Community Notebook: Challenge Success hosts annual school conference | News | Palo Alto Online |


Community Notebook: Challenge Success hosts annual school conference

Stanford research group currently engaged in partnerships with Palo Alto high schools

Challenge Success, the Stanford University Graduate School of Education school-reform and research group, is hosting its annual conference this Friday and Saturday, Sept. 25 and 26.

The conference is open to the public and will kick off on Friday with a parent-education event called "Sparking Creativity: Imagining Tomorrow's Schools."

The event will feature keynote speaker Tony Wagner, "Expert in Residence" at Harvard University's new Innovation Lab and author of "Creating Innovators: The Making of Young People Who Will Change the World" and "Most Likely to Succeed: Preparing Our Kids for the Innovation Era." Challenge Success Co-Founders Denise Pope and Madeline Levine will also speak on Friday as part of an "interactive discussion on fostering creativity in schools and at home," Challenge Success Marketing Manager Samantha Spielman wrote in an email. The discussion will explore questions like

"How do we encourage creativity in our kids and develop a generation of innovators and problem solvers?" "How can educators and parents spark creativity in daily activities?" and "What is the connection between creativity and authentic success?"

On Saturday, the conference will continue for 30 middle school and high school teams made up of students, teachers, parents, administrators and counselors from the Bay Area (including from Gunn High School), Los Angeles, Alabama, Arizona and Washington. The teams will participate in workshops "designed to help schools learn about the challenges involved in re-envisioning success and to develop plans of action for implementing change at their sites," Spielman said.

School teams of four to eight stakeholders were invited to submit an application last spring to participate in the conference. In addition to participating in the Saturday workshops, each team will receive a Challenge Success "coach" who will offer guidance to the school during the academic year as the team continues to develop plans to reduce student stress and increase engagement, Spielman said. School teams will then re-convene next spring to assess the efforts that have been put in place and to discuss future next steps.

There will also be roundtable sessions on Saturday with several local administrators and educators, including Jane Lathrop Stanford (JLS) Middle School Principal Sharon Ofek; Castilleja School Upper School Head Jim Pickett, Castilleja teacher Karen Strobel; Menlo-Atherton High School's former longtime college adviser, Alice Kleeman; and Lisa Babinet, a middle and high school mathematics teacher at Waldorf of the Peninsula.

The Friday discussion is free for students and $10 for adults. It will take place from 7-9 p.m. in Stanford's Memorial Auditorium, 551 Serra Mall. For more information and to purchase tickets, go to People interested in participating who are not in the area can also purchase livestream tickets for $8.

Challenge Success, which began as a stress-reduction program in 2003, has now worked with close to 800,000 students, faculty, administrators and parents throughout the United States and across the world on efforts like changing bell schedules, reforming homework policies, shifting to alternative assessments and encouraging project-based learning with the goal of creating "healthier and more productive pathways to success," the introduction to a new book from the group reads.

Challenge Success is currently engaged in partnerships with Gunn and Palo Alto high schools. The group is helping Gunn transition to a new bell schedule this year and has also conducted schoolwide surveys at both sites to measure students' perspectives on homework, extracurricular activities, sleep, physical health, stress, parental expectations, academic engagement, academic integrity and teacher support. Gunn's survey was recently released, and Paly's is forthcoming.

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3 people like this
Posted by parent
a resident of Green Acres
on Sep 22, 2015 at 11:34 am

How can Challenge Success help anyone at Gunn transition to a new bell schedule? Administrators maybe. The real work is done by the teachers in adjusting the curriculum. Do the people at CS have single subject credentials in all of the subjects? Or are they exaggerating their role and abilities?

4 people like this
Posted by typo?
a resident of Gunn High School
on Sep 22, 2015 at 12:56 pm

Weekly: "each team will receive a Stanford 'coach' who will offer guidance to the school during the academic year"

Each school will be assigned a Stanford faculty member? a Stanford grad student?


Did the reporter mean to say "a Challenge Success 'coach'" - not on Stanford's payroll or enrolled there?

I ask because last I read Stanford Ed School lecturer Denise Clark Pope was Gunn's "temporary" coach. Web Link

The contact now is Margaret Dunlap whose Challenge Success job is working with the schools and their teams. She taught in the Oakland Unified School District before moving onto Challenge Success' payroll and doesn't work or study at Stanford. Web Link

8 people like this
Posted by Innovation requires innovating not doubling down
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 22, 2015 at 1:34 pm

I was really excited to attend - I think Pope Clark is right on, and am really interested myself in innovation. I bought tix but didn't realize it would involve having to listen to Ofek. Don't get me wrong, she's a good principal, but not for us. I don't want to waste my time listening to people who talk about innovation but wouldn't know it if they owed it an apology. We transferred school districts to get away from bring treated like that,. Challenge success can't give people a conscience. Hiw do I get my money back?

7 people like this
Posted by Educator
a resident of Woodside
on Sep 23, 2015 at 7:07 am

Educator is a registered user.

>>> Do the people at CS have single subject credentials in all of the subjects?

There are many teachers, researchers, and education experts that work within multiple disciplines. Indeed, a significant shift to more interdisciplinary teaching has shown that students engage at a much higher level when disciplines are woven together.

A subject credential is revered in public schools because it allows the Unions to claim some level of teacher ability (although California approves a huge number of exemptions for teachers to teach well outside their own major or credential in California).

Generally private school and Universities do not require credentials, as they tend to hire teachers based on their ability to engage and teach, whereas public school teachers are generally required to have a credential (except for the many exemptions).

CS works at a much higher level, helping orchestrate the overall approach the school or district takes to engage teachers, students, administrators, and parents in a meaningful way. They do wonderful work and have helped countless thousands of students learn to enjoy and engage in education. Paly and Gunn should be ecstatic that CS is so close, and able to offer their expertise.

4 people like this
Posted by Innovation requires innovating not doubling down
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 23, 2015 at 7:35 am

Thank you @educator, for bringing what's important to the fore, focus on what Challenge Success can do for us. I would ask them to be aware that PAUSD admin tends to judge their success by the best cases rather than the students who are most struggling or need the most help. Good luck bringing about change.

9 people like this
Posted by Again?
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 23, 2015 at 7:52 am

If this is another case of Stanford foisting unqualified students on us instead of "experts", count us OUT!

Bad enough they do this in their hospital!

Like this comment
Posted by Innovation requires innovating not doubling down
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 23, 2015 at 9:10 am

No, @Again, read the Challenge Success website. Our dustrict supposedly espouses these principles. It's really great stuff. How to get our district to actually walk the talk is another matter. Was going to take my child to this but don't want to retraumatize by being around district personnel mentioned. Is Friday going to be free of that?

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