Editorial: Caswell, Dauber, Emberling for School Board | October 12, 2012 | Palo Alto Weekly | Palo Alto Online |

Palo Alto Weekly

Spectrum - October 12, 2012

Editorial: Caswell, Dauber, Emberling for School Board

The last time there was an election for school board in Palo Alto was five years ago, just a few months after Superintendent Kevin Skelly had been hired to bring order to the chaos created by the board's poor handling of the proposed new Mandarin Immersion program and a widespread lack of confidence in former Superintendent Mary Frances Callan.

The two top vote-getters in that 2007 election were then-challengers Melissa Baten Caswell and Barbara Klausner, while Camille Townsend, the only incumbent running, barely beat out Wynn Hauser for the third slot by 200 votes.

After the 2009 election was cancelled because no one filed to oppose incumbents Barbara Mitchell and Dana Tom, this year there is not only a competitive race but a refreshing and serious discussion of issues.

Camille Townsend seeks a third term, something that no school board member has done in more than 40 years. If successful, Townsend would set a record of 13 years on the board by the time her term expired in 2016.

Caswell, a former high-tech marketing executive, seeks a second term, while the third incumbent, Klausner, decided against running for a second term due to frustrations over the role of the board and her ability to have an impact.

The two non-incumbents in the race are Ken Dauber, a Google software engineer and former college professor with a PhD in sociology and co-founder of We Can Do Better Palo Alto, a group devoted to improving the social and emotional well-being of kids and to closing the achievement gap, and Heidi Emberling, an early childhood parent education specialist at Parents Place, a non-profit supporting families and teachers, and a former president of the Juana Briones PTA.

The last five years have seen unprecedented emotional highs and lows for the schools and the kids and parents in our community.

On the positive side, in 2008 voters overwhelmingly approved both a $378 million bond measure and in 2010 an extension and increase of a parcel tax (to $589/year.) These two measures have enabled badly-needed construction and renovation of new classrooms, athletic facilities and school infrastructure, and provided a steady revenue flow to stabilize district annual budgets during uncertain economic times.

The fortuitous timing of the bond measure, passed just prior to the stock market crash and the onset of the Great Recession in 2008, enabled the district to get much more favorable construction bids than expected and to stretch the dollars. Unlike with the previous bond measure, this one has been managed exceedingly well.

The school board also developed a strong strategic plan in 2008 that has actually been used to develop the district's annual goals and priorities over the last several years.

Tragedy, in the form of five teen suicides in 2009 and 2010, has had a powerful impact on the district, especially faculty, students and families at Gunn. This brought renewed examination of values and priorities and major new initiatives to address the social and emotional needs of kids and the stress caused by the high expectations of parents, peers and the school system.

The community's despair over the suicides also gave rise to Project Safety Net (PSN), a collaborative of community organizations, the city, school district and concerned individuals committed to a comprehensive response to the needs of Palo Alto youth.

We Can Do Better Palo Alto, the grass-roots group co-founded by Dauber and his wife last year, became a consistent prod to the district to make these efforts a top priority, and an advocate for using better data analysis to aid policy decisions, especially in the realm of high school counseling.

While groups in the PSN collaborative opted not to use their influence and take positions on issues in front of the school board, We Can Do Better Palo Alto advocated for measures to reduce student stress, including a change in the school calendar, a district homework policy and enforcement of designated no-homework days, and adoption of a unified counseling system modeled after the teacher advisory system used at Palo Alto High School. While its criticism and aggressive style has made some uncomfortable and put the board and superintendent on the defensive, it succeeded in bringing valuable new information, perspectives and analysis to many issues, and in creating better results.

All of the candidates in this race are thoughtful, caring parents who are committed to outstanding and rigorous academic programs and making sure our schools continue to be among the best in California and the nation. They also all acknowledge that the achievement culture in our community and the high stress it has created demand attention.

Such qualities and viewpoints do not, however, correlate with leadership or effective governance.

The current board has had five years without a change in composition, coinciding with the first five years of Superintendent Skelly's tenure with the district. Each trustee has had a turn as board president during this period, and the opportunity to work closely with Skelly in his first-time role as a district superintendent.

But rather than a steadily improving competence and confidence in its decision-making, the process of engaging the public and its oversight of the superintendent, the board has struggled with almost every important issue to come before it.

Having observed dozens of school board members and hundreds of meetings over more than 30 years, we believe the current group suffers from having neither a superintendent nor board leader who excels at formulating clear recommendations and leading effective discussions that conclude with formal motions and votes.

The result is frequently a meandering, undisciplined discussion in which each board member talks, often making useful suggestions, but that ends without clarity. The board therefore functions more like a sounding board for the staff, which must then figure out how to translate five different voices into policy.

There is no better example of this process than the board's clumsy attempts to ensure both high schools have "comparable" counseling programs. Identified as a priority four long years ago in the 2008 strategic plan, the board and superintendent's mismanagement of this process has created distrust, unclear direction and continued confusion as to just how similar the board wants the counseling programs to be. Amazingly, the board has never actually had a discussion or vote to determine whether a board majority actually favors establishing a single "best practice" counseling model, regardless of what it is, at the two high schools.

School district voters, which includes about half of Los Altos Hills, should not settle for this passive form of governance.

So which candidates are best equipped to bring improvements in the way the board operates?

We are confident only about Melissa Baten Caswell and Ken Dauber. Each of them has a firm grasp of the governance problems, is willing to assert the board's responsibility to make decisions and places a high value on transparency and parent participation. Both have experience in corporate decision-making yet acknowledge that a public institution can't run like a business and needs to build support among all stakeholders in the school community. We think together they could provide the type of board leadership that could fix many of the problems identified above.

For the third seat, we cannot support Camille Townsend, who we also declined to support when she ran for reelection four years ago.

Townsend's PTA work and her tireless efforts to beat back attempts to cut state support for Palo Alto schools back in 2002 and 2003 propelled her to victory in 2003, and no one cares more about kids and the school district.

But as much clarity as she has in private conversations about school policy, she has not brought it to the public process, where it really counts. As recent email disclosures have shown, she says one thing in public and another in private. As board president, where a trustee's influence is greatest, Townsend has consistently opted to use the role to carry the superintendent's water rather than construct meeting agendas so that important issues were teed up for a focused policy discussion and decision by the board.

Only in the most extraordinary circumstances should anyone serve three terms on a local elected body. This is not one of those times.

How Heidi Emberling will function as a board member is difficult to predict because over the years she has opted to observe meetings rather than advocate for her point of view.

She is knowledgeable, articulate and passionate, and her professional background as an early childhood education specialist would be a unique addition to the board.

She raises concerns about student stress and the social and emotional needs of students, particularly related to bullying, the lack of clarity of goals or policy options when the board is dealing with controversial issues, and the strong tilt in the district toward site-based decision-making. She believes teachers need more "cultural competence" in order to more effectively work to close the achievement gap.

A former journalist, she advocates for more transparency in district-board operations and communications. As a mother of 4th and 6th graders, she also would be a voice for parents of younger students, a rarity on the school board.

We recommend Melissa Baten Caswell, Ken Dauber and Heidi Emberling as the best group to move the school district forward.


Posted by Camille supporter, a resident of Midtown
on Oct 12, 2012 at 6:09 am

Surprise, surprise. The editor of the PA Weekly opposes Camille. Not because of performance - the District is doing well, student performance is strong, teacher morale is high, finances are sound, the building program is meeting the enrollment growth.

The real reasons?

First, because the Board did not respond to an improper attacks calling to fire the Superintendent - since retracted by their sponsors. Second, because a preferred counseling method wasn't forced on Gunn High School but instead is proceeding according to the strategic plan to enable buy-in. And third, because "meetings meander." Of course, one of the real culprits of that is one of the challenging incumbents that chooses to speak almost every time there is a legal opportunity to do that.

Everyone has their opinion. I have no doubt voters will look at the facts.

Posted by Camille supporter, a resident of Midtown
on Oct 12, 2012 at 6:14 am

Typo in above post: "challenging incumbents" should be just "challengers".

Posted by Karen Kang, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Oct 12, 2012 at 10:02 am

Thank you Palo Alto Weekly for an honest and well-reasoned assessment of the candidates. I agree that the school board could use a results-oriented, collaborative leader like Ken Dauber. I like and trust Ken. He has data to back up his belief that healthy, happy students perform better. He's both the heart and head candidate--and he has my vote.

Posted by historian, a resident of Community Center
on Oct 12, 2012 at 10:30 am

One of many errors in this editorial is the claim that if Townsend were re-elected, she would "a record of 13 years on the board by the time her term expired in 2016." Actually, a Daily Post article quoted PAUSD historian Bob French as saying that the longest serving school board member was Pearl Shreve, who served 21 years from 1929 to 1947.

Posted by Pamela, a resident of Barron Park
on Oct 12, 2012 at 10:41 am

I have only been to one board meeting regarding counseling services and I was surprised of how much time was wasted by saying the samething over and over again by Camille. Yet, a resolution regarding counseling services was never solved. Being a parent of Gunn students I am concerned about the Counselors and Students and all of the misinformation that the students receive from their peers. My older child tried to see the counselor many times last year but she was so busy with her 325 other students that she only had inconvinient times to see my student, such as being pulled out of class, which is/was an issue in and of itself. This year my child went to the College Fair coming out of it saying "I wish the Counselor would have told me when I was a Freshman that my Freshmen grades counted on my GPA instead of listening to my friends." Had my student received the correct information from an authority figure (not peers) at Gunn, my student wouldn't be so concerned about the GPA now. Even if the counselor sees three students a day the counselor could actually see a student three times a year, but they don't even do that especially in the freshman and sophmore years. you will be lucky to see a counselor three times your Senior year. but they don't pay attention until it is time to get you out of school. Another four years of ring around the Rosie, I guess my kids will be done with the district hopefully they won't fall down between now and then if there is not a change in the counseling services. Camille with all due respect give other individuals a chance to make a difference and enjoy your retirement.

Posted by H, a resident of Barron Park
on Oct 12, 2012 at 10:45 am

Oh, I see. Just because the current School Board members are not providing fodder for the Weekly to write you want to elect ones that do. Yes let's put someone in who doesn't like to come to consensus with all parties. Sounds like a good plan. That way we really won't get anywhere and it's the children of this district who will suffer.

The PAUSD is not an easy district to manage and this School Board has done a good job of coming to consensus with all parties. Camille has the most experience of all the candidates and is truly committed to the job. It is invaluable to have someone on the School Board who also has the historical perspective. Frankly, we should be immensely grateful to her to have such dedication to the children and parents of Palo Alto. The Weekly has made a mistake by not supporting her.

Posted by Ken Supporter, a resident of Green Acres
on Oct 12, 2012 at 11:04 am

Thank you for this great endorsement of Ken and Melissa. I want to say that the first comment's author (Camille supporter) has apparently not been to many school board meetings. I was appalled with the way they were conducted at times and much of that was due to Camille. The Weekly's editorial said, "Townsend has consistently opted to use the role to carry the superintendent's water rather than construct meeting agendas so that important issues were teed up for a focused policy discussion and decision by the board." I couldn't agree with this more. I am grateful that Ken has used time that is put aside for the public to speak to advocate for positive changes in the district. With Ken's strong leadership skills on the board we can accomplish great things in the upcoming years.

Posted by Parent for Fairness, a resident of Stanford
on Oct 12, 2012 at 11:52 am

Camille lost my vote when she refused to repudiate the racist letter written by the head of the Paly math department. Her deference to staff, at the expense of student fairness, is obstructionist. Ken Dauber was the only candidate who was willing to stand up for students on this. He did so calmly, rationally, and with the numbers and policy to back up his position that Palo Alto can do better in teaching math to students-- over 150 other districts do. If that's being divisive and creating a media opportunity, as some have suggested, then so be it. We need more of that.

Posted by Green party, a resident of Greenmeadow
on Oct 12, 2012 at 12:10 pm

[Post removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]

Posted by Misha, a resident of Gunn High School
on Oct 12, 2012 at 12:11 pm

I take issue with the statement that members of PSN declined to advocate in the interests of students before the school board and PAUSD. This is completely untrue and a disservice to all the very many people and organizations who HAVE been working tirelessly in the multitude of avenues to influence and make changes, including speaking up at school board meetings.

There is more than one way to be effective besides being in the public spotlight and haranguing at school board meetings.

Just as WCDBPA needs to appreciate that forcing specific tactics without allowing thoughtful consideration of other views or options is not the best way to be most effective, I ask that the editors and staff at the Weekly look beyond the loudest person in the room to see and appreciate all those who have been working so hard for our kids.

Posted by Camille supporter, a resident of Midtown
on Oct 12, 2012 at 12:12 pm

So, this is the tone that's good for the District? "Parent for Fairness" essentially calling anyone racist that doesn't immediately follow a Ken Dauber policy recommendation? Did any member of the Board act any differently with regard to the math letter the poster didn't approve of? I would suggest interested readers look at the editorial in the Daily Post today.

Posted by Joanne B., a resident of Fairmeadow
on Oct 12, 2012 at 12:14 pm

I have to respond to H. The idea that this School Board has "done a good job of coming to consensus with all parties" is contradicted by all of the many cases where inaction, unclearness and poor planning lead to unnecessary dissensus and conficlit. Many are mentioned in this article including counseling, the calendar, everyday math, MI, the previous superintendent, A-G (the source of the Paly math letter). We have paid a big price for mismanagement and the "go along to get along" attitude of board members like Camille (but also Klausner and Melissa, who lacks followthrough herself).
Dauber's clarity and willingness to have honest communication is going to be a breath of fresh air, I just hope that the article is right that Melissa will go along. There is evidence either way on that one.

Posted by Board observer, a resident of College Terrace
on Oct 12, 2012 at 12:25 pm

@misha I think the editor's position is that PSN member orgs haven't advocated for policy before the board, even for PSN's own plan. That is true. Doesn't mean they haven't done good work. Does mean that WCDB has taken a lot of arrows standing up for PSN priorities.

@Camille supporter Yes Melissa and Barbara K both made statements critical of the letter. Skelly apologized for it. Camille didn't. Doesn't make her a racist, nobody's saying that. Doesnt make her a leader either.

Posted by Camille supporter, a resident of Midtown
on Oct 12, 2012 at 12:41 pm

Re: Board observer. I don't think that your statement reflects the full record. I believe Camille has in fact said the letter wasn't appropriate - essentially the same as Melissa and Barbara K. But when advocates start tossing around inflammatory phrases that is not good for our District.

Posted by Board observer, a resident of College Terrace
on Oct 12, 2012 at 12:57 pm

@Camille Sure, I stand corrected if Camille rejected the letter as inappropriate. The letter was deeply hurtful to parents of poor and black and brown children so I am going to hold off on criticizing them for word choice.

Posted by Board observer, a resident of College Terrace
on Oct 12, 2012 at 12:59 pm

Sorry typo meant @Camille supporter

Posted by Let the record reflect the truth, a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Oct 12, 2012 at 1:05 pm

Camille Never not one time never criticized the math letter. She never said it was unfortunate. Neither did Barb Klausner. Only Melissa and Ken had the courage to say it. Dr. Skelly apologized and Phil Winston sort of apologized. But Camille was SILENT. And she as Board President scheduled the study session on the Math letter for a time when parents could not come on purpose and admitted it. Camille was wrong on the math letter, wrong on stress, wrong on Mary Francis just wrong for PAUSD. Thanks Weekly for saying what we all know. Time for her to move on.

Posted by Daily Post Reader, a resident of Community Center
on Oct 12, 2012 at 1:08 pm

[Portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]

To think that Ken will speed debate is highly suspect and ignores the fact that every issue in Palo Alto is hotly debated. It's more likely that Ken, like Barbara Klausner, gets frustrated with a process purposely slowed by the Brown Act and that board meetings change from long, rambling but thoughtful to long, divisive and accusatory [portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]

Posted by Mary D, a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Oct 12, 2012 at 1:15 pm

I support Camille Townsend and believe she brings many positive attributes to the Board. I feel that she listens objectively, considers other viewpoints, is passionate about supporting our children, and cares about making the best decision for the students and schools, even if it is not the most popular choice.

Posted by Resident, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 12, 2012 at 1:17 pm

The one thing that has not been mentioned is that without Camille Townsend running once again, we would not have an election. I think Camille knows this and that is why she is running.

I don't care who we vote for and why, I am just delighted we have a choice this time.

Posted by Love the Daily Post, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 12, 2012 at 1:25 pm

I agree with the Daily Post Reader and and the Daily Post. Anyone who has truly experienced the interactions with Mr. Dauber and his group of the "We Can Do Better" in person would come to a similar conclusion as the Daily Post has in their assessment. Mr. Dauber does make great press for the Weekly but what PAUSD needs are folks who are willing to listen and then come to an agreement on what is best for all students and not is what is best for a parent who has strong opinions.

Posted by Trish, a resident of St. Claire Gardens
on Oct 12, 2012 at 1:27 pm

Thank you to the Weekly for the thoughtful analysis and endorsement of Ken Dauber. To the poster who accuses Ken of divisiveness and vitriole, you obviously have been misinformed. If you ever talked to Ken or attended a board meeting where he has spoken, you would know that Ken uses reasoned, rational, and thoughtful arguments to advance the interests of all students in the district. Just because you may disagree with his positions (which are supported by a good many people in the district, I might add,) is no reason to misrepresent who he is as a person. He is an intelligent, hard-working consensus builder who has shaken up the status quo here is Palo Alto and that is why some feel threatened by him. I challenge you to come to the candidate forum on Monday at the District office to hear what Ken has to say and compare him to the other candidates instead of slinging mud at him.

Posted by Let the record reflect the truth, a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Oct 12, 2012 at 1:29 pm

[Post removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]

Posted by parent, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 12, 2012 at 1:40 pm

How can you recommend someone [portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff] who is so controversial, and who wants a complete top-down way of running our schools? It is my belief that having this kind of person on the Board will be very detrimental to our schools.

I hope, and believe, that Palo Alto voters will know better than that.

Posted by Mary Vincent, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Oct 12, 2012 at 1:41 pm

I agree with Karen Kang: “that the school board could use a results-oriented, collaborative leader like Ken Dauber. I like and trust Ken. He has data to back up his belief that healthy, happy students perform better. He's both the heart and head candidate--and he has my vote.”
I have worked with Ken and he is always focused on the welfare of all the students in PAUSD. I found Ken to be articulate, a good listener and collaborator. He keeps the focus on positive change.
I am also endorsing Melissa. She keeps the focus on the goals of the district and is always asking for metrics that will help us know that we have achieved those goals. She is also insistent that PAUSD is a unified district and should provide appropriate education for every student.
At the same time, I have attended three forums for the candidates and it seems that any of the three would work well together and collaborate. We are lucky to have dedicated citizens who will step up to run for the school board.

Posted by determinant, a resident of Crescent Park
on Oct 12, 2012 at 2:49 pm

determinant is a registered user.

Good luck to all the candidates.

Posted by village fool, a resident of another community
on Oct 12, 2012 at 8:55 pm

village fool is a registered user.

Parent for fairness- Thank you for mentioning Palo Alto High Math teachers letter. I think it is important to remember that most math teacher signed it, it was not only the head of the department. I am thankful to all who made this letter public. The dynamics that kept this letter in the dark for many months are very concerning. I believe this letter shed light on a wide array of concerning issues - it is not only about the students who "triggered" this letter. Some do not care about those students triggering this letter, since it is mostly about the other side of the highway.
A group of teachers chose to speak up - must have been a compelling cause. I do not recall teachers grouping, speaking so clearly in recent years. I think that this letter reflects culture, atmosphere and issues that need to be addressed which are impacting most, if not all students. Some issues start by far earlier. It is not only about those from the other side of the highway.

Posted by Rajiv Bhateja, a resident of Gunn High School
on Oct 13, 2012 at 3:19 am

Rajiv Bhateja is a registered user.

I've been impressed by Ken Dauber's calm, analytical, deliberative approach to issues. He is unemotional and patient, yet willing to make decisons once the data has been analyzed and various perspectives aired.

I also agree with the weekly about Melissa Baten-Caswell being a positive force on the board along with Ken.

Posted by it takes a village, a resident of Midtown
on Oct 13, 2012 at 1:54 pm

it takes a village is a registered user.

Ken Dauber - cool, calm, collected, unemotional? Even this paper says that his tactics can be aggressive at times. This paper' editorial slant toward Ken and away from Camille is very transparent. [Portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff.] Not sure why this paper is so glowing in praise.

Posted by Barron Parker, a resident of Barron Park
on Oct 13, 2012 at 2:54 pm

Barron Parker is a registered user.

[Post removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]

Posted by it takes a village, a resident of Midtown
on Oct 13, 2012 at 4:52 pm

it takes a village is a registered user.

Each of the school board candidates has lengthy lists of current and former respected elected officials. The endorsement process is in itself often very politically motivated for both the candidate and the endorser. [Portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]

Posted by Wynn Hausser, a resident of Barron Park
on Oct 13, 2012 at 5:30 pm

Wynn Hausser is a registered user.

Thanks to the Weekly for its thoughtful editorial and endorsements. Whether people agree or disagree with the choices, no reasonable person could argue that you don't give the process serious weight and consideration.

Compare this to the Daily Post, which typically uses its editorial space to do a hatchet job, this time on Ken Dauber. Looking at these endorsements side by side, one is clearly responsible journalism, the other is irresponsible personal attack.

It's understandable why, when measured, Palo Altan's overwhelmingly say the Weekly is the among the most trusted institutions in town. Also obvious is why the Daily Post is widely dismissed as having no credibility [portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff]. People should understand that when others point to the Post to justify their positions.

Yes, each of us should make up our own mind about who to vote for. But the Weekly does a great job in helping make that an informed decision.

Posted by Barron Parker, a resident of Barron Park
on Oct 13, 2012 at 5:32 pm

Barron Parker is a registered user.

@it takes a village -- while it is sometimes true that endorsements just reflect political insiders and incumbents scratching each others' backs, that is not true of Ken at all. Ken is not a political insider. Melissa and Camille are incumbents and have loads of connections with the political elite that gained them endorsements. Heidi is a veteran of many Democratic Party campaigns and serves as Assemblyman Rich Gordon's alternate at the Santa Clara County Democratic Central Committee, making her a political insider.

Ken didn't have the kinds of connections that the other three were able to use to get endorsements. He had to work hard to earn every endorsement on the merits of his positions, his clarity, and his warmth and obvious competence. The fact that so many of our elected and community leaders have endorsed this important voice for kids testify to his many great strengths and to their desire to elect someone of his caliber to the school board. These are real endorsements, not just political favors. Kudos to our elected officials for endorsing Ken.

Posted by Peggy Duncan, a resident of Community Center
on Oct 13, 2012 at 7:08 pm

Peggy Duncan is a registered user.

Thanks to the Weekly for this article and also for having the forum on Monday with Joe Simitian. I think going to the forums and actually hearing the candidates is so important and one of the great things about having a local election. I wish more people came out for them. I was a League volunteer years ago in Ann Arbor and I appreciate these forums very much

So far I have gone to 2 forums, one at Paly and the other at Hays. I agree with the editor of the Weekly that Melissa Caswell and Ken Dauber are much the stronger of the candidates. They are both well informed and serious about the issues and I believe that they will work well together, as they seem to agree on almost everything.

My real question is between Camille Townsend and Heidi Emberling. Ms. Townsend is not as knowledgeable or well-spoken as Mr. Dauber and Ms. Caswell, but she is much clearer about the issues than Ms. Emberling. I found Ms. Emberling to be very nice but also very vague about anything other than preschool and anti-bullying programs. If Ms. Townsend were not running for a third term I would prefer her.

I am also concerned about the issue of Ms. Emberling's ballot statement, which was discussed on another topic but not fully answered. Ms. Emberling say that she "serves" on the Project Safety Net group but at the forum last week she said that she only attends the public meetings. I suppose that this could be an honest mistake but it is a little concerning, and will be a factor in my thinking about the two candidates.

Posted by another parent, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Oct 14, 2012 at 10:10 am

another parent is a registered user.

[Portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]

While I support challenging the status quo when improvement is needed, I'm deeply concerned that Mr. Dauber has caused such ill will throughout the district (administrators and teachers) that the very stakeholders who can effect the needed change will have their best professional judgement clouded out of fear (of being the next target if they don't do exactly as dictated) and resentment (of having their professional training questioned and overridden). Even if Mr Dauber's dictates are the best solution, it is not a healthy, positive or genuine atmosphere for teaching or learning. I think it is not unlike imposing democracy on a society that has lived under another system for many years.

Posted by Barron Parker, a resident of Barron Park
on Oct 14, 2012 at 12:29 pm

Barron Parker is a registered user.

@another parent

Ken has a been a voice for positive change in PAUSD. There are many in the community who have strong appreciation for his efforts to create a space for data-driven decision making that will lead to the implementation of best practices such as advisory counseling across schools in the district. Our schools should not be silos and our parents should not be looking at JLS and wondering why their Jordan student does not have access to the same level of social emotional support, for example. It should not have taken the activism of Ken Dauber and Advocates for Youth at St. Marks to finally after 6 long years get Panther Camp implemented at Jordan.

That is why so many community leaders, including the Mayor, who is himself a Gunn graduate, have applauded Ken's efforts to improve counseling at Gunn. Far from worrying that trying to create positive change for our students will cause "ill will", our elected leaders endorse Ken's efforts to make positive change and understand that sometimes asking people to change and leading them in that change can create discomfort. But when the change happens and we all get to the other side, we will find it was worth it. If you are right, why has Ken been endorsed by all these leaders, and why does Yiaway agree with Ken about Gunn counseling?

Ken Dauber and the Weekly have been brave to stand up for kids. We should stand with them.

Posted by Geraldine, a resident of Midtown
on Oct 14, 2012 at 12:54 pm

Geraldine is a registered user.

It is amazing to me how anyone could believe that Ken Dauber would be a credible school board candidate. His attack dog tactics and his hostility toward Gunn High School will be detrimental to a School Board. How can someone who claims that Palo Alto Schools are failing be a positive force on the school board? If we are failing, why do so many parents move to this community to put their children in our schools? Ken has one agenda: forcing Gunn High School to adopt the Teacher Advisory program that Paly has. Everyone knows that the Paly model is not perfect and that there are flaws in their system as well. Gunn and Paly are very different schools and have their own unique cultures. A school board member is supposed to set general policy and advise, rather than order schools to do something. Ken Dauber has no credibility in the Gunn community. What does he possibly think he can achieve after such negative attacks against our schools?

Posted by Emma Isabella, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Oct 14, 2012 at 3:16 pm

Emma Isabella is a registered user.

After attending the Terman forum and objectively listening to each of the candidates speak, it is amazing to me that anyone not named Ray Charles doesn't view Ken Dauber as the best school board candidate of the bunch. Melissa is pretty good, but I agree with the Weekly's assessment that Camille Townsend should step aside and Heidi Emberling gets the third slot by default.

Newsflash!! PAUSD is not perfect and it does not well serve a significant percentage of students for a variety of reasons (which partially explains why there are so many private schools in the area). That is not to say that everything about PAUSD and the school board is terrible; PAUSD is doing some things right. However, the school board, due to a lack of leadership, has had difficulty over the years accomplishing much of its own strategic plan and fixing the things that PAUSD has been getting wrong. This includes better counseling for Gunn High School, a work-free Christmas break, better social-emotional support in the middle-schools, healthy school lunches, aligning graduation standards to meet the A-G requirements, and closing the Achievement Gap, all issues that Ken Dauber supports.

I would advise anyone who cares about these or other local school issues to come and judge the qualifications of each of the candidates yourself. There is a forum tomorrow night at 7:30 pm at the District Offices.

Posted by Nadine Gordimer, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 14, 2012 at 4:52 pm

Nadine Gordimer is a registered user.

Ken Dauber believes that our schools should and can serve all of our students. Ken is very supportive of the district’s efforts to close the achievement gap. In November 2009 the California Department of Education (CDE) put PAUSD on notice for having significant disproportionality. CDE found that, based on 2007-08 data and reconfirmed by 2008-09 data, there is a disproportion of Hispanic and African-American students identified for Special Education. The District was required to submit a plan to reduce the disproportion. The plan is called Significant Disproportionality Coordinated Early Intervening Services (SD-CEIS). More information on this plan can be found on the district website. Here is a link to Dr Young's report to the board last April. Web Link

The issue of students not graduating with A-G requirements runs parallel to the disproportionality problem. Disproportionality is evident on PAUSD star testing scores and among graduating seniors that have not completed A-G.

Similarly Ken sees an equity issue with Paly students receiving significantly more in guidance services than at Gunn. In my conversations with Paly parents they are surprised to hear that Gunn has a different guidance model and puzzled as to why there would be opposition to it. What parent doesn’t want more support for their child? I have spoken with numerous Gunn parents who say they wish Gunn would adopt a teacher advisory program. They say that they are hiring outside counselors to help with college applications and that the guidance counselors are good but don’t have time to meet with their students.
At a board meeting on guidance Barbara Klausnner said she was concerned about the overburdened counselors and wondered how they even had time for restroom breaks. On another thread about guidance a Paly Journalism student posted about how valuable the TA program has been in helping him apply to colleges. I heard Denise Clark Pope speak at Gunn a few years ago and she said advisory is a no-brainer. I also understand that the program has always been oversubscribed by teachers volunteering to be TA’s at Paly. Saying the Gunn culture is different doesn’t make sense to me. I don’t see a difference in needs for academic, college and social emotional supports. Paly continues to throw more resources towards their guidance program with each increase in PIE funding.
I hope this issue is resolved before my kids attend Gunn. Gunn already has Titan 101 for freshman. Why not build on that for all grades?

Posted by village fool, a resident of another community
on Oct 14, 2012 at 8:15 pm

village fool is a registered user.

I'm not clear who deserves the credit for making the Palo Alto high math teachers letter public after many months. I am very thankful.
Nadine - thank you for mentioning the disproportionality. A very interesting board document from June,2010 discusses this issue. It was hard to find. This document contains - achievement gap - 3 times, while disproportionality is mentioned more than 30 times. Given the great data analysis that was done, I'm wondering if we could ever know how a student from one high school would have done in the other. My guess is that students would have performed pretty much the same. Parents would support their kids no matter what school it is. The math teachers letter opened the window to show the amount of outside tutoring going on in both schools. I'm guessing that no data will be available as to the # of students who take a summer class outside, and repeat it in school to get an A - this impacts all those who did not learn during the summer. I think we'll never hear from those who are on the other side of the achievement gap and were disappointed by the TA system. It is my understanding that most go to Palo alto High due to location.

Posted by Geraldine, a resident of Midtown
on Oct 15, 2012 at 6:23 pm

Geraldine is a registered user.

Ken Dauber is supposedly a candidate who is supports "data-driven" decision making. He used data to criticize Gunn's counseling program based on a few points of discrepancy. What does he have to say about Gunn and Paly now that the API scores have been released? Gunn's scores went up. Paly's scores went down. Gunn was ranked 6th in the state compared with Paly's 29th place. Yet, according to Ken Dauber, Gunn is a failing school.

Posted by Wynn Hausser, a resident of Barron Park
on Oct 15, 2012 at 7:01 pm

Wynn Hausser is a registered user.

@Geraldine: You are misrepresenting Ken Dauber's position - I have never once heard him describe Gunn as a failing school. At the same time, even good schools can improve. And, as Ken would agree, there is more to measuring the success of a school than API scores. Such a narrow view of success is part of the problem in our district that keeps our schools from being the best they can possibly be.

Posted by Geraldine, a resident of Midtown
on Oct 16, 2012 at 4:56 pm

Geraldine is a registered user.

@Wynn. Of course good schools can do better. However, Ken has taken a narrow slice of data to condemn Gunn counseling program. The API score is another narrow slice of data that could be used to claim the opposite. This is the very point about data. It is used for political leverage.

Posted by Peggy Duncan, a resident of Community Center
on Oct 16, 2012 at 7:51 pm

Peggy Duncan is a registered user.

The Board of Education directed Gunn to improve counseling for students, based on the data, so Geraldine's post seems specious. I don't see the connection between test scores and counseling, so that seems irrelevant. I do wish that our local political discussions were happening on a higher plane than this, frankly.

Posted by Gunn Grad, a resident of Midtown
on Oct 17, 2012 at 7:31 pm

Gunn Grad is a registered user.

I really hope that Palo Alto doesn't buy what Mr. Dauber is selling.

Our community has something really special when it comes to our schools. Only in our district can you get such a strong education at a public school- in almost any other place, you can only find academics like ours at an exclusive, private institution. I know many people worry about the stress associated with a high academic workload, but I think many of us see the challenging nature of Palo Alto schools as an opportunity rather than an imposition. I felt like I experienced less stress in college than many of my peers because I walked into my classes fully prepared with the background knowledge and academic skills necessary, while some others floundered and felt frightened and depressed, struggling with both new academic challenges and the challenges of living away from home.

I know that some students at Gunn pile on more AP classes than they can handle, but there are many more, myself included, that took AP's but took a reasonable number and were challenged but not overwhelmed. Rather than mandating limits on homework levels, telling teachers when they can and cannot assign work, and imposing other crude, blanket rules on the classrooms, I think we would be better off helping to educate students and families about the costs and benefits of adding higher-stress classes to their schedule, and then let them make an informed decision.

Palo Alto schools gave me a real opportunity in life that I otherwise might not have been afforded. I really hope that Palo Alto votes to preserve that opportunity for students that come after me and avoids candidates like Dauber that don't really understand the complexity of young life and student learning.

Posted by Barron Parker, a resident of Barron Park
on Oct 17, 2012 at 8:04 pm

Barron Parker is a registered user.

Dear Gunn Grad:

Thank you for your well-written and clear explanation of your views. Your post is a model for some of the adults in this community in how to debate the issues, which are many and are complex. Terrifically well-done and I am glad you expressed yourself so well. Kudos for sticking to the issues and taking the time to care about a local election.

I support Ken Dauber because I think he does understand and support having schools that are academically rigorous. He himself went to Yale and Harvard, all of his kids went to good 4 year colleges including Stanford and Berkeley. He is not trying to dumb-down or change or make Gunn or Paly less rigorous. That is just not true and it is something people say that is just part of negative campaigning but it is false.

High workload is not the same thing as academic rigor. The idea of placing limits on homework (and those limits do not apply to AP and Honors courses by the way) has to do with the fact that the homework situation has gotten out of hand nationally -- not just in Palo Alto -- with many kids struggling to get it all done in middle school. We are not here discussing the situation of a bright girl like yourself who can decide what to take on and what to let go. We are discussing the situation of an ordinary 8th grader with sports, friends, and just being a kid who has hours and hours every weekend. Even bright kids take hours to get it done, and kids who struggle can take even longer.

Not every kid has a hard time with these work loads but many do. In survey after survey in Palo Alto, parents and students report that homework is excessive and very stressful. Many kids are in tutoring by middle school just to get it done, which is a financial burden. For example, in a 2008 survey, around a third of our high school students reported being extremely stressed by homework, and 40% are doing more than double the national NEA and PTA recommended standard for number of hours per week. Not everyone feels happy with that situation -- in survey after survey students and parents have asked for years for real limits to protect student health.

It is not only Ken who supports these limits by the way. Two of his opponents -- Melissa Caswell and Camille Townsend, the incumbents, voted for this policy. The entire current school board agreed with Ken and voted for the policy. So I am not sure who you would rather vote for on this issue, since Ken and the two incumbents all support it (not sure about Emberling, she rarely states her views).

I understand and respect the fact that you disagree about this and really appreciate the chance to exchange views on this important topic.

Posted by Gunn Grad, a resident of Midtown
on Oct 18, 2012 at 2:01 pm

Gunn Grad is a registered user.

Barron Parker,

Thanks for your response, but I am still left with a number of questions about Mr. Dauber's position. You say that he does not support reducing academic difficulty, merely academic workload. Yet I am hard-pressed to understand how you can expect students to learn the same amount of material independent of the amount of practice and experience that they have with the subject-matter. On a neurological basis, that doesn't make a lot of sense- researchers of Hebbian learning, for example, will tell you that human beings are wired to learn what they are repeatedly exposed to. That makes every kind of evolutionary sense. Studies have backed up that result- Professor Harris Cooper of Duke, for examples, does not find diminishing returns with up to 2.5 hours of homework, which I'm sure is more than most reasonable people would expect their children to do on a nightly basis.

Besides, it seems to me that a district-level mandate is indiscriminate. "Homework" isn't a uniform thing- it involves different skills and serves different purposes in different classroom contexts. For an algebra class, for example, a short set of practice problems might suffice to cover the material, but for a literature class, one can't necessarily assign only short books or only short essays. And some teachers use homework differently. My geometry teacher, for example, tended to assign long homework assignments, because he spent most of the class time each day helping us review practice problems. My trig teachers assigned less homework, because he preferred to explain concepts in class. Besides, it takes different students different amounts of time to finish the same assignments. It might take me only an hour to read "Macbeth" because I love Shakespeare, but for a student unfamiliar with the language, the book might take hours to finish.

You point out that many students struggle with the homework level even so early as middle school. But I don't think you can generalize that most students struggle. Myself, I actually sometimes thought that the homework level was a little too light in my PAUSD classes. In calculus, for example, I didn't really feel like the homework was preparing me for the exams, so I ended up buying an AP review book to find some slightly more challenging problems. Most of my friends in High School felt the same- they had homework on a regular basis, but it wasn't an overwhelming burden.

If other students are truly, extremely stressed by the homework that they are assigned to complete, perhaps it would be good to have advisors check in with students several weeks into their classes and make it easier for students to change their schedules. I remember that I changed my schedule once in high school, and it was absolute hell. It took over a week, because I had to get multiple I.S. signatures and some were hard to contact. That put me behind in my classes and was very stressful. And some A.P. classes don't allow you to change into a lower lane if you are overwhelmed. In fact, that is the reason why I didn't try to sign up for A.P. physics, even though I did quite well in the lower-level class and might have found the A.P. equivalent just fine. If it were me, I would make it easier for students to find a class that is the right fit for them, rather than making blanket rules for all other classes.

The school could also provide free peer-tutoring for students, so that they can learn the concepts more easily and not spend extra time struggling. That way, students that want tutors can get help without a massive extra cost, and students that excel at a subject can get useful experience. One would probably get even more takers if one offered community service credit.

Posted by Gunn Grad, a resident of Midtown
on Oct 18, 2012 at 2:07 pm

Gunn Grad is a registered user.

On the whole, I think that the kinds of interventions that Mr. Dauber and We Can Do Better are behind are usually kind of crude and not entirely thought-out. They take a good general goal- let's reduce stress- and come up with a simplistic solution that doesn't entirely make sense in practice. I know that the whole board does this kind of thing regularly, and I guess that leaves me disappointed with the way that the organization governs itself sometimes. But it seems to me that Mr. Dauber and his supporters are especially inclined towards these kinds of answers. That's why I'm voting for the other candidates.

Posted by Barron Parker, a resident of Barron Park
on Oct 18, 2012 at 2:56 pm

Barron Parker is a registered user.

Wow what a great discussion. I am reminded of Isiah 11:6 in your example.

You said a lot, but let me just give you a couple of reactions, one on homework, on which I think we are not as far apart as you might think, and the other on counseling, on which I think you and Ken are in total agreement.

On homework, you note the research of Harris Cooper. Ken and the Homework Committee (which was made up of parents, teachers, and admins) used that research, and Ken supports it. The guidelines noted by Dr. Cooper are those being used by the board. A couple of the findings -- there is little evidence for the efficacy of homework in younger grades. And at some point returns to homework decline. The new standards that were unanimously adopted by that committee of parents teachers and administrators and unanimously passed by the board, and for which Ken worked, are for 10 minutes per grade per night on average, which is the NEA/PTA standard, and then more if the class is honors or AP. For a 12th grader taking all basic lane classes , that is for 2 hours per night. For a more typical PAUSD student taking a mix of basic and advanced courses, that would be over your 2.5 hours but probably not much. You are right that not every student does their work at the same speed, and that is why teacher discretion plays such an important role here.

The main idea is to get everyone on the same page and thinking about what they are assigning and to get ISs and principals thinking about an overall homework load per kid -- tools like Schoology (which Ken has advocated for) will make homework loads visible and allow teachers, parents, students and staff to look at what is happening and try to ensure it doesn't get out of hand.

On advising, you wrote:

If other students are truly, extremely stressed by the homework that they are assigned to complete, perhaps it would be good to have advisors check in with students several weeks into their classes and make it easier for students to change their schedules. I remember that I changed my schedule once in high school, and it was absolute hell. It took over a week, because I had to get multiple I.S. signatures and some were hard to contact. That put me behind in my classes and was very stressful. And some A.P. classes don't allow you to change into a lower lane if you are overwhelmed. In fact, that is the reason why I didn't try to sign up for A.P. physics, even though I did quite well in the lower-level class and might have found the A.P. equivalent just fine. If it were me, I would make it easier for students to find a class that is the right fit for them, rather than making blanket rules for all other classes.

Ken agrees with you and he is the only candidate trying to address this situation. Did you know that at Paly, they have a totally different counseling system called Teacher Advisory in which advisors do follow up with their advisees to make sure they are in the right lane. Changing schedules is far less onerous. However, Gunn does make its students run a gauntlet to change schedules. This is because at Gunn 6 counselors are taking care of everything -- college counseling, advising, schedules, stress, personal problems -- everything, for 2000 students. At Paly there is a guidance counselor for the social-emotional and a TA for your schedule changes etc.

Principal Likens and AP Winston tried to bring advisory to Gunn before in 2008. But then they left and it didn't happen. Ken has been trying to get that effort started by Likens back on track but it is very hard and some teachers and counselors don't want to do it. Your comments on schedule changes being "hell" are totally common and they would be addressed by moving to advisory for schedules.

This problem is way worse for minority students, who don't have educated parents to help them figure out college or classes or AP versus regular or any of this. Ken wants to increase achievement and reduce stress for everyone.

I think it seems like you and Ken agree on a lot and whomever you vote for you should know that he agrees with you about your points and would really work to make those improvements to counseling. The current incumbent board members have been sitting around hearing about those problems but not fixing them for years, while Heidi's oldest child is in 6th grade and she does not have any idea what it is like at Gunn.

Thank you for a great discussion.

Posted by Barron Parker, a resident of Barron Park
on Oct 18, 2012 at 3:05 pm

Barron Parker is a registered user.

Sorry I meant to say minority students who *disproportionately* do not have educated parents. Many minority students do have highly educated parents but a disproportionate number do not and those students really benefit from improved counseling.

Posted by Hello Michele, a resident of Barron Park
on Oct 18, 2012 at 8:25 pm

Hello Michele is a registered user.

[Post removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]

Posted by Gunn Grad, a resident of Midtown
on Oct 18, 2012 at 8:36 pm

Gunn Grad is a registered user.

I agree with the idea that the Gunn counseling system needs an overhaul, but I know that that has been an issue that the Gunn administration has been working on, as you noted.

The 10-minutes-per-grade policy seems misguided to me. Two hours of homework in high school may seem like a lot, but divided between five or six classes, that actually would work out to be only about 20-minutes per class. Of course, not all students are taking five or six classes, some take four and some take seven in a high school quarter. Assigning homework limits overall, considering that homework is an accumulation from many different classes, seems misguided, given that students don't even take a uniform number of classes. There is also still the problem that different students take different amounts of time to do the same homework depending on their skill and study habits.

It isn't just this particular policy that bothers me. It's the kind of thinking that produces it.

Simplistic solutions rarely achieve results.

Posted by Barron Parker, a resident of Barron Park
on Oct 18, 2012 at 11:25 pm

Barron Parker is a registered user.

Gunn Grad:

I am glad we agree that Gunn counseling needs an overhaul. It's not true however that Gunn was "working on it." The reason Gunn is working on it now is because the school board directed them to work on it, and the reason that the school board directed them to work on it is due to the data that Ken and others brought to the board showing the fact that Paly's counseling system is producing much higher satisfaction. Parents and community members worked together to make sure that those problems were addressed and Ken Dauber was a leader on that issue.

The minutes/grade guideline did not come from Ken. It came from the NEA and PTA standard and was suggested by Charles Young, the Assistant Superintendent. Ken supported those limits, as did a lot of other people. I'm sure you are right that it is a simple solution (though I am not sure I agree that it's simplistic). But there is a tradeoff between subtlety and administrability. The more complex and nuanced the policy, the less likely that the district is to be able to gain anything like compliance. The board and district wisely wanted to go in the direction of having a clean policy that can be monitored. To be honest with you, figuring out how to administer and enforce this at the high school level is going to be a big challenge. But remember that this is a unified district and there are many grade school and middle school kids who struggle with too much homework as well.

Finally, and this is just a general philosophy, it is very important not to let the perfect be the enemy of the good. The critiques you raise have merit. But if you overlook the good you may do with a satisfice then you may miss opportunities to get that half a loaf.

Anyway, I think we have exhausted this topic (certainly have exhausted me...) and I am so glad we got to have an honest debate of the issues.

Posted by Gunn Grad, a resident of Midtown
on Oct 19, 2012 at 12:12 pm

Gunn Grad is a registered user.

Barron Parker-

I have been hearing the Gunn administration discuss how to change the counseling system for a while. I am glad that the board is encouraging the school to expedite these changes, although I suspect that our recent change of principals had a lot to do with the delay, and that effort will become much easier as the new administration settles down.

The NEA-PTA recommendation, according to the NEA website, is that schoolwork should "fall in line with general guidelines" that it should take 10-minutes per grade level nightly, although "[h]igh school students may sometimes do more, depending on what classes they take." The article is available here- <Web Link;.

In this article, the NEA is using this statistic to suggest an INCREASED MINIMUM in homework loads nationally, because our tests scores are falling and the organization connects this to lower homework levels. The NEA writer does not say that 10-minutes-per-grade nightly should be the permanent limit on homework levels, let alone a district-mandated limit.

I agree with you that a more complicated piece of homework legislation would be impractical and unenforceable. That's why I would not attempt to make one. Instead, I would try to educate students about the workload associated with the classes that they are planning to take. I don't think that a top-down policy from the school board is a useful educational tool, and I would not impose one.

Posted by Gunn Grad, a resident of Midtown
on Oct 19, 2012 at 12:13 pm

Gunn Grad is a registered user.

Sorry- here's the NEA link about homework; for some reason, the other didn't work.

Web Link

Posted by Gunn Grad, a resident of Midtown
on Oct 19, 2012 at 1:12 pm

Gunn Grad is a registered user.

[Post removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]

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


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