On May 20, last year’s Superintendent Dr. Kevin Skelly officially recommended Wisconsin educator Dr. Denise Herrmann to be Gunn’s new principal to the Board of Education. Previously principal of Middleton High School for eight years, Herrmann was hired after completing the application process through the Principal Selection Committee.
As Gunn’s new principal, Herrmann seeks not only to expand the school’s academic progress but also to oversee the transition into the new school year. “I don’t have a specific agenda—my job is to help the teachers feel supported in doing their best work,” she said. “Sometimes it takes someone to help orchestrate the whole thing, and that’s what I’m hoping that I will be.”
Given Gunn’s reputation of being a highly competitive environment, Herrmann hopes to bring out the best in both the teachers and students, emotionally and mentally. “Some of the same care that I want teachers to show their students is also the care that I need to show the teachers,” Herrmann said. “I see learning as something of the mind, body and spirit, and I’ll be looking to support teachers and students in all those ways.” Herrmann would like to cultivate an academically rigourous environment but not to the point of making school a major source of stress for students.
Herrmann was not always certain about going into high school education. Both a four-season athlete as well as the president of her high school student body, Herrmann realized she wanted to be an educator as a chemistry student in Northern Illinois University.
Herrmann originally wanted to become a physical education teacher but decided against it due to reduced employment opportunities. “In high school I was a strong student myself, but I would also tutor other students,” Herrmann said. “And as a good athlete as well, I thought I might want to be a P.E. teacher, but in Illinois it was not possible because the job market was flooded with applicants.”
It was when she studied with Professor Lidia Vitello in college chemistry that Hermann found her passion in sciences. After taking a few more chemistry-intensive courses in college, Hermann began to work as a chemistry teacher at St. Charles North High School in St. Charles Illinois. Three years into her teaching career, she wrote a joint curriculum with a biology teacher as a two-year general sciences course for high school students. “It was project based learning with very few tests, and it was just an amazing experience,” Herrmann said. However, because this class was only available to her own students, she felt a desire to spread this new development to other science classes as well. “I think [the chemistry-biology course] was what got me into administration, because I wanted more kids to benefit from wherever the innovation was,” Herrmann said.
As her first year working on school administration in California begins, Herrmann is most excited about being a part of this coming fall’s accreditation process called Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC). “It’s really a gift to be able to come in the year that we inspect all that has been going on at Gunn in the past few years,” she said. “But it’s also what I’m most apprehensive about, because I want us to pass with flying colors.”
-Written by Kathleen Xue