With superintendent selected, school board prepares contract

Hiring of Glenn 'Max' McGee scheduled for discussion next week

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.

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Like this comment
Posted by PAUSD parent
a resident of Midtown
on May 30, 2014 at 1:09 pm

A year or two ago when there was intense debate about Superintendent Skelly's performance, the "sky will fall down if Skelly is hounded out" brigade tried to sow fear amongst parents that PAUSD would never find another qualified candidate to replace him. Well, it seems the Board was able to find not just one, but four suitable candidates. My, what a shock. Time will tell how the new superintendent turns out, however, the fear-mongerers did a disservice to the community to suggest that no-one would ever want to take the job at PAUSD. Clearly all four semi-finalists were interested in the position. And I presume there were even more who did not make the short-list. I suppose it is too much to ask for the chicken little brigade to have the guts to admit that they were wrong.

Like this comment
Posted by statistics
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on May 30, 2014 at 2:40 pm

I think you're misrepresenting the case. The concern raised was if a certain individual managed to gain access to the board, who had repeatedly called for the super to be fired, we wouldn't be able to find a replacement.

Fortunately voters took note and we now have this result.

Like this comment
Posted by Beentheredonethat
a resident of Crescent Park
on May 30, 2014 at 7:29 pm

McGee's first task will be to make sure Leslie Braun gets 100% convinced he's out to do a good job. Then he will conveniently forget all about doing a good job.

Like this comment
Posted by Alfonso
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on May 30, 2014 at 8:01 pm

When something sounds too good to be true, it usually is. Is anyone checking for a clause in the contract asking for reimbursement in case of less than x years service or poor performance? If not, that's a lot of public money walking out the door AGAIN. Just sayin..

Like this comment
Posted by Say what?
a resident of Walter Hays School
on May 30, 2014 at 9:37 pm

So there were concerns expressed by a candidate two years ago about the superintendent which subsequently turned out to be understatements and then we were able to find a replacement who appears to have strong qualifications. How does your argument add up? Sorry if I'm slow.

Like this comment
Posted by statistics
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on May 30, 2014 at 9:51 pm

Hint: Check the results of the election. That's how we managed to get a replacement.

Not enough for you? Check out he reason McGee decided to join:

"Though he said the decision to leave [] 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."

Like this comment
Posted by Smoke and mirrors
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 30, 2014 at 10:31 pm

Looks like Max McGee will do fine, he's already spewing the PAUSD drivel. I wish Barb Mitchell and Tabitha Hurley would truly ignore what I am writing right now, but they won't. They read every word and react to it with contrived quotes about how the trip to Illinois was necessary. Leslie Braun only makes a partial point regarding hiring. What she failed to mention was that Kevin Skelly did not hire well or retain his principals and district office administrators. In fact, It's upside down. Charles Young is still here, and I haven't read much support anywhere for his performance. Scott Bowers will be an interim superintendent in July, but one has to question his continued employment at this point. McGee needs talented new staff around him. He will have to hire well. That he is leaving his Chinese-backed school so quickly doesn't bode well, though. Makes him look like he's coming out here for Silicon Valley connections for a start-up. Still praying we've already hit the nadir a few months ago because it doesn't feel like it yet.

Like this comment
Posted by Some Pig
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on May 31, 2014 at 9:28 pm

That's so e ridiculous salary he will be getting. However, a one million dollar loan will only make a small down payment on a decent house in Palo Alto.

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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