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Nose Under the Community Tent

By Paul Losch

About this blog: I was a "corporate brat" growing up and lived in different parts of the country, ending in Houston, Texas for high school. After attending college at UC Davis, and getting an MBA at Harvard, I embarked on a marketing career, mai...  (More)

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PAUSD Leadership Challenges

Uploaded: Apr 12, 2014
There are several school principals and senior district administrators, starting with Kevin Skelly, who are soon departing their positions.

What is going on here?

My kids, both now adults in their 20's, had fantastic experiences from K-12 in the PAUSD. They got into good colleges, and both are doing well in the working world. PAUSD education had a great deal to do with that. So I have no axe to grind about the school district from my family perspective.

Still, there appears to be a set of issues when it comes to running a school or the district. The level of turnover is a concern. Stability, consistency, and accountability are crucial. The level or turnover PAUSD faces does not provide such requirements.

I am not an education expert, (although my son now teaches 5th grade,) but I have background in management, and there is something about this that does not seem right. I have not personal dog in the hunt at this point, but the School Board has its hands full figuring this out, and parents with children in the schools need to do the same.

Something is not right.
Local Journalism.
What is it worth to you?


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Posted by Palo Verde Parent, a resident of Palo Verde,
on Apr 12, 2014 at 11:40 am

I too have been in this community for a long time and have had kids go through the district. I believe the issue is a certain group of parents as well as the hyper competitive reality of getting into college. Many parents in our community have a positive influence on our district, but there is a group that seems determined to bring down the district and all associated with the district. In addition, as college admissions become ridiculously competitive increased pressure is put on our students (and parents feel this pressure as well). This leads to a challenging environment at the schools. Yes, our schools are facing turnover and challenges that I think they are working to address, but I believe that we are fortunate to be in one of the best districts.

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Posted by weekly reader, a resident of Greenmeadow,
on Apr 12, 2014 at 12:18 pm

I think we have a perfect storm of egos including parents, university faculty and all levels of staff. One thing that is too bad is the way none of them are truly interested in protecting and serving the IEP and 504 students.

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Posted by See-No-Evil, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood,
on Apr 12, 2014 at 1:52 pm

> Something is not right.

Wow! Wonder what makes our host sense that there are problems in the air?

Shall we start with the fact that no one in the Administration (Super or Trustees) seems surprised, or even outraged, by this man?s behavior? Certainly a lack of outrage would be a very good place to start.

Could it be that there has not been a meaningful school board election for several years now? Could it be that there is a wall of opaqueness that sits over the PAUSD? Could it be the culture of fear that has descended the PAUSD?for parents, for students, for people in the community that have voiced concerns, and for staff? Cultures of fear do no appear overnight?they take a long time to germinate, and they often germinate with the full knowledge of all concerned.

Something wrong in the PAUSD?you don?t say!

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Posted by Isidor Finestone, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood,
on Apr 12, 2014 at 4:44 pm

>but there is a group that seems determined to bring down the district and all associated with the district

Do you mean WCDBPA? I know some of those people, and you are wrong. There is no mysterious conspiracy going on here. People who stand up and try to make things better and challenge the status quo usually make things better in a democracy. When things are going wrong, challenging them is usually messy. Don't shoot the messenger.

My personal view from what I have seen is that this is an old story: there are a few really bad apples in the (district office administration) bunch - and I do not mean Skelly - and you know what they say, a few bad applies spoil the whole bunch. This is what always happens: lots of blame going around to the usual suspects: the person at the top, the board, the parents, the teachers, the teachers union, all of the above. Worse, those who are first to point out that something is wrong among parents, the PTA, the teachers, and try to address it are often smacked down by the "kill the messenger" urge, as you seem to be doing.

Unlike in nature, the bad apples in an organization, the kind that really rot the place from the inside out, can be really, really difficult to spot. In fact, they are usually the most polished and nicest seeming of all. They kiss up to their superiors better than anyone, and they know how to cover their tracks. Those on the inside who can see this happening are usually helpless to fix it because it can be impossible to show the bad apple for what they really are, and this begets a culture of fear of doing and saying the right thing to keep the organization on track. The bad apples' unerring sense of self-interest can be death to the health of the whole organization.

I see this happening in Palo Alto. It's taken me a long-time to get to this point, but I know who I think is to blame. I don't think it's the parents. I've lived in different parts of the country and seen schools from very poor to very privileged private, and this is parent utopia. I'd say the same about the kids and the teachers. I'm not saying everyone is perfect. There will always be imperfect members of all of the above. But this is about as good as it gets. And if anything, I'd say parents and teachers are even more mindful, and the kids more together, than 20 years ago (and no, that's not to blame, it's why things haven't fallen apart).

I do think we need new people in the school board. We should have term limits. I don't think anyone on the board is a bad person, but without turnover, if one group isn't solving the problems, they never get solved with the same group just digging in. And it allows the bad apples, who are oh so good at sucking up, to get allies who never even suspect that these lovely sucker uppers are the reason for their problems.

I do think we need different legal help. And a board/super who know how to say "no thanks" when advice is offered that doesn't first put the students, safety, and education first. By now everyone knows that malpractice cases (where there is malpractice) are shown to be way more expensive if the lawyers take a hard defensive denialist stance, because even though they may win more cases through scorched earth tactics, the ones they do lose they end up paying far more. And the result is a lot of hurt people who are further wronged even more, and no one learns from it. The lawyers benefit, everyone else gets hurt. This approach is still very common despite our knowing better. It's not appropriate to have a legal team that works from that worldview in a school district. They may not be the bad apples, but they are like throwing water on the barrel and closing it up. We need legal help that works from a worldview of doing the right thing for the kids, front and center.

And lastly, I think we need a new leader who understands these kinds of organizational dynamics and is willing and able to clean house. In a diplomatic way. A few of them just need to be encouraged to retire. Perhaps through establishing a culture of doing the right thing, such a leader can find the bad apples and figure out how to place them where they can no longer rot the whole bunch.

And by the way, when's the last time we had an independent audit? Just curious. A new superintendent would be in a good position to conduct one without the wrong influences clouding the results.

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Posted by Well...., a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood,
on Apr 12, 2014 at 6:32 pm


"And by the way, when's the last time we had an independent audit? Just curious. A new superintendent would be in a good position to conduct one without the wrong influences clouding the results."

We would hope "independent"means that.

Paul Losch

An interesting quote from a district lawyer Lozano on the Post is that it's easier to get a criminal conviction than to fire a teacher, and we have administrators getting tenured.

The Board or any new leadership is dealt this dysfunctional hand, and we wonder what is going on?

I would be interested with your experience in management, and your son in teaching what you both think about the general set up?

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Posted by Isidor Finestone, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood,
on Apr 12, 2014 at 7:09 pm


I think these things only get rooted out if the right tone and culture are established. If Do the Right Thing is more important than CYA, or more aptly, CMA. And if, as a part of that culture, the bad apples get rooted out and the good ones given more, not less, freedom.

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Posted by The problem..., a resident of Greenmeadow,
on Apr 12, 2014 at 7:47 pm

The problem is the behavior of the parents. Until you teach in this district, you have no idea what it is like to deal with the unreasonable demands of this parent community, both in volume and in content. Palo Alto has a reputation in the educational profession. People join for the high pay. If the pay was average, everyone would leave. The pay makes the parents a little more tolerable. Kids are great everywhere. It\'s the parents.

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Posted by Isidor Finestone, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood,
on Apr 12, 2014 at 8:17 pm

@The problem...

I think you either have no idea what it's like to work in places where the parents are demanding but not as willing to contribute as here, or you are threatened by the accomplished parent population and have no idea how to work with people like that. In traditional pedagogical circles, teachers are used to establishing a power dynamic where parents are lower on the food chain, but this is a much more accomplished, egalitarian population that won't put up with that. If you're the kind of teacher who is a good match for this district, that's an advantage. If you're a traditionalist, you'll hate it. The world is changing to be more like the parent population here, and the traditionalist view will disappear everywhere at some point.

The fact is, the pay isn't average. Parents also contribute a great deal in terms of time, volunteer energy, PiE money, classroom money, etc. One of the reasons I stick with our public school system here is the parents. I've never seen anything like this anywhere else, even very wealthy areas.

You think the kids are great everywhere? I think the kids are amazing here, relatively unjaded, smart, ambitious in all the right ways, poised, enthusiastic, unusually kind, concerned about the world. The parents have far more to do with that than the teachers or the district.

When I was my kids' age, I went to a school district where there were hard drugs on the playground in early elementary school, and commonplace swearing, bullying, and stealing. Kids who cared about school were marginalized. I knew kids who were arrested for dealing, innocents who died violently as collateral damage because of drug dealing, girls who had multiple abortions in middle school, I could go on. And the parents were worse. This wasn't an inner city, either. Hey, the cost of living is lower. There are many districts like that around the country and I'm sure they would be very grateful to have someone like you who prefers lower pay, dangerous working conditions, and thinks the parents and kids in such an environment are preferable to the ones who are engaged, willing to pay through the nose, volunteer, and stand up when things need improvement.

When you think that way, you only feed the bad apples.

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Posted by are you kidding me?, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood,
on Apr 12, 2014 at 9:21 pm

@Isadore - you state "You think the kids are great everywhere? I think the kids are amazing here, relatively unjaded, smart, ambitious in all the right ways, poised, enthusiastic, unusually kind, concerned about the world. The parents have far more to do with that than the teachers or the district."

Not sure what world you are living in but have you looked beyond the facade that the "Larry\'s of Palo Alto" are presenting to parents? If you look at their Facebook, Instagram, sites you will see that many kids in PA are like kids everywhere else. Many are jockeying for power, they are extremely unkind and judgmental, and they actually don\'t give a crap about the world because they are not looking beyond themselves. There are a few who are like what you describe, but most are like kids everywhere else. They are binge drinking, using drugs, and having sex starting at much younger ages than say 20 years ago. Just ask a football parent if their kid drinks. They all say no, my child is too into his sport. Then ask another student if the football player drinks. This behavior is not because of the schools, but because of their lack of control over their lives and the pressure from their parents and peers and the obsessive need to be cool.

Yes the parents do all the things you say but that comes with a price. They expect that their demands, even unreasonable ones, will be met. If not, they seek revenge. I have two relatives who are teachers. One was named the Master Teacher of the Year in his country. Yet his biggest complaint is the lack of efforts that kids make and the expectations that their parents will take care of their subsequent bad grades. He\'s been in the profession long enough to not back down, but has received threats of law suits, "I\'ll get your fired", etc. That is my take. We can agree to disagree. Obviously not all parents are like this but plenty are.

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Posted by Isadore Finestone, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood,
on Apr 12, 2014 at 11:51 pm

@are you kidding me?

I don't even know what you mean. I live in Palo Alto, and I'm talking from personal experience, not some "facade" -- about my friends, my kids' friends, the people I volunteer with, etc. I've spent plenty of time in my life outside this bubble, and I think this place is great, especially the parents. I didn't even mention the worst things I've seen elsewhere, my post would have been censored. You have it easy here. You've brought up some typical adolescent misbehavior that happens everywhere. That's going to happen on some end of every spectrum of kids everywhere. But it's a much smaller percentage of kids here, and a much more benign level of misbehavior than anywhere I have ever been, even among the kids whose behavior I don't approve of.

I feel really sorry for you that you have segregated yourself with a group like that, because you're missing what I think are the majority of hard-working, good kids, from really good families in this district. Maybe they don't drive the nicest cars, or have the most popular kids in the school, and that's why you don't notice them? Some of the most dedicated volunteers in my schools are my friends, and they are genuinely sacrificial and good people for the benefit of the teachers, the school and the kids. None of them do that so their kids will get an undeserved grade, most of us don't look at our kids' educations that way.

Maybe I'm one of the demanding parents you mention, because I think the campus should be safe and healthy, the kids having nutritious meals to eat, etc, especially when they have such resources available to ensure it, and I'm willing to speak up when it's not? Maybe you think a district where parents have an opinion about the math textbook or curriculum is evidence of entitlement? I haven't known any parents like you describe, I've seen a lot of sacrifice and a lot of giving, and not a single person whose attitude towards teachers, the schools, or life, is anywhere like what you describe. I'm not denying there are a few over-the-top people. I can remember one parent who treated her child's volunteer opportunity as a way of getting free participation to a social event for her and her child's friends, without doing any work. There was one person like that. Among dozens of families who volunteered and did something good for the community. I still can't believe people volunteer like that, it wouldn't anywhere else I've seen.

The only truly dishonest and reprehensible behavior I've seen in this district has been by administrators in the district office, and a few in various schools. That's among some pretty good people, so I'm not painting them all black. But I'm sure those people in particular think the parents are demanding. It's so uncomfortable to be asked to be honest, hardworking, and to deal with parents as equals, and treat every child as unique and deserving of respect and educate them to the best of their abilities, I know. The fact that so many parents here even want that here is amazing.

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Posted by Well, a resident of Adobe-Meadows,
on Apr 13, 2014 at 7:40 am

Sorry for the wake up call, Isadore, but "are you kidding me?" is 100% right. Kids is Palo Alto actually behave worse than in other districts; it\\\'s just a different kind of worse.

Just because PIE throws money at the schools doesn\\\'t mean there is great parental involvement. It just means there is an obscene amount of wealth in this town.

My sons went through Paly and my cousin works at one of the middle schools. I am certain you would shocked by the parent behaviors involving sports, grades, music leads, homework, everything.

There are many supportive and amazing parents. Every school district has parents like this. There are many rude and irrational parents. While every school district also has parents like this, there is a much higher number in Palo Alto. It\\\'s really bad.

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Posted by Well...., a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood,
on Apr 13, 2014 at 11:10 am


You have adopted my handle. Same handle, but not the same perspective. My experience has been that most parents and students are outstanding in Palo Alto. There is a minority who are complicated.The same can be said about the teachers, and administrators.

But parents and students come and go, while teachers and admins are fixed until they retire. If they are good and excellent we are lucky, but even statistically you have some bad ones. The bad ones wait it out in the same job for decades, and with others, we can watch the reshuffles year after year.

To Paul's question about PAUSD leadership. Any improvements will have to come from handling the weight of some teachers and admins who cannot be managed or who cannot manage. Those same people are politically inclined and spend more time doing politics than their own job. Because they are impacting children and youth, it's particularly damaging.

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Posted by Isidor Feinstone, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood,
on Apr 13, 2014 at 3:32 pm

@Well, (not "Well..." with whom I seem to agree),

From another article in the Weekly today "Self-reported use of prescription narcotics, such as oxycontin and vicodin ? even once ? dropped among Palo Alto 11th graders from 9 percent in 2010 to 7 percent in 2012, according to the California Healthy Kids Survey. Use of heroin in the same period dropped from 2 percent to 1 percent. New survey results for 2014 are expected to be released soon, Beacom said."
Web Link

While anything more than 0 is serious, this is an unimaginably low rate of drug use compared to other places with which I am familiar, and where I went to school, and far lower than the national average. In some of those places, if you even aspired for such low drug rates, you would be laughed at. As far as I know, neither of our schools has an essentially sanctioned place where kids smoke between classes, either.

"Just because PIE throws money at the schools doesn\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\'t mean there is great parental involvement."

I am a current parent. You are not. You are speculating based on a cousin\\\'s gossip and an apparent bias that certain district people seem to want to further in the media as cover for their misdeeds. I am speaking from experience. No one on my side of town "throws around" PiE money, we have a very high rate of participation in giving to PiE, and many people give beyond what is easy for them to give. I see the significant and great parental involvement year after year, because I have been a part of it and my own family has benefited. Whenever I have been in a position of asking for volunteers, the problem has always been too many, or how to make best use of so many, not too few.

>There are many supportive and amazing parents. Every school district has parents like this.

Again, get outside of your bubble. It\\\'s really not true. I\\\'ve been to and lived in too many places where the kids were messed up because the parents were even more messed up, where if you had even a half dozen families who valued education openly, the kids were treated as oddities (who mostly had to hide their love of school or be bullied). Kids who didn\\\'t want to do drugs had to act like they were doing them in order to be left alone.

Next time Foothill College has a Physics Show, get yourself a reservation (they charge a little bit now, because the show tends to sell out and they don\\\'t want people to hog all the tickets). When you go, you\\\'ll see thousands of parents with engaged kids who are excited to be there for a show about ... physics! This is rare, and unusual, and the parents have everything to do with it. There are numerous youth symphonies here, where most places don\\\'t even have one. The kids WANT to be in school, they want to engage in all these things. This is paradise for nerds. Maybe it\\\'s my bias, but nerds tend to be nicer than average. And they tend to be closer to their parents, who also tend to be just a little more involved.

That\\\'s a good thing, unless you\\\'re still in the old paradigm of asserting control by negating parental authority. That doesn\\\'t work here. I can see how it would bother you if that\\\'s what you\\\'re used to.

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Posted by WhereBadCultureGrows, a resident of Palo Alto High School,
on Apr 15, 2014 at 9:28 am

Thank you Paul for starting this thread - you are correct, something is very wrong here. We have experienced this first hand, and you can see a fine example in the thread of comments. @TheProblem, @AreYouKiddingMe? all show considerable disdain for the parents, and their students.

I have seen this first-hand in the school. A minority (albeit not as small as you like) of teachers really do not like their students very much, and treat them quite poorly - with arrogance, intimidation, bullying, and humiliation. Yes, some parents make demands, but I have seen simple requests completely ignored by teachers: can you write the assignment on the whiteboard (no)?can you provide the grading rubric and explain expectations before the 5-page lab project (no)? can you post grades ever (no)?. My kid was sick for a week, can you delay the makeup test one day so that they can study a small amount (no)? None of these are outlandish requests. Didn't even bother to ask about "fixing" grades - just ask for fair treatment, and the answer is: no. You get a very clear picture rather quickly that this sort of teacher is not really interested in the kids at all.

The contrast is all the more stark when you get a teacher who is genuinely interested in the kids well-being and education. The good teachers are still the majority, but a few years of bad teachers in a row, and the kids disconnect from school, checkout, and turn into the kind of students that are really no fun to teach.

The bad culture seems to be more prevalent in middle school, and somewhat high school. This is learned behavior - I suspect some of the students emulate these power tactics - bullying and intimidation which they see teachers exhibit. I think some of the teachers see this behavior in how the district treats them. However there is one clear thread that runs through bad culture - the teachers are king of their class, and no effort to manage them is attempted, or succeeds. If a teacher dislikes their students and holds the entire city in contempt, there is nothing that can be done about it. If a teacher directly bullies students, nothing is done about it. Unfair treatment - too bad.

So what we lack is a moral compass. Concepts of fairness, kindness and just treatment of students is not a focal point of the schools. Not within the sites, not with the principals (and I am not talking only about Phil, but rather the string of principals who do not stand up for students).

We have bad culture because we have poor leadership. At the district and at the sites. Cultures of fear stem directly from weak leadership, those who hide their problems, those who act without principle, or arbitrary only contribute to environments of fear.

We have a great opportunity in front of us right now: 3 principals gone, and a Superintendant gone, it is a good chance to rebuild a leadership team who understand principles of good leadership: moral clarity, fairness, good role modeling, advocating for the students, and a keen eye to ferret out those who undermine the good work of many others. Start with those who show disdain for their own students.

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Posted by Daring to be a New Man, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis,
on Apr 16, 2014 at 8:30 pm

Well said. The leadership gap is the biggest issue facing the district, and we have an opportunity to rebuild and renew.

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Posted by MPCSD Employee, a resident of another community,
on Apr 16, 2014 at 9:22 pm

Unfortunately, problems with leadership in education are not limited to Palo Alto.

Web Link

Maurice Ghysels, the current superintendent in Menlo Park, has been controversial since he began. His previous employment in Mountain View included him having an affair with a subordinate then reassigning her to a higher performing school in the district.

Web Link

Xavier de la Torre, the former Superintendent in Santa Clara Count Office of Education, just resigned his position under concerning circumstances. Some of which involved firing a number of managers in his first year of employment.

Individuals in these positions are paid upwards of $250,000 a year. I wonder if the money is getting in the way of hiring leaders who are truly dedicated to children and education. In contrast, Preschool teachers are lucky to make $20 an hour, nobody would accuse them of being in it just for the money.

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Posted by Resident, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood,
on Apr 16, 2014 at 10:48 pm

One of the biggest problems we have is that we need to have people willing to be candidates for PAUSD board. The people we have at present have spent a lot of time (for which they need to be thanked even if we don't like the job they have been doing as this is a public service) and we desperately need to get some new blood.

We need choices and we need candidates to give their views on the various issues, not platitudes. I don't care where they went to college but I do care that they have experience with children in the district and experience of how to run an organization.

If we don't get the right people as candidates we will never get the right people to run the district.

In the past two elections we had a non event and only two non board members running for 3 spots. This was almost no choice, and Camille Townsend only decided to run so that there would be an election rather than a shoe in (presumably).

Where are those people willing to step up and run. I hope that they are in the wings ready to declare. Thanks in advance.

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Posted by pox on all your houses, a resident of Adobe-Meadows,
on Apr 17, 2014 at 9:37 am

Camille Townsend decided to run again because Barbara Klausner stepped down and there were no other announced candidates. That means it WOULD be a shoe-in for Camille. That\'s why she did it.

Ken Dauber ran at the last minute at the urging of the Weekly in a published editorial because it was unreasonable for Camille to have an unprecedented third term without even an election. For his trouble he was treated like crap. And that is why no one wants to run.

I think that this board should just be dysfunctional and stew in its own litigation juices. Too bad for the special ed parents at Jordan. They definitely got the short end of that stick.

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Posted by pox on all your houses, a resident of Adobe-Meadows,
on Apr 17, 2014 at 10:03 am

From the Weekly\'s August 3, 2012 editorial, which you can read here: Web Link

"Camille Townsend, who is completing nine years on the board and who only narrowly won re-election in 2007, surprised many by announcing she would seek an unusual third term. Melissa Baten Caswell, elected to her first term in 2007, is also running for re-election.

Thus far only one person, Heidi Emberling, a Juana Briones parent, PTA leader and parent educator, has declared her candidacy.

Noticeably absent are any candidates from among those in the community who have been pushing the school board to respond more aggressively to address student stress and emotional well-being, although those are among the concerns Emberling has raised. The parent group We Can Do Better Palo Alto, which has both developed impressive data in support of its positions and made many uncomfortable by its assertiveness and blunt criticisms of district administrators, has so far not put forward a candidate. We hope they will, since that is the only way to ensure a public discussion on these issues and for all candidates to clearly articulate their views so they can be held accountable."

What you can see is that Camille opportunistically jumped in to get a guaranteed third term when Barbara Klausner threw in the towel on the mess that is PAUSD management. That left 3 seats and 2 candidates. Rather than let a third candidate come out, Camille ran and grabbed it. That meant that there would be no election and just automatic seats for Melissa, Camille, and Heidi. As it was, Dauber\'s underdog campaign got off to a late start, ran very strong, but just could not defeat the better prepared and better-run campaigns of the others. In addition, he was smeared and attacked for being critical of Skelly\'s management of the district and the board\'s hands-off approach

Well, told you so\'s may be cold comfort but I bet Dauber\'s got the coldest comfort around these days. Lookie what has happened in the two years -- we went from poor management to outright crisis. Federal investigations, lawsuits, sexual harassment at Paly -- you name it, we got it. We\'ll have more lawyers than teachers soon. All of Skelly\'s chickens are coming home to roost and this board is to blame. When Dauber said that there were some improvements that were needed, that was like the understatement of the century.

So, 4 more years for Dana Tom! Yay!

We need reform. But who wants to be the next person to be smeared for saying so?

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Posted by Simple is, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood,
on Apr 18, 2014 at 6:57 am

Paul, below are four of many problems that need to be fixed:

1. PAEA, the teachers union, is out of control. The Phil Winston saga is the latest in a string of small group of disgruntled teachers "document" unprofessional comments and behaviors over years and lay them at the feet of the two assistant superintendents, first Charles Young, supposedly the compliance officer who would handle them, and then the real person to go to if you want to get rid of your principal, Scott Bowers. Whether it is Phil Winston or Jocelyn Garcia-Thome, the play is the same. Once Charles has handed it off to Scott, Scott starts interviewing teachers. What he needs is enough teachers to complain about the principal and also some material to work with. Then it goes to Kevin Skelly, the superintendent who runs away from any situation where he would have to take a stand and get his hands dirty. He has to decide to sweep it upstairs to 25 Churchill, pressure the principal to leave, or creatively move him or her somewhere else. Phil went to Jordan, Jocelyn is going to pursue other opportunities, and even Katya Villalobos decided to make a lateral change that is really a step down. Enough teachers at Gunn, Paly, and Addison were unhappy to be a force in getting those principals out of there. Enough teachers were also unhappy at Ohlone and Fairmeadow this year, too, and their principals, Bill Overton and Gary Prehn, retired. I'd love for someone to post that the morale of the teachers had nothing to do with their retirements because that may be true, but it also may be as true as Phil's public reason he gave last year. Who is next? Let's see, enough teachers are upset with Danae Reynolds. If you've been keeping track of principal turnover since Skelly arrived, you have an argument that this isn't so much about baby boomers and folks wanting to pursue other opportunities, but rather that according to PAEA, a large percentage of principals, definitely double-digits, are not of a high enough quality to stay in the position. But contrast that with teachers. If you read Skelly's Weekly Communication, you can see him making a point this year to boldly state how great all probationary and permanent teachers are. Young does the same. Essentially 100 percent of our teachers are great. None should be removed from the classroom. That now includes Phil. He wasn't good enough as principal, according to Scott Bowers, but he is good enough to teach. Of course, he is now a member of PAEA, which now many folks see has way too much power. It's time to acknowledge that power and determine if it is appropriate. Without all the dysfunction of the Skelly years, it would have been heresy to question PAEA power, but surely teachers don't want to be untouchable, or more special that everyone else. Paul, I hope this helps. To be fair, PAEA is only part of the problem that needs attention and fixing, but it's a pretty significant part that has been left to fester.

2. The board has bumbled their way into a role of the cause of PAUSD dysfunction. These are good people acting badly. It has gotten so bad that communiques from Barb Mitchell are instantly met with disdain. Same with Dana Tom. If only they could follow Skelly's lead and resign, they could salvage some dignity. Many in the community have gone from viewing these people as volunteers to obstructive villains. That cut-the-mike business was supposed to be the nadir, but it seems like we reach a new low each month. Camille Townsend talks so much. Is that subjective? But nothing she says helps. Less is more in this case. Same goes with Melissa Caswell. Heidi Emberling? No effect on anything so far. Somewhere the board lost its way. The focus should be kids, but the board willingly spends its time defending indefensible positions, making it worse. Only the voters can send a message in the next election.

3. Administrators are the third problem. The principals and other administrators set the stage for PAEA in 2006 when they ran out Mary Frances Callan and brought in Skelly. They set up their own union, PAMA, to counter the power of the superintendent. Who can blame Skelly for placating the principals with site-based management? He was careful not to impose upon the principals any directive of substance and even to the end he wouldn't implement a districtwide anti-bullying policy because of fear of PAMA and also PAEA. Are you seeing who has the power yet? And it worked for seven years for Skelly. Can't argue with success of staying employed. The tradeoff was that each school was its own kingdom and as long as its subjects didn't make too much noise all was well. However, when there was an issue, Skelly was nowhere to be seen. This was seen in 2009 and 2010 when Jacqueline McEvoy confronted student inebriation and vandalism and then found herself all alone and it was goodbye to Jacqueline. Zero support from the board or Skelly. This is essentially an illustration of a lack of leadership. How else can you explain Phil Winston saying such monstrous things at Paly with his two supervisors, Skelly and Young, knowing about it and managing the situation? Did they not know about it? Why didn't Skelly publicly denounce students streaking in today's climate of awareness of child pornography laws? It seems so simple and appropriate to put an end to such a tradition, but it took blaming Phil for creating the tradition. Phil didn't want to lose his job so indeed he did give mixed messages. He saw what happened to his predecessor when she did her job to stop very obvious inappropriate behavior. Think how confused he must have been when he knew that he would be tarred and feathered if he suspended students for streaking or allowing them to do it. Not much room to win in that scenario.

4. What about the parents? What about them? They are no different than the parents of most Bay Area districts. Many can be pains, many are fantastic, but so are parents all over, just as the teachers or principals are basically the same as other districts. The PAUSD staff are paid to teach and care for our kids just as the PAPD are paid to maintain safety and protect the citizens. Parents and citizens don't always behave as we would like them to, but we can't blame them for the dysfunction of PAUSD or PAPD. Taxes are used to pay professional educators to maintain an educational institution of excellence and votes are cast for leaders to step up and act in the best interest of our kids.

How to fix this mess? That is simple, too. Paul, just ask.

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Posted by Isn't it strange, a resident of Crescent Park,
on Apr 18, 2014 at 1:06 pm

Isn't it strange that - unlike most any other professional endeavor - K12 teaching and schooling is largely controlled by school boards, most of whose members have never taught a day in their life. Think about that, and what it implies for K12 education - not only in Palo Alto, but everywhere else. School Boards as currently constructed and structured are antithetical to high-quality, responsive education. Add to that that Superintendents operate at the pleasure of the Board, which effectively places the Superintendent as an "invisible" member of the board. Completely dysfunctional, but mired in tradition. And so it goes.

 +  Like this comment
Posted by Well..., a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood,
on Apr 18, 2014 at 3:04 pm

Isn't it strange,

"School Boards as currently constructed and structured are antithetical to high-quality, responsive education."

Are you assuming that all educators are high-quality and responsive? Clearly we have communication issues in PAUSD amongst the educators themselves.

It would be stranger if the same people who currently lack accountability for their performance, quality, and responsiveness also had zero oversight - not saying the BOE is good at it either.


SImple seems to have laid out several clues about leadership challenges in PAUSD.

FIrst time I hear about PAMA.


No plan to shed light on PAEA and PAMA?

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Posted by village fool, a resident of another community,
on Apr 18, 2014 at 9:28 pm

@Simple is -
How to fix this mess?

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Posted by village fool, a resident of another community,
on Apr 19, 2014 at 11:47 am

@Simple is - Can any mess be fixed prior to being being fully understood? prior to being fully identified?

The following is part of a comment I posted on June 17th, 2013, on the thread titled: "In-depth report: How a federal inquiry is changing the way schools respond to bullying' link - Web Link :

I think of the Federal investigation as a medical lab tests performs for a patient... Usually there is no way to treat a patient without fully understanding the illness...
...I think of the Federal investigation as the first, alarming lab result. Transparency and accountability will be the first signs of change. I must be missing something.

 +  Like this comment
Posted by village fool, a resident of another community,
on Apr 27, 2014 at 6:37 pm

@pox on all your houses - you wrote:"... you name it, we got it..."
I think that being able to "name it" means having some knowledge, or idea as to the occurrences to "be named", the occurrences to be listed.

I doubt it is possible to "name it" all, now. Unfortunately.

 +  Like this comment
Posted by village fool, a resident of another community,
on Aug 9, 2014 at 8:51 am

@Paul Losch -

You chose to title this blog - "PAUSD Leadership Challenges"

You asked on your initial posting:
.."What is going on here?"

The weekly reported that: "In unanimous comments, school board challenges federal agency" link - Web Link

Apparently the answer to your question about PAUSD's challenges can be found
in the OCR (Office of Civil Rights, federal agency).

The answer to your question: PAUSD has no challenges, but to challenge the OCR.

All is quiet in the PAUSD.

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