Denise Herrmann, who has served as principal of Gunn High School for the last three years, announced her resignation on Wednesday evening in a message to students, parents and staff.
Herrmann confirmed to the Weekly that she was appointed associate superintendent for instructional services in the Fremont Unified School District at that district's school board meeting in Fremont on Wednesday evening. Her resignation is effective June 17.
In her message to the Gunn community, she described the move as the "right decision for my professional career and personal well-being."
She told the Weekly that after 11 years of working as a high school principal — she came to Gunn in 2014 from a suburban high school near Madison, Wisconsin — she was ready to move to a position with a wider, K-12 impact. She said she considered district-level positions in Palo Alto Unified but that none of the available roles fit with that desire. She declined to say what efforts the district made to keep her in Palo Alto.
In her new position, she will oversee curriculum, instruction, assessment and other services for Fremont Unified's 35,000 elementary and secondary school students. This will be the first district-level position for Herrmann, who started her career as a science teacher in Illinois in 1991.
Herrmann's years at Gunn have been marked by both progress and tumult. She oversaw the school's shift to a new, more forgiving block schedule in the 2015-16 school year, helped bring to fruition a long-stalled plan to create a teacher advisory program at the school this year and led a district-level social-emotional learning curriculum committee that will pilot programming at Gunn next fall, among other changes. She also took over the school's recent Western Association of Schools and Colleges accreditation process and created professional learning communities to increase collaboration among teachers, her message notes.
The accomplishment "dearest to my heart," Herrmann said Wednesday, was progress the school has made in "breaking down the stigma for students seeking help for mental health and wellness support."
Herrmann served as principal when the school lost several current and former students to suicide, bringing an intense spotlight on Gunn's high-pressure academic culture but also sparking impactful student campaigns that have raised awareness about mental health. Gunn also opened a wellness center this fall, has hired additional mental health staff and even repainted the school last summer to make the campus a brighter, happier place.
Her tenure as principal, however, was marred by conflict with her staff, including a formal grievance the teachers' union filed in 2015 accusing her of violating their contract by asking all Gunn teachers to use online management system Schoology to post their homework assignments. Teachers eventually agreed in a new contract to comply with her request.
Students have also criticized the Gunn administration for failing to listen to student voice, particularly after the controversial removal of the school's early morning zero period in 2015.
Herrmann said she prefers to focus on the accomplishments rather than the challenges during her time at Gunn.
"For a school of almost 200 adults and 2,000 students, we really accomplished a lot. Are there things I wished we could have done? Of course," she said. "I really try to look at the glass is half full and reflect on the enormous improvements that we made."
Superintendent Max McGee told the Weekly Wednesday night that he will be meeting with Gunn's instructional council and union representatives Thursday to discuss next steps for filling the position. He declined to say whether the district has identified an internal replacement, but that he has directed the assistant superintendent for human resources to post the position internally.
McGee described Herrmann as a "great systems thinker" who has made a lasting impact on both Gunn and the district. He "would have loved to have her stay" but said the district could not compete with the level of position she secured in a district the size of Fremont Unified.
"She's made enormous contributions, and I wish her all the best," McGee said.
Herrmann's resignation follows several other personnel departures announced recently, including the principals at Terman and Jordan middle schools and Ohlone Elementary School, the district's assistant superintendent for human resources, the director of special education, the chief student services officer, an associate superintendent and the director of student services.