The Palo Alto Board of Education this week met to work out the contract terms for Illinois education veteran Glenn "Max" McGee, chosen last week to be the new superintendent of the Palo Alto Unified School District.
The board officially offered McGee the position -- and McGee accepted -- after touring the public Illinois Mathematics and Science Academy (IMSA) in Aurora, Illinois, where he served as president for six years.
"I think when I first saw his resume, I looked at it as, 'This is what you would want to design if you were trying to build the background of someone for Palo Alto,'" board President Barb Mitchell told the Weekly. "I think that many of the areas that he has focused his time on are a great fit for our community. It really reflects a passion and advocacy for creative and innovative improvements for all students."
She referenced multiple efforts to encourage innovative STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) programs at IMSA and a reading initiative he launched as superintendent of Wilmette School District 39 after a report, conducted by the district, found a widening gap between boys' and girls' academic performance.
She said she was also impressed with his rapport with students and staff at IMSA, addressing every person who walked by by first name.
"That said a lot about the depth of his relationships," she said.
On last week's trip, Mitchell, three other school board members and a group of Palo Alto education officials met with about 15 of McGee's former colleagues, from IMSA faculty to the former president of the teachers' association in Wilmette, where he was superintendent for five years before joining IMSA. The public school district serves about 3,500 students with four elementary schools, one middle school and one junior high school (grades 7 and 8).
Mitchell said the former teachers' association president described a "turnaround" that McGee led in the district, which had been dealing with acrimony over employee relations before he was hired.
"That was important for us to hear, too, that he has a history of strong accomplishments but also of working well with a variety of individuals who have complex interests. ... (It isn't always) easy for superintendents to succeed in the way he has," Mitchell said.
McGee, also a former state superintendent, is currently head of school at a private, Chinese-backed STEM boarding school in Princeton, New Jersey. Though he said the decision to leave the Princeton International School of Mathematics and Science -- a startup venture he helped build from the ground up since leaving IMSA in 2013 -- was a difficult one, he said he was won over by the Palo Alto entourage's visit last week.
"I walked away from that thinking, 'These are the kinds of people I would like to serve, with whom I can collaborate to make a difference,'" he told the Weekly in Illinois last week. "I came away feeling really positive about the final decision to sign on."
McGee is scheduled to speak at the school board's final meeting of the year on June 17.
The board held a special meeting Tuesday to discuss the terms of his contract. When current Superintendent Kevin Skelly was hired in May 2007, his initial contract included a base salary that started at $225,000, with promised incremental increases of $11,250 at the end of his first year, a boost of $11,813 at the end of his second year and then a third increase of $12,403. He also received a $1 million interest-free loan to help purchase a house within the district, plus a $25,000 moving-expense reimbursement. The contract also included a car allowance of $750 a month for a vehicle used for district business.
Prior to Tuesday's closed session of the board, the public was allowed to comment.
Leslie Braun, a former longtime college adviser at Palo Alto High School voiced concern about the district's recent hiring decisions and urged the board to think carefully about why McGee is interested in taking the helm in Palo Alto.
"I believe that the district has made several poor hiring decisions in the past few years," Braun said. "It is now at a critical juncture in light of the resignation of our current superintendent."
She referenced the "revolving door" of the Paly principal's office, from Fred Dreir's two-year tenure in the early 2000's to Sandra Pearson's return to help from 2002 to 2004 and Phil Winston's three years, from 2010 to 2013.
"We have not made good choices," Braun said. "There should not be six or seven principals going through a high school in a span of 10 years. There just needs to be more continuity."
Braun also reviewed McGee's resume, ending with his latest post in Princeton and posing the question: "Why is Dr. McGee interested in PAUSD after only a year at this school?"
Mitchell responded that the school district recruited McGee. He, like three out of the four semi-finalists for the job, did not proactively apply for the position.
"I think hiring a superintendent is the most important job that the board does, and it's why we've been very careful in the process we've undertaken and the people that we brought in to build consensus around this decision," Mitchell said.
"I come before you not representing myself, (but) probably representing many of my peer groups (in) saying, 'Please, make the right choice,'" Braun said. "I hope Dr. McGee is the right choice. You obviously feel it is."
McGee's appointment will be up for discussion at the board's meeting on Tuesday, June 3, and for action on June 17.
Look for next week's in-depth cover story about Glenn "Max" McGee, the new superintendent of the Palo Alto Unified School District.