M-A Co-Prinicipal Simone Kennel draws on her experience growing up in South Africa
When she was nine, Simone Kennel and her family waved goodbye to a life many of us could never imagine — living under Apartheid. Though she’s spent the majority of her life in the United States, her original experiences in South Africa have remained an integral part of who she is and how she works.
The recent transition of Kennel, former Administrative Vice Principal at Menlo-Atherton High School, into the role of acting Co-Principal has provided her with another opportunity to apply her experiences as a child in South Africa during Apartheid. For the rest of the Spring semester, she will be interim Co-Principal with Matthew Zito as he transitions into his new role as Chief Facilities Officer. She discloses that this new role will provide her with “a bigger, broader view of the whole school [and] larger responsibilities.”
Both Administrative Vice Principal Karl Losekoot and Zito agree that Kennel’s experiences as an AVP, teacher, and Special Education department chair have made her a prime candidate for her new role. “It was certainly not my decision, but it was my recommendation that she would make an excellent Co-Principal during this interim period,” Zito explains. He describes Kennel as “competent and organized, thoughtful, and very committed to students.” Losekoot, who spent many years teaching in a room next door to her, believes that “she brought a lot of stability and structure to a department that didn’t have a lot of that before she got there.”
In addition to her administrative prowess, her commitment to students has contributed to the success of the Anti-Bullying Club and the Pride Pals program — both of which she helped found — and the special education department. While her schedule prohibits her from being the advisor of the Anti-Bullying Club, Kennel still contributes to the lunchtime activities and the segments on M-A Today.
“There’s just so much bullying that happens that students don’t always realize it’s bullying […] so just getting kids to be more aware of why someone might bully, why someone might feel bullied and what can be done about it, and that we also have support for that on campus,” she says. Similarly, while discussing the Pride Pals program, Kennel comments that “the kids feel really included and part of the school, which is kind of the feeling [she wants] to create.”
Looking back on the nearly 13 years she has been at M-A, Kennel notes that one of the major changes she has seen is the improvement of the school climate, which may be in part due to the Anti-Bullying Club. “Students treat each other better. Of course there’s issues […] but just the overall climate in general is just calmer. I don’t sense tension among groups of students.”
As for the future, Kennel presumes that the major changes to M-A will involve the new facilities. She reveals that tentative plans have been made regarding the possibility of new restrooms, student spaces, and food services. Besides the facilities, which “are only going to get better,” Kennel notes that another area of change may be the dress code. “We’ve been in talks about that and it’s definitely a dynamic document that we’re willing to look at and make changes to if necessary.”
While Kennel has held an administrative role for almost eight years, she wants to end her career teaching. “I miss the classroom a lot. Whether I teach English or resume supporting students in special ed, I definitely want to teach again at some point.” She explains that “being in administration is really time consuming. There are a lot of school events, which I really enjoy and it’s basically a 24/7 job. And teaching can be too, don’t get me wrong — our teachers work really hard, but you do have some more built-in, structured time, like the summers.”
Kennel has transitioned through several positions within the education department, but has remained loyal to M-A for about 13 years. “I think she’s had the opportunity to go elsewhere and take an advancement in a position at other schools,” Losekoot states, “but [she] has really shown a commitment and loyalty to M-A, and wanted to serve M-A’s population, M-A’s students, and […] the community at M-A, and I think that’s something that makes us fortunate.”
This is an edited version of an article that originally appeared in The MARK, a publication of Menlo-Atherton High School; used with permission.
Photo by Katrina Wijaya