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New principals announced for Gunn and Palo Alto high schools

One has particular passion for supporting minority students, the other has sought the opinions of teens

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A current Palo Alto High School assistant principal has been tapped to lead Gunn High School and a Santa Cruz High School principal will lead Paly, the school district announced Friday.

Wendy Stratton, who is in her first year as an assistant principal at Paly, will replace Kathie Laurence at Gunn. Laurence will become the district's new director of secondary education services, overseeing all major initiatives at the middle and high schools, including curriculum and instruction, assessment, professional development and equity.

Santa Cruz High School Principal Brent Kline, a longtime high school principal, will replace Paly Principal Adam Paulson after he leaves at the end of the school year.

In an announcement, Superintendent Don Austin described them as "exceptional and proven leaders."

"Wendy Stratton continues our effort to promote qualified and passionate internal candidates. Her dedication to equity work, attention to detail, competitive personal nature, and desire to invest deeply in PAUSD are attributes we value highly," Austin said. "Brent Kline is an accomplished veteran high school principal with a complete understanding of complex organizations. Brent is recognized as one of the top high school principals in the nation and will immediately hit the ground running."

Wendy Stratton

Stratton came to Paly from the Tamalpais High School in Mill Valley, where she was an assistant principal. Prior to that she worked for 10 years at Redwood High School in Larkspur as an athletic director, physical education teacher and health teacher leader. She described both schools as similar in demographics and culture to Palo Alto Unified.

In an interview, Stratton said she was drawn to a career in education in part because of her mother, who did not graduate from college but moved the family to give her children access to higher quality schools. Her mother went on to become president of the local school board, went back to get bachelor's and master's degrees and became vice president of a college. This instilled in Stratton a deep appreciation for education and a focus on underserved students in her career, she said. (She's currently working on a dissertation examining how families of minority students engage with their public schools and the impact of such engagement on their children's achievement and is hoping to interview families in East Palo Alto.)

"I understand what it feels like for your parent to sacrifice for you to have access" to education, Stratton said. "That's a student experience here that we may not always be aware of."

Stratton hopes to bring momentum to efforts to better support minority and low-income students at Gunn.

"For me there is no big division between focusing on our underserved students and improving opportunity for all learners," Stratton said. "Everybody benefits when we are looking closely at our culture and what the experience of all our students are within that culture."

During the interview process, Stratton said she heard a desire from Gunn teachers and staff for "reassurance" and stability in their next principal, as well as to be "seen and to be understood and valued."

"The students are often well-served but the culture of the community of the adults in the building absolutely trickles down," she said.

In her current role at Paly, Stratton oversees special education, athletics and the entire freshman class, among other responsibilities. Her son moved with her to attend Paly, which she said gives her the additional perspective of being a district parent and observing the student experience.

Stratton holds a bachelor's degree from Mills College in Oakland and a master's degree from San Francisco State University.

Brent Kline

Kline started his two decade-plus educational career as a band director at Mariner High School in Washington state. He eventually became dean of students, assistant principal and then principal, a position he held for 13 years. He's in his fourth year as principal of Santa Cruz High School, which is slightly smaller than Paly with 1,150 students.

In an interview, Kline described himself as a "listener" who "strive(s) to connect people and ideas." He hopes to work on building trust with Paly students and staff, some of whom expressed during the interview process that they wanted a principal with an "ability to communicate a vision (and) be a transparent leader."

Kline will take the helm after several years of upheaval and turnover at Paly. Paulson, a former teacher and Paly administrator, was appointed principal on an acting and then permanent basis in 2018. He replaced Kim Diorio, who took a sudden medical leave and then resigned following discord over the school's improper handling of two cases of student sexual assault.

In both Washington and Santa Cruz, Kline said he focused on elevating student voice, including by starting a student government program at Mariner and, at Santa Cruz, an advisory group with four students per grade level with whom he meets monthly.

He's also supported teachers' experiments with standards-based grading at Santa Cruz and said the school is in the midst of the same debates over grading practices and homework as Palo Alto Unified is.

Kline holds a bachelor's degree from California State University at Hayward and a master's degree from Western Washington University.

The principal appointments are subject to approval by the school board at its meeting this Tuesday, March 17. If approved, Stratton and Kline will begin their new jobs effective July 1.

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Comments

6 people like this
Posted by Independent
a resident of Esther Clark Park
on Mar 13, 2020 at 6:59 pm

[Post removed.]


39 people like this
Posted by Former resident
a resident of Barron Park
on Mar 14, 2020 at 12:03 am

I would not wish either principal job on my worst enemy. As evidenced by a snarky comment about both the outgoing principals in the first comment, this is a very hostile place to work in public education. Good luck to both of you. You’ll need it. Palo Alto is toxic. Nice to be away from the negativity, actually. Moving away was a great decision. I thought I would regret moving after growing up in Palo Alto and moving back as an adult. I hope things change and people will allow you to do your job.


14 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 14, 2020 at 8:11 am

There are already calls for recalling the board or recalling Austin.

The schools are totally unprepared for a disaster which in earthquake country is ludicrous.

However, it seems to me that instead of planning for earthquakes or the future of education, all that has gone on here in Palo Alto for the last decade is new faces at the top and as soon as there is one criticism of one leader, they start falling like dominoes.

What we need is some stability. We need some of the top people to be looking into online methods of learning. Using Zoom, Schoology, and other technology to improve our schools. What we do not need is the continual call for new people to do a better job than the ones we already have. I can't get over the change of faces. It takes at least a year to get the feel of a leadership role. In education I think it probably takes longer particularly for someone new the area geographically.

I hope these new individuals can stick it out and are allowed to do their jobs. I hope they can lead the schools into the future making 21st century schools rather than putting band aids on 20th century practices. I hope the schools are allowed to run the schools, not the unions and most definitely not the parents.


13 people like this
Posted by parent
a resident of Barron Park
on Mar 14, 2020 at 1:56 pm

The carousel continues to spin. [Portion removed.]


19 people like this
Posted by Jenny
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Mar 14, 2020 at 5:01 pm

Agree with parent. I was surprise to read the experience of the Gunn principal too. The new Paly principal has a wealth of experience in the position. But you never know, I wish her well. Maybe she can work with the teachers and they'll think of her as a colleague instead of an administrator. Denise tried to get the teachers to use Schoology to decrease stress and they resisted.

Every teacher should have certain mandatory requirements: answer emails quickly (some ignore emails), use Schoology and Infinite Campus, be available immediately after school for students. At Paly, some teachers don't even stay for Tutorial, which is the dedicated time that they are supposed to be there for students to contact them.

Basically, the teacher's union is too strong. Administration can't touch them once they get past the 2-year tenure! They only need to try for two years, then anything goes. Go be a teacher! Start at $60K, be a P.E. teacher for nearly $200K after the 5-year salary increases and bonuses in between summer vacation for 2.5 months annually. They don't make 'em like they used to. Only some are dedicated to students in secondary school these days.


14 people like this
Posted by Nervous about new Gunn principal
a resident of Greenmeadow
on Mar 14, 2020 at 5:49 pm

I agree that the new Gunn principal seems particularly under-qualified. "In her current role at Paly, Stratton oversees special education, athletics and the entire freshman class, among other responsibilities." For most of her career she was "an athletic director, physical education teacher and health teacher leader".

Based on that, she would not have been my first choice. Or second choice. Perhaps Austin knows better, or perhaps we had no better candidates. Perhaps we parents are partly to blame for that.

Gunn is a big and demanding school, with a wide variety of kids, all of whom should have a curriculum that suits them. I hope the new principal will not lose sight of that.

Well, at least I have something to worry about now that is not the virus.


8 people like this
Posted by parent
a resident of Barron Park
on Mar 14, 2020 at 8:48 pm

Since part of my post was deleted, I will try to be more diplomatic this time.

For the "best high school in America", what are the minimum educational and work related experiences to be considered as the Principal? What are the preferred requirements?

I hope the new Gunn Principal will show leadership and have the strength and confidence to stand up to the teachers union, and support the students.

The upcoming attempts to provide on-line instruction for the next 4 weeks will reveal those teachers who never embraced Schoology and the other required internet related software. No doubt the teachers union will say that since on-line teaching was never specified in the signed contract with PAUSD, the teachers are not obligated to follow the administration's request now to post educational material.


Like this comment
Posted by Independent
a resident of Esther Clark Park
on Mar 19, 2020 at 9:11 am

I hope these new appointments can follow the law, protecting students, unlike the current Paly and Gunn principals, whom cozen reports showed did not do so, conduct which includwd other administrators at Pausd as well.


Like this comment
Posted by Anon
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 19, 2020 at 11:09 am

Posted by Nervous about new Gunn principal, a resident of Greenmeadow

>> In her current role at Paly, Stratton oversees special education,

So, hopefully, at least she won't be actively hostile to special ed, unlike a lot of recent PAUSD administrators.

>> Gunn is a big and demanding school, with a wide variety of kids, all of whom should have a curriculum that suits them.

"All of whom", in my book, includes Special Ed, and, below average, and average, and basically, "all", not just the kids getting A's in 10 AP classes. For every kid who has to choose between Harvard and Stanford, there are 100 kids going to Foothill.


10 people like this
Posted by Teacher
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Mar 19, 2020 at 1:55 pm

I'm sure they're both competent. It will be nice working with them for two years until they get fired.


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