Center for Disease Control and Prevention to conduct suicide-cluster study in Palo Alto | News | Palo Alto Online |


Center for Disease Control and Prevention to conduct suicide-cluster study in Palo Alto

School board to also discuss recommendations from enrollment committee, new gender-identity policy

At the Palo Alto school district's request, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has agreed to conduct an in-depth epidemiology study of the community's teen suicide clusters, Superintendent Max McGee said Tuesday.

The district has been working for several months to engage the CDC with the support of the Santa Clara County Public Health Department, which formally filed the request for the study on behalf of the district. Public health authorities must invite the CDC to assist in an investigation within their jurisdiction.

These epidemiology studies, called an "Epi-Aid," are "investigations of serious and urgent public health problems in response to formal request for rapid assistance from states, federal agencies, international organizations, and ministries of health from other countries," a CDC report states. The CDC has conducted Epi-Aids on everything from suicide clusters and Ebola to community emergency preparedness.

Epi-Aids are short-term investigations designed to address emergencies, said Sara Cody, the Santa Clara County Public Health Department's health officer and public health director. Cody is also a parent in the district. Cody is working with the CDC to develop core objectives for the study, which she said will likely include comparing Palo Alto to nearby cities and understanding if there are obvious risk factors and/or protective factors associated with the community's suicide clusters. The school district and other community stakeholders like youth suicide-prevention collaborative Project Safety Net and Stanford University will also be involved in drafting objectives, McGee said.

The CDC has conducted this kind of investigation in other communities that experienced youth suicide clusters, including Fairfax, Virginia. In November 2014, the CDC analyzed behaviors and risk factors associated with suicides among youth ages 10 to 24 in Fairfax County Public Schools.

Investigators produced a 200-plus page final report after visiting Fairfax, conducting interviews and focus groups, examining health and school data, reviewing news articles related to youth suicide in the area, and meeting with community partners.

"Although the community has previously dedicated extensive resources to suicide prevention activities, concern about the effectiveness were raised in the community given suicides continue to occur," the report reads. "The community had been unable to identify epidemiological factors contributing to the suicide risk or the unmet needs that must be addressed by preventive actions.

"Consequently, the Fairfax County Health Department and the Virginia Department of Health requested the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's (CDC) urgent assistance in investigating youth suicide and making recommendations for a public health response to prevent additional suicides among Fairfax County youth."

McGee said the district is eager for the CDC's expertise to address what he called a "public health threat" in Palo Alto.

"The more we've learned about suicide clusters, they really are contagions," he said. "One of the greatest risk factors in teen suicide is having a suicide — that one begins another. That coupled with the 100-percent deadly means in your community, it's a threat."

McGee said the investigation should be conducted fairly quickly, and an executive summary will be issued within a few weeks of a CDC team visiting Palo Alto. A full, formal report would be issued after several months, he said.

McGee will provide an update on the district's work with the CDC at Tuesday's school board meeting.

In other business Tuesday, the board will have further discussion — and board members hope, more back-and-forth dialogue — with members of the Enrollment Management Advisory Committee.

Two subcommittees, one focused on the elementary schools and the other on the secondary level, presented preliminary research, findings and proposals to the board in October. At both meetings, the board asked questions and gave comments that the subcommittees responded to after rather than during the meetings. (The board's questions and the subcommittees' answers are included in this week's board packet.)

The elementary subcommittee preliminarily recommended that the district does not need to open a 13th elementary school, stating that enrollment at that level is stable and not growing.

Several members of the subgroup who disagree prepared a "minority report" detailing their reasoning for why a new elementary site is necessary. Other recommendations related to ideal school size, addressing overflow, the potential creation new choice programs or moving of existing ones, among others.

The hottest ticket out of the secondary subcommittee is a proposal that the district open a new, innovative middle and high school at the Cubberley Community Center site.

However, the group is recommending a "both, and" approach — that if the district goes down the path of opening a new alternative school, that it not leave the existing middle and high schools as is. The subcommittee recommended expanding "core" and "house" programs at the existing secondary schools. In such programs, cohorts of students move through several years of school together with the same teachers, a model that increases feelings of connectedness and student engagement.

The entire enrollment committee is expected to present a final report with recommendations to the board in December. The group also plans to hold a town hall forum this month to collect community input.

The board will also hear the final fiscal report for a 2010 parcel tax measure; an annual report on the Strong Schools Bond, which has funded major construction projects in the district since it was approved in 2008; a new gender-identity policy that protects the rights of transgender and gender non-conforming students; and a possible process change for the board's review policy committee.

The meeting will begin at 6:30 p.m. at the district office, 25 Churchill Ave. View the full agenda here.

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41 people like this
Posted by Hope
a resident of Gunn High School
on Nov 10, 2015 at 9:29 am

The district should only limit the teachers if they are finally going to put in some checks and balances on staff and teachers. The only saving grace when you get a terrible teacher is that the next year, they mix things up.

Also, many kids in Connections expressly opted not to be in the Gunn small larning community because they wanted to meet more people and have a better chance to make more friends, This is even more important for kids who have a hard time in the small group and are most at risk. And for kids whose lives are hell because their families had to fight for them through the student services department, having more teachers makes it more likely the student and family can find connections and defenders on staff and less likely the students services people can manipulate staff when they want to retaliate against the family so much that kids feel unsafe at school and parents feel unsafe to send kids there.

The CDC would do well to speak to those who left (were pushed out) last year.

27 people like this
Posted by Hope
a resident of Gunn High School
on Nov 10, 2015 at 9:30 am

PS for those who don't know, student services are district office people.

53 people like this
Posted by Hmmmmmm......
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Nov 10, 2015 at 10:19 am

I can only guess at what the CDC will conclude the causes are: schools? college admissions? tiger parents? none of these? all of these?

Will be interested to see.

17 people like this
Posted by Anonymous
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 10, 2015 at 11:37 am

[Post removed.]

24 people like this
Posted by Former parent
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Nov 10, 2015 at 11:50 am

This is very good news. The CDC will be able to conduct an impartial study of a problem that is very complex. [Portion removed.] We may finally be able to put all this to rest with a clear identification of the factors at play. My humble guess is that many people will be surprised to find their strongly held views largely contradicted.

19 people like this
Posted by Former parent
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Nov 10, 2015 at 12:40 pm

[Post removed.]

18 people like this
Posted by Marc Vincenti
a resident of Gunn High School
on Nov 10, 2015 at 12:56 pm

Dear Fellow Onliners,

I'm grateful for this article, for the District giving importance to this issue, and especially for the link to the report that the CDC produced on the suicides in Fairfax County, Virginia--a crisis so much like ours, and a mirror to our lives and situation.

The 200-page Fairfax report is long, and I didn't study all of it, but pages 40-43 are the ones I found most interesting, in that they so poignantly reflect Palo Alto and everything we've argued about here for years.

They summarize parents' and teachers' views of the problem, and touch on things such as the overload of AP courses, affluence, social media on campus, parents' unawareness of what their kids are doing on it, overwhelmed counselors, teacher overwork and lack of time to help troubled kids, and so forth.

Since the conditions and events in Virigina are scarcely different from those here, and since the CDC recommendations for the Fairfax schools aren't much different from what we've already been doing, ad infinitum, in Palo Alto, it doesn't make much sense to get our hopes up about the study to be done here.

And the CDC made no recommendations that any changes were needed in the Fairfax County schools, though all of the children went to those schools--and though there's much concern in Virginia about academic stress.

It's too bad that this investigation is merely short-term. The Fairfax study, for example, apparently involved no in-depth interviewing of the deceased students' families, friends, or teachers--those who knew them best. This study apparently won't get at the myriad complications that, as Mr. McGee reminds us, are part of suicide.

The "psychological autopsies" that the District and Stanford Medical School attempted starting in 2010 were a better bet--but that study was never undertaken or pursued seriously and no results were ever made public.

Lastly, it's unclear whether the request for this study is a change in Mr. McGee's basic diagnosis of the situation--and that he's now questioning his previous conclusion that each of these deaths was an isolated instance of mental illness.


Marc Vincenti
Campaign Coordinator
Save the 2,008

P.S. Save the 2,008 is a 400-member, community campaign to create hope for Palo Alto's high-schoolers. To learn more, visit:

65 people like this
Posted by Winston
a resident of Fairmeadow
on Nov 10, 2015 at 1:29 pm

Marc Vincenti, I really respect what you're doing with your campaign and think we share the same motivation.

We're focusing too much on 'stress at school' and missing the point entirely. Palo Alto is a reality bubble. The model that we internalize growing up around here of what constitutes success at a minimum... is a $2m home, and Ivy league MBA, 3 successful startup exits, and a Tesla in the driveway. At a minimum.

Forgive my pessimism, but as long as we're implicitly taught by example that this is the norm, those of us who don't get in to Harvard or Yale will feel like failures. And before we even get the results of our decision we're terrified of not meeting the 'minimum' standard.

It's not about school. It's about the materialistic distorted example of 'success' and what it takes to be okay with yourself.

85 people like this
Posted by former Paly Coach
a resident of another community
on Nov 10, 2015 at 2:03 pm

I was coaching at Paly when it experienced a series of suicides. I asked one of the students on the team why they thought this was happening: stress, grades, parents? Her response stuck with me - there was a real feeling of futility among many of her friends because they felt that they could never do as well or better than their parents. Palo Alto was becoming such an elite community - one parent the CEO of a startup, the other a corporate IP lawyer - that level of achievement, stress, competitiveness as an example for the kids at home was driving them to the brink.

That environment she described years ago hasn't gotten any better. With the base price of a home in Palo Alto over $1 million, who can afford to live her, who can afford to move here? What is the example of success we are portraying to our children?

I've moved on from Palo Alto, but Palo Alto will always be a part of me.

32 people like this
Posted by Paly mom
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Nov 10, 2015 at 2:26 pm

I wish people would also consider these factors:
- Absence of religion and participation as a family in a church group, temple, or
- The extremely high number of psychologists and psychiatrists employed in this area.
- The role that antidepressant medication, ADHD medication, and the other drugs (prescription or otherwise) might have in increasing depression and unclear thinking.
- The fact that kids as young as 3rd and 4th grade here (in our public schools) know what depression and suicide is. Heard about it in school, or from another child.
- The effect of constantly talking about mental health issues to kids at school and the media. I have always wondered if this was fueling the fire, or putting the "thought" into their heads.
- The new demographics (as mentioned in the above post).

18 people like this
Posted by Paly parent
a resident of Midtown
on Nov 10, 2015 at 2:44 pm

I agree with Mr. Vincenti's comments. One of the instruments of the CDC's report was an analysis of a healthy kids survey; our kids take a similar (if not the same) survey every freaking year without any tangible action resulting from it. The recommendations are too general (e.g., Paly already distributes news reporting guidelines and has communications procedures/scripts). Many of the risk factors (academic stress, history of mental illness, lack of sleep, lack of mental health resources/access) were already recognized in the beginning of the report, and my supposition would be a new report will be no different. So, when is the school board or superintendent going to take action instead of calling for more surveys/studies? For example, students are being asked to complete homework surveys; in a freshmen biology class, over 2/3 was spending more time per week than course guidelines--1/3 exceedingly so--but what's the point if the (new) teacher won't adjust the workload to be more realistic, and moreover, tells the students they're lying?

36 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 10, 2015 at 2:58 pm

I hope they look beyond the train tracks. I have no idea how many suicides we have had for reasons other than the tracks, but I suspect that these are the ones we hear about.

We also have cutting and overdosing of medications - not actually suicides but often are attempts. I hope these will be investigated also.

9 people like this
Posted by Marc
a resident of Midtown
on Nov 10, 2015 at 3:09 pm

[Post removed.]

48 people like this
Posted by Wait and See
a resident of Midtown
on Nov 10, 2015 at 3:24 pm

Interesting that the very school board members who believe that the Federal Office for Civil Rights is out to get the Palo Alto School District and has a vendetta against our schools fueled by a few irate citizens, are the ones who have asked the Federal Center for Disease Control to come and take a look at the suicide cluster. If the CDC comes back to us with a report that states that the schools have some culpability in our teenager's deaths, will these board members gather the lawyers and have them write up a resolution that chastises the CDC?

49 people like this
Posted by outsider
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Nov 10, 2015 at 3:40 pm

I do find it odd that there is transparency in everything except how many lawyers are waiting to catch new lawsuits and also how teachers are not required to teach to standards that other public schools adhere to. I also have wondered why there have been no lawsuits surrounding out of bound curriculum, stress and suicides. These standards are needed to protect children's time, and ability to focus in an efficient way. I see out of bounds teaching as the biggest problem and the one that has only gotten worse. Some teachers only give out a certain number of A's each year and grade on a curve. The situation is often hopeless for our brightest, hardest working kids. There is no way to prepare for each class without a standard syllabus that is enforced by admin. There are other factors, but this seems like the unusually cruel one that other kids just do not have and palo alto kids should not have.

41 people like this
Posted by Hope
a resident of Gunn High School
on Nov 10, 2015 at 6:28 pm

I wonder why the article was so cagey about the when the how and the why. When did McGee approach the CDC? Why didn't we hear about it before now? Have they already come here?

It's really annoying to be a stakeholder having experienced some of the worst problems you can imagine (that we never could have imagined once upon a time), and every time someone comes to the district - the state of California, that guy from Harvard who reviewed special ed - we don't hear a peep about it until after it's done. We're told parents get interviewed, but it's pretty clear the district people (who are much of the problem) are controlling what the outsiders see and conclude.

Is this a real honest (there's that word again) look at the problem, or is this another attempt to give the appearance of doing something without really doing anything that makes anyone break a sweat? If the past is any indication, and the lack of openness yet again, it's very hard to believe it's finally the former.

District people: CHILDREN have died. Lots of children. Your backside is not more important - err, rather, your perception of your risk to your backside. If the Skelly administration had dealt with everything honestly and prioritized kids, things would have been different (not "embarrassing"), and problems would have been viewed as things to be solved in collaboration with families. This is a public school district. When you care about your perception of your backside more than kids, you put the kids at risk, and you put your own effectiveness professionally at risk. You might even be breaking some laws. You also set a really, really bad example: people need to learn that includes owning up to and learning from mistakes.

13 people like this
Posted by God Matters
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 11, 2015 at 12:46 am

I agree with @Paly mom, that people with a strong church connection are less likely to attempt suicide, even among those suffering from depressive and mood altering psychological disorders. As a Christian, I cannot really speak to other religions, not because I think they aren't equally positive, but because I just don't know how the details of what they teach affect an individual (including Catholicism).

As a Christian, to know God and feel loved by God is so much more important than anything else in our physical world that most of the superficial worries lose their power.

I'll let those of different religions speak for themselves, if they are so inclined.

Be kind to each other people, you never know what others are dealing with. You will never mourn being a blessing to others.

37 people like this
Posted by Gerhard
a resident of Escondido School
on Nov 11, 2015 at 4:10 am

In response to the suicide clusters in 2009-10 and 2014-14, it's interesting how the CDC's protocols for dealing with suicide clusters were ignored by the PAUSD, city and Project Safety Net. The protocols have been used across the country with great success. But Palo Altans thought they had better ideas.

7 people like this
Posted by Step Forward
a resident of Midtown
on Nov 11, 2015 at 7:41 am

Glad to know that PAUSD reached out to the CDC to take a look at this. Will be good to get more objective, external eyes on this issue.

School is a part of it, PA culture is a part of it, but it all starts in the home and the respective families. Absent sending the right messages at home, it really feels like the external efforts will not be that helpful.

34 people like this
Posted by believe i'm objective
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 11, 2015 at 9:42 am

I sincerely believe, no sarcasm or ill will intended here at all, that involving our local university in this process is like having the fox guard the hen house. The standards for our community, be it education, income, uniqueness or accomplishment are set by that culture, which is by definition elite. Not measuring up is what MOST PEOPLE do. It will be very difficult for a committee of that composition to see the forest for the trees. No offense intended, just common sense.

32 people like this
Posted by got it mostly right
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 11, 2015 at 9:57 am

Lots of what CDC found in its Fairfax study seems to match what Palo Alto professionals have been talking about except these two:

Risk factor: "exposure to violence" - sexual assault, physical attack, threatened with a weapon, family violence, and intimate partner violence (sexual, emotional or physical)


Protective factor: Sleep. PAUSD was told it needed to be 8 hours minimum. Web Link CDC looked at 8 or more hours of sleep, but found that 6 or more hours of sleep is protective.


Main risk factors CDC highlighted in Fairfax: Mental health issues (e.g., depression), Substance use, and Interpersonal problems such as previous victimization and exposure to violence

Main protective factors CDC identified there:

Individual -- Resiliency and Sleep (6 + hours)

Community -- Connectedness, Supportive parents and other adults

Community -- School climate of balance, Feeling safe at school, Universal screening (SOS), Teacher training, Caring teachers and Youth serving organizations

Web Link

28 people like this
Posted by Concerned and puzzled
a resident of Professorville
on Nov 11, 2015 at 11:38 am

"got it mostly right" got it completely right. The chance that the CDC will recommend something qualitatively different or find something different than they did in other communities after just 1-2 weeks here is virtually nil. What is also different about this community is that it has put into place a host of community and school programs in response to the first cluster that are essentially what the CDC recommends in every community it visits.

I heard a rumor that Stanford put together a proposal for a long-term public health study of the suicide problem here in Palo Alto that the school system turned down in favor of this short-term study. If true, it would be interesting to know why. I think we need less experts coming in and leaving, and more who live here spending their time studying why we have this chronic problem.

35 people like this
Posted by Cvvhrn
a resident of Midtown
on Nov 11, 2015 at 12:09 pm

I am really vexed as to why this is always labeled as a problem caused by the schools? This is a shared issue and parents have just as much of a responsibility for this. Please stop blaming the pressure of the school system. As a nurse at LPCH I get an opportunity to help our kids in the immediate aftermath of a suicide attempt and find a myriad of reasons including academic pressure because of parental expectations to be a leading reason.

We have a serious problem in our community and I welcome an outside group with formidable investigation skills to perhaps shed some light and point us a way to prevent this from happening. Our efforts so far like the security guards are simply treating the symptoms when we need to focus on the preventing the cause........

Fred Taleghani, RN

Like this comment
Posted by moi
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 11, 2015 at 12:25 pm

[Post removed.]

9 people like this
Posted by Marc
a resident of Midtown
on Nov 11, 2015 at 1:07 pm

[Post removed.]

37 people like this
Posted by Experienced Parent
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Nov 12, 2015 at 1:44 am

Sure, there is academic pressure from parents, but much of the stress is also due to unreasonable teachers. Some teachers assign too much homework, unfair tests, and have too rigorous expectations. Many do not even stay after school for students who have questions and are only available once per week at Tutorial - 5 to 6 classes, one hour to see all the teachers? Some of the bad teachers have huge lines at Tutorial. Many are lazy and expect students to hire tutors. The only reason PAUSD has a great reputation is that students and parents are picking up the slack through hiring tutors or sheer hard work. Just because our students are more capable than other students across the nation, doesn't mean they should be worked to the bone.

My apologies to the good teachers who teach well and are reasonable.

Solutions to the suicides?

- Fire the bad teachers or adjust their teaching (what happened to McGee's teacher evaluations promised?).
- Limit the number of AP/honors classes to 6 total. Those who don't accept it can send their children to another school.
- Start school at 9:00 or later because our students are sleep-deprived. M-A starts at 8:45, 9:25, 9:40 Web Link
- Enlighten teachers that students need time for extracurriculars for college applications and studying for SATs/ACTs.

12 people like this
Posted by Joe
a resident of Green Acres
on Nov 12, 2015 at 9:18 am

"Just because our students are more capable than other students across the nation, doesn't mean they should be worked to the bone."

They are not more capable, this belief from parents is part of the problem.

24 people like this
Posted by Hope
a resident of Gunn High School
on Nov 12, 2015 at 9:33 am

Having gone to school in one of the poorest districts in the nation, you are mistaken. They are more capable, which is hard to separate from advantaged, and they also should not be worked to the bone. Having high standards is a good thing if students are given support and the ability to meet and exceed them. Believe me, it's not better being somewhere where no one thinks you can do anything, where parents don't get involved and most of the kids are going nowhere (half of them high on the way. And by high, I don't mean on life.)

21 people like this
Posted by outsider
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Nov 12, 2015 at 1:25 pm

CDC needs to look at the state curriculum and the actual tests paly kids have to endure. My daughter thinks that her general chem teacher cut and pasted actual AP questions on the general 10th grade chem exam. What kind of a monster does something like this to 10th graders.? What kind of administration supports this abuse? All the kids just went out and bought AP tutors.

They should also look at the amount of time and money filtered into AJ tutoring. Kids are now wearing t shirts and using pens and pencils with the aj tutoring label as if it is another school. The counselor told me I would have to hire a tutor if my kid wanted to take honors classes with the "top" kids. If the teachers would be professional and fair and follow the state curriculum that every other kid our kids are competing against have, then tutors would only be needed for remediation, not actual instruction on out of bounds testing.

12 people like this
Posted by FYI
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Nov 12, 2015 at 1:40 pm

This issue regarding the notorious suicides of Palo Alto made the news this morning on KPIX.

The anchorman reported that Palo Alto has 5x the national average of teen suicides. He also reported that the fact-finding mission by the CDC would only take a few days, and that formulating an actual report would take a few months.

6 people like this
Posted by Hope
a resident of Gunn High School
on Nov 12, 2015 at 3:20 pm

CDC is big agency. Who is actually coming here?

17 people like this
Posted by Paly Alum
a resident of Southgate
on Nov 12, 2015 at 4:25 pm

@Joe: Doesn't sound like you have experience with schools outside of Palo Alto. I moved in '75 from Fremont to Palo Alto having been in gifted classes in working class Fremont, and prior to the gifted classes, I was Teacher's Pet because school was so easy for me. Enter Palo Verde in 5th grade, and the regular students were the same level of intelligence as the gifted students in Fremont.

I also lived in the Midwest for 15 years while my children attended "good" public schools. Those were not gifted students.

Returned to Palo Alto to enter my children into the elementary schools. Back to the gifted students.

Sure, these are generalities, and one could find exceptions, but Palo Alto has always attracted intelligent residents because of the great schools. There is a statistic which states that some 75% of adult residents have 4-year degrees, 49% have graduate degrees.

So I agree that our teachers are expecting much more from our students than other public schools. And it's hurting our college acceptances because teachers don't give everyone As. The academic competition here is much more rigorous than most public schools. This is why AJ Tutoring charges $90/hour for their tutors and those who can afford it pay the price. Meanwhile, those who can't afford it (while academically as capable) are suffering on the sidelines while their parents don't understand why they can't attain all As. And yet, those with tutors are still dealing with academic stress because of the high teacher expectations.

Truth is, some teachers have such high standards that even parents who have graduate degrees in the subject cannot earn As for their children. PAUSD is so out of whack, HELP.

13 people like this
Posted by outsider
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Nov 12, 2015 at 7:04 pm

These kids will be gifted at understanding stress and unfair situations. I have apologized to my kids for leaving them at Paly and will continue to feel horrible guilt for putting them there. I also would like to call BS on the term "resilient" - Most kids are but many are not. Making mistakes and giving kids grief is not ok even if "resiliency" is cited, I would rather just have a nicer teacher or better situation and no need for resiliency. AP testing for general classes is a stupid waste of childhood and only benefits the teacher's ego. I would much rather have some free time with my kid before they leave than feed a teacher's ego. Resiliency is a word that is pooped out of too many administrator's mouths instead of "sorry" we blew it, we will fix it.

7 people like this
Posted by FYI
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Nov 12, 2015 at 7:54 pm

@Hope: The anchorman ( Ken Bastida) didn't report specifically who would be involved from the CDC. He went on and on about how " everyone knows about the epidemic of suicides in Palo Alto ", but that the CDC would be looking at the so-called " contagion factor" of the two separate waves of suicids at Gunn. They also showed several photos of Gunn, specifically.

I think it is worth mentioning that most of us have forgotten the suicides of 2001-2002, which were also on the tracks, but involved Paly students, one of which was the son of a client of my husband's.

4 people like this
Posted by MC
a resident of College Terrace
on Nov 12, 2015 at 8:50 pm

The over-the-top rigor is also in middle school. My child is in the regular math class at Jordan, but the type of math the class is doing looks like it was taken from the advanced lane. It's "crazy hard," said his math tutor just today! Does anybody know if surrounding districts such as Mountain View or Los Gatos are just as crazy? We might want to escape while we can!

5 people like this
Posted by outsider
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Nov 13, 2015 at 8:09 am


teachers in high lanes think rigor makes them good teachers. In math this is not so bad, but when your kid gets into the science classes and the whole broad subject is fair game in evaluations, that is when it hits the fan. Administration totally supports teachers in regular a-g science classes giving the ap exam and the American chem society tests as their midterms, finals and regualar exams. They do not give instruction for this level but say it is ok because of the high level of their students. All the kids have a tutor. You have to have a full time tutor to get instruction at the level they are testing. They are totally off grid and out of bounds and totally static.

They are a Public school but do not follow rules set out for curriculum and testing. Kids at Paly are not performing well because of the teachers- It is the tutors and the parents working after school to give the kids the instruction they know they need that was not given in class. Even with all that, testing will not be in line with study guides , text or reviews. At least 20 percent on most sci tests are a surprise for the top kids. The more wealthy parents could get a bump up for their kids on these very simple a-g high school classes that should be simple and easy for this population. Why do they need to make it so difficult? It seems really kind of abusive and mean . It reminds me of people that make their dogs to 20 tricks before they get a treat. I hate that too.

9 people like this
Posted by Joe
a resident of Green Acres
on Nov 13, 2015 at 8:16 am

"@Joe: Doesn't sound like you have experience with schools outside of Palo Alto. I moved in '75 from Fremont to Palo Alto having been in gifted classes in working class Fremont, and prior to the gifted classes, I was Teacher's Pet because school was so easy for me. Enter Palo Verde in 5th grade, and the regular students were the same level of intelligence as the gifted students in Fremont.

I also lived in the Midwest for 15 years while my children attended "good" public schools. Those were not gifted students."

Were they not gifted students or were they not students that have an army of tutors and parents pushing them or at the very least setting examples demonstrating the importance of academics? If kids in Palo Alto are inherently special, why do they struggle? If the key to academic success is tutors, that means that success has less to do with capabilities and more to do with resources.

I grew up and went to school in some pretty terrible environments and knew some very talented and exceptional students, who struggled not because of capabilities but rather due to resources and parental support. I do not believe for a second that those students would not have flourished if placed in a different environment - so I hesitate to consider them as less capable. It would be a nice start parents could get their heads around the fact that their kids are not inherently academically gifted because they live in our city's boundaries.

8 people like this
Posted by Experienced Parent
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Nov 13, 2015 at 11:04 am

Wow, Joe, I don't think you have recent (last 20 years) experience with children in a PAUSD high school. Nor experience with current college acceptances. Sure, there are some parents who amplify the giftedness of their children but they are the exception not the norm. Simplified, there are only so many hours in a day. Without data, I can guarantee that students at public schools in other parts of the nation do not have to work as hard for a B grade as our students do.

Parent(s) who are successful enough to pay millions for a house have some sort of advantage over others in this nation or they wouldn't be considered the Top 1%. If you still believe in the debunked Blank Slate Theory, I can't argue with that.

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Short story writers wanted!

The 34th Annual Palo Alto Weekly Short Story Contest is now accepting entries for Adult, Young Adult and Teen categories. Send us your short story (2,500 words or less) and entry form by March 27, 2020. First, Second and Third Place prizes awarded in each category. Sponsored by Kepler's Books, Linden Tree Books and Bell's Books.

Contest Details