New GHS principal gets familiarized with Gilroy

– James Maxwell, the new face of Gilroy High School, will assume
the principalship riding on a wave of support from parents, staff
and school officials.
Gilroy – James Maxwell, the new face of Gilroy High School, will assume the principalship riding on a wave of support from parents, staff and school officials.

Following a new, more extensive interview process last week, the 52-year-old assistant principal came out on top and will bring more than 30 years of education experience to the job.

“I really think that he has the experience and interpersonal skills to pull a staff and the community towards a certain vision,” Superintendent Edwin Diaz said. “Given the right support and stability and resources, I think that he can take GHS a long way.”

Diaz led Maxwell on a tour of the GHS campus Wednesday, and has been helping familiarize him with the city.

Thursday at the school board meeting, Diaz introduced Maxwell to the rest of the board members, calling him “an ideal match.”

While Maxwell is still under contract with the Castro Valley Unified School District, and has not officially signed on as principal, mentally, he is already in Gilroy.

He is already planning a driving tour with his wife and two children around the South Valley so they can look at real estate.

“It’s exciting to see him so excited,” said Linda Piceno, GUSD’s Assistant Superintendent of Human Resources. “We haven’t had a mature, veteran principal at Gilroy High School in a long time. This will be a change.”

Maxwell he is serving as summer school principal for the CVHS and Piceno said she is negotiating for his release.

“They’ve not made a firm commitment of when they’re releasing him,” Piceno explained. “The intent is by Sept. 1 or sooner, my hope is by next week.”

Once released, Maxwell will ink a contract with GUSD for $109,784. The length of the contract is still being negotiated.

Maxwell triumphed in a three-part, two-day interview process that initially involved six other candidates. All applicants took a writing test and interviewed with two separate panels of GHS parents, students, staff, community members and Gilroy Unified School District administrators.

This was the first time multiple board members and parents participated in the hiring process.

“What I liked about him was that he spoke in plain English,” said Jackie Stevens, a parent who served on the interview panel. “He didn’t speak in a lot of education buzz words. He’ll be very effective in communicating with the public and the parents … I think it signals a positive direction for the high school.”

Stevens, at times a vocal critic of the GHS administration last year for poor communication and academic direction, was also impressed with Maxwell’s 13 years of teaching experience – as an honors chemistry teacher and counselor – and nearly two decades of administrative leadership as an assistant principal in both the San Mateo Union High School District and CVUSD.

“He struck me as the type of man who will roll up his sleeves and get the job done,” she said.

During the simulation panel, members fired questions at each candidate and observed how they held up under pressure. An interview panel asked candidates structured questions provided by the district to learn more about their personal philosophies and experiences.

The panels whittled the applicants down to four who returned July 26 to meet with a third panel for a meet-and-greet session, and final interview with the district’s three assistant superintendents and Superintendent Diaz.

“I was happy with the process,” said GUSD board president T.J. Owens. “I think there was an honest search out there. It was not for show. I think there was a real desire to find someone.”

Owens explained that the different panels were able to put together a more comprehensive view of the candidates.

“You can fool one committee, but you can’t fool them all,” he said.

While Maxwell has not met with all of the GHS staff yet, Assistant Principal Greg Camacho-Light, who was one of the top two candidates for the position, has already been in contact.

The two lunched together Monday.

“He wants to work as a team and that’s great,” Camacho-Light said. “He has a breadth of experience. He’s approachable. He’s personable.”

Camacho-Light explained that Maxwell should fit in well with the staff and is not planning on implementing any sweeping changes upon arrival.

“He wants us to move forward and ahead. We all do,” he said. “He wants to see what we’re doing right and go from there.”

While feedback about Maxwell has been positive, ultimately, the decision lay with Diaz and his recommendation to the school board.

While four candidates met with the executive team, Maxwell’s science background, decades of experience, passion for the job and communication skills were what impressed Diaz most, he said.

“What’s really important for me, is someone who truly has the best interests for the students at heart,” he said. “I really believe that deep down – that drives him.”

Maxwell is versed in education literature. He has ideas about improvement, just don’t expect him to implement it overnight.

“That’s not my style,” he explained. “Change is gradual.”

He believes in establishing a repertoire with the staff first before making any alterations.

“Effective leadership boils down to communication and basic relationships with people. … everything else flows from there.”

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