Paly's Kathie Laurence named Gunn principal | News | Palo Alto Online |


Paly's Kathie Laurence named Gunn principal

Administrator to fill vacancy left by Denise Herrmann

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.


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19 people like this
Posted by Oh dear
a resident of Barron Park
on Jun 26, 2017 at 9:22 pm

[Post removed.]

44 people like this
Posted by jim h
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Jun 26, 2017 at 9:34 pm

Would be interesting to know how much Laurence knew about sexual assault incidents at Paly that were not listed in UCP logs and not treated as Title IX offenses.

[Portion removed.]

61 people like this
Posted by Paly Parent
a resident of Crescent Park
on Jun 26, 2017 at 10:07 pm

This promotion just highlights the sorry reality of our education system, even in Palo Alto. Ms. Laurence is hardly an inspiring educator. She does not connect well with students and she is not motivational to teachers. There is a good reason she has been in the district so long and this is her first chance to be a principal. We need to somehow find a way to recruit talented leaders into the profession. We have principal after principal fail and our district office is cluttered with people who have no impact at the school sites. I think things will only get worse unless we somehow find a way to pay a fair wage for good people to take these roles.

139 people like this
Posted by Paly Alum 02'
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Jun 26, 2017 at 11:33 pm

Congrats Mrs. Laurence! You were my advisor in high school at Paly. You'll be great at your new role.

69 people like this
Posted by Paly Parent
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Jun 26, 2017 at 11:46 pm

When does Paly get a new principal?

178 people like this
Posted by Gunn Parent
a resident of Gunn High School
on Jun 27, 2017 at 12:01 am

Congratulations to Ms. Laurence! Welcome to Gunn community!

37 people like this
Posted by McGee Skelly
a resident of Juana Briones School
on Jun 27, 2017 at 8:07 am

McGee is going with the familiar, just as Skelly did when he finally promoted Diorio after refusing to do so for years. At this point, I think administrators from Illinois will no longer follow him to Palo Alto,and Bay Area administrators aren't going to happen because the talented ones know to stay away.. It's how we ended up with Mr. J here at Briones.

45 people like this
Posted by Gunn parent
a resident of Barron Park
on Jun 27, 2017 at 8:15 am

Once again, McGee ignored the community voice of a national search, no admin from Paly, and interim principal.

164 people like this
Posted by Gunn Parent
a resident of Gunn High School
on Jun 27, 2017 at 9:42 am

To Gunn parent@Barron Park,

"Once again, McGee ignored the community voice of a national search, no admin from Paly, and interim principal. "

Great job, Dr. McGee! Way to go! If McGee listen to your voice, Gunn will search principal every year, because the talented ones know to stay away.. Dr. Herrmann is a great example from nationwide search.

44 people like this
Posted by East Palo Alto Resident
a resident of East Palo Alto
on Jun 27, 2017 at 11:02 am

[Portion removed.]

Best of luck Mrs. Laurence

40 people like this
Posted by Palo alto home owner
a resident of Palo Verde
on Jun 27, 2017 at 11:12 am

Dr. McGee clearly disregards many parents' voices from the 6/1 meeting.

The message from the meeting was to take time for the new Gunn principal search and no admin from Paly.

10 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 27, 2017 at 11:25 am

I can only say that as we are going through principals at schools at a fast rate of knots, that stability should be a criteria for choosing a new principal. We don't want to see a fine administrator taking a new job in a different district or a fine administrator moving across the country because of a spouse getting a new job.

I feel that we have had some administrators of late whose main personal criteria seems to have been using their job here as a stepping stone to something else. Or perhaps there is another reason why we aren't able to keep hold of good administrators?

The bad publicity of Palo Alto schools over recent years could quite easily be a detraction for many potential candidates. I get the impression we may well be in a situation where beggars can't be choosers! Are we really at the situation where we are begging to get some good principals?

38 people like this
Posted by More than one school
a resident of Gunn High School
on Jun 27, 2017 at 11:37 am

Nothing against Ms. Laurence. I don't know her or her track record. However, as a Gunn parent, I don't know where the communication broke down at Paly. As a Gunn parent, I didn't want an administrator from Paly until it was understood (after their investigation) where the breakdowns occurred. Now that we are assigned a former Paly administrator, I now know McGee did nothing but have a patronizing 6/1 meeting asking parents for their input. The message from that meeting...NO PALY ADMIN. What part of this message did McGee not understand?

Ms. Laurence may be very capable and loved by all stakeholders. IMHO, that trust will have to be earned. Until then, McGee should know he's now placed Ms. Laurence at a school where many parents will be wary and watching. McGee should also know he's now on many parents' s**t list where he wasn't before. As difficult as being superintendent is, don't have a feedback meeting where most people said NO PALY ADMIN and then essentially spit in their face and do it anyway. The committee providing feedback should have been told how many people felt this way.

100 people like this
Posted by Gunn Mom
a resident of Stanford
on Jun 27, 2017 at 12:14 pm

Gunn has over 1900 students, just wonder how many parents attended 6/1 meeting? If less than 50 parents attended 6/1 meeting, 50/1900, of course, these parents CAN NOT represent and speak for majority Gunn parents.

Anyway, Dr. McGee did wonderful job for naming Gunn new principal. Thank you so much for Gunn principal searching committee who unanimously supported Laurence. You did fabulous job!

Congratulations to Mrs. Laurence and welcome to Gunn! You'll be great at your new role.

39 people like this
Posted by Gunn Dad
a resident of Barron Park
on Jun 27, 2017 at 12:44 pm

@Gunn Mom, I believe it was closer to 100 parents on June 1 (the last day of school). And while they can't speak for all, they are the ones who showed up; based on your logic, why have any input meetings at all if the vast majority don't come? It's not like there were other input forums that represented more parents. Dr. McGee asked for input; he got input; he disregarded the input. It seems reasonable to draw conclusions about him based on those facts.

71 people like this
Posted by Gunn Mom
a resident of Stanford
on Jun 27, 2017 at 12:55 pm

To Gunn Dad,

Even closer to 100 parents attended 6/1 meeting, 100/1900, still is very little, CAN NOT speak for majority Gunn parents. Dr. McGee can get inputs from many different sources, not limited to 6/1 meeting.

34 people like this
Posted by Gunn Dad
a resident of Barron Park
on Jun 27, 2017 at 1:09 pm

Gunn Mom, sure Dr McGee could have gotten more input, but he didn't. No other public meetings, no other public comment collection (except over Memorial Day weekend with a Google Form from the PTA!). Did he get other secret input, from "special" sources whispering in his ear? That would obviously be far worse!

I'm not saying that anyone speaks for the majority of Gunn parents - how could they? I'm saying that of the people who showed up at the one and only public meeting held specifically to get input on this topic, Dr. McGee got clear input and ignored it. And, as far as anyone in the public knows, that there is no other source for what Gunn parents think on this. Those are just facts.

16 people like this
Posted by Palo Alto home owner
a resident of Palo Verde
on Jun 27, 2017 at 1:19 pm

To Gunn Mom.

Using your logic, 3 parents in selection committee out of 1900 clearly is not majority.
Did 1900 parents vote for them to represent parents? The answers is No.

Once again, using your logic.

61 people like this
Posted by Gunn Mom
a resident of Stanford
on Jun 27, 2017 at 1:21 pm

To Gunn Dad,

Many parents including myself couldn't attend 6/1 meeting due to busy work schedule, but we all sent emails and used Google form to express our inputs.

Let's move on, be positive, it will be better to the Community.

19 people like this
Posted by EMD Protester
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 27, 2017 at 1:25 pm

Back in 2009, the district was considering Everyday Math, a program which was nationally panned even by the underperforming schools that it was intended to help. There was a committee and large contingency of parents who proved that it was a failure of a program. However, Cathy Howard (Barron Park's principal) bullied everyone into accepting EDM. Even at the well-attended Nixon Elementary School meeting, when Kevin Skelly asked people to raise their hands if they objected to the program, it was interrupted by a woman disallowing this. And Kevin (who lacked leadership skills) allowed himself to be bullied.

My point is: Doesn't matter what we think; certain leaders will bully their way through. PAUSD is not a democracy. If there were a vote on changing the Jordan name, overwhelmingly, it would lose. But they are in the process of changing the names. Get it right, and name them by location, at least.

We need to scoot McGee out of PAUSD. His leadership is incurring more stress on our students because of his ego for top rankings.

15 people like this
Posted by Stay engaged
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 27, 2017 at 1:41 pm

100 high school parents showing up for an evening meeting especially at the end of a school year when there are so many other end-of-year distractions seems like a great showing. If the people realized how few parents get involved proactively on issues, they would be surprised. It is much easier to find the parents who likes to complain after the fact when it serves nothing.

70 people like this
Posted by for Healthier High Schools
a resident of Gunn High School
on Jun 27, 2017 at 2:01 pm

A warm welcome to Ms. Laurence, and thanks to all who've participated in this appointment.

Picking someone with "local knowledge" (of parents, kids, and the community's joys and sorrows) is much wiser than hiring an outsider with limited knowledge of our town.

Picking someone with fifteen years in the classroom with actual living and breathing teenagers is much better than picking someone who has hastily fled the company of young people.

Picking someone who has, as teachers' rep Marc Igler puts it, "worn a lot of hats on the administrative side," is far better than going with someone who has known the world of school through only a couple of apertures.

Three cheers and all best to Kathie Laurence.

Marc Vincenti
Gunn English Dept. (1995-2010)
Chairman, Save the 2,0098--for Healthier high Schools

9 people like this
Posted by Classified
a resident of another community
on Jun 27, 2017 at 5:19 pm

A great way to make herself liked by the Gunn staff would be for Ms. Laurance to reinstate the 3.5 classified positions that were cut by Dr. Herrmann! Please!

39 people like this
Posted by Welcome to Gunn.
a resident of Gunn High School
on Jun 27, 2017 at 5:20 pm

Many goo things are happening at Gunn. It is a school full of fantastic kids and some really great teachers (and a few duds--but welcome to real life). We have enjoyed our family's experience at Gunn.

Welcome, Ms. Laurence. And best wishes for success! Gunn is a remarkable community, and I am proud to be part of it. Go, Titans!

35 people like this
Posted by helicopters
a resident of Barron Park
on Jun 27, 2017 at 6:14 pm

reading this post and others you come to realize why so many of PAUSD get out of here. It's the constant circling of helicopters of the human variety........

21 people like this
Posted by Scotty
a resident of Green Acres
on Jun 27, 2017 at 6:33 pm

I just hope Gunn Mom doesn't stay mad at Gunn Dad.

28 people like this
Posted by Where was PAEA?
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 27, 2017 at 6:53 pm

I doubt it was parents who rammed this decision through, it feels more like PAEA, and it looks exactly like the deals that Kevin Skelly made with the teachers to keep his reign going long after calls for his firing rang out. Glenn McGee is on the ropes, the board looks too scared to let his contract run it, and they should. I remember that Ken Dauber publicly called for a change in leadership in 2011, where is his voice now on McGee. Skelly was awful, but McGee is directly responsible for the worsening of Title IX, rape culture, and other social emotional issues over the past three years. Also, if Laurence is off to Gunn, does that mean that Kim Diorio is off the hook for what she has done at Paly? Looks like the new board is acting like the old board. Either way, moving Laurence to Gunn is not leadership, it's patching up a sinking ship and putting out fires.

14 people like this
Posted by Stanford alumni
a resident of Greenmeadow
on Jun 27, 2017 at 7:32 pm

I would like to point out a few errors one of the message above has stated: the meeting is in the morning not in the evening. You really do have to"stay engaged". As for the parents who spared their time to share their thoughts with Mr. McGee on 6/1, they are dedicated and concerned about the education in PAUSD. Additionally, the idea that 100 of 1900 parents represents the vocal minority is flawed. One can not draw any conclusion from this meeting unless we have a community wide survey or MM hosts forums to collect all the inputs. It can also be noted that the meeting on 6/1 was the only meeting with Mr. McGee where he received inputs on the matter, but those opinions and inputs, nonetheless, ignored.

35 people like this
Posted by Midtown Mom
a resident of Midtown
on Jun 27, 2017 at 9:43 pm

I don't know Kathie Laurence at all, but I graduated from the Stanford School of Education like Ms. Laurence many moons ago. It's the best teacher ed program in the country. I am so excited by her appointment because she will relate to so many of the constituencies that make up Gunn - with her lived experience as an actual Gunn graduate, a Stanford alum, a 15-year veteran of the classroom, and she has seen the challenges of what it takes to administrate and work the politics of the district. If I were to put together all the qualities we need at this time for Gunn, Ms. Laurence would meet most of them. Glad she is the permanent appointment, it will bring confidence to the work underway.

Just want to add that from our family's personal experience, Gunn and the rest of PAUSD (Fairmeadow, JLS) has been fantastic for our two teens. My daughter says she is grateful for how well prepared she was for the rigors of college and my son who has had different health challenges along the way and a bullying incident, has had only the most supportive teachers and administrators along the way. We criticize only those things we most care about and I really love how engaged most parents are in this area and the spirit of care we put into all that we do for our community's children. Let's do all of our part to support Ms. Laurence's appointment and success.

10 people like this
Posted by Unbelievable
a resident of Gunn High School
on Jun 27, 2017 at 9:54 pm

How many days did the search take to find previous PAUSD principals? With all due respect, in this case, this whole process took 20 days!! (From formation of a committee to announcement). Isn't this a rushed decision? Did any community discussion sessions take place? Any town hall to collect community feedback? Doesn't this decision effect a very large population in PAUSD district? (years to come...).

Like this comment
Posted by step
a resident of College Terrace
on Jun 27, 2017 at 11:28 pm

[Post removed.]

10 people like this
Posted by Create Balance
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 28, 2017 at 9:18 am

I should point out that I do not know Laurence, so I withhold judgment of her in particular. I do question McGee's judgment because despite what has happened with the suicide clusters and this scandal, his inclination still seems to be sweep under the rug, and I hope he is reading this and remembers when the next scandal (that could have been headed off had he developed the courage to put families first) hits.

My observation of this district culture is that it would be extremely hard on anyone with a strong sense of doing the right thing especially aomeone with such a strong internal compass they would be an upstander despite personal consequences. They would either become corrupted and silent for the large salary or leave. Or libeled, shunned, and pressured to leave the way parents who realize what's wrong and try to fix things do. I have seen this of at least three teachers and many parents. In consequence, we get employees who tell children to be upstanders but couldn't model it to save their lives (or their souls) when push comes to shove.

If only this were an opportunity to make a clean slate and change the culture. Unfortunately, McGee's penchant for advancing "good Germans" is already making that impossible. 100 Parents asking not to be put in that situation, with an admin who may have been complicit in the Paly problems until more is known, is a pretty reasonable response, and it was not reasonable to ignore it.

As for "fine" administrators leaving, who do you mean? The only one I can see is Herrmann. Everyone else I can think of should have been given an investigation and the boot, but that doesn't happen here, they get coverup, legal services that are intended to serve the district for their own benefit, and a chance to inflict themselves on another district. This sometimes happens in industry with really awful workers: they are so bad, but so good at internal politics, no one wants to bother going up against them, they just get promoted and packaged to look good so they get snapped up by someone else. (In this district, those inclined to pernicious politics get plenty of practice.) It's so much easier. Unfortunately, I think, McGee, having done this with some real stinkers himself, doesn't want to take a chance on hiring out cold. Also Unfortunately, he seems to think the go-along-get-alongers will change their spots and allow him to change the culture. To do this Max, you have to be willing to deal with problems and responsibilities, not just sweep them under the rug because you like this or that person you see daily personally (too bad you got caught in the trap of being so soft on people who do the best job kissing up to leadership).

@More Than One School,
That is a very good post. I wish parents would take the effort to ensure their input is more than windiw dressing. That proportion of signatures as a percentage of voters, nevermind showing up at an odious meeting, would be enough to overturn a city ordinance if the leadership were listening. With Everyday Math, it was even more like a large percentage of elementary parents. Why not create some power for families when enough people care, the same way every other level of government allows? Even the PTA does, and the explanation in the rules is very apt: most people are good, but malfeasance occurs, and it's important to have mechanisms for anyone with concerns to leverage fixing things. You can create this power by revising the charter of the City (where the school district and leadership powers are established). That's only about as difficult as a referendum. You only have to come up with a good proposal and get a oercentage of signatures (under proper procedures).

The hardest part is just to come up with a good solution that will balance powers enough that these problems we've endured never could have festered, and that someone of power and authority would have been hearing and taking complaints seriously all along. All you do is just gather signatures, present them to the City, etc. There are rules on how to do this and even lawfirms that help review propsals before they get presented to City Councils. This happened in modern memory, when there was a vote to change the timing of school board elections (giving certain members longer terms without re-election). It's not that hard, and if you find other districts that have benefitted from creating more safe and democratic processes, you will be helping everyone who comes after.

29 people like this
Posted by Appalling
a resident of another community
on Jun 28, 2017 at 6:32 pm

Please let's give Kathie Laurence a chance to do her job as the principal of Gunn High School. She has not yet stepped into her role, and already the negative comments are piling up. I agree that while many parents of Gunn students are supportive and amazing. But there seems to be a mindset in Palo Alto that because of the high property taxes and costs of homes, any given parent can demand this and that for their student. As a parent, of course we want what is best for our kids, but we have to remember that there are 1,900 plus other students that deserve the same.

5 people like this
Posted by Create Balance
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 29, 2017 at 10:11 am

You must be runing with a different crowd, because in all my years here, I have seen incredibly giving people, who give of their money and time in a way I never saw when I was a kid growing up elsewhere, and you would never know their background here.

The Title IX and other discrimination scandals are de facto evidence that you are wrong. Parents of children with special needs have a right to demand "this and that" for their child under the law, to protect them from harassment, or provide the accommodations they need to be healthy and functioning in school, yet so many parents have found it difficult to ask for even that.

The parents had nothing against Laurence personally, they just wanted to be sure they weren't getting someone complicit in the Titke IX scandal. If the district wanted to turn over a new leaf as they claim, there are ways to do that. But no, it's easier to accuse parents of "this and that" than respond to their very legitimate concerns.

I have personally known more parents of special needs kids who gave up and moved away, at great financial hit to their families, than parents who have demanded anything special for their child out of an overwrought sense of privilege. I have seen teachers who THOUGHT parents were demanding things they weren't, or who had a bad attitude about a child's due accommodations, because administrators were lying to the teachers to create a hostile environment for parents they didn't like, or worse, to retaliate against the parents by taking it out on the child to pressure them to leave, maybe you are thinking about those.

After what has happened at Paly, and what has been happening in our district since Skelly, without any real effort to really change things, parents have a right to be concerned about being given a principal who may have been part of the problem. Those who do not learn from the past are condemned to repeat it, and our district administration has shown only the inclination to ignore or cover up the past, even when those employees or the culture they created are still with us. One of the posters above is right, McGee should have listened. He's probably counting on people like you to make sweeping, kneejerk and unfounded accusations against parents whenever they cry foul. And so it continues.

15 people like this
Posted by Rushed Decision
a resident of Greater Miranda
on Jun 29, 2017 at 11:57 am

Having moved my children to a private school, I am shocked that someone was chosen as principal in 20 days!

At the private school my children attend, selection of a new teacher requires 90 days, a new principal would presumably take even longer.

Sounds like Dr McGee was merely searching for a warm body to fill the spot!

32 people like this
Posted by Reader
a resident of Gunn High School
on Jul 3, 2017 at 9:28 am

Welcome back Ms. Laurence!

Gunn alum returns to alma mater as principal

Web Link

5 people like this
Posted by Neighbor
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Aug 15, 2017 at 8:04 am

Principal Lawrence, welcome to Gunn. Given the unique challenges that Gunn deals with, it's comforting to know that someone who is well versed in the history, issues, students and parents is at the helm. And please ignore the naysayers on this board. They all too convieniently forget that we and you are dealing with lives.

To my neighbors, if you feel Palo Alto doesn't attract or cannot retain talent, maybe it's time to start looking in the mirror? Why would a rational person want to voluntarily place themselves under this microscope? Better to work in districts where parents are concerned about material issues.

Again Mrs Lawrence, we entrust you with our children's intellectual and physical safety and therefore wish you well and support you. Please let us know how we can help.

6 people like this
Posted by Old Fogey
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Aug 15, 2017 at 8:30 am

@Neighbor, no need to criticize your neighbors. They have their points of view, which they share. "We are dealing with lives" - is that a reference to the suicides? Not sure what that has to do with it.

The problem here isn't Ms. Laurence - it was that the district ran a slap-dash process, literally in a couple weeks time with a handful of internal-only candidates, for an important job.

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