Baker Middle School


An all-teacher effort to improve teaching and student achievement

​Eighth-grade students sporting maroon and yellow Baker Bulldog sweatshirts gather around their desks in groups of three and start discussing laughter.

The assignment requires them to define words describing humor, such as amusing, facetious and satirical and then explain their personal sense of humor. Their teacher wants them to answer an essential question: How do writers and speakers use humor to convey truth?

Eighth-grade students discuss how writers use laughter to convey truth.

Earlier in her career, Baker humanities teacher Lynn Smith asked students to complete tasks like this individually. Desks stood in isolated rows. These days, desks cluster in groups and students compare and contrast ideas together.

The shift occurred after Smith earned her National Board certification​, a prestigious program for teachers akin to the professional certifications that doctors and lawyers receive. The program required her to analyze videotapes of herself teaching and reflect on what could improve. She realized student engagement – the attentiveness students devote to their task – rose when she sometimes let students instruct each other.

Smith isn’t the only teacher at Baker discovering such ‘aha’ moments. The middle school teachers came together and set a bold goal for themselves to become the first school in the country to have its entire staff National Board certified, forging new ground with success of their students as the goal.

“Going through the National Board process helps focus teachers on high-yield practices that translate into better and higher achievements for kids,” Principal Scott Rich said. “Working on this together as a school is amazing. No one is doing this work in isolation.”

It takes at least a year to earn National Board certification and only teachers with three years of classroom experience are eligible. So far, half the Baker staff earned certification with the others still in process.

Top tier teachers

National Board certification challenges teachers to improve their craft and deepen their knowledge of the specific subjects they teach. Teachers videotape themselves and receive critiques and advice on how to improve. They write several papers, track their own progress through their students’ work and must pass a lengthy exam to earn the certification.

​Sixth-grade teacher Allen Chiang helps Justin Le work on a science unit.
​The innovative approach grew out of an effort to improve Baker student achievement. In 2010, Baker and four other Tacoma middle schools posted some of the state’s lowest test scores and received federal funding to improve their student performance. In the years since, student scores rose modestly in reading and math on the Washington State Achievement Index, which measures how well students perform on state assessments. The staff expects better growth in the future.

“The students know we’re testing and pushing ourselves just as we’re asking them to push and test themselves,” said Melissa Schiemer, National Board facilitator at Baker.  

​Students see the difference 

In Smith’s humanities class, Amari McKnight and Abigail Garcia work together to examine humorous terms. They know their teachers undergo extra training to benefit them.

“Mrs. Smith teaches us things we can use and learn more about,” Amari said. “I especially like writing stories. Right now we’re writing summaries on what makes us laugh.”

“Our teachers put in a lot of work, and it helps prepare us for high school,” Abigail said.

Innovative afterschool program

This year, Baker’s afterschool Bulldog Center became one of the first middle schools in the country to adopt the YMCA Afterschool Signature Program, a national pilot program designed to close achievement gaps between students of different races and different economic backgrounds. 

Students commit to spend 2.5 hours afterschool at Baker every school day. During that time, they receive at least 30 minutes of tutoring, a healthy snack, participate in a physical activity and rotate through enrichment activities such as art, cultural dance and STEM (science, technology, engineering and math). 

Read more​ about the Bulldog Center and how it impacted one student's life. 

Get to know Baker

Innovation Model: Baker Middle School is striving to be the first secondary school to have all of its teachers National Board certified. Half of the school’s teachers are striving for their full certification while the rest are pursuing certification in just one of the National Board’s certification areas.

Students best served: The innovation should benefit all students at Baker Middle School by enhancing the quality of instruction they receive.

Grades: Sixth through eighth 

Students: 645 

Teacher training: The National Board certification is a professional development program that requires the teachers to improve the knowledge of the subject they teach as well as their teaching methods.

School Report Card 

School Web site 

Special clubs and after-school programs: Athletics  ·Arts & Crafts · Athletics in Academic Action · Drama ·  Fitness - Guitar Club · Hip Hop · Homework Help · Swing Dance · TOP Teen Outreach Program · Tutoring · YMCA Bulldog Center 



Related links:

National Board for Professional Teaching Standards 

“More student interaction is Baker Middle School’s new culture,” News Tribune article 

“Can you turn around a struggling school without tearing it down?” KPLU story

Designated Innovative School - Washington State