Editorial: An Open Letter to the Future Principal

The Paly Voice

Dear Future Principal,

Winston (resigned 2013), Diorio (resigned 2018), Rodriguez (resigned 2018), Paulson (resigned 2020).

We think it’s a fair assessment to say that Palo Alto High School is well acquainted with administrative turnover.

It’s no surprise, considering the numerous challenges that accompany leadership in the Palo Alto Unified School District. Not only will you need to be both an academic and an administrator, but it’s as if you will  also need to be an expert in public relations.

Palo Alto has wholeheartedly embraced the timeless saying, “It takes a village to raise a child.” The Palo Alto ‘village’ is full to bursting with vocal individuals, evidenced by even a glimpse at NextDoor or the Palo Alto Online comments section. We understand that operating in this climate will present a significant addition to your already full plate.

While we’re sad to see current administrators move on from Paly, we need to look toward the future with you, our future principal.

We believe the ideal administrator addresses PAUSD’s unique challenges by not only communicating with, but also working alongside, students and the surrounding community. As you approach the role of principal, we urge you to value and prioritize the goals of transparency, student engagement and — if possible — longevity.

We believe the ideal administrator addresses PAUSD’s unique challenges by not only communicating with, but also working alongside students and the surrounding community.

Understandably, there are legal and ethical limits to what information can be divulged to the broader community. Especially in the realm of education where a complex web of privacy laws are working behind the scenes, balancing student and employee privacy with open communication is challenging.

However, we hope that you will endeavor to keep Paly updated and aware, especially when considering decisions that affect students. As students at Paly, we devote four formative years of our lives to this school and are consequently deeply affected by many changes. So, it only seems fair that we are privy to possible initiatives.

Transparency and open communication can lead to collaboration. Students are intimately acquainted with the inner workings of the school, and can often easily assess the possible implications of changes and decisions. We encourage you to use the resource of student opinion when crafting policy.

One area in which we hope to see both transparency and collaboration with students is the possibility of standards-based grading. Currently, discussions regarding standards-based grading are ongoing within the district. Should officials choose to continue to pursue this initiative, it is imperative that students are kept aware of the discussion’s status. Such a change would deeply impact all students. Indeed, for such a seismic shift in how classes are evaluated, we encourage you to reach out to the student body and convince those who are unconvinced on why we need a change in the first place. Naturally, these discussions necessitate extensive collaboration with the student body, beyond simply collecting a small sample of student opinions and deeming the data collected sufficient.

The Paly community is no stranger to surveys and committees intended to spark change, but they often fall short in achieving their goal. While committees are a good start to including students in key decisions, they are often volunteer-based, and thus may not be representative of general opinion. Surveys, again, are a strong aid, but are often viewed as a nuisance rather than an opportunity to be thoughtful.  Surveys, committees, the Associated Student Body and focus groups require busy students to actively seek the administration.

We ask that you meet us halfway — supplement these resources with actual conversations with students in less clinical settings. We ask you to genuinely connect with a wide variety of students and use this network to better understand student opinion.

One of Paly’s unique attributes is its extensive Media Arts program. As principal, we ask you to maintain open and responsive communication with our journalistic publications. A robust relationship between administration and publications could be a mutually beneficial endeavor. This conversation not only would grant you a platform with which to educate the public, but also allows us to best serve our community by keeping Paly updated.

We want an administrator we can say “hello” to on the Quad, an administrator who will engage us in meaningful conversation and an administrator who shows that they care. Demonstrate that you care about our daily lives by being intentional with your time with students. Visit clubs and activities to remain updated on student affairs, attend sporting events and spirit rallies to involve yourself, and talk to ordinary students to understand their experiences.

Establishing a large network within the student community is a task that takes time. In the past seven years, we have had four principals. This high turnover rate is detrimental to our school community, as resources from the administration, teachers and even students are constantly allocated to adapting to the shifting priorities of administration. This lack of consistency makes it difficult to pursue long-term initiatives. 

A commitment to staying with our community for the long run could be one of the most meaningful things you bring to the table.

Palo Alto can be a tough place to lead. But if you prioritize transparency, student engagement, and longevity, we can work together to make things better for everyone.

Mr. Kline, we’re excited to meet you!


The Paly Voice

Editor’s Note: Brent Kline will assume the role of principal of Paly starting July 1.