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."
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.
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.