School board urges specific goals, accountability in equity plan | News | Palo Alto Online |


School board urges specific goals, accountability in equity plan

Special-education teacher: Plan is 'long overdue'

Feedback on a plan for closing the achievement gap in Palo Alto Unified was clear on Tuesday night: Parents are desperate for action and the Board of Education wants specific goals that will hold the district's feet to the fire on a complex issue that has resisted change for years.

The school board and community members were largely supportive of the new two-year plan, which was presented by new Equity Coordinator Keith Wheeler at the school board meeting.

Wheeler has proposed the district explicitly focus on how its approximately 2,000 African-American and Hispanic students, some of whom are low-income or have disabilities, are under-achieving academically and address structures at schools that contribute to the lower performance. He developed the plan with feedback from teachers, staff, students and parents, including in-home visits to many families.

The plan has three main focuses: improving school climate and culture for these students; providing personalized learning plans to improve academic outcomes; and hiring and retaining a more diverse workforce.

Board members urged Wheeler to add specific, clear goals to hold both staff and the board accountable for progress. Trustee Todd Collins suggested they be "S.M.A.R.T." goals, a common acronym for specific, measurable, achievable, relevant and time-bound.

Collins also suggested that the district be clear that the superintendent and principals are primarily responsible for progress at the schools and that the district's resources — both money and time -- be carefully focused.

"We are a district with a short span of attention. When we try to do (more than) a couple things at once we usually fail at all of them," he said, urging Wheeler to prioritize an achievable number of goals.

Several board members also expressed an interest in using the California Department of Education's new accountability website -- which provides data on districts' performance in areas such as academics, graduation rates, English language learner progress and student safety -- to set goals in the equity plan.

Board member Terry Godfrey said the plan should also be driven by other data on the performance of minority and low-income students, such as California's standardized Smarter Balanced test and the rates at which students complete requirements to enter the state college system, known as "A-G." She also suggested scrutinizing data in the earlier grades to identify "leading indicators" for students who might be struggling.

She also asked Wheeler to return with cost estimates for the recommendations.

Several board members agreed, at Collins' suggestion, to make equity a standing, monthly agenda item at board meetings so they can more closely monitor progress.

For parents, teachers and community members who have been working to move the needle on this issue for years — some even a decade — Tuesday night was déjà vu.

"I have no more patience to see the same movie playing over and over again for these kids," said parent Carmen Muñoz, who served on the district's Minority Achievement and Talent Development committee. The group penned a set of recommendations in 2015 that laid the foundation for this next phase of work.

Muñoz and other parents urged the board to support Wheeler, whom many described as energizing and ready to tackle this work.

Palo Alto High School special-education teacher Laura Bricca said the plan is "long overdue."

"I stand here today both hopeful because I'm inspired by the people who are currently in this district trying to attack this problem and I'm inspired by our students," she said. "I'm also fearful because I feel that this district has paid a lot of lip service to this issue for a long time.

"I think we're really good at talking about equity and access and we have not done a good job at implementing what's required to address it," she said.

Among the plan's specific recommendations is to expand DreamCatchers, a nonprofit that provides after-school tutoring to minority and low-income middle school students, to the ninth grade. The district is also in talks with the nonprofit to add a summer program for fourth- and fifth-graders.

While several parents, many speaking through a Spanish translator, spoke to the importance of DreamCatchers for their children, one questioned why families are so dependent on an outside organization for educational support.

"The degree of need for DreamCatchers is also a reflection of the deficiencies we have in our own district," said parent Sara Woodham, who serves on the nonprofit's board of directors. "Frankly, DreamCatchers is really filling a void, and folks are desperate when we have to basically outsource what we should probably be doing a much better job at."

Board Vice President Jennifer DiBrienza later commented that despite the need for clear goals and accountability, the district faces a much larger problem: Its very educational environment has been built to serve a particular population, continually leaving minority and low-income students behind.

"If we keep things as they are and just try to put in a new program here and put in a new program there, this structure is still in place that's making it happen," she said.

The board is set to vote on the equity plan at its Jan. 30 meeting.


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11 people like this
Posted by context
a resident of Stanford
on Dec 20, 2017 at 10:13 am

The Tinsley program came about after Palo Alto residents objected to having their children bused to East Palo Alto. That eventually landed PAUSD in a lawsuit alleging unconstitutional segregation. The parties settled in 1987 and the VTP program began.

After ten years in Palo Alto schools, the Tinsley students' test scores remained behind others'. No change 25 years later either.

The Weekly reported about minority students' overrepresentation in special education. A Stanford researcher who had studied PAUSD's VTP students said that "'that could be happening for a lot of reasons...I think it's a way [for teachers] getting kids extra help.'"

Jones, "The Tinsley Case Decision," 2006
Web Link

26 people like this
Posted by Wrong message
a resident of Barron Park
on Dec 20, 2017 at 12:01 pm

These race-based initiatives are sending the wrong message to young minds that race is the determining factor for their poor academic performance. Such a simplistic and convenient approach hasn't worked for ages, but our administrators keep coming back to it for whatever reason.

What about each family's and individual's responsibility and accountability? Expecting to change the 'oppresive' system so that certain groups can improve their test scores will just perpetuate stereotypes and will not prepare these kids for the real world once they leave the sheltered and politically correct world of PAUSD.

And what about kids who don't happen to be African-American and Hispanic? Are they less deserving of any school efforts to improve their performances?

45 people like this
Posted by Old Timer
a resident of Professorville
on Dec 20, 2017 at 2:01 pm

[Post removed.]

3 people like this
Posted by Elementary Parent
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 20, 2017 at 3:15 pm

I would ask the board and whoever is in charge of this new initiative to close the achievement gap, to also look at the way IEP requests or recommendations are being handled . Based on conversations with numerous parents, it seems like teachers at elementary schools (maybe at middle/high schools too) have a policy of pushing off or delaying testing of kids who seem to do poor consistently on standardized tests but don't have behavior issues. Most teachers seem to push it off as normal development or irresponsible kids/parents. Any interventions at site level are half hearted and seem more a case of dotting the i and crossing the t than seriously trying to figure out why kids are struggling or underperforming . When these elementary kids who do get recommended for intervention go to middle school, there is no follow up of kids that were placed in intervention.

Parents I have spoken to have said they have to really push hard to have their kids tested even when they provide convincing evidence that their kids are struggling and sometimes it takes upto 2 years before any testing is done depending on how much stamina the parent has to pursue this. Also, ESL students who have a hard time adjusting in class because they don't understand the language seem also to be increasingly placed in IEP programs.

34 people like this
Posted by Thank god
a resident of Greenmeadow
on Dec 20, 2017 at 4:53 pm

Thank god My kids are almost out of pausd. This is a ridiculous waste of limited dollars and focus. The solutions as stated in the article are a joke ; improve school culture, personalized learning , diverse workforce! And this will close an academic gap?. How about living up to your commitments about class size first. What a bunch of politically correct goobledegook . Thanks for reminding me why a stopped PIE donations last year

Like this comment
Posted by m2grs
a resident of Midtown
on Dec 20, 2017 at 5:22 pm

There was an example of success: Mr. Jamie Escalante. All we need is someone like him, someone who can inspire those poor students that they can do it.

Web Link

But alas, he could not survive in CA public school environment, not for long.

4 people like this
Posted by
a resident of Mountain View
on Dec 21, 2017 at 8:49 pm

is a registered user.

I was a " victim " being one of the few " white " ( I have Amerind blood too ) in the mostly black student body in the Ravenswood School District over 55 years ago. [Portion removed.]
The real problem is cause by a clash of culture difference and measured IQ levels based on what is wanted to be achieved. To be blunt: what do you want to do in life and what do you want to achieve it? If the child looks at role models, they see FEW goals that match up with the necessary learning in this " old white men " created society. [Portion removed.]

Like this comment
Posted by the_punnisher
a resident of Mountain View
on Dec 21, 2017 at 8:51 pm

the_punnisher is a registered user.

the_punnisher on what might work and what has been tried already

6 people like this
Posted by Breitbart West Coast edition
a resident of College Terrace
on Dec 22, 2017 at 9:01 am

Unbelievable racism in these posts. [Portion removed] you should be ashamed of yourself for providing a venue for this.

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