Following the announcement of Assistant Principal John Christiansen’s resignation and Assistant Principal Katya Villalobos’s transition to a Paly teacher, effective June 30, the Palo Alto Unified School District (PAUSD) announced its approval of Dr. Clarisse Haxton and Wendy Stratton as the two new assistant principals for Paly’s administration team in the upcoming school year.
Haxton previously worked in the Research, Evaluation, and Assessment Department at the District office, and Stratton is arriving from Tamalpais High School in Mill Valley, where she has been an assistant principal since 2014.
“I have worked a with the guidance team, but in informal and project-specific ways,” Haxton said. “I know a little bit about the (structure), but one of my goals, of course, is learning more about each of those pieces of guidance and getting to know the staff and the students and seeing how each of those pieces – Wellness, guidance, College and Career and TA (Teacher Advisors)– work for students and how we can improve them to best serve students.”
For the past three years, Haxton has worked as the PAUSD Program Evaluation Coordinator, a position that had not existed prior to her arrival.
“In that role, my job was to do program evaluations in the District,” Haxton said. “So what that means is looking at new programs or initiatives and then analyzing their implementation… (and their) outcomes and impacts.”
In this position, Haxton worked under the guidance of Christopher Kolar, director of Research and Assessment at the District office.
“I’ve been excited because (Haxton) let me know that she wanted to move into school leadership, so that’s been something that I know has been on her mind for a while,” Kolar said. “One of the things about her work with evaluation is she spends a ton of her time in the field and has gotten a really great opportunity to get to know the district and personalities of the schools.”
According to Haxton, her efforts in the district within elementary, middle and high schools propelled a passion for working with staff and students.
“In working with a lot of schools, I realized that it was exciting work for me to work with site teams on using data and digging into how their programs are doing and thinking about putting systems in place when they didn’t exist or kind of improving systems to help impact students.”
Dr. Clarisse Haxton
Along with her experience in the field, Kolar said Haxton offers a unique, technical skill set to Paly.
Her analytical approach and unique skills will be complementary to the variety of strengths held by other administrators on the administration team, according to Kolar.
“A team of assistant principals should be different from each other. It should be a balanced team,” Kolar said. “(Haxton) likes numbers, she likes systems (and) she has really strong technical skills that you don’t see in a lot of assistant principals or principals.“The technical stuff doesn’t sound exciting, but it’s really important for the schools accreditation status, things like the California dashboard, and even things like solving achievement gap issues.”
Through her research and evaluations of the majority of Palo Alto schools, Haxton has had a valuable opportunity to become familiar with each institute’s “personality,” according to Kolar.
“(Haxton will) have done work in all the different schools that kids at Paly have been through on their way there,” Kolar said. “(She has) a really good first hand experience with the longer term experiences that students have.”
While Haxton prepares for her new position next year, Christiansen plans to move to Southern California where he will not only continue administrative work at another school, but also settle down and start a family.
Although Villalobos will be leaving her position as assistant principal overseeing the guidance department, she will still be returning to Paly next year as a social studies teacher.
“I’ve been an administrator for a long time now. Honestly, I’ve been thinking about going back to the classroom for a long time. I think I want to get back to where I started in terms of a classroom. I didn’t leave the classroom because I didn’t like it — actually I loved it — but I wanted to try something new and I’m always wanting to learn some new things.”
According to Villalobos, going back to her roots was something she has wanted to do since last school year, but instead decided to remain as an assistant principal and help out amid all the new changes within the administration team.
However, while Villalobos is not ruling out the possibility of becoming an administrator again in the future, she is excited to focus on her work in the classroom for now.
“To incoming new assistant principals: ask a lot of questions, work with your team, get to know all the teachers,” Villalobos said. “It goes back to: don’t be afraid to ask questions. And then your first year should be not just asking questions, but the other part is that you listen. Always seek to understand from other people’s perspectives.”
Christiansen said he loved his time at Paly, noting in particular how its traditions and cheerful yet hardworking students and staff have contributed to the positive atmosphere and school culture.
“(My advice for students is to) be true to yourself and genuine with everyone you interact with,” Christiansen said. “Question the status quo and look for opportunities to learn about the real truth behind the stories that history books and news media tell you. ”
Although she is in the process of transitioning into her new role, Haxton believes that most of her learning will come probably come from doing and she is excited to do so.
“I’m looking forward to being at Paly and being able to go into classes and to be a part of the events and student life on campus,” Haxton said. “(I am also looking forward to) working with (Paly’s) really amazing guidance team.”