Kathie Laurence, a Palo Alto High School assistant principal and former social studies teacher, will take over as the permanent principal of Gunn High School effective July 3, the school district announced Monday evening.
Laurence is filling a vacancy left by Denise Herrmann, who resigned at the end of the school year after three years on the job.
Superintendent Max McGee's appointment of Laurence follows the recommendation of a search committee — made up of three Gunn teachers, three parents, three students, a classified employee, a representative from the school’s counseling and wellness team and a Gunn administrator — who unanimously supported Laurence for her ability to communicate well, listen to students, collaborate, understand the Gunn community and be a "person of action and not just words," the district announcement states.
After interviewing candidates, the committee also met with teachers, parents, staff and a student who knew them to confirm and gather more information, according to the district.
Laurence will take the helm during a time of transition for Gunn, with several large initiatives in the pipeline, including rolling out a new social-emotional learning curriculum and launching a long-desired teacher advisory program.
One of four assistant principals will also be leaving Gunn for a district office position. Miriam Stevenson was recently named director of student services at the district office, replacing Brenda Carrillo.
Committee members praised Laurence's passion for education and understanding of the local community. Laurence taught social studies at Paly from 1995 to 2010 before she was promoted to assistant principal.
Laurence's "years in the classroom make it so she understands what a teacher needs to be effective - whether it's extra resources, a piece of advice, or just a kind word," Gunn teacher, vice president of the teacher's union and committee member Marc Igler said in the announcement.
She has also "worn a lot of hats on the administrative side at Paly," he added. "That level of experience can't be underestimated."
Arjun Prabhakar, a rising senior who served on the search committee, said he appreciated that Laurence has "prioritized student voice — not only through rhetoric but also through action.
"We, as Gunn students, can expect that transparency and cooperation will soon become the norm under this new leadership," he said.
Parent and committee member Jane Dick called Laurence a "remarkable school administrator and lifelong educator who has cultivated respect, trust and partnership with students, staff, and parents."
Among the other qualities the committee unanimously agreed on about Laurence were "clear understanding of Gunn's culture," "forthright and to the point," "clear, firm, confident," and "sincere warmth and happiness."
Laurence, a Gunn alumna herself, said in a statement that she is "excited to return and work in partnership with faculty, staff, students, parents and community members to make sure every Gunn student has the opportunity, access and support necessary to reach his or her fullest potential."
In recent weeks, as rumors spread that Laurence would be promoted to Gunn, some Paly parents spoke in protest of her appointment at school board meetings given she was part of an administration that reportedly mishandled reports of sexual violence and harassment. The parents' criticism was sparked by the recent reports that a now-former Paly student who was convicted for an off-campus sexual assault and reported for an on-campus incident in 2016 remained at the school until May.