Likins retiring after six years as Gunn principal

After 12 years at Gunn as assistant principal and principal, Likins cites sadness and a desire for time off for personal pursuits

Gunn High School Principal Noreen Likins is retiring at the end of the school year, she told Gunn teachers, students and parents in an e-mail shortly after 1 p.m. today (Tuesday).

Likins has been at Gunn for 12 years, six as assistant principal and six as principal.

"Always waiting until tomorrow to do things you want to do is not wise," she said in the e-mail as the central reason for her retirement. Her husband, Tod, has been retired for 13 years and "is patiently waiting for us to do some of the traveling we keep talking about but don't have time to do."

Likins said the past year has been emotionally difficult for her as principal -- referring indirectly to deaths of four young persons linked to Gunn -- and personally.

"As you all know events here at Gunn over the past nine months have been very hard on all of us but while all of this has been going on, I lost my beloved sister Liz to cancer in August, and her husband, Malcolm, who was really a brother to me, also died suddenly in November," she wrote.

"The impact of it all has left me deeply saddened and very much aware that life is unpredictable."

Likins' retirement leaves Superintendent Kevin Skelly with two high-school-principal vacancies to fill by next summer, after Palo Alto High School Principal Jacquie McEvoy resigned "for personal reasons" in late January. There also are several lower-level principal openings to fill.

"Noreen's contributions to education in our community have been enormous," Superintendent Kevin Skelly said.

"I know I speak for the (school) board and her colleagues when I say how much we will miss her leadership and inspiration and wish her well in the next phase of her life."

Martha Bowden, parent chair of Gunn's Site Cpuncil, said, "My respect for Noreen has grown not only from her courage to identify the impediments to change, but also from her demonstrated dedication and love of the students.

"This has been a really hard time for her and, while I understand her decision, I am saddened that some of what she wanted to do to help the students (community building period) may not happen with her leaving.

"And for that, we will all lose out on an opportunity to improve the experience of each kid at Gunn."

Likins' full e-mail message:

"Dear Gunn Community

"It is exceedingly hard to leave a job that I love and enjoy very much but after much soul searching I have decided that this will be my last year at Gunn. I have been here for twelve years, six as Assistant Principal with responsibility for Guidance Services and six as Principal.

"I have been privileged to work with a great staff, amazing students and a wonderful administrative team. And I could not have asked for a more supportive parent community.

"Through these twelve years, working together, I believe we have done a lot to make Gunn a more caring community and to improve what we do and how we do it.

"Of course it is the staff that has done the work that makes Gunn the great school it is, and to them the credit should go. I will, however, admit to turning over a few rocks along the way that have helped to clear the path. From my biased vantage point, Gunn is a great place to teach and to learn.

"I have reached a time in my life that I have to move on. Life is too short not to stop and smell the roses and my job does not allow me the time to do that.

"As you all know events here at Gunn over the past nine months have been very hard on all of us but while all of this has been going on, I lost my beloved sister Liz to cancer in August, and her husband Malcolm, who was really a brother to me, also died suddenly in November.

"The impact of it all has left me deeply saddened and very much aware that life is unpredictable. Always waiting until tomorrow to do things you want to do is not wise. My husband, Tod, has been retired for thirteen years and is patiently waiting for us to do some of the traveling we keep talking about but don't have time to do.

"I want to spend time with family and friends in England. I want to take some classes. I want time to read the newspaper! It is time for me to look forward to the rest of my life.

"The only reason we are all here at Gunn is for our students and it has always been my goal to do that which is best for each of them. It is my hope that Gunn will always be a high school that puts students first. If I have a legacy, may it be just that.

"My grateful thanks to you all."


Posted by Parent, a resident of Barron Park
on Feb 23, 2010 at 5:16 pm

Indeed this is news! Is it possible that, in addition to the stated personal reasons, the upcoming budget pressures that the PA school district will face is causing senior administrators to leave because the next few years will be hard slogging? It can't be a pure coincidence that so many are leaving at the same time. Anyone else see it this way?

Posted by fishbits, a resident of another community
on Feb 23, 2010 at 5:28 pm

Frankly... maybe yes, maybe no. I think each individual human looked inside themselves and made personal decisions. In this economy, people are understanding what life is really about... and how short it is. I can't blame people that want to move on and focus on the happiness they can derive from what's around them, rather than beat their heads into a wall with bureaucracy and out of control complexity. Everyone has that inexorable drive to understand themselves, but it's so often that it's too inconvenient or difficult to listen. Changing your life in such a major way isn't simple, or done flippantly - it's likely easier to just rot and fester while you waste your life away.

Anyhoo... afternoon musings. Pardon those. =)

Posted by Zealot, a resident of Barron Park
on Feb 23, 2010 at 5:42 pm

Darn, looks like Gunn high school was too big to handle! No one is good enough too be our principle! No one!

Posted by Parent, a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Feb 23, 2010 at 5:47 pm

Hmm Losing both high school principals and many others also sounds a little more than coincidence. Likins has had a tough year what with suicides, egg wars and the potential hate riot (all of which she seems to have handled well), but who can blame her for wanting to move on from Palo Alto?

The problem is going to be in finding replacements that will want to come to Palo Alto.

Posted by Gunn Parent, a resident of Midtown
on Feb 23, 2010 at 5:48 pm

I am glad she is deciding to retire. I hope the new principal comes and make things better for our students. Like she says, I think the main reason for leaving are the suicides. We the parents really want changes in the administration. I hope Skelly is careful when he hires the new principal.

Posted by Bonanza senor, a resident of Barron Park
on Feb 23, 2010 at 5:54 pm

let's give a chance to the younger generation. Why invest in people who we know that it is a matter of short time before they retire.

It does not have to be a requirement to be over 60 to be a principle.
Younger dudes and dudettes can do it too.

Posted by Nora Charles, a resident of Stanford
on Feb 23, 2010 at 5:59 pm

I wish anyone well who undertakes this challenging (to put it mildly) job.

Posted by Mr. Bob, a resident of Barron Park
on Feb 23, 2010 at 6:17 pm

The community needs to understand that there is a great number of "Baby Boomer" educators who are reaching the retirement cycle across the state and the nation. Many of these educators have 30 or more years into their work lives and are ready to move on. The educational community has been fighting a budget crisis every since I left that industry many decades ago when Proposition 13 was passed.

The administrative hours required for these leadership roles are endless and demanding. Across the state, it is becoming quite difficult to fill these jobs as younger teacher see no real up side to taking on these endless work roles.

Noreen Likins is a true educator. She was always available and always trying to find a good solution to the many challenges facing todays community schools.

Both my children expressed gratitude for the college preparation they received at Gunn. (During the Likens Tenure) My son who was a Phi Beta Kappa at UCLA in International Economics always said Gunn was the hardest and most demanding yet fair school he ever attended. He is currently in Law School at a top 5 program and still feels this way.

Noreen, thank you for all your service and kindness to Gunn's students over the past 12 years. My children and many others have benefited from your hard work.

I hope your retirement is long, kind and sunlit.

Posted by Michele, a resident of Greenmeadow
on Feb 23, 2010 at 6:55 pm

Our family has a lot of respect for Ms. Likins. She always responded to my concerns as a parent and tried to act on any suggestions. I think it is a very difficult position and she handled it with grace. I am sorry she is leaving but hope that she finds great pleasure in her retirement.

Posted by senior, a resident of Gunn High School
on Feb 23, 2010 at 7:13 pm

Ms. Likins will be sorely missed. Despite all the drama that our school has faced, she was indeed the students' principal. She genuinely cared about students and put us at the top of her priorities. I can't imagine what Gunn will be like without her next year.

Posted by pat, a resident of Midtown
on Feb 23, 2010 at 8:24 pm

I don't know Ms. Likins, but her resignation letter sounds straight from the heart.

She's right to retire and spend time with her husband, family and friends. Losing loved ones makes us aware that life is short and we should enjoy it while we can.

Posted by Gunn Student, a resident of Gunn High School
on Feb 23, 2010 at 9:35 pm

I know that I for one will miss Ms. Likins greatly. She has always been there to here from the students and that has made Gunn the truly great place that it is. Ms. Likins' tenure at Gunn was filled with great happy times. It is sad that her final year has been marred by the suicides that have been so drastically over publicized and have left Gunn under immense scrutiny. Ms. Likins was always the first to arrive at Gunn and the last to leave. She, more than anyone else at Gunn, deserves a log and joyous retirement. We will miss you Ms.Likins.

Posted by Gunn Past Parent, a resident of Gunn High School
on Feb 24, 2010 at 9:16 am

Noreen Likens was a fabulous principal and administrator. She worked tirelessly for a sometimes ungrateful (look at some of these posts) community. Hers was not an easy job and she knew it - she put every ounce of her being into addressing the many diverse issues that were thrown her way. Let us take time to appreciate her and celebrate what she contributed in a not so simple time in Palo Alto's history.

We were never the direct beneficiaries of any individual attention, but rather one of the many families that benefited from her leadership, ability, and willingness to tackle any and all issues and/or opportunities that she had the foresight and dedication to address and accomplish. I say this only to respond to those that always feel a need to write off the positive as someone who must have a personal connection.

Please, let us not use this forum to get on our individual soap boxes and criticize someone willing to work in such a challenging community. If you want to see change, then volunteer!!!

Posted by gunnparentalumni, a resident of Barron Park
on Feb 24, 2010 at 9:38 am

Noreen will be sorely missed. Both my children had difficult times due to clinical depression, during her years as vice-principal, and required an IEP every year. Nobody that was required to come to the meeting EVER had anything helpful to say and blamed either my children or me, for not "picking them up by the bootstraps" and getting them to school while suffering with their depression. Noreen was the ONLY one that ever asked, "what can I do to help your child?" She was compassionate and made things happen instead of just talking the talk like the psychologist or saying inappropriate things like the useless counselor. Noreen was a great asset to that school in so many ways.
Take good care of yourself, Noreen. We will miss you.

Posted by momof2, a resident of Barron Park
on Feb 24, 2010 at 10:06 am

Thank Bob! Fresh meat is what we need!

Posted by ag, a resident of Barron Park
on Feb 24, 2010 at 10:43 am

For some of you, please learn how to spell. The head of a school is a PRINCIPAL, not a PRINCIPLE...

Posted by Shashonna Williams, a resident of Evergreen Park
on Feb 24, 2010 at 1:02 pm

Well it is obvious that the ones who can't spell did not go to Gunn! GO TITANS!

Posted by parent, a resident of Barron Park
on Feb 24, 2010 at 1:25 pm

I love Ms. Likins she is a great principal!!!! both my daughters went to Gunn, as I did !! So you haters out their keep it to your selfs! or go to paly?

Posted by Mother, a resident of College Terrace
on Feb 24, 2010 at 1:41 pm

Well Ms. or Mrs. Williams since you did not go to Gunn you sure have alot to say about Gunn? Since you NEVER went? I have a young Daughter at Gunn and I also went to Gunn! and the teens on the state level ranked with test scores overall at the 97% and that is at GUNN! Please get your facts strait.

Posted by Blondie, a resident of Midtown
on Feb 24, 2010 at 2:58 pm

Being in education myself, I have to say that a high school principal is one of the most demanding and stressful jobs around. You need the skills of a CEO, psychologist and PR executive. Of course you also need to know the educational process and recognize/support quality instruction and other school activities and resources.

Noreen is a class act. She so deserves time to heal and start a new chapter in her life. I wish her only the very best and thank her for all she did for my two boys and me in their high school years at Gunn.

Posted by Kevin Regalado, a resident of Midtown
on Feb 24, 2010 at 5:11 pm

Some of us in life are at different stages in realization. As Likens points out in her above letter she wants to spend more time smelling the roses, with that it happens to be that she wants to enjoy the pleasures in life, instead of overseeing a school such as Gunn, that takes time, as any big school does and/ or business requires. With her background, she was the right principal. May the Gunn community find another principal with her skills for the navigation and times ahead.

Having an great educator such as Likens, she has been able to get where she has wanted to in her life along the way with ups and downs as most of us have probably experienced. It takes a special person with her background to run a high school with 400 plus students in each grade, coordinating many departments.

With Likens background in mind, may the school district find talented leadership in the months ahead.

Posted by Gunn Alumni '09, a resident of Gunn High School
on Feb 24, 2010 at 5:14 pm

While I am sad to see her go, because I know she held our school together so well after so many tragedies, I am happy to see her doing it in pursuit of happiness. Thank you, Mrs. Likins for being so supportive of all your students and for managing to ease the pain the last year brought. I hope you find the joy and the peace you are seeking.

Posted by Sharon, a resident of Midtown
on Feb 24, 2010 at 7:17 pm

12 years is a long enough term for the Gunn Principal, she semms to have done a reasonable job, apart from her more recent effort to inject identity politics into Gunn and her contradictory messages regarding the recent pointless counter protest at Gunn.
The fact is that the demographics of PA and particularly South Palo Alto have changed dramatically in the last 15 years.
This new , increasingly vocal, and dominant demographic has more traditional values.
We are seeing the end of an era in PA that goes back to the 60s, times and values have changed.
Gunn will evolve in the light of these changes.

We wish Mrs. Likins all the best in her future activities.

Posted by Sharon, a resident of Midtown
on Feb 24, 2010 at 7:43 pm


6 years as Gunn Principal, 6 years in other jobs at Gunn.

Posted by Joey, a resident of Barron Park
on Feb 24, 2010 at 7:54 pm

Time to bring Nik Kaestner back to Gunn!!!!

Posted by hop, a resident of Barron Park
on Feb 24, 2010 at 7:54 pm

Her legacy will be marred by the suicides that is the bottom line

Posted by go in peace, a resident of Midtown
on Feb 24, 2010 at 8:05 pm

I wish her well personally, and am sorry for the personal tragedies she has suffered. A person of her energy has much more in life ahead than just retirement.

The job of principal is a difficult one, that is true, and she approached it with earnestness, singlemindedness, and energy. She was very good at currying favor with those above. Unfortunately, Noreen had a way of making decisions that was -- how to say this -- stubbornly illogical. She could be very lovely to some people, but she wasn't equally tuned in to students across the board, she could be quite dismissive.

This may sound harsh, but this forum isn't a wake. I don't give her failing grades, nor flying colors -- and I'm not sorry to see her go. I trust we will find someone qualified to lead one of the top 10 schools in California -- and if we want it to stay that way, we need to be honest about what works and what doesn't, or what we want and what we don't. We have to find someone new, and I hope that the new person will at least be a better thinker and decisionmaker, for example.

Posted by parent, a resident of Midtown
on Feb 24, 2010 at 8:11 pm

Zealot you said 'Darn, looks like Gunn high school was too big to handle! No one is good enough too be our principle! No one!'

It was most certainly not too big, just ask. Likens has been a major proponent of making it bigger.

Posted by Another Gunn Parent, a resident of Greenmeadow
on Feb 24, 2010 at 9:14 pm

I think Noreen has done a wonderful job as principal (spelled correctly) handling the suicides and their aftermath. As the parent of a Gunn sophomore, I'm concerned that anyone trying to fill those shoes is facing such huge challenges that they--and the school--will struggle.

But more than that, given all the open positions, I hope we can finally get a UNIFIED school district with COORDINATED secondary schools and CONSISTENT principles (see, I spelled that version right too) of education, not just academically but also on the social-emotional dimension. Lacking ANY district leadership, our secondary schools are working independently and in an ad-hoc manner to tackle issues ranging from copier leases to dealing with tragedy, and every conceivable thing in between. We would be so much healthier and stronger as a district if our secondary principals could and would take the time to share about some of what they are trying to accomplish, so that we can together build just a few wheels, instead of the constant rebuilding for every conceivable conveyance.

Anyway, Noreen, thank you so much for your service, your dedication and your amazing grace under pressure.

Posted by Gunn Parent, a resident of Midtown
on Feb 24, 2010 at 10:40 pm

[Post removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]

Posted by Gunn Parent, a resident of Midtown
on Feb 24, 2010 at 10:42 pm

By the way I liked yesterday's picture better. That looked more like her regular, not like when she is posing for a picture.

Posted by gunngrad 08, a resident of Palo Verde
on Feb 28, 2010 at 1:04 pm

Bring back Nik Kaestner. He was a great teacher

Posted by Jacob, a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Mar 5, 2010 at 10:24 pm

6 years is a little above tenure for a high school principal. Paly's several last principals have stayed 3 years (McEvoy), 3 years (Laurence), 2 years (Pearson), 2 years (Fred Dreier), and 6 years (Marilyn Cook), so Gunn has had more stability thanks to Noreen Likins. Wish her well in her retirement. She has given more than enough time to this school.

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