The man who will take over the position of principal at Palo Alto High School on July 1 says he is excited to move forward with the upcoming school year. 

“I want to grow and I want to learn different experiences and next year is the year to do that ultimately,” Brent Kline said on a virtual “Backstage with the Superintendent” meeting on April 27. “I thought going to Paly was going to give me that ultimate change and freshness but it’s now under such bizarre and unusual circumstances. … It’s going to be a great opportunity for me as a leader to bring what I learned and to see what can happen in terms of moving forward.”

Kline, the outgoing principal of Santa Cruz High School,  has accumulated almost 17 years of experience as principal in both California and Washington state. Along the way, he was awarded the Western Association of Secondary Administrators Outstanding Achievement Award in 2008, the Western Scholastic Conference Distinguished Principal Award in 2008 and 2012, and the Washington State Principal of the Year in 2013.  

Kline says he is passionate about closing the achievement gap, promoting social emotional awareness and building the trust of students.

“As a leader or as a teacher or a staff member of a school, you have to be thinking through the lens of maintaining healthy people,” Kline told Verde in a phone interview in March. “That means both socially and emotionally.”

Read more about Kline’s goals as Paly principal in the following transcript of that interview.

The following quotes have been edited for brevity as indicated.

What attracted you to Paly?

“It’s a vibrant school that has great student opportunities, it has a great staff from what I can tell, wonderful teachers, and it’s my next step, I believe, in my principalship.”

What are your main goals as principal?

“First and foremost, the most important thing I need to address is to have people know who I am as a leader and vice versa, and to get to know everybody is as much as possible. … I’m kind of a student centered leader. … I try to understand students, not only concerns but also their influences of what they want to bring and innovations. My goal is to understand the culture of the school and see if there’s any sort of areas that I can make a quick impact as a leader.

What do you think will be the biggest challenges at Paly?

“A challenge for me as a new principal is just to develop and work on a trusting relationship. … We all have these processes that we need to work through and understand and whether it’s how to learn or how to lead a school or how to develop a voice of the staff or a student. … A lot of my energy [is in] raising the opportunity for input and also the opportunity for opinions and such. … I think all too often, especially with media and stuff, that it’s not really always positive, right? I’d like to have a better understanding of why is it that way? What is it that people sometimes are maybe over critical about the school and what are some things that could maybe be risen to the surface a little bit more that are great things because there are. Because when I first started investigating and researching the school, the greatness of the school is not the first thing that you see when Google Paly high school.”

How do you plan on addressing the achievement gap at Paly?

“I think every school has a gap somewhere. … Here at Santa Cruz, we’re working through the same concerns that there are underrepresented students, students that have not as big of a voice or opportunities. Those are the students that we need to really look into and whether or not it’s the data that you look at to see where some of these learning or achievement gaps are, but really it’s knowing every student by name and need, and that’s where you start really motivating students. … I think when you stop and have those one-on-one conversations with students, they start realizing that they might actually have the ability and they just never had the thought. … Also looking at what systems of support, what kind of programs. [Are] there intervention programs? Is there continued learning, additional learning that you can provide for students? … I think most importantly though, it needs to be something that’s a discussion, that we have as a teaching staff. Identifying the students individually, but also talking about instructional practices or program practices that we could start implementing or using that are already happening out there, and just trying to increase the consistency of learning. When you’re talking about equity, it comes in many forms and sometimes equity is as simple as you need to be clear instructionally and be able to be communicating clear expectations, learning targets, whatever that is for students, and also sharing with them what things look like when you accomplish things successfully.

In light of the COVID-19 outbreak, what do you think could be reevaluated?

“It’s a good time for us to pause and think about how we’re interacting with each other. … Maybe it’s a good time to think about ‘How often do we clean this?’ or ‘How often do we wash the desk?’ [We can] be more thoughtful on how we have our space physically kept and how we increase our learning on social manners.”

We seem to have had a high rate of administrative turnover here for the past few years. What would you say in regards to that?

“You can’t last as a principal by doing it solo. You need to build capacity for everyone, whether it’s students, teaching staff, support staff and, most particularly, your administration staff. I think it’s really hugely important to have strong relationships that are honest and to have an ability to communicate. I’m not showing up to stay for a little bit. I’m showing up to be a part of this fabric called Paly high school.”

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