The Palo Alto school district's new assistant superintendent of human resources, Karen Hendricks, will lead the district on an interim basis after Superintendent Max McGee's resignation this Friday, the school board decided Wednesday night.
Board President Terry Godfrey announced the board's unanimous decision after a special closed-session meeting. McGee submitted his letter of resignation to the board the night before, effective this Friday.
The board selected Hendricks for "her years of leadership, human resources expertise, public education teaching and administrative experience, professionalism, reputation for thoroughness, and recent background as the interim superintendent for (the) Carmel Unified School District," a district press release states.
Hendricks was hired in July to replace Scott Bowers, who retired at the end of the last school year.
Godfrey said that Hendricks' salary terms will have to be discussed at the board's next scheduled meeting on Oct. 10.
The agreement will be publicly available after that discussion, she said.
Who will take over her human-resources responsibilities is "still under discussion," Godfrey wrote in an email to the Weekly on Wednesday night. "However, we don't expect her to cover both roles."
Hendricks most recently worked in the Carmel school district, where she was chief human resources officer for two years before stepping in as interim superintendent after the district superintendent -- former Palo Alto and Gunn high school principal Scott Laurence, the husband of current Gunn High School principal Kathie Laurence -- went on medical leave last January and then resigned.
Carmel Unified is a much smaller K-12 district than Palo Alto, with three elementary schools, one middle school and one high school as well as a continuation high school and adult school. The district enrolled 2,509 students in the 2016-17 school year, according to Ed Data.
In an interview, the current president of the Carmel Unified Board of Education, John Ellison, described Hendricks as a capable people-person skilled at establishing trust during times of instability.
He said Hendricks did not treat her interim position in Carmel as "I'm going to keep a seat warm," but rather saw to it that the district progressed on its goals for the year. He recalled in particular her focus on creating a structure to provide professional development for teachers.
An interim role requires "calming the waters (and) at the same time moving forward," which he said Hendricks accomplished in Carmel.
"She does a really good job of getting to know people at a deep enough level and establishing trust because that's super important — in a situation where things are unsettled to be able to come right in and build trust with staff, with teachers, with parents," Ellison said. "She has a special ability to do that."
There was strong support in the Carmel community, particularly among teachers, for keeping Hendricks in the role permanently, Ellison said, but the board ultimately hired an assistant superintendent from Illinois this January.
He declined to comment on the specifics of the board's decision but said that it's sometimes "easier" to appoint an outside leader with a clean slate.
Ellison said there were no missteps during Hendricks' interim tenure and that she also "didn't shy away from making tough decisions because it might hurt her chances of becoming the permanent superintendent."
"There are still people to this day who say, 'Tell me again why you didn't hire her?'" Ellison added.
Prior to her jobs in Carmel, Hendricks served as assistant superintendent in the Santa Cruz City School district, overseeing human resources. She managed contract negotiations that gave employees their first raise in many years, as well as an investigation into complaints against a former superintendent over his removal of a controversial baseball coach, the Santa Cruz Sentinel reported when she resigned in 2014.
Hendricks also worked as an outreach coordinator and director at the New Teacher Center, a national coaching nonprofit in Santa Cruz, according to her LinkedIn profile.
In the early years of her career, Hendricks was an elementary school teacher, assistant principal, principal and program evaluation coordinator in the Pajaro Valley Unified School District.
Her promotion in Palo Alto Unified is effective Monday, Oct. 1.
In the news release, the board said it "looks forward to her leadership in advancing the work of staff, addressing outstanding issues, launching the search for our next superintendent, and sustaining PAUSD’s mission: to support all PAUSD students as they prepare themselves to thrive as global citizens in a rapidly changing world."
The board authorized Hendricks on Tuesday to issue a request for proposals (RFP) to find a consultant to lead the search for a permanent superintendent.