Search is on for new Paly principal | January 29, 2010 | Palo Alto Weekly | Palo Alto Online |

Palo Alto Weekly

News - January 29, 2010

Search is on for new Paly principal

Jacqueline McEvoy's departure, and others, will reshape Palo Alto school district's leadership team

by Chris Kenrick

Senior teachers and assistant principals at Palo Alto High School huddled with school Superintendent Kevin Skelly this week to discuss the replacement of Paly Principal Jacqueline McEvoy, who last Friday announced her resignation effective June 30.

But her departure is one of a four high-level administrators, whose replacement will result in a new leadership team for the district and possibly result in merging supervision of elementary and secondary schools into one K-12 position.

Skelly told the Board of Education this week that new hiring will be one of his most urgent goals for second semester.

"That work is going to take a tremendous amount of time on the part of the senior cabinet and the board. In this organization, people are the most important part of our work," he said.

McEvoy, whose three-year tenure was marked by improved student achievement as well as by rocky relationships with some parents and students, said she was resigning for personal reasons "with a bittersweet heart."

She previously served seven years as principal of San Mateo High School.

In a letter to the Paly community, she expressed gratitude for the "powerful work" being done at the school and stated her pride in the school's constant push for excellence.

While some students and parents praised her no-nonsense approach to the job, others criticized McEvoy throughout her tenure for what they called her "punitive" discipline style and unilateral decision making.

When she arrived at Paly, she directed teachers to strictly enforce an attendance policy to discourage students from cutting class; she changed how schedule changes could be made, favoring parental approval; and she expected a policy against sexually suggestive dancing be enforced at school dances.

In 2007, a conflict between McEvoy and history instructor Mike McGovern, who used to mount student-run historical re-enactments, riled students.

Most recently, her handling of suspensions following an Oct. 27 egg fight between Paly juniors and seniors drew both ire and praise. After imposing five-day suspensions, McEvoy reduced them to one-day suspensions and said she would expunge them entirely if students stay on good behavior for the rest of the year.

Palo Alto lawyer William D. Ross then threatened the Board of Education with a lawsuit if it fails to expunge the suspensions immediately, saying the discipline record would unfairly interfere with students' ability to win athletic scholarships.

Last week, Skelly thanked McEvoy for her leadership at Paly.

"Under Dr. McEvoy's leadership, numerous measures of school success improved, including California standard-test results, SAT scores and Advanced Placement test participation," Skelly said.

"Dr. McEvoy also led the school through a successful accreditation process and the completion of the school's master plan for facility improvements.

"I want to thank Jacquie for all her efforts on behalf of (Palo Alto Unified School District) children, youth and families over the last two-and-a-half years and wish her the best in her future endeavors," he said.

Skelly said he has yet to decide on the composition of a search committee but wants to begin immediately in competing for top talent. He said the search process would solicit input from teachers and students.

McEvoy's departure coincides with other high-level exits from the school district, leaving Skelly with an opportunity to reshape his leadership team.

Many of those retiring or resigning had served many years in Palo Alto, he noted.

"We're a relatively new team, and it's a lot of change," said Skelly, who is finishing his third year with the district. "We want to make sure we keep some historical knowledge within the organization.

"Finding quality individuals is one of the most important things we can do to strengthen the organization. Other districts are out there looking for candidates, too," he said Wednesday.

He is advertising nationally to replace Carol Zepecki, director of special education and student services, a 12-year district veteran, and Linda Common, assistant superintendent of administrative services, a former Woodside High School principal who joined the district just last summer.

Secondary Director Burton Cohen will retire in June, and Elementary Director Becki Cohn-Vargas has not been replaced since resigning last fall.

Skelly said he may combine the directorships of elementary and secondary education into a single position, director of K-12 education.

Staff Writer Chris Kenrick can be e-mailed at


Posted by Paly Mom, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jan 29, 2010 at 11:37 am

It is really sad that a principal who dares to enforce the rules is driven out.
What is wrong with a parent who thinks their student has a right to vandalize property?

Posted by Downtowner, a resident of Menlo Park
on Jan 29, 2010 at 12:18 pm

Ms. McEvoy's departure is very sad. Her predecessor enforced no rules & was spinelessly lax. Even repeat exam cheaters were undisciplined.
Many students & parents apparently think that no misbehavior should have consequences. Hello, real world.
Big BOOs to Mr. Ross. The offer to expunge a 1 day suspension in return for good behavior was completely fair & would not have damaged any student's college entry opportunity.
Palo Alto High School has had serious problems with class cutting, misuse of cell phones (texting during exams), and other episodes of blatant cheating. (Unlike most other high schools, PAHS does not ban cell phones in class.)
I hope that the Board will bring in a principal who will continue to address misbehavior by the tiny percentage of budding sociopaths who disrupt the well-being & learning experiences of all the other students who show respect for teachers, each other, & themselves.

Posted by former Paly parent, a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Jan 29, 2010 at 6:04 pm

Sorry to see Dr. McEvoy depart, but I am not surprised. I am disheartened she was (apparently) not strongly supported by the district. She seemed direct in manner and an active principal with a lot of face time around campus, which impressed me. I agree with administrators like her who are fair and treat all students alike, whether wealthy BMW-driving or not.
The "egg wars" is complete and total nonsense, don't you know...
in the end, this does not help the reputation of Palo Alto High. So you got your egg wars...but what did you get...

Posted by Palo Alto Parent, a resident of Palo Alto Hills
on Jan 29, 2010 at 8:05 pm

Congratulations William D. Ross, you self-serving blow hard. You have successfully weakened a school. The Board should have taken him on---he had no case.

Typical affluent above-the-law mentality. I am sickened.

Posted by A Noun Ea Mus, a resident of Professorville
on Jan 30, 2010 at 8:44 am

Maybe the "law" that we should ALL be above is to allow the prison model to be the basis for how our public education system is run.

It's too bad this only happens when affluent parents with legal clout are more able to stand up for their kids against the kind of over the top "investigation", agenda, vendetta, etc.

I would love to know what the entire PAPD thought about them having to form a phalanx in front of last year's graduation in order to protect the public from the streaker danger? Did they feel akin to the last Roman Centurions protecting against the Barbarian Hordes?

Posted by Been There Done That, a resident of Gunn High School
on Jan 30, 2010 at 2:35 pm

Perhaps Mike McGovern can come home now.

Posted by OhlonePar, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jan 30, 2010 at 2:40 pm

Frankly, I'm relieved she's gone. Terrible fit for Paly. The students and faculty were treated with mistrust and a lack of respect from the get-go. The egg wars may have been the last straw, but McEvoy has made numerous missteps during her time at Paly. Didn't get the school culture, didn't take the time to understand it. Really classic management blunders.

Some schools need an authoritarian approach--best of luck to her in finding a place where her style is better suited.

Posted by Paly Mom, a resident of Midtown
on Jan 31, 2010 at 1:32 am

I agree with OhlonePar. Ms. McEvoy might have been right about certain things, like trying to ensure that drunk students are not able to get into dances, but her punitive, authoritarian approach to practically everything didn't work at Paly. She also pulled back and conveniently refused to deal with some situations that needed her involvement. Paly does need strong leadership; let's hope the administration is careful about whom they bring in this time.

Posted by Downtowner, a resident of Menlo Park
on Feb 5, 2010 at 1:06 pm

OhlonePar expressed exactly the elitist attitude which is so objectionable to most teachers and school administrations in the comment "Didn't get the school culture, didn't take time to understand it." What's to "get"? Campus misbehavior is any act or action by student(s) which disrupts/interrupts teachers & other students from attending to the business of education. That's what our taxes pay for. It's part of a principal's job to see that daily teaching activities are not disrupted & to respond with some level of discipline that deters such future actions.
Believe me, PAHS teachers are sick of hearing, "but we live in Palo Alto. We're special." It's bad enough when the kids say that but when parents think it, it is a tragedy. Who will "help" their little darlings after they leave PAHS? Will it always be the current authority figure's fault if a (perhaps perpetual) child is ever limited in his expression?

Posted by A Palo Alto parent, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Feb 11, 2010 at 9:18 am

I think there was a mismatch between the community and the principal. From my point of view, she was heavy handed and omnipresent, even in my life, because of her constant fiddling with the daily schedule, which is already chaotic, and her "mommy-reminder" robot calls that come in from the school almost weekly.

A month wouldn't go by that at least a day's schedule would be changed by say, 5 to 10 minutes, or by changing a Wednesday schedule to a Monday schedule, and just to accommodate a small number of students who might be taking a special test or competition. One day she tried to alter the schedule so that classes were off by something like 2 to 8 minutes, depending on the period! Even the teachers protested, and it was returned to "normal" at the last minute, late the night before.

Posted by Paly Parent, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 11, 2010 at 10:12 am

Palo Parent

I am with you on this one, we had a difficult time these past 2 weeks as schedules were completely altered with no apologies and no consideration for those of us with outside school appointments which had to be altered as a result of their switching days and later starts and ends.

Posted by palo alto mom, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Feb 11, 2010 at 11:31 am

Downtowner - the mismatch didn't just consist of discipline issues, one of Dr. McEvoy's first acts as principal was to halt a much loved history tradition, Mr. McGovern's reenactments, for "safety" issues. That was the first thing I remember about her "act first, find out the facts later" style. This resulted in a lot of disappointed students, but even worse, the loss of a beloved history teacher.

The Paly community, both parents and students, had been used to having input and information about changes. While the principal should certainly have the final decision, the lack of respect for and interest in the opinions of staff, students and parents was a real issue.

The constant schedule changes (such as starting school 2 hours later for some math test that) is another sign of her disrespect for the community she serves. Somehow the rest of our schools manage to start at the same time every day...

Posted by Midtown mom, a resident of Midtown
on Feb 11, 2010 at 11:48 am

"The constant schedule changes (such as starting school 2 hours later for some math test that) is another sign of her disrespect for the community she serves."

While a couple of parents disliked the schedule change to accommondate some tests, I appreciated it very much in this case when a good numbers of students are taking the tests.
And please speak with fact instead of just blanket statement such as "Somehow the rest of our schools manage to start at the same time every day...". I know this is false.

What bothers me is that the voice of complainers is usually much louder than the rest of the community. If enough parents who supported Dr. McEvoy speaked out instead of just kept silent, the outcome might be different.

Posted by palo alto mom, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Feb 11, 2010 at 12:05 pm

Gunn had a later start on Tuesday also, but did not change their schedule for the Wednesday and Friday the previous week or Wednesday of this week. Otherwise, they start school at 7:55 every day, with assemblies scheduled at the end of the day on Tuesday.

You are right that complainers are always louder than supporters - for anything. But the only positive comments I have heard from parents about Dr. McEvoy were regarding reducing drinking at dances (of course, no one attends the dances anymore because everyone got breathalyzed, not just the students acting drunk) and being really firm about Freshman Friday pranks, which was terrific.

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