Wisconsin principal to head Gunn High School | May 23, 2014 | Palo Alto Weekly | Palo Alto Online |

Palo Alto Weekly

News - May 23, 2014

Wisconsin principal to head Gunn High School

Denise Herrmann has led Madison-area high school since 2006

by Elena Kadvany and Chris Kenrick

The principal of a suburban high school near Madison, Wisconsin, has been hired as the new principal at Gunn High School.

Denise Herrmann, who began her career as a science teacher, has been principal of Middleton High School in Middleton, Wisconsin — a town of 18,159 people — since 2006.

Herrmann was selected by Palo Alto school district officials and a Gunn "input" committee that included department heads, staff, parents and two students, according to the Gunn student newspaper The Oracle.

Herrmann's move to Palo Alto Unified comes on the heels of a widespread cheating scandal at Middleton discovered in December 2013, which resulted in the school forcing nearly 250 seniors to retake a calculus test. Administrators found that students had been using cell phones to take photographs of tests (which some then shared and sold), taken additional copies of tests from classrooms, bartered questions on tests to share answers and planned absences on test days to obtain test information.

In a letter to Middleton parents, Herrmann wrote that, initially, her administration only communicated to parents of calculus students who had been involved, but an investigation and letters sent in from students and parents revealed these practices were more widespread.

"We feel fortunate to have a wonderful student body whose academic record on multiple assessments is top-notch. We are hopeful that through our collaborative efforts we can determine the root cause of talented students choosing to participate in dishonest academic practices," she wrote.

Herrmann told the Weekly Monday that the school responded to the scandal in two ways: first, by examining existing policies and processes and implementing changes, such as banning cell phones during exams and issuing multiple versions of tests.

"But the more important thing we did was we really did a school-wide study into what kind of learning environment promotes or makes students think it's OK to cheat," she said.

She said the entire school read articles by well-known Stanford University psychologist Carol Dweck, who's conducted much research on achievement and success.

"We did a series of workshops for teachers, focus groups for parents and then instituted some ways for our teachers to credit more of the formative learning and not make some of the summative assessment so high stakes," she added.

For example, she said, for the calculus course in question, students' grades depended on only four major exams throughout an entire semester.

"If all assessment were performance-based (rather than test-based) and unique to each student, we wouldn't have to worry about cheating," she said. "It takes awhile to get there, but that's the ultimate goal."

Herrmann was "enthusiastically supported" by the Gunn teachers, students, parents and staff members on the selection committee, Superintendent Kevin Skelly said.

"Her years of experience leading a school similar to Gunn will serve the students and school community well," Skelly said. "I have rarely seen a closer match between a candidate's skills and the expressed desires of a school community."

Herrmann began her career in 1991 teaching science at St. Charles High School in St. Charles, Illinois. She became assistant principal of curriculum and instruction at St. Charles North High School in 2000 and continued there until 2006 when she was named principal at Middleton.

She earned bachelor's and master's degrees in chemistry from Northern Illinois University and in 2002 completed a doctorate in education from the same university, with an emphasis on administration and curriculum leadership.

"I am extremely proud to be selected as the principal of Gunn High School," Herrmann said in a statement. "Throughout the interview process my interactions with students, staff, parents and community members were positive, meaningful and focused on developing each student as a whole person. I believe this leadership position fits me well."

With an enrollment that was 1,960 last year, the size of Middleton High School is similar to that at Gunn, which was 1,842. Ninety percent of its 2013 graduates went to college, according to a 2013 profile published by the school. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the city of Middleton is more than 85 percent Caucasian, 5.6 percent Hispanic, 4.2 percent Asian and 3.5 percent black.

Current Gunn Principal Katya Villalobos has been hired to head the Palo Alto Adult School.

Online Editor Elena Kadvany and Staff Writer Chris Kenrick can be emailed at ekadvany@paweekly.com and ckenrick@paweekly.com.


Posted by Marielena, a resident of East Palo Alto
on May 16, 2014 at 10:19 pm

Welcome to PAUSD Denisse Herman, if you truly work on the benefit of the students, you will be here for a long time. These is a nice community who looks up for the academic social and emotional health of our students. Please be clear and transparent and you will do fine and will make a difference in our students lives. Please protect our students from bullying, sexual harassment, and make sure that the counseling services improve. This is one of the Palo Alto community goals, and had been working hard at it, even though we have not been successful. Look forward hearing from the students that you are a fair and caring person who puts students at firs.

Posted by Best Wishes, a resident of Fairmeadow
on May 16, 2014 at 10:59 pm

I send my sincerest best wishes to Ms. Herrmann in her candidacy and success if she is selected. We need great leadership at Gunn.

Other than similar sized schools, I don't see much similarity between her current high school and Gunn: one is in a relatively small town in the mid-west and the other is in a city 4-5 times the size and in the middle of one of the most liberal and affluent towns on the west coast (read: a big pain in the *ss town). The cultural diversity at Gunn is quite different than the 85% caucasian ratio in Madison so I wonder how she will handle the significant and very different culture of the high proportion of Asians at Gunn.

Chris Kenrick: While I have no problem referring to people as "black," I only do so when keeping in context by referring to others as "white," "brown," or "yellow." I believe your "black" reference in this article should have been "African-American." Either describe all groups by skin color or describe all groups by ethnic origin.

Posted by Enron, a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on May 17, 2014 at 12:10 am

Good due diligence by Kevin Skelly, as usual: Web Link

Posted by Cheesy, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 17, 2014 at 7:13 am

[Post removed.]

Posted by Methinks, a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on May 17, 2014 at 7:47 am

[Post removed.]

Posted by PAUSD Parent, a resident of Palo Alto High School
on May 17, 2014 at 8:30 am

Here's another account by a local blogger ("Madison Mama") about the cheating scandal at Middleton High: Web Link

The headline is: Cheating 101 at Middleton High School: Here's why students smart enough to be in calculus do the wrong thing

The blog was written in January. Wondering what happened since then at Middleton? Perhaps the lessons learned could be useful to Palo Alto parents, students and school staff.

Posted by Come on, a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on May 17, 2014 at 8:51 am

"Denise Herrmann will be adequate, not a star in any respect"

How in the world can someone from Palo Alto form this opinion? Are you one of the district senior staff who interviewed her and checked her references? Are you a resident/parent/board member in Middleton, WI? Have you even met her?

"Herrmann has had a difficult 2013 in Middleton, there was motivation to leave..."

Yes, I imagine discovering that there was cheating going on at her school was sufficient to make her not only leave her job, but pull up stakes from a lifetime in the midwest and move to California. Who wouldn't move halfway across the country to get away from something like that?

Why say these kind of cynical, vaguely disparaging things when you really don't know? It is like talking heads on cable television - much important to provoke a reaction than actually say something accurate.

Posted by A parent, a resident of JLS Middle School
on May 17, 2014 at 8:55 am

While the cheating story doesn't in itself say anything negative about the principal, it's kind of concerning what it says to me about the academic culture of the school, which would be the long-time principal's domain. Cheating of that kind happens where learning takes a back seat to grades, and teachers are lazy about making good tests. (That's a criticism I have of places like Cal and even Stanford, so they're in good company. And rhe story didnt exactly prove anything, it was just allegations.) I really appreciated an environment where the tests were so thoughtfully prepared, the profs actually handed out previous year tests with answers beforehand so people could study, and tests were almist always open book and challenging (even if someone had seen the questions).

I only bring this up because I'm doing a lot of thinking lately about how we can have an environment at Gunn focused on learning rather than test scores. I do not have all the answers, I just hope our new principal is someone willing to ask those questions for some families while recognizing that others like things as they are. We have a tradition of providing for both ends of the spectrum here in this district, until high school, especially absent from Gunn, and I suspect this principal will see parents pushing to remedy that during her tenure. Dealing with thoughtful parents can be a pain in the @ss or it can be an exciting and stimulating opportunity, dependuing on the person. Let's hope we are getting someone ready for the opportunity. (Hard work is always a pain in the @ss to the lazy. Say what you will about Skelly, IMO, he has done a pretty good job by us in hiring good peopke. Sure, not perfect, but not all his fault.)

Posted by Methinks, a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on May 17, 2014 at 8:55 am

If you are going to remove my comment which I agree is irrelevant to this discussion, then you should also remove the comment from Best wishes about Black v African American. Equally worthless to this discussion.

This is about the new Gunn principal. Not about how to describe hyphenated Americans.

Posted by Anonymous, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 17, 2014 at 9:10 am

Gunn HS is at least one third Asian yet we continue to hire administrators who are basically clueless of Asian culture. Why?

Posted by just recalling, a resident of East Palo Alto
on May 17, 2014 at 9:39 am

And here is an article published in Palo Alto High's Campanile less than two months ago about recent cheating in AP Psych - Web Link

Posted by experience counts, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 17, 2014 at 9:45 am


"Gunn HS is at least one third Asian yet we continue to hire administrators who are basically clueless of Asian culture. Why?"

It plays both ways. When you have a diverse school culture, even if (and especially) if one culture is a near majority, a leader can spend a lot of time catering to that culture and forget everything else.

Is there one Asian culture anyway? Or one American culture? You'd likely find diversity within each. The US has been largely an immigrant country forever, and it has not so far complicated matters to lead institutions which are of open culture predominance or another. The former Dartmouth President from Korea now heading the WOrld Bank comes to mind.

It is a different matter if all staff is of only one culture. I don't think the cultures have to match. Lucky if the Principal is an effective Administrator and can serve the students and willing to work with all parents.

For example on cheating, as someone pointed out, there is work to be done by teachers to not make cheating so easy either, I would hope parents of all cultures would be supportive of making sure that the schools are doing everything they can to make it a fair place for all students.

Posted by SallyP, a resident of College Terrace
on May 17, 2014 at 10:16 am

Anonymous, What is your comment supposed to mean? Why does one need to understand Asian culture more than any other? In what ways are Asian students not understood? Don't forget you are here in America.

Congratulations to the new Gunn Principal.

Posted by light bulb, a resident of Barron Park
on May 17, 2014 at 12:10 pm

@Sally, your post truly describes why we need a candidate that has experience/understanding of the background of a significant portion of the students in Palo Alto.

Posted by A parent, a resident of JLS Middle School
on May 17, 2014 at 12:58 pm

In an environment where learning is valued enough, cheating is almost non-existent because students see it as cheating themselves. The elements of having such an environment are here, but we need good leadership to see it through.

Warm and good wishes to the new principal! This is a nice community with high standards. You'll love it if that's your thing, too!

Posted by Barbara, a resident of Downtown North
on May 17, 2014 at 2:22 pm

Don't form an opinion until she has at least put in three months. Give her a chance.

Posted by A parent, a resident of JLS Middle School
on May 17, 2014 at 3:53 pm

@ Barbara,
I think three months is not enough. People should give her at least 2-3 years. Unless she's really bad (and clearly from her history, that's not going to be the case), it's really important to give people the chance to settle in.

Posted by Sparty, a resident of another community
on May 17, 2014 at 4:54 pm

Sparty is a registered user.

Guess what, there is more than one type of "Asian." Lumping them all together while implying someone is ignorant is...ignorant.

Posted by Jay Park, a resident of Mountain View
on May 17, 2014 at 5:49 pm

I don't see why the selection of a particular individual for the Gunn principal makes a big difference. She could be from Shanghai, Salina, or San Jose.

The primary players are the members of the largely dysfunctional school board.

The principal is simply a puppet. She will probably move onto "new opportunities" in five years.

Posted by Marc Vincenti, a resident of Barron Park
on May 17, 2014 at 6:36 pm

Dear Palo Alto,

I've never met or spoken with Ms. Herrmann—the new appointee to the job of principal at Gunn—and so it would be wrong of me to question her character, suggest anything about her personality, or prejudge her.

For all I know so far, her appointment here may work out well. I'm encouraged that so many staff are supportive of her.

But the school where she's been principal—Middleton High, in Wisconsin—has just come through, or is still going through, a cheating scandal of significant proportions. (The reports can be found online.)

To feel confident in this hire, then, it might be important for us to know how the cheating was allowed to take place, what it says about problems at Middleton High, how it was uncovered, and what plans Ms. Herrmann has made for it to be addressed, in the midst of her imminent job-change.

Cheating has long been a big, big problem at Gunn (and Paly). (Note: I taught English at Gunn from 1995-2010.) The schools' inaction on academic dishonesty has always been discouraging, because cheating makes a majority of the kids miserable, all year, whether they do it or not.

Cheating isn't, in fact, as much an ethical issue (though it is that), as an important issue of daily morale and mental health.

Pressures around cheating are present at school every day, and present at home every night. The pressures are more continuous than those related to, say, the timing of winter break or the availability of guidance counselors—matters of discrete, intermittent duration.

A climate of cheating, like the existence of weather, never goes away.

There's no relief or escape—because tests and quizzes and papers are assigned and due every day, students nightly trade information on the results, and because many students and parents watch updated GPA's as intently as many people watch the stock market or daily sports scores.

(The increased frequency of grade-reporting—every three weeks, per this year's new labor contract—may further ratchet up these pressures.)

Week in and week out, the high-stakes competition in our local schools makes kids anxious. "Shall I cheat?" "Aren't my classmates already doing it?" "Wouldn't I be pretty stupid and lame, and at a disadvantage, not to cheat?"

"How important to me, really, is my sense of right and wrong?" "What do I have to do to pull this off, if I decide to go ahead?" "Shall I confide in a classmate, strategize together?" "What if they report me?" "What about all my friendships?" "And what if I'm caught—then what?"

Once having cheated, a student must then avoid detection, wear a false face, and do what it may take to cover up.

And what does a falsified test or essay do to one's sense of genuine mastery and accomplishment?

Cultures of cheating are destructive of character and of mental health.
Because the problem isn't easily visible, and because it is hushed up, and because some parents even suborn their child's cheating, the magnitude of the issue isn't readily apparent.

But the issue is worth bearing in mind, certainly in this case, as our District makes a decision for the future.

Marc Vincenti
Los Robles Avenue

Posted by neighbor, a resident of another community
on May 17, 2014 at 6:53 pm

[Portion removed.]

Folks: She might just be a breath of fresh air, and sophisticated enough to take on the colorful cast [portion removed.]

She has great credentials and experience. Madison is hardly a backwater -- it is also a University/tech community, with a lot of precious constituents.

Is anyone -- or will anyone be -- ever good enough for Palo Alto?

Posted by Paly Mom, a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on May 17, 2014 at 8:01 pm

Wow, why are you all jumping to conclusions about the poor woman? I read the linked article about the cheating scandal at the Wisconsin high school where she was principal. Then, I read all the reactions to the article, and not one person there blamed her for the cheating scandal. They blamed the sense of entitlement of students and the attitude of some parents for whom anything goes when it comes to college admissions. What a refreshing surprise, being used to Palo Alto where cheating scandals are always automatically pinned on school staff and administrators.

Please, fellow Palo Alto residents, take a page from Madison, Wisconsin parents, stop the blame game and look at yourselves as parents. I think doing this would go a very long way to solving the problems our schools have in this town.

Posted by A parent, a resident of JLS Middle School
on May 17, 2014 at 8:49 pm

@ Paly Mom,
No, go back and read the threads. There's a lot more dumping all over parents here than you are letting on. You do a lot of it yourself, I think.

@Marc Vincenti,
Thank you for your honest and detailed letter, and for the benefit of your experience. "And what does a falsified test or essay do to one's sense of genuine mastery and accomplishment?" Exactly. In an environment where learning is prioritized and valued first and foremost, and work is geared to learning rather than busy work, students wouldn't think of cheating because they would be cheating themselves.

These days, homeschooled students are getting into Harvard. Clearly, they didn't need grades. I hope our new administrator will be open to creating an environment where a cheating scandal wouldn't emerge simply because of how focused the community is on the value of learning.

I know I would be perfectly happy if my child went through high school without grades or homework at all. And it would lead to more work, not less, but I know many people don't work that way. However, Gunn is only geared right now to the latter kind of child, even though we have Ohlone and JLS Connections through middle school. Wish we could continue some kind of program for that end of the learning spectrum through HS. (That sort of emphasis tends to devalue grades, though it's not for everyone.)

Posted by Carlos, a resident of Green Acres
on May 17, 2014 at 11:02 pm

While the majority of us want the new principal to do well given our vested interest and kids' benefits from her success in this role, I cannot stop wondering whether or not she has the right background for Gunn given the ethnic/cultural diversity she'll be encountering, and that she probably never dealt with before. A lot of people will say the right things during an interview, but nothing beats real-life experiences and a track record to prove it.

Just from personal experience at work, we sometimes hire people with great qualifications from other parts of the country, and many of them end up having a hard time adjusting to the diversity of a typical silicon valley company, creating a lose/lose situation for both employee and employer, as well as a bunch of HR headaches and wasted $. I just hope that all my concerns turn out to be unfounded.

Posted by experience counts , a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 18, 2014 at 1:05 am


"many of them end up having a hard time adjusting to the diversity of a typical silicon valley company,"

Sorry to break the news here, but is your idea that there is no diversity outside of silicon valley? Clearly you don't get around other parts of the US very much.

You have to be very insular to think that diversity only exists here. Somebody please provide some data, but I bet that Wisconsin has Asians, Hispanics, Russians,and whatever cultural group you think needs catering to. Not that Silicon Valley Companies are run by the logic some think is necessary here.

Mr. Vinceti,

You make some really good points, but I disagree that the three week updates of grades is a problem. I would imagine that it's not to force teachers to grade something within three weeks, but that once you have graded something, you actually post the grade within three weeks. Teachers forget to post already graded assignments. It's a good discipline as well, to know that 2 three week cycles have come and gone and no word on an assignment? Sure it would be nice for everyone to lose track of when teachers post grades - if that is the case, your point

As you say, when problems are not "easily visible, and because it is hushed up, the magnitude of the issue isn't readily apparent."

I think it's a really good thing to have a fresh pair of eyes look at everyone's exceptionalism here.

Posted by Parent2, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 18, 2014 at 6:29 am

I always like to check ratemyteacher.com for a better students and parents reviews. Try to search our new principal.
Also this one is interesting:
Web Link

Posted by Gunn alum, a resident of Professorville
on May 18, 2014 at 6:41 am

Strange that the district had to go outside to find a Gunn principal. No current administrator at either school was up to snuff?

Posted by Paly Parent, a resident of Palo Alto High School
on May 18, 2014 at 8:48 am

I wish all the best to the new principal and hope that we as a community will welcome her (and her family).

As for one of the things that makes Palo Alto (both Gunn and Paly) different from her present environment, is something that we never take numbers for. The ethnic breakdown of a school does not tell the true story of the culture at our schools - all of them. Regardless of ethnicity, a very large percentage of the parents are not American educated and are unfamiliar with the whole system of high school and college applications. Even amongst Caucasian families, English is not the first language of many parents and it may not be the language commonly spoken at home. This type of culture makes many students feel as if they are battling their parents who do not understand the American culture. Quite often the parents do not speak English well, although they may be highly educated and even if they do speak English it is spoken with a heavy accent. This latter situation is even common amongst the teachers, particularly those teaching science and math.

Whereas this may not be something we can quantify, it will be apparent to many that this is indeed a culture that current demographic breakdowns do not show.

Posted by Bob, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 18, 2014 at 9:42 am

The following link is from the Washington Post, on the Middleton cheating scandal:

Web Link

But the calculus test is only the beginning. In the wake of the calculus incident, school investigators at Middleton now suspect that cheating at the high school goes far beyond one test, spinning out of control to affect many courses and multiple departments. While the investigation is still under way, many in the school community now believe that a large number of students regularly shared and sold photos of tests, strategically planned absences on test days (and then sought test information from those students who showed up). and bartered test questions (as in, “I’ll give you a math question if you give me a science one”).

The culture of cheating has become so ascendant at Middleton that its principal, Denise Herrmann, says her administration is now looking to overhaul the very ways in which students are tested. “We need to improve the quality of the assessment tools used to measure student learning,” she told me. “And we also need to get to the root causes and pressures that prompt students to cheat in the first place.” Her administration will call on teachers, students and parents to weigh in on the cheating issue, and to propose solutions that ensure all voices—not just those of shocked administrators—are heard.


The Washington Post article does not provide any details about any follow-up probes into the school culture, how extensive cheating was a Middleton, and who in the teaching state/administration knew of its existence. How this investigation was handled, who was involved, and what was learned should have been a part of her interview.

While forcing the class to take the test over makes sense—what about expelling those who were the key figures in the cheating? And what about making a permanent entry in students’ records about their being involving in a cheat scandal?

It’s difficult to believe that this scandal developed overnight. It’s also difficult to believe that the Principal was clueless. There are far too many cases of teachers/administrators being involved directly, or indirectly, these days in cheat scandals. How the matter is handled becomes a key attribute of the management style, and capability, of the Principal. At the moment—it’s not clear that Ms. Merrmann handled the matter as well as it could have been handled.

We, as a community, should make it known to the school board that due diligence is a very important aspect of hiring key personnel, and that it’s not clear that a very good background check was conducted on this candidate.

Posted by experience counts, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 18, 2014 at 11:00 am


While you're at it, you may want to remind the board of the fact that they had the district IT system broken into by a cheater, and it certainly has not hurt the job prospects of the person in charge of IT.

The Principal was maybe like all Principals who cannot magically control cheating which, borrowing the perfect word from Mr. Vincenti is often "suborned" by parents.

I will venture to say that cheating is on the teachers first. It is usually one class or one subject that gets the scandals. Teachers pride themselves on knowing everything, and if they miss packs of cheaters in their class, you can't go blaming the world.

Teachers are the frontline to prevent cheating, if they don't get it, and can't catch it, and they go on for years clueless of what's happening in their classroom, they must be really absent themselves.

Plenty of parents and students are sick of seeing the cheating, and I would hope this new person will take it very seriously here.

Posted by experience counts, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 18, 2014 at 11:09 am

Suggestion to teachers.

1. Make sure everyone knows you will FAIL the person in the test or assignment if they are caught cheating.

2. CATCH a cheater at least every quarter and make them famous.

Posted by Alphonso, a resident of Los Altos Hills
on May 18, 2014 at 11:15 am

I imagine it is better to hire someone experienced in identifying cheating and taking actions to prevent it rather than hiring someone who has never faced the problem or perhaps was totally oblivious to it.
The biggest challenge this new principal faces are the many self centered interests of the too many parents and this "paper".

Posted by Welcome, a resident of Midtown
on May 18, 2014 at 12:56 pm

[Post removed.]

Posted by My Warning, a resident of Barron Park
on May 18, 2014 at 1:48 pm

I'd encourage her to avoid these blogs and forums like the plague. Best advice ever.

Posted by Stupid is, does, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 18, 2014 at 2:09 pm

All of us who post here, and all of us that read these threads can't all be crazy. Calling names is weak. Even so, the content of many of these posts is troubling, not because they are crazy, but because there is plenty of facts to indicate that this was the best we could do. Sad to see Tom J. passed over again, but I understand why. Also, don't worry about the cheating scandal. Kevin Shelly had a big one in Saratoga when he was principal, and he turned out to be great for Oak I Alto for seven years.

Posted by Stupid is, does, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 18, 2014 at 2:13 pm

Sorry for the autocorrect, new phone, old age.

Posted by village fool, a resident of another community
on May 18, 2014 at 3:33 pm

"Just recalling" provided above link to a Campanile article about recent cheating in AP Psych- Web Link.
The article seem to reflect an ongoing cultural issue - Out of the mouth of Palo alto High school journalist.

Is anyone aware of any follow up?

The following comment was posted on July 13th, 2013 on the thread which brought us the news about PAUSD board's secret meetings - Web Link
Posted by insider, a resident of another community
on Jul 13, 2013 at 11:42 am

Phil Winston's departure was welcomed by nearly all PAHS teachers. Only thing better would be that it happened sooner. He made a mockery of school policies Re: cheating, grading, & attendance. [Portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]

[Portion removed.]

Posted by Welcome!, a resident of Gunn High School
on May 18, 2014 at 4:09 pm

Welcome Denise Hermann, welcome to the 0.1%, welcome to the bubble...

to all the nervous posters here:
take three steps back, take a deep breath and let the pros (e.g. staff, teachers, principals, PAUSD board, etc.) do their job and the kids will turn out just fine...

Posted by experience matters, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 18, 2014 at 4:26 pm

The Welcome, and Welcome! with snyde remarks about parents is interesting.

If recent and past history is an indication, the admins who do not survive are the ones who are ousted by insider issues and failures, not because of the parents or the students at large.

Posted by Wanna Bet?, a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on May 18, 2014 at 4:29 pm

"All of us who post here, and all of us that read these threads can't all be crazy."

Wanna bet? I thought it was particularly touching that this was posted by someone with the handle "Stupid is [as Stupid] Does".

Posted by Palo Alto Native, a resident of College Terrace
on May 18, 2014 at 4:44 pm

As a Gunn Alumnus, welcome Denise to Gunn High School! Prepare to enjoy spring and summers without humidity and winters that are like the best weather in Wisconsin - during that transition time between snow and heat/humidity! Weather wise, you have died and gone to Heaven! Gunn is a great school with wonderful traditions of scholar-athlete success. The same applies to Paly.

With respect to other concerned posts:

1. As an educator for over two decades, there are numerous methods to control treating. Administrator's and department chairs can implement a professional development session for Gunn faculty and require all instructors to abide by these plans to ensure testing authenticity.

2. When I attended Gunn, we had 4% Asians. Asians now comprise the majority of students at Gunn (41.6% compared to Whites of 41.1%). They reflect primarily what I term the "Chinese Express" that has been evolving since the late '80s. The first lesson is not everyone needs to go to an Ivy league school (I certainly would not go to any NE school just for the horrific weather, alone - if offered a tenure track position at Harvard - no thanks - you can have it! I am too much a Palo Altain and West Coaster - quality of life over quantity any day!). However, culturally speaking, my above view does not reflect the mind set of our recent Chinese Express influx. Thus, a renewed pressure for straight A's is present: and if necessary, cheating for straight A's by all students where a culture of cheating becomes the accepted norm in order to be competitive with peers. Not good. But as noted in number 1, steps can be taken to reduce cheating. [Portion removed.] The last thing all Gunn students need is a machine like disciple approach to their academic experience at the cost of their social development, too.

Posted by Parent, a resident of Gunn High School
on May 18, 2014 at 4:49 pm

In reference to Gunn Alum and Stupid Is, i dont think any district people applied so they may have not been passed over. A qualified outsider is what this district needs.

Posted by Cheesy, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 18, 2014 at 9:06 pm

District people applied and I agree that a qualified outsider is what the school needs. Herrmann is adequate and certain things beyond the cheating scandal had soured in Middleton, which is normal and which may just be motivation enough to raise her performance to the next level.

Posted by yawn, a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on May 18, 2014 at 9:13 pm

[Post removed.]

Posted by Best Wishes, a resident of Fairmeadow
on May 18, 2014 at 11:24 pm

[Post removed.]

Posted by Big, a resident of Charleston Gardens
on May 19, 2014 at 3:22 am

That does seem unbelievable that the new principal had to leave her school because the kids cheated on their iphones. Maybe here she think it will be OK because we are all so technology obsessed we will think it is the way of the future, kids cheating.
[Portion removed.]

Posted by lisa, a resident of Charleston Gardens
on May 19, 2014 at 3:38 am

[Post removed.]

Posted by Best Wishes, a resident of Fairmeadow
on May 19, 2014 at 8:41 am

Oh my goodness, Weekly, your censoring is way beyond what is necessary. My comments did not attack anyone and were merely my observation about culture clash in Palo Alto schools (which many of my friends of "that other ethnicity" agree with). Heaven forbid we might be transparent on this forum about possible causes to problems so we might think about ways to solve them!

Posted by Nayeli, a resident of Midtown
on May 19, 2014 at 9:18 am

@ Best Wishes: I'm not sure what you mean about "black." Many black friends do not like to be called "African American" because they say that they were never born in Africa. My husband's best friend (the best man at our wedding) even wondered at what point do you drop the geographic origin.

Do we refer to "white" Americans as British Americans, Irish Americans, Italian Americans even one or two centuries following immigration? Many black American families can trace their ancestry here in the United States longer than many white American families.

I know many Hispanic Americans who hate the term "Latino," "Chicano" and even "Mexican American." Many Hispanics are NOT from Mexico (or have had family living in the U.S. for generations and do not want to be referred to as "Mexican" as if it were a particular ethnicity). The label "Chicano" was made up in modern times and feels irrelevant. "Latino" implies a Latin American culture, but even "Latin" America is a bit of a misnomer (and doesn't really make sense when many Hispanic Americans have never stepped foot in Mexico or even further south). I suppose that the term Hispanic is least offensive but still implies a tie to Spain -- which is apparently a very loose tie as understood by those of us who have actually traveled and/or studied there.

My point is that it is really difficult to describe a race or ethnicity without offending someone. As a Hispanic young woman, my tolerance for labels is typically in proportion to the attitude of the individual using them. If no malevolence is detected, then I am not agitated by their use (even if I might disagree with the use altogether). In this case, I don't think that anyone meant disrespect by the use of the term "black."

Posted by experience matters, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 19, 2014 at 9:26 am

Best wishes,

I hope the following is not lost in this story - the new Principal is coming from a school in Wisconsin which does not have the Asian majority that Gunn has. That all white school in WIsconsin is featured in the Washington Post story for a massive and chronic cheating scandal.

The connection between that HS and Gunn is the high achieving culture.

Question is how the new Principal is going to lead in the this high stakes game of grades. Will she make sure teachers are also fair about how they grade (can she?)? Will she make sure students are actually learning and not just performing?

It used to be you didn't worry about your kid learning because it was the teacher's responsibility. Now it's a competition for who is doing more work, and who can handle the "doing" and acrobatics of endless homework.

Cheating would be less if a class was about learning and not competing or a race about who can do more.

At least make the race fair, which it's not (tutors, achievement gap) - and the focus should be on that.

Posted by Bob, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 19, 2014 at 10:01 am

The Madison paper carried more details:
Web Link

Of particular note from this article:

Hibner also said the allegations have prompted the school to revisit its policies on test-taking and cellphone use.
Middleton-Cross Plains School Board president Ellen Lindgren said she is confident in the district’s investigation and that the board would likely not seek any outside investigation into the allegations.

It would seem that Ms, Herrmann, and her staff, had never considered cellphones as a source of trouble in high-stakes testing. So, up until that time, it would seem that she let students use cell phones during the test, or at least have them within easy access. Also note that Ms. Herrmann did not seem to want to open up this matter to outside investigators—making the damage control easier to handle.

After the mess we have had in the PAUSD over secrecy, and a loss of trust in the Superintendent when it comes to honesty—having him stack the deck with another administrator that does not understand the importance of transparency in the schools’ operations as a necessary component in the establishment, and maintenance, of trust—seems really sad.

Since cellphones seem to be at the core of the Middleton problem, as well as a lack of an ethical foundation within the student body—it will be interesting to see if Ms. Herrmann will allow cellphones in classrooms where high-stakes testing is ongoing at Gunn

Posted by Chinese-American, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 19, 2014 at 10:10 am

I grew up in Palo Alto but lived in the Midwest for decades. It took me a few months to acclimate to the diversity when I moved back to Palo Alto since the majority were Caucasians when I left. Choosing someone from Wisconsin to lead a school with nearly half Asian immigrant children is a huge error. The subculture in the Midwest is not the same as here. [Portion removed.]

I agree that cheating exists because the teachers expect too much from the students. And it's a vicious cycle - student is overloaded so parents help their children, then teachers get a distorted view of student aptitude. Those who don't have parental help or tutors resort to cheating, otherwise, they're screwed.

Posted by Experience matters, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 19, 2014 at 10:28 am


Can you please explain what only an Asian Principal would understand?

The real majority in Palo Alto is the mix of cultures, so picking a Principal based on ethnicity should at least have data and an explanation.

Your own hyphen includes American. It would be helpful to understand what a culture specific Principal would bring to the table, and should that person be picked because of their ethnicity.

Given the equity issues involved here, making a big deal about one culture or another further makes this problem about "it's all about me."

Posted by Chinese-American, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 19, 2014 at 10:44 am

@Experience Matters: I am not proposing any certain ethnicity, only a principal who has experience living amongst diversity similar to Palo Alto's. They can give her a list of stereotypes of cultures but unless she has lived amongst it, she won't understand it. [Portion removed.]

Posted by Honor, a resident of another community
on May 19, 2014 at 11:07 am

Honor is a registered user.

I hope that everyone who has expressed concerns regarding the new principal will go out of her/her way to welcome her and become involved in ways that might help her transition to Gunn and Palo Alto. I hope that everyone who has expressed concerns will come forward with good ideas that will help the school, the student body, the faculty and the staff.

Posted by Experience matters, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 19, 2014 at 11:32 am


[Portion removed.] Generalizing Palo Altans is not a good idea. It's trailer mix with nuts, some better than others but it's not just happening in Palo Alto, the desperation about public education is everywhere.

This new person is a PhD. I'd say she remain cautious about that. The weight of degrees can be a burden when many are looking for on-the-ground professional qualities not politics. Transparency, accessability, visibility and dogged focus on students should help.


"I hope that everyone who has expressed concerns regarding the new principal will go out of her/her way to welcome her and become involved in ways that might help her transition to Gunn and Palo Alto..."

Especially teachers, and fellow administrators.

Posted by Alphonso, a resident of Los Altos Hills
on May 19, 2014 at 11:36 am

[Post removed.]

Posted by Nayeli, a resident of Midtown
on May 19, 2014 at 11:47 am

I think that bringing up concerns over this woman's "cultural awareness" is a ridiculous issue.

First of all, we don't know how cultural aware this woman actually is. She may have great familiarity with diverse cultures.

Secondly, I would hope that she doesn't see "Asian," "black," "white" or "Hispanic" students. I hope that she sees AMERICAN students (or even just STUDENTS in general).

The best teacher that I had was a white man in a school that was predominantly (approximately 99%) non-white. This teacher actually cared.

This teacher constantly reinforced the notion that all of us had what it takes to succeed in life -- no matter our backgrounds or apparent handicaps. He pushed the idea that education was an OPPORTUNITY with potential lasting results that we should take advantage of. He made it clear that we may have to work harder to overcome issues outside of our control; however, he made it clear that any mountain or valley in life can be passed.

What am I saying?

This principal shouldn't be judged over conjecture or fears of racial-ethnic "understanding." It may turn out that Denise Herrmann was the best thing to ever happen to Gunn High School students -- regardless of their racial or ethnic backgrounds.

Posted by Nayeli, a resident of Midtown
on May 19, 2014 at 11:48 am

*Please excuse my poor grammar and spelling. I hate to blame it on Swype, but the auto-correct feature sometimes hurts more than it helps.

Posted by Paly Alum, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 20, 2014 at 9:15 am

Paly Alum is a registered user.

[Post removed.]

Posted by Middletonteacher, a resident of Barron Park
on May 20, 2014 at 6:08 pm

Middletonteacher is a registered user.

AS a current teacher at Middleton High School, I can shed some light on this discussion. First off, the cheating scandal is incredibly overblown. It got national news because it was an AP class and the number of students "involved." As soon as there was a report of possible cheating, all the student in AP Calc (250ish) were required to take an alternate version of the test. That is NOT how many were actually cheating and to be honest, I'm not sure if they actually ever officially caught/punished anyone despite an extensive investigation.

I'm not making light of cheating but that is not something that will be a significant issue of Denise's tenure at your school. You will find that she has an impressive mind and extensive understanding of curriculum and methodology. Many of us think she would make a better Director of Curriculum than a principal. She will push for innovation...sometimes faster than the school will be ready for.

Which leads me to her faults. She is not a stellar social-emotional leader and many staff are not sad to see her go, not because they dislike her personally but because they feel she has not "looked out for them." Many students do not even know who she is; her style is not roaming the halls winning hearts and minds. Our school board is crazy and is currently trying to bust our union by refusing to give us a contract and move us to a non-binding handbook. We asked her to speak to the Board on our behalf and she demurred. There is a sense among many of us that the conditions for her to "have your back" are blurry and based more on whether you are a "yes" man than whether or not you are "right."

As concerned parents, if you stay focused on keeping a healthy educational environment ( teachers with good morale, focus on learning and not testing, keeping the school board in line), Denise will be a good partner. If you let the school board or misguided educational legislation call the shots, Denise will not save you. She is a loyal employee. Good luck. I wish her the best. She is a good person and for whatever faults she may have, I do believe she has the best interest of kids in mind.

Posted by George Orwell, a resident of East Palo Alto
on May 22, 2014 at 12:12 am

George Orwell is a registered user.

Bravo! Restrict the thread, silence the discussion!

Even I cannot understand why my comment applauding your censorship was removed couple of days ago. I am trying again, now. I did complement you before in other similar occasions and my sincere support remained intact. I am confused.

Posted by SWE, a resident of Green Acres
on May 24, 2014 at 9:15 am

SWE is a registered user.

Welcome to our new principal! This is a great community. I'd say the poster above is right that admin issues are usually what sink principals.

Some advice I heard from a retired prncipal friend: be careful to be sure BOTH the parents AND the staff understand you are with them, in a balanced way, so that you aren't perceived as too much one or the other (or neither). Kevin Skelly was very deferential to teachers, but somewhat antagonstic to parents, as is the culture of some staff in the district office. I think that made life harder for hm than it should have. It's been interesting to see that as a probem in virtually all troubled administrations.

It's not that parents and teachers are against each other, but there are some inherent tensions in education, and knowing how to serve all and maintain actual and perceived balance seems essential to success.

Someone commented above, "This new person is a PhD. I'd say she remain cautious about that. The weight of degrees can be a burden when many are looking for on-the-ground professional qualities not politics"

I would further add, for the benefit of our new principal, the advice I was given when I first started working here. There are a lot of really smart people here. There are a lot of people with advanced degrees in the teacher and parent community. In the tech community, toward which this area is weighted, people don't use their titles and when people insist on it, they come across as insecure. If you are being nterviewed on CNN, use your title. Drop it at school. I've noticed a lot of the educational professionals feel like they have to lead with their degrees. It doesnt really help them and outright backfires at Churchill, and they don't realize it.

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