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on Mar 28, 2012
This is a great outcome for Gunn students and future Gunn students. The move by the school board came in response to comparative data compiled from the district's report by We Can Do Better Palo Alto. That data, from student surveys of satisfaction with counseling systems at Gunn and Paly, showed that out of the 125 measures on which the high schools could be compared directly, Paly students are more satisfied than Gunn students by 5 or more percentage points on 95 measures. Gunn students, by contrast, are more satisfied than Paly students on 6 measures. Paly students are much more satisfied than Gunn students across every grade and area of counseling, from academic to social-emotional support (see Web Link for links to the data and our analyses).
These data show clearly that despite schools with very similar populations and equally dedicated and hardworking counseling staff, Gunn is hobbled by a traditional counseling model that just doesn't work as well for students as does Paly's teacher advisory model.
Barbara Klausner and Melissa Baten-Caswell came out strongly for moving to a single model for counseling based on teacher advisory at the two high schools. Dana Tom also voiced strong support for teacher advisory while insisting that the high schools provide comparable results for students, something that all board members agree is not happening now. Camille Townsend, who has long been a supporter of teacher advisory based on her experience as a Paly parent and was again last night, also insisted on the need for comparable outcomes and swift action. Kudos to all these Board members for finally moving this question from study to action.
Our job in the community is to continue to hold the district and Board members to the expectation that all students in the district will receive the same high quality of counseling services. Katya Villalobos, the Gunn principal, was enthusiastic at the Board meeting about the prospect of moving to teacher advisory, and promised to bring a plan back to the Board in June (Katya ran the teacher advisory program when she was at Paly). We'll continue to provide data and feedback to help this process along.
What about Camile's comments that she had never heard of A-G in all of her travels as a parent through Paly? What about the suicides that occurred while Paly was under the TA system? What about Gunn's small class sizes for freshman Eng and Alg? What about the fact that Gunn staff voted down TA system when Ms. Likens tried to intstitute it several years ago? What about the instructional minutes they would be transferring to TA curriculum?
Wouldn't we be better off just hiring more counselors at Gunn?
The focused goal from the Board regarding counseling for this year was to:
Provide more specific description and analysis of guidance models and consider suggested enhancements.
The specific activities for this goal were:
(a) Contract with an independent, third party agency to assess the guidance models at both high schools, considering recommendations and potential enhancements; and
(b) Plan for the implementation of any needed adjustments to ensure quality
guidance experiences for all PAUSD students (see: Web Link)
Somewhere between this board goal and specific activity (which was assigned to district staff Amy Drolette and Mike Millikin) the consultant was specifically instructed not to "assess the guidance models at both high schools." Any assessment of the models themselves would necessarily require a comparison of how each model performs in relation to the other model, and in relation to the national standards for guidance delivery which were cited but not applied.
Rather, the charge to the consultant required her to prepare two separate reports that merely described each model and oddly pretended that the other model and the other school did not exist. As Board member Melissa Caswell remarked, "we only have two high schools." The only comparison that the district permitted into the report was the financial comparison which showed Paly spending more money than Gunn. Even this seemed designed to mislead since it understated the amount Gunn spent by around $30K and made other errors as well that tended to overstate the gap in numerous ways too boring to get into here. In other words, the schools are spending quite similar amounts of money but getting quite different results.
This crippled the consultant's ability to do goal (b) which was to "ensure quality guidance experiences for all PAUSD students," since she was expressly instructed not to recommend assessing or changing models at either school.
By taking off the table the analysis we needed, and by taking away from the consultant the tools she needed, the district staff tried to prevent the board from receiving the information it had requested in this focused goal.
Whether or not you agree with We Can Do Better and the majority of the school board that it is time to consider implementing a TA model at Gunn because Paly students have three different adults and many more points of contact and connection than Gunn students, you should be unhappy about this waste of your tax dollars on a report that was purposely designed to hide the ball from ourselves and from the school board.
Fortunately the survey data itself was of excellent quality and by spending hundreds of hours of community time it was possible to take the survey and produce the comparisons needed to "assess the guidance models." But why was taxpayer money (and how much?) spent outside the scope of this direction? The community should receive an answer to this question.
students." See: Web Link
If 20-25% of Paly students do not feel supported then why is this such a great model? Surely, if we are paying for a "study" then we should be looking at best practices. I doubt that PAUSD has all the answers. Surely there are schools that rank high in counseling and student support. We should be learning from them rather than the tired, old "Paly vs Gunn" comparison.
Were all of the seven parents who requested that Gunn adopt Paly's model actually Gunn parents or were they elementary and Paly parents as we have seen in the past?
All parents who spoke in favor of the change were parents of multiple Gunn students, as well as one Professor from the Stanford School of Education who stated that advisory counseling systems tend to raise student achievement scores and are considered best practice interventions in order to address both social-emotional health and improved academic performance.
I am relieved to hear that this is finally happening. I have three children. The first two went to Gunn and the Gunn counseling system and teachers failed both of them. They were unavailable, not knowledgeable about the range of areas on which they were supposed to provide guidance and were singularly focused on graduation requirements. I sent my third child to St. Francis and the support and education that she received was easily 100 times better than my son's received at Gunn.
This is a long overdue reevaluation. Gunn counseling is inadequate to the number of students. The counselors are very overworked, and some of them do not know the most basic facts about how to get into college. Last night at a meeting about choosing a college, parents were told that taking both the SAT and the ACT is best, while at a meeting earlier this year of the same group, two Gunn guidance counselors said a student should take one or the other. This is an important piece of bad guidance. Imagine what else they are claiming in one on one sessions. At least at Paly, students receive guidance from more than one source. Although my Gunn students are fortunate to have a good counselor, there is at least one counselor at Gunn who is simply not helpful to her many students.
Can anyone define what the community is expecting of counselors. Are they supposed to help with getting into college; making sure that students are graduating; making sure that someone is available to talk 24-7; emotional/social guidance? It is unclear to me exactly what we are expecting out of "guidance" on the high school campus. Maybe a definition of expectation would be a great start to finding a better way to support students.
Excellent question. With respect to Gunn, the answer is "yes." We expect counselors to do every single one of these things.
With respect to Paly, counselors (1 for each grade level) do social-emotional counseling, and other teachers and advisors do other parts. Teacher-advisors do academic counseling, graduation advising, and course selection and schedule changes, and also some of the college advising and letter writing, and there are 2 career and college advisors for college advising also.
The importance of this difference is that there are multiple adults assisting and supporting each student at Paly and only one guidance counselor per 350 students at Gunn who wears all these hats. Is it any wonder that the counselors at Gunn triage their time toward seniors? What is really interesting is that even in senior year, Paly students are happier and more connected to their guidance counselors than those at Gunn on average.
For those of you who did not see the data:
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