Gunn High School to get revised bell schedule this fall

Students critical of process, urge administration to address 'trust gap'

To provide time for new social-emotional learning curriculum and to bring Gunn High School into compliance with an instructional minutes requirement, the school will have a new bell schedule starting this fall, Principal Denise Herrmann announced in a message sent to staff and students Monday night.

The change is to the chagrin of many students who have said the schedule was revised with insufficient student voice and input.

The administration has decided to move what is currently an optional, sparsely attended Thursday afternoon tutorial period to a mandatory "flex" class after brunch. In the fall, this time will be used once a month for freshmen and sophomores to pilot new social-emotional learning curriculum, including allowing students to meet with teacher-mentors as part of the new Titan Connect program. Other weeks, students will be able to use the time for academic or free choice use, such as to get extra help from teachers or catch up on homework. In the 2018-19 school year, this will expand to include juniors and the following year, seniors.

This will double the amount of time students are spending in Titan Connect, Gunn's version of Palo Alto High School's teacher-advisor program, Herrmann told the Weekly.

Research and other schools' experience implementing social-emotional learning shows it is most effective in the middle of the school day, rather at the end or in the morning, Herrmann said. About 10 to 15 percent of students currently attend tutorial in the afternoons, according to the school.

Moving the period in the middle of the school day will also help Gunn address its failure to provide the minimum number of instructional minutes in a school year as mandated by the state. In February, Herrmann discovered that the school is 23 hours short of that requirement. The shortage was due to numerous special schedules, such as for standardized testing or finals, and a lack of accountability to the impact of those schedules on overall minutes, Herrmann said.

Paly is also short on instructional minutes by about 37 hours, according to Principal Kim Diorio. Paly's own bell schedule committee, convened in the fall, is set to make a recommendation for a revised schedule later this spring. The committee was originally formed in response to student complaints about one day of the week when all seven periods meet, but is now considering adding more time to advisory and a later start time, among other changes, Diorio said.

At Gunn, students said they recognize the need for a different schedule and fully support the addition of social-emotional learning, but have criticized the process by which the new schedule was developed.

More than 500 students have signed a petition that proposed a "compromise" schedule, urging the school to address a "large trust gap" between students and the administration.

"We, the students of Gunn, do not feel that our voices are being represented when decisions are made," the petition states. "Not only do we feel unrepresented, but we also see dysfunction in the decision-making process itself."

The petition decries the fact that a Creative Scheduling Committee, whose 2015 recommendation ultimately led the school to shift to a new block schedule, has met infrequently this year and with little participation from students. There are about six teachers, one parent and three students still meeting as part of that committee, Herrmann said.

That group, however, was not charged with making the recommendation on this year's schedule change, Herrmann said. The decision was made by the school's wellness team, which includes school counselors, wellness teachers on special assignment, the school's wellness coordinator and other teacher and administrators.

The wellness team has been working since November to find a bell schedule that would provide regular, dedicated time for social-emotional learning, which was recommended by a districtwide committee in February.

The administration held one informational student forum in January and again last week, days before Herrmann was expected to announce the new schedule, to solicit input. The school also sent a survey out to students and staff this month with four bell schedule options; the results indicated a "strong preference" for the one the administration ultimately decided to put in place, according to Herrmann.

Worried about the lack of student input, Gunn junior Advait Arun, who also co-authored the online petition, conducted his own survey. Out of 373 respondents across grades, most said they prefer the current schedule and did not want it to change. The survey also found that 60 percent of respondents said they don't trust the administration to listen to their voice. This amount increases in the higher grades, Arun found.

In a separate survey conducted by Gunn's student government body, many of the 88 randomly selected participants also urged against making another schedule change.

Arun said moving forward, more important than the schedule itself is the process by which future decisions are made at Gunn.

"If the petition is not going to work, so be it," he said. "I want to bridge the trust gap."

Some students are still smarting over other actions they felt neglected student voice, including two years ago when zero period academic classes were eliminated and this year, when Gunn implemented a new monitoring software on school-issued laptops.

Arun has been elected to serve as Gunn's school board representative next year and hopes to use that role to improve communication between students, administrators and school trustees.

He also hopes students who opposed the schedule change go into the new school year this fall with an open mind to help make the new social-emotional curriculum a success.

Herrmann said she values student voice and has met with every student who has asked to talk with her about the bell schedule. Her eye, however, is on the pedagogical arguments for social-emotional learning and the long-term impact of rolling that initiative out in the right way.

"Students are not education experts; they're expressing their views from what they value and I completely understand that, but as the leader of a public school, I'm charged to use evidence-based practices and sometimes that's not aligned with what some of the current students want," she said.

"Sometimes it's not about the popular choice, it's what is going to make the biggest difference for the most students over the course of the next three to five years," she added.


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16 people like this
Posted by retired guy who follows the schools
a resident of Barron Park
on Mar 28, 2017 at 11:16 pm

I’m really, really, really with the kids on this one.

In June 2013, when Dr. Herrmann was principal at Middleton High School in Wisconsin, she was smack in the middle of the same kind of thing.

A headline in the local paper read: “Hundreds of Students Voice Opposition to MHS Schedule Change.”

Web Link

“It’s not fair or practical for the administration to make last-minute changes that will negatively impact our academic future,” wrote the Middleton junior whose petition against the schedule change got 600 signatures.

Sometimes ya gotta wonder who needs these “social-emotional” lessons more. The kids? Or the grownups in charge?

8 people like this
Posted by Concerned Parent
a resident of Barron Park
on Mar 28, 2017 at 11:36 pm

[Post removed due to same poster using multiple names.]

19 people like this
Posted by As trust does
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 28, 2017 at 11:39 pm

I'm very uncomfortable hearing all this "evidence-based" this and "evidence-based" that. My experience with the district is that it doesn't matter how much evidence of the highest consensus level you provide, if they don't want to do something, even related to health and safety, they won't and they'll probably find a way to attack you personally to boot. And if they want to do something, they'll go out and find some expert to support what they want to do, even if what that expert said doesn't exactly cobstitute evidence. I'm not saying that's what was done here, but I totally concur with the kids about the trust problem.

I wish our trustees woukd put more emphasis on creating trustworthy administration and hiring people who actually like working with the public in good faith. Again, not meaning Herrman in particular.

2 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 29, 2017 at 6:56 am

I have no particular thoughts one way or the other in the bell change.

What I do think is a useful learning lesson for the students is that it is better for them to learn a life lesson that they are a cog in a wheel of life when it comes to things that may affect them. This will be something they will learn how to deal with and when the next life change affects them when it doesn't suit them they will be able to deal with it better.

Sometimes changes happen that affect us without us having any say in the matter. It is life. Sometimes the changes are brought into effect when the people are given the choice and they make the wrong decision for the wrong reasons. There are times when the decisions are made for us by those who have the skills and knowledge to make the decision. We are just small cogs in a big wheel. It is better to learn how to make informed decisions when we have the opportunity to make a decision.

Life skill.

2 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 29, 2017 at 6:58 am

(Sorry submitted too quickly)

Life skill - and sometimes those in charge make the wrong decision for the wrong reason and we still have to deal with it. Terman and Jordan, anyone?

14 people like this
Posted by Gunn parent
a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Mar 29, 2017 at 7:40 am

Hold firm Denise! We are with you. You are doing the right thing.

Finally, TA at Gunn. Break out the champagne!

26 people like this
Posted by Connie
a resident of Palo Verde
on Mar 29, 2017 at 8:06 am

I completely understand that the administration needs to bring the number of hours attended back into compliance; however, this change does take away something very important.

Currently at Gunn, the students have a Flex time (Tuesdays and mandatory) and a Tutorial time (Thursdays and not mandatory).

During Flex time, students have a choice to check in with a teacher or go to the library (I think there are other places they can check in). Since this time is mandatory, students who seek out a teacher for help, may be in a classroom with upwards of 30-40 other students making it virtually impossible for any one student to get the help they need.

During Tutorial, since this time is optional, there are far fewer students in any given class seeking help. My students, and the ones who attend tutorial, really benefit from this time. They are more able to have their questions answered and make-up tests.

The new schedule takes away Tutorial and adds an additional Flex time (both flex times will be mandatory). This will "get rid" of the smaller class size for those students needing the extra help.

I have raised this issue with administration both last year and again this year, but do not have any clear answer on what strategies are going to be put in place to alleviate that challenge.

I am uncomfortable that by making this change without addressing the overcrowding in Flex time, will negatively affect those students needing the most help.

39 people like this
Posted by Concerned Parent
a resident of Barron Park
on Mar 29, 2017 at 8:41 am

I believe students should have their voice in scheduling change because they are the ones affected by the schedule changes. Any SEL will emphasize on listening to the students and building trusting relations with them. Gunn Admin should have taken this as a good chance show respect and empathy for students petition, which could have made this a good SEL case. SEL can't be taught by lecturing, it showed in how we treat our students in everyday life. Unfortunately, the Admin did the opposite. The students voice was ignored, I am questioning if our education experts are telling the students one value, and they themselves often do the opposite that is contradictory to the value they promote. No matter how shiny this SEL concept is, the adults who implement it should be a good role model first.

11 people like this
Posted by Sanctimonious City
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 29, 2017 at 4:08 pm

With daily bell times that randomly change throughout the year, it is becoming more obvious that the schedule is being controlled by the Magic 8-Ball. The give away is the responses from the school district.

Will school end today at 3:40pm? - Outlook good
Will the time be off set differently by 15 mins next week? - Signs point to yes
Is there a way to plan ahead for pick up times? - My sources say no
Will there be a calendar published before the start of summer? - Ask again later

The new schedule is so unpopular with students that they have started a petition to Principal Hermann on As of today, there are over 550 signatures. If SEL is really about soft skills then maybe the school should practice the art of listening to the group of people who will be impacted most.

Petition Link:
Web Link

2 people like this
Posted by musical
a resident of Palo Verde
on Mar 29, 2017 at 4:35 pm

I always listen to the people who sign my paychecks, whether or not they care about the customer.

6 people like this
Posted by anonymous
a resident of Barron Park
on Mar 29, 2017 at 6:15 pm

I like the new schedule because the struggling student who is always scheduled with another teacher for Flextime 90%
of the time is not going to walk in on their own accord on a voluntary Thursday tutorial. Thus I can snatch them with the second Flex and make them do their work and raise their grade. It aligns with goals. Simple.

2 people like this
Posted by jimmyh
a resident of Community Center
on Mar 29, 2017 at 7:08 pm

How can the schools not even be meeting the MINIMUM number of school hours that the state requires?

I bet if they went a few hours over the minimum you'd hear it from the teacher's union.

Do the hours include the "Flex" time that many students skip?

2 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 29, 2017 at 8:36 pm

I am really quite shocked at the fact that we fall short of minimum hours (or minutes). We are told that 180 instructional days is what we have to have, which falls far behind many other countries. We know that other countries have a longer school day also. American and in particular Californian schools perform poorly against their peer groups around the world. It is no surprise that more hours and more days in school must at least be partly responsible for better performance elsewhere.

However, how do we calculate time spent for emergency drills (earthquake, fire, code red and code yellow), mandatory assemblies, etc. when it comes to calculating minutes and hours? What about the movies shown by substitute teachers?

No wonder we are falling behind.

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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