Leadership forms new initiatives

New assistant principal ushers in school year


Mya Stanberry

New assistant principal Alyssa Gardner talks to an incoming freshman during activity fair Sept. 1. Gardner watched as the new students checked out all the clubs .

Elena Ortiz-Fishman and Katie Nelson

Previously working at the same middle school as principal LaNisha Paddock, Alyssa Gardner has recently been hired as an assistant principal at Park. 

Coming into the interview, Gardner said she was excited to work with Paddock again. For her, the interview stood out from others due to the student-centered process. 

While this is Gardner’s first year at Park, assistant principal Derek Wennerberg has several years under his belt working in the district. After coming in as the new interim principal at the end of last school year, Wennerberg said he is looking forward to continuing in this position at the start of the school year.

“I’m excited to go through that whole year journey with them from the beginning of the year to the end of the year to help (students) navigate. Last year, we came out of the craziness of a pandemic and COVID-19 (but now we) have a full year of being back full in-person,” Wennerberg said. “It’s never going to be back to the same normal, but we’re going to be a little bit closer to (it) again.”

As a racial equity coach in the district, Jess Davis said sitting in on interviews has given her a chance to actively contribute to change. 

“It’s a huge honor to be able to have a perspective and a say in who is in front of our kids. Especially as a biracial educator and never having a teacher who looks like me, now to sit on interviewing committees and be able to be deliberate about who we bring in and who I think would be best for interrupting institutional racism — that’s pretty cool,” Davis said.

In response to events like the Uvalde shooting of last year, Wennerberg said his primary focus is the security of the building. 

“We have a lot of doors where students can come in and out of and we’re really going to try to emphasize (that) going in and out of doors is something that we take for granted,” Wennerberg said. “But it’s also keeping our building safe or unsafe depending on how we are entering and exiting this building. We want everyone — whether it’s a community member, whether it’s a student, whether it’s a staff member — coming in the door so we know who’s here and who’s not here.”

On top of the ambition to improve Park’s security, Gardener said she aims to continue fostering a strong community and education for students. 

“We’re here to truly provide the best possible educational programming for our students, and ones that they feel proud of,” Gardener said. “I want students to know that there’s just not one system that works for everybody. I love connecting and getting to know everyone, because that’s just the best way for me to understand the best path forward and the best way to advocate and really find where that student voice can shine.”

Considering Gardner’s background in school counseling, Davis said she hopes this will lead to more equity in the classroom.

“What makes Alyssa (Gardner) important is that she’s a white woman with racial consciousness and her educational experience is that she was a counselor. In my belief, the counseling team is the bottleneck of racial barriers because they’re the folks who get to decide what classes students take,” Davis said. “When we’re seeing racial predictability in AP (Advanced Placement) and IB (International Baccalaureate) classes, where can we break that up with the counselors? I was really excited about the opportunity of Alyssa working with the counseling department and breaking down some patterns and some barriers for our students of color.”

Wennerberg said he was a part of the interviewing process for Gardner, and is confident in her ability to lead and engage with students. 

“She’s going to be wonderful, she’s going to be dynamic. She brings up some many years of experience and has this personality that’s going to be great,” Wennerberg said. “She loves working with students, and everyone’s going to grow to appreciate her student-centered voice. She’s going to be in the hallways, she’s going to interact with students and just her presence is going to have a wonderful effect.”

With a backdrop of staff and community members who share the same goals, Gardner said she is prepared to put in the work to create an atmosphere she can be proud of.  

“For a couple of years now, I’ve really been understanding my place as a racial equity leader. But this is the first time where I truly feel like I’m completely surrounded by racial equity leaders,” Gardner said. “With having a child now I think it’s really changed my perspective a lot and just wanting to know that I’m doing the work for a school system that I would be proud of my child to be in.”