Longtime Palo Alto teacher dies of natural causes

Superintendent: Kenyon Scott was kind, caring and passionate

A longtime and much-loved science teacher at Palo Alto High School died of natural causes at his home on Wednesday, Superintendent Max McGee confirmed Thursday morning.

Kenyon Scott, who has taught at Paly since the 1980s, did not show up to teach on Wednesday, which was "uncharacteristic," McGee said. Two of his colleagues went to his home and discovered him. The two then called 911, McGee said.

Paly Principal Kim Diorio sent a message to students, parents and alumni on Wednesday night announcing his death and offering counseling support and resources.

"This is a tremendous loss to all of us in the Paly family," Diorio wrote. "He will be greatly missed. We extend our deepest sympathies to Mr. Scott's family, friends and the many students and alumni whose lives he touched."

McGee described Scott as a deeply caring teacher with a "sense of humor and refreshing perspective on teaching and learning."

"He was one of these people who was always finding ways to help students and doing whatever it takes and (he) really brought a passion to his job," McGee said.

Scott first joined the teaching staff at Paly in 1985, McGee said. He has taught classes including physics, chemistry and Advanced Placement (AP) environmental science. He also served as Student Activities Director in the late 1980s, according to Arne Lim, a Paly math teacher who knew Scott since they were both first hired in 1985.

Scott then left Paly for a several-year stint at Apple, but returned in 2003.

Lim said he "remember(s) being very grateful the day I learned he was returning to teaching."

"Kenyon will always be remembered for his enthusiasm and infectious intensity for life," Lim wrote in an email to the Weekly. "Always optimistic, his spirit lifted everybody in the room. (He) didn't have a mean bone in his body. And his laugh was hearty and contagious."

A 2004 Palo Alto Weekly article captures Scott during an electric teaching moment, literally: He allowed visiting physicists from the University of California, Santa Cruz and engineers from the Stanford Linear Accelerator Center to send 1 million volts through his body to teach his physics students about electricity and Tesla coils, which can generate extremely high amounts of voltage.

Some Paly students remembered Scott on social media yesterday. "RIP to the man, the myth, the legend Kenyon Scott," Skylar Burris tweeted. "You will forever be in my heart. I couldn't be luckier to say that you taught me."

"Kenyon Scott was not only a great teacher, but a great man," Justin Rittman wrote.

Paly student online news outlet, the Paly Voice, posted a collection of social media posts honoring Scott.

McGee said Scott especially supported historically underrepresented students at Paly. His name came up during focus groups the district's Minority Achievement and Talent Development committee conducted with students, McGee said.

Scott was "somebody who cared and they liked his AP class and felt they could succeed in it. He was truly a trusted and caring adult for all kids, but especially for kids like that," McGee said.

"It's left a big void in the department, in the school and in the district," McGee added. "He's left a legacy of caring and love and humor and compassion and, I think, inspiration for all of us."

Lim, too, described the legacy Scott leaves: "What he represented to me is what I remember when I was student in PAUSD and when I was just starting as a teacher: longevity as a teacher, care and forgiveness and understanding for the kids, high standards of expectations for achievement and behavior from the students, and availability to those in need."

Grief counselors from Palo Alto nonprofit Kara will be at the school this week to provide extra support to students and staff, Diorio wrote in her message.

She also asked parents to tell their students because they don't all receive messages from online information system Infinite Campus.

"We encourage discussion about the loss, the feelings it gives rise to, and ways that we can respond," Diorio wrote.

A celebration of Scott's life will be held at Paly on Saturday, Jan. 23, at 2 p.m.

In lieu of flowers, donations can be made to the Kenyon Scott Scholarship Fund, c/o Palo Alto High School, 50 Embarcadero Road, Palo Alto, CA 94301.

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15 people like this
Posted by Paly Parent
a resident of Midtown
on Jan 7, 2016 at 10:12 am

I am very sad about the passing of Mr. Scott. Yesterday morning, my senior son was talking about how much he was looking forward to his class that day, as Mr. Scott is his favorite teacher. I feel very sorry for his family, and for all of the students who will miss his unique teaching style.

6 people like this
Posted by SorryToHear
a resident of Palo Verde
on Jan 7, 2016 at 10:36 am

My first reaction - not a complaint - just mild curiosity.

I was just struck by the title saying "natural causes" and wondered why. I would understand "killed" or "... in accident". But since most of us actually do die of natural causes, I was just struck by its presence.

But aside from that, a sad loss to the school and students.

14 people like this
Posted by cm
a resident of Downtown North
on Jan 7, 2016 at 11:26 am

Mr. Scott's passing is extremely sad. His AP Environmental Science class was the one class at Paly that introduced students to fundamental world problems. He educated them about how to be good world citizens by alerting them to the serious issues, such as pollution, dwindling natural resources, and overpopulation, that they will face during their lives. That he presented these topics in such an open and charismatic way that encouraged engagement by his students was his true gift to the school. He will be sorely missed. Condolences to all his students, friends and family.

6 people like this
Posted by Saddened
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Jan 7, 2016 at 1:10 pm

Both my children had Mr. Scott for a teacher. He was a really, really nice person who rode his bike to school. This is shocking news.

9 people like this
Posted by David
a resident of Menlo Park
on Jan 7, 2016 at 1:46 pm

He was a great teacher. He's one of the special ones that is remembered for connecting and making students feel cared about. He touched my life as a student many years ago. He will be missed.

1 person likes this
Posted by David
a resident of Menlo Park
on Jan 7, 2016 at 1:46 pm

He was a great teacher. He's one of the special ones that is remembered for connecting and making students feel cared about. He touched my life as a student many years ago. He will be missed.

1 person likes this
Posted by With sympathy
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 7, 2016 at 2:57 pm

So sorry to hear this. He sounds like a good man. Talented, dedicated teachers are a blessing to us all.

9 people like this
Posted by Bob Wenzlau
a resident of Crescent Park
on Jan 7, 2016 at 4:39 pm

Bob Wenzlau is a registered user.

When I went to high school, there were teachers who set the path for a lifetime. Kenyon was one of those teachers.

Many students found a tangible path to environmental science through his tenure. We never know what we loss till its gone, but Kenyon's white doves are his students, and the benefit to the environment or their passion they will bring.

The man had such a touch to reach the student in an empowering and humoring way, to show that they could apply environmental science going forward. The environmental science AP programs do that as they often form the gateway to the outside, post high school world. The man was remarkable turning from the business world to offer his skills to our kids. Our family extends condolences to the Scotts during their grieving. Bob

2 people like this
Posted by Mike
a resident of Barron Park
on Jan 8, 2016 at 12:23 am

Thanks for everything Mr. Scott. 25 years later I still remember your wit, your passion and your example.

4 people like this
Posted by Vincent Vezza
a resident of another community
on Jan 8, 2016 at 7:36 am

Kenyon was a friend and colleague. He made the world a better place. Rest in peace my dear friend.

1 person likes this
Posted by Paly Parent
a resident of Midtown
on Jan 8, 2016 at 10:01 pm

Bless the man for the warmth, kindness, and humanity he brought into our children's lives, living what is most important and teaching by example. Happy journey home, dear soul.

7 people like this
Posted by GraceBrown
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jan 8, 2016 at 10:50 pm

GraceBrown is a registered user.

After several years of disdain and contempt for teachers, the Palo Alto Online "community" deigns to honor one who devoted his working life to the young people in our community. God bless.

Echoing Ben Johnson, Kenyon Scott was a man for the ages. He made a tremendous impact in the lives of his students and his colleagues. My condolences go out to his family, his friends, and those he served with. We all of us should be so fortunate to have lived a life as his.


12 people like this
Posted by Josh Bloom
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Jan 9, 2016 at 11:56 am

Kenyon embodied an attitude, a philosophy of teaching I hope we all honor in our teaching: we teach kids first, and our subject second. Kenyon was not a slave to content or curriculum, but to serving the hearts of people and the world he lived in. He taught to engender passion and citizenship in his students. He wanted to make the world a better place by helping students become better people. I believe this is ultimately our calling as educators. It is not content standards or college admissions. These are not unimportant aims, just not what's most important. Kenyon had the courage of his convictions - sometimes to the ire of those who felt rigor should be a greater priority. I'm not suggesting one necessarily has to come at the cost of the other, but sometimes we're so focused on what we think matters - what we're being told matters - that we fail to remember what we all feel and know in our hearts truly matters. Kenyon taught with love, he engendered love - for self, for others, for the world. He shared his humanness with his students, he modeled it for them. He was not a perfect man, nor a perfect teacher. And he never pretended to be or tried to be. He was courageous in his humanity, and what a lasting impression that has left - what a gift he has given to the thousands of students who had him. I was blessed to work with him. I deeply respected the man, and cherish what I was able to share with him personally and professionally. I will miss his laugh and his undying positivity. I will miss him asking me how my daughter is, and how much I loved being a father (he did). I will commit to letting his example continue to be an inspiration to me and my teaching - and my life. He gave himself permission to do and be what he knew was right. His ultimate lesson: when you give love with courage and authenticity it comes back to you ten-fold. This is the greatest gift teaching offers us. What better lesson to teach our students than this? How am I teaching that lesson to my students? How am I modeling that for them? Thank you, Kenyon Scott. Like a star, your collapse resulted in an explosion - a rapid spread - of what it was you were made of. From the death one great star comes the buildings blocks of new life. May your return to the Earth feed us all.

Like this comment
Posted by Sea Reddy
a resident of College Terrace
on Jan 10, 2016 at 3:19 am

So Sorry to hear the news.

Mr. Scott will be remembered forever.


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

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