Written by Clara Kieschnick-Llamas and Caroline Ro
On May 24, Principal Dr. Denise Herrmann announced her resignation from Gunn to take a position as Associate Superintendent for Instructional Services in the Fremont Unified School District.
Herrmann announced her resignation to students in a Schoology post, and explained her reasoning behind taking the job. “I feel that this is the right decision for my professional career and personal well-being,” she said. In an interview, she further clarified that it is “an amazing job opportunity [she has] at Fremont,” and that this was decision made “based on what’s the next really good opportunity for [her].” Her new position will oversee the educational instruction, student services, assessment and accountability and state and federal programs for all of the Fremont Unified School District.
In her first year at Gunn, Herrmann implemented a change in Gunn’s schedule, replacing the rotating schedule with a block schedule. Incoming School Board Representative junior Advait Arun expressed that this change was perhaps the “best thing she did for Gunn High School,” as it was very effective in alleviating student stress and workload after the three student suicides that had occurred the previous year. Similarly, Herrmann said that she felt like these changes resonated very well with students and parents at Gunn. “I probably had 500 kids who had come up to me and said ‘Dr. Herrmann, I was nervous about this, I didn’t think I was going to like it, but you were right. Thank you so much for giving us this new schedule,’” she said.
Despite this positive outset, Herrmann has received substantial backlash from students this year for her decision to change the bell schedule for the third time in three years. Arun felt that Herrmann’s decisions to continue changing the schedule—despite student pushback—left students feeling unheard and dissatisfied. Some students speculated that this discontent heavily influenced her decision to leave. Herrmann, on the other hand, insists that these criticisms did not affect her decision. “I make my decisions on what’s best for me and my family ,” she said.
Herrmann hopes to carry her experiences as principal to Fremont, especially regarding students’ mental health. “What I’ve learned most is the importance of student well-being,” she said, “and how challenging that can be when students are so focused on college and academics.”
Moving forward, the selection process for a new principal will be carried out by a panel consisting of one Gunn administrator, five Gunn staff, three Gunn parents, and two students. The staff and student representatives of this panel will be chosen through a nomination process, while the Parent-Teacher Association (PTA) will be deciding on who the parent representatives will be.
Superintendent Max McGee emphasizes the importance of student voice in deciding the next principal. “I have yet to find a situation where I don’t listen to the primary stakeholders,” he said. “[Student] voice will matter as much as the parents’ and teachers’.”
In the first week of June, the panel will be able to question the candidates. The candidates will be applicants from inside the district who have already been vetted to make sure they fulfill the necessary qualifications. After the panel meets with the candidates, McGee will select one and the school board will have to approve it. The entire process will have been completed by the end of June.
Students and staff alike are mainly looking for a more transparent and communicative new principal. Arun thinks that these characteristics can be achieved if the new principal establishes personal connections with students. “Once you build a connection it becomes a whole lot easier to be transparent,” he said.
Arun hopes that, in the near future, the Student Executive Council (SEC) will be more useful in channeling student voice to improve communication with the administration. “As long as the students of Gunn can hold their own representatives accountable, I feel like SEC has the chance to become not just a place where events are planned, but a place where student opinion is distilled, debated upon, discussed, and ultimately acted upon through concrete policy and work with the administration,” he said.
Herrmann said that, although she looks forward to her new position in Fremont, she will miss Gunn. “Although it’s hard to say goodbye to the parents and adults,” she wrote in her Schoology message, “the hardest part of leaving is saying goodbye to you—the students.”