New teachers hired in math, science and career technical education departments
by Phoebe So and Addie McNamara
Published September 4, 2012
The math, science and career technical education departments welcome three new teachers this year: math teacher Herb Bocksnick, computer science and engineering teacher Christopher Kuszmaul and science teacher Ashwini Avadhani.
BocksnickBocksnick, who teaches Algebra 1 and Introduction to Analysis and Calculus, taught calculus and algebra in Hollister, Calif. for 12 years before coming to Palo Alto High School. However, desiring change, Bocksnick came to Palo Alto.
“My main reason for applying and looking up here was I was interested in trying something new,” Bocksnick said. “I was looking for a little bit different flavor, little bit more of an academic vibe, and just a different type of feel for the school. Where I came from there wasn’t a whole lot of school pride, and I knew that here there was definitely a little bit more of a school community.”
Since arriving in Palo Alto, Bocksnick said he has not been disappointed by the Paly community.
“The students thus far have proven to be more or less as advertised,” Bocksnick said. “Definitely a lot more academic than what I’m used to. I just like the overall positive vibe.”
So far, the Paly community has been welcoming to Bocksnick.
“I absolutely love my colleagues and the people that I work with. Everyone’s been incredibly supportive and friendly, and very willing to help me out,” Bocksnick said. “I just want it [Paly] to start feeling like my home away from home.”
KuszmaulIn the Career Technical Education Department, a familiar face is showing up to educate Paly students. Kuszmaul, the new computer science and engineering teacher, had previous teaching experience within the Palo Alto Unified School District.
“When I went to teacher school, I was lucky enough to get placed here [at Paly] as a student teacher and I met a lot of people … so that established a lot of connections with Paly in particular, and I managed to do a long-term sub [substitute] job at JLS [Jane Lanthrop Stanford Middle School] and there were more connections there,” Kuszmaul said. “So when a position for teaching computer science opened up at Paly I just leapt at it, and they were kind enough to let me take the job.”
“One of my favorite things [about Paly] is the parental support,” Kuszmaul said. “The incredible support from the community is probably the biggest noticeable thing. The students are [also] self-directed, they’re smart, they’re helpful, they’re considerate.”
Kuszmaul hopes to bring a unique teaching style into the classrooms at Paly.
“There’s three things I care about in teaching,” Kuszmaul said. “There’s mastery, there’s autonomy and there’s purpose. Most teachers, most educators, are trained in how to provide mastery. Basically it’s giving tests to determine weather students know the material. Teachers in general are good at that. But autonomy and purpose are hard. It’s hard for teachers to let go, and let students kind of decide for themselves what to do. You can’t let students do that unless they have enough mastery to know what they’re doing, but you have to let go. And part of it is also that students need purpose, they need something that they’re trying to accomplish, and that’s very elusive, it’s very difficult to figure out … I’m not sure if I do them any better than other teachers, but those are the things that I care about when I teach.”
Kuszmaul is also the new coach of the Paly robotics team.
This year, the robotics team is “trying to make the culture more welcoming to the whole student population, and part of that begins with making the lab itself more welcoming,” Kuszmaul said. “We’ve replaced some carpeting, we’ve put in some new workstation tables, and we’re still working on the lab. The lab needs a lot more work in order to make it as welcoming as I would like … when you walk into the lab, even the physical environment of the lab communicates with you, and right now it’s a little bit scary … and I want it to be a more friendly welcoming sort of place.”
Prior to teaching, Kuszmaul received a bachelor’s degree in computer science from Massachusetts Institute of Technology and a master’s degree in computer science and engineering from the University of Illinois, worked for many start up companies and was a scientist at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA).
AvadhaniThe Science Department also welcomes another familiar face from within the Palo Alto community. Avadhani, who currently teaches Chemistry 1A and Conceptual Physics, is no stranger to Palo Alto.
“I’m a part of the Paly community, I live in Palo Alto, my kids have gone here,” Avadhani said.
Avadhani, who previously taught chemistry at Woodside High School, was attracted to Paly because of the great staff.
“What attracted me was just the group of people in the science department and the other colleagues that I work with, they’re just wonderful people, it’s a great place to work,” Avadhani said.
The Paly student body also impresses Avadhani.
“I like the spirit and the work ethic,” Avadhani said. “The students have really, really good work ethics … and I find that amazing.”
Looking forward to the rest of the school year, Avadhani has high hopes for her students.
“I’m very much looking forward to how my students unfold in chemistry, because the topic always gets harder and harder as time goes by, and my whole goal is to make it so that my students really, really think comfortably, or at the end even like my subject,”Avadhani said. “How about that, that would be nice too.”
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