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School board to principals: 'collaborate on counseling'

Original post made on Oct 10, 2012

School board members Tuesday asked principals of Palo Alto's two high schools to get together to develop a "common purpose and common metrics" for their guidance counseling programs even though the two schools differ in the way they offer services.

Read the full story here Web Link posted Tuesday, October 9, 2012, 11:39 PM

Comments (42)

Posted by board watcher, a resident of Palo Verde
on Oct 10, 2012 at 8:26 am

It's obvious that the only way counseling at Gunn will make any significant change or improvement is if Ken is elected. This board is not going to do anything. Last nights discussion was a two hour muddled mess. They can't do anything. The only speakers who made sense were Ken and the student rep from Gunn who pointed out that you can't define comparable with the word "comparable," Melissa Caswell told the Weekly that she wants one unified counseling model but didn't support it when she had the chance last night so that was pointless. [Portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff.] What was Barbara Klausner talking about? I couldn't tell. What a mess, good luck Ken, you'll need it if you plan to sort this.


Posted by The Adam of your labors, a resident of Crescent Park
on Oct 10, 2012 at 8:28 am

Interesting that Ken is disowning WCDBPA in his run for the board. No mention of the group or his role in creating it on his election website and now no longer representing the group at board meetings.


Posted by Gunn Parent, a resident of South of Midtown
on Oct 10, 2012 at 8:38 am

Why must Gunn be able to determine their own plan for counseling?
At some point the district needs to DO something.
We don't pay Skelly the big bucks (really big) for nothing.
Why reinvent the wheel at every school in town. Solve the problem once and make it work. The counseling At Gunn is a joke. They don't have a clue what is going on with the majority of students.


Posted by WCDB fan, a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Oct 10, 2012 at 8:48 am

Adam: who knows what you are talking about? Ken was there talking with a group of WCDB members including Sally Bemus, WCDB leader Kathy Sharp, and Amy Balsom. In his Weekly interview half the questions were about WCDB. Do you think anyone doesn't already know this? [Portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]


Posted by palo alto mom, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Oct 10, 2012 at 8:56 am

While everyone agrees that the Gunn model of counseling could use improvement, there are some very obvious roadblocks:

To implement the Paly system, about 40 teachers would need to volunteer to be TA's - this requires buy-in from the Gunn staff

Paly spends (I think) 300K more on counseling than Gunn, that money would need to come from somewhere else in the Gunn budget. Whatever the exact number is, Gunn would have to cut something significant.

Site-based decision making.


Posted by The Adam of your labors, a resident of Crescent Park
on Oct 10, 2012 at 8:59 am

WCDB, You said it yourself; he was there talking with his "friends" but no longer representing the group with the weekly. Only when asked directly in an interview did he mention it. No comment on how he's whitewashed his WCDBPA role from his election website?


Posted by Gunn observer, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Oct 10, 2012 at 9:00 am

The truth about the Gunn system is that it centralizes what we all care about very much here in Palo Alto -- the college recommendation process -- giving a few people great power, whereas the Paly system decentralizes it. This means that at Gunn, the guidance counselors are deciding, without you or your kids even knowing it, who gets the strong college letters, picking winners and losers based on whatever statistics they may value, even as they don't really know the kids at all. They will never admit this of course, but that's how it works. At Paly, the TAs know the kids and you have a much better chance for a strong college letter about their academic merits and also about their character, passions and individual unique characteristics. So if you are at Gunn and you want a fair college application process, you should be pushing for the Paly model. And of course this means that the TAs are also connected to the students as individuals day-to-day for socio-emotional purposes, rather than having some distant figure in the office that you can't get an appointment with even if you tried.


Posted by WCDB fan, a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Oct 10, 2012 at 9:01 am

Last night the board affirmed that it would spend more for counseling system wide including to implement advisory at Gunn. That is directly because of work that Ken and WCDB did to show the inequity between Gunn and Paly. Thanks Ken and WCDB for showing the unfairness and making sure Gunn kids get as much as what Paly kids have.


Posted by Gunn observer, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Oct 10, 2012 at 9:07 am

One more comment about how "the teachers have to buy-in". Wow, how nice to have a job where you don't have to do anything unless you "buy-in" and further you are fully protected in your employment by your union status. And on top of that, you have "site-based decision-making" which means the teachers run the school as they see fit, along with the principal (who really works for them since the principals turn over), and along with whoever the insiders are running things through the PTA to get what they want, but otherwise the rest of the community and the district they work for is effectively shut out. Great model, nicely done site-based people, of course you want to protect the hell out of that model! That's probably how we ended up with Mr. Toma writing his Paly math letter, reflecting his "site-based decision-making" on how not to teach math at Paly.


Posted by The Adam of your labors, a resident of Crescent Park
on Oct 10, 2012 at 9:12 am

WCDB, Actually, the board never promised to implement Advisory at Gunn. Good thing too, given how little Paly students think of it. But, hey, don't let the facts get in way of your posts.


Posted by palo alto mom, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Oct 10, 2012 at 9:16 am

Gunn observer -

The kids at Paly don't connect with their TA's on a "day to day basis", they see them about twice a month sophomore and junior year and 4-5 times senior year.

"Buy-in" is needed because teachers that volunteer to be TA's teach one less class in exchange for being a TA. The $$ are needed because someone has to teach the classes the TA's are no longer teaching which means we need more teachers.


Posted by Gunn Observer, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Oct 10, 2012 at 9:27 am

@Palo Alto Mom --

The TAs have the kids as students in their classes, that's my point, so they actually know them from on-going classroom interaction. The kids have a real and personal relationship with their TAs. You just do not get this at Gunn, so it's puzzling why people defend such a bad system and pick things apart to distract from that, unless they are somehow benefitting from the status quo. If you want a strong college letter at Gunn, you had better have super plugged-in parents who make sure you are proactive with that remote counselor god and join PTA and start working the system, as it's just not a level playing field there. Disagree all you want Palo Alto Mom, but to the rest of the Gunn community, this is a heads-up for you. In terms of the teachers "volunteering" again they are employees and if the district is implementing something then within parameters of staffing and union negotiation outcomes they have choice but again they are not defining their job description. But whatever your stake in this Palo Alto Mom, I can see that you want to keep defending the hell out of that insular model that is so great for staff and parent insiders who are there to get exactly what they want for their kid at the school.


Posted by Gunn mom, a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Oct 10, 2012 at 9:30 am

Are you kidding? Twice a month during soph and junior year? My junior has met his counselor twice in his whole time at Gunn! Are you trying to criticize TA because kids only meet with their TA twice a month?!?! Bahahaahaha. Hey Gunn parents, only twice a month! That sounds like heaven. If that's the best you've got, that won't cut it. I am interested in what Gunn observer is saying. Can you say more about how a few people ration college recommendations? As a jr parent I am very alarmed.


Posted by Cut & Pasted Data, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 10, 2012 at 9:33 am

From the thread before last night's meeting (lifted from another post by Different data, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood, on Oct 5 and 6):

"The problem with the whole 'lets rush to adopt TA' push is that there is NO even close to conclusive evidence out there that TA works or excels in promoting positive outcomes for the students.

When Paly students were surveyed a few months ago about their TA system, only 33% said that their TA sessions were valuable.

When Paly's most troubled students went the extra step and sought out their guidance counselors, only half said they helped them.

When both high schools' 12th graders, after having had years and years of experience with their guidance systems, were asked if their system was a valuable resource, Gunn's 72% approval beat Paly's 57% by a wide margin.

Web Link

Research that proves TA is better? None. A study about TA, out of the UC a year or two ago, says that the research on TA's benefits is "murky" at best.

Web Link

It is pretty risky to run a school board campaign based on a platform that data proves that Gunn needs to adopt Paly's TA model urgently and, even better, TA has been tried, tested and proven to be better for 20 years in our own hometown.

Ken Dauber's quote: Paly - "we have years of evidence that teacher advisory is delivering guidance services more effectively" than at Gunn.

Sure doesn't seem that way when I look at the data.

--------------

Barb Klausner said she was drawing from Ken Dauber's data but clicking through that link I see that Dauber's data does not include the survey questions and student responses I posted which show TA in a less glowing light.

Cherry-picking what raw data to look at and then saying that that data is conclusive evidence that TA is the cat's meow is not objective decision making. It is what scientists call confirmation bias, actively seeking out information that confirms one's preconceptions and ignoring evidence that doesn't, leading to statistical errors.

In other words, be careful, statistics can lie."


Posted by The Adam of your labors, a resident of Crescent Park
on Oct 10, 2012 at 9:33 am

Wow, the amount of fear the WCDB fans are trying to generate "If you want a strong college letter at Gunn, you had better have super plugged-in parents..."!!!
Are you serious? Gunn students do quite well getting into colleges. If you have data to show that Paly students have an advantage getting into colleges, you should definitely stump up! Otherwise....


Posted by Look up in the sky, it's supertroll, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 10, 2012 at 9:38 am

[Post removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]


Posted by Gunn Observer, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Oct 10, 2012 at 9:53 am

I'm not a WCDB person, myself I am interested in having schools where all kids are fully supported, even those whose parents aren't there all the time to advocate for them and work the system. It's not about fear, it's just about sharing information, for those people who might read comments and might find this useful, rather than debating with people who are busy defending Gunn so need to shoot down whatever comes along. Just not interested in that, you have your view, I'll have mine. It's not how many who are going to college, it's more a question of whether a school is more like a Stuyvesant where the counselors decide who goes to Harvard. Over and out, I hope this information benefits someone who may not be plugged in to make sure their kid gets a fair shake at Gunn, that's all.


Posted by palo alto mom, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Oct 10, 2012 at 10:06 am

Gunn Observor - I'm not defending the Gunn model at all, just pointing out that there are roadblocks to implementing the Paly system at Gunn. And not ALL of the Paly students have their TA as a teacher. There is an effort to try to have the TA as a teacher one of the three years they have them, but that does not always happen.

The Paly TA system is pretty good, especially if you have a good TA (one of my kids has a good one and never had the TA as a teacher, one did not have a great TA but had him as a teacher for 2 years). Gunn is a different school with very different demographics and they should put together a system that works well for their students.


Posted by Demographics, a resident of Midtown
on Oct 10, 2012 at 10:47 am

What is all this talk about "very different demographics" at Paly and Gunn? The city of Palo Alto has a mean household income of $90,377, 74% of adults hold a four-year college degree and 43% of adults over 25 have at least one graduate degree.

Gunn's racial demographics on their website are as follows:

Caucasian 49.5%
Asian. 34.9%
Hispanic. 7.4%
Asian-Indian. 5.5%
African-American. 2.1%

Paly's racial demographics from their website:

Caucasian. 58.3%
Asian. 27.7%
Hispanic. 8.1%
African-American. 4.6%

Paly has a small percentage of students from East Palo Alto and slightly more Caucasian students than Gunn, but other than that, the demographics aren't different.

In any event, what in the world would demographics have to do with what guidance model a school selects? If you have a model that is demonstrably superior, that is the model the school should select. Demographics is just one more weak justification used to defend site-based control.


Posted by The Adam of your labors, a resident of Crescent Park
on Oct 10, 2012 at 10:57 am

" It's not about fear ... it's more a question of whether a school is more like a Stuyvesant where the counselors decide who goes to Harvard."

Again, you need data to back up this point. Otherwise it IS just fearmongering.

If you are really interested in what the kids at Gunn need, look at what they consider the most serious issues - Web Link The first post shows them listed in order. These are the top concerns the students are reporting and what we should be focusing on.

Now, since the top 5 issues are the same at both schools, please explain how implementing TA at Gunn will solve them.


Posted by Member, a resident of Greenmeadow
on Oct 10, 2012 at 11:06 am

I attended Palo Alto schools years ago, when Cubberley was open.

The counseling program was poor during my time and Cubberley and they are poor today. If your GPA is above 3.75 your able to get some counseling. If you GPA is below 3.74, your unable to get counseling.

I still live in Palo Alto and have you adults attending the school, the situation hasn't changed since the mid 1970's.


Posted by citizen, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 10, 2012 at 11:09 am

It is alot easier for Paly parents to "influence" the TA's than it is for Gunn parents to "influence" the counselors just because the proximity is more limited in the Gunn case. Could this "influence" be what WCDBPA is striving to achieve?

Notice that this has suddenly become about college letters when it used to be about mental health. And who needs college letters? Kids who are applying to private school. And who is more likely to attend private school? Students whose parents get scholarships for their children from their workplace and/or whose parents are working full time at demanding jobs instead of taking on less responsibility at work and leaving more time for their child's mental health.


Posted by Jan H., a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Oct 10, 2012 at 12:51 pm

Gunn and Paly are both in the same school district. So why the difference in guidance counseling styles and policies? Should there not be one district wide policy?


Posted by citizen, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 10, 2012 at 12:55 pm

Paly should move to the Gunn model, saving hundreds of thousands of dollars, a good step in this economic climate.


Posted by Paly Alum, a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Oct 10, 2012 at 12:59 pm

@Member: How could you possibly post that counseling is the same as back in the day? That's completely untrue. I attended Cubberley for one year, then to Paly. The "counselors" were completely worthless back then. Today, they are excellent, at least the ones at Paly. They have to know so much more today than in the 70s-80s. We studied for the SATs from prep books. Our GPAs could offset any poor SAT score, vice-versa. We had tons of free time to hang-out. Want to know why most students don't have driver's licenses now at age 16? Who has time to practice driving for 50 hours? We are no longer in Kansas with Toto and it's quite the shame.

As for TA's, it depends on which one your child has. Some do it for the extra money while some actually care to help students and are friendly and approachable.


Posted by David Pepperdine, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 10, 2012 at 1:52 pm

The only question now is whether Skelly, Katya, et al have the maturity to acknowledge what works well and stop putting egos in front of data. Our students deserve the solutions that work best, not the one that administration can use to save face.


Posted by David Pepperdine, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 10, 2012 at 1:55 pm

@citizen:
>> "Paly should move to the Gunn model, saving hundreds of thousands of dollars, a good step in this economic climate."

Yep. And we should travel on horseback too.


Posted by Gunn parent, a resident of Gunn High School
on Oct 10, 2012 at 2:22 pm

It's worth remembering a few facts, since we seem to have this discussion over and over as if it had no history:
- The current counseling process began a year and a half ago, when Ken Dauber and WCDBPA presented the Board with district data from strategic plan and WASC surveys showing a large gap between Paly and Gunn. The Board responded by adopting a focused goal for 2011-12 to compare and improve counseling at the two schools.
- That focused goal led to the appointment of a consultant, who returned in a March with a report. She was unfortunately told by the district not to compare the two schools directly, but Dauber took the data from her report and made it possible to make direct comparisons.
- The Board responded to those comparisons by directing Gunn to return with a plan for comparable services, and to strongly consider Paly's teacher advisory model in doing so.
- The process we are in now is responsive to that charge, though it has taken some serious twists and turns along the way.
The point is that this process has a history, and it includes the Board repeatedly looking at the data and deciding that it indicates clearly that Gunn's guidance model is delivering substantially less effective services to students than Paly's is.
The most recent data, from a survey at Gunn and Paly earlier this year, is linked here: Web Link. In the spring, the Board directed that this data be communicated to Gunn and used in their review process.
None of that means that Gunn has to adopt the Paly model whole cloth, but it does mean that the idea that Gunn's model needs substantial improvement and that it should use Paly's model as a resource for doing that has been validated by the Board many times, including last night.
It's also the case, incidentally, that Melissa Caswell said that she wants to see a unified guidance model at both high schools in her endorsement interview for the Weekly.


Posted by Paly dad, a resident of Crescent Park
on Oct 10, 2012 at 2:31 pm

I would love to see them try to replace TA with the Gunn model. The battle would be more fun to watch than Game of Thrones. Paly parents are happy with Phil Winston and TA and don't want the once a year meeting regime thank you very much.


Posted by parent, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 10, 2012 at 3:17 pm

I find it amazing that parents now blame high school counselors for their children not being admitted into top 25 universities. I think all the parent complaints we've heard in the last few years just boil down to the fact that parents can't accept that their kids won't go to Ivy Leagues. So, I have a suggestion: Let's make an Ivy League admission standard and part of the Palo Alto (Gunn and Paly) high school diploma.

Seriously, the real problem in high school in this city is the ridiculous expectations that parents have for their children. Eliminate this and most high school kids will be just fine, whatever the exact configuration of high school is.


Posted by The Adam of your labors, a resident of Crescent Park
on Oct 10, 2012 at 3:26 pm

Parent, you are so right and it's what the students are telling us but no one is listening.
Instead we have these endless talks about adopting a program that doesn't even attempt to address the problems that are most dire.


Posted by Just my opinion, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 10, 2012 at 4:03 pm

The bottom line is that neither Paly nor Gunn have the best counseling system. Let the study proceed and maybe a solution will come out of it that will benefit all PAUSD students (remember we are trying to help the students, not their parents).


Posted by Palo Verde Parent, a resident of Palo Verde
on Oct 10, 2012 at 6:13 pm

Gunn Observer states
- "Great model, nicely done site-based people, of course you want to protect the hell out of that model! That's probably how we ended up with Mr. Toma writing his Paly math letter, reflecting his "site-based decision-making" on how not to teach math at Paly." - I am sure that WCDB and all of the other people touting the TA system are aware that 8 math teachers including Mr. Toma are all teacher advisors. I do find it interesting how one year WCDBPA is calling for the math department at Paly racist and the next demanding a program that those same people are very much a part of be brought to another school.

also
- "The TAs have the kids as students in their classes, that's my point, so they actually know them from on-going classroom interaction." This is not necessarily true. Many students have TA's that they never have as a classroom teach.

I am not sure whether TA should be implemented at Gunn or not, but it is important that people are dealing with facts. It is true that you have to have teacher buy in, since teachers are currently hired to "teach" and they are not required to be "teacher advisors". Certainly many teachers at Paly are interested/excited to serve in that role. This is likely because it was developed at the site as part of a site-based decision and the teachers involved in the program have had a lot of say in shaping the program. I think the program thrives at Paly because of site-based decision making. The TA's and staff at the school are ones who shape the program.


Posted by June Yu, a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Oct 10, 2012 at 9:36 pm

Just came home from Paly Junior night where the college process and how the counselors and teacher advisers will assist my student during this process was explained. What a relief to learn about all the supports that are in place to guide my student who will need a lot of hand holding. Thank you Paly guidance!


Posted by village fool, a resident of another community
on Oct 10, 2012 at 10:43 pm

Citizen - aside from the Gunn/Paly counseling system debate: Many found out in recent years that private colleges can be cheaper than California public, especially if the family qualifies for financial aid. Private colleges can award more $ than California public schools. Also - it is getting almost impossible to graduate California colleges in 4 years due to overcrowded classes, so private can be really cheaper for those who qualify.


Posted by citizen, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 11, 2012 at 10:29 am

Private colleges CAN award money, but do they for everyone? It is a big assumption to wrap a counseling model around.

By the way, we didn't have global warming when we traveled on horseback. :)


Posted by Gunn parent, a resident of Gunn High School
on Oct 11, 2012 at 11:56 am

Another student voice from another thread, relevant to this discussion:

Posted by PalyStudent, a resident of the Professorville neighborhood, 15 hours ago
PalyStudent is a member (registered user) of Palo Alto Online

@determinant

I am a Paly senior, and I disagree. Advisory, especially by junior and senior year, is helpful in organizing information the school year as well as the college process. That being said, most Paly students would not go to a TA with a personal problem (but definitely would go to guidance counselors). However, in advisory, we talk a lot about hotlines and resources to consult for personal problems, so while the TA themselves aren't the fixers of problems, they provide help. Personally, I wouldn't go to my TA with a personal issue, but if I were referred to mine, I would have no problem talking to my TA about personal issues.

On your final point, about being accepted to a "good" college. I would not be anywhere near as confident as I currently am about the college process without my TA and the advisory system. We've been given countless helpful information sheets, had deadlines and the entire process explained to us clearly and helpfully and been given copious amounts of support. I agree, 99% of my stress comes from college pressure. But School Board candidates won't change the fact that we live in Silicon Valley and are surrounded by highly successful people and an environment that going to Stanford/Harvard/Northwestern is necessary to succeed. However, they can provide more help to students to make the college process as stress free as possible. The TA system is the way to go.

I'm currently writing this from tonight's School Board Forum, and I will say that Ken Dauber is the only candidate that has impressed me. He's the only one serious about quitting dilly-dallying and getting down to business to solve issues. On the subject of Schoology, the mandate is the only way to change things. I'm one of the editor-in-chief of Paly's newspaper, and personally wrote an editorial critiquing the district's failure to fix the underlying issues of online softwares. However, I also believe that Schoology is a vast improvement to old systems, and there's no way it would have been implemented without the district wide mandate. I've talked to several of my teacher's who have stated that it was not very difficult to change to the new system, and having all teachers on one site is a big help to students. The mandate is the way to go.


Posted by determinant, a resident of Crescent Park
on Oct 11, 2012 at 1:02 pm

determinant is a registered user.

@PalyStudent
Individual experiences are all well and good. That's the point of open-ended questions at the end of surveys.
Now let's look at the actual data. The #1 problem raised by Paly Students in the recent survey was "I feel anxiety about getting into the colleges that I want to go to". To put numbers to this out of 1348 responses:
Strongly Agree (428)
Agree (524)
Neither Agree nor Disagree (253)
Disagree (109)
Strongly Disagree (34).

I guess you must be one of the 34 Paly students who don't have anxiety about getting into a good college. That's great for you but you're in a very exclusive minority out of 1348 responses.

The bottom line is that TA is failing Paly students with their #1 issue. TA, if implemented at Gunn, will also fail Gunn students with their #1 issue.


Posted by comment, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 11, 2012 at 1:11 pm

That's an interesting point that someone above makings. One of the great overlooked advantages of the Paly system is that another faculty member gets to know each student, and is a source of a genuine recommendation that encompasses more than the academic.


Posted by comment, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 11, 2012 at 1:12 pm

The correction to my above post is obvious -- I don't even have my i-mobile device to blame!...


Posted by parent, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 11, 2012 at 1:23 pm

Quoted by Gunn parent above:
"...going to Stanford/Harvard/Northwestern is necessary to succeed..."

Really? This is the kind of attitude and belief that puts undue pressure on our kids. Many very successful people never set foot in those universities.

I know former Palo Alto students who graduated from the Ivy Leagues in recent years and who are now doing much worse post college than some other former PA students who went to run of the mill "mid range" UC campuses, for example.

People here need to change their thinking.


Posted by Jan H., a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Oct 11, 2012 at 6:18 pm

[Post removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]


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