Q&A With Interim Superintendent Karen Hendricks


Compiled by Kristen Yee

The Oracle: How will you assure the community that things are in good hands during this transitional period?

Karen Hendricks: The feeling of transitory leadership can be unsettling for people and I really understand that. Something I’m trying to do is provide consistent communication to people through weekly updates and through getting out and talking to people at school sites or in departments. I’m also trying to be responsive in terms of emails and questions that are coming my way. I might think some of the sense of security will hopefully develop by virtue of the fact that people will know that my background is a good match for this role, and that I have a huge commitment and a huge heart for what has happened to students. As people experience that, hopefully they’ll start to feel a sense of security in knowing that emailing the district is possible with a really strong infrastructure in terms of departments and site leaders. As long as we all stay focused together on what’s important, we should help schools, teaching, learning and really providing the best experience we can. I think that people will start to feel that things are not only stable and steady, but also moving forward on behalf of the District.

TO: How well do you think your previous experiences in varying school districts have prepared you for this position as superintendent?

KH: I think my professional background has prepared me very well for this position. I’ve had an opportunity to work in schools from elementary all the way up to high school, and I really enjoy working with students at every level of education. I’m very familiar with students of different age groups. Most recently, I served as Interim Superintendent of Carmel Unified School District. I had a parallel experience there, where I stepped into the role on an interim basis and was able to provide continuity to help the district move forward in a time of transition.

TO: What are you most looking forward to as the new superintendent?

KH: I’m looking forward to being able to help maintain all the good opportunities students have, as well as positive environment for students to learn in. This entails lots of supporting teachers and staff and administrators to help students to have the best possible experience. I’m excited about getting out to the school sites, getting to know you and other students, and really just becoming immersed in the work

TO: What has been the most difficult part of your transitional period?

KH: The most challenging part for me was the month of October, when I remained the Assistant Superintendent of Human Resources and also took over the Interim Superintendent role. I was responsible for the function of both offices, both of which are busy and critical positions to be in. That was the greatest challenge, since I was trying to make sure that I was managing the work of both departments with integrity and keeping on top of the needs of both departments. Fortunately, we do have somebody in the Human Resources office now; we have an Interim Human Resources Assistant Superintendent, Anne Brown. She is wonderful.

TO: What is the job of the new sexual assault task force?

KH: Right now we have one initial meeting of Responsive Impactful Safe Environment and what we will be doing is really in phases. We’re addressing accountability measures, and starting by developing a strategic plan for the high school age group first in terms of what we want to see happen to support the students on campuses. We are working right now on elements of the strategic plan for high schools, and by January to March, we will be moving that down into the middle school range with the goal of being able to focus on elementary sites—fourth and fifth grades—by the end of the school year. We have a small group of initial participants in the task force. Right now, they are in the district office, Gunn and Palo Alto High School because we’re focusing on the high schools. As we work to move forward, we’re looking for opportunities to define the work and to broaden input and include more participants. This may lead to work groups and we’re going to be inviting input on specific elements of the strategic plan. Student voice is critical, because that’s going to be very important in terms of the experiences that students are having.

TO: What would you like for the Palo Alto Unified School District and Gunn community to know?

KH: I hope that [people in this community] know that I’ve been in education since 1988. All of those years have really given me a firm commitment to doing good work on behalf of kids, and you will see me very relentless in that focus. I work hard, I’m dedicated and I’m a listener in terms of what students need to support their experience here and the options they want to have in the future. I’d like people to know that my commitment is right here. I live in the area, I’m a part of the community now and I want to be an asset to the community in every sense of the word.