A bouquet of flowers from her in-laws greeted Palo Alto High School's new principal Wednesday, Kim Diorio, as she returned to reassemble her dusty office after summer renovation work in the school's Tower Building.
Diorio will occupy the same desk she's used for the past six years as Paly's assistant principal, but she'll now have the school's top job following the surprise June 17 resignation of Phil Winston. Superintendent Kevin Skelly named her principal on Monday, July 29.
"I'm really excited because I know the staff so well, the school and the culture and the institutional traditions," Diorio said.
The daughter of a Connecticut school administrator and a dental hygienist, Diorio grew up with the idea that she would work in education. In college at Villanova University in Philadelphia she fell in love with her psychology courses and decided to make a career in counseling.
After earning a master's degree in counseling and doing student teaching for a year in the Philadelphia area, she worked seven years as a middle-school counselor in Weston, Conn., before coming to California in 2005.
A brief foray to California a few years earlier -- working in a summer program housed at Loyola Marymount University -- had failed to convert her into a fan of the West Coast.
"I thought I was going to fall in love with California, but I did not fall in love with L.A., so I went back to Connecticut," she said.
When she returned to California in 2005 it was because of her soon-to-be husband's job as a product manager at Google. The couple has two daughters, ages 4 and 18 months.
Before joining the Paly administration in 2007, Diorio worked as a counselor for a year each at JLS Middle School and Gunn High School.
At Paly she's overseen rapid change in the college-application process as the once paper-intensive procedures have shifted to electronic communication.
The paper system "created a lot of stress on everybody," she said.
"It was just a lot of copying and paper, and we'd get colleges telling us, 'We haven't received your transcript yet,' but we'd have a record that we mailed it, and it turned out to just be sitting in a pile at the college. With the electronic-transcript service Docufide, students themselves can track when colleges have received and opened the transcript, Diorio said.
When Diorio graduated from New Fairfield High School in Connecticut in 1990, her six college applications were all paper.
"Now we've got kids who, because of the Common Application, can apply to 30 colleges, and some of them do," she said. "We need to find a way to make that process better for everybody." (The Common Application has imposed a 20-college limit on the number of institutions a student can apply to but not all colleges use the Common App.)
Diorio helped introduce Paly students to the online college- and career-planning program Naviance, which had been used at her school in Connecticut.
She also has overseen master scheduling at Paly and the school's conversion to the online student-data system Infinite Campus.
Last year Diorio transitioned to facilities, construction, budget and discipline at Paly and got acquainted with major renovation in progress at the school.
Opening of two major buildings -- media arts and a two-story classroom for math and social studies -- has been delayed from the original projected date of June 2013, partly due to an unresolved claim of contractor Taisei, now in litigation. But the firm continues to work on the job.
"Now they're saying December, fingers crossed," Diorio said.
But other major construction, including a science addition, new performing-arts center and new athletic center, will follow, meaning that portable classrooms will remain in Paly's quad "at least three more years," she said.
Arriving in Palo Alto from suburban Connecticut was "a breath of fresh air" in terms of the parent community, Diorio said.
"I felt people were happier, nicer, not as anxious -- it seemed a better partnership with the schools," she said.
"The value on education is strong in both places, but being in Fairfield County was very intense. I was also there during 9/11, which really affected our community and increased the anxiety there."
On the other hand, resources for schools in Connecticut -- one of the highest-spending states on education -- were far greater, she said.
Diorio's Mountain View home is a 10- to 15-minute drive from Paly, making it easy for her to get the kids home and fed and return for evening events, if needed, she said.
"We got little Paly T-shirts made up for them, and they love it. Every time we drive down El Camino they say, 'There's Paly! There's Paly!"