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School board to discuss 2017-18 goals

District looking to add five new draft goals, including implementation of equity plan

With a new school year set to begin next week, the Palo Alto school board will convene for a study session on Tuesday evening to discuss the district's top goals for the 2017-18 year.

Several goals that were not completed last year are being carried over, but the district is also considering adding five new draft goals (View the draft goals document here.)

New under an overarching "wellness and safety" category is a proposed goal to ensure compliance related to federal civil-rights law Title IX and the district's Uniform Complaint Procedure, a separate process for investigating reports of discrimination.

The district is currently being monitored by the U.S. Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights for its Title IX violations in several sexual assault and harassment cases at the two high schools. A resolution agreement with the Office for Civil Rights directs the district to take specific steps to address its failure to comply with federal law. The district has also been criticized in recent months for its handling of student sexual violence in the wake of newly disclosed cases at Palo Alto High School.

An "intermediate outcome" for this goal includes training all staff in relevant policies and procedures and meeting all deadlines for the resolution agreement. Another is to publish an updated version of the district's Uniform Complaint Procedure log on a weekly basis.

Several proposed goals have been added to advance the district's work to close its achievement gap. Top among them is implementing a districtwide equity plan, which has been in draft mode for the past year and lays out specific steps the district will take to improve outcomes for low-income and minority students and families in the district. Intermediate outcomes of implementing the equity plan include increasing the number and percentage of minority and low-income students meeting academic benchmarks in elementary school as well as in middle school gateway mathematics classes and in high school Advanced Placement (AP) classes.

Staff are also proposing to create a dashboard to keep track of the district's progress on its Local Control Accountability Plan goals, with quarterly reports to the school board. (School districts are required by the state to develop these plans to show how they will allocate funding to support particular groups of students, including low-income youth and English language learners.)

Long-term, the district hopes to see minority and low-income elementary school students meet benchmarks at rates similar to their peers and are proportionally represented in AP classes. Another long-term outcome is that 80 percent of all students in these groups will pass algebra in eighth grade.

Another proposed goal is to develop and implement a "plan for learning" from this student population and their families, including by meeting more regularly with students and parents at schools and throughout the community, the draft goals state. The district hopes such a plan would improve participation, engagement, connectedness and communication with minority and low-income families.

Board members will also discuss on Tuesday results from the annual Strategic Plan survey, which students, parents and teachers took this spring. Despite high satisfaction among parents and students with the academic experience in Palo Alto Unified, the district received low marks for college counseling and mental-health support at the high schools. Only 30 percent of Gunn High School students and 26 percent of Palo Alto High School students agreed positively that they receive effective college counseling. Similar rates — 28 percent of Gunn students and 31 percent at Paly — said they have received effective social-emotional learning support from counselors.

The lowest score from Gunn students was on communication with their principal and administrators — 45.7 percent felt negatively about communication with site leadership, compared to 12 percent at Paly. The lowest score from both Paly students and all parents was on college counseling services.

Most teachers said they have a good understanding of the district's goals and agreed that the district develops student knowledge, critical thinking and problem-solving skills. Teachers indicated low satisfaction, however, with the district's response to complaints of bias and discrimination; communication with the school board; and decision-making processes.

Tuesday's study session will take place from 6-8 p.m. at the district office, 25 Churchill Ave., with closed session from 6-6:15 p.m. View the full agenda here.

The Board of Education's first regular meeting of the school year is scheduled for Tuesday, Aug. 22, at 6:30 p.m.

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