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Baugher named state 'Principal of the Year'

If you see John Baugher walking down the halls at Francis Scott Key High School, chances are he will tell you he is "doing great all the time."

"If you come here in the morning, you're going to hear people say I have too many cups of coffee," said Baugher, principal of the Uniontown school, who can often be found socializing with students before the bell rings.

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It's part of the positive persona he projects to staff and students as principal of the school.

Laurel Kelly, in her fourth year as a media clerk at FSK, said he has created a strong sense of family at the school.

"He's so positive and such a great leader," she said.

In the past five years as principal of the Uniontown school, Baugher said he has been working to "build the best high school in the state of Maryland and beyond."

To that end, he has been recognized as one of two principals named Maryland State Principal of the Year by the Maryland Association of Secondary School Principals. He will be honored, along with Monika McKnight, a Montgomery County middle school principal, at the organization's spring conference held in Ocean City on March 20, said Scott Pfeifer, the organization's executive director.

Baugher was nominated for the award by Kim Stem, assistant principal of the school, who said in a county press release, "Never in my 27 years of public education have I met someone who day in and day out is as enthusiastic and positive about students, a community, and his job."

Although he grew up in Baltimore County, he has developed an appreciation for Carroll County since becoming a social studies teacher at the school 25 years ago, he said.

"I just fell in the love with the students and the staff, and ended up purposely purchasing a home in the region," said Baugher, who lives nearby in Uniontown.

When he began teaching there were about 600 kids at the school, he said.

"Back then I knew everyone's name," said Baugher, the school's former head football coach. Now there are 959 students enrolled in the school, according to a CCPS school profile.

Despite that growth, he makes an effort to learn the names of students and teachers.

Kelly said Baugher made the effort to get to know her name her first week at the school 14 years ago.

"He went through a lot of trouble to make me feel welcome — it's something I'll never forget."

Abigail Fowler, 16, president of the class of 2016, agreed, saying, "He's a very welcoming, energetic person. He's always walking around, saying 'Hi' to students."

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Baugher said that personal touch is a way to make students feel more comfortable at school.

"I think if you know a kid's name you can create a personal relationship — the school is safer when you know their names, they feel they have a safe place to come," Baugher said. "They're going to respond to you much better if they feel they have a safe place to come."

Baugher said he wants to create a comfortable place for students to come, whose families may struggle economically. In 2013, 23.2 percent of students at the school qualified for the Free and Reduced Price Meals program, which provides meals for free or at a reduced cost to students of low-income families.

That is higher than the county average of 15.1 percent of high school students eligible for the program, according to the 2014 Maryland State Department of Education report card.

"You have kids who are coming from tough situations at home. This should be their safe venue," he said. "They spend more time here ... than they do at home, and it should be a positive place for them."

One of his goals as an administrator is to close the achievement gap, or the disparity in academic performance between students based upon socioeconomic status, race or ethnicity and gender, he said.

Alison Stull, a chemistry teacher at the school for 18 years, has known Baugher since he began teaching at the school.

"He was a lot like he is now with the kids — very friendly, very encouraging," Stull said. "He also taught the lower level kids. I think he really worked to mentor them."

Baugher said one his greatest achievements since becoming the school's principal in 2010 has been, "focusing the school back on the community with positivity."

"I just really appreciate the people in the community and having an impact," Baugher said.

He created an advisory council at the school comprised of parents and business members to bolster community involvement in the school, he said.

Les Douglas, 60, of New Windsor, former chair of the council, said the group, "really brought the community together."

For example, the group spread the word about happenings at the school and created partnerships to get students internships, Douglas said.

After parents said they wanted to see better communication from the school, he created a quarterly breakfast to meet with parents, he said.

Baugher said he has expanded academic opportunities at the school.

The school offers AP boot camps for students entering AP classes as freshman, a remedial reading program and other transitional activities for students, the county said in a press release.

The number of students taking Advanced Placement classes has grown under Baugher from 338 student seats in the 2010-2011 school year to 763 seats in the 2014-2015 school year, according to school test data.

"The number of test takers has gone from a small amount to over 400 test-takers," Baugher said.

With plans to continue on his current path, Baugher said, "I think you can build utopia in the middle of a cornfield."

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