Gunn counseling committee offers 'compass' | March 8, 2013 | Palo Alto Weekly | Palo Alto Online |

Palo Alto Weekly

News - March 8, 2013

Gunn counseling committee offers 'compass'

Long-awaited recommendations for counseling improvements are presented

by Chris Kenrick

Brightening up the Gunn High School campus with paint and using the online tool Schoology were among the long-awaited suggestions issued Monday, March 4, by an advisory committee on counseling.

Members of the Gunn Guidance Advisory Committee — representing opposing sides of a bitter, two-year dispute over the proper structure for Gunn's guidance-counseling program — presented more than 40 recommendations, which they said should be implemented by the Gunn staff.

But rather than offering specifics, or directly addressing the hot-button issue of whether Gunn should adopt a Palo Alto High School-style "teacher advisory" system, the committee proposed themes that could be implemented in any number of ways.

The first recommendation, for example, is "Provide support structures so that students develop resiliency; students know how to access help for themselves and their friends; students who don't ask for help have a predictable/defined/reliable safety net and students develop strong coping and stress management skills to manage the high pressure and competition."

Committee members, some of whom strongly opposed each other last year in school board debates over counseling, stood side-by-side Monday in a presentation before the Gunn Site Council.

The recommendations contained in a 104-page report earned the buy-in of every parent, teacher and student on the 17-member committee, they said.

Gunn Principal Katya Villalobos said she would take the recommendations to the faculty and other stakeholders to work out a three-year implementation plan.

Upon questioning, Villalobos acknowledged that the recommendations neither rule out nor rule in a Paly-style teacher-advisory program.

Members stressed that any program must address the "three domains" of guidance counseling: academic advising, college and career counseling and social-emotional health.

Delivery should be "efficient," they said, and should not be confined to the counseling department but should involve students and adults across the school.

"We recognized that there's a lot going on here at Gunn that's very positive, but we need to leverage it," said parent Amy Balsom, who has been sharply critical of the traditional counseling model currently used at Gunn.

Balsom cited the peer-counseling program ROCK (Reach Out, Care, Know), which was initiated by Gunn students following a devastating string of suicides in 2009 and 2010.

"ROCK is a great program, but not necessarily everybody takes advantage of it or is trained," Balsom said. "So we can take existing programs to cover more students and deliver more services."

Committee member Myesha Compton, a Gunn counselor, said the program should "make time for ongoing, regular interactions between students and identified adults."

Compton said the school needs to define a consistent counseling curriculum, some of which can be delivered in group settings and some of which will require individual sessions.

All members stressed the curriculum must reach "students in the middle," not just top students or those who are struggling.

"There are different ways to build a bridge," parent member Alexis Hamilton said. "How do you take these components and put them in a format that provides meaningful change, and how do you empower people that need to be involved?

"That's about as far as we were able to get before we felt we needed to turn it over to the people who are going to create the bridge."

Consultant Ken Yale, a former high school principal and social-studies teacher who has guided the group through dozens of meetings and field trips since the committee convened in October, called the recommendations "a compass, not a map.

"It's pointing a direction, but it's not actually giving you the step-by-step recipe," he said.

"It's much more than values, but it's not restrictive in saying, 'You have to do it this way.'"

The committee is scheduled to present its findings to the Board of Education March 19.


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