Students look for connection, transparency in new principal


Tara Kapoor

Director of Human Resources Lisa Hickey (left), Deputy Superintendent Karen Hendricks, and Associate Superintendent Sharon Ofek speak with students at the Needs Assessment meeting on Tuesday in the Media Arts Center. Students brought up what they wanted in a new Paly principal, including one-on-one connection between students and administration, and improving student wellness. Hendricks said the Needs Assessment meetings are instrumental to gain community insight on the principal search. “This gathering of thinking is an extremely important part of the recruiting and hiring process,” Hendricks said.

Tara Kapoor, Senior Staff Writer

District administrators have a clearer image of what Palo Alto High school students want in a new principal after the Needs Assessment meeting on Tuesday that underscored the need for deeper connection between the student body and administration.

Transparency between the new principal and students, as well as one-on-one interaction and empathy, were the main points brought to attention by the four student attendees, including freshman Johannah Seah.

“I think the most important part for the new principal would be that they really care about the students and they really advocate for them, and that they understand [student] perspective and what they want,” Seah said.

Current district criteria for selecting principal candidates, according to Deputy Superintendent Karen Hendricks, are based upon the PAUSD Promise, as well as California Professional Standards for Education Leaders, emphasizing themes such as equity, wellness and inclusion that the district aims to follow in all endeavors.

Junior Michaela Seah and freshman Johannah Seah discuss concerns at the Needs Assessment meeting on Tuesday in the Media Arts Center at Palo Alto High School. “I think the most important part for the new principal would be that they really care about the students and they really advocate for them, and that they understand their perspective and what they want,” Johannah Seah said. Photo: Tara Kapoor.

Nonetheless, Hendricks said the district wishes to understand community concerns while selecting candidates, which can be communicated in part using a new survey.

“It is very important for us to understand the priorities of stakeholders in the school communities,” Hendricks said.

In an effort to directly represent the community’s voice, select students, parents and staff will be given the opportunity to participate in the panel interviews to screen candidates in early March. Director of Human Resources Lisa Hickey said these private panel interviews will choose the final candidates, and community input will be taken into account afterward to decide between finalists.

Hendricks said the district has not yet finalized a method of selection of student representatives for the panel interview.

“We will be working with the [Paly] administration to nail that [selection process] down,” she said.

Another focus of the discussion was prioritizing student mental health and wellness. Juniors Rohin Ghosh, Michaela Seah and Owen Longstreth articulated the significance of improving the root issue of mental health, which they said would in turn contribute to increased student wellness, happiness and higher academic performance.

“If there is a conflict between making sure we continue to be the extremely high-achieving school that we are and making sure we have our wellness needs met, in those cases, I would want the wellness needs met first,” Ghosh said.

Students also voiced concerns about student press freedom and administration’s compliance with Education Code 48907, which grants students the right to exercise freedom of speech and of the press. Longstreth and Ghosh placed a spotlight on recent incidents in which they said administrators did not follow education code, including the district’s attempt last week to censor the student broadcast program, InFocus, which is putting on a parody version of “The Paly BachelorX.” Both Longstreth and Ghosh said they hope for a stronger emphasis on student press rights with the new Paly leadership.

Hendricks said current Paly principal Adam Paulson will not make the final decision as to whom his successor will be, but will be key in transitioning leadership at Paly in a smooth and successful manner.

The first parent Needs Assessment is scheduled for Feb. 10, and more meeting dates may be added to include further community input if helpful, according to Hendricks.