Barnaby Payne announced as Redwood’s new principal

Kelly Chuang

Barnaby Payne will begin as Redwood’s principal in July 2022. (Photo courtesy of Kaohsiung American School)

According to a March 22 Tamalpais High School District (TUHSD) board meeting, Barnaby Payne, current principal of Kaohsiung American School in Taiwan, will succeed David Sondheim as Redwood’s principal starting July 2022. With more than 27 years of educational experience under his belt, Payne has spent the bulk of his time in the San Francisco Unified School District: first as principal of Abraham Lincoln High School and later as principal of Ruth Asawa School of the Arts. Payne was one of 16 candidates from across the country who applied for Redwood’s principal position, and progressed through paper, interview and instructional selection rounds.

Payne initially gravitated to Redwood due to its academic reputation and location. Upon further research, he found the community to be incredibly supportive of students, yet constantly looking for areas to improve. He hopes to contribute to this supportive environment by “bringing the love,” an approach rooted in his larger belief of warm demander pedagogy.

“Warm demander [pedagogy],” Payne explains, “is the idea that in a community, we’re gonna hold ourselves accountable to the highest expectations, academically and socially. We’re going to give each other all the love and support that is needed to achieve those expectations.”

Payne uses an analogy to the relationship of a grandmother to explain warm demander in further detail.

“She loves you, but she is not going to let you fail,” Payne said. “And because she holds high expectations for you, you want to perform for her; you don’t want to let her down either. That’s kind of the ultimate idea for me. Schools can provide a warm demander environment for students, adults and principals.”

According to TUHSD Superintendent Tara Taupier, Payne’s candidacy closely aligned with what the district was looking for.

“In the process, he came off as incredibly poised, deeply knowledgeable and steeped in racial equity,” Taupier said. “He’s doing his doctoral work in culturally responsive teacher leadership, and we’re launching a new teacher leader program next year — it really did seem like the right fit; the right person at the right time.”

This “right fit” was built from the results of a February TUHSD survey. Student feedback was collected on a range of questions pertaining to a new principal, including desired characteristics and areas of growth for Redwood that could be facilitated through the new principal. Results, according to Taupier, spoke to greater equity work on campus and a strong relationship with students.

“There was really a big emphasis on someone who would really get to know the students, someone who would be visible. And someone who would really make sure that we had safe campuses for our BIPOC youth and our LGBTQIA+ youth,” Taupier said.

Payne accredits his strong push for equity to his wife, one of the warm demanders of his life. His spouse Jessica Wei Huang is currently the Vice Principal of Wellness and Wellbeing at United World College South East Asia. According to her website, she has “co-facilitated professional development for school districts and non-profits in creating and sustaining a culture of equity and anti-racism and is also a certified coach for [Association of California School Administrators].”

Posing in front of Abraham Lincoln High School, Payne was selected for the Stanford Graduate School of Education’s Principal Fellows Program in the 2014 cohort. (Photo courtesy of Stanford University)

“My spouse is an incredible human being. I definitely feel accountable to her, and she’s been very inspiring to me professionally and personally,” Payne said.

Junior Jose Ordonez, who served on the interview selection panel as an Advancement Via Individual Determination student representative, hoped for a principal who would challenge students academically and hold strong leadership skills. For him, Payne fit the bill.

“I thought he was very well-spoken, a very calm guy,” Ordonez said. “I really liked in his resume how he said he worked closely with student organizations. He seemed like a very powerful leader in my eyes, and I hope he does a good job of replacing Mr. Sondheim next year.”

When it comes to Redwood, Payne is firm in taking a humble approach. He aims to understand Redwood first and foremost, rather than sweep in with novel changes or overrule the judgment of long-standing community members.

“I think it’s the job of the principal to understand the assets and challenges of the school community from those who are closest to the issues … so I hope I can offer servant leadership: someone who really pays attention to the community and what the community’s needs are. ” Payne said. “I [also] hope I can bring the love to Redwood. I do think that students deserve to have someone who’s happy to see them every day and someone who cares about what’s going on with them.”