immediate horizon is the plan for a social emotional learning and advisory program, Developmental Designs. Second would be the creation of a Science Technology Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) program. This is an obvious area I have a connection to with technology and math baked into it, but more importantly it will give our students more opportunity to learn about learning, exploring, making mistakes and problem solving all while diving into topics like coding, robotics, electronics and physics. Finally, working with the faculty to incorporate more problem and project based learning.  Much like STEM, the inclusion of Project Based Learning (PBL) will help our students be more self directed and independent in their learning which will prepare them well for high school and beyond.

Q:What do you hope you will do on a “typical” day in your new role?
DB: I plan to have a lot of contact with the students and teachers throughout the day.  Beyond the administrative tasks of coordinating high school visits and talking with parents, I hope to be out of my office more than in it. I am excited to still be teaching Algebra next year and working with students in Mathletes and their enrichment classes. As a teacher, these connections are important to me and will make me more effective as the Head of the Middle school.  I also plan on having the opportunity to get into other classrooms each day to really see what is happening across the middle school. This time will give me the opportunity to collaborate with teachers and facilitate cross-curricular discussion. I look forward to having the opportunity to talk with parents and be a part of a mechanism that creates more of a window into the daily lives of their children. As a parent I found it an invaluable dinner table conversation starter to have a bit of insight into what had happened on campus during the day.  For too long parents have been kept at arm’s length and I look forward to being a part of creating more of a partnership between school and families. 

Q: What is something students and parents might not know about you?
DB: The two things people seem most surprised learning about me are that I surf and I am a certified, although not current, IFR pilot. Having been born and raised on Oahu I started surfing when I was about 8 years old and it remains a big part of my life. The water is a little colder here, but it helps keep the crowds down. Flying is also something I’ve enjoyed over the years, but it has taken a backseat while Liam and Alanna have been growing up. It is something I look forward to doing again when I can give it the time and energy to go beyond the FAA minimums.

"I Strongly Believe in the Mission, Vision, and Direction"

A Conversation with D.J. Thistle, Head of Lower School

Q: You have taught across a number of grades at MTS, why are you interested in leading the Lower School?
Thistle: Most importantly I strongly believe in the mission, vision and direction of the school.  These convictions inspire me to take on this new challenge and lead the Lower School.  Having taught almost every grade level at MTS over the past eight years has allowed me to see the remarkable progress our students make over the course of their careers here.  I love working with our younger students because of their energy and enthusiasm. I love how they come to school with a smile on their faces and are always eager to learn something new. 

Q: You were recently in graduate school.  How do you think this work will help you be an effective Head of Lower School?
Thistle: Yes, I recently completed a Masters degree in Educational Leadership and Administration in January of 2017.  In that program I studied leadership, design thinking, diversity, curriculum design, and instructional leadership.  I can see all of these directly impacting my day to day leadership as we grow and evolve the Lower School program.  Through my program I also connected with an invaluable network of fellow school leaders.  I have already leveraged this group to set up visits to peer schools and explore other program best practices.  Finally, my culminating project was on improved teacher collaboration in the classroom. I believe the research and analysis of the topic will help me guide our lower school teachers to be even more effective with their students.

Q: What changes are you most excited to make in the years ahead to the MTS lower school program?  
Thistle:  Ooh.  This is a tough one.  We are taking on a number of great new programs next year and I am excited by all of them.  Our trio of new Social Emotional programs–Toolbox, Responsive Classroom, and No Bully–will provide the language, strategies, and time for our students to see increased value in being a part of the MTS community and to resolve the normal conflicts that arise.  These programs will also help all of the adults in our community, parents included, teach students how to self regulate and step in effectively when necessary. I am also  looking forward to the Columbia Readers and Writers Workshops. I believe the professional development and consistency of this program throughout K-4 will strengthen our Language Arts program. The program will also give us more data allowing teachers to more effectively communicate with the parents and benchmark student progress. Across the board I am excited about having the opportunity to be in the classrooms to develop stronger relationships with the students and dig deeper into how each individual student learns best, and support, collaborate with, and evaluate teachers.

Q: How do you hope to be known with students and parents in this new role?
Thistle: With all constituents, I want to be known as a leader that is in the classrooms daily and making decisions grounded in what I experience and in collaboration with the teachers that work with our  students every day.  I hope that every student can confidently say that DJ knows me.  I also want the students to feel comfortable enough to approach me with any questions, ideas or concerns.  Frankly I want parents to feel the same way–that I know their child and that I am an open partner in communication and problem solving.  Finally, I want parents to see me as someone who is working hard to build community among the grades themselves and the lower school.

Q: What is something students and families might not know about you?
Thistle: I didn’t believe I was “good at math” until I had that teacher that turned it all around for me in 7th grade. I hope to make a difference of this scale with every student at MTS.

From the Garden–Volunteer Spotlight

From the Garden–Volunteer Spotlight

The bell rings for lunch recess and I watch as happy faces race into the MTS garden. “We are the first in the garden!” beams a first grader.  Freedom and dirt, a magical combination the MTS Garden volunteers say make it one of the most rewarding places at MTS to be a parent volunteer. 

The MTS Garden was given to the school seven years ago through a successful Fund a Need campaign.  Wendy Anderson, who has been looking after the garden for the last six years, says this year the garden truly is the children’s garden. “Everything in here was planted by the kids.” Wendy’s background in teaching and her past work at the Alice Waters Edible Schoolyard in Berkeley means she brings a wonderful enthusiasm to the children when they are in the garden planting seeds, digging, weeding, watering or doing crafts. “I’m a teaching gardener. This place is the most active, inclusive and involved I can be with the children. It’s real, active learning and brings them connection, pride and ownership. And it makes the connection of what it takes to make things grow and develops an appreciation for the food they eat everyday.”

Helping Wendy is Lucie Charkin and Gwyn Thiessen. 

Beware the "Like"–Social Media Guidance from Andrew

Beware the "Like"–Social Media Guidance from Andrew

Oh how the word “like” has changed.  In sixth grade Randy asked me if I “liked” Jessica or like “liked” Jessica.  It sounds so odd now, but this was a typical–if not the quintessential–question of adolescence in the late 80s.  While like-like might still exist, “like”, as in I “liked” your photo on Instagram is the far more common usage.  In fact, as I write this on a Saturday afternoon my phone lights up every few minutes as friends “like” my photo of Huck and Harrison on the Angel Island Ferry from our morning adventure.  These “likes” make me feel good and, if with access to a brain scan, we would see dopamine being released with each notification.  I like “likes.”  We all like “likes.”

A recent New York Times article, shared with me by a MTS parent, reveals the dark side of the “like.”  

Coding @ MTS–Beyond The Hour

The Hour of Code is coming!  This event, organized by code.org, takes place each year during Computer Science Education week in early December in recognition of the birthday of computing pioneer Admiral Grace Murray Hopper.  The event is designed to demystify “code," to show that anybody can learn the basics, and to broaden participation in the field of computer science.  At MTS our 4th through 8th graders have been taking part in the Hour of Code since it’s inception in 2013.  

The Hour of Code allows our students to learn that computer science is fun and creative and that it is accessible for all students.  Learning to code, creating step-by-step commands for a computer to follow, opens the door to an understanding that students can be consumers of technology and the creators of it. Our involvement in coding goes far beyond one hour, though.

Blended Learning at MTS

Blended Learning at MTS

In our World Language Department students are able to supplement traditional learning with online, self-paced learning on the Languagenut website in a format known as “blended learning.”  Languagenut and the blended model encourages students to take charge of their learning using interactive games, songs and stories.  Our students have access to Spanish and Mandarin as well as 17 different languages. We even use Languagenut in Latin class, as we study French, Italian and Spanish to analyze derivatives, and to strengthen pronunciation and intonation. Native speakers do all recordings, ensuring students develop the correct pronunciation.

This online language resource relies on games, engaging students in simple, fun and effective learning activities. Students explore...