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Middle school principals share plans for the year

Original post made on Nov 16, 2012

The principal of Jane Lathrop Stanford Middle School in Palo Alto has ordered campus-wide use of the school communication software Schoology this fall after a pilot test of the product last year.

Read the full story here Web Link posted Friday, November 16, 2012, 1:35 PM

Comments (46)

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Posted by Hmmm....
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 16, 2012 at 4:15 pm

The last comment about Ken Dauber was kind of uncalled for, especially since in he lost by what? Less than 2% of total votes cast? With three candidates for four spots, and two of them incumbents, you would expect the two newcomers to more or less split the their vote.

But that's not what happened, the election was actually pretty close for all candidates, indicating that across the city, people favored each combination of three candidates fairly similarly. Given the typical incumbent advantage, and the fact that one of the newcomers was the most likely not to be elected the way these things go -- and, frankly, an undeserved smear campaign against Ken Dauber, I'd say that was a pretty close election that showed a lot of support for him, and didn't all underscore any agenda as the article seems to imply.


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Posted by former JLS Parent
a resident of JLS Middle School
on Nov 16, 2012 at 4:28 pm

Those I feel for are the students who started using it last year and loved it and are now in a school where it is not used. It is a useful tool and the students were able to learn it very quickly. It is not a good idea for the students to do something one year and then discover it is not available next year.


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Posted by horselady
a resident of Community Center
on Nov 16, 2012 at 4:49 pm

Good luck with your plans...JLS is probably the worst of the three middle schools in the district. Some parents take their kids out of the district during middle school years and put them in private schools during that time. The middle schools here aren' too hoy, but JLS downright sucks.


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Posted by Josie
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Nov 16, 2012 at 5:06 pm

Agree that the last sentence was lame and immature. The best candidates do not always win in elections. There were some on the BoE who did not serve our district well.

While I am not a complete supporter of WCDB, I agree that PAUSD should not be run through site-based decisions. Some principals run better schools than others and it's not fair to the students. Even Paly and Gunn have different daily schedules.

[Portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]


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Posted by Get real
a resident of Crescent Park
on Nov 16, 2012 at 6:37 pm

Seems fine to me. Finally the Weekly points out the emperor isn't wearing any clothes and you cry "that's not fair".


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Posted by Hmm.....
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 16, 2012 at 6:48 pm

What are you talking about? Schoology? JLS? Board elections? you make no sense.


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Posted by Midtowner
a resident of Midtown
on Nov 16, 2012 at 6:51 pm

The last statement is actually factual. Ken Dauber supporters need to get used to the idea that he was not elected, i.e. most voters voted for the other three candidates.

[Portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]


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Posted by Get real
a resident of Crescent Park
on Nov 16, 2012 at 7:22 pm

[Post removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]


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Posted by What the?
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 16, 2012 at 8:07 pm

[Portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff.] I suspect that many of the things that Mr. Dauber and his people have advocated for over the past couple of years will come to pass as some members of the board have already recognized the wisdom in many of the suggestions. [Portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff.] I certainly hope that Mr. Dauber and WCDBPA will continue to advocate for students in the district because I think the district (no matter how good we think it is now) can always use improvement and it is very clear that we don't have all the answers. Thanks to all community members for bringing any good ideas forward in the interest of improving the lives of our students!


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Posted by Get Real
a resident of Crescent Park
on Nov 17, 2012 at 7:14 am

[Post removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]


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Posted by seriously?
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Nov 17, 2012 at 8:20 am

"All three principals Tuesday said they monitor and discuss specific students earning Ds and Fs or those scoring "basic" or "below basic" on the California Standards (STAR) Test."

Why does scoring 'Basic' require the principal to monitor and discuss these students?


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Posted by Chris Kenrick, Palo Alto Weekly staff writer
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Nov 17, 2012 at 9:03 am

Seriously,

Here's a snippet from the California Department of Education website that might help answer your question:

"California uses five performance levels to report student achievement on the CSTs:

Advanced: This category represents a superior performance. Students demonstrate a comprehensive and complex understanding of the knowledge and skills measured by this assessment, at this grade, in this content area.
Proficient: This category represents a solid performance. Students demonstrate a competent and adequate understanding of the knowledge and skills measured by this assessment, at this grade, in this content area.
Basic: This category represents a limited performance. Students demonstrate a partial and rudimentary understanding of the knowledge and skills measured by this assessment, at this grade, in this content area.
Far Below / Below Basic: This category represents a serious lack of performance. Students demonstrate little or a flawed understanding of the knowledge and skills measured by this assessment, at this grade, in this content area."


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Posted by Gisele
a resident of College Terrace
on Nov 17, 2012 at 9:18 am

It makes PAUSD look bad that there is no consistency from school to school. I think that may have been what horselady was alluding to. How can you call it Palo Alto Unified when there is no unity between school regarding hours, schedules, policies, or quality of teaching?

When we moved here, we chose our home based upon the schools in this part of town, because there are other parts of town that has schools that were not as good, or we're known to have odd policies.

I have no problem with schoology, but JLS has other problems that made me decide not to have my child go there.


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Posted by parent
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 18, 2012 at 1:50 am

Can you please enumerate what problems at JLS?

I AM having problems with Schoology. School's been in session, what? Three months now? We just had a teacher conference, and they gave us a printout with assignments on it, half of which hadn't even been turned in. They said, Oh, you should have seen that on Schoology.

Our Schoology account is basically a bunch of almost blank pages, NONE of that information is available anywhere. We've sent emails in that regard and gotten no replies about it.

I have a lot of problems with that, including that as a new parent, if it weren't for being given that printout in the teacher conference, we wouldn't even know that much. No one tells the parents what to expect.

Supposedly there was some feedback forum which got moved -- clean off of anyplace on our account to access it. So, so far for us, Schoology gets an F-, because it's worse than a waste of time, there's nothing there on our account.


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Posted by Josie
a resident of Palo Verde School
on Nov 18, 2012 at 9:54 am

[Post removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]


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Posted by parent
a resident of JLS Middle School
on Nov 18, 2012 at 10:36 am

I am a JLS parent. Schoology works very well for us, it shows upcoming homework, upcoming projects, shows links that are related to projects. I think it is a great communication tool between teachers and students. Having one place to see all assignments, and all announcements is very effective.

For grades, you need to look at Infinite Campus. Schoology does not show grades.

One problem, though. Some teachers do not post grades to Infinite Campus in a timely manner (within 2-3 weeks of an exam, or a project), and some teachers do not show/return the graded test papers to students. I find this very strange, since the purpose of an exam should be to evaluate the knowledge on the subject. How can kids know what they still need to study if they do not know what they've missed?


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Posted by A poor workman
a resident of Adobe-Meadows
on Nov 18, 2012 at 10:38 am

@parent. It's not schoology that's broken it's that the teachers are not using it correctly or you haven't got the correct login from them. Are you at jls? Go to the office and find out what is going on with your child's account before dumping on the product. And also read your newsletter because it informs you about schoology and you should have known before now that you had only blank pages.


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Posted by Josie
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Nov 18, 2012 at 11:16 am

Why would a parent have to use Schoology? I have two kids who went through Jordan and I have never looked at it. How are your children going to learn to be good students if they have parents holding their hands? Middle school (when grades don't matter for college) is the time students need to learn study skills. Many of the Jordan students never use Schoology, but I am glad we have it for those who do, as my children used it.

Re teachers using Infinite Campus for grades, some don't use it due to helicopter parents hammering their students about their grades. Those who don't use it are not lazy; they are concerned about student stress.


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Posted by parent
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 18, 2012 at 12:11 pm

@A poor workman,
(Or should I say, poor attitude towards others?)
Oh brother, because it worked properly in your case, you dump all over me and make wrong assumptions? I have been to the office. I have complained by email to the teachers and the administration. I do read every newsletter I get.

I got the login through the Infinite Campus portal, and correctly set up the account. It's just not providing any useful information. Maybe you're right, the teachers aren't setting it up right, because I just got an email from another parent that they can't see anything on Schoology, either. But I have contacted the teachers without a response.

So, as a tool provided by the school, it still gets an F-, as do you for civility.


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Posted by parent
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 18, 2012 at 1:00 pm

P.S. A tool is just a tool -- if it is so hard to use that the teachers and parents have to put so much work into it that it's an end in itself, it's not worth using. I'm not saying that's what's happening, I'm just saying, I'm looking for improvement, and will reassess my opinion if things improve, but not if it takes so much work it interfere's with the teachers' instruction time or is overly burdensome at home. For those who didn't have problems, good for you. We are having a different experience with it. We have smart, engaged, hardworking teachers in the classroom, the tool should support them, not make their lives harder. (So, I grade the tool by its ease of use by the teachers, too.)


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Posted by Taxpayer
a resident of Jordan Middle School
on Nov 18, 2012 at 3:53 pm

[Post removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]


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Posted by Um
a resident of College Terrace
on Nov 18, 2012 at 7:06 pm

Well whatever those "hardworking engaged" teachers are engaged in it evidently isn't answering your emails since your child didn't do half his assignments but no one responded to your repeated emails about it. I think it is just terrific that you are so supportive of staff in spite of the fact that they ignored you and your child for weeks. You are right there is no way those engaged hardworking teachers like yourself should be forced to use that schoology nonsense. Clearly money down the drain at least where your classroom is concerned.


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Posted by parent
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 19, 2012 at 12:29 am

@Um,
I am a parent, not a teacher, if you are insinuating that the only way a parent would be supportive and call the teachers hardworking is if they were one, you are wrong. Why all the bile, what's your beef? Your incivility is just as bad as "workman's".

My child did all of the assignments, just didn't turn them in, which is the educational challenge it would have been nice to know about earlier. Teachers do answer my emails -- and I think go above and beyond the call in the classroom -- just not over schoology problems. Given how poorly the tool seems to be working for the parents I've spoken with so far, I'm not ready to blame the teachers.

What are we spending on Schoology, does anyone know? It doesn't seem to be working for any of the other parents I know. Although your message is mostly rude and wrong, you are right that if money is being spent on this, it's not currently money well spent unless they work out the problems.


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Posted by soccer mom
a resident of Midtown
on Nov 19, 2012 at 7:49 am

The District has a site license for Schoology which means that if a school or teacher is not participating, the district is not maximizing value from the tool. As students transition from middle school to highschool, they will find that Mr. Winston has set the goal for Paly to fully implement Schoology this year, whereas Gunn does not have a similar schedule. At Gunn, teachers use a variety of tools which do not communicate with each other to post assignments including personal websites, Google calendar etc. At a recent meeting on counseling services at Gunn parents brought this up as a source of stress for their children. One mother said her freshman had to look five places to find all of his assignments. Site based decision making and a lack of clear policy direction by the Board allows situations like this to continue. As a taxpayer,a parent and a software developer I would like to see better oversight of District resources by the Board. If District money is being spent on a software license then the schools need to be accountable to the Board for their implementation plan.


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Posted by Parent
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Nov 19, 2012 at 8:05 am

To the JLS parent who is unable to find the right information on Schoology, I think it might be worth trying to find the information through your child's password into the site.

I had similar problems last year in JLS and discovered that my child had all the information on the site but was not accessing it regularly. In the end, we both used the same site to monitor schoolwork and it worked perfectly. This child is now a freshman in Paly and is showing teachers and fellow students alike how to use the site!

In this tech age, it is often the kids who get a better handle on the technology before the adults. The teachers are able to monitor this site to prevent anything that goes against the rules, but it is being used most successfully by the students themselves.


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Posted by Me Too
a resident of Barron Park
on Nov 19, 2012 at 9:06 am

@soccer mom, since you are in the software industry, you probably know that a district wide license probably cost less than picking and choosing some number of schools / classes to use and buying licenses a la carte. So I doubt the school is squandering much money on un-used Schoology licenses that it could have otherwise done without.

My high school kid, like most, has ~6 classes, and keeping track of where to check for handouts, homework etc has not been an issue (that bookmark thing comes in handy). I'm sure Schoology will bring new features or coordination, but for us, there is no problem to solve right now.

Of course it would be easier if our large, diverse teachers and schools all adopted technology at the same time, the same way, consistently. But since doctors, lawyers, etc., don't seem to work that way, I don't expect much different from teachers, and I don't sweat it much.


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Posted by Parent
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 19, 2012 at 10:15 am

Thank you Paly Parent,
That seem s to be the word through the grapevine I'm getting, that the kids' accounts are functioning and the parent accounts are useless, to just use your kids account.


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Posted by Parent of 3
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Nov 19, 2012 at 10:47 am

Schoology is in full swing at Paly. Last year, they were in transition: some teachers used In-Class and others used Schoology. From what I hear, In-Class was not user-friendly, thus many teachers did not use it.

Maybe it's not an accident that Schoology is not working for middle school parents. . . teach your children to be more self-sufficient.


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Posted by Name
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 19, 2012 at 11:05 am

Didn't most of the adults commenting here get through school just fine without using Schoology or other such nonsense? Software such as this is a huge monetary cost to the district. Not to mention the cumulative waste of time by the parents, students and teachers. Get rid of computers in our education system. They are stunting us.


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Posted by Rajiv Bhateja
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 19, 2012 at 11:26 am

@Name:

1. What would you think if your cardiologist said this:

Didn't most of _my patients_ commenting here get through _life_ just fine without using _ECGs, CT Scans_ or other such nonsense? Software such as this is a huge monetary cost to the _health care system_. Not to mention the cumulative waste of time by the _doctors, nurses and insurance companies_. Get rid of _technological innovation_ in our _health-care_ system. They are stunting us.

2. You're using a computer to discuss this in an online forum. Why aren't you pulling out a pen and paper to get your opinion in newsprint?

2. Schoology is not very expensive. Savings in paper (class handouts) alone make up for much of the cost. There are other similar systems (SchoolLoop) which are free. And these systems save time since people don't have to go emailing one another to clarify questions.

3. It's very helpful for students involved in multiple activities (sports, community service) to be able to look out 2-3 days ahead and do their homework a day in advance when they know they're going to be very busy. We all do this at work because we know our meetings and deliverables. Schoology provides similar information to students. It's very similar to an online calendar.

4. If you don't like Schoology, feel free to not use it. But I have yet to hear 1 complaint about it from any parent in a school that has adopted it. And believe me, I've asked.

Thank you.


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Posted by Name
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 19, 2012 at 3:30 pm

You need to account for all the costs before saying Schoology is inexpensive. There is time spent procuring it, time spent discussing it, time spent learning to use it. A gigantic waste of time when the alternative worked just fine. And, no, you do not need to "go emailing one another to clarify questions". There are a lot of people out there peddling solutions to problems that do not exist.


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Posted by Thanks for info!
a resident of Green Acres
on Nov 19, 2012 at 3:38 pm

Rajiv: Thanks for taking the time to break this down. I don't know why someone wouldn't want to use this given that the district has already paid for it, right? Just seems like some people must be stubborn about trying new things! You can lead a horse to water but you can't make 'em drink! Yes, indeed, Name can feel free to not use it. I don't understand what the big resistance thing is; but, hey, if you feel resistance that needs to be expressed, go for it.!! I think it is only a matter of time before everyone is onboard for Schoology and, in fact, will say "why didn't we get on board with this sooner.......it's great!"


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Posted by parent
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 19, 2012 at 4:59 pm

@Rajiv,
You said, "But I have yet to hear 1 complaint about it from any parent in a school that has adopted it. And believe me, I've asked."

Read a little ways up for my complaint. There you have 1 complaint. I emailed the other parents in the classroom recently, and I didn't ask for other people who were having problems to write, I asked if people were getting use out of it to please tell me what I was doing wrong.

I got back about ten emails from parents. all saying that they weren't/couldn't use schoology either because it didn't work. Some were having more problems with it than we are. Two suggested we use the kids' account. For not a single one of them is Schoology working as it should.

I'd like to use it. It's just not working. The bigger problem I see with it is the assumption that if parents aren't in the office complaining, it must be working fine. People have busy lives and work around it. Whoever is implementing it needs to put more work into resolving the bugs.


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Posted by Me three
a resident of Adobe-Meadows
on Nov 19, 2012 at 7:51 pm

@Me too

"Of course it would be easier if our large, diverse teachers and schools all adopted technology at the same time, the same way, consistently. But since doctors, lawyers, etc., don't seem to work that way, I don't expect much different from teachers, and I don't sweat it much."

It's hard to know where to start with this. We don't have "large, diverse teachers and schools" who are "adopting technology" at different rates. We have a district led by a school board and very well paid district staff who have decided that it is easier to praise principals for inaction than to make sure that students and parents at all schools get the benefits of the technology we all paid for.

What we would think of a hospital that let its nurses decide whether to use software for keeping track of patients, or a law firm that let its lawyers pick how to record hours?

Laziness and avoidance isn't a management strategy. It's just laziness and avoidance.


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Posted by G
a resident of Crescent Park
on Nov 19, 2012 at 9:27 pm

@Rajiv
[Portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff.] As Tom stated the power of site-based adoptions ensures buy-in by all parties and identifies what works so that all sites don't have to go through the same learning exercise.
Sit back, relax and let the district deal with it.


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Posted by Me Too
a resident of Barron Park
on Nov 19, 2012 at 10:08 pm

@Me Three - well, not sure where to go with your post either. ;-)

We have 13 elementary schools, 3 middle school, 2 high schools, and several hundred teachers, the vast majority of whom started teaching well before online parent/student communication systems were in vogue, and have taught successfully without them for many years and decades. Expecting that kind of organization to all start using the same piece of software, all at once, in production mode, in place of whatever other systems or resources they previously used successful -- it's kind of an aggressive expectation. Kind of like telling all the doctors in all area hospitals to start using the same electronic medical record software (when many have used none at all before) or all lawyers across 20 offices to switch to the same document management system, and please start right away, no exceptions or delays please.

Not sure what kind of organizations you have worked in, but my experience is that it is unlikely to be successful that way. And, given that our district has a policy of site-based decision making, even less likely to be successful here.

Frankly, I think they are rushing things a bit, and hence the growing pains. It seems sensible to let early adopter sites go ahead and work out the kinks, train the trainers, build in-house knowledge, etc. Presumably those sites would perceive the benefits and be willing to take the pain. Others can just wait a bit and adopt later, when the path is clearer and easier (presuming the benefits are clear). That seems like the prudent approach to me - whatever its virtues, Schoology is not vital to the success of our kids.


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Posted by parent
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 19, 2012 at 11:05 pm

@Me Too,
Schoology is a third party program, it's not an alpha or beta version, either.

The problem isn't resistance to using it, the problem is that it's not working. And unlike medical records, it's not vital as you say, so people either don't use it or work around it like those who ask for their kids' accounts.

I just got an email from the principal, and let her know other parents were also having problems, but my kid also gave me the password. I'm guessing that's how I'll be using schoology from now on.


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Posted by @Me three
a resident of Adobe-Meadows
on Nov 20, 2012 at 8:07 am

@Me Too

As a parent of a Terman seventh-grader and a Gunn sophomore, I'm very familiar with "site-based decision making". My experience is that if you substitute "weak leadership" whenever you see "site-based decision making" you get a sentence that reads just as well and is more accurate. PAUSD has already "adopted" Schoology, I'm paying for it in my taxes, but because Dana Tom and the rest of the gang don't want to actually lead the organization, my kids and I get to keep using binder reminders, sticky notes, four different teacher websites, etc. until someone else decides to "adopt" or "steal" Schoology. How about an implementation plan at the district? When you buy groceries at the store, do you bring the bags into the house and unpack them, or do you leave them in the car and hope they wander in by themselves?

Here's another example of "waiting for adoption": TA at Gunn. Wasn't that terrific, how Paly was the early adopter twenty years ago and then Gunn saw the benefits after a few years, and then switched over? So now my sophomore is seeing a TA once a month, and getting a curriculum about what classes to take, getting ready for college, etc.! But that's not what actually happened. Gunn never bothered to see the benefits of TA, and no one at the district ever cared. My sophomore hasn't seen a counselor yet (not this year, ever). If Mr. Tom has a kid at Paly (I don't know, I just know he lives on the north side), his kid gets the benefits of TA even though we pay the same taxes. So maybe that's why he's praising "site-based autonomy" and I'm seeing "weak leadership" instead.


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Posted by Get Real
a resident of Crescent Park
on Nov 20, 2012 at 8:52 am

This isn't about TA and, in any case, there isn't any data that shows that Counselling at Paly is any better than at Gunn. Neither are addressing the most serious issues the students are facing.
My experience of your "strong leadership" approach to district direction is that it works great when you have someone like Steve Jobs making the decisions. Not so well when it's someone like Bernie Madoff. Steve Jobs was one of a kind and we don't need a bunch of Bernie Madoff's trying to tell everyone in the district what to do.


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Posted by Parent of 3
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Nov 20, 2012 at 10:12 am

[Portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]

Not sure which is better: site-based decisions vs. wacko BoE. At least with site-based, a student has the option to change schools. While I'm guessing most students don't visit their TAs (not all are approachable, and ours is, but my child still does not contact him), at least they do learn information in Advisory class each month.




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Posted by Parent
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 20, 2012 at 11:17 am

@get real
You wouldnt get anyone like Steve Jbs making decisions in our strict because this administration so highly prizes appearing nicey nice and avoiding working through conflict, and tend to circle the wagons against personality no matter how good the ideas, probemsolving or data.

(misspelled on my ipad)


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Posted by Wow
a resident of Adobe-Meadows
on Nov 20, 2012 at 6:04 pm

There is lots of evidence that counseling at Paly is better than at Gunn. And who is Bernie Madoff in this picture? That seems uncivil to me. Let's be respectful please.


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Posted by Me Too
a resident of Barron Park
on Nov 20, 2012 at 6:56 pm

@Me Three - [Portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff.] I'm sure your middle and high school kids can create bookmarks for you and them to check the teacher web sites, plus one to wherever the grades are kept. They are in a nice folder on our family room desktop.

[Portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]


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Posted by Time to Change
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 20, 2012 at 6:58 pm

Yes, civility is something that is sorely lacking these days in this forum and in our town.
I agree with Wow on this. Let's move on to figuring out what is best for our children and implementing it. I think at this point there is just so much resistance in the district to change that we really need to figure out a new way forward. It seems like every thread that comes up related to the district and our kids devolves into negativity. Time to move on to the positive!!! At the same time we could be modeling better behavior for our kids as well (not that many kids read these posts).


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Posted by Me three
a resident of Adobe-Meadows
on Nov 20, 2012 at 9:53 pm

@Me Too, I stand by what I said. When the school board and Mr. Skelly don't do the work to make sure that my kids get things like Schoology and counseling that my fellow parents and I have already paid for, that's not courage, that's weak leadership and laziness. I am not trying to be mean, but let's not tell ourselves stories either.

Phil Winston is doing it at Paly, and I am sure he got some resistance not from parents but from teachers. He is doing it regardless because it benefits students. That is what leadership looks like. This isn't worth arguing over as Time to Change points out, this district isn't going to change. It is just annoying to see Dana Tom praising inaction as if it were wisdom. So yes we will all keep figuring out how to work around it, thanks for the advice.


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Posted by Get Real
a resident of Crescent Park
on Nov 21, 2012 at 9:14 am

[Post removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]


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