"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.