This school year will be Simone Rick-Kennel's last as principal of Menlo-Atherton High School. Rick-Kennel will assume the role of executive director of small school innovation and alternative education for the Sequoia Union High School District starting July 1, officials said Monday, March 22.
Rick-Kennel joined M-A in 2002 as a special education teacher and became the Atherton school's principal in 2015. Rick-Kennel said in a March 22 email to M-A families that it is "bittersweet" to leave, but the decision came after "much thought and consideration" during a time her family needs her.
"In many ways, transitions are a part of life and while this one will be a significant one for me and the school, I know M-A is a great school and in a great place to continue doing remarkable things for students with highly dedicated teaching, classified and administrative staff that I could not be more proud of; and a parent community that is incredibly supportive," she told families. "M-A embodies our collective community and will continue to be amazing, focused on our vision and mission to celebrate and make strength in diversity a reality for every student."
The district said in a March 22 press release that Rick-Kennel "brings a wealth of leadership and academic experience that will allow the district the opportunity to utilize her knowledge to carry out the district's goal of supporting and promoting successful student outcomes at the district's small schools and alternative programs."
In her new role, Rick-Kennel will be responsible for overseeing the district's three small schools (TIDE Academy, Redwood High School, and East Palo Alto Academy). One of the key areas she will be responsible for is serving as co-principal of TIDE Academy "to strengthen and further TIDE's philosophical underpinnings of preparing students for college and career success, provide students with individualized attention in a small environment, and to ensure deep learning through a personal approach," according to the district.
The small schools innovation director role was last held by Shamar Edwards, who also served as TIDE Academy's principal and resigned from the district in 2019.
"I feel fortunate to have an executive of the caliber of Simone Rick-Kennel be willing to accept such a crucial position for the district," said Interim Superintendent Crystal Leach in a statement. "Although I know she will be missed at M-A, I am equally certain that she has laid a solid foundation that will allow for M-A to continue succeeding well into the future."
She previously served as the school's dean of students, then vice principal, and spent a semester as co-principal with Matthew Zito (the previous M-A principal) before taking over the job.
Rick-Kennel said in the email to families that during her six-year tenure as principal, the school has had its highest enrollment, completed construction projects to build state-of-the-art classrooms, remodeled a chemistry room, enhanced athletic fields and updated locker rooms on the campus.
Most significantly, the school has focused on student well-being and balanced changing conditions to support students with a new bell schedule (pre-COVID-19) to include flex time, allowing for "built-in office hours" during the school day, she said.
"This year, the realities of racial injustice combined with the pandemic presented us with an opportunity to take action, listen to students and look at our culture and instructional program to take steps towards being an anti-racist school," she said. "We've also innovated, pivoting to full distance learning and soon ramping up to be in person again with uncertainties and changes due to the ever changing COVID-19 situation; and we will continue to do so."
The Association of California School Administrators named her "Principal of the Year" for the 2019-20 school year.
Rick-Kennel's last day at M-A will be June 30, according to the district.
The opening at M-A presents the district with an opportunity to recruit a candidate that both exemplifies the focus of East Palo Alto Councilman Antonio Lopez's joint equity and diversity committee, and the equity goals that the district has said it is committed to, Lopez said in a March 22 email.