Former Gunn principal reflects on new role at adult school


After serving for four years as principal at Gunn High School, Katya Villalobos became principal of the Palo Alto Adult School in the summer of 2014, excited to learn about teaching adults (a new experience) and become involved in the kaleidoscope of classes and programs offered by the institution. (Read more about the Palo Alto Adult School here.)

The switch from K-12 education also required that Villalobos familiarize herself with marketing and advertising strategies to ensure the school's success. In her new role, Villalobos said, she has been pleasantly surprised by the ability to move quickly on projects. There are fewer hoops to jump through, compared to the K-12 process, in making an idea a reality, she said, which she called "liberating."

"Not that we don't have rules on the adult side of the house, but we're a lot more flexible in program creation," she said.

During her tenure, Villalobos has seen some fee-based programs rise in popularity. Woodworking classes are now offered four times a week, with an additional open shop period. Nature and birding programs have also grown, she said. Enrollment for a recent wildlife-tracking course filled up in a day.

Meanwhile, she has worked to make offerings in other areas more attractive. She looked carefully at the school's cooking classes and decided to limit some of the previous programming and introduce courses on seasonal and regional dishes and vegan cooking. That — along with special deals, such as a discounted fee for a friend who tags along — has resulted in increased participation, she said.

From Villalobos' perspective, many of the main tenets of teaching stay the same whether working with youth or adults, but there are some subtle differences in adult education that make the experience and goals different for both students and teachers. She highlighted two as particularly important: one, students are looking for a social experience with other adults with similar interests, and two, students have made a deliberate choice to enroll and devote time to these classes.

"The students want to be engaged," she said. "This is a personal choice for the student, the adult student. They want to learn a craft or a skill or maybe get re-certified. ... We have to make sure that's one of the first things we keep in mind."

Related content:

Palo Alto Adult School refocuses its mission

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