A Q & A with LA’s new assistant head for academic life
Jamie Feild Baker joins Lawrence Academy this school year as assistant head of school for academic life. Jamie previously served for four years as the chief academic officer and founding Director of the Grauer Institute at Pomfret School. In this role, Jamie managed all aspects of the school’s academic operations, curriculum, and professional development, resulting in a new and innovative approach to teaching and learning. Jamie has worked extensively with school leadership teams, boards, and education associations to address issues of strategic planning, leadership development, relevance, and long-term financial sustainability. She is nationally recognized for her work in change leadership and education innovation. Jamie holds a B.S. from The Edmund A. Walsh School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University, having majored in economics and international finance. Jamie’s home is in Memphis, Tenn., where her husband Phil runs a company that manufactures specialty parts for military aircraft. Jamie and Phil have been married for 33 years and have three adult children: Tanner, Percy, and Davis. We recently sat down with Jamie to find out more about her.
Q: You have a varied background: business and education. What are the advantages of this?
I think a diverse background, unique experiences of all sorts, and exposure to different perspectives all highlight the importance of being curious, resourceful, adaptable, and capable of continuous learning. My first job was as a certified financial planner, which gave me lots of experience with insurance, tax law, and a variety of investments. I think I learned to listen to people and ask questions in a way to identify and target goals. After about three years, I transitioned at my company to investment banking and institutional sales. This was really difficult because it was a very male-dominated industry, and they weren’t too sure how having a woman on the sales floor would change things. I gained a sense of resilience and learned how to work through tension to build relationships and friendships. After we had kids, my husband and I began buying old buildings in Memphis and converting them to businesses. We developed a boutique hotel in downtown from a boarded-up apartment building, as well as a retail center and restaurant from an old Masonic Lodge. We had to research so many different aspects, from permits to zoning to construction requirements. It seemed like we were learning something new every day. Through discovering that my son at age 9 could only read 17 two-letter words and figuring out how to solve that problem, I became involved in independent school leadership, which makes use of all of the skills, information, and habits I have learned in my past. It was through my son’s experience that I really became passionate and adamant about a school’s performance and fulfillment of its mission and the outcomes they claim to engender.
Q: What is most exciting to you about working in schools?
For me, the most exciting part of working in schools is serving students. As adults, we have the benefit of our own educational experiences and life journey’s, which give us wisdom in extending the right amounts of challenge and support to the young people in our care. In schools like Lawrence Academy, we can get to know each student and partner with them individually to find success. I appreciate being able to work in an environment where shaping a student’s sense of discipline and responsibility is as important as subject area specifics, and in a community where adults work as a team to support student growth and success.
Q: Tell us a bit about your educational philosophy.
The world in which we live is vastly different than it was when our system of formal schooling was developed. Thus, we must structure today’s school experience and targeted outcomes so they align with the environments and challenges that we know our students will face upon leaving Lawrence Academy. Everything we do as educators must cultivate a student’s ability to think deeply and independently, to define and solve ambiguous and complex problems, and to work collaboratively with people from diverse backgrounds and cultures. Our teaching and educational program should be designed in a way that fosters a variety of analytical and creative thinking skills and problem-solving strategies, cultivates strong communication skills across a variety of media, develops the skills of teamwork and leadership, develops digital and qualitative competency, and instills integrity, compassion, and discernment in our students. In addition, I think it is highly essential to create an integrated curriculum centered around meaningful and relevant problems and situations instead of rigidly maintaining distinct and separate disciplines, because the world does not present itself to us in separate disciplines.
Q: What attracted you to Lawrence Academy?
I am drawn to Lawrence Academy’s aspirational spirit. Despite its centuries of success, Lawrence Academy is not resting on past excellence. Instead, I see a school focused on defining and implementing educational excellence that is aligned with and relevant to modern times. I appreciate the humility, courage, and hard work it takes as an institution and community to flex and evolve. I am excited to bring my experience and passion for designing transformative learning to LA, to be a part of the school’s becoming an exemplar of modern learning practices.
Q: How do you see your first year, in a new position, in a new community?
As much as schools are the same — students, classes, teachers, events — each school community is unique and different. I see the first year at Lawrence Academy as exciting because everyone and everything is new. There is so much to learn about the many interesting individual stories and intersecting histories that make Lawrence Academy what it is. Everyone has been so warm and welcoming. I believe I will feel right at home in a short period of time.
Q: While you worked most recently in Connecticut, you are from the South! Are you ready for a Massachusetts winter?
You must be forewarning me to expect longer, colder, and snowier winters. Four years in Connecticut has certainly given me the winter wardrobe I need, but as a southerner, I will probably never truly adjust to the snow and cold.
This article recently appeared in the 2018 editon of The Academy Journal…