The Savannah-Chatham County Public School System (SCCPSS) District announces that WTOC news anchor Dawn Baker will speak on Thursday, October 29 at Savannah High School, in its inaugural Passport to Excellence Lecture Series. The free lecture series features presentations from accomplished individuals who previously attended or graduated from SCCPSS, sharing their unique career journeys and the insights they have learned about success and how to achieve it.
Any Savannahian with a television set will recognize Dawn Baker as the bubbly lady who delivers two newscasts each weekday on WTOC TV. She has been at the station for the past 26 years, so there are some who may not even remember a time when Baker wasn’t a fixture in local news.
But what they may not know is that the award-winning news anchor is a native of Riceboro, Ga., and was educated in both the Liberty and Chatham County Public Schools. She was an Honor Graduate of Savannah High School and earned her Bachelor’s Degree in Broadcast Journalism from Howard University in Washington, D.C.
After working for a year in Wilmington, N.C. as a reporter, Baker returned home in 1989 and joined the WTOC team as a reporter. She worked as a general assignment reporter and covered both the education and court beats and now co-anchors The News at 5:30 and THE News at 11:00. Baker will be the second speaker in the Savannah-Chatham County public schools Passport to Excellence Lecture Series on Thursday, October 29, from 1 p.m. to 2 p.m. at Savannah High School, located at 400 Pennsylvania Avenue.
A few days ago, she took a little time out to answer questions about her life and career.
Q: Looking back on your public school education, what subjects or aspects best prepared you for your career?
A: Definitely, the subject that best prepared me for my career was English, especially those grammar classes. I actually enjoyed diagramming sentences in the eighth grade and again in high school. I remember being at the old Savannah High School with those sentences going all the way across those three-tiered blackboards. I didn’t realize at the time how much it would improve my writing skills but it really did.
Also, I had a mom who was an English teacher. She was my grammar police all of my life. It was frustrating when I was young. She would say, “If you can not speak properly, do not speak at all.” I learned to appreciate her approach but that was much later on, probably when I was in my mid-30s.
Q: How did attending a public school prepare you for life? Did public school offer life lessons that you might not have learned elsewhere?
A: I certainly learned about people from different cultures and backgrounds in school. I moved from the little town of Riceboro, GA when I was in the eighth grade. Savannah High was the largest school in Chatham County with about 2400 students of different races and socioeconomic backgrounds. I learned how different we were but also how similar we were. It taught me tolerance and respect for people who have different viewpoints. I learned how to be tuned into the feelings of others.
Q: When did you know you wanted to become a news reporter?
A: My eleventh grade chemistry class at SHS made me realize that I couldn’t be the pediatrician I had wanted to be. I have nightmares about that class. I ended up getting a B minus and I realized if I had to work that hard in science in high school, how was I going to handle it in college.
Another clue was when I volunteered as a candy striper at Memorial Hospital and ended up on the pediatrics floor. I thought it would be so much fun but it was very sad. So many children were born with medical issues. There were some whose parents would not come see about them. I would hold those babies while the doctors gave them shots. It turned out to be the saddest summer. Several of those little patients passed away. It wasn’t what I thought it would be.
Meanwhile, back to when I was in the eleventh grade, the counselors were good about working with kids and helping us with career assessment tests. I knew English was my favorite subject and they told me to look for a career where I could use my writing skills. I only knew of two women – Barbara Walters and Carole Simpson – who were [national] news reporters, but I could envision myself doing what they did. I’m so glad I chose to be a reporter. I get to write every day and meet people every day. Being a reporter, I hit the jackpot.
Q: What is your foremost piece of advice for public school students preparing themselves for their careers?
A: I would tell them to adopt an attitude that they’re always going to do their best no matter what they do in life and never allow anyone to place limitations on them. It’s important to take education seriously. No matter what field you go into, education is the foundation for everything you do in life. I would also advise them to never give up, set high goals but be realistic. Always have a backup plan, because life will happen and things may not go the way you expect them to go. Everybody isn’t an “A” student nor can everyone aspire to a grand career, but everyone is important and should do their very best in the job that is right for them.
Q: Why did you agree to participate in the Passport to Excellence series?
A: I believe as good citizens, all of us should look for opportunities to partner with the schools. The Passport to Excellence series is unique. I believe it’s the first time the school system is showcasing people who are products of the local school system as living examples of what the students can become if they get a good education and set their goals high. Most schools have career days but they don’t necessarily feature local people. I think that’s extremely powerful. I am also very excited to know that I’m speaking at my alma mater. Many young people may not know that Savannah High School has a long history of being a strong academic school. Many successful people who live around the world were educated there.
Q: What would you say to students who aren’t challenged in school?
A: Every school has advanced classes, which are more challenging than sitting in a large class crowded with lots of students. I’d tell them to see about getting into that advanced class. They should also talk with their counselors about early college or duel enrollment while they are in high school, which can give them a head start and decrease the number of years they have to spend in college.
Don’t let a bad place break your spirit and stop you from trying to get the most out of that environment. Bad things happen in life, but that doesn’t mean you should become a marginal person. If you have a bad home environment, do well in school so you can make your life better and help your younger siblings do the same.
We’re all taught from an early age what’s right and what’s wrong. Think seriously about the choices you make. In a split-second, you can make a bad choice that can completely derail your life. If you have an unsupportive family or live in a neighborhood where you don’t feel safe, there are many mentoring programs going on in our city and your counselors and teachers know about them and can connect you with some of them.
Q: Can you suggest other opportunities for the local school system or businesses to leverage in encouraging student achievement?
A: When I was at Savannah High in the 1980s, I believe most of the local high schools offered technical training such as carpentry, welding and auto mechanics. Many of those classes are now offered at Woodville-Tompkins, but I think more schools should consider offering these types of classes so that students don’t have to leave their neighborhood schools in order to take going on at school, at church or around your community. Almost everyone has be connected in ways you could never imagine, and always thank people for what they do for you. Say please and thank you. Show them you are appreciative, and they’ll do more to help you.
Q: Are you working on any current or future projects you’d like to talk about?
A: I’ve been speaking at universities and churches all over the Coastal Empire and Low Country about my first book that I released in 2011, Dawn’s Daughter: Everything A Woman Needs To Know. The book’s message is how to become successful. All proceeds go towards a scholarship fund for young ladies with chronic/life-threatening illnesses who are graduating from high school. So far, four young ladies each have received $1000 scholarships though the fund. Since 2012, I have awarded $4,500 in scholarships. Even though I never had children of my own, I feel as if I have four daughters now. I am their mentor and friend, and I hope I can bless them the way they have blessed me. For more information about my book, please visit
I’m also looking forward to the next “Movement in the Park” , a health and wellness fair event, which will be held on May 15, 2016. Each year, on the Sunday after Mother’s Day, I host this fitness expo in Forsyth Park where families can come and participate in Zumba®, yoga, dancing and a good time. Proceeds go toward my scholarship fund.
I started a clothes closet in Hinesville, GA through Bethel AME Church and I am working on a way to get public school students involved in that effort.
I have recently completed everything necessary to organize a nonprofit under the name of Dawn’s Daughter. My plan is also to reach out to families in crisis, offering programs in locations convenient to them, on how to better manage their households and support their children. Next summer, I plan to launch a leadership academy for high school young ladies. The academy will give them the skills they need to become successful leaders in the future.
Dawn Baker will be the second speaker in the SCCPSS Passport to Excellence Lecture Series on Thursday, October 29, from 1 p.m. to 2 p.m. at her alma mater, Savannah High School, now located at 400 Pennsylvania Avenue.
The presentations are free and open to the public, but reservations are required to attend. To RSVP, please contact Cynthia Wright at email@example.com.
The Passport to Excellence Series is sponsored by JCB North America, Healthy Savannah, 24E, AT&T, Carriage Trade PR and Cecilia Russo Marketing. For more information, visit http://www.passport2excellence.com/