New athletic director Jenny Crane writes a different quote on her classroom’s whiteboard every week. This week, it is “Hard work beats talent when talent doesn’t work hard.”
Crane said hard work is one of three core values, along with building character and having humility, that she emphasizes as a coach and hopes to integrate into her new role as athletic director. Crane said her first step is building relationships and getting to know every coach on campus along with their programs.
“I’m an athlete, and I know sports, but I need to know the sports here,” Crane said. “I need to know their culture. I need to know what goes into the coaches’ relationships with the kids, the coaches’ values and their philosophies — and hopefully try and foster relationship building and get all of us in agreement with core beliefs and values. My goal is to find at least one common thread between those core values within each athletic program here.”
Before becoming one of Paly’s special education teachers in 2014 and starting Paly’s field hockey team in 2018, Crane’s athletic career included playing Division I Field Hockey at UC Berkeley and being on the California Regional Field Hockey Team.
“It’s been really neat to see the growth and development of something that was very small,” Crane said. “In the last four years, most of the girls who have tried out for (the field hockey team) just express how neat and fun it is to learn something new and be a part of the field hockey community. I just love seeing the girls learn something new and have fun and bond together.”
Sophomore Ella Bishop, who played outside mid on the field hockey team in the fall, said Crane was always there for the team, on time and in the moment, even when she was balancing a heavy teaching workload.
“Every practice during warm ups, we would all be joking around talking and what not,” Bishop said. “That was kind of our time to get all our energy out before starting the actual drills, and we would always bring up random things or reference some sort of trend going around at the time. And Jenny would always try so hard to get down with our language and it was just so wholesome.”
Crane said she completed an administrative credentials program as one of her long-term goals to seek opportunities for personal and career growth.
“And then I started thinking, ‘Where’s my real passion?’ and it was outdoors, moving my body,” Crane said. “I love coaching. I love sports.”
Crane said she went back to school for a general education credential that qualified her to become a PE teacher in February 2022, a credential that added onto her special education and administrative credentials. Shortly afterward, the position of Paly’s athletic director opened, a job she said enabled her to combine her love of sports with administration.
“It all happened really quickly,” Crane said. “This job got posted, and within a week, I had an interview. And then at the end of that week, I was delivered the information that they would like to offer me the job.”
Assistant Principal LaDonna Butler, who oversees the athletic department and was involved in Crane’s selection, declined an interview but said in an email that Crane’s core values are in alignment with the goals and aspirations of Paly Athletics and PAUSD.
“Jennifer Crane is a creative forward thinker that understands the current athletic department model from the inside-out,” Butler said in an email. “Her student-centered approach is essential to our belief that athletics is an extension of the classroom, where student-athletes learn life-long lessons that teach them to compete between the lines of the classroom, in the athletic arena and toward their post-secondary pursuits.”
Ken Tinsley, who co-teaches two periods of tenth grade history with Crane, said he appreciates how well they work in tandem, and how she always thinks a few steps ahead in terms of perceiving potential problems, able to quickly identify the students who need extra help in the classroom.
“She is known as an organized, thoughtful and thorough person who lines up everything in a row to make sure that the process —especially when it comes to special education services — is done correctly,” Tinsley said. “She’s pretty funny and she’s pretty light-hearted, but when it comes to work and things like that, she’s really committed.”
Carolina Padilla-Pineda, a school-based mental health therapist in the therapeutic support program, has worked directly with Crane in the classroom for two years, where they currently co-teach classes for students with IEPs. She said she highly values Crane as a teammate and admires how action-oriented and effective her communication style is.
“She sees where issues are starting to arise, and she comes to me right away, and we nip it in the bud,” Padilla-Pineda said. “She’s got a great ability to reach out to the rest of the team and keeps everybody pretty much in the loop about everything. It’s a whole team effort. She’s the captain, and I put out fires when I need to to put out fires, but oftentimes, they don’t get to be flames because she’s on top of things all the time.”
Padilla-Pineda said she believes one of the biggest strengths Crane can bring to Paly’s athletic programs is her solid understanding of social emotional needs, something Padilla-Pineda said Crane is familiar with from working with students who have significant needs.
“She has that lens,” Padilla-Pineda said. “And I’m really proud that she’s going to be in (the athletic director) role, because although she’s not going to be working directly as a PE teacher, I think from the top down, she’ll be able to influence others who do work with students to look out for those things, because it means a lot to students when a teacher or higher up can be like, ‘I can understand you’re going through some stuff and I get it, and we’re going to figure this out.’”
Bishop said Crane truly takes in student feedback from the field hockey team and tries her best to implement suggestions. She said Crane’s dedication, empathy and active attempts to connect with the students she coaches helped foster a strong field hockey team dynamic, something Bishop is excited to see Crane bring to Paly athletics.
“She just makes everyone she talks to feel like they can be exactly who they want to be and she’ll support them no matter what,” Bishop said. “You can really tell she wants to see everyone she meets succeed and reach their full potential.”
Crane said she plans to balance her new job as athletic director and her current job as a special education teacher for the rest of this school year, then make athletic director her only job beginning next school year. Although Crane said she would love to continue fostering the growth and development of the field hockey program and the girls who play in it, she is not sure about whether she will continue to coach the team in the fall. However, Crane said she will make that decision with the best intentions for student athletes and the athletic program as a whole.
For now, Crane said her priority is building relationships and connecting with coaches and athletes. And while she said she knows athletic department finances and sports funding is a hot button issue among students and parents, she said she isn’t ready to talk about specifics until she is more familiar with her role as athletic director. Since at the time of the interview, Crane had only been the athletic director for four days, Crane said answering questions about athletic department funding would be tough.
“Some changes were made with the last athletic director as far as shifting funds from sports boosters to ASB,” Crane said. “I think it’s important for students to be involved in athletic decisions in terms of funding, and I know that there’s a lot more that goes into the conversation.”
Crane said before she became the athletic director, she was a student, a teacher, an aide, an athlete and a coach. With each of the positions she held, Crane said she was able to hear all the different stories that students come to school with, something that made her want to get to know and value all the people she works with beyond just shallow first impressions. She said she hopes to continue this mindset of making students feel valued and connected as part of the athletic community as she steps into her role of athletic director, because this is what she believes athletics can represent for students.
“I have high standards,” Crane said. “I expect things of people, but that goes hand-in-hand with compassion. I tell my field hockey girls, ‘I’m going to hold you to this standard because I know you can achieve it. And when you achieve it, great, we’re going to talk about it. And when we don’t, we’re going to talk about how we can get there.’”