Classes begin at elementary, middle schools | News | Palo Alto Online |


Classes begin at elementary, middle schools

New principals issue encouraging messages to campus communities

Dawn Yoshinaga, the new principal of Ohlone Elementary School, welcomes students as she stands with teachers and staff during the school's first-day-of-school "opening ceremony" on Aug. 15, 2017. Photo by Veronica Weber.

"Even if you feel a little nervous," Ohlone Elementary School teacher Julie Bagniefski told a class of second- and third-graders sitting quietly in a circle on a classroom floor Tuesday morning, "I guarantee you're going to feel different by the end of the day."

She and other teachers across the Palo Alto school district's elementary and middle schools greeted students and parents — many excited, many nervous and some a combination of both — on the first day of school Tuesday.

At Ohlone, students began the morning in their classrooms, which are all mixed-grade. And with no traditional bell system at Ohlone, students simply entered their classrooms when the doors opened.

Bagniefski instructed the third-graders in her class, referred to as "olders," to look out for their "youngers" throughout the day. The mixed-age classrooms allow older students to take on mentorship roles and to build stronger connections between students and teachers, since students have the same teacher two years in a row, Assistant Principal Annora Lee said.

It was also the first day of school for new principal Dawn Yoshinaga, who replaced Nicki Smith after her retirement at the end of the last school year. Yoshinaga was previously the principal of Palo Alto Unified's early-education campus, Greendell School, for a year.

At Ohlone, parents hovered in the background until 8:30 a.m., when all second- through fifth-grade classes gathered in the school's farm for a first-day-of-school "opening ceremony."

The annual ceremony, led by Yoshinaga, reinforces the school's whole-child philosophy, referred to as the "Ohlone way." After reading the Pledge of Allegiance, the large crowd of students and staff, as well as parents, recited in unison the "Pledge to the Earth," which ends: "one planet, indivisible with safe air, water, soil and economic justice, equal rights and peace for all."

At the event, all teachers and staff stood on a stage and introduced themselves by their first names — another marker of the Ohlone way — and Yoshinaga discussed how to be clean, kind, friendly and bounce back from mistakes.

A notable change this year at Ohlone and the district's other 11 elementary schools this week is a new mathematics curriculum. Teachers started instruction this week from Bridges in Mathematics, a new textbook the district approved in order to align its elementary math content with the Common Core State Standards.

Inside Sylvia Sanders' fourth grade classroom at Barron Park Elementary School, she started the first day of school with a lesson on "what a math classroom should look and sound like" — a more specific version of the classroom norms she would usually go over at the beginning of the school year.

"Kids said, 'it should be quiet; people should be whispering,'" Sanders said in an interview. "I said, 'Actually, I would like to hear people asking questions; people laughing; people saying things like, 'Can you tell me more about that? Can you solve that another way? Would you like some help?'"

The new curriculum is not a major departure from what Sanders and others have been teaching in their elementary math classes, but instead of teachers having to cobble together supplementary material to make up for where the district's previous curriculum, Everyday Math, failed to meet the state standards, it's now packaged in one textbook.

Sanders said Bridges in Mathematics incorporates best practices in elementary math, from "true problem solving where the answer is not immediately apparent" to ample practice and games.

The district brought Bridges in Mathematics staff in this summer to train teachers, and they'll return for another professional development day in October. The district also plans to offer training workshops for elementary-school aides. Math-specific teachers on special assignment (TOSAs) are serving as coaches and support for teachers throughout this first year of full implementation.

The district plans to evaluate the first year of Bridges through collecting feedback from teachers and parents and analyzing student assessment data.


At Jordan Middle School on Tuesday morning, another new principal was familiarizing herself with a new school community and campus. Valerie Royaltey-Quandt is a Campbell Union High School District administrator who replaced outgoing principal Katie Kinnaman at Jordan. She is the school's fourth principal in as many years.

She said she acknowledged the impact of such turnover off the bat with both staff and parents after arriving in the district.

"It's the elephant in the room," she said on Tuesday. "Just saying, 'Yeah, this is is hard.' Transition is hard. Even good change is change."

Royaltey-Quandt, who was previously Campbell school district's director of student services, assessment and accountability since 2015, has also been an elementary and middle school principal, assistant principal and high school Spanish teacher. She said in her first five years as a teacher, she had four different principals.

She has no illusions about the effect that can have on teachers. It was "completely disruptive," she said, and led to a mindset of "you handle that up there and I'm going to do my job."

Her goals for the first weeks and months at Jordan is to combat that and "build community," she said. She invited staff to come in to talk with her one-on-one this summer and is holding a "principal's coffee" event to meet with parents next Friday, Aug. 25, at 2:30 p.m.

Royaltey-Quandt was spending the first day of school wandering the halls with new sixth-graders participating in the school's two-day orientation program, Jaguar Journey. To familiarize students with the school, they participate in a range of activities, from "locker Olympics" (learn where your locker is and how to open it) to a scavenger hunt that teaches them where different buildings and services are located.

Older students convened in their regular classes, from science and mathematics to art.

In a welcome message to parents last week, Royaltey-Quandt wrote about the "skills and attitudes" she thinks are essential to develop and support in middle schoolers, from "embrace struggle" to "ask thoughtful questions" and "build intellectual stamina."

"For middle school students, academic work can become more rigorous and the social environment may become larger and more complex," she wrote. "Students may form new identities as secondary students."

Royaltey-Quandt also told parents that she has kept a photograph of her eighth-grade self on her desk as long as she's been an administrator.

"In addition to being quite humbling, it reminds me every day that the middle school experience can be both exciting and perplexing at the same time, and that caring, knowledgeable and engaged school staff can partner with parents, guardians and community to help guide the way," she wrote.

Royaltey-Quandt and Yoshinaga are among five new principals in the district this year.

Related content:

New principals named for Jordan, Terman middle schools

Leadership exodus will reshape school district, again


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14 people like this
Posted by Aoife Maynard
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Aug 15, 2017 at 8:36 pm

Opening day at Ohlone was FABULOUS this morning!!!!

I'm filled with great feelings for the new year. New principal, our new 4/5 teacher Dara Brady and lots of other new people around campus.

Hooray for Jordan in its new beginning and final year as JORDAN :-)

7 people like this
Posted by Advice for Jordan
a resident of Community Center
on Aug 17, 2017 at 8:11 am

If the new Principal of Jordan wants to get a jump on Jordan's problems, she should march down to Paly and spend a day talking to students who have escaped.

A table on the Quad with a few dozen donuts would be time and money well spent.

Then get their emails and follow up as the place reveals it's true nature. Information is everything. You should look to your customers, not your employees to give you a true measure of how you are doing.

...oh yeah - and the Paly Teachers can also tell you which subjects are weak in the incoming students. (Cough cough English)

3 people like this
Posted by Omom
a resident of Leland Manor/Garland Drive
on Aug 17, 2017 at 9:17 am

I only have elementary aged kids so I'm not as dialed into the middle schools. I'd be interested to hear about perceived problems at Jordan.

4 people like this
Posted by Advice For Jordan
a resident of Community Center
on Aug 19, 2017 at 8:17 am

Ominous asks about perceived problems for Jordan. It's a huge question. Broadly speaking most of Jordan's issues are:

- too much pressure and stress on students. Teaching styles are all over the map, and there are some very good teachers. But there are also those who present and pressure. Basic formula is to dump all the learning into homework and just pressure kids to do tons of it to teach themselves. Tests are disjointed from classrooms as the teaching in class is minimal. Grading is a wide range from easy to high school level difficulty.

- Jordan is not made for students. Almost every aspect of student life at Jordan is a challenge. Not the good kind of challenge which has a clear goal, and you try repeatedly to build skills and conquer the challenge. Rather, Jordan's challenges to the students are a confused overlapping mishmash of demands from discoordinated teachers, departments and admin who all appear to work together to make school unsolvable, stressful, and a sleep deprived muddle.

What this does is destroy willpower and teaches helplessness. The very resilience needed to.navigate Jordan, Paly, and life is sucked out of kids. You see, when an earnest 6th grader tries hard, fails, gets no help, often no clear direction, no chance to try again (no time to try again) and works towards an ill defined pointless goal - they learn one thing: to give up.

Tha is repeated for three years across many (not all, but many) classrooms.

That is Jordan.

Oh, and there's bullying too.

5 people like this
Posted by Former Paly Parent
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Aug 19, 2017 at 9:44 am

@Advice for Jordan - Unfortunately, your child will be "well prepared" for Paly - although Paly is making efforts to get better.

7 people like this
Posted by Experienced Parent
a resident of Jordan Middle School
on Aug 20, 2017 at 10:11 am

I've had three children graduate from Jordan, one last year. Don't let "Advice for Jordan" scare you too much. Jordan teachers rotate or leave quite a bit so the opinions of Jordan will vary. As with all education, the teacher can make or break the experience. Jordan and Paly stress all depend on the teachers. For my two older ones, 6th and 7th were insane and they had 4-5 hours of homework (due to teachers who are no longer at Jordan). There were 3 quizzes every week of the year in 7th and in 6th, projects were always looming in the background. My youngest had 2 years of no homework, and some homework in 8th. My regret is that I didn't contact the counselor for the 7th grade insanity and for 6th, we shouldn't have shot for "A"s. Remember that middle school grades don't matter, as they don't affect college admissions (I took this stance after that rigorous 6th grade year because I didn't want my child to burn-out prior to Paly). My 7th grade child also had a sport and was way too overstressed and completely sleep-deprived and depressed. Stand up for your child, don't worry about being labeled a "difficult parent" and experiencing backlash. Be sure to be professional and courteous, and go to the principal if the counselor doesn't care.

As far as bullying, there is very little in PAUSD. My children said that the best aspect of PAUSD is that there are so many nerds so everyone is nice. We did have one incidence of a non-resident bullying my child at Jordan and I reported it and admin and faculty were very concerned and they spoke to the parent and child (who they knew was an issue) and there was never an issue again. I don't know about the new principal, but Milliken was tough on bullying, the way it should be. Students should report bullying to admin if they witness it, because the school can't do anything about it if it's not reported. The bullying my children have seen is the academic bullying from the kids with immigrant parents so as long as your child isn't with those crowds, don't worry about bullying. The other bullying my children have seen is when the child has deficient social skills and provokes it, unknowingly. Parents should guide their children in social skills so their children know how to behave properly.

One thing that PAUSD could improve upon is the "No English in world language". In the first year, teachers should speak some English so they can teach children. My first two had the insane Spanish teacher (who is now at Paly, bless the children who have him) and he was a good teacher only if your child can make it through alive. Otherwise, he was so rigorous that many students dropped out due to the stress. I heard he prefers middle school where the grades don't matter.

I hope the new Jordan principal is good because we've had a couple of years of bad ones who were just figureheads. She might want to seek advice from Michael Millikan, who is superintendent of Belmont-Redwood Shores school district: Web Link

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