This is the 10th installment of Coffee Chats, where The Paly Voice gets to know staff members over a cup of coffee or tea.
We sat down with new Assistant Principal Janice Chen in early September to discuss her role at Palo Alto High School and the path she took to get here.
Both Chen and Assistant Principal Adam Paulson oversee teaching and learning, which covers a range of departments and programs. Chen’s responsibilities include managing the Visual and Performing Arts Department, the Career Technical Education Department, the Math Department, Social Justice Pathway, T.E.A.M., and Athletics.
Chen recently moved to California from Hawaii, where she worked as a teacher and an administrator for five elementary and high schools on the island of Oahu.
“I was teaching English, Social Studies, and Digital Media, Video Production, Broadcast Media, and also I did the school newspaper,” Chen said. “After teaching I went into administration … I was the vice principal at an elementary school and also at a high school.”
After spending 12 years in Oahu, Chen left Hawaii for San Francisco last year. In San Francisco, she worked as the Assistant Principal at the Galileo Academy of Science and Technology for a year.
“It was actually quite a culture shock,” Chen said of the move from laid-back Hawaii to the fast-paced Silicon Valley. “I didn’t think it was going to be such a hard transition for me.”
However, after spending a bit more time in California, Chen has managed to settle in and is thrilled to be teaching at Paly.
“Coming from a different state, coming from different districts, I feel really really lucky to be here,” Chen said. “I’m so impressed with the students here. The level of intelligence, the level of commitment, their strive to be the best that they can be — it really is like a college campus.”
Though this is Chen’s first year teaching at Paly, she is not new to the Bay Area. Chen grew up in Cupertino and attended Monta Vista High School just half an hour away.
Reflecting on her time at Monta Vista, Chen does not remember being very studious or academic.
“I was a mediocre student, and looking back, I’m actually really thankful to my parents for not pushing me too much in that area,” Chen said. “I really felt like I had that balance … I still went to college, I still got my degrees, I still feel like I’m successful and happy.”
Rather than focusing solely on her classes, Chen was a dedicated athlete and competed in volleyball, soccer and track. She even remembered playing against Paly in a volleyball game.
“They always had a good team, so I remember it being a very athletically competitive school,” she said.
While she does not play volleyball or run track anymore, Chen’s love for athletics can be seen in her passion for outrigger canoeing.
“Outrigger canoeing is really popular in Hawaii,” Chen said. “It’s a six-man canoe, and you can do short-distance races and you can do long-distance races. One of the biggest accomplishments I think I’ve done is the Molokai Race, which is one island to a whole other island.”
According to Chen, the race is 42 miles long and takes around five hours to complete.
“It’s beautiful out there, but at the same time it can be really scary because it has huge waves and maybe sharks underneath you,” Chen said.
Chen has not yet found a place to canoe in California, but her schedule is packed with traveling, exploring San Francisco and training her new eight-month-old puppy.
“He’s a mini-Australian Shepherd, so he needs a lot of attention,” Chen said.
This year, Chen is excited to discover more about Paly and meet students and staff.
“My goal is just to learn, to build relationships with people,” Chen said. “Every day is different, and I love that about my job.”
Looking back on her years as a high school student and teacher, Chen’s advice to Paly students is to take advantage of the resources available to them.
“We have all these different electives, we have all these different sports, we have so many different clubs,” Chen said. “Now is the time to explore, see what you like, see what you don’t like, try new things, and just really enjoy your high school experience, because you only get that once.”