Principals named for Addison, Fairmeadow and Ohlone

Amanda Boyce, Grant Althouse and Louise 'Nicki' Smith will lead schools

New principals were named Monday for three Palo Alto elementary schools: Addison, Ohlone and Fairmeadow.

Taking the helm at Addison will be Amanda Boyce, who for the past two years has served as principal of Stocklmeir Elementary School in Sunnyvale. Prior to that, she was assistant principal at Stocklmeir and held other positions in the Cupertino Union School District, including principal of a special education summer school program, mentor to new teachers and "intervention teacher."

"I am honored and excited to be recommended to the board as Addison Elementary School's next principal," Boyce said. "As a mother and educator, I appreciate the district's work to ensure that academic progress is balanced with social and emotional development."

Boyce replaces Jocelyn Garcia-Thome, principal at Addison since 2010, who announced her resignation in March.

At Fairmeadow, Grant Althouse will replace Gary Prehn, a longtime Palo Alto elementary school principal who is retiring. Althouse has been assistant principal of Jordan Middle School for the past two years. Earlier, he spent eight years teaching fifth grade at Addison.

"I'm honored to serve the Fairmeadow community as principal," Althouse said. "I look forward to working alongside our students, teachers, staff and parents to embrace Fairmeadow's rich tradition of student-centered instruction, community mindedness, and social-emotional focus."

Ohlone's new principal is Louise "Nicki" Smith, who has worked as a reading specialist at Ohlone for the past three years. Smith has held a variety of teaching and leadership positions in education, including as principal of Slater Elementary School in Mountain View and Jamestown Elementary School in Arlington, Va. She has taught in the Ravenswood City School District and also was principal of a Stanford University-sponsored charter elementary school in the Ravenswood district, which closed in 2010.

"I am really excited about the opportunity to work with the Ohlone community, teachers, parents, and especially the students," Smith said.

Smith replaces retiring principal Bill Overton, who taught at Ohlone for 27 years before becoming principal in 2009.

"We are delighted to be adding these three outstanding educators to our administrative team," Superintendent Kevin Skelly said.

Skelly has yet to name a replacement for Gunn High School Principal Katya Villalobos, who announced in March she plans to step down after four years of leading the school.

Related stories:

Three Palo Alto principals announce retirements

Principals, veteran math teacher, announce retirements

Chris Kenrick


Posted by My Kid is Brilliant, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on May 6, 2014 at 3:16 pm

[Post removed.]

Posted by Parent of 3, a resident of Palo Alto High School
on May 6, 2014 at 3:54 pm

Looks like a family photo gallery: mom, son, grandma. Congratulations to all! I was on the Jordan PTA and Grant Althouse was very visible around campus. He really cares about the students.

Posted by congratulations, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 6, 2014 at 4:26 pm


All seem experienced and excellent choices.

Posted by Where's the beef?, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 6, 2014 at 8:14 pm

Good choices, not great choices, good as in average, maybe even mediocre. I'm afraid the naysayers were right: we won't be able to attract top talent for quite a while.

Posted by parent, a resident of Palo Alto High School
on May 6, 2014 at 9:10 pm

@Where's the beef - please let us know who you think the "best" choice would be? What would they have that these people don't have? I'm really curious.

Posted by congratulations, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 6, 2014 at 9:30 pm


"What would they have that these people don't have?"

where's the beef may be thinking about a Harvard degree?

"top talent" is so hard to measure, experience counts.

Posted by Where's the beef?, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 6, 2014 at 10:06 pm

Be careful about the questions you ask, you might not like the answers and really fly off the handle. Grant Althouse does not represent experience, he's a nice guy, but he this will be his first principalship, as it was for Winston, Villalobos, and a few others. Fairmeadow has a challenging staff and hasn't exactly retained a principal for more than three years in quite a while. He will survive by doing very little with the teaching staff. That's not excellence and he doesn't bring in experience as a principal. Amanda Boyce has been a principal for two years and one has to wonder if she is here because of the Anne Brown, whose position in Cupertino was taken away and who then went back down to snagging a principalship in Palo Alto. Lisa hickey at Briones is the other principal from Cupertino, will we get one more soon? Boyce will have her work cut out for her at Addison as they have a staff with an inordinate union crankiness. As for Nicki Smith, she has a Harvard degree, if that still wows you for some reason, and she has significant experience as a principal, but if I was hiring, I would be looking for someone with some fresh ideas (that' may be Althouse's potential) and not someone who has had the unfortunate timing of closing two schools in the last eight years. You asked.

Posted by Wait and See, a resident of Barron Park
on May 6, 2014 at 10:56 pm

@Where's the Beef - you are entitled to your opinions but your analysis isn't compelling. One candidate is weak because he hasn't been a principal before (isn't an elementary school a good place to start?); several face challenging teaching staffs, in your view, which doesn't really tell us anything about the ability of the new principal. So while you clearly have detailed information about the district, I think we can safely conclude that your handicapping skills are about the same as the guys who predict sports results or political races, i.e., nothing to write home about. As with sports and politics, I'm more interested in seeing how things actually turn out than what the talking heads predict.

Posted by congratulations, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 6, 2014 at 11:11 pm

Where's the beef,

I guess we see things differently. I think there is no shortage of fresh ideas in the schools. Schools need capable administrators who can also get along with most everyone, and have a good presence about them. Kids are looking up at them, parents are approaching them, they have district dramas to handle, it's a big job. These choices all look excellent to me, for my criteria.

Posted by Well..., a resident of Fairmeadow
on May 6, 2014 at 11:27 pm

I have to agree with "Where's the beef?," Fairmeadow does have a challenging staff that the last two principals (both with principal experience) could not/did not manage. I've blamed the staff problems on tenure, but this year I see some teachers exercising control far beyond what is reasonable or healthy for a school and it's students.

Advice to Mr. Althouse: put the students' best interests first, and don't let teachers band together and thwart curriculum, student activities, and traditions because they are lazy. Set the bar and stick to it. If teachers leave because you hold them accountable the school will be much better off and you can hire better teachers. Don't let the dead wood kill the tree! If teachers won't step up to help facilitate things like student government, noon sports, 5th grade yearbook, and school service (crossing guard, etc...) then ask for parent volunteers. Don't let lazy teachers ruin the wonderful Fairmeadow community (which is what some of them are doing now). And, while I'm on it, the PTA is falling apart because of the lack of leadership from the principal's office. Don't be just a "nice guy" that teachers and kids like, show leadership and make the right things happen at Fairmeadow!

Posted by Paly Parent, a resident of Palo Alto High School
on May 7, 2014 at 2:50 am

I feel that since we have elementary schools with over 500 students, we should be having a vice principal as well as a principal at these schools. At the elementary school my kids attended we had two office staff and a principal, not enough for over 500 students to enable parents and students deal with administration, discipline and still able to "lead" and be a figurehead for the students. Our middle and high schools seem to be teeming with people in the office, but our elementary schools have a few staff expected to do it all and still have time to talk to students and parents to get to know them.

Posted by Parent of 3, a resident of Palo Alto High School
on May 7, 2014 at 8:42 am

Informative comments by "Where's the beef" and "Well". But contradictory comments by "Beef" in stating that Winston and Villalobos didn't have enough experience yet you want "fresh ideas". So is it experience or fresh ideas you want? A shame to hear there are "lazy teachers" at Fairmeadow when people move to Palo Alto for the schools. Apparently, Kathleen Meagher cleaned house at Duveneck - she would be a good one for Althouse to speak with before her departure at the end of this year.

At least, for advice, Althouse can run to Eric Goddard, PAUSD HR Director, former Fairmeadow principal. But Goddard was also Palo Verde's principal [portion removed.]

Posted by Parent, a resident of Crescent Park
on May 7, 2014 at 10:38 am

Sounds like Althouse will have to put teachers in their places and realize he may not be liked by all. Maybe he can pressure them enough so they leave. I'll vote for any BoE candidate who will vote to end tenure to improve our schools.

Posted by Collaboration, a resident of Downtown North
on May 7, 2014 at 1:34 pm

Congrats to them all - excited to see what their leadership can bring, build, and preserve.
Amanda in particular has her work cut out for her at Addison - union crankinesss or not the teachers need to work together, open their minds and get along!! With so much energy put into friction it must take away from their classroom efforts and the kids lose out.

Posted by congratulations, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 7, 2014 at 2:01 pm

Paly parent,

"I feel that since we have elementary schools with over 500 students, we should be having a vice principal as well as a principal at these schools."

I agree, that is becoming really necessary, even from a safety point of view. There are constraints (like tenure) which can't change in ANY reasonable time so having a Principal spending all their time trying to coerce a bad teacher out seems fruitless.

And what about a 5th grade yearbook? Is that really a tradition? Teachers shouldn't have to be doing that kind of thing. Students are so overwhelmed with traditions as it is.

Here is an idea (not sure it's fresh). Instead of sending the bad teachers for yet another round of professional development on how to teach Math or English or Common core, or how to better work with their colleagues, get them support to improve. Individualized counseling, time off without losing pay, a real break to evaluate. And pressure PAEA to help with that.

Reform them with special programs like you have supports for students.

Posted by Where's the beef?, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 7, 2014 at 7:14 pm

You cannot pressure or criticize PAEA. They would call you anti-teacher.

Posted by Parent, a resident of Fairmeadow
on May 9, 2014 at 10:19 am

I am surprised by the negative comments regarding Fairmeadow. The teachers have all been wonderful and helpful in promoting the growth of my children. Rather than attack the teachers, why not reflect on why 'traditions' might need to change? Could it be that the school has expanded so rapidly that providing meaningful experiences for families is at the forefront of the discussions? To blame the teaching staff, that in my opinion continually puts the children first, is neglecting the responsibilities of the parents to participate as well.

In addition, two previous principals were promoted and one is retiring. Are teachers responsible for career planning of the admin too? Elementary principal positions have long been a stepping stone to the district office.

Rather than focus on the teachers, why not focus on the inappropriate structures in the kinder yard?

Posted by Are you kidding me?, a resident of Fairmeadow
on May 9, 2014 at 2:03 pm

Anonymous attacks hurt real people -- in this case, the teachers at Fairmeadow.
* An additional 200 kids have been dropped into Fairmeadow in the past 5 years. That currently makes for 555 kids.
* The school does whatever it can to keep class sizes small with the new influx and with the district sending overflow to our campus too. We now have 4 classrooms in every grade except 4th grade --- which has FIVE.
* In any (and almost every) classroom of 24 kids, you have 2-5 kids with documented or undocumented spectrum, attention, focus disorders. Add in another 2-3 with documented or undocumented learning issues. One teacher, 24 kids, 4-8 of whom are on IEP or some other plan, or who need additional instruction but don't have resources assigned to them yet. It takes really hard work for parents to get additional resources for their kids, and very few of the kids with significant needs have the benefit of an Classroom Aide. Then add in 1-4 kids in MANY classrooms who don't speak English at all or well, or who have just walked off an airplane from somewhere in the world and have to try to figure out how to get along. Right there you could have almost half of the class who need some sort of individualized or more directed attention from a teacher.
* Add in that teachers get maybe an hour or two of Instructional Assistant time per week.
* Add in that many many teachers give up their lunch break to be a part of Fairmeadow's Noon Sports program that keeps many many kids playing cooperative team sports in a well supervised, safe environment. This program and the teachers who chose to work through lunch are a big reason why the FM playground is as safe a place as can be expected.
*Ever wondered what it must be like to be a kid of any age, trying to find a friend in a sea of 400+ kids during a 20 min recess or lunch? I hear tears about it all the time.
*Walk into almost any classroom at recess or lunch break and you'll see a teacher and a handful of kids doing any number of things. I feel so lucky that when my kids can't deal with that playground scene or when they aren't in a sport, or when they just need to be in a calmer place, they can sometimes be in the classroom, happily doing a project, helping the teacher, reading a book. Teachers don't have to do that for our kids.
*Any idea how many kids go in the library at lunch and just disappear into a book. We are so lucky to have that resource too.
*Did I mention Science Lab? On any given day that it's open, 5-6 kids (+) come directly there to happily help the teacher, investigate whatever's being studied, disappear into a book.
* Are you getting the message? 21 teachers and 550 kids, so many with special needs, learning issues, social and emotional issues, language issues -- Do you have any idea how much FM teachers give?
*Then add in that the FM community is having a different kind of challenge -- volunteer shortage. There are so many more working families trying to afford to live in Palo Alto. There are so many parents who take time off work to help out where they can, but there are also many who don't or can't or feel constrained due to language. There are many fewer stay-home parents who are trying to step in as much as they can, but there is unlimited need.
* Things that rely on parents to help to keep our kids in a sane and same environment are: library, science, art, reading, math, field trips, community events, sports, and noon activities that only happen if a parent selflessly volunteers their noontime. Also add in people needed to help with fundraisers, PTA, PiE that try to bring funding into the school to make that all happen.
* Speaking of field trips -- every grade level is seeing a growing issue of not being able to get enough parents to drive on field trips. Even the youngest grades where parents tend to be so active are struggling.
* PTA isn't falling apart because of the Principal. Those two things have nothing to do with each other. The PTA is struggling with how to do good things for the school with more and more demands for its money for things that used to be paid for with District and State money. There isn't wasteful spending. There's a lot of need. Ever try to run a volunteer organization with explosive need, the same 30ish volunteers, 200 more kids, many many many fewer active parents? Give it a try and then judge away.
* Ever try to run a volunteer organization that relies on incoming parents stepping up, and finding that they just aren't? This isn't just for PTA, mind you, but all over school where help is needed. How do you reach people who aren't on campus, don't get involved, don't read email? How do you overcome the language barriers so that those who have recently moved here can feel welcome and get involved? There is so much goodwill out there and so many barriers on all sides that make running a volunteer organization like PTA a bit of a brain teaser.
* If I have one ding for anything it's communication and transparency. The lack of those are behind parents' unhappiness re student government, activities, yearbook, open house, etc. Many of those rely on parent volunteers and teacher support. Teachers shouldn't have to step up for something that's extra curricular when it's not that important to even a few parents. Parents need to step up and chip in. Some do. Many don't. We can't ding the teachers for that.
* There are a few issues like Open House where rumors make it around the campus -- old guard vs. new, do more/do less, power struggles, etc. When long-standing traditions are changed silently and parents aren't alerted or in the loop over what the issues are, they feel slammed. The Science Fair/Open House tradition that parents and kids alike count on for so many reasons disappeared without notice and without explanation. Maybe there are valid reasons but parents mostly feel shut out and sad that they don't get a glimpse into their kids world unless their teachers selflessly gave up a night (their family time!) to run their own open house. Kids feel disappointed that they don't get to host their parents, proudly showing them their work. While I can see how the "shopping" aspect of Open House might be difficult for teachers, parents and kids truly benefited touring "next years" grade level classrooms. It was a huge help to calm end of the year stress. If parents had any idea as to why some teachers voted open house away, (or other such big changes in long-standing traditions) maybe there would be less grumbling.
* Maybe there's a different, more simple way these things could be done that would still meet people's needs? Teachers and parents alike should look at things with new lenses to see if things have gotten too complicated. Would making it simpler allow them to keep important events going?
* I have a huge amount of respect for teachers and parents at FM. I have a huge amount of respect for kids at FM who are dealing with all of these challenges every day.

I welcome Mr. Althouse and his new ideas. Three years ago many of us were nervous about losing Mr. Goddard, who by the way was promoted to Administration. Mr. Prehn instituted noon sports and has helped make FM a better place because of it, among other things. Without a doubt Mr. Althouse will have a learning curve but I'm sure he will also bring new energy and perspective. My biggest hope is that he'll help us come together as a community of people from all over the world, that he'll help the teachers unite under the strain of a school that is stretched so thin. Word on the campus is extremely positive about him and the future of FM.

Last and most important -- quit complaining and put your money where your mouth is. Want to see a difference in teachers and classrooms? Donate to PiE (Web Link) Classroom assistants, Art and Science teachers and others are paid for from this fund. Donate to PTA so it can fund more programs and materials that keep kids safe, busy and happy on such a crowded campus and to help teachers handle the many competing needs in their classrooms. I come down to this -- "You're either part of the solution or you're part of the problem." (Eldridge Cleaver)

Posted by parent, a resident of Palo Alto High School
on May 9, 2014 at 5:04 pm

@are you kidding me? - VERY WELL SAID. All of your points are well taken. I find that parents sometimes don't take the time to think about why things have changed. I think all the schools are seeing fewer volunteers. Unfortunately this means that some sacred traditions have to change. It would be great if every parent in the district read this before opening their mouth to complain.

Posted by Where's the beef?, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 9, 2014 at 5:58 pm

An excess of words does not make the point I think the poster wants to make. Excellent schools don't need such a long defense. Teachers ran out Lisa Gonzales in 2008 and helped one principal decide to go to the district office and another to retire.

Posted by congratulations, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 9, 2014 at 6:57 pm

Where's the beef,

It so happens that the many words from are you kidding me? ALL made sense. Not one in excess. It could be a playbook for every school.

- Bigger schools
- GROWING amount of students who require individualized attention. Try getting a hold of any Admin these days and they are unavailable due to an "IEP meeting."
- fewer parent volunteers
- poor communication starting at the top - the district appears overwhelmed, try looking at the talent there (!).
- decaying facilities

You should count your lucky stars that these highly qualified and experienced leaders will give it a go.

Everyone must be interested in making it work. My apologies for suggesting teacher reform, though that is useful if teachers really cannot adapt to change. Politics is really unnecessary and if there is a problem, they can't be adding to the problem either. Given how tight things are wound up, no time for politics.

Posted by Where's the beef?, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 9, 2014 at 7:19 pm

Asserting that it ALL makes sense doesn't make it truer, nor do CAPITAL LETTERS persuade community opinion. These are good leaders, but nowhere near the best.

Posted by congratulations, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 9, 2014 at 8:05 pm

Where is the beef?

"persuade community opinion"

Congratulating and appreciating some news is hardly an attempt to "persuade community opinion." I guess you thought you'd jump in and do some actual persuading yourself, but just talking about virtual "best" options doesn't persuade, caps or not.

Got names, examples of the "best" leaders you have in mind?

Posted by Feel Sorry for Fair Meadow, a resident of Midtown
on May 9, 2014 at 10:35 pm

Althouse is not as experiences as might think. I am glad he is leaving Jordan, hopefully they will get someone better who really works in the benefit of the kids, now in the benefit of the district. He is awful at the IEP's. Good luck mothers of special education students. I know you could had gotten someone better than him. Now you are stuck with him. Now I know for sure that Prengh was better even thought he make fun of students names.

Posted by Althouse in the outhouse, a resident of Jordan Middle School
on May 10, 2014 at 9:35 am

[Post removed.]

Posted by congratulations, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 10, 2014 at 9:54 am

Feel sorry,

As a non-IEP, I am concerned for the rest of the kids whose admins spend nearly all of their time and efforts on IEP's.

An "Individualized Education Program" can't be easy for teachers, students, parents or admins in the big schools. I can't imagine an angel being good at it.

[Portion removed.]

Posted by congratulations, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 10, 2014 at 10:03 am

[Post removed.]

Posted by Addison, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on May 10, 2014 at 10:41 am

[Post removed.]

Posted by Where's the beef?, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 10, 2014 at 11:43 am

Well, I had better post before you folks get this thread locked. The above post's tone demonstrates the crankiness that the heavy union folks have at Addison. Administrators have not admitted a hostile work environment at Addison, in fact, many administrators will tell you that it is a small bunch of teachers who have been hostile to the principal there and have devoted a large chuck of time over the past three years working to undermine her, without any fear of accountability for their actions. That is basically the PAEA template. Don't believe it? Verify it yourself as a citizen by contacting PAEA president Teri Baldwin, who is a teacher at Addison. I welcome a counterpoint.

Posted by former Addison parent, a resident of Palo Alto High School
on May 10, 2014 at 1:09 pm

Whether or not Addison has a union problem, they definitely had a principal problem. There probably are teachers at Addison who were "hostile to the principal" for good reason. Under the former principal, Addison was a well run place, with almost all terrific teachers (including Grant Althouse) who worked very well as a team. As any new leader might do - the new principal came into wanting to make changes. Changes that weren't needed. Teachers that felt very valued by their administrator were no longer as valued and were not treated as the seasoned professionals they were. One of the most valued staff members who "ran" the playground and was essential to keeping the school climate so positive, left for another school where she would be valued.

@are you kidding - you are correct in your comments, our District is suffering from and increase in students at the same time as we are experiencing a decrease in parent participation.

Posted by Parent of 3, a resident of Palo Alto High School
on May 10, 2014 at 6:45 pm

The reason there are less parent volunteers is that people often move to Palo Alto and most of the income goes to rent or mortgage so both parents have to work. I know many families who are struggling financially, which is tragic. It would be more important for children to have their mom at home, raising them instead of working to stay in Palo Alto.

Posted by George Orwell, a resident of East Palo Alto
on May 11, 2014 at 7:50 pm

George Orwell is a registered user.

Bravo! Restrict the thread, silence the discussion!

Posted by Crescent Park Dad, a resident of Crescent Park
on May 12, 2014 at 6:02 am

Crescent Park Dad is a registered user.

Again, just sign up. Use your screen name and you can still comment.

Posted by village fool, a resident of another community
on May 13, 2014 at 12:49 am

village fool is a registered user.

[Post removed.]

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