RIPON — Amie Carter-Baker is only the fourth principal to hold the post at Colony Oak Elementary School in Ripon since it was first opened as a K-3 school in the fall of 1990 under the leadership of Bob Prewitt with a staff of 24.
Baker is an English major – with a master’s degree in rhetoric and composition. She first taught at East Union High School, when John Alba became principal. She then moved on to Ripon High where she went into the classroom teaching freshman and senior English. She was later appointed vice principal.
When Ripona Elementary School Principal Warren Council was forced to take medical leave early in the year, she stepped into his position for some five months.
She said she never thought she would work in the classroom below the high school curriculum level, but found differently after the first three weeks at Ripona.
“I was hooked, I loved it,” she said. “I had to accelerate my learning curve and set my expectations, spending a lot of time in the classrooms just absorbing it.”
Baker grew up in Orem, Utah, where she was the only girl in a family of six children. She savored the time she spent with her grandfather on his cattle ranch where she learned to ride and to rope cattle as a young girl. In contrast, her dad was a banker. She remembers her favorite chores at home involved working outdoors with her dad.
The new principal said her hometown was surrounded by orchards and was pretty much an agricultural community. She said she and her five brothers were held to toe the line at home with a chore list saying who was responsible for keeping what areas neat and tidy.
Baker said her mother would even print out the details of their chores on the cleaning of a specific room – detailed by the numbers of what to do first and just how to do it.
In her primary years of elementary school she remembers her third grade teacher, Phyllis Bestor, as being her inspiration for her life ahead. She gave her third grader the academics of education and was always coming forth with a level of praise when it was appropriate. After graduating from college and landing her first teaching job she sent that special third grade teacher a thank you.
“When I went into education I sent her a letter thanking her for inspiring me,” she recalled. “There were other teachers including my high school teachers. My brother and I got into a gifted and talented program, so when my education was complete, I really realized the opportunities that all the educators had provided that were above and beyond. So I needed to take the time to thank quite a few of them for affording me with those opportunities.”
After growing up with five brothers, Baker went on to have five daughters. Aubrey, 21, and Brianne, 19, are at the University of Arizona. The older is majoring in chemical engineering and her sister is focusing on nutrition as a major.
The other three girls are Carly, 15, at Ripon High and Debbie, 12, and Ellie, 10. “I have both ends of the spectrum: I had five brothers and I now have five daughters.”
Asked if she spent much time in the kitchen preparing favorite entrees, she said her brothers somehow turned her off on cooking as a teen and the second oldest in her family. She said it would take an hour to put it all together and the boys would devour it in minutes.
The Colony Oak principal will take charge of her school officially on July 21. The office is set to open a week later. She is excited with the thought of meeting her new staff that she has heard so many wonderful things about over the past weeks.
In her off hours she likes to walk and to hike – anything that gets her outdoors, she said. She also tends a garden with everything from tomatoes and zucchini to black berries and raspberries. Her garden is giving her quite the harvest for her table, she said. The kids eat the berries right off the vines like candy, she added.
Her philosophy for education:
“I believe that all children can learn. I believe that educational success comes down to the teacher. And, if you think about a highly skilled teacher, it doesn’t matter the profile or the demographic; a very dedicated and talented teacher will be able to find ways to help those students learn.”
She said one thing that she learned in her transition to the elementary school level is that “good teaching is good teaching.” She noted that it was the same skills that she would see at the high school and when she was teaching college, being in the same application at the elementary level.
“I think the cognitive ability of people to learn, the way that you access their learning functions, truly is the same regardless of the age levels,” Carter said.
With the retirement of the school’s first principal Bob Prewitt, the leadership of the school was turned over to Mary Lou Kahl for some 13 years. She was followed by Sylvia Ehler who served for about five years until recently when Baker was appointed to the position.
The school has a history of producing high test scores by its students and won the California Distinguished School recognition some six years ago.