Katherine Baker, the Palo Alto Unified School District's chief academic officer for secondary education and former Terman Middle School principal, will retire at the end of this school year, she confirmed Wednesday.
Baker has been in the district since 2010, when she became principal at Terman. She moved to the district office in 2013 to her current position, replacing Michael Milliken, who held the secondary-education post for two years before leaving to become superintendent of the Belmont-Redwood Shores School District.
Baker said Wednesday that she's retiring to spend more time with family in Ohio, where she's originally from. She will be relocating there to live closer to her parents, daughter, grandson and a second grandchild on the way.
"I'll probably do something in education eventually back there but for right now, I'm just going back to be with family," she said.
Baker became a teacher late in her life in her 40s and started teaching in the early 1990s. She taught elementary and middle school for many years. She also was a middle-school assistant principal, elementary-school principal and principal at an intermediate seventh- and eighth-grade school in the K-8 Oak Grove School District in San Jose before coming to Palo Alto.
Baker's tenure at Terman was, in part, overshadowed by controversy over the school's handling of a bullying case involving a special-education student in the 2010-11 school year. The case later became the subject of a federal investigation and resulted in a December 2012 finding by the U.S. Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights that the school district had violated the student's civil rights.
Baker described the investigation as hard on the school's staff and parents, but a "good learning experience" that resulted in "some positive outcomes," such as a new district policy on bullying.
"We've always got something to learn," she said. "We certainly learned to do things better and document things better and make sure that we really do an excellent job of balancing individual needs of students with collective responsibility for everyone."
Superintendent Max McGee told the Weekly that two internal applications have been made for Baker's district-level position, but declined to discuss personnel matters.