New athletic director looks to stabilize program

Jennifer Crane (left), Palo Alto High School’s new athletic director, works in her co-taught contemporary world history class during sixth period. This will be the last two weeks of her tenure as a co-teacher for history before her full transition to athletic director. “I think that past experience shows to me that prioritizing the fostering of character, hard work and perseverance is a building block to becoming a successful human being in whatever capacity you define that,” Crane said. “I think it’s something that I will continue to emphasize and to help guide me in this process… All those things take precedence over winning.” (Photo: Maxwell Zhang)

Jennifer Crane was looking for a job as a physical education instructor when a surprise appeared in her inbox. Instead of a position for a PE teacher, she found an email informing her of an opening for the athletic director at Palo Alto High School.

Crane is replacing Nelson Gifford, the school’s previous athletic director. According to Crane, she will fully assume the role of athletic director in the 2022-2023 school year.

Crane, who has served the school as both the girls’ field hockey coach and co-teacher for history, said the idea of being the athletic director was intimidating to her but a step in the right direction. 

“I had the option to either stay in my current role and wait for a job to open and just do something that I’m familiar with, or I can take this opportunity to be uncomfortable, be vulnerable, but grow and develop more skills,” Crane said.

Crane said that she looks forward to occupying her new role in the athletic department next school year despite her unfamiliarity with being an athletic director. Crane has a lot of modifications to the current athletic program planned but intends to get acclimated to the new role before committing to any changes.

“It’s really hard to come in and say what I want to change without knowing all of the different pieces to the puzzle, everything that’s working together, and what needs to be developed,” Crane said.

Crane started her career off as a Division One collegiate athlete at the University of California, Berkeley, while pursuing a career in nursing school. Crane said that her journey had been anything but straightforward.

“I saw how intimate the care was that a nurse had to give, and I didn’t know if I could provide that intimate of care to people I didn’t know and love,” Crane said. “Just a realization for my career path. And so I went back to the drawing board.”

Despite her uncertainties, Crane said her family members were positive influences in her life, which ultimately led her to pursue a career in teaching and start her first job as a special education teacher at Paly in 2014.

“My dad always said, ‘You’d be a great coach and teacher,’ and my brother-in-law was a teacher at a local high school at Campbell, so I became a paraprofessional […] and I ended up loving it,” Crane said.

According to Crane, she often steps out of her comfort zone to try new things and puts herself in uncomfortable situations to improve and better herself.

“I saw that [becoming a co-teacher] as an opportunity to experience a different environment and something new,” Crane said. “I stepped into that. And I continued to reflect on that need to grow as a professional and a person […] after being here for six, seven years, I feel this need to start thinking about how I can open doors for my future.”

After spending a couple of years adjusting to her role as a special education teacher, Crane decided she wanted to move to a higher level in her career. After gaining an administrative credential through the Santa Clara County Office of Education, Crane stepped into a position as a co-teacher in the history department.

Along with this, Crane said she had the goal of becoming a physical education teacher. 

“I started thinking: ‘Is administration a place that I really want to go? Am I ready for that kind of thing?’ And so I thought about where am I really happy — I’m really happy outside moving my body,” Crane said. “I love being on the field coaching field hockey, and so I was like: ‘I am gonna get my gen ed credential and try and be a PE teacher.’”

Crane said she acquired all her PE instructor credentials at the end of February. However, after seeing an open position for an athletic director, she decided to take the offer.

Crane said that although Paly’s athletic program is already superb, it can still be further improved through reforms to the current system, including leadership. According to Crane, there have been five different athletic directors in the past six years.

“We have such a strong program and so many coaches that care,” Crane said. “I’ve tried to get out to a lot of practices in games and the feeling of the Paly pride and all that type of stuff is great. And I think with stability and leadership it could really be a little bit more developed. So I’m looking to make sure that there is some kind of stability in this program.”