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Op-Ed: PAUSD needs new leadership

Original post made on Feb 25, 2011

Palo Alto parents are becoming increasingly frustrated with the school district's leadership on the issue of academic stress. The evidence connecting academic stress to adolescent depression, anxiety, and suicidal ideation is overwhelming. We would be making more progress if our district leadership were less impressed with the difficulty of the problem and more willing to make fundamental changes to solve it.

Read the guest opinion, written by Palo Altans Michele and Ken Dauber, here Web Link posted Friday, February 25, 2011, 9:49 AM

Comments (289)

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Posted by How can elementary parents be heard?
a resident of Palo Verde
on Feb 25, 2011 at 10:20 am

Thank you Ken and Michele for raising the profile of this issue!

Right now and nearly every week, there is a new discussion thread on PA Online where frustrated parents call out for change: growing mega-high schools, crowded elementary schools, busywork-type homework, un-checked cheating, etc. Yet it seems to fall on deaf ears - apparently even when raised at board meetings and community forums like the inter-faith meeting.

This week, the topic is on the Mega-high schools we are creating and how they are the opposite of the stated goal of fostering "connectedness". Many elementary school parents are speaking out and willing to make some changes, even get behind the third high school option, or "campus within a campus" structures while there is still time.

Web Link

How can we get REAL change moving?


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Posted by parent
a resident of Barron Park
on Feb 25, 2011 at 10:39 am

I don't see that Challenge Success has any serious answers for us. The things they want us to do are band-aid type solutions and do not address the fundamentals. On the other hand, Stanford could address the pressure they and other Ivy League schools put on high school students with their marketing and admissions processes. Local companies such as Google and HP could address the stress which their elitist hiring practices put on high school students. The kids think they will never amount to anything without a degree from one of these schools. The real problem lies in those ideas and their infiltration into the families in our community. When kids are not prepared to enter an Ivy-like university program, our schools are blamed. PAUSD is between a rock and a hard place. And Stanford, Google and HP are right across the street - just like Challenge Success. My hat is off to our administrators for being willing to try.


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Posted by Marielena
a resident of Midtown
on Feb 25, 2011 at 10:42 am

I love this report. I love the article, thank you Palo Alto on Line for publicizing it. Michelle, I would love to meet with you. I spoke on Tuesday about the school size at the board meeting, but till today, no one has called me, and I know they won't because I have been talking and talking at the board meeting, and they do not get back to me. They do say that they will at the board meeting, but it doe not happen in reality, I having raising my voice since the day our Second precious child die, but I am no heard, and unfortunately more students keep dying. Bless your hard for addressing this issues. Hopefully you will be heard. This is a serious issue and it need to be addressed NOW. This completely describes how I feel. It seems like it was written by me, except that i am not that good at writing. I will e-mail you soon. I probably know you already.


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Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton
on Feb 25, 2011 at 10:43 am

How can.. asks:"How can we get REAL change moving?"

Well, if the Egyptians can do it then Palo Alto citizens should be able to get real change - the question is do enough citizens really care??


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Posted by parent
a resident of Palo Verde
on Feb 25, 2011 at 10:45 am

people move here because of the two good high schools and this is in turn to support our property values. if we let the reputation of our schools to wane, then palo alto will lose the attraction for them,the schools should find out a balance point where we can retain our good school reputation as well as keeping stress low for students.in los altos-mountain view high,students can choose ap classes as soon as they are at the freshmen year,there are not much strict pre-requirements for students to enroll, now in palo alto, students packed all their ap classes into junior year(this year is the most stressful for students),causing unwanted stress.


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Posted by Marielena
a resident of Midtown
on Feb 25, 2011 at 10:46 am

I forgot to say that there are people interested in writing a book about this issues.


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Posted by Gunn parent
a resident of Barron Park
on Feb 25, 2011 at 10:49 am

I agree with parent from barron park. I disagree with op ed i think pausd and skelly in paeticlar HAVE done a lot to reduce stress ans i can see it for myself in my kids workload. The Problem as parent points out is emPhasis by our community on ivy leagues and in turn the ivy leagues' emphasis on AP curriculum.

Personally i think we should be moving away from any curriculum on all levels of education which 'tests' with multiple choice scantron tests and moving to the real-life approach of applying knowledge thru projects and presentations.


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Posted by Parent
a resident of Mountain View
on Feb 25, 2011 at 10:50 am

"The school board couldn't even agree to adopt a revised calendar to move exams before the winter break rather than after it." I seem to recall reading the forums when this was being considered, and a lot of parents and students were having a hissy fit about moving the calendar. Seems odd to blame Skelly and the rest of the administrators when they were being attacked for considering the idea.

I agree with the earlier poster that a big part of the problem is the pressure from the colleges. I also believe that a big part of the problem is the many parents and students who will scream if the schools don't offer the full range of AP classes. They are out there, and they will protest. And if the schools offer 20 APs, the colleges want to see the kids taking as many as they can. It's like the homework dilemma. For every parent who wants their kid to have less homework, you'll find one who wants them to be doing 4-5 hours a night. It's a very big problem, and I think it's unfair to blame the adminstrators of any school district for it.


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Posted by Gunn parent
a resident of Barron Park
on Feb 25, 2011 at 10:51 am

P.s. The excellent foothill middle college curriculum is pretty close to ideal.


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Posted by curious
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 25, 2011 at 10:57 am

I wonder how much money we would save if those kids who are already taking college courses (AP, Honors) took them at college instead of high school. Let them graduate early if they are ready for college and let their parents pay instead of the community and other students.


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Posted by Retired Teacher
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Feb 25, 2011 at 10:58 am

Dear Ken and Michele,

You speak eloquently on the problems caused by stress. Then you come up with this incredible statement:

"In Palo Alto we have a $154 million well-oiled machine for producing academic stress and all its attendant problems..."

What we have in Palo Alto is a school district that delivers high-quality education and sets high standards. What we have is a school system that we as parents have demanded over the years.

It's true that stress is high in this school system and community. It's true that some kids don't do well in this high-achieving community. It's essential that we as a community reach out to students and adults alike who need help and support.

Ken and Michele, the school district is only part of this community. It can do its part to help, and seems to be trying to do so, even while having the temerity, according to you, to suggest that this is a difficult problem to solve.

A different and more reasonable statement you could have made might have been:

The concentration of high-achieving, successful, ambitious, and demanding parents in Palo Alto has created more and more stress in our students and in our institutions, contributing greatly to some of the tragedies we have seen in the past few years.

We all need to look at ways to improve this situation, not just pretend that it's just the schools and Kevin Skelly's leadership. Talk to your fellow parents, Ken and Michele. Work with them, even though, yes, changing this culture is not an easy job!


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Posted by Happy Paly Dad
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Feb 25, 2011 at 10:58 am

The sky is not falling. Skelly in my opinion has been doing a fabulous job on many dimensions. Stress is not created by the schools in a vacuum. It is created by parents who have high (and some say too high) expectations for their children. How can we change that? I think we are staring at the enemy, and it is us. Don't fire the gun. You might hurt yourself.

Withdrawing from the AP program? Limiting AP classes? Stop homework? Yes, that has worked well in India and China.

The issue of student stress is a serious one - and certainly worth engaging the community in a discussion. There are things we can do.

I think your call for replacing PAUSD leadership makes it such that few people can take you seriously.


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Posted by Wilt
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 25, 2011 at 11:04 am

> a big part of the problem is the many parents and students who
> will scream if the schools don't offer the full range of AP classes

One possible solution would be to have the colleges teach these AP classes, on-line, and the school district partially subsidize each student. The classwork need not be done on the school grounds, thus reducing "the scene", and some of the stress.

I don't support the drift of this Op/Ed, since no clear solutions are proposed. Some people forget that this is far more a family problem than it is a community problem.


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Posted by parent
a resident of Palo Verde
on Feb 25, 2011 at 11:08 am

the school district is doing a good job to retain our schools' reputation.i agree it is the college system that puts much pressure on our students,if our students want to compete with good schools nationwide,then we need the school to relax some unnecessary pressure on our students,such as easy to choose classes and teachers should not give out exams the first week of the school year, easy to obtain teachers' recommandation,etc.


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Posted by Happy Paly Mom
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 25, 2011 at 11:22 am

I echo Happy Paly Dad's comments, and firmly believe PAUSD leadership has been doing an EXCELLENT job of supporting our children and their educational pursuits.

It turns my stomach to think that anyone would even think to suggest that a decision to submit information for an AP participation survey is at all linked to recent suicides in our community.



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Posted by Palo Alto Parent
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 25, 2011 at 11:22 am

I think that this piece does offer an opportunity for "real" dialogue to emerge regarding the situation that is causing untold stress for our students. I think it is both a family and a community problem as well. Don't forget who elects or selects the PAUSD staff.......When I have attended forums with parents and faith based leaders there have been very few real exchanges about how to go about "fixing" things or at least moving towards "fixing" these. Thank you Ken and Michele for having the courage to write this. As you can see, there have been some good comments as a result of this being posted. Let's take some of those good ideas and try to get together as a community to figure out a way implement them! Enough hand wringing. Yes, it is "hard..........very hard" but we need to do more than look at power point presentations about "connectedness". Let's figure out a way that the parents who have new and possibly better ideas can dialogue with each other.


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Posted by Bob
a resident of Barron Park
on Feb 25, 2011 at 11:29 am

Don't blame the schools for the pressure . . . blame the Chinese, Indians, Brazilians, Russians, Singaporeans, etc who want what we have: a higher standard of living. The two ways they can achieve that are for the pie to grow or for their countries' pieces to grow (at the expense of the pieces of others i.e, us.)
They're busting butts to get standards of living up and not crying about it while we navel gaze and worry about stress.
The answer is easy: if you want success, work hard. If not, opt out. The country needs janitors and maids, too. Just don't bellyache about the outcomes and realize that choices have consequences.


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Posted by Concerned Parent
a resident of Barron Park
on Feb 25, 2011 at 11:30 am

For sure we need a third school, or even a fourth. Or more choices. We have choices at the elementary and middle school level even though only few students from all that applied get in, but at the high school level there is nothing, the kids either succeed, fall through the cracks, or get kicked out. This, and last year a lot more parents from PAUSD tried to get into Middle College, but not everyone's was lucky. The lucky ones are having a great time. Taking college classes and regular middle classes, and have enough time to enjoy life. The college classes they say, are a lot easier than Gunn, why is this? I support Michelle we need new leader ship, and probably some new board members too, who are not afraid to make Dr. Skelly responsible to accomplish the focus goal, and we need a new superintendent who is not afraid to tell the principals what to do, and even some new principals who are not afraid to tell the teachers how to improve. It is about time to stand up for our youth.


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Posted by parent
a resident of Palo Verde
on Feb 25, 2011 at 11:33 am

i think in this sensitive time, we all need to keep muted about those high achieving high talented students,when those unusually high achieving students are lauded by the schools, what do those students that are average think? they must be pretty depressed, now if we add more pressures from expecting parents,how would they cope with this?we can let those students thrive as much as they can the schools just need to mute ourselves coz it does not mean that those at the bottom are bad. i heard a saying which says those students who are at the top are professors or engineers,those at the very bottom are bosses who will control those in the middle.in the real word, this happens a lot.


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Posted by Midtown reisent
a resident of Midtown
on Feb 25, 2011 at 12:11 pm

Bob from Barron Park is RIGHT ON TARGET!
We, the parents of this community are getting just what we want from the schools ... high achievers. If you can't compete, go to a "softer" school district or put your kid in a touchy feely private school.


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Posted by palo alto mom
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Feb 25, 2011 at 12:25 pm

I think Kevin Skelly is doing a great job and is a huge improvement over our previous superintendent, but as a district, we can certainly do more.

As the parent of a senior - his AP classes are significantly harder and require more work than those of his friends and cousins in other districts. PAUSD students routinely get to college and tell us their classes are easier than high school. We can be academically rigorous, without being academically ridiculous.

Ideas such as reducing the number of AP classes won't fly here - because as was mentioned above - as many parent want more homework for their kids as want less.

As a community, we are a VERY high achieving group of CEO, Venture Capitalists, professional athletes, etc. Pretty hard to live up to.


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Posted by Paly Alum
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Feb 25, 2011 at 12:27 pm

Changing the Paly schedule to block has been a tremendous help in reducing stress.

Skelly is more of a follower than a leader. Nice enough person, but leaders do not care about pleasing. I have seen him bullied by parents and administration at many meetings. We need a superintendent who does the right thing despite minority opposition. Why can't he send out questionnaires to parents so he has data to back up his decisions?

Skelly went into the BoE meeting prepared to change the schedule to final exams before Winter Break, thus proponents did not attend. Parents bullied them to wait a year on the decision.

He was at an Everyday Math meeting and wanted to take a vote but staff would not allow it. Skelly needs to use his power and override naysayers.

Besides Melissa and Camille, the rest of the BoE is a bunch of wimps too.


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Posted by my opinion
a resident of Leland Manor/Garland Drive
on Feb 25, 2011 at 12:40 pm

I'm not a huge fan of Skelly but this OpEd piece is completely off base. Skelly cares about our kids and does a lot for them. You could have attacked Skelly on the things he's failed at, but moving the calendar et al is not on him; it's on the parents.

Life is stressful. College is stressful. Part of high school is to prepare you for both. There's a happy medium for all of our kids. However, there are many, many of my fellow parents who push their kids to have 5 APs every semester. Their children follow their parents' mandate. Don't blame the schools for this; blame the parents.


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Posted by Ted Henderson
a resident of Midtown
on Feb 25, 2011 at 12:44 pm

The problem with this district is summed up by the comments on this page. Too many parents only care about their kid and not the community at large. If their kid is thriving then those who are not must be "fragile teacups" or in need of a "touchy-feely private school" or only suitable for jobs as "janitors and maids". Palo Alto's schools have high state test scores and so why make any changes? Right?

The reason to reevalutae PAUSD is because every year 15-20% of the students are not being successful. (Think that's insignificant?..try flushing away 15-20% of your salary and tell me that's acceptable). It's a school's job to teach every child that wants to learn. Districts must evalute their success by the level of learning NOT teacher. That can't be measured simply because a teacher says "Well, I taught it. It's up to them to get it." And kudos to those who figure out a way to be successful. And let's be real...we know many, many of you with "high performing" students are getting those results by helping them with multiple tutors or even doing their work yourselves. Want proof? Look at the high percentage of students who need remediation once they make it into the "Ivy League" schools.

Put your "tiger mom" mentality aside for a moment and recognize that Palo Alto's high state marks may deserve an asterisk.

(Palo Alto High School API-896* made possible with through the over-management of our students)

I call for a one quarter boycott on non-school related tutors. Let PA see what they get when they have to depend on their ability to teach and a student's unaided, up-propped up ability to learn.

Oh yeah...we can't do that. Your kid might not make it into Harvard.


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Posted by Another Paly Dad
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Feb 25, 2011 at 12:56 pm

Wow. I am all for Palo Alto being prompted to better on this important issue, but the loose rhetoric and lack of a substantive proposal makes this piece more of an angry rant than a considered opinion.

I am willing to bet that not a single Gunn or Paly student is taking any AP class in order to support the school's or the PAUSD Newsweek index ranking. Also the authors must be aware of the fact that the superintendent tried to move exams to before winter break-- the one concrete action mentioned piece--but some of Palo Alto's "expert" parents with a different targeted objective prevented the school board from adopting it. Criticism for calling the problem "hard"? That's what I'd call it.

I don't know Kevin Skelly, but I have read his thoughtful letters to parents over the years and they consistently exhort the community to relax a little, get some sleep, and appreciate the things that we may be inclined to overlook in our push for more. I think he understands Palo Alto pretty well and has done a good job balancing the many irreconcilable challenges of our school district. I would hate to see him sacrificed to a "somebody do something" call to action.


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Posted by JerryL
a resident of Adobe-Meadows
on Feb 25, 2011 at 1:05 pm

My heart goes out to these kids today. I had the good fortune of attending a small but progressive school, K-12, in Delaware. I got into and graduated from Cornell. So they must have been doing something right. My school experience was good. Why?
I think a large part of it was that the school granted 5 different High School diplomas: The "Academic" and "Scientific" courses for kids who were planning to attend Ivy League type colleges, a course, aimed at kids who were planning to attend the State Teachers college or other State College system schools after graduation. There also was the "General" course for those who were planning to immediately enter the workforce (clerks, bank tellers, admin assistants, etc.) and finally the Agricultural course/diploma-- aimed at kids from the adjacent farming community who were going to enter jobs in agriculture or on the family farm.

We all were together in many classes, on all the sports teams together and the after school "club" activities. We all liked each other and no one looked up or down on any other group. But, we all sort of "knew" where we were headed upon graduation. I remember working hard but I certainly wouldn't have called it "stress".

The other comment I wanted to make is that I feel so sorry that someone couldn't set up a "The Doctor is IN" booth in the quad or wherever these stressed-out kids congregate between classes. If I were manning such a booth I would spend all day telling anyone who would listen that 50 years from now they will be lucky to remember a half dozen of their current classmates.

Things that seem hugely important now you will look back and barely remember by the time you reach the prime of life. I would tell them to work hard but that all anybody can be expected to do is their best. And the definition of "best" is something each person only knows in their conscience. You are only in it to meet your own standards and not someone else's.

In preparing for attending my 50th high school reunion I got out the old yearbook. We were a close knit group of about 100 seniors and every single classmate had signed their picture in my book and made some comment or other. But it was a struggle to remember many of them and whatever they thought of me then is now a misty abstraction.
(I did have a great time at the reunion, by the way, and now remember a lot of things that I thought I had forgotten.) But that is not the point. The point is that there is NOTHING that happens in high school that is worth killing yourself over and we adults have failed miserably at getting that point across to our kids and grandkids whom we love.


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Posted by EcoMama
a resident of Community Center
on Feb 25, 2011 at 1:06 pm

Every time I've contacted Dr. Skelly, he's responded. During the math debates, he even called many of the most vocal folks about the change into his office for what ended up being a very long meeting discussing pros and cons. He is receptive to ideas. I would NOT want to see another administrator take his seat. The chances of getting someone else who cares as much as he does and is as responsive as he is in his seat are slim to none. He has kids in the District, too, just like most of the School Board does or did.

We all need to take a collective breath here. There are changes that need to happen, yes. Too much homework leads to too little sleep. Can we change that? Sure! Has anyone proposed tighter restrictions on homework and consequences for teachers who break them (like by assigning work over break)? Not that I've heard!

Further, this is not all the District's fault. If your kid is staying up too late to do too much homework, what have you done about it? I make my kid go to bed. That's MY job. Parents here keep looking to the District for a solution while they continue to oversubscribe their kids to activities, leaving them to stay up to the wee hours to do their work, then scratch their head when their sleep-deprived, overstressed kid is depressed. NO ONE knows your kid like you do. What are you doing differently at home to deal with that? More family dinners? More down-time?

As well, NO ONE has said that these kids who took their lives did so because of academic stress. Is that true? We'll never know. We'll never know if they had underlying mental illnesses. We can't assume it's because they had too much homework, too little sleep, too much pressure, or bad parents, any more than we can assume bad leadership at the District. Let's all agree that we can ALL do better, and that the responsibility for that is shared.

Should we pressure the District to do more and to do better? Sure. Will someone else do it better than Skelly? I doubt it.

My suggestion: I would like to see an expanded school board, perhaps even doubled in size (making its size more in line with many other CA towns), so that there's a body big enough to have rigorous debate over what to do next. A party of 5 is too small to have big impact and to represent everyone adequately -- and when you get a couple of folks on there, like I think we have now, who are all talk and no action, the consequences are dire.

Last thought, if you want to know what's "really" wrong at the schools ... ask a kid. The parents who wrote this article likely consulted their own, but, if you asked mine, the answer would be different. And part of that answer would be "too much focus on suicide, not enough about what could reduce our stress." The kids hold the cards here, and we ought to let them play them.


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Posted by Parent
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Feb 25, 2011 at 1:08 pm

I agree with the OpEd piece and also with Ted Henderson (except the calendar issue which I will mention later). It is not solely Skelly who is a poor leader, but our BoE who can't lead. It is hard to criticize a boardmember who we have known perhaps through our PTA work or because our kids are friends with their kids, and also because they are doing this as part time volunteer work. But it is easy to blame Skelly who is often not able to lead because of the dithering of the Board.

The problems are that we have many types of parents who all want different things done. We have two large high schools and very little choice for our students who attend them. We have a culture where College is discused even in elementary school and the plans are drawn out through middle school by those parents who want their kids to get to the best college without anyone ever asking the kids what they want. We have kids stressing out because of grades even in elementary school where grades are not worth anything. We have tutoring ahead of the material to make those who haven't had the tutoring feel dumb, and teachers who get umpteen emails everytime test results are posted.

Our BoE has consultants, professional demographers and others, all advising them, but they are not open to thinking for themselves or looking at what is going on. They failed to see what was happening when the AAAG met several years ago because they chose to believe professionals rather than use the experience of the parents on the school sites and as a result nothing was done. First they planned to open Garland as a mega elementary school, then they changed their minds. They also bowed to nothing short of blackmail on the MI issue.
They are weak and need to be changed to people who are willing to make the tough decisions about what to do to make our schools smaller, friendlier (for want of a better word) and less stress orientated.

As for the change of finals dates, my own Paly student told me that there was very little point in worrying over finals since they represented such a small percentage of the grade and wouldn't alter an already good grade.

Thank you Palo Alto Weekly for taking a stand on this issue. With this OpEd, maybe our BoE will start to take note of what parents are saying and have been saying since the first Paly suicide back in the early 2000s.


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Posted by parent
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Feb 25, 2011 at 1:12 pm

This article was not logical. It is sad that AP classes equal suicides. PALY and GUNN were not even on the top 50 of the newsweek's public high school list. We don't hear many student suicides in other Bay Area high schools that offer more AP classes than PALY or GUNN. Stress could be good, but balance should be achieved. The practice of limiting AP classes to Jr. and Sr. causes unwanted stress. The students coming out of PAUSD K-8 schools could be more ready for high school, the curriculum latter among K-12 could be more evenly distrbuted.


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Posted by Former Palo Alto Resident
a resident of another community
on Feb 25, 2011 at 1:13 pm

I raised my son in Palo Alto and he went to Gunn. At that time, there were counselors and more people available other than teachers to work with our kids. RESTORE FULL GUIDANCE COUNSELORS AND SCHOOL NURSES TO ALL OF THE PALO ALTO SCHOOLS!!! The teachers need help, the kids need help, and we cut WAY TOO MANY resources in the support professions. We got what we paid for. Not enough professionals to help our children with their difficulties in school and with their peers.


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Posted by Parent
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Feb 25, 2011 at 1:21 pm

The reality is that there are a variety of viewpoints - some parents are very focused on pushing their children academically, others see this as stress, some parents want finals before Christmas, others don't. The superintendent and other officials are often caught between these competing interests and it can take time to work these issues out. While we are all concerned about the suicides, they are not strictly the result of school stress. Parents and others in the community own part of this. Putting it all on the school is unrealistic.
I have seen a number of concrete changes this year such as the new block schedule at Paly which have both improved academic opportunities as well as relieved some of the stress. I also believe that establishing realistic expectations as a parent and not buying into the notion that only attending Harvard is acceptable helps keep kids on track.
I'm sure that there is more to be done but my experience with the school administration has been nothing but positive.


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Posted by parent
a resident of Palo Verde
on Feb 25, 2011 at 1:36 pm

i agreed that this pratice that limits ap classes only to junior and senior(half of senior year won't be counted,coz by later of senior year the college won't look at ap scores any more,it simply does not count,so we have students packed their ap classes into a single stressful junior year)while all the area schools students can have ap classes as earlier as freshmen.why would palo alto artificially inflicit students stress when other scjhools give kids freedom to take on more ap with spreading them evenly through out their high school years.


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Posted by Bob
a resident of Barron Park
on Feb 25, 2011 at 1:37 pm

@ Ted Henderson:
You said: "The reason to reevalutae PAUSD is because every year 15-20% of the students are not being successful. (Think that's insignificant?..try flushing away 15-20% of your salary and tell me that's acceptable)."
I'd respond that it depends on how you define success . . . and importantly how you OPTIMIZE for societal benefit. It might make more sense to send those 15-20% on vocational routes and accelerate the 80%, rather than holding everyone back because the 2 standard deviation-level bottom end can't hack it.
With respect to your salary analogy, think of it this way: if you have an entire workforce that is going to experience a 15% aggregate pay cut, it might make more sense to cull the bottom 15% of people to achieve those cuts (or even the bottom 20 or 25% and raise the comp of the top 5 or 10%). That will almost certainly lead to a better outcome (even, most likely, for those in the bottom who can then better optimize fits in new organizations relative to their own skills.) Sometimes change can be painful, but the good of the many outweighs the good of the few or the one, no?


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Posted by name withheld
a resident of Greenmeadow
on Feb 25, 2011 at 1:53 pm

I agree with "The evidence connecting academic stress to adolescent depression, anxiety, and suicidal ideation is overwhelming. A recent study found that the effect of academic stress on suicidal thoughts is significant even when controlling for preexisting depression, which according to the study's authors may itself be caused by academic stress. Studies also show that pressure exacerbates depression in those who are predisposed to the illness."

If there was less stress regardless of the cause, more recognition of signs of depression, and more willingness by peers to let someone know that a friend needed help,and help is available, this would be a start regardless of the reason for a suicide.


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Posted by Pete Heilman
a resident of Midtown
on Feb 25, 2011 at 2:01 pm

I agree that the schools express community values, and that it may be impossible to change the schools without a corresponding change in community culture.

Over my 45 years as parent, grandparent, teacher and principal in Palo Alto, I've had enraged parents complain because kinder teachers do not give enough homework, have had enraged parents complain that a Princeton bound child received a B+ rather than an A, have had parents lined up to change teachers because of community gossip which was historically and demonstrably inaccurate, have had parents inquire how their elementary school student's suspension will affect college enrollment rather than inquire about the cause of the suspension; have had conferences with parents who have an ACLU attorney in tow, have watched periodic, heated debate about the insufficient rigor of the mathematics curriculum; all these exemplify an underlying competitiveness which is only intensified by the lunatic, costly (both in terms of money and lost class time) and time-consuming testing programs imposed on Palo Alto.

Although such examples may represent a minority of families, such parental attitudes generally seem to me to be the most influential and least likely to change.

Perhaps the most powerful indicator of this community of smart, energetic, ambitious, successful and highly educated people is in the cost of housing in which a 1,000 sq. foot three bedroom and one bath "starter" or "entry level" house costs $1,200,000.00. Who but the most driven, the best educated, most competitive and highly successful can afford to live here?

Can changing a school board or a school administration really alter the intensity of our parent community, no matter how negatively that intensity affects some students and families?


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Posted by parent
a resident of Palo Verde
on Feb 25, 2011 at 2:03 pm

Skelling is a caring superintendent,he always uses those school principals who are good at doing their jobs and know what they are doing for the school kids.the problem in this community are complicated,it needs both families and schools to reach a mutual consensus as to what practices needs to be changed.


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Posted by Ted Henderson
a resident of Midtown
on Feb 25, 2011 at 2:04 pm

@ Bob

Your logic only applies until they are cutting your kid loose.

Watch this: Web Link


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Posted by former Paly parent
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Feb 25, 2011 at 2:19 pm

My comments have less to do with the administration and more to do with some parents here in current times.

1) unfortunately, the sad truth is, some parents are just HOPING you will rein your teen in and encourage a balanced lifestyle with less pressure. Then THEY can position their teen to "beat" your teen in the college admissions game. I witnessed a lot of contrived "winners" in this district, really unfortunate. So have your eyes open as to what tactics are used around you -- be informed, even if you do not endorse, as I do not, some unethical practics of parents here.

2) @ curious
about your comment - having kids who take AP courses just move to college and take the courses there (thinking they are already qualified to study at college level and should be "in" college), you may not understand that AP courses are used in academic and/or competitive high schools to get admitted INTO top universities. They are part of the resume/application now.

I feel CERTAIN there are bright kids who did not play the "AP game" and also quite sure, sadly, they paid for it in their college offers.

What's more, there ARE some private high schools (I know a historic, extremely famous one back east....) that have gotten RID of AP courses, feeling they are usually a game for certain conniving students/parents. They teach their OWN high quality curriculum and their students still obtain top offers - it would take an act of courage for public high schools to do this, but I would admire them if they would do it. School is about LEARNING and EDUCATION, but many here view it as comeptitive gamesmanship, along with under the table prepping, tutoring in advance of taking the curriculum (top lanes, high level courses) for a grade. It disgusts me, comes here from the cram school mentality. Cheating and plagiarism need to be prevented - they are WRONG.
Often with the AP's, I am sorry to say it's just a game, students don't just take courses they are interested in but ALSO courses they "should" take to be competitive (which stresses out students taking "just" the courses they care about -- they are made to feel they are "losers,") as the bar has been raised, students and their parents seek ever more ways to come out better competitively (students are pressured to take ever more AP courses -- sometimes the number is ridiculous -- (with paid advanced prepping by those parents with the means and the will to impose this on their teens), pressures to obtain higher GPA, a LOT of tutoring before taking SATs and SAT subject tests, parent-arranged (and sometimes paid) elaborate community service schemes or arrangements for elaborate internships at hospitals, etc. ANYTHING to get ahead of the other guy. Add in open boasting of grades, SAT scores -- very poor manners -- I frankly found this vulgar behavior.
The differences are often very tiny between the substantial number of "top students" and these differences will make or break getting offers from the coveted Ivies etc. Some kids put out more than 20 apps! -- they don't even know all the schools but just want boasting rights (of they pull it off) -- meanwhile, limiting options for those who cannot afford private college counselors to handhold this size of apps process or pay these number of fees.
My solution: university adcoms MUST interview more students -- it has been shown this demonstrates/uncovers actual student talent, interest in the prospective university, whether they are a "project" of a Tiger Mom or a self-directed individual who has earned his/her own status/grades.


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Posted by JA3+
a resident of Crescent Park
on Feb 25, 2011 at 2:33 pm

In a 14 January 2011 comment on the Palo Alto Weekly article entitled "Paly student dies Thursday afternoon", Michelle Dauber's comment was removed by Palo Alto Weekly staff.

Based on a Google search -- admittedly quick -- this redacted comment is Ms. Dauber's sole prior commentary in any publication on the critical issue discussed in the Op-Ed herein above.
_____

Unfortunately, such Op-Ed includes several unsupported conclusions. A thorough discussion of an important issue, filled with careful factual support and well-reasoned analysis? I think not.


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Posted by Marie
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Feb 25, 2011 at 2:35 pm

Fire him? Buy out his contract before he does any more harm to our kids.


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Posted by Roger
a resident of Midtown
on Feb 25, 2011 at 2:37 pm

I appreciate the effort the Daubers have put into this, but their analysis is flawed. Most people who commit suicide are suffering from mental illness. Stress is not the trigger. Skelly is correct in that respect. Research supports this finding.

The problem is that response by PAUSD, police, Caltrain and the various mental health agencies was chaotic and disorganized. The Centers for Disease Control have a well established protocol for communities to deal with suicide clusters. Communities that have followed this protocol have stopped the suicides. Instead, it appears Palo Alto took its own approach, cutting and pasting ideas from various sources rather than following something that worked.


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Posted by Any teacher
a resident of Gunn High School
on Feb 25, 2011 at 2:38 pm

[Post removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]


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Posted by Sigh
a resident of Greenmeadow
on Feb 25, 2011 at 2:52 pm

There are no ways to "reduce stress" on students who are extremely high achievers, determined to graduate with a 4.2 GPA, join every club and team, and do "volunteer work" in order to have a chance of entering UC Berkeley or an "Ivy League".

However,we could at least give them a full-stop week of rest between semesters...but, no..too hard on folks who want that week in August to travel.

For the University-bound, cultural acceptance of the Junior College track is hard...I have no idea what to do about that.

For the non-college bound, vocational tracks, having true voc ed return to the high schools, not just a couple auto classes, but real and varied options, would be a great start to giving hope to the non-college bound. Some kind of leap start into a vocational training program...heating/air, auto, horticulture/arbor, animal tech...


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Posted by Local mom & Teacher
a resident of Fairmeadow
on Feb 25, 2011 at 3:01 pm

I teach in another "high achieving" community, just as high as Palo Alto.
The problem is NOT the schools/teachers/administration, it is with the parent community.

I have students complain all the time that "My parents will kill me" when they get a score of 95% on an assignment. Teachers stress all the time for kids to do their best, not get the highest grades. This pressure to be the best, to get into the best university, to take the most AP's, to participate in the most activities, etc. starts in the home! Stop blaming the schools for all the problems -- the schools can certainly help to alleviate it, but until change happens in the homes nothing is going to change.....


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Posted by Been there, lived thru
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Feb 25, 2011 at 3:04 pm

@Roger: You really think academic stress does not lead to suicide and it all has to do with mental illness? You are so very wrong. Environmental factors have a lot to do with depression. Mentally healthy individuals can become depressed and lose hope if pushed far enough.


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Posted by Happy to be a mom
a resident of Gunn High School
on Feb 25, 2011 at 3:20 pm

Roger,

"I appreciate the effort the Daubers have put into this, but their analysis is flawed. Most people who commit suicide are suffering from mental illness. Stress is not the trigger. Skelly is correct in that respect. Research supports this finding."

My son tried to commit suicide. Fortunately he was not successful. While it was determined after the fact that he was depressed but hid it well, it was a confluence of things at school due at the same time that was the "trigger". So, be careful of what you speak. All experts admit that academic pressure does not create the suicide thoughts but can be the tipping point in acting on them. And suicide is usually an impulsive action.


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Posted by teacher pushback unacceptable
a resident of Downtown North
on Feb 25, 2011 at 3:22 pm


Mom teacher,

"The problem is NOT the schools/teachers/administration"

YES IT IS, you are not doing enough to change how schools are getting so big for example, you are happy with the status quo,

we have curriculums on steroids, not all teachers are alike, and you can't fire anyone, that's definitely not socially emotionally healthy for anyone.

and teachers actually benefit from the competitive atmosphere because they get excellent motivated students.

the types of structural improvements that are necessary to improve the quality of life for students should either way be of interest to you, so why are you on the defensive?


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Posted by Me Too
a resident of Midtown
on Feb 25, 2011 at 3:33 pm

[Portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff.] Let's see, every super we've had in ages has been terrible. Either a) we have just terrible luck or b) they aren't really all so bad, but segments of the community eventually find them all grossly wanting, and then complain viciously. Which is more likely?

The fault, dear Palo Alto, lies not in our superintendents, but in ourselves! Thank you Dr. Skelly and all school district people, for putting up with our behavior. Please keep up the good work.


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Posted by Charlie
a resident of Barron Park
on Feb 25, 2011 at 3:47 pm

It's like people having a heart problem asking for a brain surgery! Perhaps some of them are having an hidden agenda.


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Posted by Resident
a resident of Community Center
on Feb 25, 2011 at 4:02 pm

I disagree with the opinion in the op-ed piece. I believe Skelly and the board are doing a good job. I have had two children go thru the PAUSD system. It wasn't perfect but overall it was a good experience and they are doing well. There are issues. My biggest concern is ineffective teachers who can not be removed due to tenure and the unions. But that is a different issue.

Frankly I am disappointed that Palo Alto Online published this article. It feels like a a hit piece from disgruntled parents. I hope Skelly is given a chance to respond.

[Portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]


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Posted by Paly Teacher
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Feb 25, 2011 at 4:11 pm

To Happy Paly Dad and Local Mom and Teacher -- Thank you!

I have been teaching in Palo Alto and other districts for many years. I promise you this: kids don't commit suicide because they have too much homework, student stress is not caused by schools nor relieved by special school calendars, and the teachers and administrators are not responsible for the emotional health of your children.

Kevin Skelly isn't my favorite person. He's not the best leader, he cow tows to the parents, and he essentially fired half our administration last year because a group of aggressive parents couldn't bear the thought of their children being held accountable for their illegal and destructive vandalism of another school. But he is not responsible for the emotional health of your child. Neither am I, your child's teacher. Academic stress is part of a much larger systemic problem that begins with parents and is fueled by college admission policies. The high schools are caught in the middle, with little chance that we will be able to effect much change.

Surely you must be kidding if you think that this community would allow the elimination or even reduction of AP course offerings. And don't blame the school board for not being able to issue a decision on the school calendar when parents refuse to alter their family travel traditions in order to make it happen -- they want what they want but they aren't willing to give up ANYTHING to get it. Funny, sounds kind of like their kids.

This parent community is out of control, and NOTHING that the superintendent or the teachers do could possibly manifest any real change until there is a change in the parenting philosophy of this community.

Yes, it would greatly benefit kids if classes were smaller, the Advisory program more meaningful, a third high school was built, more school guidance counselors and school psychiatrists were hired, teachers were paid more, etc. BUT the real problem and the possibility for real change lies at HOME, not at school.

Ironically, while the debate seems to get more and more antagonistic between parents and teachers, the community and the administration, we ALL want the same thing -- we want our students to be happy and healthy and successful in school and in life. We just have very different definitions of what that means.

I am continually sad for my students, not because of what their teachers inflict on them, but because of the inadequacy and pressure they feel from their parents -- whether real or perceived.


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Posted by Teacher 2
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Feb 25, 2011 at 4:38 pm

If you want less stress and more connectedness, parents are going to have to be willing to give up certain things. Why not consider a SIX period day? Why do students have to take SEVEN classes? Why not have Advisory or a Homeroom period as a mandatory daily class? Because Palo Alto parents feel compelled to push their kids to have the most rigorous schedules possible.

And how can school personnel stay connected to kids when our class sizes are outrageous, our school counselors understaffed, but parents don't want to pony up the money it would take to solve those problems? And let's not forget that many many parents of kids who have serious mental health issues demand secrecy and privacy. How can I help a student when their parents won't tell the school what is happening with their kid?

Please, stop complaining and look in the mirror! And if it's not you that's contributing to the problem, it's your neighbor, so go knock on their door and tell them to stop complaining and blaming everybody else.




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Posted by One Gunn Former Mom
a resident of Gunn High School
on Feb 25, 2011 at 4:42 pm

I agree with a lot of what the Daubers say, but the blame should not be placed on Skelly--it should be on the board. The only time I have ever seen such a non-functional group is when analysis driven engineers try to make a product release date--something is always left off because they cannot make a decision--"give me more data". And several have agendas that are ridiculous. I alsmost fell off my chair when one board member said every school should be a choice school.

This district suffers from 2 things, "give me more data" and "let's let each school be totally autonomous". When the school calendar came up 4 years ago, some high school parents wanted to have finals before break to reduce stress, but the board asked for more information and, since the elementatry parents outnumbered the high school parents, it became a moot point. Well, here it is 4 years later and they are still asking for more information. Come on folks, do we have to invent a wheel every time we need to push the cart???

The only reason we need any employees at the district level is to make sure we are complying with state law. Oh, and to make sure our numbers (API, etc) look good. Each school is treated like a separate company. God forbid we should share best practices! When bullying was a big issue 6 years ago, each elementary school was out looking for anti-bullying programs and implementing the one they liked. There was no effort to coordinate things district wide because God forbid somone should tell a principal how to run something. And wasn't that productive use of scarce resources!

I do give Skelly credit for trying to push through the calendar change--every other high school is doing it but, no, we have different needs... Even after getting "more data", I doubt this board will do anything.

But I do not like the fact that he went back to participating in the Newsweek Challenge Index. We don't need that! A lot of the public high schools that make it are "Magnet" High Schools where they can skim off the cream of the student population to only take the top 20%, so the numbers are skewed. And why does Palo Alto need to publicize that we have "good schools"? Do we want more people moving here with high achieving agendas to add more pressure?

Oh, and there was the mention of how many kids get tutored. Some estimates are that as many as 80% of the kids at Gunn have tutors. So how good are our teachers if we have to supplement what they do with paid for help? Instead of saying that Palo Alto schools are good, we should be saying that Palo Alto parents are good.

There needs to be better leadership at the board level. Skelly is caught in a demilitarized zone between his subordinates and his bosses. He tries to lead, but the board, who want to get re-elected, cowtows to the minority of parents who are the most vocal. If you want to get your way in Palo Alto, make sure you scream the loudest and the last--this board will buckle to the last loud input. No matter how much "data" they have, it is easier for them to say, we need to study this rather than make a "hard decision". I am just so glad I don't have to deal with this anymore! But I feel sorry for parents still in the "system"--you have your work cut out for you. Good luck.


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Posted by Other happy Paly parent
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 25, 2011 at 4:46 pm

I can't believe the calls to eliminate AP classes because some students stress over them. Some students actually thrive in those classes. Should we take that away from them? NO!

What needs to be done is change the mindset that suggests that all students, or almost all, should be taking AP classes or else they are failures. But eliminating AP classes altogether will only hurt some kids to try and benefit others.

Other than that, there are extra-curricular activities available outside of schools. My kids have never belonged to a single club at school and they are doing just fine, including after high school. Think scouting, outside sports, arts, etc.

Retired teacher put it best when saying:

"The concentration of high-achieving, successful, ambitious, and demanding parents in Palo Alto has created more and more stress in our students and in our institutions, contributing greatly to some of the tragedies we have seen in the past few years.

We all need to look at ways to improve this situation, not just pretend that it's just the schools and Kevin Skelly's leadership. Talk to your fellow parents, Ken and Michele. Work with them, even though, yes, changing this culture is not an easy job!"


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Posted by Becky Sanders
a resident of Ventura
on Feb 25, 2011 at 4:48 pm

Wow, is it too late for me to get in on the act? Kevin Skelly sees himself as an educator not a psychologist, but I think he has figured out that irate parents and these issues of student health and well-being are not going away. I for one would like to see him have a chance to reframe and be successful here. Amy Drolette is head of Student Services for PAUSD. She reports to Kevin. Amy is working with Rob DeGeus of the City of Palo Alto and they are overseeing Project Safety Net's long term strategic goals -- one of which is to be working hand-in-glove with PAUSD in implementing the Focused Goal of Youth Connectedness. It is most unfortunate that Amy and Kevin were not at the top of their game at the meeting February 13th. At the Project Safety Net Meeting on February 24, Amy rolled out an initiative "Sources of Strength" www.sourcesofstrength.com . Those who attended the open-to-the-public meeting participated in a 90 minute live webinar with the founders of this "Sources of Strength". SOS has a proven track record in training youth to be peer counselors. Their job is to be the connection between disaffected and hurting youth and caring adults who can help. When these trained young people are "deployed" into a school environment -- across the board the stress factors go down. They've got data to back it up. Amy Drolette is planning on announcing this new initiative on the PAUSD Website SOON. That is my understanding. There will be a pilot program this Spring with full implementation this Fall. That is my understanding.

Now, does the buck stop there? No. PAUSD is doing other things like implementing gatekeeper training in all the high schools and middle schools this current year. Project Safety Net has got plans and is looking for volunteers to be the arms and legs in this city. Go to www.psnpaloalto.com to find out how to help. And what are we citizens doing? I know that parents are passionately engaged in their kids' lives and coaching sports and running the scouts and carpooling kids to lessons. But I think I'm talking about something else here. Everyone of us living in Palo Alto has a duty to show the kids of this town that we care in everything we do toward them. Is your business youth friendly? Do you have Internship/job opportunities for kids in your place of business? Do you have a skill that the schools don't teach? Have you talked to a young person who wasn't your own child and listened to what they had to say? Have you thought about how our open spaces and public places and even private businesses could be used to promote activities for our youth? Before we give Kevin a pink slip, I'd like to give him and Amy a chance to implement some of their initiatives with full community involvement, engagement and support. We could have Joan of Ark and Mahatma Gandhi and Dr. King himself running PAUSD, but the community has to roll up its sleeves and get down to work as well.


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Posted by Midtown resident
a resident of Midtown
on Feb 25, 2011 at 4:57 pm

Well, some of you are starting to make the kind of sense that Shakespeare made so long ago:
"The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, But in ourselves ..." Julius Caesar (I, ii, 140-141)
It ain't the school system! It's we, the parents. We're not doing our job and we're expecting the school to do it for us.
If we have high expectations of our children, they try to respond to OUR expectations. If we want straight "A"s, they'll try to give us straight "A"s. If they fail, they will be depressed.
Stop blaming the schools for what you're doing yourselves.


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Posted by teacher pushback unacceptable
a resident of Downtown North
on Feb 25, 2011 at 5:03 pm

Me Too,

parents come and go, not everyone can be here 100 years to plan and organize the best possible environment, and be hyper involved in the schools

BUT schools, teachers and administrators are charged with the continuity of things that work, and for changing and challenging what's not working

it's a massively disjointed system relying on political whims and strokes of genius in leadership, to actually make a difference

maybe we do have terrible luck





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Posted by wish there was more we could do
a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Feb 25, 2011 at 5:12 pm

After attending last Sunday's faith based meeting where Dr. Skelly and Amy Drolette presented current social and emotional programs relative to our school district, I am also very concerned about the leadership we currently now have. I really appreciate that Addison school had an anti-bully presentation, that Ohlone has core values, and that JLS/Terman have a student connectiveness program at the beginning of the school year but their are no overall, cohesive programs within all our schools. Dr. Skelly made it clear that their is a long history of the principal's having autonomy but does he have no leadership ability to say we need a change. Why can't the school district say, everyone should have an anti-bully program, but the principals can impliment a program in the way that fits their specific school. When asked about how he plans to evaluate student connectiveness, Dr. Skelly said something like the following, "I have been thinking about this for a long term and I don't really have a full answer." Lets be pragmatic here, we need functional everyday programs for all our students not just theory based ideas.



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Posted by teacher pushback unacceptable
a resident of Downtown North
on Feb 25, 2011 at 5:23 pm



Becky,

"training youth to be peer counselors.'???!!!!

on top of everything they already do???!!!

wow

Having Mega schools in a community that is hyper competitive challenges everyone, even the best students.

schedule changes, challenging success, training kids to SELF-counsel, maybe it helps

but real long-term planning is to stop expanding the schools, create smaller environments for them. and hopefully not need SOS, and whatever emergency systems are being put in place.




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Posted by Parent
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Feb 25, 2011 at 5:30 pm

I wish people would stop saying that we can give our high achievers a real break if finals were before winter break. That is nonsense and the high achievers - or at least the parents of those so called high achievers, know it. Winter break is used for extra tutoring and will be even more so if finals came before winter break. As it is, I have heard of 8th graders doing SAT prep courses during Winter break, let alone high schoolers. Check out all the Kaplans and the like, that is their busy period.

Some will always use Winter Break to get ahead academically. Don't pretend high achievers will get a break. Those Tiger Moms won't let them.


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Posted by Go Skelly!
a resident of Adobe-Meadows
on Feb 25, 2011 at 5:47 pm

There is nothing wrong with PAUSD. Skelly is doing a fantastic job making the schools famous and good for people who want to go to Ivy and UCLA level colleges. What we need to change is parenting.

The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few.


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Posted by Becky Sanders
a resident of Ventura
on Feb 25, 2011 at 5:49 pm

@ teacher pushback unacceptable

Hi there:

Thanks for your comment.

Yes, they train peers that have evinced an interest in this kind of service. They don't have to take the training it's entirely voluntary. Check out the Sources of Strength website.

However, teachers. administrators, community leaders who work with kids will be "nominating" kids who have shown a strong sense of connectedness and leadership abilities. And kids can volunteer to take the training as well, once they hear about it.

I think that's the game plan. But yeh, I'm no expert, I'm merely reporting what was said at the Project Safety Net meeting yesterday!



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Posted by John Young
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 25, 2011 at 6:00 pm

Regardless of the issues here, one thing with Skelly. His mind is always made up. He doesn't value input. Case in point: Everyday Math.


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Posted by parent
a resident of Palo Verde
on Feb 25, 2011 at 6:03 pm

it seems like a good start.kids are more willing to talk to their peers about their trouble that bothers them instead of telling their parents or teachers.


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Posted by parent
a resident of Palo Verde
on Feb 25, 2011 at 6:18 pm

the school can open an anonymous phone line that only high school kids can call to discuss with someone about any thing that are related to their school lives or unusually situation/complaints or pressure at home.


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Posted by Yes we can, if he can't!
a resident of Barron Park
on Feb 25, 2011 at 6:26 pm

We have fired the Davids the governor, why can't we fire Skelly? if he is not serving our kids and he is not a good leader who can stand up to the parents he claims are the source of the problem, then let's get one who has what it takes. Sorry, but it is time for him to go.


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Posted by Parent
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Feb 25, 2011 at 6:35 pm

The Weekly just posted the questions that the audience wanted to ask at the Feb. 13th forum held at St. Mark's. It's on the thread that was started about that meeting. Web Link


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Posted by Yes we Can if...
a resident of Barron Park
on Feb 25, 2011 at 7:06 pm

Copied from the other thread:

Below are the questions that were submitted on cards by the audience at the St. Mark's youth forum. They were compiled by the forum's organizers and then submitted to the school district. The Weekly requested a copy, which was provided by the Superintendent's office.

February 13, 2011 Community Meeting

Questions submitted by the audience.

1. How will you measure success specifically?

2. While respecting each school's autonomy, how will you ensure enough is being done at each site? A little here and there will not be enough.

3. Why don't you speak to the issue? Why can't you speak directly? Kids are lost and need mentors. Cut the BABBLE. HELP!

4. When will the plan for next year be done and presented?

5. Amy D said: "We have learned that if we push our kids to work hard, they'll do it." BUT aren't we learning that this is false -- that kids don't want to be pushed? That it is to much?

6. JLS has the "Connections" program

a. Who does it serve?

b. How successful is it?

c. Why doesn't a similar program exist at the other middle schools and the high schools?

7. Shouldn't we hire seasoned professionals -- licensed MFTs or LCSWs for our schools?

8. It is fine to give the principals some autonomy in getting things done, but why is Dr. Skelly afraid to lead on the issue? He is the Superintendent. What does he have against this focus goal?

9. Why are thing so different among schools -- e.g. Tier Camp, Panther Camp -- Where's Jordan's? The Addison community event -- why isn't it happening elsewhere?

10. What has changed?

11. The feeling of frustration is obvious among concerned parents. Many are eager to engage in change -- but the administration and principals seem to avoid engaging parents but speak to them, if they speak at all.

12. Why go through all the programs we already know about that we know aren't enough?

13. This is a middle and especially high school problem. Why are you bringing elementary programs into this meeting?

14. How many students do these programs involve - Camp Everytown, SLC at high schools?

15. Where are the teachers tonight?

16. From Amy's presentation, am I to conclude that nothing new has been done this year? All the programs she listed have not been effective if you listen to the students.

17. Aren't most of these programs self-selective -- i.e. they only reach kids who choose to be reached? What % of kids are actually in these programs?

18. Clubs have existed for a long time. We have concern for students who do not want a club. What will be for them?

19. Why did it take so long to make the "social-emotional" need a top goal? Please Reply.

20. I've been impressed with the Connections program at JLS. Any thoughts on expanding that program into the other middle schools in the district? (Seems to be a great learning community)

21. The TEAM program at Paly seems to be an enormous step toward connectedness. Why not expand it to all or most freshman?

22. How can the schools improve identifying suicidal youth?

23. How is the district educating students about their own social/emotional behavioral development and growth so they know when to break the so called "code of silence?"

24. What % of HS students in Palo Alto attend camp Everytown? Is there a risk that this experience leaves a student open and raw with no good outlet to help them reintegrate into the rat race?

25. Can you expand the "peer helper" program in the high schools in a substantial way?

26. Why are kids who are failing not held back?

27. More after school programs. The "bully" on the school ground.

28. Please stop using acronyms!!

29. There is much talk of the benefits of the Paly bell schedule. What's stopping its implementation at Gunn?

30. Regarding the various programs at the school level:

a. Are all kids aware of these programs?

b. Are kids given an opportunity to give feed back on the effectiveness of these programs?

31. Why was this meeting not advertised in the Gunn Connection (email) newsletter?

32. What changes can parents make at home to support connectedness at school?

33. Girls Middle School has a connectedness program where a teacher and group (6-10) students meet regularly through-out the year to discuss stresses and concerns in school life. Can this be done at Gunn?

34. Challenge success is one of the most innovative programs to address the underlying culture in high achieving communities and is based right here at Stanford. Why hasn't PAUSD embraced this program?

35. The focused goal was passed 5 months ago and this is all that there is to report? What in the world are they doing? Haven't they looked at best practices anywhere else? We don't have to re-create the wheel.

36. To Amy Drolette:

a. List of Systematic Programs is business as usual.

b. Same old programs will not have a different result.

c. Grade level list: same as above

37. As an educator, I recognize "edu-speak". My child is still invisible to his teachers. How do you get a teacher to "buy in"?

38. Is ACS doing an adequate job?

39. Are interns sufficiently trained to deal with suicidal teens?

40. Why are so many students dying?

41. Are we asking PAUSD to change our culture or are we going to change our culture?

42. I no longer feel proud to be a student at Palo Alto because I get sad when my friends die.

43. I am most concerned about children who don't have friends, who eat alone. Does PAUSD reach out to them?

44. Amy mentioned lots of clubs, extracurriculars etc. Is anyone measuring or seeking out those kids that don't participate in any of those or STOP attending? (e.g. signs of disconnection)

45. What does connectedness have to do with the competition described by the Gunn student?

46. High school counselors recently came to JLS to talk to incoming freshmen. My 8th grade son came home that afternoon and as we talked about the presentation, he said, "I think I need to get a tutor for studying for the SAT." As a family, we've never talked about the SAT, at least not yet. One of our wonderful youth speakers tonight said, "teach us to value ourselves outside of academics." High school isn't just about pumping kids up for college. What is the message you want your counselors to give new students about making high school a truly meaningful, healthy experience?

47. Is there a planned budget increase for 2012 for psychiatric staff in-house at Gunn and Paly?


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Posted by teacher pushback unacceptable
a resident of Downtown North
on Feb 25, 2011 at 7:47 pm

Parent from Paly community posted

about proposed schedule change

"Some will always use Winter Break to get ahead academically. Don't pretend high achievers will get a break. Those Tiger Moms won't let them."

Tiger parents are definitely an issue and I agree with some of the teachers on that, BUT not that parents can change, or should.

It's still up to the schools to not let them/us parents game the system.

So, keep the competitiveness in our schools - it's overall good for everyone but, there's a reason too many tigers are never put in the same cage,

the STRESS from it can and should be changed

Break it up somehow, and keep the tiger influences apart, instead of the lane system

IF TEAMs or Houses were created, or schools within schools concept, you could manage this better

teams, houses or sub-groups would force teachers to talk to each other about each student, and to get to know their Team or House kids better, have a Principal, Counselor, Psychologist, for EACH team or house

this would finally lead to accountability for coordinating homework. I've heard that doing something like this would be "logistically" difficult

this is where leadership does come in, and I completely agree with the Dauber's

"We shouldn't have to struggle with the school district to acknowledge basic facts of life about our schools and our children."


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Posted by teacher pushback unacceptable
a resident of Downtown North
on Feb 25, 2011 at 7:53 pm



from the questions recently posted

21. The TEAM program at Paly seems to be an enormous step toward connectedness. Why not expand it to all or most freshman?

why not school wide???


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Posted by Observer
a resident of South of Midtown
on Feb 25, 2011 at 8:36 pm

I agree it's the parents and the realtors. Skelly is doing a very good job. If anything he's too easy on the parents who pretend to care about the students, while continuing to pressure their own.


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Posted by Yes we can, if ...
a resident of Barron Park
on Feb 25, 2011 at 8:39 pm

Yes we can, but Skelly does not want to mandate the principals what to do. If we want changes, we have to attend the board meetings, plant the seed, and continue attending till they see that we are serious, we also have to watch out for some parents who along with Skelly do not want changes, and we have to be able to persuade them. Good Luck


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Posted by another Paly mom
a resident of Leland Manor/Garland Drive
on Feb 25, 2011 at 9:12 pm

The teachers blame the parents for putting the stress on their kids. Can we just look at the teachers for a minute? I'm a registered democrat and I think the teacher's union has got to go! Lifelong tenure after 1.5 yrs? Performance evaluations that are not tied to compensation? This system is medieval! Break the union. Hire, evaluate and retain teachers based on their ability to teach. Maybe then the playing field will be even and the students might enjoy learning for the sake of knowledge.

Teachers treat all parents as if we're the enemy -- oh and they treat the students that way, too. When I've met with a teacher regarding my student's progress (not the GRADE, but the failure to learn the material) I'm told that it's my child's fault for not keeping up. The teacher is required by the department to "keep up" with the other classes so that tests on the material can be given on the same day to reduce cheating. How about really teaching the material so the student can understand it? What about developing a culture of HONESTY in all things academic. Two years ago, a student plagerized their commencement speech, but it was too late to punish them. In my school we were required to write on every paper: This is my own work. Give the existing Honesty Policy some teeth!

And the reason Skelly got rid of "half" of the Paly administrators last year is because they were out of touch with reality! Phil Winston is the best thing to happen to Paly since Sandra Pearson! He handled the last suicide with grace and care and concern for ALL the students and their families. We are lucky to have him.


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Posted by limit APs
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 25, 2011 at 10:19 pm

In response to: "I feel CERTAIN there are bright kids who did not play the "AP game" and also quite sure, sadly, they paid for it in their college offers."

I feel CERTAIN there are bright kids who DID play the "AP game" and they did not get the college offers that they hoped for.

I feel CERTAIN that my three students did not play the "AP game" (two APs senior year) and they got in to top programs and are thriving, self-assured students that had great high school experiences.

Our family focused on balance and while there is stress in everyday life, they seemed to learn how to deal with the stress and balance their own lives (did you get that; they learned to balance THEIR LIVES). It would be nice if parents would stop blaming everyone else and look in a mirror. Look at what you say and look at what you model. Once you fix that then you could begin to work together with the district and try to make additional changes. By the way I appreciate all that Kevin Skelly has done for this district.


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Posted by Noel
a resident of Crescent Park
on Feb 25, 2011 at 11:57 pm

Palo Alto is full of activist parents with strong opinions and strong inclinations to express those opinions. This may be why we keep grinding up and spitting out Superintendents and high school principals. Maybe this is also why we have somehow ground up so many children.

This letter is such a hodgepodge of fact, "conclusions" not based on facts presented and sheer vitriol that it does not help us to move forward as a community. As Kevin Skelly has often said, we all need to relax a little bit and go easier on our selves and on each other.

We need to start by looking in the mirror as parents and address the pressures that we feel and that we inflict on our children.


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Posted by PA mom
a resident of Crescent Park
on Feb 26, 2011 at 12:17 am

I agree with Ted Henderson.


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Posted by hs teacher
a resident of Crescent Park
on Feb 26, 2011 at 7:44 am

I disagree with this "article." I'm a Paly parent of two who teaches at an equally competitive high school. Skelly and others are trying hard. What needs to be addressed is what is going on at home. Families appear to prize getting into an Ivy as of utmost importance and cheating (Sparknotes and tutors doing more than tutoring) as a means to get there. Teachers are inundated with recommendation writing for Ivy schools and their summer programs, which means time away from lesson planning. I'm really tired of techies telling teachers what to do. Teachers want to teach critical thinking and the love of discovery. Allow them to do it and don't foster cheating. Your job at Google is completely different from teaching BTW.


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Posted by Disgruntled Parent
a resident of College Terrace
on Feb 26, 2011 at 8:12 am

I moved to Palo Alto because I believed in the quality of school system. I understood that this quality drove up property values, but I was prepared to pay a premium for what I thought would be a wonderful school system--particularly high school. Now I find myself eschewing those high schools based on their obsession with certain kinds of student achievement, which is only secured at the price of much human suffering to many students. Unless the School District does something dramatic to remedy this (perhaps through a variety of smaller school alternatives that cater to different families' values), our property values will decrease significantly. Indeed, I have spoken with several would-be purchasers who report that they are looking outside of Palo Alto precisely to avoid Palo Alto schools. What a turnabout!


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Posted by BalancingAct
a resident of College Terrace
on Feb 26, 2011 at 8:52 am

I'm no lover of PAUSD. I think they are failing this community in various ways ... like having way too many high-paid "Assistant Superintendent" positions while cutting back on classroom teachers. On the other hand, there's only so much they can do about stress in a community that is fanatical about getting their kids into ivy league colleges. Palo Alto is one messed-up community. My daughter was a nonconformist in high school who refused to bow to the pressures and refused to sign up for calculus. She's now taking calculus in college and enjoying it! I mean really, people, how many of these kids who take calculus as juniors at Gunn will ever use it? My daughter, on the other hand, is headed for a degree in Economic modeling where she WILL use it. So which child is better prepared for life? I vote for mine.


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Posted by PropertyValues?
a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Feb 26, 2011 at 8:55 am

So having read all these comments today, I am astounded at the interplay of "student stress" and "property values". Wow, maybe that last poster is correct: Maybe PA *is* one messed up community!


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Posted by Me Too
a resident of Midtown
on Feb 26, 2011 at 9:13 am

There's not a lot wrong with PAUSD that parents relaxing wouldn't solve. The pressure (or not) starts at home, not school or society. It's funny that Palo Alto people cannot discuss their issues without resorting to hyperbole and accusation - perhaps indicative of why the kids get stressed out.

I am not worried about my kids (one high school, one middle) since they know that we love them and have confidence in them and their futures. Sure, they run into problems and have to deal with pressure and setbacks - that's life and how they learn. They'll do fine, in PAUSD or anywhere else I expect.

Stress is something that we choose - it doesn't come from outside, it is completely under each person and family's control. You can be calm in pressure cooker or come unhinged at a tea party - it depends on the person's outlook. Parents, the tools for managing our kids' stress are available to us all - we don't need the schools to do anything for us.


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Posted by Why in Palo Alto?
a resident of another community
on Feb 26, 2011 at 9:15 am

Replacing one person isn't likely to change the problem. I do think, though, that if Palo Alto were to follow the lead of at least one other highly ranked school district and give residents full choice of which high school their child would attend (i.e., not make it dependent on where the family happens to live or on enrollment figures), people might end up more satisfied. Gunn already has a reputation of being more intense than Paly, and some parents (even perhaps some students) prefer it that way; others don't. Why not let everyone choose? In another highly ranked district, one of the two high schools is similarly more intense (and more highly ranked) than the other; the less-intense school, however, has a real block schedule and is preferred by many residents. The two schools differ in enrollment numbers: The more-intense school has around 2400 students, while the less-intense one has roughly 1800; they also differ in the ethnicities of their student bodies, with the more-intense school much more highly Asian than the less-intense school. Giving parents (and students) complete freedom in their choice of high school works very well for this community--people can choose what they want. If Palo Alto were to follow suit, my guess is that Gunn would end up with enrollment figures and characteristics similar to the more-intense school in this other district, while Paly would become more like the less-intense school. And that might make everyone a lot happier, because they'd be choosing what seemed best for themselves and their children. (Incidentally, both the more-intense and less-intense schools in this other district have excellent college placement.)


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Posted by parent
a resident of Palo Verde
on Feb 26, 2011 at 9:21 am

i have talked to some college students from both ivy and ucla who graduated from gunn,and other high school in this area, the palo alto ones told me that the school better prepares them for the college while others feel struggled in those colleges.palo alot did a good job in preparing students to succeed in the future.


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Posted by susan
a resident of Barron Park
on Feb 26, 2011 at 9:31 am

Palo Alto is a messed up community. I actually had a neighbor tell me she was "sorry" that my child was only applying to UC's. According to her, state schools were garbage and only private colleges like Scripps, Claremont, Swarthmore, etc. were good. My child ended up attending UCLA and had a fabulous four years and now works out of state in an excellent job. Our priorities are all backwards and our children suffer for it.


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Posted by Bob
a resident of Barron Park
on Feb 26, 2011 at 9:38 am

Here's what I tell my PAUSD-attending kids about stress:
Dear daughter, when I was your age (8), I visited my father for the first time in the hospital after he was cut by a fare-beater who didn't want to pay for a ride "uptown" his cab.
Dear son, when I was your age (11), I started wondering why my mother would so meticulously cut for me all the meat from the meager scraps of chicken she was able to afford while she ate only the fat.
I remember learning what crack was when I asked one of the rock-slingers that hung out in the lobby of my Queens tenement what all those people were smoking in those funny pipes.
I remember getting semi-weekly beat-downs on the subway I took to my metal-detector guarded middle school.
etc, etc.
Despite all the hurdles, my mother always said, "things always work out . . . " and "this is America, a far better place than where we came from . . . "
And I do my darndest to resist the temptation to paraphrase Barnes from the movie Platoon: "stress? whaddya all know about stress?"
Instead, I tell them that life can be hard at times, but things always seem to have a way of working out . . .


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Posted by another Paly parent
a resident of Leland Manor/Garland Drive
on Feb 26, 2011 at 9:57 am

My Paly students tell me the stress comes from their peers. I work hard to remind my children that I love them for who they are and not for their grades, that I want them to do their best and to succeed -- but if I think they are stressed then I take pains to reduce that stress. I think I've done a pretty good job. But my children still feel stress because their classmates are announcing their grades, their SAT scores, their super summer camps, their tutors, etc. So to all those parents out there who are putting pressure on your kids, please ask them to keep it to themselves and not contaminate the other students whose parents try to maintain a balance!


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Posted by pamom
a resident of Barron Park
on Feb 26, 2011 at 10:00 am

The main problem regarding academic stress is that it is harder and harder to get into the top elite universities. Some advocate just don't worry about it. That works for some but often if students drop the AP class they find the regular class slow, boring, and not very good. It's stressful for students to do busy work and take classes that are too easy.

Yes, there are tiger moms/dads who push their students too hard. But there are a lot of problems in our high schools that need to be addressed: teachers who don't teach the material (it's part of the project learning fads), a lot of time spent on busy work often tied to projects and group learning, and some teachers make it extremely hard to get an "A" where it is much easier in another high school in the bay area. These are things that should be looked at and improved upon.

A lot of this is driven by how hard it is to get into the privates and also the UC's. Maybe we need a lottery system -- meet a basic standard and then use a lottery. Students are expected to be adults just to get into the UC's with all the activities and community service expected of them. This could be changed.


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Posted by Moira
a resident of Midtown
on Feb 26, 2011 at 10:01 am

My kids are at Gunn. One is doing fine, the other is adjusting slowly to high school. I don't say anything to my kids, but after Back-to-School night, I felt sad that this is their high school experience. After the various teachers gave a brief introduction to the courses (I went to all the classes), inevitably the next minute a parent raised his/her hand and asked a breakdown of the grading process. That's what parents in this district care about -grades and admission to a top school. And the faculty is hired to provide the courses and expertise to achieve that. Given the demographics of this town and the wealth it takes to live here, the prevailing ethic is grades are paramount. I'm sorry to predict that nothing will change vis-a-vis the stress that the kids experience. But, as has been said, it's we the parents who keep the system intact.

I chose to live here because of the schools, but I didn't realize that there would be an increasing intensity and obsession on the part of the parents about GPAs, APs, tutors, summer jobs/internships all part of the "resume building" for college and all managed by parents and not the teens. It is part of a larger angst about how our kids will be able to find jobs in this highly competitive society. The ironic thing is that after you micro-manage your kid's life to get him/her into Princeton, there is no longer any guarantee that a Princeton degree will insure a job after college. Not to mention that if your parents planned your entire life, picked your college and major for you, you may wake up at 30 and wonder "Why aren't I happy?". Noone at your first job will want to know about how you aced the AP exam, they will care if you can get along with your co-workers, think creatively and oh yeah, a sense of humor can actually go a long way.

I don't have kids who are going to Harvard, but they do their own schoolwork, are allowed to make their own decisions regarding classes that interest them, have friends and good values. They will be fine in the long run. I agree it is difficult to be around the intense Palo Alto parents, I choose to ignore them. I can't wait until my kids graduate and can experience college with a more normal sampling of students from a variety of states and circumstances.


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Posted by Faulty underpinnings
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 26, 2011 at 10:29 am

Shame on the Dauber's for not doing their research and for publicly humiliating Dr. Skelly. Shame on PA Online for inviting the town to the public attack.

1. AP Index?

If you read the text that accompanies the AP Index, you'll see that the Index has virtually nothing to do with stress (i.e. the grades/scores kids get in those classes) but has everything to do with making AP classes available to students of differing abilities because in many schools non-AP classes are where achievement gap kids go and languish content-wise. Jay Mathews, the Index's author, is passionate about giving many high school kids access to strong content. Apparently, Dr. S. is too, and I suspect that is in part why he thinks PAUSD should support US News' report.

2. Academic stress studies mentioned (but not cited) tying stress to depression and suicides?

Nowhere in all the work done by "parents, mental health professionals, and academics" mentioned by the Daubers has it been shown that academic stress causes suicide or depression that I have seen.

Who else disagrees with this connection? Challenge Success. After students took Challenge Success' survey at Mission San Jose in Fremont, they found no correlation between the "stress level and the difficulty of the academic courseload," which Denise Clark Pope reported was no surprise and consistent with other schools Challenge Success has surveyed. Web Link

In fact, Paly's Challenge Success Survey, where students reported that athletics and relationships were as or more stressful than school, IDed stress as coming from out of school (82% IDing themselves and their parents) with only about 4% IDing teachers.

So then why the laser focus on PAUSD as the culprit?

3. Project Safety Net's Report does not recommend what the Daubers say it does (that PAUSD put "final exams before the winter break.")

That report mentions finals as something that we could solicit a youth voice about; this is exactly what PAUSD just did with the calendar survey that went out to all high schoolers last month.

It will be interesting to see if those results match the City of Palo Alto's Youth Forum student survey results a year ago where our high school students reported that extra-curricular activities stressed them out 10 x more than the < 3% who pointed to finals as stressors. Per that survey, 3-4% is the same VERY LOW percent of students at both Paly and at Gunn who wanted finals to be moved to before break.

The Safety Net report also suggests "studying" this issue, again exactly what the district did, later taking into account community concerns about unintended stress/consequences pre-break finals would set in motion.

4. "A documentary film on the subject, 'Race to Nowhere,' has been showing to packed high school auditoriums nationwide."

Wow, a for-profit film which scares people so they will buy tickets is not what I'd call unbiased authority.

The veil is being lifted on Race to Nowhere and efforts like it, exposing just how faulty their research is and how illogical many of their conclusions are. Take Race to Nowhere's stat about teen depression. Fortunately for our youth, teen depression is one-tenth of what Race to Nowhere reports it to be (taken from the same source Race to Nowhere mis-cites for its shocking 10 times that number).

Just a battle of words? Look at actions then. Where are the founders of these groups spending the money they earn from ticket and book sales? The most famous of the bunch writes large tuition checks to send a child to one of the most competitive, homework-intensive, Ivy-feeder private high schools in California that makes Paly seem like an inner-city school in comparison.

So please don't cite Race to Nowhere and its ilk as authority.

5. A "profound feeling among students of lack of community, connection, and caring adults."

Strong words. Where's your non-anecdotal authority for this? Maybe it would have been best to wait to see PAUSD's Developmental Assets survey results that will be released in a few weeks before making these sweeping, unsubstantiated claims.

I could continue pointing out glaring problems with the Daubers' other points, but the main point is that they twist the messages that their sources send.

Our community should be very careful with its information gathering before stirring up the public angst and criticizing policymakers.


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Posted by teacher pushback unacceptable
a resident of Downtown North
on Feb 26, 2011 at 11:05 am

let's get to the point about the stress

Very different from Bob's Queen's tenement days

Academic: 20-25 hours/week of assigned Homework from teachers that expect and demand only the best, making videos for HW, meticulous posters, Science projects above and beyond normal, Math level opportunities that push all sorts of limits for what are many many takers

Academic SCHOOL CULTURE where "the best" are the ones that feel the love - forget it, if you are "average" there are no Honors or Elite lanes or assemblies or the highest awards for those that do less. And please don't humiliate kids further by trying to recognize them for "other" qualities. If you are Average in our schools, you are considered stupid or lazy (by teachers and students), your parent's love is meaningless when your best work is average, or if you don't turn in your homework.

Extra-curriculars in school (encouraged by school) for kids to find their "gifts", all at a price, they have to commit to the program (theater, sports, debate, anything and always requires a number of hours a week)

Extra-curriculars outside of school - optional but if you are an athlete (to take advantage of the bow down bow down sports programs in our schools, you should probably do extras, to be the BEST athlete. and how else would the academic jocks stay ahead?

Community service/ humanitarian activities (required by schools and colleges) - with almost Inhuman amount of hours logged in by these kids to please the culture in both our schools and society, to be so goof

and now we will ask kids to be Sources of Strength to each other

I would be really careful so that kids don't feel responsible for the social emotional health of kids in this particular culture

if the Superintendent himself has thought a lot about this, and thinks this is really hard, should the kids be the frontline of the solution?



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Posted by limit APs
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 26, 2011 at 11:30 am

Well said "Faulty underpinnings"!! Thank you for the great discussion points and thoughtful comments.


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Posted by teacher pushback unacceptable
a resident of Downtown North
on Feb 26, 2011 at 12:02 pm



Faulty and limit APs


and of the research on Smaller schools and Big schools?

maybe not directly addressed by this letter, but some of us think this is what needs to be addressed with plenty of sound logic and research to do things like schools within schools, or teams, houses,

that takes leadership we don't have coming from the schools

plenty of people satisfied with the status quo, but not everyone is


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Posted by Me Too
a resident of Midtown
on Feb 26, 2011 at 12:05 pm

@Limit APs - you can limit your AP's already, no? No one has to take them, and the faculty heartily encourages those who are not passionate for the subject not to take the course, and points to their many students past who did not take a particular AP (or Chem H or you name it) and, surprise, went to a fine college anyway. Then, surprise, the AP's are usually quite hard - but presumably all who take are passionate for the subject. There is even ample time to drop once the courses begins (and many do - good for them). If your child takes three AP's (or two or one) and is stressed out and overworked - well, who made the choice?

Some are asking the school to create policies to save us from ourselves. It seems better to preserve options for students, and for each family to make the choices that make sense for them.


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Posted by parent
a resident of Gunn High School
on Feb 26, 2011 at 12:13 pm

There have been a series of communications from Mr. Skelly to the community that have been awkward and off-putting to students and parents. In one of the early messages Skelly sent out to the community (December 5, 2007), which is archived at the PAUSD website (www.pausd.org/community/Superintendent/), he wrote: "A recent scientific study found that sewer rats are in fact healthier than rats raised in laboratories. The answer is biologically obvious – the sewer rats have developed strong immune systems because of their adverse environment.
How, then, do our young people acquire the mental equivalent of a strong immune system – resilience? It seems to me that in our efforts to make sure students are comfortable and successful, we may actually reduce our ability to foster their resilience. Just like athletes who punish their bodies in practice so they become stronger for their games, our children need to experience setbacks in order to become stronger. We love our children so much that we want the best for them at all times. But by making sure they have what we want for them, we are ignoring how that affects what they REALLY, REALLY need."

My Gunn student read that at the time and said to me, "Mr. Skelly is comparing students to sewer rats. How charming. Resilience is a great goal, but he could find a better analogy." Personally, I really don't know a lot of coddled students. My own and the other students I know are extremely hard-working and ALL of them have experienced failures and setbacks naturally. They don't need us to go out the way to make sure they experience setbacks in order to develop resilience.

Later, when my student received a "congratulatory" letter from Mr. Skelly regarding National Merit Scholarship scores, the letter's tone was disappointingly patronizing, suggesting that some of the answers given on the test were probably guesses (what?!) and that students should just be grateful to everyone who helped them along the way. We agreed with the last point, but the tone of the letter was a bit lecturing, making the assumption that students are ungrateful and think of themselves as hot shots. A simple letter saying "Congratulations on all your hard work. Remember to thank those who taught you and supported you" would have been sufficient. "I guess we're just sewer rats to him," my student said.

In another foot-in-mouth communication (Feb. 2009), Skelly had to apologize to parents after expressing skepticism that the achievement gap between Latino and African-American students and white and Asian students could be bridged. Some Gunn students in my house (non-minority) were really put off by those remarks and thought they were extremely discouraging things to say to minority students and parents.

During each of these instances, my feeling was, "Let's give this guy a chance. Everyone bungles what they say from time to time." However, the overall message my student took away from this was not that this superintendent was at all aware of the effect of his language on students.







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Posted by please read before you comment
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 26, 2011 at 12:14 pm

It is well recognized that kids will talk to other kids, not adults. That is the point of the Sources of Strength program. From their website: (sourcesofstrength.org)
"Sources of Strength is a comprehensive wellness program that works to use peer leaders to change norms around codes of silence and help seeking. The program is designed to increase help seeking behaviors and connections between peers and caring adults. Sources of Strength has a true preventative aim in building multiple sources of support around individuals so that when times get hard they have strengths to rely on."
The last thing this program wants to do is to increase stress for kids. It is not to create counselors, it is to give the kids the message that it is okay to come to an adult if a peer is in stress - to break the code of silence.
Please, before you denigrate something, take a moment to find out about it for yourself. Don't rely on others for YOUR opinion.


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Posted by parent
a resident of Gunn High School
on Feb 26, 2011 at 12:17 pm

A correction to my post above: Skelly apologized for suggesting that the achievement gap could NOT be bridged.


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Posted by Iolam
a resident of Barron Park
on Feb 26, 2011 at 12:21 pm

Moira, bravo.
Can't be said better


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Posted by Paly Student
a resident of Crescent Park
on Feb 26, 2011 at 12:46 pm

The way I see it, there are a few major players here: CollegeBoard, the colleges, the schools, parents, and students.

CollegeBoard created standardized and the AP program that are causing the stress in the first place. Colleges have embraced this system as a method of evaluating students and have sent a message that a student must perform well on these assessments to be considered for prestigious schools. The schools (Paly and Gunn) are responding to this message by creating opportunities, such as AP classes. Parents, in turn, want the best for their children and are pushing them into these opportunities so they will have the best shot they can at attending prestigious schools. What are the students to do?

I consider myself a high-achieving student. I am taking four AP classes this year, participate in several extracurricular activities that take up most of my free time, and am loving it. Now, I am surely the exception here, but I am, as the colleges request, taking advantage of opportunities available at my high school. And I'm not even in the top 10% of my class.

The fact remains, colleges are asking us students to take advantage of all the opportunities our schools offer, and our schools offer a lot of opportunities, partially due to the pressure from the parent community. The situation seems to present two options: either we play the colleges' game and continue to add classes and opportunities for students, or we reduce the number of AP classes we offer and limit opportunities for the sake of student health. Each has benefits and drawbacks, but the real question is whether this community is willing to sacrifice rigor for the sake of its students. My guess, considering that all the parents moved here for the wonderful schools and that those schools are raising their house prices, is no.

The only thing left to do, it seems, is to create student support structures that can help students deal with the stress that our system presents. Unless students, parents, and the schools come together and make a decision, we cannot move to reduce student stress. It is EVERYONE'S responsibility, not just Kevin Skelly's.


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Posted by louise
a resident of another community
on Feb 26, 2011 at 1:35 pm

I've had four kids graduate from Gunn. There is a distinct CHANGE in the level of stress our children have now. I would love to blame lots of things and people. I wish Dr. Skelly communicated better, was a better leader, and more of a visionary. But, the bottom line is that the school system needs to change. It is just untenable to think it can remain as it is now. So, what is the evidence? Are smaller schools better? Does having choice programs serve our children well? Where does middle college fit in? Do schools that do things differently have good admission rates to colleges? What schools work overall the best for providing a good education, a good environment, a healthy balance, good values, connectedness for the majority of their students? The characteristics of what works must be documented in studies. Then , be brave Palo Alto, and initiate the changes necessary to benefit our students.


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Posted by Star Teachout
a resident of Barron Park
on Feb 26, 2011 at 1:55 pm

The article calling for a change in leadership is well-developed but in my opinion, myopic and a good example of all trees and no forest. Where is Waldo? He's Kevin Skelly--showing up at day-to-day school events, bicycling around town, sending personal messages, attempting to tackle the tough problems, and still trying to satisfy the enormous spectrum of parent desires. There are no perfect parents and no perfect superintendents.

Human diversity appears to be thriving in this discussion! Excellent points have been made on both sides, but I do have to side with the argument that parents are helping to create fragile kids, by either pushing too hard (fear) or being too passive about their own power to reduce stress (victim). Like Siddhartha, can we sometimes let go of the "goals" for our kids and simply be with them?

How many parents are willing to have a rational dialog (offering suggestions, not just condemnations) with their kids, kids' teachers, and other parents about maintaining a healthy balance? It can be difficult to change habits and patterns of daily life that add to our stress, but we do possess the power to simply say "No. That's enough (fill in the blank)." Effect change, stop blaming and start changing yourself. Over-complicating the issues leads to being immobilized.

We all care about our children, and want them to be healthy AND successful--with many definitions of that success--but do we extend ourselves to other children, being friendly, building relationships? Sometimes I feel like we're all greedy for only our children, which creates an unhealthy model. Many of our children need experiences that offer balance away from the watchful eyes of parents. They need to develop internal strengths, look at nature, get outside themselves.

Having grown up in rural Michigan, I am daily reminded of how toxic
affluence can be to all of us. Don't forget to enjoy the simplicities that bring us all joy--good food, humor, play. In my recent 7 plus years of experience with middle school and elementary school in Barron Park, I continue to be surprised at how much people are willing to fill up their own/children's lives with "achievement." Where is there time for some useful work, being outside, special little moments, just being together at peace?


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Posted by teacher pushback unacceptable
a resident of Downtown North
on Feb 26, 2011 at 2:54 pm



Star teachout,

"they need to develop internal strengths, look at nature, get outside themselves."

this happens in Palo Alto, in very healthy ways, but it changes as they get older, the higher grades, and for some kids the level of pressure is of an adult world that many adults would not be able to handle

I don't think you can keep expanding the size of schools and expect such a fun loving attitude

and there is a disconnect, this isn't a big city, but our schools are as if




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Posted by old-timer
a resident of another community
on Feb 26, 2011 at 3:52 pm

>"Skelly is doing a fantastic job making the schools famous and good for people who want to go to Ivy and UCLA level colleges."

What about the kids who won't go to Ivys or the UCs? What about kids who won't go to college at all? What about the future plumbers, carpenters, auto mechanics, chefs, etc.? Or are those kids not allowed in Palo Alto?

Seriously, what happens to kids like this at Gunn or Paly? What happens to B and C students?

My friend's daughters went to Cupertino's highest rated high school (ranked even higher than Gunn or Paly). The older girl was a A student. The younger was made to feel like a failure BY HER TEACHERS for getting Bs. My friend said that, in hindsight, it was a mistake to move to Cupertino for the schools.

>"Your job at Google is completely different from teaching BTW."
I'm sure it is. No unions. Google, like most companies, probably has "at will" employment, no tenure and merit-based pay.

>Despite all the hurdles, my mother always said, "things always work out . . . " and "this is America, a far better place than where we came from . . . "

Unfortunately, this isn't true. Things do not "always work out," even for very smart, very hard-working people. Look at all the college graduates – and all the middle-aged people – who can't find work in this recession.

This partly explains why parents want their kids to work hard and get into good schools. But not all kids are capable of or interested in going that route.

Like JerryL, I went to an east coast high school with tracks: one for those who were college bound, the other for those who would enter a trade school or go to work immediately after graduating. Very pragmatic. There was no stigma either way. Many kids – even the very smart ones – just couldn't afford college.

If I had teen-aged kids today, I would move out of this area.


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Posted by YOu are absolutely right
a resident of Midtown
on Feb 26, 2011 at 6:39 pm

Yes Skelly is making Palo Alto schools famous, especially the high schools, but for the wrong reasons: "student suicides/" These new were heard even outside the country, and we were on Dr. Phil, many TV channels, and all across United States know about Gunn High School. He is also making students to go to many famous university, but sadly the cost is that some just go to the cemetery. One of our students is across from Gunn, this should remind tell the quality of the job he is doing in exchange of the big paycheck he gets. Way to go Skelly!! I think is time to stop making the schools famous, now is time to start taking care of the students emotional issues and get rid of the thinks that triggers the emotional issues in the first place. It is enough, and if you can't or it is too hard leave your shoes to someone who can fit on them and do the work properly.


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Posted by Parent
a resident of Gunn High School
on Feb 26, 2011 at 6:56 pm

School and teachers should focus on teaching student. Although they should notice a student who is getting worse in grade and in classroom, and they should inform the parents of that student, however, they are NOT trained to treat depression, they are not trained for this at all. Patents, please pay more attention to your kids! You spend much more time with your kids in your home. If you cannot notice that your kid has depression, you don't expect a teacher notice it in a 30 students' classroom in one hour.

That's being said, PAUSD should do more to help students. However, school should focus on teaching. Blaming PAUSD for all the stress at Gunn and Paly is not affair. Who generates the stress? I think college admission process did it. I noticed the author is a Stanford professor. Just think about who gets admission to Stanford yearly from Gunn and Paly. If a student who does not have connection to Stanford, could not donate million dollar to Stanford, is not a kid from Stanford Professor, whose parents are not famous, what is the chance to get in Stanford? Every year, only a very few "regular" kids who have super good score and EC gets in. Have you seen Stanford take a median kid from Gunn or Paly? That apply to all top colleges in US. So, don't just blame PAUSD. If you really want to change the stress of a student, you need to change the whole college admission process, if you can and the power!


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Posted by Ken and Michele Dauber
a resident of Barron Park
on Feb 26, 2011 at 7:19 pm

Dear Palo Alto Online Readers:

Thank you for taking the time to think about this important issue and for sharing your comments on our editorial. We believe that it is very important for parents, teachers, and community members -- the electorate -- to engage in a thoughtful discussion of how best to reduce stress in our high schools.

Among those who do not agree with us that the PAUSD leadership has failed to address the root causes of student stress in the high schools, the primary argument seems to be that the schools are powerless to make the necessary changes. Indeed, a few readers -- both parents and teachers -- went so far as to suggest that it does not matter who leads the district at all because no matter who is in that role, they will be forced to continue on the current high-stress path by aggressive parents who are the real problem.

Many people seem to feel that it is unfair to hold PAUSD accountable for academic stress when it's the parents, not the schools, who cause stress -- specifically parents who push their children to take more AP classes, drive their GPAs up by transferring credits in from transcript laundry operations, employ tutors to preview material, and so on. The extent to which this is true or merely a reflection of parental anxiety is hard to say. Certainly some of the comments (those referencing "tiger moms" for example) seem to trade in invidious stereotypes about Asian parents that are hurtful to the community. But assuming that it is the case that these arguments are correct and there is a large minority or even a majority of parents that are pushing their children to ever-greater levels of academic achievement, this is an argument for intervention by the school district, not against it.

If indeed, Palo Alto's parents and students are engaged in an academic arms race with no upper bound, in a zero-sum competition for admission to the UCs and other elite colleges then the only way to relieve the pressure is for the district leadership to set and enforce reasonable limits. Only the district can reduce the level of competition to one that is not injurious. Are students taking too many AP classes so that they can say they took "full advantage" of what the schools had to offer? Only the district can limit the number of AP classes so that no parent can press for more. Are students taking on too many extracurriculars in order to pad their resumes? Only the district can limit school-sponsored clubs to which students can belong, and in which they can hold officer positions. The idea that the district is helpless to affect what happens in the schools because of demanding parents just doesn't make sense.

It particularly does not make sense where, as here, student health and safety are concerned. The scientific and medical research establish this beyond any dispute. According to the district's own mental health service provider, ACS, academic stress is linked to a host of ills, including "anxiety, withdrawal, aggression, physical illness, drug and alcohol use, and depression." (see acsteens.wordpress.com/2010/10/18/overbooked-under-stress/).

We don't know the exact right set of changes to make to reduce the stress on our students. But if the district, including both the school board and the senior paid leadership, don't seriously investigate the question of which structural features of our high schools need to change to relieve student stress then we won't ever solve the problem and our kids will continue to suffer. It is worth noting that when the district surveyed students in preparing its 2008 strategic plan, the single most frequent complaint from students was of academic stress, including "homework load, expectations and competition."

The interventions that have been adopted thus far all focus on teaching students coping strategies for stress that has already occurred. This is not the same as reforming the structure of the schools to reduce the amount of stress that is being imposed. Both are important, and both are needed to address our current crisis.

For a perceptive analysis of what's going on, see the comment from Paly Student from Crescent Park above. We just hope he or she is wrong that parents won't hold the district accountable.


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Posted by You are absolutely right
a resident of Midtown
on Feb 26, 2011 at 7:19 pm

Parents,
No one has in this forum has said that school and teachers are trained persons to treat depression. However they do have a school psychologist in each campus, but if there are more than 2,000 at the high schools. They do not treat depression though, but at least they could recognize who needs help if there were more than one. AT Paly they have two, but they work par-time, which makes a full time. Like you said "they should notice a student who is getting worse in grade and in classroom, and they should inform the parents of that student". Tell me parent, how are they going to do this in a mega school? it makes sense to open another school doesn't it?


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Posted by Concerned Parent
a resident of Midtown
on Feb 26, 2011 at 7:41 pm

I just remember of a perfect example of how the schools do not listen to parents. It has been said here that it is the tiger's mom fault, but this is not always the case. We cannot generalize. I know many parents complain when their kids are not accepted on AP classes, but in my case it was the opposite and my request was ignored.
My son applied to take 3 AP classes at Gunn, he was denied one. I told him that it was ok, and that I felt better that he had only two APs. However, he appealed the desicion because he was in the rat race and wanted to be like his friends who took a lot AP. I spoke to his cunselor and ask her to talk to the persons who make the desicions and told her that it was ok not to give him 3 AP class just two. Later he got a letter that he got into the 3 classes. I felt like it was going to be too much, and it was, he was under a lot of stress, went to bed very late doing homework, sometimes he did not sleep at all. One day I that he stayed awake all night doing homework, I did not let him go to school and told him "go back to your room and sleep."He said, mom this is nothing. My friends do it every day, and some times they have to take pills in order to stay awake. He stayed home that day, and slept all day. In these case it was the school's fault, my son was a minor not mature enough to know what was right for him. I knew and needed the help from the school, but they ignored me. I am wonder how many more mothers like me have done this. The lesson here is that sometimes are not the mothers who want their kids to take that many AP classes, are the kids, but they are minors and the school should listen to parents when they request them not to let them have that many classes. I know for some people 3 might not be a lot, but for me it was. And it proved when he was not able to sleep, develop stress and anxiety. Yes it is not just the district fault, but I the school does not back me up, then it is time to change things for our kids, at least the ones whose mothers are concerned. And I believe that many are.


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Posted by Parent
a resident of Gunn High School
on Feb 26, 2011 at 7:59 pm

Sure, a smaller school is always better. However, where is the money? I wish the public schools in California are much smaller than the current ones. However, this is not the case. Gunn and Paly are not the largest public high school in CA. A high school in LA area is almost 4000 students! California is failing its education system! It is a shame that such a rich golden state is failing on its younger generation!

Don't get me wrong, my kids are in Gunn and I wish Gunn is much smaller than the current one so there is more attention from teacher. Unfortunately, our kids stuck in Gunn because we cannot afford private high school for them. I keep telling them just to try your best, you cannot be the best in the world, being a median student at Gunn is ok with me... "Tiger mom" is really a wrong model... That book should never be published at all!


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Posted by palo Verde Parent
a resident of Palo Verde
on Feb 26, 2011 at 8:14 pm

"My son applied to take 3 AP classes at Gunn, he was denied one. I told him that it was ok, and that I felt better that he had only two APs. However, he appealed the desicion because he was in the rat race and wanted to be like his friends who took a lot AP. I spoke to his cunselor and ask her to talk to the persons who make the desicions and told her that it was ok not to give him 3 AP class just two.."

It is my understanding that a parent must sign the application for AP classes at both High Schools, so a parent must have supported the idea of 3 AP classes. I know that I had to sign for my own child. Therefore, you can't blame the school in this case. The school DENIED the request and told the student (through the denial) that it was too much for him. He chose to appeal the decision, but the parent wanted to school to be the one to say "no" once again. It seems that in this case the parent needed to say to the child that he cannot appeal that the parent SUPPORTS the original decision of the school. This is exactly what a number of people are talking about when they say the parents are certainly part of the problem. Parents need to parent and set limits for their own student.


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Posted by The money is there
a resident of Midtown
on Feb 26, 2011 at 8:18 pm

The money is there, but we are spending it in salaries on extra assistant superintendents, remodeling and adding buildings,and buying things that we could survive without. I am from another country, and in my country the schools are almost bare, but one way they tried to keep them from crowding, is that they used the same building and they have two shifts, AM and PM. so half of the student population goes to school in the morning and half in the evenin. The classrooms are never crowded. You see no need for money, just brainstorming and the wish to improve things. My teachers, new all students and even the problems that I had at home (poverty and having to work as a child, which sometimes make me get to school late) everyone new each others.


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Posted by parent
a resident of Palo Verde
on Feb 26, 2011 at 8:29 pm

there are a few schools in bay area that are similar to gunn and paly.a lot of those are much better than palo alto's and i believe the students endure much more pressure than in gunn,why have not we seen depression there. it is the palo alto parents, they just want to put their kids in a good school, thinking the school will automatically send their kids to ellite colleges without putting up any efforts by their kids,if this is not the case,why would they stay here complaining it is the fault of school,they can move to other less competitive schools where house cost less and their kids can be stress free parting everyday.why would they stay?the solution is so simple if you can not take it move to other places.


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Posted by The money is there
a resident of Midtown
on Feb 26, 2011 at 8:42 pm

Some people can afford and some can't. In my case I can't. If someone would pay, yes I would not think it twice, I will move to smaller school.


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Posted by parent
a resident of Palo Verde
on Feb 26, 2011 at 8:48 pm

why did you buy into palo alto in the first place?


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Posted by teacher pushback unacceptable
a resident of Downtown North
on Feb 26, 2011 at 8:51 pm




maybe a Charter High School could work here?



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Posted by parent
a resident of Palo Verde
on Feb 26, 2011 at 9:00 pm

look at south bay area schools, the palo alto schools are the most diversified good schools to be found out there.we do not have much choice, if you want good schools and avoid too much competition,that is the only choice we have. think about cupertino school,saratoga schools, fremont schools, those schools are even more depressing place to be.if you do not care you can go to los altos high, where the highest college for the kids are ucla ucberkerley, and there are only a very few to get in.so what can we do if we do not choose palo alto?


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Posted by The money is there
a resident of Palo Verde
on Feb 26, 2011 at 9:12 pm

I bought my home more 13 years ago. Before that I lived in city with high crime. I checked police reports and at that time there was very little or almost no crime here in Palo Alto. At least not at the reports. I wanted my kids to be able to go back and forth to school whenever they had to. So this is why I came here. I did not know what I was getting my kids into. I knew what I know today, I would had never done it.


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Posted by parent
a resident of Palo Verde
on Feb 26, 2011 at 9:18 pm

that was a long time ago,time has changed.we all need to adjust ourselves to the current situation and survive.even though you can afford to sell your home without cost, where can you go to find a good school(very important coz you do not want your kid to be friend with a large quantities of pot smoking pals) without competition.


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Posted by Me Too
a resident of Midtown
on Feb 26, 2011 at 9:23 pm

@Daubers - "the only way to relieve the pressure is for the district leadership to set and enforce reasonable limits." Wow, do you really mean that? You really think it is better that the district decide that no kid should take 3 or 4 APs courses, or perhaps play 3 varsity sports, or join 4 clubs, or have tutors, or go to summer school, or some combination of them all, because that will "reduce stress" for those kids, or perhaps for others who do less?

First, the idea that the schools should set an upper limit on what our students should achieve seems deeply misguided. The schools already push back hard on kids who try to do more than the norm (at Paly, for instance, if you try to take certain combinations of AP's, you must meet in person with counselors who tell you that you will suffer and probably fail). But for some kids, that's what they want and what they love, and their parents support them - and God bless them, even if they crash and burn.

Second, the idea of an "arms race" that must be defeated - any family can end the arms race TODAY, just by deciding they will only do what they want. They decide what's right for their family/student - no one else. Again, God bless them if they set their own "reasonable limit" - we do that in our house, and are the happier for it. Try it, it works and you don't need to fight the school district to get it.

At its core, your approach seems more concerned with addressing the jealously or bitterness that some may feel (you?) because their kids don't want to take on as much as some others do. I realize that's perhaps inflammatory, but it seems like the only logical explanation. It's fine of course if you think taking fewer course or engaging in few activities or studying less is right for you; we make that choice every day! But it is no reason to impose district-wide limits on others - there will always be others who outwork and outperform you; we should all just get used to it and be successful in the ways we choose. Your approach seems like a terrible way to run a school or a society, and a terrible message to send to our children.

Finally, your discussion seems like a sideshow to me - whatever "reasonable limits" you have in mind, it does nothing to address the middle or lower middle of the pack kid who is just sliding by un-noticed and un-engaged, possibly with un-diagnosed mental illness. That seems like a valid issue to consider and address and there are kids like that in every high school. I'm happy to see discussion focused on how to help that student.


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Posted by The money is there
a resident of Palo Verde
on Feb 26, 2011 at 9:26 pm

Charter school would be could, but Skelly will never allow a charter school. Remember he had said no to MI, and when he was threatened with a Charter school, he backed up in his decision. I believe the reason for not allowing a charter school is that it will attract people from other cities who are not tax payers. However, asking for one, might make him find a solution to our issues.


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Posted by The money is there
a resident of Palo Verde
on Feb 26, 2011 at 9:28 pm

Meant to say "could work"


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Posted by EcoMama
a resident of Community Center
on Feb 26, 2011 at 9:32 pm

Wow, Daubers, your Palo Alto reality is not mine or my kids'. Not everything occupying a student's time is school-related. Music lessons, many sports teams (e.g. CYSA soccer, AAU basketball), faith activities, community theater -- there are all time commitments that fall outside the purview of the PAUSD, which cannot limit how a student spends time out of school. Sure, they could put things on paper to make it look like they're "doing something." But to what end?

The Daubers' persistent refusal to acknowledge that parents share ownership here just plain boggles my mind. Parents have to sign AP forms. Parents have to sign permission forms for many extracurricular activities, too. Parents control how kids spend their time, including on homework. Own it, parents! If your kid is stressed, it is NOT the fault of the schools alone! I said it before, and I'll say it again: we can ALL do better here. The PAUSD could limit homework, and should, with some teeth. I hope the school board hears that. Maybe the AP "max" restrictions are realistic, too. But if they do all of that, and kids are still stressed out, what happens then? It's always "someone else's" problem, isn't it?

It's hard to accept that this is Silicon Valley. We're always on, and so are our kids. And we're in California, where no one seems to say "no" anymore to their kids (it's not positive discipline!). The only way off of this hamster wheel is to move or to opt out, e.g. Middle College. Or, we can just have parents who actually parent rather than point and blame. Personally, I think that would solve nearly everything.


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Posted by parent
a resident of Palo Verde
on Feb 26, 2011 at 9:34 pm

a charter school will cost way more money than the district can offer or handle,now will we home owners want to pay more taxes.


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Posted by parent
a resident of Palo Verde
on Feb 26, 2011 at 9:36 pm

they are calling him to resign,so was governor arnold better than davis?maybe even worse.


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Posted by Other happy Paly parent
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 26, 2011 at 9:38 pm

Just tell your kids that it's OK to have Bs.

My children took AP classes because they wanted to, but they knew it was OK to bring Bs home for grades. They were never overly stressed by school.

My oldest, with less than perfect grades, could not go to any Ivy league school, or to UCLA or to UC Berkeley, of course. Said child ended up going to a "lesser" UC that people in Palo Alto just despise. I almost received condolences from other parents because that child was going there! (I am not kidding). But, my child had a balanced life (including APs!), and meaningful after-school activities (although no school clubs whatsoever)... So what happened to that child afterward Paly?

College went very well. My child also landed good internships on the strength of a well-rounded resume. This child now works in a prestigious firm with colleagues many "tiger cubs" from such colleges as UCLA and renowned private universities... this child and does better than them at work. Just saying.

Agai, just tell your kids it's OK to have Bs.

I know that many parents are not OK with Bs.... and Ken and Michele, you'd better believe it. There are many such parents in Palo Alto, that push and push their kids, don't accept any Bs, and "engineer" their college applications. You find them again in college those parents(!), writing and/or editing their kids' papers for them!! (my kids can testify to that). But guess what? Many, many of these tiger cubs end up collapsing one day. If it's not in college, it's when they start working.

Oh, did I say that you should tell your kids it's OK to have Bs?


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Posted by Other happy Paly parent
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 26, 2011 at 9:43 pm

* Same as above but with less mistakes and typos* Sorry

Just tell your kids that it's OK to have Bs.

My children took AP classes because they wanted to, but they knew it was OK to bring Bs home for grades. They were never overly stressed by school.

My oldest, with less than perfect grades, could not go to any Ivy league school, or to UCLA or to UC Berkeley, of course. Said child ended up going to a "lesser" UC that people in Palo Alto just despise. I almost received condolences from other parents because that child was going there! (I am not kidding). But, my child had a balanced life (including APs!), and meaningful after-school activities (although no school clubs whatsoever)... So what happened to that child afterward Paly?

College went very well. My child also landed good internships on the strength of a well-rounded resume. This child now works in a prestigious firm with, as colleagues, many "tiger cubs" from such colleges as UCLA and renowned private universities... and this child does better than them at work. Just saying.

Again, just tell your kids it's OK to have Bs.

I know that many parents are not OK with Bs.... Ken and Michele, you'd better believe it. There are many such parents in Palo Alto, that push and push their kids, don't accept any Bs, and "engineer" their college applications. There are many kids who take upper lane classes after learning all the curriculum outside of school. It is no myth! You find them again in college, and you find the tiger parents in college again as well (!), writing or editing their college kids' papers for them!! (My kids can testify to that). But guess what? Many, many of these tiger cubs end up collapsing one day. If it's not in college, it's when they start working.

Oh, did I say that you should tell your kids it's OK to have Bs?


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Posted by The money is there
a resident of Palo Verde
on Feb 26, 2011 at 9:57 pm

In my case my special ed student was put in an advance English class at Gunn without me knowing, till she was failing and I was called to a meeting. I asked them: "How did she got in the this class int he first place, if I have not giving permission to make changes? The special ed teacher said that my daughter had asked for it and that she was persisten so she let allowed her to do it. So no, there are cases when students get into classes and it is not because their their mothers are Tiger Mom, it is because the teachers or counselors ignore parents, and the even if the child does not know what he or she is getting into. I would had never let her sign for the class because she was reading at second grade level.


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Posted by common sense
a resident of Midtown
on Feb 26, 2011 at 10:05 pm

I don't understand the Daubers' op-ed at all. If a child's academic stress is so great that it affects their mental health, then the parents should not sign the permission slips. It may affect their child's college application prospects, but the parent should put their priorities in the right place.

So much of college acceptances are based on other factors, parents should be setting their child's expectations.


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Posted by parent
a resident of Palo Verde
on Feb 26, 2011 at 10:09 pm

i am so sorry to hear this.you will feel better if you know this. i have a friend who has a child in special ed class in cupertino school(a very good school),one day when she was aboarding a school bus, they took her glasses and break it,and yet school still thinks it was her child's fault.sometimes teachers make mistakes but if it is not intentionally to hurt your child,we should forgive them


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Posted by The money is there
a resident of Palo Verde
on Feb 26, 2011 at 10:10 pm

Even better, I said to my kids that it is ok to have a C or lower grade as long as see that they are trying. However the schools do not want Cs as soon as they see one they call me to meetings. I would get upset, if they low grades than grade and it is because they did not want to sit down and do homework or if the teachers were complaining that they were fooling around at school, or being disruptive or respectful to the teachers or other students.


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Posted by parent
a resident of Palo Verde
on Feb 26, 2011 at 10:17 pm

if a kid can do better at a lower lane,but will fail at a fast lane,i think it is the best to choose lower lane,this will increase their confidence and when the time comes they are ready for taking more,you will know,he/she will know.


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Posted by Faulty underpinnings
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 27, 2011 at 7:12 am

Daubers,

I am sorry that your reply did not acknowledge that the proof you cited for many of your arguments in your Opinion piece was suspect, but I do appreciate that you shared your source for your academic stress --> depression point.

The problem is that ACS does not cite its authority for that point. However, elsewhere on ACS' site it links to the Mayo Clinic's overview of depression which flatly states that while there are many theories "it's not known exactly what causes depression."

ACS links to information that helps us understand teen stress and what we can/should do about it:

1. There are Many Sources of Teen Stress.

Its list goes on for a page, including "being bullied •relationship stress, family conflicts • ongoing problems with schoolwork related to a learning disability or other problems, such as ADHD (usually once the problem is recognized and the person is given the right learning support the stress disappears) • crammed schedules, not having enough time to rest and relax, and always being on the go. . . "

Just like Challenge Success, Palo Alto and PAUSD student surveys repeatedly show - academics cannot be singled out as the sole or even primary culprit.

2. Different Kids Handle Stress Differently.

"Some people have anxiety problems that can cause them to overreact to stress, making even small difficulties seem like crises. If a person frequently feels tense, upset, worried, or stressed, it may be a sign of anxiety. Anxiety problems usually need attention, and many people turn to professional counselors for help in overcoming them."

While a 3 or 4 AP load is grueling work for one student, the student at the next desk over may be breezing through it; APs cannot be blamed. If your child has an anxiety problem, make adjustments (see below) and get him professional help.

3. There are Ways to Effectively Deal with Stress.

First: "Consider cutting out an activity or two, opting for just the ones that are most important to you."

Second: "Be realistic. Don't try to be perfect — no one is."

Further Down: "Watch what you're thinking - is your cup half full or half empty?" Blame does not help.

No recommendations for school districts to revise academic policies or calendars. No suggestion that parents mount a public campaign to fire a Superintendent who doesn't embrace their one-size fits all solution.

What then? Take personal responsibility and make wise choices based on your child's particular needs.

Web Link


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Posted by Real4real
a resident of Downtown North
on Feb 27, 2011 at 7:37 am

Make no mistake:
Gunn "intense"
Paly "intense"
Paly is just as rigorous academically as Gunn, if not more so.
I just deleted my entire paragraph of evidence. People will think what they think.


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Posted by Parent
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Feb 27, 2011 at 8:32 am

I will say it again. I agree, we have poor leadership. I don't blame Skelly, but I do blame the Board of Education.

We need Board members who are able to make decisions. Skelly is able to do so much, but it is the Board Members who take forever to make decisions and then change their minds.

MI, Garland, Boundaries, Everyday Math, Calendars, are all excellent examples of how they dither.

3 Board Members are timed out this year. Let's get some tough questions for the candidates and then hold them accountable.


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Posted by parent
a resident of Palo Verde
on Feb 27, 2011 at 9:01 am

i agree that many things cause depression,we can not blame school.school are fine doing their jobs to teach students.i was at a gathering,some parents told me that her kid was complaining that there are too much work to do,he wanted to play video games all day all holidays. his parents just did that,they let him played video games all day all he can during holidays.by the time it was the third day,the kid came to her telling her he was depressed and boring even though all he was doing was play.now he told his mom if we do not do anything that is meaingful,we will get depressed too.


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Posted by concerned too
a resident of Gunn High School
on Feb 27, 2011 at 9:47 am

Please - friends and neighbors - let's not put our collective head in the sand. Even if your own particular family has it worked out, just look at your children's teammates, classmates, friends, or neighbors. Something is off! Other communities full of smart, ambitious people are not suffering with teen suicides, attempted suicides, and suicidal thoughts the way we are.

The Daubers took a risk and took a stand, made their own views public. They believe leadership is not doing enough. Many think parents need to re-orient their thinking. Both are probably right. Please, if you don't like one solution, don't just dismiss the problem. Keep the conversation going.


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Posted by Patricia
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Feb 27, 2011 at 10:12 am

As a new resident of Palo Alto with 2 children at Paly, I have read the comments with great interest. I can't speak to the school board or the superintendent, but I can make a few other observations.

My daughter is a senior and spent her first 3 years of HS at a high-achieving school with 4,500 students. (another school where kids said college was easier) She took AP courses and never needed a tutor. She is an A student and always received A+ in math. She registered for AP Calculus at Paly and ended up dropping it. Even with a tutor, she was not doing well in the class. Her chief complaint was that the tests bore no resemblance to the homework and what was "taught" by the teacher. She was stressed and I supported her decision to drop the class.

I have no doubt that she would have received an A had she taken AP Calculus at her old school and aced the AP exam, all without a tutor. Students should not need tutors if they have effective teachers.

Second, Paly and Gunn are not "mega" schools. They are less than half the size of my daughter's old school, where students are very successful and don't feel the need to commit suicide. My daughter had a ton of homework and was a 2 sport varsity athlete, so she did experience time-management related stress, but we maintain balance in our home and allow our children down time.

Third, the block schedule has significantly reduced my daughter's homework stress, so I applaud Paly for making that change. One thing PAUSD might consider is
a freshmen mentor program run by students to help new students feel connected. My daughter loved it when she was a freshman and was a mentor last year


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Posted by parent
a resident of Palo Verde
on Feb 27, 2011 at 11:11 am

part of learning process is to obtain the knowledge than apply those knowledge to solve the unfamiliar problems.you do not want to see you child just to learn not to think independently to solve the problem,this is very critical in real life.to creat and to solve new problem,maybe the other school just taught students knowledge not prepared for them to do in real world.


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Posted by parmom
a resident of Barron Park
on Feb 27, 2011 at 11:40 am

The big problem is driven by the application process to the privates and the UC's. If their admission requirements were lessened, then the stress would lessen. Paly student above says it best:

"CollegeBoard created standardized and the AP program that are causing the stress in the first place. Colleges have embraced this system as a method of evaluating students and have sent a message that a student must perform well on these assessments to be considered for prestigious schools."

If the admissions process would set a certain standard (reasonable) and all students who meet that standard were then entered into a lottery process, that would go a long way to relieving stressful overloading of AP's to impress the admissions officers, and trying to be officers in the clubs/activities, and saving the world by working on Africa in summers. It's the universities driving this crazy competition.


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Posted by parent
a resident of Palo Verde
on Feb 27, 2011 at 12:11 pm

we can not change this process in the near future,but one area the school can do for us is that they need to make our school known by those university offices nationally not just locally,they should know palo alto school's B or C is worth much more than other school's A.


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Posted by Patricia
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Feb 27, 2011 at 12:35 pm

Again, I will reiterate that the number of children using tutors indicates an issue with the effectiveness of the teachers in PAUSD.


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Posted by palo alto mom
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Feb 27, 2011 at 12:39 pm

Parent - Many universities all over the country know how rigorous Palo Alto schools are. The Paly counselors travel all over to meet with admissions officers.

Unfortunately, we (all the parts of the equation) have created an atmosphere that not only creates stress but also makes high school all about the grades and building a resume for colleges apps. Learning is way down the priority list.


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Posted by palo alto mom
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Feb 27, 2011 at 12:47 pm

Patricia - it depends on why your child has a tutor, some kids need a tutor because they don't understand the material that is being taught (or not taught) in a class. Many kids have tutors to get ahead and ensure they receive an A in a class, they learn the material a head of time, sometimes taking classes during the summer for no credit, then taking them the second time during the school year. If it is the second time you are covering the material, of course you will do better than your peers. This is especially true of Math and Science classes.

There are other negative side effect of tutors. As a teacher, if most of your students already understand the material because it has been taught to them outside of school, you may not feel the need to teach the material to the other kids. As a student, if the majority of the kids in your class already know the material because it has been taught to them already, or they are simply really good at the subject, how likely are you to admit you don't understand it?

But as I said previously, its ALL about the grades.


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Posted by teacher pushback unacceptable
a resident of Downtown North
on Feb 27, 2011 at 12:52 pm


Patricia, Old PA

it's interesting that your comment surrounds what is actually Off limits here, teachers.

"Her chief complaint was that the tests bore no resemblance to the homework and what was "taught" by the teacher."

Admins can't do anything about the homework issue, and even if they did, you can't enforce it.

your daughter is a strong student and knows herself by now, but many kids at all grade levels are made to feel stupid with situations like this, and many give up,

in a system as competitive as Palo Alto, where likely 1/2 or more of the class that your daughter dropped out of have an A without batting an eye, most because they know how to work the system and around it, the climate can get heavy

not asking A's for everyone, but teachers are inconsistent and are not really managed by anyone,

does that serve everyone well?

if a school is managed in a way to keep 4000 generally comfortable or happy, no problem,

but we have schools that do not appear solid in how they are run for these sizes, curriculums, or particular culture




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Posted by Beyond High School
a resident of Professorville
on Feb 27, 2011 at 3:08 pm

Has anyone considered the recent development at Stanford--they've created a kind of task force to deal with the "failure deprived". What they're seeing are kids who cannot handle earning B+s and see that as failure which leads them into crippling depression. Why are students who have obtained the supposed high-water mark of success still incapable of dealing with earning anything less than an A? They aren't at risk of academic probation or losing scholarships by earning Bs...so what is the big deal? Are we to follow the same play-book we did for high school (as professors are reporting parents are doing) to dog the college faculty with phone calls and emails requesting meetings and further information so our ADULT student can get into the grad school of their dreams? At what point do we stop insisting that our students' best is only an A and therefore something must be wrong with the school/teacher/policy? At what point do we focus on teaching our children resilience instead of seeking (even with the best of intentions) to artificially prevent stress? I don't mean to say that there aren't changes at the high school level to be made, but we should be cautious about creating even more fragile college students. In addition to "connectedness" (which seems to be a term largely aimed at what the PAUSD can do for us), we should also adopt the buzz word "resilience" and learn how to help our students weather any storm because we aren't going to be able to make everything fair/safe/calm/stress-free. Again, I don't mean allow high school to be cut-throat but we shouldn't seek artificial success, either.


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Posted by A parent
a resident of Gunn High School
on Feb 27, 2011 at 3:22 pm

I think a more general question is "how to prepare the students for the future competition".

Many people complain the stress of the students in schools, but do not know they actually need some pressure to study hard to face the future competition. A good amount of stress is helpful for them to prepare future competition. On the other hand, school and parents should do whatever possible to help them overcome the stress and positively face the competition with good effort in study.

In my case, I was actually surprised to be told by a consular at Gunn that the 10th grade students cannot take AP class while it is allowed in many other schools across California and US. (As we knew later that Gunn actually allowed some students to take AP classes at 10th grade. I think the consular lied to us.) So my son's 10th grade courses were light and he had a lot of energy for computer games and other things. As a result, he had to choose a lot of AP and honor classes at 11th and 12th grades to make his transcript appealing for some elite schools. So in his case, 9th and 10th grades were very easy and 11th and 12th are "stressful". If the school could balance the course schedule throughout the high school years, he would have been more balanced in "stress".

A parent said the problem was caused by the admission requirement of the elite colleges such as Stanford. He/she thinks the elite school should use other standards to choose incoming students. I think it is not correct. The colleges have to do so in order to better compete with other schools. The point behind this selection is that the correlation between success and the academic excellence is very good statistically. You can give me some counter-examples backward looking into a person's past, but the fact is that the colleges have to identify good students among so many high school graduates nationwide. Every college needs to find the emerging talented students to make the school stronger. How to measure if a student is talented? Beside transcripts, student activities, and SAT/ACT scores, can you give me a better metric? In the end, we have to use the study and statistics as a guidance.

As a parent, we have to acknowledge that there is no easy path for our children to be successful without hard working in today's environment. (Even you have a good fortune and family tie that can help your children, you may still need to let them work hard through school years, just like what Rockefeller did with his children.) The science and math education in US is already behind many countries such as China. If we still want our children to have an easy life in high school, how can they compete with the people from other countries?



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Posted by teacher pushback unacceptable
a resident of Downtown North
on Feb 27, 2011 at 3:42 pm

BHS


these are public High schools, not private university Stanford

but we actually have similar problems because of the Abnormal curve of students and parents in PA

it's easy to ask people for resilience, to co-habit in a system with hyper competitive families where the last thing they need, or want is "connectedness"

the love, rewards, and Elite lanes in High School go to the A students, that is the message, and message is everything, even awards from teachers and departments - do they reward the B/C students?

maybe there could be a program similar to Foothill at Stanford but only for B and C students




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Posted by Parent
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Feb 27, 2011 at 3:43 pm

I think it is worth mentioning something I read in one of the many books I have read over the years on this idea of stress (and I wish I could remember which one it came from).

We all have pressures in our lives, whether it being from getting stuck in traffic and being late for a meeting, a doctor's appointment, or late for school. In fact it is true to say that pressure in life is good for us, the deadline for a particular project, the minimum acceptable for passing a drivers' test, the security screening at the airport. But it is how we deal with these pressures that causes stress. Even some levels of stress make us thrive and are acceptable. It is when these levels of stress cause deep anxiety and make our lives unbearable that it becomes dangerous. Learning to deal with all the pressures and even low stress management are good life skills. Knowing when low level stress turns into deep anxiety is what we must strive for and finding the skills to deal with pressures and low stress is what we should be aiming for. This should also be what we are preparing in our kids so it is healthy for them to have pressures and low level stress. But we need them to know the difference and when the time comes they need to be able to ask us and others for the help to reduce the stressful anxiety in their lives.

I think we are talking about that difference here.

Stanford is having its own problems with teenage stress not being dealt with correctly with those that are now college aged. In the past couple of years we have heard of these. One student who drove from Stanford for an hour, bought some pills in a drugstore and quietly committed suicide in the trunk of her car. Another was so distressed at not getting accepted that she actually managed to pretend she was a student, living on campus and attending classes, and not facing the reality of her situation to either herself or family.

These extreme cases could just as easily have happened to a PAUSD graduate.

We do need to reexamine our priorities and teaching norms.


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Posted by Taxes are Too High for This
a resident of Gunn High School
on Feb 27, 2011 at 3:57 pm

It is important to distinguish between adult stress, which for most people contains many optional components, and the stress our children face in the PAUSD high schools. They have little control over anything in their environment. It is an environment built by adults which they confront as little more than children when they begin as freshmen. Their brains are still developing and they do not have adult coping strategies -- nor should they. If you look at the research on stress, what it shows is that those populations who are most likely to suicide and to become severely ill as a result of environmental stressors are those with little control over the terms on which they confront their world -- prisoners, the homeless, and elite high schoolers.

If your spouse had a job that put you under the same degree of stress that attending Gunn places on children -- no control over the pace of assignments, arbitrary or seemingly arbitrary grading, bosses who are often quite detached and disinterested in assisting you, poor evaluations with no obvious way to succeed or improve, an 8 hour work day with 4 hours of additional work that must be done at home each day (!), which was leading to headaches, crying fits, sleeplessness, and depression, what would you tell your spouse? Suck it up and go back to work? Try harder? You just have to learn to cope to get ahead? Have you tried out the new fantastic "connectedness" program that the CEO just invented to cool out his Board of Directors? NO! You would tell your spouse to quit and find another job. Yet our teens don't have that option. Unless the family has the money to send the child to a private school, and can find a good school with space, that child has no choice. The feeling of loss of control and loss of options is what causes the problems.

There is no other situation that anyone will face in adult life that is anything like this, unless of course they become homeless or a prisoner.

Why would we ask our children to endure this entirely optional situation that no sane adult would for a moment tolerate if they had a choice?


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Posted by Well Said
a resident of Ohlone School
on Feb 27, 2011 at 4:41 pm

To Taxes are too high,
Very well said. I love your analogy. Yes we grown ups find a way out of stressful situations, even if our spouses do not agree. Children can't. They get stack and feel like no one cares, and their only way out for them is suicide. So sad. It is time to help our kids. I Skelly is not willing to listen to those parents who are concerned and provide alternative solution, he should let his seat for someone else who is willing to do it. Someone who do not say this is a hard issue, or I do not want to tell the principals what to do. Come on, he is our leader. My children really dislike him.
And yes, taxes are too high to expect less. Our children should get the best. The leaders shall invest on the whole child, not just academics.


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Posted by Anne
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Feb 27, 2011 at 4:42 pm

To: The money is there, "Charter school would be could, but Skelly will never allow a charter school. Remember he had said no to MI, and when he was threatened with a Charter school, he backed up in his decision."
Please check your facts. The whole MI debacle happened before Skelly even came here. That decision was made by the BOE (including some current members) and the previous superintendent.


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Posted by parent
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 27, 2011 at 5:19 pm

To all of you complaining about the high levels of stress your kids are facing. What specifically have you done about it other than blame the schools and say that nothing will change. Do you talk to the teachers (and I mean talk constructively, not go in and bulldoze them down)? Do you tell your child they don't have to take 4 APs because it is not important to you that they go to an Ivy League school or Cal or Stanford? Do you praise your child when they get a B or C and you know it is their best work? Do you brag when your child does well and not mention when they get a B (which is still above average anywhere else)? Do you volunteer in the schools and the communities and ask what you can do to effect change? I could go on and on. Please, if you want change, go out and make it. Action, not words. Writing that you would like someone to resign because you don't like what is going on for your child, is not my idea of action, either.


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Posted by parent
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 27, 2011 at 5:28 pm

I forgot to add to the above. Is your child's stress just related to academics? Most kids are also stressed by the internet and social networking. Are you monitoring their pages and their friends pages? Are they having relationship issues? Are they friends calling them stupid because they aren't taking AP classes? That probably means more to them than what you think. Are they stressed because their friends are possibly using drugs and alcohol and they are feeling pressure to join in. Academics is not the only source of stress. Yes we can look at what we can do better in our schools but we also need to look at all aspects of our children's lives.


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Posted by teacher pushback unacceptable
a resident of Downtown North
on Feb 27, 2011 at 5:40 pm

Anne

hearing "the money is there"

that's scary

board meetings always seem so self-congratulatory, a love fest when the Principals are there, nobody is an independent thinker, a culture of "insiders" everyone in it together

the best question I saw from the St. Mark's forum was

15. Where are the teachers tonight?

Everyday Math was an example where the Principals and teachers have the power, they call the shots, the new Principals at Paly and Gunn are beholden to Skelly, nobody dares to challenge anything, only the students


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Posted by Gunn Senior
a resident of Barron Park
on Feb 27, 2011 at 6:31 pm

As a senior at Gunn High School, I must voice my staunch opposition to the suggestion of removing or limiting the AP program in the PAUSD. At the end of this year, I will have taken thirteen AP tests. Last year I took four, and I earned a score of five on each. This was done with a minimum of stress and while maintaining a thriving social life.

The college credit that the AP tests will give me will surely prove to be immensely helpful in my future academic pursuits. I have been more intellectually stimulated by these AP classes than any other academic experience. I would be nothing but bored if I were only able to take the lower-level classes; their curriculum is frankly unimpressive, and some students like a challenge.

The AP program has been one of the greatest opportunities given to me at Gunn, and it would be nothing less than a travesty to deprive future students of the opportunity to challenge themselves and excel.


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Posted by Glad Things are working Ok for you,
a resident of Ohlone School
on Feb 27, 2011 at 6:54 pm

Student, I am glad you benefited from the AP classes, but to what expenses? [Portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff.] You should had been at the Church meeting where Miranda, a former PAUSD student gave her testimony about how much she was stressed out at Gunn with AP classes, but now, she is just taken time off from Cornell University. She said it was not really worth it, that she could had probably been accepted without the AP classes. Please keep an eye on your level of stress, and do not brag about how good you are, that is the kind of message that makes other students who are not as good as you are, to try to get into the same number of AP classes you are into, because no one wants to feel less. You should keep things to yourself and your family. Not everyone can do it.


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Posted by The money is there
a resident of Palo Verde
on Feb 27, 2011 at 7:00 pm

Ann,
I meant to say "the school superintendent",anyway you get the picture. The former superintendent and the board backed up the decision when the put pressure on them by mentioning and planning to open a chatter school. Thanks for the correction.


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Posted by Point of Order
a resident of Gunn High School
on Feb 27, 2011 at 7:13 pm

Glad Things,
Please don't tell students they should "keep things to yourself and your family" because their opinions and experiences differ from yours. Everyone should have a chance to share because that gives a more complete picture.


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Posted by I am glad things are working for you
a resident of Ohlone School
on Feb 27, 2011 at 7:20 pm

Everyone should share here, but when students brag about their achievements with other students,is when we create this kind high achievement culture, that unfortunately does not work for everyone, but many students feel like they have to do join the race, because their friend is doing it or because their parents expect them to. It is ok that he shares here, because that is the way we can figure out how to help the straggling students. I am sorry student if I sent this message to you. I hope is clear now and that you can help us to create a less competitive culture at the schools. You sound smart and will know what I mean.


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Posted by parent
a resident of Palo Verde
on Feb 27, 2011 at 7:39 pm

do you want your kids to be around those good school mates or do you want to surround your kids with a bunch of pot smokers?at least those good kids will help your kids to look at right things to do in their lives,hopefully will increase their willingness to keep up and try more.we should encourage them to look at the good examples,but it is ok to get B or C coz it is still way better than A in other schools, and also your kids will get the sense of how to better themselves in real life.


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Posted by EcoMama
a resident of Community Center
on Feb 27, 2011 at 8:02 pm

To "Glad Things are Working OK" --

Do you know that the suicides are related to kids taking AP classes, or are you making a grave assumption? (It's a rhetorical question.)

Please, people, stop tying these suicides to APs and academic stress. We don't know that's the case. These may have happened because of existing mental illness, or social pressures, or any host of contributing factors -- yes, academics included -- and the trigger certainly differed child by child. Compare us to surrounding districts. A teacher in Mountain View says they've had just as many teen suicides; they're just not making the news like ours are. (Hats off to Mountain View for that.) It would be ideal if our numbers were at zero, and we should, as a community, do everything we can to get there. But we won't get there by blaming schools for kids' deaths. Be mindful that you may be planting the reason in kids' heads by doing that -- a worrisome thing to say the least. What kids are hearing from us on this forum is that these kids died because they couldn't hack school. That's the wrong message, misinformed and irresponsible. The cause of these deaths is private; we need to respect that and not make dangerous assumptions.

Suicides are horrible, no doubt about it -- but preventing suicide is, in some ways, the least of my concerns as a parent. Managing stress and the other factors that MAY adversely affect my kids' mental health is paramount. We have to stop focusing on the deaths, sad as they are, and focus, instead, on improving life for those living it. It starts with us as parents, and, with the pressure we put on schools to be sensitive to workloads, perhaps it can end with us as well. Ultimately, I'm responsible for my kids myself. (Note, though, that I'm not saying that the parents of the deceased didn't do a good enough job, either. There is no logic or reasoning in suicide, just sadness, and my heart breaks for these families.)


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Posted by parent
a resident of Palo Verde
on Feb 27, 2011 at 8:16 pm

[Post removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]


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Posted by other happy Paly parent
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 27, 2011 at 8:16 pm

I agree with Gunn senior. The schools should not cut back on AP classes for everybody just to make it less stressful for selected stressed out students. It's the parents' job (in conjunction with TAs, teachers, and counselors) to advise each kid on what is best for them, and keep them from taking on too much if it looks like they are taking on too much.

But please, let students who thrive on AP classes take them. It's not their fault if they can handle it and others can't.


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Posted by teacher pushback unacceptable
a resident of Downtown North
on Feb 27, 2011 at 8:45 pm

Eco Mama

"pressure we (parents) put on schools to be sensitive to workloads"

what pressure? parents have no voice about workloads

please list improvements that have resulted from parent pressure?

teachers are not accountable to parents, and nothing is enforceable about workloads, or classroom practices

the time I have left between homework loads and school is not that much.

There seems to be a culture of super parents here as well. the parents that maintain balance and are perfect, parents organized enough to have their kids learn everything before it's actually taught

Me Too replied to the Daubers with " At its core, your approach seems more concerned with addressing the jealously or bitterness that some may feel (you?) "

that statement alone tells me the climate is really messed up

I happen to think that something like TEAM or smaller schools with schools, each with own counselor and Principal to better look out for everyone is important. And I don't think doing something like training youth to counsel other youth to survive the stress is appropriate.




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Posted by other happy Paly parent
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 27, 2011 at 8:56 pm

To "teacher pushback unacceptable"

I agree with you that things are not perfect at school. I also agree that "houses" or Team for all could be a great idea in high school in Palo Alto.

However, improvements have already been made at Paly. The new block schedule is wonderful. The orientation before school this year was helpful. My child seems to have less homework at the same level as his older siblings did, which would indicate a reduction in homework. So, the schools have been trying to implement improvements, including some very successful ones such as block schedule.

Are more improvements needed? Probably, but that does not include prohibiting people who thrive in AP classes from taking them.

And improving our schools would probably best served by cooperation between school administrators, teachers and parents, rather than rancor and name calling.


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Posted by Pot calling Kettle
a resident of Midtown
on Feb 27, 2011 at 9:16 pm

To "other happy Paly parent":
There is no "name calling" in the editorial. The fact that you don't agree with the authors doesn't mean that they are doing anything inappropriate by stating their view. In fact, the only name calling I see here in this entire forum is against "tiger cubs" by...um, you.


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Posted by what about Gunn?
a resident of Palo Verde
on Feb 27, 2011 at 9:16 pm

I keep hearing positive changes being made at Paly: Block schedule, Team, etc.

We are in the Gunn area. Are there plans to implement similar changes there? If not, why??


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Posted by parent
a resident of Gunn High School
on Feb 27, 2011 at 9:19 pm

I also agree with Gunn senior. My child found the AP classes to be the most enjoyable and interesting classes at Gunn. While challenging, those courses didn't demand any busywork. The homework was always manageable and interesting. Please don't assume that limiting AP classes would improve Gunn.


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Posted by parent
a resident of Palo Verde
on Feb 27, 2011 at 9:21 pm

i think the reason they want to have some leadership kids to help out is because the school does not have many counselors available,there are more than 2000 students in gunn,500 sudents/per counselor,and obviously they can not handle this many students,they will need help from follow students,and it is easier for kids to talk to kids to find the troubles first,then the counselor will take over,i think that will work.


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Posted by teacher pushback unacceptable
a resident of Downtown North
on Feb 27, 2011 at 9:34 pm



Who got the block schedule done at Paly?

I get the feeling it must have been a handful of brave souls who had to work hard for it, that's leadership, does anyone know whose idea that was?? they need more credit




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Posted by parent
a resident of Palo Verde
on Feb 27, 2011 at 9:45 pm

what is block schedule,how does it work?


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Posted by another Gunn parent
a resident of Barron Park
on Feb 27, 2011 at 10:12 pm

Several people have said we need fresh leadership from the BOE. Did any of you run for school board at the last election? What, no? Because as I recall the 2 incumbents ran unopposed. That's right. In our large school district no one else stepped forward. But now there are plenty of critics. Lots of PA parents seem to have answers, but few want to be real leaders. I am grateful for the BOE members we do have who try their best to do what they think is right for the district. If you disagree, run for school board!


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Posted by Parent
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Feb 27, 2011 at 11:19 pm

@PV Parent: The block schedule at Paly allows for a tutorial time on Thursdays (students can visit teachers or study but have to stay on campus), minimum day on Tuesdays, all classes on Mondays, and half classes on the other days. It has received a great reception and my student thinks it has reduced stress: Web Link
Susan Schultz, Guidance Counselor, was involved in changing the schedule and I'm not sure who else. She said she preferred school to start at 8:30 but others did not agree with it.

Gunn has a different schedule: Web Link


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Posted by Choices
a resident of Leland Manor/Garland Drive
on Feb 28, 2011 at 5:32 am

I couldn't believe anyone would think it was a good idea to lower AP offerings. Good grief. Some kids thrive on them, others don't. Others will never take a single one.

So what? I believe in choice...some kids need and want the APs, some kids need and want good voc ed.

Strengthen the voc ed options for the non-college bound, and we will strengthen the school.

Opportunity is the key, not limiting choices. Control over one's options, as a poster said above, is the key. If the only "choice" is college or no college with no other choices, then there is a lot more stress.

And figure out a way to allow all kids to take a real break between semesters so that they all can rest and re-charge.




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Posted by palo alto mom
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Feb 28, 2011 at 8:22 am

Choice - I totally agree with your statement, but as a District, neither the school, the students or the parents are able/willing to admit that there are kids who should not have college as a goal. The only thing we do, and generally do well for 80-85% of the students, is prepare them for a 4 year college.

Not every student should be attending college (56% of college students don't graduate anyway...) but I can't imagine any family in PAUSD admitting that their child should be studying to become a mechanic, a hairdresser, or an electrician even though all those careers pay quite well.


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Posted by former Paly parent
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Feb 28, 2011 at 10:27 am

The situation in HS is a bit more complex. Some of us see how a lot of elements combine for a stressful experience.
Oh, by the way, it is not a case of either you have a gifted kid who takes 7 APs easily and sails through versus a kid who is a "B" student, like some condescending types seem to enjoy portraying here.
Really, there are a lot of high achievers who just have lived a more natural life and who haven't been prepped by Tiger Moms (paid prepping for yrs in advance of AP and top math coursess, take courses parents direct = maximum one can fit in, top-calibre summer education, yrs of SAT prepping which raises scores 30 pts etc.) -- in fact, these THINGS matter as competition tightens and add up though they also represent a calculated plan on the part of parents. The high achievers are made to feel they better rush to join in the game or they may feel it is rather hopeless (seen in the immediate context of peers who constantly discuss their grades, SAT scores, etc.) A return to manners and privacy in the matter of grades would do a lot to improve school atmosphere. It is fine for school administration to publicize the list of National Merit Scholars each year, but when "top" students constantly publice their stats, it can get overly disheartening for those with better taste and manners who were taught to be more modest. Again, I know top performers who showed dignity, but I am sorry to say I also knew some who had incredible advantages and who did not behave with dignity.
How about the PALY 2008 student grad speaker -- a "student leader" and "high achiever" who took a coveted spot at a local famous university in Palo Alto...and who also was discovered to be a plagiarist? This was an awful role model for the younger high school students who were acutely aware of the rewards this student received, without penalty. We need administrators, parents, teachers who NEVER endorse cheating, plagiarism and other unethical behaviors.
Thank you for reading.
I would prefer a situation where above average achievers are not constantly bragged to by certain of the "top" students, who after all have been given (or forced to utilize)multiple costly advantages by their parents. Just a few points make a difference when applying to highly rated universities and the naive (though perhaps quite deserving student/parents) may be indeed surprised by the competition that others have carefully planned for. Universities cannot offer to everyone at PALY or Gunn owing to geographic diversity needs. It is not easy for colleges to recognize self-directed students who have done their own work, but there seems to be increasing recognition of this problem.
By the way, it IS true a lot of HS students stay up crazy hours, post they have a lot of work to do (err...they are using social media as they do this...) and it intensifies the beliefs of other students that only the "cool" high achievers have "so much work to do" that they must stay up all night. One more thing - I never excused my kids from school (including in such cases as staying up all night to perfect a paper, etc.) though I am shocked to read some parents did play this game, which I view as unethical.


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Posted by Choices
a resident of Leland Manor/Garland Drive
on Feb 28, 2011 at 11:02 am

to Palo Alto Mom: This is one family who would be very, very proud to have their child be able to complete a good voc ed program of her choice, or even a pre-voc program that sets her up for a private post-high school voc school, and move forward into adulthood prepared to take care of herself. At this point, her only options are to hope she can graduate high school, and hope we can find a good private voc ed program, if we don't lose her first as she gives up, believing she is "too stupid" to do anything since there is no way she will go to college. We can say all we want that the vast majority of people working in this nation do not have college degrees..the ones building and fixing our houses and cars, our roads and phone lines, the ones doing our hair and nails, caring for our animals, growing and transporting and selling our food etc. Doesn't matter. Living here, she sees only that she is worthless because "everyone" goes to college.

We are, frankly, considering moving to a more rural area in order to get her more educational options.




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Posted by We are all guilty
a resident of Midtown
on Feb 28, 2011 at 11:03 am

As I read these postings, I realize that there are a lot of disagreements about the source of the social emotional issues that are affecting our students. Some people think is the parents fault, others the tigers moms, teachers or the school officials. We have only heard abou students who died, but many of us ignored that many attempts have occurred, not just one of two, and not just at the tracks. Some students have tried pills, guns, and so on. We need to come to our sensed and accept the fact is that the school system is not working for a lot of kids and are loosing our students for whatever reason, and many are feeling mentally ill as a result of how hard live has been for them. We all, the community, parents, teachers school officials and friends need to do something about it. It is not ok to point the finger to someone else and hope it will be resolved. Some how we are all involved in this mess. It is everybody's fault that we have not been able to help our students and students continue to suffer and their only way out is to die.


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Posted by teacher pushback unacceptable
a resident of Downtown North
on Feb 28, 2011 at 11:08 am


former Paly parent,

thank you for taking the time to illustrate the unspoken and unaddressed issue about the culture in the schools

there are kids who are high achievers with dignity, manners and respect, but they are the exception because it's all about status. You can also say the same about money, the other unspoken but very real pressure here

by the way, not sure where the research proves this but cheating is largely due to pressure to perform

the 2008 Paly "student leader" is not a coincidence










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Posted by Former Gunn Parent
a resident of Midtown
on Feb 28, 2011 at 11:17 am

To choices,
You are right, the school system has been set up for high achievers, and there is nothing for the ones who learn slower. This is what we need to work on. There are many children who have special needs, they go to school and hear their friends (if they have any, sometimes high achiever do not want friends who are stupid), they hear them brag about where they are going to college. They hear some of the teachers who said community college at for losers (my special ed child's regular teacher said this to the class), how can they feel proud to go to community college? Also we (adults) often ask students: where are you applying to college?, if they name a good school we often say: that is a great school, bla, bla, bla. What happens when the child says I am going to community college than if the child is lucky she the adult will respond: "oh, ok". Or why? we all need to change, how we react when a child says to what college they go to and congratulate them just by the fact that they survived and came out in on peace from PAUSD high schools. Do not make so much fuss about going to good or bad universities, or not going at all. We also need to stop putting the names of the colleges students are going, they do this at Gunn they also put the list of the colleges students are not going. I know a child that was not going to college at all, but just so she would not look dumb she put the name of a university in los Angeles (I can't think the name).


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Posted by Laurie
a resident of College Terrace
on Feb 28, 2011 at 11:28 am

I blame the lousy school board tooooo many kids at both high schools
that don't live in the district and over crowding the class rooms and some of the teacher's that hide behind the union that don't belong in the classrooms teaching! Why don't they get a report card like are kids do on the job they are doing??? Alot of Teachers use their aids to teach the class because they have put in there 5yr-10yr
And what happeneded to the basic teaching? Alot of students that graduate don't even no basic skills like writing, basic math, that you really do need in Life! and when they do go to college good luck trying to get a job!! College grads can't even find a JOB! I quess it's not what you no but who you no after college when trying to find a job!


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Posted by Yes they are guilty too
a resident of Midtown
on Feb 28, 2011 at 11:53 am

Yes, the board members and Skelly, have a big part in this problem. Parents have come to address the board about problems that have occurred with bad teachers, but they can't be touched them just turn the their ear to the other side. Just and example of this: A child was afraid of her teacher who had really bad discipline skills, and she often threatened the students who did not pay attention with poking their eyes ball out of their sockets. Nothing was done, she still continues to teach even though they know she is not a good teacher. They do not give her a class to herself but she teaches part time here and there. [Portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff.] At this point she is my child's teacher and she does not like that she scream and is rude, but she stays there because she wants to learn. There had been times when the principal's anwer to a complain about this techer was "you can quit if you are not happy with the teacher. The child was like my daughter, and told the principal that she will stay, but his friends saw her cry in class many times. Shame on the district, principals, and school officials for not protecting our kids.


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Posted by Observer
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 28, 2011 at 12:15 pm

I see a lot of misinformation here, so I want to set a few things straight. This is a really important topic, people should not just be throwing out beliefs with no foundation.

Crescent Park Dad's comments are a good example of the misinformation, and are almost identical to the stop-the-problem-solving-and-leave-us-alone kinds of comments we've been getting from the administration so far.

He wrote:
"Stop the whining!

The residents of Palo Alto approved the bond and the projects. At this point PAUSD is following the mandate set by the people of the city.

Keep scapegoating the PAUSD - when in fact the entire city has been involved in the debate and the approval of the bond, the plans, the building, etc."

Sorry, but that's just misleading baloney. It makes me wonder about CPDad's stake.

So here are some key points:
1) Residents approved a bond project to improve our schools. The bond project included a general description of goals and sites and was clearly crafted to include rebuying the property at Cubberley and building there if the board saw fit.

2) The administration has done no outreach or open discussion with the public about the direction the high school construction. There has been no interaction with the public about whether we want the challenges and costs of mega schools and the implications to academic quality and social life come with such large schools.

3) Multi-story construction in public schools is extraordinarily expensive. We only need multi-story to make the high schools into mega schools. Construction at Cubberly may even be doable with just the additional money being spent on the multi-story premium at the high schools. We don't know, though, because no one has done a study of this to problem solve, NO ONE HAS MADE SPECIFIC COMPARISONS, LOOKED AT ACTUAL COSTS, AND OUTCOMES FOR DIFFERENT OPTIONS. A lot of people, including in the administration, make sweeping judgements with absolutely no data to back it up. This is one of the most glaring problems in the leadership on this issue.

The architect for the Gunn project stated publicly that the premium on multistory would be 15%. IMO, it's probably more. But assuming that is correct, that means $3million is being spent on just that first building JUST SO WE CAN GET A TWO-STORY STRUCTURE. More millions are being spent on square footage we wouldn't need at Gunn if the square footage were going in at Cubberley. All in all, I think at least $10 million of that $20 million building could be spent at Cubberly with no loss of any functionality at Gunn, if Gunn were not being built up as a megaschool -- and that's just the savings from ONE BUILDING, there are six mult-story buildings being planned for the two campuses. By comparison, a single-story building planned for Gunn in the same phase will cost only $8 million.

4) Meetings have been open to the public, but the big issues have not been publicized. The public was allowed to attend the planning meetings, but topics were never publicized, the implications (as stated above) were never brought up by the planners, and the public that attended had no opportunity for interaction. A short question session was allowed, but questions were taken on cards, with only 2 minutes allowed each, and no rebuttal was allowed from the public if the response was wrong or inadequate. It was not a forum for discussing the big issues anyway, there was NEVER any interaction with the public over whether to make Gunn a huge school or reopen Cubberly. This is hardly a "debate" or "the entire city" involved!

5) The state of california publishes a document that outlines things that increase costs of public school construction. It says multi-story construction is so expensive in public schools, it's almost never worth it even to save land costs. They suggest making parallel plans, single-story and multi-story, as the best strategy to save money. A member of the public brought this up, and a single-story topic was inserted on the agenda, but there was no legitimate plan produced for comparison. (Again, self-serving and sweeping, even misleading, arguments by various parties that don't have the publics interest at heart were accepted with no factual backup and again the failure of leadership was glaring.)

6) It is the elementary families who will be most affected by these decisions now, but it is very difficult for them to protest against something they have very little information about and that is so abstract. Things like these get dealt with usually when it's too late. It's eleventh hour now, but dealing with it NOW could actually save money and change the direction for the better. We should demand the district talk with the public about options, have an IMPARTIAL entity (or competing entities) run some actual numbers on the costs, and bring up the potential academic and social consequences of the options.

7) The optimal situation for a district facing such overcrowded schools and increasing enrollment is having a decommissioned school site to bring on line, which we have. We have approved a bond that could pay for renovation and is written to include that possibility. The city is willing to sell the land it's using back to the district now cheap (NOW is the time to get that land back, it should never have been sold in the first place). We could have done something advantageous with Foothill if we'd had some leadership. (I don't want to hear anymore vague and sweeping arguments -- lets have some real discussion now with real numbers and facts!)

8) There is a shallow fault running directly under Gunn High School. The combination of hubris and uncertainty that I see in this construction will almost certainly be a safety issue sometime in the future. Just as with the school size, this is an issue that should be openly discussed with the public, and should have been from the start.


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Posted by James Z.
a resident of Crescent Park
on Feb 28, 2011 at 12:35 pm

This is one of the most misleading articles that I ever read. Any people who has common sense would not believe the conclusion that offering more AP classes would cause more mental problems of the students.

AP classes are only choices of students. Offering more choices is always better than less or no choices. This is the same as offering a variety of sport utilities at school. The students may or may not take the advantages of using these sport utilities. But nobody can draw a conclusion that these sport utilities may cause mental health problems to the students who are physically less competent.

The author said that "The evidence connecting academic stress to adolescent depression, anxiety, and suicidal ideation is overwhelming." Does it mean that Harker School which offers twice as AP classes as Paly, or any schools ranked academically higher in the Newsweeks should have even higher suicidal rate?

The depression of students is a severe problem that nobody in this neighborhood should ignore. However, both Kevin Skelly and AP classes have nothing to do with it.


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Posted by parent
a resident of Palo Verde
on Feb 28, 2011 at 12:44 pm

[Post removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]


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Posted by parent
a resident of Palo Verde
on Feb 28, 2011 at 1:19 pm

can our school community to step out when the city approves the big housing projects. this is the root of our problem the school is getting too big.


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Posted by Observer
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 28, 2011 at 1:22 pm

James Z,
I am with you that taking away opportunities isn't the answer. But it's not true that leadership of our district has nothing to do with student stress.

There is plenty of research showing that school "connectedness" is an important factor in whether kids thinking of suicide choose not to act on it. (Here's a paper that defines "connectedness" in case you are wondering:Web Link .

There is also plenty of research showing that connectedness declines in ultra large schools. Academic quality and other social factors also decline, bullying and the achievement gap are worse, particularly over 2100 students, which is what we're spending our money doing here, even though we have the option of opening another school site.

You can have ultra-large schools of good quality, but most of them can't be compared because they restrict enrollment by academic measures. (As Harker does. Harker upper school, grades 9-12, by the way, only has 1,500 students. What I think Gunn should be.)
You could probably hunt down a few other examples, but they are outliers, exceptions. We shouldn't be banking on being an exception, particularly since we have the opportunity here to make our schools optimally sized into the future, and to remove the kinds of challenges to stress and academic quality that are inherent in larger schools. But we need a show of leadership that has been lacking.



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Posted by Other happy Paly parent
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 28, 2011 at 1:37 pm

To Pot calling Kettle:

I took the expression "tiger cub" from the lady who wrote "Battle hymn of the Tiger Mother"... and did not mean it to be name calling, only a short cut to describe a certain kind of students that does exist. However, if I offended anyone using this term, I am sorry.

When I mentioned name calling, I was not necessarily referring to the editorial but to all the comments. Here are a few of a the phrases that I was referring to. I think they are offensive and have no place in a debate to improve our schools:

"It is not solely Skelly who is a poor leader, but our BoE who can't lead."

"Kevin Skelly isn't my favorite person. He's not the best leader, he cow tows to the parents,"

"Dr. Skelly made it clear that their is a long history of the principal's having autonomy but does he have no leadership ability to say we need a change."

"one thing with Skelly. His mind is always made up. He doesn't value input."

And on and on, this are just a few examples. I fail to see how making such statements will improve the situation.


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Posted by James Z.
a resident of Crescent Park
on Feb 28, 2011 at 2:01 pm

Observer,

If you believe the leadership of Kevin Skelly or anybody else is a problem because they lack of "connectness" to the students, please tell me how you draw the conclusion that offering less AP classes will solve the problem.

To me it seems that the authors has an agenda to remove Kevin Skelly due to personal reason. [Portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff.] The author simply choose an easy target, student depress, and believed that having less or no AP class, or the better, having no Kevin Skelly, is the solution to their kids. I disagree.


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Posted by Parent
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Feb 28, 2011 at 3:20 pm

Happy Other Paly Parent

As the person who used the first phrase you quoted as namecalling, I would like to defend my use of the phrase.

I said that the BoE can't lead, which to me is not name calling. I said that they couldn't lead and gave examples of areas where they have shown that they could not lead, or make a firm decision. MI, boundaries, Garland, calendar, and Everyday Math are all recent hot button topics on which we have suffered from poor leadership.

Could I have done better? No, but then I am not in a position whereby I have run a political campaign, won enough votes to win, and sat on a BoE where I was expected to make decisions to benefit the children of this district. However, I do expect better leadership from those who have claimed to want it, be good at it, and at least several have chosen to do so a second time. I also have not spent as much time with data and experts to give me knowledge to do this effectively.

I know it is easy to sit on the sidelines, on this side of a computer screen, and type away criticisms. But, this is what this forum is designed for. What I have done is to keep my ears and eyes open over the last umpteen years my kids have been in Palo Alto schools and use some common sense in judging what is going on, and to admit when I was wrong or didn't feel qualified to have an opinion on an issue.

If you think that our BoE are strong leaders, then you are entitled to your opinion. I have cited my reasons for thinking otherwise, and I am entitled to mine. I don't call that name calling.


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Posted by One Gunn Mom
a resident of Gunn High School
on Feb 28, 2011 at 4:01 pm

I recently talked with one Gunn parent whose child was taking 5 AP courses as a senior last semester and said it was less stress. But that was because the teachers were all the top rated teachers. Good teachers will make all the difference! If we think that all our teachers are great, think again. There are some really mediocre to bad teachers at Gunn, and they may be the only ones teaching a particular course--so you have no choice. Just look at what happens when schedules come out--kids are trying to get in to the better teacher's classes. The counselors won't let you switch just because of the teacher, so you have to plan your strategy well. And if you can't switch, some parents will pay for classes at SIL.

The teacher evaluations only go to the teacher and they don't have to share them with anyone. Think "writing your own evaluation", putting it in your drawer and then telling your boss you are fabulous! There needs to be a way of getting rid of bad teachers.


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Posted by Chemistry/Halo at Gunn?
a resident of Gunn High School
on Feb 28, 2011 at 4:24 pm

One Gunn Mom:
The allocation of the best teachers to the most competitive classes is a serious problem at Gunn as well -- the kids who need the most help are getting less good teachers. This is another failure of leadership. The administration needs to assign teachers based on what works for students, not on what the teachers would prefer. Every teacher would rather teach highly-motivated, ambitious students. It's easier! But this isn't Phillips Exeter. It's a public school in which every child deserves a teacher appropriate to his or her needs. One result of this misallocation of resources is that those children who need academic support are least likely to get it from the less talented teachers assigned to their lane.
The message to the students once again is: get on the treadmill and run. The best teachers are teaching the kids up ahead of you.


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Posted by kmom
a resident of Greenmeadow
on Feb 28, 2011 at 5:07 pm

OUR KIDS JUST DON'T FEEL ACCEPTED FOR WHO THEY ARE. This is the core problem in our schools. I don't understand why everyone isn't saying this. At the end of the day when your child comes home from school, their emotional state usually has something to do with their social interactions at school. The interactions with their classmates, teachers and the administration greatly affects how they feel. I'm not saying that their academic successes or failures don't play a role in their happiness, but a sense of belonging matters more. I'd like to see everyone be more supportive of the whole community, students, teachers, administrators and parents alike. Wouldn't be great if all of our kids could fill in this one sentence, "If it weren't for ____ I wouldn't be who I am today. Every kid deserves to have someone in school who is there for them. We need to make our schools a lot more positive.


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Posted by Observer
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 28, 2011 at 5:15 pm

James Z,
It would help if you would actually read the things I wrong before responding to them. I said, "WHILE I AM WITH YOU THAT TAKING AWAY OPPORTUNITIES ISN'T THE ANSWER"... i.e., I AGREE WITH YOU THAT TAKING AWAY OPPORTUNITIES -- APs -- IS NOT THE ANSWER. Please do me the courtesy of actually reading what I wrote before spouting off an angry retort that doesn't even deal with what is wrong and clearly demonstrates that you don't understand anything I wrote.

Secondly, the issue of connectedness is not about Kevin Skelley having a connection to the students. That is why I gave you a link to an academic paper defining connectedness -- again, you should stick with making angry retorts about things you have bothered to understand first -- because "connectedness" is a specific, studied phenomenon that has a particular meaning. It's student connectedness within a school, not to a school administration!

The fact is, when young people consider suicide (because they are depressed or otherwise), they are less likely to ACT ON THOSE THOUGHTS if they are in an environment with higher "connectedness" at school. When we decide to build huge schools, we know from research that this factor of "connectedness" will suffer and so will the students.

The vast majority of research on school quality points toward spending money to make more reasonably-sized schools, not larger ones. How do you feel about 800 more students on campus competing to enroll in those AP classes so that your child can't take the ones s/he wants? Or that math scores will almost certainly suffer in such a large school?

I am FOR as much opportunity as we can give these kids. And I am for an environment that gives them the most support and the best chance of succeeding, which does NOT mean making mega sized schools, especially spending tens of millions extra to do it simply because we haven't had the leadership to consider the options! (Let me say this again, did you understand that I AGREE that APs are not the problem? If you still have not done so, please actually read my posts before responding.)

The fact is, Kevin Skelley decided that we were going to build larger schools before we even voted on measure A. He never did any due diligence in comparing options. He never tried to educate or involve the public on the implications and costs of these mega schools. He never changed course when all of these enrollment surprises developed. He's talked about buying a very expensive plot of land adjacent to Cubberley in competition with a developer but not buying back the land at Cubberely that the city is willing to let us have back, cheap. (I personally would like to see the district buy BOTH, but not so they just sit on them.)

I would be frankly be more pleased to see the leadership coming from Skelley than to remove him, but I keep waiting and it's just not forthcoming.

Many of the problems we are having in the construction, in resolving these problems, in doing what is best for our students, comes from people spouting off without facts. Please consider learning the facts (and listening to others) in these discussions before going off about it, there are difficult enough things to hash out with everyone on the same page.


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Posted by Observer
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 28, 2011 at 5:19 pm

kmom,
What you are suggesting is much more possible in more reasonably-sized schools, and much harder in huge mega schools. The people who want to focus on school size are doing so because huge schools present system challenges to creating and keeping a good community, to maintaining academic quality, to giving students the attention they deserve, etc. It's easier to do everything you said in a school of 1500 than a school of 2300.


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Posted by Observere
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 28, 2011 at 5:21 pm

In the above I meant to say
"huge schools present SYSTEMIC challenges to creating and keeping a good community, to maintaining academic quality,..." etc.


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Posted by RogueTrader
a resident of Gunn High School
on Feb 28, 2011 at 5:27 pm

We have 3 kids who have spent their entire schooling in the PAUSD system. They are currently in grades 12, 9, and 7. All 3 are thriving, happy, doing well, lots of friends.

We couldn't be happier with the PAUSD and its leadership.


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Posted by How can elementary parents be heard?
a resident of Palo Verde
on Feb 28, 2011 at 5:33 pm

How can we get attention to the Third High School idea? It seems to have no traction other than on these forums.

If what Observer is saying is true, which I do not know, but I have read here before, why doesn't one of the savvy attorney parents in PAUSD sue to stop construction? Is this a microcosm of the march toward the Iraq war? (ok. poor analogy, so I apologize in advance)


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Posted by Yes many kids are not accepted
a resident of Palo Verde
on Feb 28, 2011 at 6:10 pm

My child is not accepted for how she was born middle school. She has big nose and some pimples, as long as with some learning differences, some students make fun of that. She is often told by boys and girls that everyone hates her, and that she should go away. Yes, she comes back home very angry, because she wants to have friends, and if no one ones wants to be her friend at least she does she does want to hear this harsh words. We have complained about the bullying with the principal, but it keeps going on and on. The school has not done something that works because it keeps going on. The district knows but pretend that they don't, and the principal made up an excuses like maybe she is provoquing this? My choice is to pulled her out and home school her, or wait for the next time she gets bullied and to make a big deal like go and complain with the parents about the behavior of their children, or call the police. The latter one is harsh but the school is letting me no choice. I could do the same thing that the district does, pretend nothing is happening and let her handle it herself. The problem is that she is getting tired and any moment she is going to react aggressively. I have been trying to keep her calm, but there is only so much a child can handle. Then I will say, I told you so.
No, the social and emotional needs of our students is not first priority. Remember Skelly according to Skelly, this is a hard issue.


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Posted by One Gunn Mom
a resident of Gunn High School
on Feb 28, 2011 at 6:17 pm

Parents,

The third High School was studied by a special group--the High School Task Force about 4 years ago. The group included parents, community members and administrators. They met frequently for over a year and made the recommendation to make the 2 high schools bigger rather than open a 3rd high school. I believe this all happened before Skelly was hired. If you are not familiar with the report, you should ask the district for the report. This was well publicized in the school community.

On of the reasons for not opening a 3rd HS was the inability to have sufficient range or selection of AP classes--the larger the school, the more offerings you can have, and no one wants to offer fewer selections, which is what you would have to do if you went down in enrollment at Paly or Gunn.

If they were to reopen Cubberly, they would have to completely rebuild it. And the overhead--principal, counselors, support staff, etc would be very expensive. A lot of schools are being asked to consolidate to save overhead costs.

You need to stay informed on HS issues especially when your kids are in grade school cause changes take so long. If you have not, the train has left the station!


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Posted by We Need Smaller Schools Now!
a resident of Gunn High School
on Feb 28, 2011 at 6:44 pm

Here is a link to the Palo Alto Weekly story that reported that the 2007 Task Force had been considering a comprehensive 3d high school until Kevin was hired.

Web Link

Read:

"Although initially slated to consider opening a third comprehensive high school, like Paly or Gunn, the group's focus changed after current Superintendent Kevin Skelly arrived in summer.

There won't be enough students for at least five years to need to look at another comprehensive high school, Skelly said in meetings with the high-school principals, group facilitators, and Assistant Superintendent Scott Laurence, who acts as the group's district liaison.

Instead, the task force should focus on programs to help the 20 to 30 percent of students who don't thrive in the comprehensive setting, Skelly said.

The Board of Education approved the focus change this fall and the group began studying alternative programming, including a small, specially focused school."

At that point, the third high school process was derailed, and the decision was made to do nothing except make Gunn even bigger. Kevin seems to have decided that those 30% of students who are not "thriving" in the "comprehensive" setting can be eliminated from Gunn's SAT scores by giving them IEPs, or exporting them to Alta Vista, Foothill Middle College, the Sham for Independent "Learners," and "Focus on Success." Problem solved!

It seems like most people on this forum agree that we need smaller schools, and more alternatives than big competitive "stress machines." Yet Kevin Skelly decided against it. Just like he decided to change the math curriculum -- imperiously and without sufficient regard for parent input and desire. And to connect the dots -- just wait until the poor kids who have suffered through 6 years of "Everyday Math" [another Skelly brainchild] land on the doorstep of Bigger Better High Stress High. That is going to be a nightmare for those kids whose parents couldn't afford or didn't know about Classic Math or Singapore Math or Kumon. They won't know what hit them. I guess we'll have to get them some "connectedness" when they feel pressured by the fact that they can't do long division.

I don't understand how anyone can think that this is acceptable leadership. He's just wrong for Palo Alto.


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Posted by Crescent Park Dad
a resident of Crescent Park
on Feb 28, 2011 at 6:47 pm

Observer: I am a (married) parent. One kid is a freshman in college and another is a junior at Paly. I work in Marcomm (my own business) and I remodel houses as an advocation. I have volunteered at my kids' schools from K-12. I am not employed by PAUSD, nor do I perform any professional work for PAUSD.

Don't get personal and make unfounded accusations. It's ugly and unnecessary.

No offense, but I find your posting and "statement of facts" to be inaccurate. I have assembled just a small list of items where verifiable facts or statements show much different than what you claim.

Please read the entire Measure A document (approved by the PAUSD BoE in Feb 2008). Nowhere does it mention Cubberly or Garland by name. To make sure that my eyes did not deceive me, I also did a word search via Acrobat.

For each school category (Elementary, Middle School + Gunn & Paly), the first bullet point says: "Construct new permanent classrooms and classroom buildings to accommodate enrollment growth and expanded programs."

You can't be any clearer than that.

See for yourself:

Web Link

There is one bullet point (out of over 70) that mentions an option to buy land or refurbish district-owned buildings (if funding allows). One bullet point.

Contrary to your opinion, the bond document is "clearly crafted" towards the purpose of improving and expanding the current/active campuses; not re-opening currently held properties such as Cubberly or Garland.

Is there a professional definition of what a mega-school is? What is the enrollment level for such a school? Just curious.

According to the latest C-BED results (11/2010), Paly enrollment is 1850; Gunn is 1911.

Local public HS that have similar academic performance (API):
Monta Vista 2417
Homestead 2230
M-A 2027
Mountain View 1826
Cupertino 1810
Lynbrook 1776
Los Gatos 1703
Los Altos 1631

Not nearly on the same academic level, but just for grins...largest school in Santa Clara County is Independence at 3465.

According to edsource.org - 2010 Calif. average HS size was 1580. Urban schools averaged close to 2000. Suburban 1100. Rural 650. We could debate this, but we are closer to "urban" than "suburban" if you consider population density. Largest CA HS is over 5000, located in LA.

I do not wish to be confrontational, but I believe your arguments about availability of information, meetings, agendas, etc. are also inaccurate.

For example, look at what information is available just for Paly:

Web Link

As far as I can tell, every facilities steering committee meeting is followed closely by a community meeting.

If you're on the Internet (which you are), you do not have to look very hard for any source of Measure A information...including agendas, plans, drawings, etc.


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Posted by Parent
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Feb 28, 2011 at 7:01 pm

One Gunn Mom

You are right about the High School Task Force meeting for many months, but you are wrong that they were studying the 3rd high school option. They were told right at the beginning it was not an option and that it was not to be discussed. You might then ask what they did discuss? But none of the things currently under discussion about connectedness, mega high schools, schools within schools, etc. were even mentioned.


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Posted by common sense
a resident of Midtown
on Feb 28, 2011 at 8:37 pm

40 years ago, the high schools only had grades 10, 11 & 12, and each grade had around 425 - 450 students.

Fast forward to today, and the high schools have graded 9 - 12, and Paly has 1850 students, which works out to about 450 per grade.


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Posted by changeup
a resident of Leland Manor/Garland Drive
on Feb 28, 2011 at 11:08 pm

I hope the BOE and Mr. Skelly read all the comments listed from all community members. For the record I approve of the job Mr. Skelly has been doing in the face of opposition by Parents, Principals, Teachers and other staff; better than the other three Superintendent's I've been aware of since my children were school age. I think our Palo Alto parents hires and fires superintendents faster than any other school district in California.

1.HOW CAN WE "all" WORK TOGETHER? Just by replacing a Superintendent does not make a school district function better; what are people thinking? A public school system has many limitations ie. funding for one. Perhaps it's time to access what Palo Alto can afford and how to address the issues;develop a ten year plan, five year plan, three year plan, 1 year plan, keep it posted as a spread sheet on a community website and then revisit the schedule every month to make adjustments.

2. Please ask yourselves, how does one group the BOE and one person in a seemingly powerful position be expected to make everyone happy all of the time? Perhaps the answer is more poll taking of the citizens/parents/guardians by the BOE and Superintendent about specific issues that can be put on a timeline and scheduled to be addressed.

3. I still think there should be on going Parent Education Classes from K- 12 like there were for Infant to Young- Fives. The world has changed since we were children and it keeps changing, quickly. The more people there are, the more aware we all become of birth nuances, educational developmental issues, adolescent/teenage and young adult development, in addition to social, physical and emotional development, effects of exercise, play, art, music for entertainment (not prowess) etc. The more teenagers and adults know about how hormones can effect the development of teenage brains; focusing, development, physical prowess, and social/emotional development the more understanding there can be about how differences are acceptable and supported. It would probably also be helpful if all teenagers were taught about mental illnesses, what to look for in themselves and in others and be told by their parents and guardians about family members who suffer or have suffered from any mental illness. They should be encouraged to talk to a trusted adult about feelings or concerns they may have so they can get help and support. There are many topics that the teenage and adult community need to be informed about research of human brain and physical development.

4. It baffles me that Palo Alto parents or parents any where may think that not offering challenges or resources is going to assist children to reach their potential as young adults, help them identify their passions and interests and develop into active, compassionate and resourceful adults. Perhaps there isn't enough fun in the classrooms to teach children how to enjoy learning, to learn from each other and share in the excitement of understanding something new. Where are the passionate teachers? Where are the passionate parents to encourage their children to foster their wonderment? Please look in the mirror and see what you reflect to your own children and children's friends. Everyone is watching!

5. Reopen Cubberley or Garland? Why? With what money? Especially when the population isn't growing.

6. Stability, consciousness, and proactive parenting and community involvement will be the only way for our school district to heal from the teenage suicides and keep developing the excellent schools we already have to address the needs of the students who attend them; not the parent's needs to create robots to perform at parent expectations. Let the children gravitate to their interests with encouragement not pressure.


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Posted by One Gunn Mom
a resident of Gunn High School
on Mar 1, 2011 at 7:47 am

@change up

There are Parent Education events all the way throughout K-12. These are run by the PTA. Get involved in your school's PTA and help set the topics. Palo Alto PTA Council also puts on timely events across a broad range of development issues. In High School, both Gunn and Paly have Parent Network groups for each grade for parents to get together and discuss parenting issues and share experiences. If you do not know about these vast resources, you need to get connected.


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Posted by Steve
a resident of another community
on Mar 1, 2011 at 8:47 am

Folks,

Everybody take a deep breath. My Senior class at Cubberley had 425 students in 1975. In 1992, fed up with PA politics, I moved to a nearby community where my kids could walk to school. Both are earning degrees from outstanding California universities. Since I was growing up in PA, many of these issues have changed only slightly.

Any affluent community located near a famous research university will always insist on good schools. Since most PA parents are well educated, you should expect strong opinions, but what I don't understand is how so many educated people cannot even agree on a simple set of facts!

Paly and Gunn are not Mega Schools, if they were smaller, fewer offerings would be available. True, Middle College cannot take all who are interested in an alternative. Back in the day we could offer a school within a school at Cubberley, and it made a difference for many students. Those of you who think you want a new Superintendent should consider running for school board so that you can participate directly in that process. And be careful what you wish for, since there might not be any one better who wants to work for this bunch of board members and parents anyway. At least Dr. Skelly could come here with his eyes wide open.


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Posted by Prop.39-Is-A-Scam
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 1, 2011 at 11:42 am

> You can't be any clearer than that.

The Measure A Bond documentation was intended to "wow" people and get votes. However, towards the end of the ballot language, there was one little statement that said: "The PAUSD does not have to construct any/all of the projects on this list" (or words to that effect). The list was required by Prop.39, so that a 55% majority (rather than a 2/3rds majority) could secure a win.

Other school districts have passed Prop.39 elections, and then ignored the promised improvements. Sadly, the Courts have been very lenient on school districts, granting them a "pass" when it comes to telling the voters one thing, and then doing what they want.

Don't expect much of the Measure A list to be built, as specified in the ballot language.


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Posted by teacher pushback unacceptable
a resident of Downtown North
on Mar 1, 2011 at 1:24 pm

Steve,

"Everybody take a deep breath. My Senior class at Cubberley had 425 students in 1975."

in 1975 there was no Arms race to get into college, and it was a community in baby steps to become SIlicon Valley.

change up and Crescent PArk dad,

I also hope these comments are being heard, if nothing else to show that many people care about the schools, and while the good things ARE appreciated (check PIE and PTA), there are hot button topics that deserve better attention from leadership.

prerequisite for effective leadership good Communication

and from all the supposed information and misinformation quoted on these threads, there are serious communication gaps for which Skelly is responsible for.

a simple change like the Paly schedule (apparently sponsored by leadership within the school to address homework stress and a later start so kids can get extra sleep), and why Gunn does not adopt it is oddly not discussed during the St. Marks forum.

at least for the hot button issues, communication can improve


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Posted by ISO Leadership
a resident of Midtown
on Mar 1, 2011 at 4:33 pm

Men make history and not the other way around. In periods where there is no leadership, society stands still. Progress occurs when courageous, skillful leaders seize the opportunity to change things for the better.
Harry S. Truman



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Posted by kmom
a resident of Greenmeadow
on Mar 1, 2011 at 5:38 pm

Observer and We Need Smaller Schools Now.

This is exactly correct. Thanks for posting it. It's how we got where we are today. Alas, with the onslaught of more stress than ever amongst our students, these decisions by the Task Force weren't so insightful after all.




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Posted by Join in
a resident of Midtown
on Mar 1, 2011 at 5:54 pm

To all Palo Alto Parents
Small or third school is not going to be offered by the district unless we demand for it. Are we ready to go and plant the seed? It is not going to happen overnight, so it is a little late to start for our high school students, but hopefully it will help the now elementary schools, or middle school students. Who want to go for it. Let's make the high schools a better place for them. I know there are other schools that are more crowded than Gunn in other places, but this is Palo Alto, a city that is recognized for the quality of education, we cannot fail our students. They deserve the best, like every other students, but unfortunately the ones in other cities, might not have parents who can make changes. This should not be the case of Palo Alto.


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Posted by Why in Palo Alto?
a resident of another community
on Mar 1, 2011 at 6:40 pm

Observer,

In addition to the fault beneath Gunn, there is a major gas main running up Arastradero right past Gunn. I don't know why PA parents aren't more concerned about this, especially given the San Bruno explosion just 6 months ago.


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Posted by curious
a resident of Gunn High School
on Mar 1, 2011 at 10:33 pm

Why is it that when Paly does something everyone expects that Gunn should do it? We like our counselors and we like our rotating schedule. Why doesn't Paly adopt our structure?


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Posted by The reason why
a resident of Midtown
on Mar 1, 2011 at 11:02 pm

Curious member of the Gunn Community,
Thanks for the question. The reason they do not want to have your rotating schedule and your counselors, is because Paly students is a lot happier now that they did the changes, also in regards to the counselors, at Paly each teacher has less students to counsel than your counselor does, and they do not have to wait so much. My son, had to wait at Gunn for a long time in line in order to see a counselor during lunch time during lunch time, and most of the times, when it was about to be his turn, the counselor will come and tell the students waiting in line: "go back to class, I have to leave and can't see anyone else, come back tomorrow." The reason you are happy is because you have not experience the change, once you do, you will like it too, and very likely that you will not want to go back to the old schedule. Believe me it will be in the benefit of most of the students especially the ones who are dealing with too much homework and are not sleeping that well. Even if school starts just 20 minutes later, it will make a big difference. Perhaps you are enjoying the schedule, but not every student is. Talk to other Paly students, and asked them that question. Any Paly students out there to answer the question?


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Posted by Observer
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 1, 2011 at 11:09 pm

Steve,

You wrote:
"Everybody take a deep breath. My Senior class at Cubberley had 425 students in 1975."
and
"Paly and Gunn are not Mega Schools, if they were smaller, fewer offerings would be available"

This is exactly the problem -- people pushing for what we should do based on opinions that have absolutely no facts or understanding behind them.

Per current research on high school size, "optimal" is 600-900, up to 1500 or so in high SES areas (high socio-economic status), which PA would count as. That's precisely because at 1500 students offerings can be optimized (against competition for those offerings in a much larger school).

Research also shows that around 2100 students, quality measures elbow sharply down. Community suffers. Bullying gets worse. "Connectedness" gets worse. The achievement gaps widens. In typical schools, competition for extracurriculars gets worse, not better. A 2100 student school is very different than even an 1800 student school. And certainly, a 2500 student school (which our administration is aiming for) is another thing altogether.

Are there outlier mega schools? Sure. Most of the time when I see people pointing to those outliers, there are glaring differences, mostly that those other schools have restricted enrollments based on academic measures. We should not be banking on being an outlier, especially with everything that has happened in the last few years. Why spend money to increase rather than decrease the systemic challenges to our success as a school district?

For people concerned with educational quality, the evidence points to downsizing to 1500 students, not going for the mega schools (meaning, 2100 students and up).

Gunn and Paly, at about 1800-1900 students each NOW are not YET meg schools -- BUT WE ARE FACING LARGE ENROLLMENT INCREASES IN PALO ALTO, AND THE MEASURE A CONSTRUCTION BEING PLANNED, FOR WHICH WE WILL SPEND HUNDREDS OF MILLIONS OF DOLLARS, IS PUTTING TENS OF MILLIONS EXTRA JUST INTO CONSTRUCTION FEATURES TO MAKE GUNN AND PALY MEGA SCHOOLS.

[Portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]

You had a senior class of 425 -- that means Cubberley was 1700 students? Just a bit smaller than Gunn and Paly are now. You never had to contend with a mega school yourself. You had what is pretty close to an OPTIMALLY SIZED school -- and you are criticizing people who don't want to waste tens of millions building mega schools for their kids, wasting the opportunity to make three optimally sized schools in this town?

This is precisely why the administration should be opening a dialog with the public about such important issues before the money is spent (i.e., now).


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Posted by I agree
a resident of Palo Verde
on Mar 2, 2011 at 12:33 am

Our kids deserve better not less. Smaller schools would equal better quality of education, connectedness, and better mental health because it will be easier to spot students who are at risk or struggling in a small crowd and get them professional health if needed, than in a big crowd where many times teachers and principals do not even know their names.


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Posted by Me Too
a resident of Midtown
on Mar 2, 2011 at 2:46 am

The small school discussion is interesting. I don't have a strong feeling about the right answer there - I can see merit in what we have as well as smaller schools.

But there is a practical consideration in these discussions. The lead time to make these decisions is very long - especially in Palo Alto. Our schools were (are) in need of real work - updating, expansion, and improvement are long overdue. That was the point of the current bond - to fund (half) of a facilities plan around current buildings. The bond does allow for new facilities too -- it allows for just about anything actually -- but the Master Plan that backed up the bond was about current facilities, including a possible renovation of Garland.

If we wanted to add a third high school, I would guess the lead time on that decision would be at least 5 years, probably longer. If that seems like a long time, keep in mind that the discussion of moving high school finals before the holidays has gone on for five years (that I'm aware of) and is not near done - we are still gathering yet more data. And this is for a near cost-less decision, fairly easily reversed, that most districts around us have already implemented. So the debate to permanently change our high school configuration at great expense would take a long time indeed - longer than the tenure of most school board members and Superintendents in fact. After which you do a bond, which you hope passes. After which you plan, then build. My guess is that it takes 10-15 years from the time someone says "we should really try to do this" till the time it is done. And in Palo Alto, it may take longer.

So in terms of the current bond, we either had to push ahead with updating and expanding current facilities or put it all off until we reach (new) consensus on high schools. The decision was apparently made to improve what we have and not put improvements off indefinitely while we debate. That seems prudent to me.

It may still make sense to explore smaller "learning communities" either in new facilities or within existing ones. I'm sure our professional educators have some views on this. But keep in mind that making changes, especially costly facility changes, require a very long runway to bring to fruition.


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Posted by Crescent Park Dad
a resident of Crescent Park
on Mar 2, 2011 at 8:51 am

The reality is that if "the next generation" of parents/families want a smaller school option or 3rd HS option, it's going to take a new (additional) bond measure to pay for the re-opening of the Cubberly campus.

I think there is also an opportunity to create a 3rd HS as something different than what is offered via P or G. What that is, I don't know - but the chance to create a "charter" type of HS is available. It's going to take a lot of planning, creativity and funding.

For those of you who really want this option - you should start working on the development of this concept now. And at the same time, start doing your taxpayer research to see if the citizens of PA will readily fund (vote) the costs to create the new HS.

That's probably the best way to go.


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Posted by parent
a resident of Palo Verde
on Mar 2, 2011 at 10:16 am

pa is a small place packed with a lot of people,a lot of high density housing complax are being built or will start to built in the future years. our school system is still struggling to find a better way to handle a healthy and productive enviroment for the current student,should parents and school raise objections when the city proves extra big projects in pa,city should do something about this to limit over-crowding,handling current students well first then consider adding more.


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Posted by Crescent Park Dad
a resident of Crescent Park
on Mar 2, 2011 at 2:30 pm

All residential projects, even remodels of existing homes, are potentially subject to a "school impact" fee. I believe there is a 500sqft minimum before a fee can be charged.

Perhaps the fees should be increased?


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Posted by parent
a resident of Palo Verde
on Mar 2, 2011 at 2:42 pm

how much does city charge for this school melo-loos. if it is a small portion of a profit for builder,then the city will keep getting those condos. the children of the current owner or renter will suffer.


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Posted by parent
a resident of Palo Verde
on Mar 2, 2011 at 2:51 pm

at least the school board should raise our concerns about this to the city planning or building department.hopefully we will not need two permanent maga high schools if city can impose some restrictions on the size or availability of those condos.


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Posted by teacher pushback unacceptable
a resident of Downtown North
on Mar 2, 2011 at 4:50 pm

EcoMama

"My suggestion: I would like to see an expanded school board, perhaps even doubled in size (making its size more in line with many other CA towns), so that there's a body big enough to have rigorous debate over what to do next. A party of 5 is too small to have big impact and to represent everyone adequately -- and when you get a couple of folks on there, like I think we have now, who are all talk and no action, the consequences are dire."

is this possible?? or total wishful thinking?

at any rate, Daubers, I hope you can run for the board, or any of the parents with an eye to current and future student social emotional health, you have my vote





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Posted by Observer
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 2, 2011 at 5:53 pm

Me Too,
You bring up a really interesting issue:
"It may still make sense to explore smaller "learning communities" either in new facilities or within existing ones. I'm sure our professional educators have some views on this. But keep in mind that making changes, especially costly facility changes, require a very long runway to bring to fruition."

Why not make Cubberley a "satellite" of Gunn AND Paly for some functions -- instead of making it a whole separate high school for now? But that at least would take enrollment pressures off of Gunn and Paly, and they wouldn't have to build with the expectations of making Gunn and Paly 2500 student campuses, saving huge amounts of money and allowing us to make more actual improvements on those campuses and to improve Cubberley as well.

Again, what is lacking is leadership...


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Posted by Observer
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 2, 2011 at 5:54 pm

Me Too,
By the way, it didn't take the lead times you are suggesting for fixing the mess we are in to make those decisions in teh first place.

Again... we need leadership....


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Posted by Crescent Park Dad
a resident of Crescent Park
on Mar 2, 2011 at 6:19 pm

A quick scan of neighboring school districts and you will find that most, if not all, have only 5 "trustees" on their boards.

Sequoia UHSD
Fremont (Cupertino/San Jose) UHSD
MVLAHSD
Mtn View Schools
San Jose
Los Gatos

Of course PAUSD is K-12 ... San Jose and Los Gatos are K-12. San Jose being much larger than PAUSD. FUHSD is HS only - but the number of students in those schools outnumber the total for PAUSD for all grades.

I don't think you'll find that 5 members is outside the norm (which eliminates San Francisco - hardly ever the norm).


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Posted by Me Too
a resident of Midtown
on Mar 2, 2011 at 6:36 pm

@Observer, not sure what you mean. The leadership we have today produced the current bond, which was long overdue and is now significantly upgrading and expanding our current facilities. There wasn't much controversy in that plan, as it pretty much kept all the schools in place. But getting a big bond passed is very non-trivial and it was done with a minimum of drama.

I actually think Dr. Skelly does a good job getting things done, given the highly opinionated populace and board that has trouble making hard decisions. When he gets things done (math text, campus expansions), some people complain. When he doesn't get things done (calender shift), some people complain. Do I detect a pattern here? ;-)


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Posted by You Got my Vote Too
a resident of Midtown
on Mar 2, 2011 at 7:21 pm

Michelle, You got my vote too, with one condition. That once you win and are behind the seat, and I come to speak on behalf of our children to speak to the board, you do listen talk to the new superintendent and the rest of the board,and reply back with possible solutions. I vote for the Barbaras,and Dana Tom (he came to my house to ask fro my vote and promised to listen), and I have brought up many concerns about this the issues of stress, bullying and meant teachers who put children down so much that they stay home in bed and do not want to go back, but no one responds back. It is just words, words, So I feel bad that I votes for them. All they do is put my comments under the rug, and pretend that the problem does not exists. And than someones else who likes the district comes saying that parents do not participate, heck we do, but he are not heard nor seen. They only make a big fuss, when a parents comes to donate a big check to improve sports. How are we going to improve schools, just by listening to the parents who give big donations or speak great about the school officials, and we ignore the problems that students and parents are experiencing? Yes run for board, I would too, but I do not have money nor people who would support me except my family, and few parents that I have helped when their kids were being mistreated at different schools, and helped them out, but its is not enough to win. This is sad, I feel like I am living in a third well country, where only the politicians are listened and the rest of people cannot talk to else.


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Posted by teacher pushback unacceptable
a resident of Downtown North
on Mar 2, 2011 at 7:27 pm



Me Too,

oh please, parents and the community deserve credit for the bond

SKelly had barely arrived before the bond, and my recollection is that the importance of schools here, obvious needs, teh funding scare, and the campaign parents ran got the bond passed

and parents could get another bond done, but not sure Skelly would be an asset for that anymore.


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Posted by teacher pushback unacceptable
a resident of Downtown North
on Mar 2, 2011 at 7:34 pm

Me Too

"I actually think Dr. Skelly does a good job getting things done, given the highly opinionated populace and board that has trouble making hard decisions. When he gets things done (math text, campus expansions), some people complain. When he doesn't get things done (calender shift), some people complain. Do I detect a pattern here? ;-)"

the pattern is lack of leadership

a"highly opinionated populance" is generally good, unless you're an Egyptian or Libyan dictator

Leadership is knowing how to bring people together, not keeping them arguing so that you can pass on challenges


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Posted by You got my vote
a resident of Midtown
on Mar 2, 2011 at 7:35 pm

By the way, once in office, get rid of the Math Every Day that Cathy Howard workers so hard to put in. She is now retiring, and leaves with the big problem. Most teachers and parents do not like it. Teachers have told us at students conferences that they still learning how to use it, and wish they did not have to, but could loose their job if they don't. English learners used to shine in math, but not anymore, thanks to Skelly, Becky Vargas, Cathy Howard, and some parents who trusted the district and did not know what they were putting their kids into. Hope when they gone and you Michelle are there, will make changes and get rid of the Math Every Day. And please, please make schools a better place with little or no bullying, and if it occurs put policies in place that take the problem very serious. Not just an apology letter, and out again to bully. Steps to respect at Escondido and at Barron Park do not work, kids get seriously bully there, parents from both schools are complaining about this issue,but they ignore the problem, many of they pulled their kids, out, but would love to bring them back if there were changes. Time to do something abut it. Wouldn't that be great? Our kids will not have to leave the district because of bad principals and and poor leadership skills.


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Posted by Me Too
a resident of Midtown
on Mar 2, 2011 at 8:16 pm

@pushback unacceptable - I have to disagree, I think that the hyper-opinionated, even strident populace is one of PA's biggest problems, in the schools and in other areas. Strong and vocal opinions don't equate to thoughtful dialog or constructive engagement - our state and Federal politics and gridlock are ample testimony to that.

We seem to be good at chewing up and spitting out Supers, City Managers, etc. If leaders are really so hard to come by, maybe we need to examine our following skills. Your "pushback unacceptable" handle I'm sure doesn't describe your opinion in all situations, but it is emblematic of the problem.


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Posted by teacher pushback unacceptable
a resident of Downtown North
on Mar 2, 2011 at 8:54 pm


Me Too,

"maybe we need to examine our following skills."

you have a point that my handle is strident , but it started as a response to Teacher and mom who I felt was blaming parents, which is not exactly constructive.

the rest of my comments are mostly about smaller schools, and agreement with this Op-ed.

I'm not in agreement that challenging leaders, or some of your posts is about my poor following skills






maybe we need to examine our following skills.


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Posted by Observer
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 3, 2011 at 1:45 am

Me Too,
teacher pushback is right, Skelley isn't responsible for passing the bond. When he arrived, before he knew much about our district, he was already of the general opinion that we should make Gunn and Paly ultra-large schools, from an outdated way of thinking about schools, (as the push to go larger and larger has mostly proven negative in this country).

He also didn't want to have to redraw the boundaries because he didn't want to deal with parents. (He said this was his reason publicly.) This was before he knew how our district operated, before he knew about enrollment problems, before he understood the options we might have with choice programs (that would allow controlling populations at Gunn and Paly if Cubberly were a choice program, he wouldn't have the boundary conflicts). He made up his mind without the facts, and hasn't felt compelled to change it or discuss with the parents the critical ways these decisions will affect their kids.

I feel he really blew the opportunity to buy back the land at Cubberley and partner with Foothill.

Parents in this town approved an enormous tax on themselves for the purpose of bettering our schools. Parent volunteers and their time are more responsible for getting Measure A passed than anyone. If Skelley or any of the other leadership want to work in a town of meek parents who never volunteer, aren't involved enough to want to shell out what we do, and never want any input into the direction of their school system, Palo Alto is obviously not the place.

This is a critical time for our district and we need better leadership. Your examples don't sit very well -- the math curriculum was a debacle.


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Posted by Observer
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 3, 2011 at 1:52 am

Me Too,
Your poor attitude toward parents makes me wonder how close you are to the administration. That attitude is part of what is hampering progress. I agree with teacher pushback, "leadership is knowing how to bring people together" -- and get things done -- not gripe endlessly about involved parents wanting to make our district better and help our kids, not malign them to cover up lack of leadership.


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Posted by Me Too
a resident of Midtown
on Mar 3, 2011 at 8:13 am

@Observer - the questioning of the motives of others is a Town Square thing, I think, but again is emblematic of how discussions turn divisive instead of constructive. I am a parent of multiple kids in the schools and aside from volunteering have no relationship with the district.

I moved here several years ago from another well-regarded school district, with many "involved" and highly educated parents, and the contrast with PA is stark. The discussions here are much more heated and divisive. Personal criticism of individual board members or administrators was pretty much non-existent in the old district; the focus was on issues and practical solutions. Perhaps it is the internet "echo chamber" that contributes to the sense of so much shouting here.

Ironically, that district adopted Everyday Math while we were there. There was discussion and debate, and some skepticism, but the meetings were had, the decision made, and program implemented, and life went on. I don't think the administrators there were any better "leaders" than here, but the attitude of the community about how to participate in the process was certainly quite different.


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Posted by Question and answers
a resident of Midtown
on Mar 3, 2011 at 9:01 am

I am wondering how long will it take for the district to answer the questions that were posted her. According to the reporter, Skelly handed him the public questions, but sadly they had no answer. Shall we all go and try to answer them? Other raise it feels like we were ignored again. Can some one who has a good relation wish Skelly, ask him to give us the answers first, it does not make sense to have the questions only.


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Posted by Observer
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 3, 2011 at 10:29 am


Me Too,
The criticizing of the way other people express important criticisms and opinions to improve our schools is also emblematic of the way discussions turn sour rather than constructive. (There's a lot of self-righteous pot-calling-the-kettle-black there in your post.)

You can help by sticking with the issues rather than dismissing the input of other parents by making such sweeping criticisms of the discussion in order to blunt discussion and devalue other people's efforts.

I agree that we should have a focus on "issues and practical solutions" -- in fact, I've been calling for that over and over again, asking the district to take a hard look at the options we have and the consequences, with actual facts and numbers (as opposed to the sweeping generalizations I have seen them making big decisions from over and over again) -- as we have had far too much generalization, misinformation, and lack of problem solving coming from our administration, hence the call for leadership.

You complain about the divisiveness in our district is if it's worth discussing instead of, say, whether we spend tens of millions of dollars building mega schools instead of spending that money more wisely. You paint a utopian picture of your previous district to dismiss the complaints about Everyday Math in our district, ignoring that many other districts across the country have tried and abandoned Everyday Math for many of the same reasons parents here didn't want it. Divisiveness may make you uncomfortable, but sometimes conflict is necessary to accomplish important goals when inertia and lack of leadership and focus are barriers.

The fact is, there were mistakes early on in our math selection process that ended up excluding a program from evaluation that parents were more in favor of for our district. The program was thus never considered. When parents learned of it, after EDM had been chosen, they cleared up the misunderstanding with the publisher and district, and the publisher offered the materials to the district for free for a year. Over 800 elementary school parents, an astonishing percentage, signed a respectful petition asking the district -- not to overturn its choice -- but simply to put off a final decision for a year in order to evaluate the other program alongside EDM. To me, that was eminently reasonable under the circumstances, and I'm glad we have parents who care that much. We had an open mind about EDM in our household, and it's been an educational train wreck from what we've seen. We're scrambling to make up for the LACK of math education from the last two years at school. (I'm not sure how we'll make up for the hit to the love of math and previously confidence at a critical time.)

It's true that there is far too much opinion being thrown around and far too few facts. You haven't commented on those, delved into those, discussed those, or dealt with the big issues here. It's a BIG DEAL to take hundreds of millions of dollars and spend them to take the direction of a district one way that presents challenges to quality rather than another way that is more likely to deal with looming problems and increase quality.

A good leader would at least be bringing such big issues to the public and opening a dialog, even setting the tone of the dialog, not dismissing all input because some Palo Alto parents don't talk they way they do in your utopia. That MO -- blunting all discussion and criticism by criticizing the discussion itself -- has been typical from the district. (I guess your moniker is apt.)

Getting back to the point here:
Most elementary parents I know don't want mega schools for our district. You may agree or disagree -- and that's the point, we should be getting facts and understanding of what the public wants for our schools. Since getting those megaschools has huge implications for organizational dynamics, educational quality, social environment, how we deal with enrollment fluctuations for decades, and how we spend hundreds of millions of dollars -- a dialog with the public (who are footing this self-imposed bill) is requisite and long overdue.

I agree with the Op-Ed that a show of leadership is also long overdue.





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Posted by Me Too
a resident of Midtown
on Mar 3, 2011 at 11:00 am

@Observer - I'm sorry that you find my statements self-righteous (again, that ad hominen thing). I just call it like I see it. As I said, the contrast to what I've seen elsewhere is stark and seems worth pointing out - leaders and followers often (usually) share the responsibility for the results they get. Take it as you will.


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Posted by A Happy Gunn Parent
a resident of Barron Park
on Mar 3, 2011 at 11:56 am

I would like to add that for every complainer, there are a great many very happy students and parents in this school district. I often talk to other parents and my daughter's friends about life at school, and I have never heard the strident whining that I see here.

Many people in other districts would love and appreciate the embarrassment of riches we have at our high schools. Yes, any kid who tries to take on too much at once will be under a lot of stress. It's up to the parents to help their children decide what is appropriate and manageable for them.

As others have noted, the pressure to take APs and honors classes all the time does not come from the superintendent or the teachers; it comes from the colleges, and the fact that "the pie" at the top schools has not kept pace with the growing population.

Also, I disagree with the authors' statement that there is "a profound feeling among students of lack of community." In my experience with my daughter's friends and at many events on campus, I see a strong sense of community and school spirit. If your kid is not feeling a connection to others in high school, there are lots of non-academic group activities like music, theater, sports, and clubs that he or she can find. As is often the case in life, finding your community may require a little initiative.


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Posted by teacher pushback unacceptable
a resident of Downtown North
on Mar 3, 2011 at 2:25 pm


Me Too,


my take on following is that it's easy to follow when the stakes are low, and they don't impact you. Everyday Math was a non-issue for the parents in middle or high school, and anything that is currently a HS issue is not in the radar of the elementary parents. Your East Coast community may be highly educated, but that does not mean it is identical to PA, and their conformity could also be they may be satisfied with their leadership.

we're either way talking about exceptional schools here, which some want to continue seeing as such or better. Skelly can't take the credit for all that works or should take the blame for what needs work.

But he is the one pinned with helping set the tone, and for making progress.







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Posted by teacher pushback unacceptable
a resident of Downtown North
on Mar 3, 2011 at 2:46 pm


THis is a link about the School-within-a-School model
Web Link


excerpt
"A review of the literature suggests that implementing the school-within-a-school model has met with varying degrees of success in different settings. The most critical factor for success is a commitment to implementing the program fully, allowing for complete administrative separation of the subschool and the creation of a separate identity (McCabe & Oxley, 1989; McMullan, Sipe, & Wolfe, 1994; Raywid, 1996b). Without full implementation, many of the benefits of small-scale schooling, such as establishing community and symbolic identity, cannot be realized. Staff and student support is also important, and the strengths or weaknesses of a particular plan may vary over the years with personnel changes. Obtaining the support of the superintendent, school board, and school principal is also essential. "

this is something for example, where the Superintendent could bring people together on




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Posted by If he get our of denial
a resident of Midtown
on Mar 3, 2011 at 3:26 pm

This model of school will work only if Skelly gets to accept that our schools are turning to big, and our struggling students are being hard to identify and to find them professional health. According to him, there is not problem. The problems are the parents who push their children to achieve more than they can. In one meeting he mentioned that his daughter (who only attended couple of years at Gunn) had a great time at Gunn, and that is how he basis that there is no problem,


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Posted by Observer
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 3, 2011 at 5:28 pm

A Happy Gunn Parent,
But that's just the thing -- I'd like my elementary kids to be able to enjoy a reasonably-sized high school like yours have and not have Gunn take hundreds more students. Things don't scale up linearly, either, there are significant organizational dynamics that change at around 2100 students. Gunn was perfect around 1500-1600 students, it's now at 1800 students, and starting to show some strain. I don't want a 2500 student high school, I didn't vote for this measure to do that. Maybe you did, but you would be the rare exception that even knows about this. The district administration owes the parent community a discussion about these issues.

Your kid might be fine even if many more kids than now are stressed. The point is that we shouldn't be spending money increasing the systemic challenges to educational quality and community. (And I hope you care about other kids coming down the line, and not just your own.)


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Posted by Observer
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 3, 2011 at 5:43 pm

teacher pushback,
You bring up an excellent point there with your quote.

Everything I've read about schools within schools is that in order for them to work, they really have to be two separate schools. With separate administrations, even separate entrances. Basically, you are making two separate schools, and sharing some spaces like gyms with contracts between the two schools, but otherwise, they are separate schools. You only do that when you don't have the option of reopening a decommissioned high school! We have the high school and the money approved to do it!

Here's an interesting Brookings Institution Slide Show from some professors at our very own Stanford University
Web Link

It is not very encouraging about schools within schools.

I've read a review paper on school size from Brookings that said absolutely the best situation you can have when you start getting into the 2000 student range is a decommissioned school site that you can bring online (but the paper says the difficulty is that you then usually have to pass a bond measure -- but we've already passed it!) So basically, we're ignoring the optimal thing, and spending perhaps just as much money on something that is likely to hurt all the things we care about in our schools!


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Posted by Observer
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 3, 2011 at 6:00 pm

@Me Too
You wrote "I'm sorry that you find my statements self-righteous (again, that ad hominen thing)."

Are you apologizing for your being self-righteous in a way that was so critical of other parents, or are you saying I was making an ad hominem attack?

Maybe that's why you take things so hard, you need to take a deep breath as you prescribed for others, and separate the discussion from yourself. "Ad hominem" is latin for "to the man" -- I was simply describing your statements, not you (the man).

If I had called you a hypocrite for being so dismissive of the way parents in this district are trying to make sure our money is spent well and our kids have the education we moved here for and are paying for, if I had called you self-righteous (for making sweeping judgments about the validity of what parents in this district are trying to do based on your opinions of vitriol on this online forum, which is like any other online forum, not always tea and sympathy), then that could have been deemed ad hominem. As for your statements, I simply as you say, called it like I see it (and supported what I said).

I don't want to stifle discussion, I'd actually like to know what you think. And every other parent with elementary school kids in this district. Again, the district should not be making such major decisions about the direction the money we taxed ourselves will take us in -- especially when it promises mostly negatives (when we could be going in a positive direction for arguably the same money, if we had the leadership and problem solving) -- without taking it to the public first. That it hasn't happened is de facto evidence of a profound lack of leadership.

I don't care if it comes from Skelley now or someone else, but I agree with the basic message of this essay, that we desperately need leadership now.






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Posted by A Happy Gunn Parent
a resident of Barron Park
on Mar 3, 2011 at 7:32 pm

Observer,

I'm with you there: I do not want to see our high schools turn into mega-schools.

My comments were directed at the main article and some follow-ups about the state of the schools as they are today and the reasons for stress. I think our two high schools are doing a phenomenal job of educating a large and diverse population of students, and they offer a lot of high-quality options. I feel very fortunate to live here and to have my daughter go to school here, and I've felt that way since she was in kindergarten. I hope the quality of education here is just as high in a few years, when the current crop of elementary kids are in high school.

Again, on the issue of stress, I think we as parents (working with counselors) need to be sure our children are making choices that are not overwhelming to them. We also need to comunicate to our children that they don't need to excel at everything in order to live a happy and successful life. From what I have observed, the atmosphere at Gunn is supportive of students in these respects. Let's quit blaming the teachers and administrators.


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Posted by Also seeking answers
a resident of Midtown
on Mar 3, 2011 at 7:56 pm

To Question and Answers -

I agree with you that the school administration should let us know when and how they will address the questions submitted at the church event.

Otherwise, it feels like they were "saved b the bell"!

They should not be encouraged to blather and duck...


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Posted by teacher pushback unacceptable
a resident of Downtown North
on Mar 3, 2011 at 8:08 pm


Observer,

interesting that "some strategies to create schools-within-a-school have reinforced academic and social stratification" which is clearly NOT what I was thinking about and thus admit to the danger of my non-expert suggestions.

but there's no shortage of expert opinions and common sense to support the 3rd High School, where we likely don't have leadership for

for the real problems happening now though, the Dauber letter deserves a response, which maybe Skelly has already done on the side.

If nothing is ever done about school size, the least they can do is to have something like TEAM, where core teachers coordinate homework, and actually track or pay attention to a specific set of students. Or hire more counselors, is it really a cost issue why more are not hired?

for some of the changes, Skelly is not necessary, better to work directly with staff and admin at Paly and Gunn. At Paly the block schedule got done from the inside. Ground up leadership at the schools will hopefully rise to the occasion, and time will tell how this will work if/when HS's reach 2500 and the college arm's race continues.



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Posted by Parent
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Mar 3, 2011 at 10:26 pm

An an alternative to the school within a school concept, here is a description of the House system which could work in our schools without causing disruption to classes and electives.

Web Link


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Posted by Observer
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 4, 2011 at 12:03 am

Parent,
I'm not sure the house system is a model of developing community and optimizing the social environment in this country (or in Britain). And it would require planning changes to infrastructure in implementation that could be on the order of schools within schools -- or, at least I think that's possible -- as with all of this stuff, we just don't know because no one has done the due diligence and taken ideas and run numbers on them. I'd sure like to see your suggestion, and my suggestions (Cubberley as choice school or satellite campus), and other suggestions, discussed with the public, along with the implications of the current track, and real honest numbers and problem solving to allows us to compare.

Although, it doesn't all come down to dollars and cents. If parents in this district do not want ultra big schools, for whatever reason, they ought to be able to choose that. The administration owes it to the public to be very clear about what it is doing in that regard and what the implications are.

(Thank you, Happy Gunn Parent, you make some good points.)


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Posted by Observer
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 4, 2011 at 12:10 am

teacher pushback
"there's no shortage of expert opinions and common sense to support the 3rd High School, where we likely don't have leadership for"

Agreed. How do we get that leadership? I'd be more than happy to see it from Skelley, I'm just not sure it's there because I don't think his priorities are aligned with the parents that well. He genuinely comes across as disliking being in a district of strong parents and hasn't risen to that challenge or the critical challenges facing us (like enrollment, etc)

I wish we'd gotten someone more forward thinking.


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Posted by Parent
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Mar 4, 2011 at 7:36 am

The House system would bring a feeling of belonging to a House even more so than a school. It wouldn't affect classes, but allow for each student to be identified as a member of their House within the larger school. Think Harry Potter and Gryffendor, having competition, mascots, traditions and leaders from within a small group as a model.

I agree that it would not be as optimum as a smaller school, but if at least it was discussed and dismissed it would be better than what we have now. I would rather reopen Cubberley too but this could be introduced within a year.


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Posted by Me Too
a resident of Midtown
on Mar 4, 2011 at 8:09 am

@Observer, if you leave out the ad hominen stuff, it would distract less from your arguments. If that's what you want ;-)

To any of the "smaller schools" advocates - what do the school board members and administrators say when you bring up the proposal?


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Posted by Observer
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 4, 2011 at 2:30 pm

Me Too,
Let me clarify even further since you don't seem to understand what ad hominem means.

I never once made an ad hominem attack on you. I did criticize your criticism of others, and the way it was used to dismiss the efforts of others, (the opposite of ad hominem).

Ad hominem means you attack a person in place of offering a substantive argument, kind of closer to what you did when you launched generalized, dismissive comments about the way other parents in this district go about trying to deal with solving its problems -- you are attacking those parents rather than offering any facts or substantive arguments yourself. My telling you that is not ad hominem just because you perceive it as criticism -- that's criticism, or, the truth.

You and I hadn't had a discussion when I first posted -- did you read my first posts? Are you telling me that our having this discussion distracts from the facts and problems of our youth in this district? Oh brother.

You wrote, "To any of the "smaller schools" advocates - what do the school board members and administrators say when you bring up the proposal?

On which occasion? Either the answer was nothing at all, or it was sweeping generalizations or diverting statements that were so wrong, it could only have meant total incompetence (which I don't believe) or other motives.

For example, claiming on a number of occasions that we'd had a High School Task Force conclude we shouldn't open a third high school to end discussion. The High School Task Force -- which took place before these huge enrollment changes, before the tanking of the economy changed the building cost equation, before the high school construction plan brought up all these enormous costs associated with going mega school, etc -- ultimately concluded that it did not have the expertise to decide whether to reopen Cubberley and asked to redirect its mission (it's in the paper). But that didn't stop top administrators from claiming that as the reason they had chosen not to look at the Cubberley question.

There have been a number of other things I could point out, but mostly the silence has been deafening. Mostly, the administration has simply ignored calls to bring these issues to the public and look at the hard facts and compare.


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Posted by Observer
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 4, 2011 at 2:35 pm

Parent,
You bring up some interesting stuff, but like everything else, it's not enough. We need facts, not just what one person believes or seems might work. There should be an open dialog with the public about the implication on the construction, the costs associated with going mega school, and what 2500 student campuses will be like as compared to what we have today. And the alternatives should be examined. Before we spend the hundreds of millions of dollars, and before our kids suffer the consequences. Throwing out ideas is good, but right now, they're just ideas.


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Posted by teacher pushback unacceptable
a resident of Downtown North
on Mar 4, 2011 at 2:38 pm

Me Too,

I wouldn't call myself an "advocate", and have already admitted to being a non-expert. I am adding my opinion to this thread with the belief and idea that smaller schools must be important to "connectedness" and for many issues raised in the Op-Ed.

What kid of a "proposal" would you think I should write to the board members and administrators, something with research, data, asbestos studies, and construction plans for a third high school? Or compose an irresistible case for smaller schools? Would a one liner saying I like smaller schools do?

Far more eloquent and informed people are urging for planning for the possibility of more schools. See thread on Former official urges schools to 'bank land.' I take this to also mean to think beyond expanding current sites

Web Link

I'll look out for the response to this, stay an informed voter, and I hope the powers that be are not holding their breath for my proposal about smaller schools

turning the issues to make this about my leadership skills though is interesting





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Posted by Me Too
a resident of Midtown
on Mar 4, 2011 at 3:31 pm

So has anyone on this thread actually called, emailed, sat down with, or walked up to a board member, principal, or district administrator and had a reasoned discussion about the merits or drawback of smaller schools, opening another high school, or whatever it is you'd like to see, in the specific context of our schools? It is not like these people are inaccessible - it is pretty easy to reach out to them. I just figure that would illuminate the district's thinking and would seem like a reasonable starting point for the dialog you desire. I would be interested in hearing what they had to say.

@Observer - please stop the ad hominen stuff if you can.


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Posted by Observer
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 4, 2011 at 4:26 pm

Me too.
Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes, and Yes. They've been asked publicly. By many people.

In answer to your question - what do the school board members and administrators say when you bring up the proposal? Again:

On which occasion? Either the answer was nothing at all, or it was sweeping generalizations or diverting statements that were so wrong, it could only have meant total incompetence (which I don't believe) or other motives.

For example, claiming on a number of occasions that we'd had a High School Task Force conclude we shouldn't open a third high school to end discussion. The High School Task Force -- which took place before these huge enrollment changes, before the tanking of the economy changed the building cost equation, before the high school construction plan brought up all these enormous costs associated with going mega school, before the string of suicides brought the emotional health issue to the fore, etc -- ultimately concluded that it did not have the expertise to decide whether to reopen Cubberley and asked to redirect its mission (it's in the paper). But that didn't stop top administrators from claiming that as the reason they had chosen not to look at the Cubberley question.

If you attend or watch school board meetings, you would see the above claims made publicly and on tape. I think in one meeting, they said they would answer one parent's questions on the issue and then proceeded not to.

There have been a number of other things I could point out, but mostly the silence has been deafening. Mostly, the administration has simply ignored copious calls to bring these issues to the public and look at the hard facts and compare.

Where have you been? Here's an article by a parent a year ago in the Weekly: Flaws in school-improvement planning process jeopardize outcomes. Web Link

Here's another article about a school board meeting
Web Link

One parent public asked " trustees to seriously consider re-opening Cubberley as a high school." And "Preschool parent Kirstin Sego argued that it is too early to approve a master plan. 'There's a large sector of this community that's really unaware this is going on,' Sego said. 'I'm not sure the dialogue has really happened. It's premature to be approving a master plan when, from the members of the community I've spoken with, there hasn't been enough work done.'"

What did the administrators say to that? Mostly nothing at all. In the past, mostly stuff like the above nonsense with the HSTF.


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Posted by Observer
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 4, 2011 at 4:36 pm

Me Too,
Once again, ad hominem means attacking the person in lieu of addressing the argument, again, kind of what you are doing by continually asking me to stop the ad hominem stuff when there is no ad hominem stuff.

Criticism of your arguments (rather than you) is not ad hominem. It's called criticism. And the truth. (As HST once said, "I don't give 'em Hell, I just give 'em the truth and they think it's Hell.) If you can't stand the heat, get out of the kitchen. Or at least stop complaining about the heat instead of putting the fire out.

Instead of constantly claiming I am attacking you, how about looking at the issues, including in my own posts, long before you and I had any back and forth? Nothing in there you could even mistake as "ad hominem".

You've done a lot of complaining about other parents, their tone, but you've said absolutely nothing constructive about the issues brought up here, you've expressed a lot of opinion with very little fact behind it. That's exactly what I'm complaining about -- our district making these major decision based on specious arguments, opinions, personal interests, and no real problem solving, leadership, and factual information.



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Posted by teacher pushback unacceptable
a resident of Downtown North
on Mar 4, 2011 at 4:40 pm



Me Too,

"I just figure that would illuminate the district's thinking"

Illuminate the district's thinking?

the Dauber letter should help, and "Former official urges schools to 'bank land.'

connecting the dots would help too


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Posted by teacher pushback unacceptable
a resident of Downtown North
on Mar 4, 2011 at 4:47 pm


Me Too,

looks like the issues will start being discussed, they are not holding their breath for my proposal

School enrollment will be discussed
Web Link

there will be a time when these numbers will impact HS

TGIF!!!!!!


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Posted by Observer
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 4, 2011 at 4:52 pm

Me Too,
Your making the argument about "teacher pushback's" leadership skills?
That's ad hominem.


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Posted by Me Too
a resident of Midtown
on Mar 4, 2011 at 7:52 pm

I mean specifically has anyone on this thread personally made contact and had a one-on-one conversation (or in a small group) with one of the people in authority who they think are unresponsive or wrong-headed or whatever? It sounds like not. That might be a good idea if you want to understand the issue and influence the outcome. I have had discussions like that in the past (on other issues) with current and past school board members, a principal or two, and a couple people at Churchill Street - I found it informative and in a couple cases eye-opening. I think you'll find these people accessible if you take a respectful approach.

I'm surprised to see people calling for the top guy to be fired without trying to discuss the issue that concerns you directly with anyone in authority first. School Board and other open meeting public comments periods don't seem like a good forum for the kind of Q and A or exploration of alternatives that some of the posters seem to think isn't taking place.

@Observer - please, again, stop. If you can.


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Posted by Observer
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 4, 2011 at 8:33 pm

Me Too,
You asked,
"I mean specifically has anyone on this thread personally made contact and had a one-on-one conversation"

YES. OUI. JA. Si. In writing. In person. Please do me the courtesy of actually reading my posts instead of just asking the same question over and over again. I gave you many examples. I kindly separated out my patiently explaining to you what "ad hominem" was (and how you were in fact leveling ad hominem attacks at me -- and don't seem to be able to stop yourself!) in a separate post so you could look at just that by itself.

I not only told you yes, I gave you a link to an article that had quotes from three people at a board meeting who were quoted as saying that. Have you ever gone to a board meeting? The public only gets three minutes per person to say something, but in those three minutes, they are standing in front of the board, face-to-face, and telling them what they think. That's just a small example.

I and other parents I know have had those conversations. The fact is, the board and Skelley have been asked to their faces on numerous occasions to have this discussion with the public about the implications of the construction decisions -- IT IS PUBLIC RECORD -- and they have failed to do so.

You want me to stop this back and forth? Let's talk about the plan. Instead of incessantly criticizing parents in this district and the way they talk, asking if they have done this or that, or trying to find some deficiency in the posters on this forum, why don't we talk about the issues? Search on "Observer" to find my first post on this forum.

Let's talk about the fact that the district is going to spend millions of dollars enlarging Gunn and Paly to take huge student populations instead of using potentially the same money reopening Cubberley. Let's talk about the fact that our leadership has never opened a dialog with the public about the implications of this decision, never tried to educate the public about the implications of this decision, never asked if this is what parents want, never made a specific and factual comparison of the options, in spite of how much evidence is on record that some people who do understand have asked him to do so.

Sorry, but I'm not going to stop talking about that, no matter how much you continue to criticize me. ("I don't give 'em Hell, I just give 'em the truth and they think it's Hell.") You want to have a dialog about just the issues? Why don't you start talking about them? The rest of us are.


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Posted by Observer
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 4, 2011 at 8:41 pm

Me Too,
You wrote, "I'm surprised to see people calling for the top guy to be fired without trying to discuss the issue that concerns you directly with anyone in authority first."

And you know this how? You're attacking other parents again, even though you are completely wrong in your assumption.

I just gave you plenty of evidence that plenty of people have PUBLICLY AND FACE-TO-FACE called for the board and Kevin Skelley to open a dialog with the public about the implications of the high school construction and to consider problem solving better options.


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Posted by teacher pushback unacceptable
a resident of Downtown North
on Mar 4, 2011 at 9:04 pm

Me Too

I agree with Observer that you bring up no points of substance, just repeat the same questions

in case you ask again.....you have my previous answers about my approaching the district or writing a proposal to the district, or emailing, calling or walking over to see them,

have not

but it is my choice to comment here about smaller schools when issues of "connectedness" are brought up on THIS thread in response to this Op-Ed,

so...., as I was saying, and no I have not broached this with the authorities,

"connectedness" is impacted by school size, and while some of the smaller changes can be made at the school sites, the really big issue is why are the size of the High Schools not being addressed,

especially now, with elementary enrollment going up, I look forward to seeing the math about how this will impact the High Schools







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Posted by teacher pushback unacceptable
a resident of Downtown North
on Mar 4, 2011 at 10:04 pm


Observer,

I hope Me Too acknowledges your detailed answers on how the board and Skelly have been approached on this issue, or that some like myself have not,

and that either way, this would not be a pre-requisite to be able to comment on these threads

Me Too's style of keeping people arguing about stuff and sidelining real issues is kind of familiar...



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Posted by Observer
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 4, 2011 at 11:01 pm

teacher pushback,
You are right - whether the public has pushed for the board to open a dialog with the public or not about the direction of the district and the far-reaching implications of the decisions being made in the Measure A/high school construction isn't the important issue.

The important issue is that a sensible leader would have done this already. (I know friends with project management experience who have gone to the planning meetings and come home shaking their heads, saying those people don't know how to manage a project of this magnitude.)

It's incumbent on our leadership to initiate this dialog. The fact that they haven't is a failure of leadership. (They can't complain about pushy parents in one breath then complain that parents didn't push hard enough to get them to do their jobs in another.)


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Posted by Really
a resident of Adobe-Meadows
on Mar 4, 2011 at 11:13 pm

After reading all of these comments, why would any administrator want to deal with the lot of us? Nothing gets done in this town. Its not because of who are leaders are, but how self righteous and demanding we are as community members. We are not the experts on education; skelly et al are.

Let them do their jobs and get out of the way with the trite babbling.


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Posted by Observer
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 5, 2011 at 12:40 am

Really,
Skelly made the decisions about the direction of our high school construction before he even know what the Young 5's program in our district was, before Measure A was even passed, and before we knew about increasing enrollments and what the construction would entail and cost. He may be an expert on education (I wouldn't know), but he's sure not doing a great job at project management. Lots of people are experts in their fields; it doesn't make them great leaders. We do need leadership right now, this is a critical time.

Your comment is just another nasty stab at trying to stop discussion and dismiss valid criticism. We're all waiting for Skelley to explain why his decisions for the district run so counter to so many other experts on education. Not only do I welcome the open discussion, many of us have been calling for it.

Nothing gets done in this town? How about the Measure A bond that was passed, largely because of parent involvement? We parents got that Measure A facilities bond passed (and the one more recently for operations), are paying the taxes for it, making the sacrifices to live here, for a purpose. We have a right to know how our money is being spent and if it is going to create something different than we worked to provide for our kids.

I take exception to your characterization of our schools. We get SO MUCH done because of how involved the parents are. We're providing private school education on public school funding and with barebones tools. The parents, the PTAs, are a huge part of that.

If you or Skelly or anyone else disagrees with all the other educational experts out there, then by all means, lets have that discussion. But the public deserves that accountability.

This district is what it is because of involved parents. That is and was no secret. If Skelley couldn't abide highly educated, smart, involved parents, this was not his district. He's a big boy, he could have chosen something more to his liking.

Every parent I know is the first and most important expert on their own child's education. They have the most important input and say in what they want for their child's education. In this district, they have chosen to tax themselves through the nose for a certain purpose, and our leadership should be accountable, not demean, dismiss, and try to avoid parents as you have done in your ridiculous post.

We are at a critical juncture here. The decisions we make here will set the course of our district for decades to come. They will cost our parents enormous sums of money. The parents deserve good leadership and accountability. We deserve a say in that direction, just as much as we did when we were being asked to decide to foot the bill.


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Posted by Observer
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 5, 2011 at 12:46 am

There are over 250 posts on this thread now. The main points have been lost. Here are the key points I joined to make:

1) Residents approved a bond project to improve our schools. The bond project included a general description of goals and sites and was clearly crafted to include rebuying the property at Cubberley and building there if the board saw fit.

2) The administration has done no outreach or open discussion with the public about the direction the high school construction. There has been no interaction with the public about whether we want the challenges and costs of mega schools and the implications to academic quality and social life come with such large schools.

3) Multi-story construction in public schools is extraordinarily expensive. We only need multi-story to make the high schools into mega schools. Construction at Cubberly may even be doable with just the additional money being spent on the multi-story premium at the high schools. We don't know, though, because no one has done a study of this to problem solve, NO ONE HAS MADE SPECIFIC COMPARISONS, LOOKED AT ACTUAL COSTS, AND OUTCOMES FOR DIFFERENT OPTIONS. A lot of people, including in the administration, make sweeping judgements with absolutely no data to back it up. This is one of the most glaring problems in the leadership on this issue.

The architect for the Gunn project stated publicly that the premium on multistory would be 15%. IMO, it's probably more. But assuming that is correct, that means $3million is being spent on just that first building JUST SO WE CAN GET A TWO-STORY STRUCTURE. More millions are being spent on square footage we wouldn't need at Gunn if the square footage were going in at Cubberley. All in all, I think at least $10 million of that $20 million building could be spent at Cubberly with no loss of any functionality at Gunn, if Gunn were not being built up as a megaschool -- and that's just the savings from ONE BUILDING, there are six mult-story buildings being planned for the two campuses. By comparison, a single-story building planned for Gunn in the same phase will cost only $8 million.

4) Meetings have been open to the public, but the big issues have not been publicized. The public was allowed to attend the planning meetings, but topics were never publicized, the implications (as stated above) were never brought up by the planners, and the public that attended had no opportunity for interaction. A short question session was allowed, but questions were taken on cards, with only 2 minutes allowed each, and no rebuttal was allowed from the public if the response was wrong or inadequate. It was not a forum for discussing the big issues anyway, there was NEVER any interaction with the public over whether to make Gunn a huge school or reopen Cubberly. This is hardly a "debate" or "the entire city" involved!

5) The state of california publishes a document that outlines things that increase costs of public school construction. It says multi-story construction is so expensive in public schools, it's almost never worth it even to save land costs. They suggest making parallel plans, single-story and multi-story, as the best strategy to save money. A member of the public brought this up, and a single-story topic was inserted on the agenda, but there was no legitimate plan produced for comparison. (Again, self-serving and sweeping, even misleading, arguments by various parties that don't have the publics interest at heart were accepted with no factual backup and again the failure of leadership was glaring.)

6) It is the elementary families who will be most affected by these decisions now, but it is very difficult for them to protest against something they have very little information about and that is so abstract. Things like these get dealt with usually when it's too late. It's eleventh hour now, but dealing with it NOW could actually save money and change the direction for the better. We should demand the district talk with the public about options, have an IMPARTIAL entity (or competing entities) run some actual numbers on the costs, and bring up the potential academic and social consequences of the options.

7) The optimal situation for a district facing such overcrowded schools and increasing enrollment is having a decommissioned school site to bring on line, which we have. We have approved a bond that could pay for renovation and is written to include that possibility. The city is willing to sell the land it's using back to the district now cheap (NOW is the time to get that land back, it should never have been sold in the first place). We could have done something advantageous with Foothill if we'd had some leadership. (I don't want to hear anymore vague and sweeping arguments -- lets have some real discussion now with real numbers and facts!)

8) There is a shallow fault running directly under Gunn High School. The combination of hubris and uncertainty that I see in this construction will almost certainly be a safety issue sometime in the future. Just as with the school size, this is an issue that should be openly discussed with the public, and should have been from the start.


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Posted by Me Too
a resident of Midtown
on Mar 5, 2011 at 1:53 am

I think at the heart, some of the "agitators" and advocates on this thread and elsewhere do want to accomplish good. I'm not sure they have a good sense of how to go about it, but they may figure it out. I think that some are not aware of the harm they can cause through stridency and hyperbole (and, yes, ad hominen statements ;-), which we have way too much of in Palo Alto and elsewhere. I wish you all good luck in having the kind of dialog with the district and other parents about the kind of schools we'd like to have.


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Posted by Observer
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 5, 2011 at 10:48 am

Me Too,
You need to get out into the real world, this forum isn't representative of what's going on in the schools and the district. You seem to want the world to be nicey nice all the time (though you would do much better if you tried to lead by example rather than mostly just criticizing others), but sometimes things don't move that way (look at what's happening in Egypt and the Middle East right now).

The fact is, much is at stake here, and as people on this forum keep trying to say, the district isn't having a dialog with the public about critical issues of direction and cost. We have had a vacuum of leadership on some very important issues that impact people's children -- many parents have been working nicely for some time now and getting nowhere. As I've said many times, many of us we be more than happy if the leadership would start coming from Kevin Skelley, but it's not.

I just find it interesting that once again, you sit in judgement of other people and how they do things. yet you've made no contributions yourself. Other posters' saying things nicely, saying them repeatedly, addressing your constant criticism of people and the way they say things, hasn't gotten you to in any of your many posts actually deal with the facts and issues. Imagine how it is for the parents in the district who are trying to get the word out and are getting nothing from the administration. Hence the very necessary essay that started this thread. Given what's at stake, I'd like to see a few more parent "agitators".


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Posted by Come to the March 8 School Board Meeting
a resident of Gunn High School
on Mar 5, 2011 at 11:35 am

Next Tuesday March 8, there will be two school board meetings. One at 9:30 in the morning to discuss the demographic issues raised by "Observer" in this thread, including elementary enrollment and planning for growth, and another one in the evening at 6:30. The 6:30 meeting will include a presentation by Amy Drolette on "connectedness" which will likely be a do-over of the disastrous presentation at St. Marks.

There will be discussion of authorizing the construction bids to begin to make the High Schools larger.

There will also be some discussion of the new "Math Task Force," which like the previous High School Task Force has a mission that has been circumscribed to preclude discussion of the actual issues.

These three items are interesting in light of the discussion in this thread. Though parents were strongly concerned about school stress, larger high schools, and Everyday Math, the Board of Ed and the Superintendent pressed ahead on these things anyway. These are all three areas where the community feels that it was not heard, and where it feels the democratic process has failed.

As the Op-Ed notes, the failure to deal with school stress has created a public health crisis among PA youth. The other two issues are also troublin from that perspective since the kids who can't do long division as a result of our terrible curriculum aren't going to find larger schools a better place to receive attention and remediation. Instead Everyday Math is going to create an even bigger gap between the educational haves and have-nots over at Gunn.

All three of these leadership failures will, over the next 10 years (after Skelly packs up his carpetbag and moves on) leave our children who are now in the elementary schools even more stressed, and with fewer resources.

Come to the Board Meeting and be heard. We need smaller schools, not bigger ones. We need to discontinue Everyday Math, a program that especially fails students with weaker math skills and fewer parental resources for tutoring. We need to reevaluate aspects of our curriculum consistent with the letter to the editor in this week's Weekly from a Paly teacher who called for limiting the number of APs any one student can take, as well as make other changes to scheduling, teacher assignments, and curriculum so that our students are not being crushed by the relentless PAUSD Stress Machine.

Come to the Board Meeting and Speak Up!


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Posted by Observer
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 5, 2011 at 2:57 pm

Come to the March 8 Board Mtg:

You have written a beautiful and compelling post. I hope everyone concerned will copy it to their parent lists and neighborhood lists, put it on their calendars, and invite a few parent friends.

You bring up another important point: the democratic process.

Our local board exists to serve the community, it's not some federal parliament involved with far off matters. Knowing what the community wants in broad terms is an essential aspect of that service.

If leadership isn't working for the community, there is very little the community can do relative to specific issues except what it has been doing -- to very little real effect.

There should be some sort of well-defined procedural way for the community, when it feels very strongly about an issue and is willing to do the work, to have more than just a symbolic say. (And more than just an empty threat of some far off election -- especially since the Super isn't elected anyway.)

In the PTA's, which are volunteer groups that handle a lot of money and contribute significantly to school quality, I believe any member can force a meeting to be called and an issue to be dealt with. It's not easy to do this (it requires a lot of signatures, etc), but it's there in case of problems with the leadership. There are also ways to remove the leadership. These things don't happen frequently, because they aren't often necessary. But if they are, the PTA bylaws have that check-and-balance.

Our district needs some checks-and-balances. There would be a lot less rancor if there was a specific procedure to deal with major problems, and a proscribed way to involve the parent community, when enough parents are concerned. It shouldn't be easy, but there should be a well-defined process.

School boards in California are fairly autonomous. They are the ones with the power to set forth such a procedure, not the state board. There is a serious conflict of interest here, though -- how can parents get the school board to set forth a process to put checks-and-balances on their power?


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Posted by really?
a resident of Adobe-Meadows
on Mar 5, 2011 at 3:12 pm

Observer - why don't you run for the school board?

I wouldn't vote for you, but maybe someone else would.


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Posted by Compassion
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Mar 5, 2011 at 4:57 pm

I have tried my best to wade through this extensive blog. There never seems to be a shortage of criticism and always a shortage of constructive collaboration. Please be compassionate. I encourage everyone to remember that we are all mourning the loss of young lives and frightened that it might happen again... perhaps to our own child or student. That grief and fear is felt by the administration, the teachers, the parents and the children. We need to be mindful that all parties are trying to act in the best interests of the children... and when one stumbles, the others help them up... they don't kick them out of the way. We are all on the same team.


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Posted by Come to the March 8 School Board Meeting
a resident of Gunn High School
on Mar 5, 2011 at 6:47 pm

Observer --
It's worse than your post suggests because three of these school board member who would have stood for reelection this fall have voted themselves an additional year on their terms so that we cannot even exercise what little control we have through the democratic process.

These three include Barbara Klausner, who foisted the Everyday Math program on our children and now is fumbling around trying to save her seat by having us pay for "gifted" math enrichment in every school, basically to buy off the parents who are now crazy with rage over Everyday Math.

We have the option of recalling the Board. That would require approximately 7500 signatures, which is a lot. On the other hand, we would probably only need to get around 3000 before they were scared enough to change course on some of these things. Although recalls are very controversial and hard to pull off, there is a lot of anger in the community particularly around (1) everyday math, which really is a catastrophe particularly for poorer kids and those from less academically oriented families; and (2) the mega-school issue. Issue (2) is clearly related to the mental health crisis.

Finally, the Board selected Kevin Skelly and his leadership has been a disaster. He has been flat-footed in his responses to many issues of great concern to parents.

These are not issues that are ridiculous tempest in a teapot issues -- the math curriculum is horrible. We didn't want it. We are a highly educated community of scientists and engineers and we are capable of reading the literature and concluding that the curriculum is not the one we want. He didn't listen.

The schools are getting too crowded and large. We have a suicide epidemic. Our kids are under way too much stress. A city-wide study commission, PSN made specific recommendations to address those issues. He didn't listen. Not only that, he went the other way and we are now getting schools increasing in size by 15%.

These aren't trivial issues. People are really upset about them and justifiably so.

I believe if an election were held today they would face a serious "throw the bums out" mentality. In response to whether there are structures that could be developed to have "citizen oversight" of the school board, I don't know. It might be better just to throw them out, get a more responsive board in, and everyone will then understand that actions have consequences and if the board fails again it can be replaced again.

Accountability will have an impact. But we have to show up and demand accountability for the actions and decisions of our elected and appointed leaders.


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Posted by parents
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 5, 2011 at 9:50 pm

How many individuals posted on this thread? 50? 60? I'd say there have been a few that have made well over 15 comments. There are over 11,000 students in this district. I don't think even if 100 are complaining here that you can say "everyone" is mad and tired of what's going on. Frankly, I think most parents are pretty happy with the way things are going. Get over yourselves and quit speaking for us. Quit complaining and actually get yourselves informed. Don't make up facts.


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Posted by Observer
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 5, 2011 at 10:55 pm

"parents"
See, that's just the thing. You've expressed some pretty strong opinions there with no supporting facts whatsoever. You've made sweeping attacks on this forum and all the posters. And then you've made angry demands based on your opinion as if it is fact. How about you follow your own advice first and "Quit complaining and actually get [yourself] informed?"

Everything I said in my 8-point post above has objective and respected resources backing it up. I am very active in my school community, and parents are overwhelmingly against making our high schools larger, especially since it will come at a premium in cost. But I would say that's of the parents who understand what is happening, most don't have any idea of what is happening, because the district hasn't so far been accountable for that dialog with the public.

Our leadership has made no effort to be open and candid with the public about the direction and consequences of the high school construction. Most parents don't even realize what the priorities in the construction are, and how little analysis and fact has gone into setting those priorities.

I agree that no one should make up facts -- most especially not the leadership.

Most of us on this list have been calling for fact finding, especially when it comes to the high school construction. I agree with you on that 1000%! The leadership has failed to explore and problem solve our potential options.

I could cynically point out that our leadership chose construction professionals that Kevin Skelley worked with before, and whether there were conflicts in the selection or not, it certainly gives the appearance of conflicts now because of how stubbornly unwilling he has been to examine our options, look at the facts, and discuss them openly with the public. Even more cynically, there has been some outright misrepresentations in board meetings, such as of what the High School Task Force did, as a way of blunting discussion. (I am not making any accusations here, only pointing out the appearance of conflicts and relaying that I have heard far worse on the school grounds from other parents wondering what is going on.)

H


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Posted by Batak
a resident of Midtown
on Mar 6, 2011 at 12:15 am

"Barbara Klausner...now is fumbling around trying to save her seat by having us pay for "gifted" math enrichment in every school, basically to buy off the parents who are now crazy with rage over Everyday Math."

What a mess. But the district's present discussion of math is all smoke and mirrors. The district mandarins just revised their plans and placed laning and acceleration/deceleration off limits--because they know parents are desperate for any way out of the math hole that they (the mandarins) dug for us.

The district is also involved in swindling the state out of money for the gifted. The district is supposed to have an organized, differentiated learning experience, when in fact it pretends to have a program, takes the money and plows it into other things. They're cheating the state and local kids.

Why does the district excel at bureaucracy and fail so miserably to think about the education they are delivering?

It's not just the board members and Skelly--with regards to math, they bowed to pressure from a small group of "experts" in the district who just liked one particular approach. These mid-level managers wield a lot of power, and Skelly never stood up to them.


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Posted by please stay on topic
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 6, 2011 at 9:43 am

Batak

"district revised their plans and placed laning and acceleration/deceleration off limits" for elementary math

that would mean the district gets it, because laning in elementary is like having AP's in elementary. Gifted and Talented in Palo Alto is 2/3 of the student population, and I may be low balling that. I would not lose any sleep that gifted funds are not being used well.

It would be nice if the thread does not turn into an Everyday Math discussion, you can start a new thread for that.

the Op-Ed is about a serious issue.







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Posted by Batak
a resident of Midtown
on Mar 7, 2011 at 9:51 pm

please,

"that would mean the district gets it, because laning in elementary is like having AP's in elementary."

Wrong. APs in Palo have nothing to do with gifted kids.

"Gifted and Talented in Palo Alto is 2/3 of the student population, and I may be low balling that."

Well, only in the sense that 2/3 of PA parents think their own kid is gifted--but that is just more nonsense. The percentage of gifted kids in PA is unlikely to be different from the percentage in EPA.

But you nicely demonstrate the problem for gifted kids in PA: a triumph of vanity over knowledge. That approach means someone is getting stiffed: gifted kids in PA and the state taxpayers.

The continued failure by the administration to provide challenging math for kids is actually a serious leadership issue, even if you think it's ok for the district to swindle the state.


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Posted by palo alto mom
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Mar 8, 2011 at 9:57 am

Batak - per federal guidelines, The District determines who is a gifted student. "The final determination of eligibility of a pupil rests with the administrative head of the school district or a designated employee of the districts in accordance with procedures adopted by the local governing board. " There are a few real instances of GATE enrichment in Middle School, mainly bumping kids up math lanes or teaching 7th grade math to the 6th grade kids, etc.

Before you are skeptical about how many "gifted" kids there are in PAUSD, it is pretty common for a students to score in the 95th percentile on standardized tests nationwide, yet be in the bottom 30 percent in PAUSD.

There are many elementary schools that start "laning" in math in the 4th or 5th grade. They split the students by ability and each teacher takes a different group for math (so if there are 3 5th grade classes, you could have 3 math "lanes"). For the school my children attended, this was done by topic, so if you really got multiplication, you would be in the "high" lane for that, but if you didn't quite get division, you would be with a different group... It made a lot of sense. But that still didn't challenge the small handful of kids who were truly gifted in math (out of 60 kids, that would be maybe 2-3).

We also seem to only be interested as a community in kids who are gifted in math or math-related subjects. There are kids who are gifted in art, music, drama, writing, etc. and if you think we don't challenge kids in math, try those other topics. And science has become an afterthought because of all the math/english testing...


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Posted by Paly Alum
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Mar 8, 2011 at 10:26 am

I agree that the quality of students here can make others feel stupid because most of the children here are smarter than average Americans. I took a test in elementary school elsewhere which claimed I was gifted so I was placed in "gifted" classes for years. When I moved to PA, I found that most of the students here were the same quality as the students in my "gifted" classes. If one can afford a mortgage in Palo Alto, the person is probably in the gifted category, thus their children are most likely "gifted" too.

I also agree that APs are a statement of how hard a student will push himself rather than a sign of gifted and intelligence.

To those of you complaining there isn't enough higher level math for your children (starting in middle school), get over yourselves. Your children are not so gifted that they can ace the higher level math without difficulty. Only a couple of children from each grade level are so advanced that they need to eventually go outside of their school for more advanced math.

Besides the Everyday Math, the middle school math books are traditional and and there is laning beginning in 6th grade. To teach advanced math in elementary school is absurd. Children only need to learn calculations in elementary school. For those who want more, the school does not owe you more. Tutor your child yourself.

I also agree that the community seems consumed with math to the extreme of forcing parents to think, "What if my child is not good at math?"


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Posted by Batak
a resident of Midtown
on Mar 8, 2011 at 10:10 pm

palo alto mom,

I'm not sure you understand what "enrichment" means in the educational sense, but it does not happen in pausd. In particular, the middle schools do not offer math enrichment or teach 7th grade math to sixth graders. I agree that those would be of use to gifted kids.

"Before you are skeptical about how many "gifted" kids there are in PAUSD, it is pretty common for a students to score in the 95th percentile on standardized tests nationwide, yet be in the bottom 30 percent in PAUSD." Again, standardized tests have little to do with gifted kids--you are conflating good test takers with gifted.

The elementary schools explicitly do not lane--it is against pausd policy. As you point out, the differentiated instruction your kids experienced is of no help to the handful of gifted kids.

"We also seem to only be interested as a community in kids who are gifted in math or math-related subjects. There are kids who are gifted in art, music, drama, writing, etc. and if you think we don't challenge kids in math, try those other topics." 100% agree--kids gifted in anything but math get absolutely nothing.

Paly Alum,

"most of the children here are smarter than average Americans." Nah.

"If one can afford a mortgage in Palo Alto, the person is probably in the gifted category, thus their children are most likely "gifted" too." You apparently didn't take any critical thinking classes.

"Only a couple of children from each grade level are so advanced that they need to eventually go outside of their school for more advanced math." Er, yeah, that was the point. There is nothing for the gifted kids....


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Posted by parent
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 8, 2011 at 10:34 pm

Where were all of you tonight? Not at the board meeting. Disappointing. All negative talk and no action.


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Posted by Actually we were there.
a resident of Gunn High School
on Mar 9, 2011 at 2:53 pm

Several members of the community who are upset about the failure of the district to address academic stress issues were present at the Board meeting last night.

Last night at the Board meeting, Amy Drolette reprised her St. Mark's power-point presentation on "connectedness." Amy repeatedly stated that the district is merely following the Project Safety Net Plan. Following that, Ken Dauber addressed the Board and pointed out that the district is not, in fact, following the PSN plan. Or, more properly, is following only half the plan. It is not addressing any of the items listed in the PSN report under P-8, entitled "Supportive School Environment" which recommends such reforms as reduced homework, placing finals before break, and addressing curriculum issues in order to reduce academic stress.

Dauber noted that he had been in contact with Skelly since the publication of his editorial in the Weekly 2 weeks ago and had requested that the Superintendent put an item on the Board agenda requiring the district to report on its progress on Item P-8 at Gunn. Dauber reported to the Board that Skelly had replied that P-8 was "not a priority." Dauber noted that priorities are things you set when you don't have the bandwidth to do all the things you need to do. In this case, the district can both work on what he termed the "root cause" of adolescent depression in academic stress, and simultaneously help to identify depressed children and connect them to services. It is not an either/or choice. Dauber concluded by asking the Board to instruct Skelly to implement section P-8 of the PSN report. Which they did not do.

Board President Maria Caswell did ask Skelly to respond to Dauber but he refused.

Next Board Meeting: March 22, where PRE-BREAK FINALS will be on the agenda. Come to the Board Meeting and hold your local officials accountable!


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