A new counseling survey administered at both Palo Alto and Gunn high schools again indicates low rates of student satisfaction with services and a need for the district to take a new approach to addressing a longstanding problem.
As such, staff is recommending that the district convene a joint committee of students, parents teachers and staff from both Paly and Gunn to analyze data, specify goals, create common metrics and assessments and develop an evidence-based model "for ensuring ready and regular access to effective social emotional, academic and college/career counseling," a staff report states. The school board will discuss the new counseling survey results and this proposal at its meeting on Tuesday night.
The 2015 counseling survey results echo past data on counseling services found in the district's most recent Strategic Plan survey, the high schools' latest Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC) accreditation surveys and a Gunn-focused counseling survey in 2013 and 2014. This survey was administered in May with 1,113 Paly students and 1,059 Gunn students participating.
While the majority of surveyed students (64 percent) said they know there is an adult on campus who cares about them, only 32 percent of students said that school counselors are a resource for them in "dealing with the demands at school." Twenty percent of students said counselors are not a resource for them in dealing with school demands.
Only 27 percent of students feel comfortable going to counselors about personal issues they're struggling with (and 27 percent don't).
Fifty-six percent of students agreed that their school is a welcoming place.
The new survey, again, showed differences in satisfaction between students at Paly and at Gunn, which have different counseling models in place. Paly has long had a teacher-advisory model, which connects students with a teacher-advisor (TA) throughout their four years (one teacher their freshman year, and then another for the next three years). Students meet regularly with their TA around academic planning and anything else they might need support with, though freshmen meet more frequently than the other grade levels -- weekly rather than monthly. Guidance counselors work with TAs to identify students who might need extra academic or social-emotional support, and college and career counselors provide juniors and seniors with post-graduation guidance.
Gunn, by contrast, has a traditional counseling model, with a group of staff members providing guidance counseling, college and career advice and social-emotional support.
In the survey, 39 percent of Paly students reported that the counseling staff has helped them develop problem-solving skills like balancing extracurricular activities and academics and resolving personal conflicts. At Gunn, that number is significantly lower: 28 percent of students said counselors have supported them in learning these skills, and 23 percent of students said they haven't.
More Paly than Gunn students also reported being aware of services available in their school's college and career center (51 percent at Paly compared to 43 percent at Gunn).
These results will now be used as baseline data, district staff said, and the counseling survey will be conducted yearly.
Staff next want to develop a comprehensive evaluation system based on not only perception data but also process and outcome data.
Director of Assessment and Data Chris Kolar told the Weekly that a new evaluation system could include efforts like tracking when and for what issues students see counselors and if they're directed to the right person.
Staff is proposing that the new committee, if approved, deliver a report by next December and use the spring of 2017 for training and staff as needed for implementation to begin the fall of 2017.
Tonight's school board meeting begins at 6:30 p.m. at the district office, 25 Churchill Ave. Other items of business include a discussion of potential resolution for two pending Office for Civil Rights cases; the district's 2015 SAT, ACT and Advanced Placement (AP) results; and proposed procedure changes for the board's policy review committee.
View the full agenda here.
Editor's note: This story was updated to correct inaccurate information about Palo Alto High School's counseling system, which stated that Paly had a weekly teacher-advisor (TA) model through which students were connected with one TA for all four years. Students have a different TA their freshman year compared to the higher grade levels and meet regularly with their TAs, but not weekly.