New principals named for Jordan Middle, Palo Verde Elementary

Palo Alto school district replaces interim leadership

The school district has named a Los Altos elementary school principal and Palo Alto middle school assistant principal as the new leaders for Jordan Middle and Palo Verde Elementary schools, respectively.

Katie Kinnaman, principal of Gardner Bullis School in Los Altos and a former Palo Alto Unified teacher, will serve as Jordan's new principal, the school district announced Wednesday. Hillary Miller, currently assistant principal at JLS Middle School, will be moving to Palo Verde.

Kinnaman will be taking over for Tom Jacoubowsky, formerly Gunn High School's longtime assistant principal, who served as Jordan's principal on an interim basis this school year. Jacoubowsky replaced Greg Barnes, who left Palo Alto after four years to become director of secondary education in the Milpitas Unified School District.

Kinnaman, a Palo Alto resident whose three daughters went through the school district (including at Jordan), did not start her career in education, but rather pharmaceutical sales and health-care public relations and marketing, she said in an interview Thursday morning. She holds a bachelor's degree in human biology from Stanford University.

When her youngest child was in kindergarten in Connecticut, Kinnaman said she was asked to help out at a local private school teaching middle-school mathematics and science. The family eventually relocated back to California, and she turned down another job offer at the last minute and said, "No, I'm supposed to be teaching."

Kinnaman got her California teaching credential at Notre Dame de Namur University in Belmont. During that time, she was working as a special-education aide at El Carmelo Elementary School in Palo Alto. She also did one semester of student teaching there, and then the district hired her for two long-term substitute teacher positions — one teaching sixth-grade language arts and social studies at Jordan, and another teaching fourth grade at El Carmelo.

From 2008 to 2011, she taught second grade full-time at El Carmelo. From 2011 to 2013, she moved to the district level as a math-and-science Teacher on Special Assignment (TOSA), providing coaching and professional development to teachers at all 12 of Palo Alto's elementary schools.

Three years ago, Kinnaman left Palo Alto to head Gardner Bullis, a 350-student kindergarten through sixth-grade school.

A notable achievement during her time there, she said, was overseeing a significant physical revamp of the school, made possible by a private donation. The school replaced a traditional library with a new student center and a traditional computer room with an "innovative, flexible, creative space," Kinnaman said. Almost all of the classrooms got new, "collaborative" furnishings — no more individual student desks, but instead tables and standing desks, she said.

"The work we've done with space has allowed us to then change some of our programming and pedagogy around how we teach kids," she said. "We try to create spaces that don't constrain us to 25 kids in one room with a teacher. That helps us teach differently and really personalize learning."

Kinnaman also chaired a district Facilities Master Plan Committee that provided input about how to allocate a $150 million bond in order to accommodate enrollment growth and address existing facility needs, according to her LinkedIn profile. Other "representative activities" listed on her LinkedIn profile include "creating a collaborative structure for teachers to meet and share data about student progress with members of our special education team," collaborating with staff to implement a K-6 literacy benchmark assessment system and providing the training and resources necessary "to support small-group, differentiated, balanced literacy instruction."

Kinnaman told the Weekly she does not yet have any specific goals in mind for Jordan, but one of her first priorities will be to work "with staff, students and families to really identify where are some areas where we want to provide some extra support or think about things differently."

Jacoubowsky, for his part, said he is not sure what he will do next, but he would like to stay in the district.

"I've been in the district for 15 years; I'm open to serving the district in whatever capacity," he told the Weekly Thursday morning.

Hillary Miller

Palo Verde's new principal, a longtime educator with years of special-education experience, will be taking over after a year of not one, but three interim principals.

After former principal Anne Brown moved to Barron Park Elementary School in 2015, Tonya Bailey, a former Terman Middle School assistant principal, took over as interim principal. After Bailey left for medical reasons, two other retired educators -- Gary Prehn, a former Palo Alto Unified teacher and principal, and Susan Mispagel, a retired elementary-school principal from the Oak Grove School District in San Jose -- took over the position for the rest of the year, according to a Palo Verde parent. They served as temporary principals for short periods of time due to the fact that state law limits how many calendar days a retired public-school employee can return to work for.

Prehn is currently serving as temporary principal.

Miller holds a bachelor's degree in elementary and special education from the University of Texas, Austin, and a master's degree in education administration from Texas State University, according to the district.

She began her career in 2001 as a special-education teacher and academic support coach in the Austin Independent School District in Texas. Two years later, she moved to teaching fourth grade and special education in another Austin school district, where she stayed until 2007.

From 2008 to 2010, Miller served as coordinator for integrated services in the Ravenswood City School District's special-education department. She rose to director of special education and integrated services there in 2010 but left the position to work as an elementary English language specialist at Juana Briones Elementary School in Palo Alto.

Miller's work in the district also included time as an English language coordinator at Palo Alto High School, a special-education aide at Palo Verde and, since 2014, the assistant principal position at JLS.

Miller could not speak before this story's deadline, but said in the district's announcement that she is "excited to return to an elementary school within such a student-centered community."

Kinnaman and Miller "both have a deep understanding and appreciation for teaching excellence," Superintendent Max McGee said in the district's announcement. "In addition, because of their PAUSD history, they both know the PAUSD way — they understand our strengths and our areas for improvement. These are two great leaders who are committed to our vision of empowering every child to reach his or her fullest intellectual, social, and creative potential."

The effective start date for both principals is July 1.


Follow the Palo Alto Weekly/Palo Alto Online on Twitter @PaloAltoWeekly and Facebook for breaking news, local events, photos, videos and more.

Editor's note: This story was updated to correct inaccurate information about the number of interim and temporary principals at Palo Verde Elementary School this school year. There has been one interim principal and two temporary.

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39 people like this
Posted by Jeanie Smith
a resident of Jordan Middle School
on Apr 21, 2016 at 10:39 am

Tom Jacoubowsky has been an awesome interim principal for Jordan-- sorry to see him go, even as we welcome Katie Kinnaman back to Jordan, in her new position. I hope the District has something really great in store for "Mr. J"...

24 people like this
Posted by Mom
a resident of Duveneck School
on Apr 21, 2016 at 11:18 am

Tom is a really nice person but not a good administrator. Didn't acknowledge emails or basic issues. Would be better as a teacher. [Portion removed.]

9 people like this
Posted by PV Parent
a resident of Palo Verde
on Apr 21, 2016 at 12:39 pm

Palo Verde had THREE principals this year. Glad to see we finally have someone permanent.

49 people like this
Posted by Bill
a resident of Community Center
on Apr 21, 2016 at 2:16 pm

I feel sorry for anyone who takes the Jordan principal position. Too many busy-body parents stirring up a pot of issues for no reason. [Portion removed.] This Jordan name issue is really ridiculous. Will a group get together and challenge any school or city name that is in any way 'religious'? I don't doubt that this will happen - all the way to the Supreme Court.

I am happy my grandchildren don't live in Palo Alto or California. Do these complaining parents now go to after school sporting events and cheer? Do they tote baskets of soft drinks to games and things to eat for the participants? Do they have a good time? Or do they micromanage after school activities and find issues to pounce on. Pretty soon there will be a committee researching the origin of every street name to see if it is socially acceptable. I am also concerned about voting. Yes,voting The techies stuffed into every apartment and house, Stanford students in Palo Alto who are not in dorms can register to vote, get ballots and vote on civic and school issues if they claim residency. . Years ago many did to support a tax issue - and won. If a Stanford student who lives in town or on campus claims residency, that student or whoever can get a ballot to vote on school issues because there are PAUSD school/s on campus. It's happened before and on some serious issues. Watch out Palo Altans. You are losing control, and the City Council is spineless. The Council is being manipulated, most of the city employees don't even live in Palo Alto, and the whole system is a mess.

33 people like this
Posted by Catafalque
a resident of Jordan Middle School
on Apr 21, 2016 at 2:20 pm

We are praying that the new principal will be an involved and effective person.

Jordan has a long history of u caring principals,my involved vice principals, and a few unkind teachers.

Let's hope this will be the year that changes.

17 people like this
Posted by Care
a resident of College Terrace
on Apr 22, 2016 at 6:09 am

New principals - fresh start! Katie comes from a very small school with no diversity- this is a big leap for her. [Portion removed.]
Hillary on the other hand is a true champion of students and comes with an impressive background in special Ed and EL!
Jordan is in need of a big shake up- not sure she is the right person for this!
Palo Verde is lucky to have Hillary!

Like this comment
Posted by Hi
a resident of JLS Middle School
on Apr 23, 2016 at 8:23 pm

[Post removed.]

7 people like this
Posted by Been There, Done That
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Apr 24, 2016 at 11:41 am

Disagree with Catafalque. We experienced two bullying incidents under Milliken's and Barnes' administrations and they and their staff were superb at dealing with it. Both were responsive principals who answered emails, were visible on campus, and truly enjoyed children. VPs Christina Regalia, Grant Althouse, the Asian lady who is no longer there, and Sharon Ofek were all competent. Oftentimes, the kids who are repeatedly bullied are kids who provoke it and the parents don't guide their children on how to behave properly.

Yes, complacency arises when dealing with bad teachers though. They stay away from interfering there. [Portion removed.] A teacher told me that to get rid of a teacher with tenure, the principal and head of department have to be strong and the department head has to document every day for months (maybe 6? Can't recall). Much easier to ignore it. So wrong.

38 people like this
Posted by Good luck with that
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 24, 2016 at 11:50 am

I'm always amazed that folks don't know it's nearly impossible to dismiss a teacher simply for being bad at his or her job. Six months of documentation means nothing. You would have to measure it is multiple years and a bill that would cost thousands per month. Go ask Lou Lozano, he may tell you the truth. Oh yeah, one more thing, your new Jordan and Palo Verde principals are not the best. One is all about Google Docs and the other is about floating around district to district and position to position. Neither will do anything of substance for kids. PAUSD hasn't been able to attract the best in a decade.

31 people like this
Posted by Bologney
a resident of Barron Park
on Apr 25, 2016 at 6:15 pm

I am VERY disappointed with the districts process for interviewing and hiring outside candidates or promoting within. There were several applicants from within the district (current employees) who were not hired and DESERVE to be placed in a Principal role. These individuals also know the PAUSD way!
I have heard many good things about Mr. Jacoubowsky's year at Jordan. He took on a very difficult position when a Principal was needed. He is very dedicated to the students and parents which was evident at Gunn High School. He always put the kids first and worked tirelessly for the Gunn community. We did not want to see Mr "J" go and this was expressed through numerous emails submitted to Dr. McGee. I sure hope the District treats him right and has a great position for him.

38 people like this
Posted by goodluckJordan
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 1, 2016 at 9:34 pm

Be forewarned, Jordan community - Ms. Kinnaman is but a self-proclaimed leader (and the only one who characterizes her as such). She works quickly and unilaterally to put her "mark" on schools under the guise of "thinking outside the box." Read her blog "Tales from the Front Office" to get an idea of her [portion removed] personality. [Portion removed.] Why PAUSD would take her back [portion removed] is a mystery. Tom Jacoubowsky (at Gunn) was the most responsive, caring, and conscientious administrator we have ever worked with in our two decades in PAUSD [portion removed.]

23 people like this
Posted by Jordan sorry
a resident of College Terrace
on May 5, 2016 at 10:28 pm

Very disappointed to hear about the Jordan pick. Completely agree with the above poster. I have a 6th grader coming to Jordan next year and I am considering finding a place at a private school for him. Parents are not happy.

12 people like this
Posted by Concerned Parent
a resident of Walter Hays School
on May 6, 2016 at 7:25 am

Does anybody know anything good about the new principal? All we're hearing are negative comments about her and that the current principal is a likable person.

1 person likes this
Posted by Parent 2
a resident of Community Center
on May 7, 2016 at 8:25 pm

@Concerned Parent- wonder if negative comments are with or without reason- it would be helpful to know from someone who has had direct experience with her.

4 people like this
Posted by Use common sense
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 8, 2016 at 1:21 pm

The information from posters, who are mostly anonymous, is always to be taken with a grain of salt. But you can still determine what is likely to be reasonably true. Katie and Hillary are good people, they will be adequate in their positions, just don't expect excellence.

10 people like this
Posted by Gunn Parent
a resident of Gunn High School
on May 8, 2016 at 4:02 pm

I wish Mr. J. Would come back to Gunn. He is so missed on campus.

10 people like this
Posted by Midtowner
a resident of Midtown
on May 9, 2016 at 3:20 am

Midtowner is a registered user.

There are a few ways you can learn about how Ms. Kinnaman has operated in her previous roles (Principal at Gardner Bullis, TOSA in PAUSD, teacher at El Carmelo). You might follow GoodluckJordan's suggestion and read her blog (Tales from the Front Office) to get a good sense of her personality. You could contact just about any PAUSD elementary school and ask to speak with teachers/staff who worked with her when she was a teacher on special assignment (TOSA). You could check the Gardner Bullis website to get contact info for the PTA president and speak with her about how things have gone the past couple of years. If you've checked in with a number of sources and you keep hearing the same sort of response, there's a good chance that it's true.

11 people like this
Posted by Fedup
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on May 9, 2016 at 12:18 pm

Would be a dream come true If Katie can show her worth and remove a certain [portion removed] teacher from Jordan
years and years of documented complaints against this teacher and she's still there - show you care about the kids Katie and make it !

6 people like this
Posted by Jordanparent
a resident of College Terrace
on May 22, 2016 at 12:50 am

Just coming into this discussion . Not hearing good things about Katie/ people at Jordan open house felt she The same as she was there and Jordan teachers not happy-still looking for folks who have first hand experience - it bothers me that they put her at a big school like Jordan with no middle school leadership experience. To be fair, you need someone who has had more interaction with her.

8 people like this
Posted by Sigh
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on May 22, 2016 at 7:59 pm

It is a very rare and too-brief thing when Jordan has a good principal. They have never had a good VP, rarely have good counsellors.

We have been in three different districts, and we never had as many bad teachers anywhere as at Jordan. [Portion removed.]

5 people like this
Posted by Mr J cares
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 31, 2016 at 11:29 am

You will not find anyone in the PAUSD system that cares more for the students than Mr J.

Is that not what all of the parents are hoping for? Maybe interacting with students and staff takes time away from all of the unnecessary paperwork and endless inefficient meetings or parent emails.

Wouldn't all of our students be better off if an administrator interacted more with individual students? Part of learning in the PAUSD should be how our students can advocate for themselves rather than how parents can advocate for them.

6 people like this
Posted by experience
a resident of Los Altos
on Jun 7, 2016 at 2:13 pm

To answer some questions from above posters:
1. Katie is good at getting rid of teachers that need to go. She documents, documents, documents and makes it uncomfortable until a change is made.
2. she can also be very hard on good teachers. Morale really fell during her tenure. The teacher's union filed a grievance against her right before she left Los Altos. A lot of teachers left the school during her tenure but the spin was always that they were leaving for good reasons.
3. She is very charismatic and comes across as charming and fun but she really needs to work on being empathetic and a good listener. Parents complained that she had no sympathy for kids who were bullied and could make very biting comments to parents looking for help.
4. She is very ambitious and clearly looking to climb up the ladder. That's neither good nor bad but know that this position will probably not be long-term.

8 people like this
Posted by Long time PAUSD Parent
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jun 7, 2016 at 4:13 pm

Re experience posting: Fantastic! Finally someone who will clean house! There are some very deficient teachers at Jordan, some who are traumatizing for students, and they are in every department. Usually principals give all teachers a free pass with no accountability and these teachers continue the terror. Read for accurate feedback. Hopefully, the English department can improve so the teachers return papers with helpful advice instead of no comments or peer corrections because Paly English teachers expect them to be good writers, when they weren't taught properly at Jordan. PAUSD was known for teaching writing skills back through the 1980s when I graduated and writing skills are relevant for everyone, even for blue collar workers. I am disappointed that it's gone downhill because isn't it an English teacher's duty to provide feedback (professional, not student feedback) for students to learn?

I hope she tries to improve Jordan than merely using it as a stepping stone, although usually advancement is usually the goal of middle school principals. I hope she is visible on campus and cares about our students during her stay. Milliken and Barnes were very good with bullying issues and I hope she can continue their zero tolerance for bullying. I look forward to a fresh start after last year's lost year.

11 people like this
Posted by Gardner experience
a resident of Los Altos
on Aug 30, 2016 at 12:16 pm

Katie's reputation at Gardner Bullis:

She gets rid of "problem" teachers.
She innovates.
She communicates.
Cares about and works towards district goals.
She's not afraid to butt heads with parents or teachers.

Very very good teachers left under her tenure. In my opinion, this is much worse than getting rid of problem teachers. She got rid of 1 or 2, but 5-6 very good teachers left.
It's her way or the highway; poor listener, "bully" reputation. More of a boss than a leader. Talked down to staff in public school assemblies.
Lack of empathy, compassion and self-awareness. She probably doesn't recognize or realize what she said about staff or to parents or students.
District financial goals will trump long-term educational interests of the students. You may want to employ her if are the school district, but you do not want her as your child's teacher.

6 people like this
Posted by Gardner too
a resident of Los Altos
on Sep 6, 2016 at 1:31 pm

Ugh! Now that the school year has started, I can say that Katie Kinnaman destroyed the Gardner Bullis community. She disrespected her teachers and parents, resulting in a mass exodus. We have at least 8 new teachers plus a new principal. Kids and parents feel like they are starting at a new school, not knowing anyone after having spent years there. Good luck Jordan

2 people like this
Posted by Jordan parent
a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Oct 9, 2016 at 3:06 am

How is Katie doing at Jordan? My son does not seem to like her- feels she is doesn't really understand this age group. Talks down to almost everyone- adults and kids?

Like this comment
Posted by Observer
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 7, 2016 at 7:16 pm

Not good. More focused on district than what is good for kids.

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

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