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Weekly's reporting on Ohlone Way and Charles

Original post made by Observer on May 8, 2007

Just read the Weekly's reportingon The Ohlone Way and Susan Charles' education history.

First - it explains a lot about why Charles has been so compliant with the District Staff and willing to put Ohlone on the block for MI:

1 - she's got political aspirations (training actively for District Administrative positions) - and being a 'doer' a founder, a problem solver, will be a great feather in her cap. And she wont even have to stick around to make it work! All she has to do is be there for the grand opening ceremonies!

2 - she's probably leaving Ohlone shortly (training actively for administrative positions) which means she comes out smelling like a rose by being a great 'team player' for the administration, and leaves the ridiculous mess of MI the Ohlone Way and demanding Nine, to some other poor incoming principal to battle out.

MI the Ohlone way - Susan Charles doesn't see the big problem. Seems like cultural insensitivity to me to fail to recognize the learning style that is culturally expected by many in this interest group. But all the better. Charles and Mah can duke it out for a year or two until Charles bolts. May they be very happy together.

[Portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]

Comments (24)

Posted by Jerry Underdal, a resident of Barron Park
on May 8, 2007 at 6:20 pm


Your last comment, tossed in as a parting shot, raises a legitimate question for discussion, but I fear that the way you raised it is just going to raise hackles instead of getting people who are hopeful--not certain--- about MI at Ohlone to share both their hopes and concerns. We won't know how the experiment will work out until it's tried.

Two decades ago, the structured approach of Hoover was perceived to be the default preference of Chinese families new to the community. Ohlone was seen as the antithesis to the traditional approach to learning, too risky for concerned parents to entrust their children's education to.

To be in a situation now where not just English-speaking but Mandarin-speaking families as well are eager to test the fit of the Ohlone Way and MI shows enormous progress in breaking down fixed perceptions of what makes for a good education.

Sounds as though you are certain it won't work. For my part, I don't know if it will--don't even know if it will be attempted. But I hope so.

Posted by Parent, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 8, 2007 at 6:45 pm

I hope they can work side by side on the farm also!!

Posted by Obso, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 8, 2007 at 6:59 pm

Jerry, take a look at the demographics of Hoover a decade or so later. Looks like the early predictions weren't all smoke.

Posted by common sense, a resident of Midtown
on May 8, 2007 at 10:18 pm


Wow, you've got things so wrong about Susan Charles. If she had aspirations to a higher level district position, she sure wouldn't be taking a leadership position of the middle management "union", and she sure woouldn't have been as out front about trying to find a compromise solution for MI. She would be trying to avoid controversy, and be below the radar screen.

Attacking her as being "political" because she takes a position that you don't like isn't anyway to solve the issue

Posted by Jerry Underdal, a resident of Barron Park
on May 9, 2007 at 9:11 am


Hoover does have the highest ratio of Asian background students--62% according to Great the average among the other eleven public elementary schools is just over 20%.

Posted by Parent, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 9, 2007 at 9:20 am


Thank you for your insight into the demographics. It would also be interesting to find out how Hoover compares in volunteer hours from parents compared to other schools and in particular to Ohlone if this is something that you can track.

Posted by Non Ohlone parent, a resident of Barron Park
on May 9, 2007 at 9:21 am

This attack on Susan Charles is absurd. The worst I've heard about her is that she has strong opinions and rules with an iron thumb, but she has a loyal fan club of parents and students whose lives she has touched. She is highly regarded and deservedly so.

Posted by Parent, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 9, 2007 at 9:52 am

20% Asian is similar demographically to our overall PAUSD community. That's the % range you'd expect to see in our PAUSD schools on average. But according to the numbers you provide, there absolutely is a statistically significantly concentration of asian at Hoover - 42% more!. Which is harmful to the diversity of our overall district - when you start concentrating ethnic populations in single schools, you rob the rest of the schools from the diversity we need and value. MI will do the same. Take a look at the attachment to the 1/30 board packet submitted by Grace Mah and Nico Janic that outlined the demographic makeup of the initial list of potential MI participatants if you doubt it.

The point is, our choice programs are NOT doing very well at 'breaking down perceptions', they are in fact holding up to the original concerns. There is no valid reason to expect anything different in MI's case.

And the point about Susan Charles [portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]

You know she was not exactly straight forward in her description of the way she involved the Ohlone community in this decision either. She presented it the first time that the staff was told a day ~after~ the feasibillty study was presented to the board. Then this last time, she virtually glowed talking about how she got the staff together to discuss and gain their approval to go ahead and volunteer up Ohlone - in other words a collaborative process between her and the staff at Ohlone. Which one was it? We've heard on these message boards that the staff and the parents were blindsided.

And what about the lottery, which she has also refused to answer questions about. The best she said was 'so what, people get turned down from Stanford, does that mean we should shut down Stanford?" Excuse me, Stanford is a private school, no one pretends that Stanford is holding a blind lottery, and no one is suggesting to shut down Ohlone - we're saying 'WHERE'S THE BLIND LOTTERY?"

We have heard from folks on this board that say staff runs the lottery THEN she weeds folks out based on her pleasur/displeasure with their 'written applications'.

But she tells the board its a completely random lottery. Which one is it? And who granted her the authority to create a criteria selection process instead of a totally random lottery process? Why?

[Portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]

Posted by Another parent, a resident of Duveneck School
on May 9, 2007 at 10:01 am

Parent, how would you like the data on parent volunteering? There's PTA volunteer hours, site council volunteer hours, districtwide organizations hours, fieldtrip and classroom volunteers, and various subgroups that are perhaps known at one school but not at another. Only the PTA tries to track volunteer hours, and some people don't report, and some report non-PTA hours in their PTA. No quality control there. Would you like the data reported on a per parent basis? On a per-student basis? On a specific type of volunteering? What about parents who volunteer cash in lieu of sweat? Why compare Hoover/Ohlone--diametically opposed philosophies about the role of parent?

Posted by The other Parent, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 9, 2007 at 10:13 am

Parent - you lose me when you ask for volunteer hours. The amount of 'volunteerism' required in PAUSD abolutely over the top ridiculous. I've been a parent in PAUSD for over 10 years now. I make it a practice specifically NOT to volunteer unless it something directly for my son's classroom. I'm making a statement - there are alot of non-working moms out there dreaming up ideas for volunteer things to do - like monthly luncheons for the teachers??? [Portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff.] What other profession to expect your customers to bring you home made luncheon once a month? Its just dumb. I donate money. I don't have time, and I will not be judged as a second class citizen because I don't have time.

I am not in Ohlone or Hoover. And I don't believe in the least that this is a demographic question. The only demographic question that matter is whether our kids are learning to get along, and whether our ethnic populations are mixing and learning about each other. Cultural awareness. If you separate them, you lose that, and its dangerous for our schools, our kids, our community.

Posted by Dave Charleson, a resident of Hoover School
on May 9, 2007 at 10:16 am

To attack Susan Charles in this way shows how little you know about this woman and her history in the district. Spend some time talking with people who have known her for years and her unwillingness just to play along with 25 Churchill.

Or just continue with the "new Palo Alto way" of debating issues - ad hominem attacks on good people.

Posted by Parent, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 9, 2007 at 10:27 am


I am so sorry for opening a can of worms on the volunteer hours issue. I was wondering in a very general sort of way, no hidden agenda. I definitely agree that the manner we expect parents to volunteer is over the top, but since it happens in some schools, I was interested to know if some schools get a great deal more and others barely any. I know, for instance, that Ohlone parents are expected to work in the farm as a condition of their entitlement to enter the lottery. I also know that in many schools, field trips are offered but due to lack of available drivers, the field trips have to be cancelled. I know that some field trips go on rented buses and others depend on family cars.

I am not condoning any of this. I was just wondering if there was any correlation between demographics and volunteerism. If this is a non question, then please do not go there.

Posted by OhlonePar, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on May 9, 2007 at 10:51 am


Most parents don't work on the farm. In fact more people want to do some of the farm jobs than there are openings--such as putting the animals to bed.

re; Susan Charles. This has nothing to do with her advancing up the ranks--she's within a few years of retirement. I don't agree with her on MI, but there are some clear reasons why she's doing it.

She said at the last board meeting that she and her staff realized that either Ohlone or Escondido would be targeted for MI. By "welcoming" MI, she gets to control the program instead of being faced with a second school on Ohlone grounds. If she hadn't put out the welcome wagon, it would be harder for her to set timelines--notice that one of the egregious demands the PACE crowd isn't getting is that 2007 start date--or insist on the MI program being done as an Ohlone-style way.

What I can't figure out is whether she's counting on the MI parents fleeing in terror from Ohlone's no-homework ways making it relatively easy to move out the program after three years. At which point, Charles can expand the Ohlone program by a half strand (three modules) and everyone is grateful to get some playground back. And Charles may even have some sort of FLES program in place.

MI then ends up at Garland or maybe disgruntled PACErs will have opened a nice strict MI charter in Moutain View.

Posted by Parent, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 9, 2007 at 11:17 am

OholonePar - don't you find it weird that someone who is just a few years from retirement has just gone back to school to get an administrative credential? [Portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]
I think you're right on. She sees a 'win win' coming her way...
a. Be a "helper" for the staff/board on the MI issue by finding a way to make it easier to implement.
b. give up a temporary space in Ohlone volunatarily - but space that she' KNOWS will not be large enough to accomodate MI long term
c. Retain Control over the program in the short term
d. Move MI out of Ohlone after three years passes, and the program is overgrown for the space available at Ohlone. Ohlone then benefits from the expansion of Ohlone proper.
e. [Portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]

Posted by Resident, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 9, 2007 at 12:23 pm

I suspect MI the "Ohlone Way" will make it much more attractive to those who would like their kids to learn another language, but would have feared the high structure/competition of the direct model approach so typical of any of the Asian countries.

So, I think that if we must have the program,it is a good way to do it.

Posted by OhlonePar, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on May 9, 2007 at 12:58 pm


What would the point be for Charles to be a HS principal for a couple of years and then retire?

If anything, I could see her getting nice fat contracts as a consultant on language-immersion and project-based learning programs. Seems like that would be much more interesting and lucrative than being a mid-level bureaucrat.

She did oppose MI at the outset, but I think she read the situation and decided to see what she would do with it.

I don't think it's a good idea, but i think Susan Charles has sold herself on it. She has a bit of a crusader streak.

Posted by Simon Firth, a resident of College Terrace
on May 9, 2007 at 1:05 pm

Resident -- you may be right and more parents rather than fewer will be attracted by MI at Ohlone.

But as a prospective parent, I'd have a more fundamental concern about the program: that MI at Ohlone is an ambitious new educational program that has so far been made up, essentially, on the fly.

It's something that's bothered me ever since the late-in-the-day decision to house MI at Ohlone: that we still don't know exactly what is being proposed here.

The feasibility study and all the comparative research done for it was based on a different model of instruction. So far as I can tell, the changes in the study since then have reflected a new timetable but have said next to nothing about how it might work with a new instructional method.

Has anyone actually articulated what it really means to teach MI in an 'Ohlone' way? What does such instruction actually look like? Have other schools tried something like this or is it entirely novel? What are the chances of its being a success? Are we trying something really, really tough here? Who knows?

You can bet parents will want to know before placing their children in the program and, surely, the BOE should have a really firm command of questions like these before it decides whether or not the program would be a positive addition to the district.

Right now, however, it seems to me, we just have the word of Susan Charles and district administrators that they'll make it work. That's nice, but when starting a new program – especially one as deeply controversial as this – isn't the educationally responsible thing to do to ask for something more than a promise? Doesn't the educational soundness of the proposed program count for anything, after all?

Surely the responsible thing, then – for the sake of the students likely to be put through it – is for the BOE to refrain from voting MI Choice at Ohlone though until they have a better understanding of the educational program being proposed.

Posted by Parent, a resident of Palo Alto High School
on May 9, 2007 at 2:07 pm

Just reminding some of the "parents" in this thread that there is a vacancy of High School principal in this District at present. With Scotty Lawrence's promotion to assistant super, we now need a new principal at Paly.

Posted by OhlonePar, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on May 9, 2007 at 3:11 pm


I think you could do a lot worse than Susan Charles as principal at Paly, but I honestly think that's not her goal. Right now, she has her own playground, so to speak. She has leeway to experiement in a way that she wouldn't have at Paly or, frankly, most public schools. She has a lot of ego invested in Ohlone and she's done terrific things with the school--I mean, we're talking about a six-month appointment extending to 10 years. That's not an accident.

I mean, the Paly position's been open more than once in the last 10 years.


Of course, there'd be a presentation before approval of the Ohlone/MI mash-up in a rational world. But we're clearly not in that world. I mean, in a rational world, we don't have parents push a choice program at any cost. In the rational world, people do what Faith Brigel did with the recall petition--you pull back when the price is too high. PACE can't even acknowledge that there is a price. There's an inability to deal or even see criticism. Dismissing all objections as "racist" can be a convenient form of denial. I've noticed that the accusations of racism tend to be generic and, at best, require a lot of inference. The closest Ive seen to anything specific was a sort of convuluted discussion about whether supporting SI was inherently racist if it was based on American latinos being a traditionally impoverished groups.

Unfortunately, the forum mods pretty much censor out any discussion of personalities because I think you can't understand why things are happening unless you know something about the people involved. Why would you push something to the point where it's causing more harm than good? Not just for the district, but, quite possibly, for your own children? Why are only some solutions acceptable and others not even discussed? If you know something about the personalities involved, things become a little clearer.

And, frankly, a more open discussion might have helped everyone. One of PACE's biggest blunders is that it didn't engage non-believers. It seems to have always had an us v. them attitude. Again, a reflection of the managment.

Posted by Al, a resident of College Terrace
on May 9, 2007 at 5:25 pm


I have seen this act before. SI was dumped on Escondido, once Fairmeadow could get rid of it. Now I see a similar scenario: Dump MI on Ohlone then, after three years dump it on ... Escondido, AGAIN!

The problem is that internal choice schools are destroying neighborhood schools. Ohlone is as much at fault as SI, MI and DI. You guys want what you want, but you refuse to look at the big picture.

If the internally selective programs were to be moved out to charters or (better yet) vouchers, we would not be having this sad discussion.

Posted by Resident, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 9, 2007 at 8:31 pm

Al..Charter Schools demand space also. So, no solution.

Vouchers assume any program which has enough takers to grow, will. So, any program could "take over" a neighborhood school if there were demand.

No, neither is the solution, at the moment, to the ability of a district to determine what kind of district it wants. The only way that will happen is to modify charter laws to improve their relevance to their intent..

Posted by OhlonePar, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on May 9, 2007 at 8:59 pm


Charter law specifically states that public schools can not be turned into charters unless the staff and others are on board.

Ohlone and Hoover did not destroy neighborhood schools. At the time of their inception, PAUSD was closing a third of its schools. Ohlone and Hoover kept schools open *and* attracted students to a district which had experienced a dramatic drop.

I agree that right now, the district's priority should be on finding spots for the kids that are here, not in creating more choice programs--particularly ones that divide schools. That's very different than saying extant choice schools that have been around for decades and are very successful should be closed.

Fact is my offspring re in the Duveneck draw area--Duveneck is overcrowded. Because I choose Ohlone, I'm voluntarily giving up my neighborhood spot--that's one less kid being shipped involuntarily to Barron Park.

The main complaints I hear about SI doesn't apply to either Ohlone or Hoover, which is that the SI kids are getting a curriculum perk and that the families in in the neighborhood part of Escondido feel like second-class citizens.

None of this would be such a big deal if the PAUSD had paid attention to what was happening demographically. Instead of endless hours wasted on a small choice program (oh boy more lotteries, more waiting lists, more grousing), it would have been nice for the district to look at ways to open another neighborhood school--Garland--for north Palo Alto and then expanded Ohlone another half strand to reduce pressure on Palo Verde.

Posted by Chuck, a resident of Midtown
on May 10, 2007 at 7:04 pm

[Post removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]

Posted by Al, a resident of College Terrace
on May 10, 2007 at 7:43 pm

"Charter law specifically states that public schools can not be turned into charters unless the staff and others are on board. "

OhlonePar, I don't know if that is true of not. I will take your word for it. The way it should go is as follows:

1. Establish a district-wide policy that all schools are to be neighborhood schools. Kids that live near a school go there...period. If the parents don't like that, then they can:

2. Establish charter schools. For instance, those, like yourself, who like cooperative learning situations can form your own charter. Same for DI, SI, MI, etc. The neighborhood schools would deliver whatever standard curriculum that is established by the district.

This way, the public schools will survive in Palo Alto. Otherwise, they will slowly disappear, as more and more neighborhood parents get fed up with the 'special need' parents. In the end, the decision will be made at the ballot box, on bond issues.

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