Editorial: Bullying case reveals systemic problems in school district
Original post made
on Feb 8, 2013
Palo Alto school district leaders and parents should be shocked and saddened by the portrait painted in a scathing investigative report from the U.S. Department of Education.
Read the full editorial here Web Link
posted Friday, February 8, 2013, 9:19 AM
Posted by More info
a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Feb 8, 2013 at 5:48 pm
I am a writer and a mom who has lived in Palo Alto for over 20 years and I have followed the dysfunction in the district, which has never been at this level, and yet voter complacency has allowed what this editorial has highlighted: a dangerous lack of leadership starting with the board, then Skelly, to Charles Young, the cabinet, Holly Wade, but then also out to others, and then ending with you, the voters who re-elected Camille and Melissa, and elected Heidi, and did not elect Ken. You said to the board that Skelly is providing the leadership that was needed after the principals conspired to drive former superintendent Callan out of Palo Alto. What has followed has been a financial success for the district in the form of bonds and taxes, an educational success for a majority of students who would replicate their parents' success in any district, and for the minority of special ed, Latino, African-American, and any other student that may need help, an unmitigated disaster.
The board: I'll do my best to put it in a way that is not deleted. Dana Tom really has no clue what to do. He will express frustration with Skelly from time to time, but he does not have the fortitude or knowledge of the system on how to effect change. Melissa is the champion of the rich and will not put her own child in the system. Her rationale was a cop-out, but most voters agreed with her. Barbara has seemed to lost any semblance of energy or enthusiasm, offering up compliments to trivial programs while never leading for systemic change or or directing Skelly to truly bridge the achievement gap that exists between Asians, Indians, and Whites and the minority of Latinos, African-Americans, those living in poverty, and many in special ed. Camille simply talks too much and says nothing. Cut out almost all of your words and choose two areas on which to focus, hopefully the student demographics listed above. I voted for Heidi and Ken only because they were new. Heidi, as I suspected then, seems to be worse than Dana. She looks lost and I fear she will add nothing of substance for the next four years. The one I miss is Barbara Klausner because she showed a little bit of fire and insight, but then she and the others renewed Skelly's contract for many more years, so I don't miss her too much.
Skelly is good for Skelly. He has prospered financially and he is driven to latch on to the latest science fair champion and pose for pictures, but is unwilling to address accountability for violating the law or educational code. Anybody that followed Callan was going to be given a lot of latitude and second and third chances and that is what we have given him. I have shaken his hand at a school event and he seems a personable character, but I have always had that uncomfortable feeling that his Harvard undergraduate degree and his work with a former superintendent was what got him his job. I know of very few organizations in the world where the leader would not resign after so many scandals and failures in the system. Something that needs to be said: he should have resigned in 2010 after the suicides of some of our best youth. They were not his fault any more than anyone else in Palo Alto, but his leadership of the response was too little, too late. An experienced leader would have gone into crisis mode, justifiably, and worried about his career later. All he succeeded in doing was establishing a policy of not talking about it, which protects him and the board, but not children. Do your homework and check police records to see that our youth are still attempting suicide. Without any malice, please leave, Skelly. You'll get a handsome payout thanks to the board. Some will throw their hands up and ask who will want to come to Palo Alto, but to them I would say, plenty will come and they will be an improvement.
Skelly's second in command, Young, brings nothing to the table and is probably here for one more year before getting enough experience to get a superintendent position in the East Bay, where he is from. [Portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff.] Young has matured a bit this year, but watching his nervousness at board meetings, his cliche-ridden vocabulary, and Skelly often rescuing him has made me cringe. Wade is an old friend of Skelly's and he has protected her throughout her three years in the district despite what I have been told and shown in emails a substandard performance. Her special ed system is broken, but I am sure that she feels she should not be blamed because what system in the district is not broken?
The 2012 election is indeed over and I wait patiently for 2014. It's called deomcracy. I will again be voting for new candidates and maybe the resukts will be similar. These words represent only one voice, so please do not be offended or frightened by their bluntness, and please feel free to correct any information that I have gotten wrong.
Posted by anonymous
a resident of another community
on Feb 11, 2013 at 9:38 pm
I'm sorry this response is so long, but I think we all have the interests of our kids at heart and I wanted to take your comment thoughtfully. I put "another community" down even though I am in Palo Alto, because I didn't want to identify our school community and cause a furor.
Yes, you cannot necessarily prove what has caused any given person's depression or suicidal episode, but we do know a lot of things that make depression worse and conditions associated with having depression that we have control over. Mental health issues don't happen in a vacuum, our schools play a decided role in student lives, stress and physical and mental health.
For example, district homework policies and start times can have everything to do with whether kids get enough sleep. According to the Cleveland Clinic "Lack of sleep resulting from another medical illness or the presence of personal problems can intensify depression." Web Link
Thankfully, a lot of dedicated parents working with district personnel brought us a new homework policy designed to reduce stress, and hard work by teachers in schools to coordinate homework to ensure it is meaningful and not overwhelming. It will surely have a beneficial impact.
A second example: district and school culture and policies have everything to do with school connectedness, or ""the belief by students that adults and peers in the school care about their learning as well as about them as individuals." The CDC says that "school connectedness was second in importance, after family connectedness, as a protective factor against emotional distress, disordered eating, and suicidal ideation and attempts." So again, our schools play an important role. On this count, we are working on it but we have a long way to go. Those who are the most vulnerable in our district end up in least likely to be experiencing the benefit of connectedness, as the district takes an antagonistic stance when students need those services, as this government report highlights.
Another example: students spend most of their day at school, where poor or compromised indoor air quality can have a significant impact on student health, increasing absenteeism and hurting student performance, which in turn can increase student stress. Asthma now causes more lost days than any other chronic illness. Physical problems from too much mold in environments include increased respiratory and asthma problems, headaches, sore throats, fatigue and DEPRESSION. Not everyone in even a seriously moldy environment will experience symptoms, further increasing a sense of isolation and helplessness in young people who do.
There is a proven link between moldy environments and increased rates of depression, with *moderate* exposure (rather than severe) being associated with the greatest increase in risk. Our district has no indoor air quality management plan, (based on experience) responds slowly and inadequately to complaints about water stains, and complaints by parents of old carpeting causing asthma or other allergy are ignored or worse. (Older slab foundations sweat, because of poor insulation and perhaps poor water barrier, causing inevitable mold growth from moisture. Cleaning does not fix mold in carpeting and can make it worse.)
We had a classroom that had a musty, wet, stained carpet that wouldn't have been replaced had a pipe not eventually broken and flooded it, parent complaints did nothing. One of the kids who committed suicide had been a student in that room some years earlier. One of the middle school student libraries also sets off the mold allergies of several mold allergic parents in a big way, had long-standing unaddressed moisture stains in the ceiling, and has that same older carpeting on slab.
You can't ever connect those students' depression to those environments, just like you can't connect a given hurricane to global warming, and depression is a complex thing regardless. But since we do know there is a link between indoor mold and increased rates of depression based on large studies of adults, and children are more vulnerable, we can reasonably conclude that maintaining good indoor air quality in schools -- which often keeps the buildings healthier and in better condition anyway, saving money -- is a good idea for student mental health just as for student physical health and performance. On this count, I would say the district is doing a poor job and even resisting taking even well-laid out, simple measures that other districts are taking across the country, and mostly the community is unaware of the problem.
There are other examples. I very much agree with you that it is very hard to look at what we as a community can do to create a better world for our children, which would be a much lengthier post as there is much we can do. But that's not mutually exclusive with what we should be doing in schools where children spend much of their day and which have such a focus in their lives. We already have so many things, hard things, we know we can do, many in the school environment and requiring competent, honest, and earnest leadership in the district and schools. I appreciate the efforts of parents willing to ask the hard questions and hold leaders accountable when they fail in their duties as the government found in this case.
Identifying problems isn't the same as 'blaming the schools'. It is the first step out of denial and solving problems to create that better world for our children.