Written by: Lawrence Chen, Misheel Enkhbat, Chaewon Lee, Henry Siu, Klaire Tan, Regina Tran, Zoe Weisner, Emily Yao and Stephanie Zhang
Eleventh-year teacher Vashti Srinivas has big plans and expectations for her first year as a new Biology 1 and Biology 1A teacher.
Srinivas has found that there is a large spectrum of academic capabilities, even in one class. “Some students in my classes have special needs so [my job] is challenging, but ultimately, it is rewarding,” she said.
As a teacher, Srinivas feels that she is firm, but still caring and understanding. “I try to be open and flexible because I want to give students the most opportunities to be successful,” she said. “Being rigid is not my style.”
This year, Srinivas wants to focus on opening up the world of science to all her students and letting them connect to their unique environment. “There is so much exciting science happening here in Silicon Valley,” she said. “I want [the students] to embrace the privilege of living here and be inspired to explore careers in high tech.”
A mother of three and an avid traveler, English teacher Karen Vanduska easily passes as the average American. However, first impressions can be deceiving. Previously, Vanuska was an intelligence analyst for the National Security Agency.
Vanuska monitored Soviet submarine movements as part of the Cold War, and eventually moved on to code breaking and ciphers during the first Iraq and Kuwait war. “Whenever you watch spy movies, you always see the people in offices scrambling to get information,” Vanuska said. “I was one of those people.” However, Vanuska has had a few spy-worthy moments of her own, including being approached by the KGB with a subtle offer to become a double agent.
After realizing the full extent of the war’s damages, Vanuska decided to put her life as a spy behind her and pursue her passion for teaching. “There were people truly frightened for their lives,” she said. “It felt like we were playing with people. We had all this technology, but we weren’t making lives any better, so I decided to go on and try to do something that would make a difference.”
To English teacher Kathryn Pomilia, literature is so much more than just English; it’s her “partner for life.” According to the Californian native, literature gives people the ability to observe and analyze life on a deeper level. “[English] gives you the tools to analyze not only the characters of literature but also the characters of the world around you,” she said. “[It] is essential to understanding the world around us.”
In addition to teaching her students to view literature differently, Pomilia hopes to instill in them a sincere appreciation for the art of writing. “Writing evokes emotion in us that other art forms (I don’t think) can,” she said. “The way words fit together and make us feel is so profound.”
However, Pomilia believes that she won’t be the only one teaching in her English classes. “At Gunn, there is such an elevated spirit of inquiry and enthusiasm for learning. Every class has a different personality and something new to teach me,” she said. “I’m so excited to not only teach my students but to also learn from them. I couldn’t be happier to be in their company every day.”
New Introduction to Engineering Design (IED) teacher and Gunn Robotics Team (GRT) teacher Kristina Granlund received news of her hiring just two days before school started. Thus, she faced her first challenge of the year: preparing for class on short notice.
According to Granlund, her new job came on to her radar after a friend of hers whose child was on GRT mentioned to her that the team needed a supervisor. The school’s strong reputation and a visit to a GRT summer training program convinced her that Team 192 was the right place for her. “I was watching [GRT] working, and I thought, ‘Wow, this is totally awesome!’” she said.
As a new teacher, Granlund aims to focus most on adapting to changes. “There definitely will be a big learning curve for me this year,” she said.
Regardless of the career paths students want to take, Granlund believes that the subjects math, engineering and science can be valuable to everyone. “[The subjects] can help you in organizing ideas and decision making,” she said. “They help form life skills.”
“Math was not always my favorite subject,” new math teacher Megan Stauffer admits.
However, after high school, she went on to receive a bachelor’s degree in mathematics from St. Mary’s College, and a master’s degree in secondary mathematics education from Towson University.
Previously, Stauffer was involved in developing geometry curriculum and helping other teachers incorporate it into their lessons at Dundalk High School in Baltimore, Maryland.
“Within the realm of math, geometry is my passion,” she said. “It is a really fun math subject to teach because there are a lot of hands-on activities involved.”
Stauffer currently teaches Algebra 1 and Geometry A, and has enjoyed her first few weeks in the new environment. She loves that Gunn has many female math teachers. “It’s important that young women see that women are good at math and that you can do anything you set your mind to,” Stauffer said.
In her free time, Stauffer enjoys being active and outdoors, doing activities like biking, hiking and sailing. She also grew up dancing, leading to her developing interest in yoga.
Chinese teacher Li Yuan He is teaching Chinese I this year. Just last year, he began teaching at Palo Alto High School. The new teacher currently works at both Paly and Gunn, but neither her busy schedule nor the schools’ rivalry prevent her from pursuing her goals in education. “I heard about an available position at Gunn, and I wanted to teach [at Gunn] because I want to com-bine the two Chinese programs,” He said.
She aims to encourage her students to communicate in real life Chinese-speaking contexts. “I consider students’ multiple learning styles and design activities that meet their individual need,” she said.
He developed her teaching style while tutoring Chinese in college, when she noticed the effectiveness of communicating ideas in a foreign language. Students responded positively to her techniques, sparking He’s desire to spread her knowledge to others.
New special education teacher Trista Loewen’s decision to teach came as a result of a rare life changing experience. After being diagnosed with a series of medical issues, she underwent three brain surgeries and learned to walk again using a walker. “[The experience] made me realize that I needed to stop being so selfish and help others,” she said.
Being thought of as “different” majorly influenced her subject choice. “I wanted to help others who felt they were labeled as different because I have the rare perspective of being able to relate and know what it truly feels like to have that label,” Loewen said.
“Making my kids learn is the goal,” she said. “I’d like to make a difference in people’s lives. Whether it’s one kid or 25 kids, as long as I can make a positive difference, then I’m good.”
Special education teacher Kenneth Perrotti found his love for teaching after substituting for high school classes to pay off bills. “I really enjoyed working with young people, teaching kids, specifically in Special Ed,” he said. “I was a Special Ed student myself so I feel like I can really identify with a lot of the kids that I teach.”
According to Perrotti, his school years were very difficult for him. “I [was] the kid who had to take classes in the other room where ‘those kids’ went for their classes,” he said. “We are all very lucky that the way in which we deliver Special Ed services has changed drastically since the late 80s and early 90s when I was a student in elementary school and junior high.”
Perotti is also an assistant football coach on campus. “Coaching is my hobby and consumes most of my free time,” he said.
New special education teacher Teryn Allen recently moved to Palo Alto after leaving a teaching post in Southern California. “I was really excited to live in Palo Alto,” Allen said. “I really like the energy, I like the kids, and I like being a teacher.”
As Allen previously taught at a school with a very different environment, coming here was a huge change for her. “I was a high school teacher but at an all boy’s school,” Allen said. “It’s a nice change to see kids in their normal, boy-girl setting.” She is very enthusiastic about the more integrated community and is enjoying the Gunn experience so far.
When she is not teaching, Allen enjoys playing sports and watching basketball, especially college basketball. Overall, she loves being outdoors and active. “I love to run, and hike and be outdoors,” Allen said. “I also like to read.”
The school’s first academic communication teacher Allison Berry moved here to experience something new. “Basically what [academic communication] is, is how to be successful in the classroom,” she said. “But it is often the things that aren’t taught, for example how to work in a pair, how to work in a group, or how to be a good listener.”
The campus’s size was one of the biggest changes for Berry. “I am really impressed with Gunn so far,” she said. “It is a really big campus but people have been really friendly so far so it doesn’t feel as big as it actually is.”
When Berry is not teaching, she enjoys many different outdoor and indoor activities. “I love taking my chihuahua on walks,” Berry said. “I like to journal, I like to write things down. I like to listen to music and go to concerts. I also like to go to museums and look at art.”