The Enrollment Management Advisory Committee, Secondary Schools Subcommittee ("EMAC-SSS") would like to share its perspectives for both the School Board and the community, encourage additional dialogue, and pass these points of view on for additional study.
We recommend that the District establish a Design Task Force to consider how or whether to:
1. Expand small learning communities or pathways in our existing secondary schools
2. Design, finance and phase-in a new 6-12 school (or schools)
We propose that this Task Force be community-engaged, involving teachers, students, parents and administrators. We note with enthusiasm that Todd Collins recommends a very similar Task Force.
As a result of our study, the EMAC-SSS feels that new innovative middle and high school(s) -- combined with systematic changes at our current schools to offer new learning pathways and create more teacher + student engagement -- would help improve the learning experience for all of our secondary students. Meanwhile, there is national excitement around redefining high schools from the White House to Stanford University, and we believe it makes sense to catch this wave.
We are not asking the Board to approve opening a new secondary school at this time, nor are we asking the Board to implement a "house system" or "core teams" without further study. Those are significant decisions and require further vetting by the larger PAUSD community.
We are asking the Board to commission a Task Force to come up with the "what" and the "how" so that the Board can be ready to make a set of go / no-go decisions by summer 2016.
In over 1,000 hours of committee work since April 2015, the EMAC-SSS surfaced five distinct areas of concern that deserve further investigation by the Board. For further details, we encourage you to read more at this website, which contains the EMAC-SSS presentations and our recent open letter to the Board.
EMAC-SSS believes that our secondary schools are too big:
● Our current middle schools are reaching levels last seen 50 years ago
● Our current high schools have reached historical highs
● Bigger than local, comparable schools with similar social-economics and academic repute
● Bigger than national averages
● Bigger than the average of the Top 200 high schools in US News & World Report
● Bigger than optimal levels recommended in numerous academic research studies
● PAUSD teachers, students, parents, and administrators gave critical feedback in interviews and focus groups.
EMAC-SSS has consistently said that we found no single "smoking gun" that our secondary schools are too big. Rather, our conclusion is based on the preponderance of data listed above. A smart person can cherry-pick at any one of the data points, but the overall argument holds even if you choose to discount several of them.
There are examples of large U.S. high schools, but we find it unreasonable to claim that "size doesn't matter" simply because some large schools succeed. If enrollment size truly does not mean anything in terms of pedagogical policy setting, then there wouldn't have been so many academic research studies over the past 50 years on the subject of school size. Most educational professionals believe that school size matters.
XQ concept submission
We wish to clear up any confusion about the role of the EMAC-SSS and the purpose for the concept submission to the XQ Super Schools Initiative. XQ is a competition for private funds to develop innovative high schools. $50 million will be granted to 5-10 high schools in 2016. Nov. 15 was a qualifying deadline to submit responses to a set of questions; the actual grant application deadline is in February 2016.
After The Weekly reported on our preliminary proposals to the Board on Oct. 26, several people at Stanford University reached out to Superintendent Max McGee and suggested working together with the District to submit a concept. Dr. McGee then invited the EMAC-SSS and several community members to join in this effort, which is independent and parallel to the EMAC-SSS work.
The concept submission does not commit the District to build a school nor place any other obligations on the District. There is no downside and potentially a lot of upside. This is a placeholder that preserves the "option value" -- in the form of potential non-taxpayer dollars for our community -- for a later date in the event the School Board chooses to move forward with a new high school.
Allegations of bias
Some have suggested there might be a pre-meditated bias within the EMAC-SSS and insinuated that it might compromise the integrity of our findings.
One of the best things about the EMAC-SSS process is that five independent-minded individuals looked objectively at the data, agreed that the preponderance of evidence unambiguously leads to a strong desire for a focus on connectedness, expanded programming options, smaller learning communities in our existing schools, and potentially a new school. We held healthy debates about the different points of view and formed our recommendations as a team.
Citizens who serve on committees are obviously allowed to have a point of view, but that isn't the same as steering recommendations toward a pre-conceived bias.
● One member of EMAC-SSS is a prior School Board member and Cubberley Community Advisory Committee member
● Another member served on the recent Minority Achievement and Talent Development advisory committee
● A third member helped build and deliver a presentation to the School Board last June to envision what a new school might achieve.
● Members of EMAC were undoubtedly influenced by the work of several past committees and many came with strong points of view for or against opening new schools.
We praise Superintendent McGee and the School Board for their leadership, enthusiastic support and the environment that encourages the creative energy of this community to imagine what might be possible for our secondary students.
We believe there are no obstacles and many good reasons to establish a Task Force to elicit detailed answers to key questions of budget, timeline, program and land use before decisions can be made.
The authors comprise the Palo Alto school district EMAC Secondary Schools Subcommittee.