A model of patience

St. Philip Neri School's Teresa Baker steps down after 13 years as principal

May 18, 2008|By Susan Gvozdas | Susan Gvozdas,Special to The Sun

Teacher Barbara Garber said that she has not heard Teresa Baker raise her voice once in the 13 years that the principal has been at St. Philip Neri School.

Baker, she said, handles every problem with gentleness and respect.

"That patience - she's been a model for me," said Garber, who has taught at the school for 40 years.

Baker, 60, a former nun, has presided over major changes, helping the Roman Catholic school in Linthicum Heights manage a $2 million addition in 2001, which included a library, computer center, art room and day care facility.

"Reading and technology is key to education today," Baker said. "To me, it's the hub of the school."

School officials are so grateful to their principal, who retires in June, that this month they named the library in her honor. The ceremony was attended by County Executive John R. Leopold, state Sen. James "Ed" DeGrange Sr. and state Dels. Mary Ann Love and Theodore J. Sophocleus.

Baker has been a teacher and an administrator for 39 years. A Pennsylvania native, she served as principal of St. John the Evangelist Elementary School in Hydes from 1981 to 1991. She returned to teaching and spent four years at St. Pius X in Towson and came to St. Philip Neri in 1995.

When she arrived, the library consisted of several bookshelves in a small room. She made it her mission to change that.

The addition allowed space for the school to move its gym, cafeteria and parish offices out of the main building. Baker reconfigured the three floors of the school to allow for the library and computer center. This year, the school finished installing a $300,000 air-conditioning system and replaced a failing boiler.

The Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur founded the school in 1965, but they no longer teach there because of declining numbers in their order. Because the school has to rely on lay teachers, it has been susceptible to the same financial pressures facing other schools with increasing salaries, health care and other costs. Those pressures have led the school to raise its tuition from $1,700 a year in 1995 to $4,500 this fall.

Baker believes the increase has led to a decline in enrollment - from 500 students in 1995 to 430 today.

To help stem that decline, Baker put a marquee in front of the school about five years ago to help showcase the school. Three years ago, she added a full-time development director, Cecelia Hildebrand, to step up marketing. She has placed advertisements in newspapers and publications, such as Sound Off, the newspaper that serves residents at Fort Meade. Baker believes that the school will benefit from the impending expansion at the Army post, which will bring thousands of jobs into the county over the next five years.

"We already have six to eight families who have moved in because of BRAC," also known as the base realignment process, Baker said. "We're trying to reach out to that community."

Baker also has been working on plans to add a prekindergarten program to the school in the hopes that those students will stay.

Baker says her philosophy in running the school has been to make it a comfortable environment for students. To that end, she has guided teachers to chat with students, even if they are not in their classes.

"It needs to be a home away from home," she said. "It provides a happy place for children, and that helps them learn."

Her students had no trouble deciding what to get Baker for retirement - a beach umbrella and chair, a towel, flip-flops, a crystal lighthouse and other things to use while she lounges at her home in Ocean City.

Baker has made it no secret how much she loves the ocean, and she plans to live at the shore permanently once she can sell her home in White Marsh. She also will do crafts and volunteer at a public library.

The school has not selected a replacement yet.

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