By: Monica Cai and Annie Shuey
Photos by: Victor Kwok and Henry Liu
Photos courtesy of Palo Alto Online and Sara Ameri
The State of the School: More than one hundred school days have passed since Katya Villalobos took the reins as principal. The Oracle examines the significant decisions and events that took place on campus during the past six months.
Winter Dance: Students have long complained about the lack of a winter dance and the overly long time period between the Homecoming dance and Sadie’s. In October, the Student Executive Council (SEC) began discussing the option of adding a dance in December or January, and, after hundreds of students voiced their approval, officers began to write the proposal covering the logistics of the dance. After receiving approval from the administration, SEC went to work and on Jan. 7 held Gunn’s first winter dance in five years. “We just wanted to help out the kids,” Villalobos said. “It wasn’t a really large dance, but they had a good time.” Villalobos and several other teachers chaperoned the casual winter-themed dance, which a few hundred students attended. “It gave us the opportunity to try out new things,” Student Activities Director Lisa Hall said. “We’d like to make it an annual thing, as a senior fundraiser for Grad Night.”
iPads: As a school in Silicon Valley, it comes as no surprise that the trend of advanced technology has hit Gunn. This year the administration was equipped with the new iPad, something that may soon become a tool for students to use as well. “At first I thought it was a toy,” Villalobos said. “It’s really a tool for efficiency, and we all love using it.” The tablet computer is a portable gadget with numerous applications that help make daily life easier for the administration. “I can check my e-mail, set up meetings, take notes during meetings [and] check Infinite Campus anytime and anywhere,” Villalobos said.
Due to its success, the staff has been looking into using the iPad as a teaching tool, and decided to pilot it with Small Learning Communities, a group of freshmen who share the same four core teachers. “There is one class set of iPads, plus six for those teachers involved in the project,” Technology Coordinator Lettie Weinmann said. “We’re interested in seeing what students can do with the iPad.” The school has been discussing with textbook publishers the possibility of obtaining electronic copies of the books so that students could do their reading on the iPad. “In the long run, the district would save money if they could purchase electronic versions of textbooks instead of buying paper copies,” Weinmann said. Teachers have also been exploring applications to eventually agree on an organizational system for the iPads so that all students will be using the same apps. According to Weinmann, the goal is to get going full speed in the fall, with a pilot group of students taking the iPads home with them.
Infinite Campus: This school year, Gunn adopted a new online system, Infinite Campus, which immediately brought up many issues with its implementation. “It’s been a huge challenge,” Weinmann said. “Tasks I used to do that were so easy I now have to learn; it’s been a big learning year for us.” The new system made schedule organization particularly difficult this year, as counselors were learning the tricks of the new system while dealing with schedule errors. “It’s definitely a slowdown,” Villalobos said. “We don’t know the tricks yet, and it’s not intuitive. With anything new, the beginning is difficult.” Meanwhile, InClass still remains a resource for teachers and students to use, as document uploads and other functions aren’t possible on Infinite Campus.
According to Villalobos, the school is looking into other options, but InClass won’t be going away any time soon. Infinite Campus still has many benefits, as the system is faster and has unique utilities the previous system didn’t have. The introduction of online class registration also stems from Infinite Campus, which will allow the school to start putting together master schedules earlier and help facilitate the process.
Quad Lunch with Teachers/Rainy Day Shelters: Every Staff Development Day, teachers divide into different focus groups. This year, the community building group came up with the idea of teachers eating lunch on the Quad with students. “The goal is to connect outside of the classroom with students,” community building facilitator Stephanie Werbe said. Organized by Werbe and math teacher Daniel Hahn, Villalobos and other teachers go out on the Quad for lunch the last Friday of every month. The first event took place on Sep. 24. According to Villalobos, teachers get to know the students better and each other as well. Hahn and Werbe also organized Rainy Day Shelters, classrooms students can eat lunch in on rainy days. “We saw students getting wet out there sitting under the overhangs,” Werbe said. “Now they can go into a room and eat their food, watch TV or play games.” Unfortunately, because it hasn’t rained since the creation of Rainy Day Shelters, Werbe and Hahn are unable to judge their success.
Small Learning Communities: Gunn’s student population has grown larger and larger every year, and teachers often worry about the amount of personal teaching each student receives. This year, the Small Learning Communities (SLC) program, created by English teacher Tarn Wilson and social studies teacher Dawna Linsdell, was introduced. The program consists of a group of 25 freshmen who stay together as a class, sharing the same four core teachers. It is designed to help students with the transition from eighth grade to ninth grade. Similar to Palo Alto High School’s Together Everyone Achieves More program, the students get to know each other and their teachers better and are also given the opportunity to take several field trips. The class has already gone on a camping trip to Yosemite. According to English teacher Kristen Owen, the pilot program has already proven to be successful with students. “They’re like a family,” Owen said. “They all know each other very well which makes everyone more willing to take risks in class because they feel really comfortable with each other.”
Construction/Passing Period: On the first day of school, students arrived to find that the Village portables, formerly located adjacent to the Amphitheater, were moved to the parking lot over the summer. “The Village move went great, save for a few small bumps,” Villalobos said. “The only complaint I hear now is the walk.”
In an effort to accommodate the distance between the Village and the rest of the campus, the passing period was extended from five minutes to nine minutes this year. “Anecdotally, I’ve heard that it slows the day down for people,” Assistant Principal of Facilities Tom Jacoubowsky said. “It makes things less rushed.”
Villalobos said that the plans to build a two-story Village building next to the Amphitheater are progressing, meaning that the construction will likely be approved in March, and that construction will hopefully begin over summer break. “Our current freshmen will have classes in that building,” she said.
Arastradero: Arastradero Road, much of which was narrowed from two lanes in each direction to one lane over the summer, is still undergoing repairs. The city of Palo Alto has considered narrowing the remainder of Arastradero so it is entirely one lane, which Villalobos and the rest of the administration is concerned about. “We have described [to the city officials] why it wouldn’t be a good idea,” she said. Villalobos, who sees unsafe drivers merging onto the road, is primarily concerned for student safety. She encourages the Gunn community to direct any comments or concerns they may have to City Hall.
Jacoubowsky, who once drove down Arastradero Road from Wilkie Street to see what traffic is like for students coming from that direction, described the route as “a grind.” “I’m sure glad I come the other way,” he said. He is, however, encouraged that the city is considering increasing the distance where the two lanes merge into one.
Intel Science Awards: On Jan. 12, in a surprise ceremony at lunch, Intel presented awards to seniors Andrew Liu, Audrey Ho, Brian Zhang and Youyang Gu, who were named semifinalists in Intel’s Science Talent Search. The students were joined by their families, mentors and the press when they received their $1,000 checks for being named semifinalists.
Villalobos takes pride in the fact that out of 300 semifinalists nationwide and 26 in the Bay Area, four are from Gunn. “A lot of kids receive awards for sports and activities like that, but I’m glad to see these kids recognized for what they’re passionate about,” she said.
Liu, who was later named one of 40 finalists nationwide, suspected that he was about to be honored when he received a call slip at the same time as another person who he knew entered the competition. “It was exciting,” he said. “It was also humbling. It’s pretty cool because there were so many interesting projects.”
Model UN: Villalobos, who served as the advisor to the Model United Nations (MUN) club last year, has made efforts to remain tied to the club. “I’m sad that I’m not as involved this year as previous years,” she said. “As a person who loves politics and international relations, it’s perfect. It was fun to help out with.”
She attended the Stanford MUN conference, held at Stanford from Nov. 12 to Nov. 14. “It’s great to see students in a capacity like that,” she said. “I saw a couple kids in council, and they’re talking about stuff that’s happening today.” Villalobos plans to attend the Berkeley MUN conference, which will be held March 4 to March 6.
Senior MUN president Max Lipscomb said that Villalobos’ continued involvement with the club this year has been beneficial. “She’s remained in the club as sort of an advisor emeritus,” he said. “It’s helpful for us that she’s staying connected to the organization.”
Budget: New Governor Jerry Brown released his budget proposal on Jan. 10, and with it, relieved much of the administration’s anxiety about the school’s financial situation. “The new governor wants to leave K-12 education alone and cut higher education,” Villalobos said.
For the past few years, the school’s and district’s budgets have been conservative due to the state’s uncertain finances. “Right now, we are doing all right,” Villalobos said. “We plan out what we want to do, allocate money where it helps students the most and weight any spending.” She added that the Gunn community has been “extremely generous” through Partners in Education and PTSA fundraising.