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Original post made on Oct 18, 2007

Third high school?

Read the full story here Web Link posted Wednesday, October 10, 2007, 12:00 AM

Comments (27)

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Posted by concerned parent
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 18, 2007 at 6:51 am

Corey Levens' letter concerns me.

Have we not had enough spin from 25 Churchill over the last few years? If the Superintendent felt that the task force was not qualified to evaluate what they were recruited to make, he should have stood up and said so and not put out a misleading press release stating that the task force members themselves decided ("slowly, over the summer") that they were not up to the job. I shudder to imagine which of his staff helped him come to this realization.

This, following on the heels of the Board of Education's ignoring the AAAG recommendations about opening new elementary schools, feels very high-handed. Why recruit a community group if you don't value their input? Why waste their time just for the sake of seeming to partner with the community you serve? Let's not have hollow claims of consideration.

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Posted by Former AAAG member
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 18, 2007 at 9:08 am

I can really sympathise with Corey Levens. This sounds exactly the same way the AAAG was lead (no criticism of Irv Rollins). The agenda and the way the meetings were led almost prevented thoughtful discussion. When the discussion did happen, we were given so little time as to make in depth debate almost impossible. The problem was that we were given so much information, that was useful, but at the same time it was a hindrance because in the end, so much innovative ideas were just never more than mentioned in passing. It would have been great to really discuss some of these ideas we had, but there was never enough time, and in the end we felt we had no alternatives but to leave specifics about the boundaries alone until such time as we had a 13th elementary school, heard back from the HTSF and knew exactly what was happening about MI. From what Corey says, I imagine the same thing is going on there in the HSTF.

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Posted by parent
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 18, 2007 at 10:31 am

That revelation should concern everyone.

Its extremely disturbing that we apparently have (another) arrogant superintendent who seems to think that this district is his own personal sandbox. If this is true, he took it upon himself to derail the community input process, that was agreed to by the board - and he mislead the board on the evolution of that process.

The community needs to write a letter to the Board and ask them to get to the bottom of what really happened with the HSTF -Did Skelly (with the trusted advice of Cook???), make a unilateral decision to disband the HSTF? Were his statements to the board true that the committee disbanded themselves? Did they, or did they not meet over the summer and come to the conclusion that they were not qualified to study the HSTF issue as he claimed?

And maybe they could answer the question - who the hell does he think he is? This is utterly sickening - given where we just came from. The ink hasn't even dried on MFC's severance check. The board better step up to the plate and get this one straight immediately!

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Posted by natasha
a resident of Meadow Park
on Oct 18, 2007 at 10:54 am

hear hear.

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Posted by parent
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 18, 2007 at 1:25 pm

Lo and Behold, the Weekly (Thanks Weekly), DOES have a detailed reporting of the whole story, repleat with admission by Skelly and Laurence that they steam rolled over ALL the community representation on that Board appointed high school ask force, in their INFINITE WISDOM made the Exective Decision to avoid analysis on opening a third high school.

So now, thanks to their arrogance, we don't even get the analysis on what it would take to open the 3rd high school, impact, cost, etc.

We jump DIRECTLY into discussion on which CHOICE PROGRAMS we'll expand (or create new).

Really? Et tu, Brute?

Can we PLEASE get someone in our school district management that just for once says - we'll lay out the options for the public in an open, honest, forthright way.

Yes, Skelly. Its work. Its complicated work. Its THE WORK WE HIRED YOU TO DO. It's maybe a years worth of work, or more, to do the job right. And at the end of that work, we would have some sound analysis for decent decision making! (NOVEL IDEA?) Yes, that's what we want, an earnest effort at what the options are! A high school is a big decision, we want real honest, forthright, analysis behind it.

Weekly, - are we really just to be dismissed as "Hyper-Involved Parents" or do we just want the Truth? Just a simple matter of the Truth? Is it REALLY too much to ask??

The superintendent's behavior on this is just so sickeningly disrespectful, and so soon on the heals of where we just came from.

So much for the new era of trust and respect. All a bunch of hogwash apparently. OK. So are we to take this to mean he's our new adversary? Not here to level with us, to work with us? We have to look over his shoulder and turn over every rock, and every decision, to keep him on the level? We can't trust what he says TO THE BOARD, IN THE BOARD MEETINGS, ON CAMERA???

I guess this means the Honeymoon is officially over. Its a sad day, but at least we know what we're dealing with.

Oh, and I guess the scope of this is just dawning on me - but this was a formal agenda item with Superintendent AND Staff presentation to the board - so they actually would have had to have sync'd up their stories on the task force position prior to this board meeting. Premeditated. This wasn't just a slip of the tongue - mispoken answers to an impromptu question, or some misunderstanding. This was intentionally presented in this way! What did they THINK would happen?

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Posted by cynical
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 18, 2007 at 1:33 pm

Of COURSE They syched up their stories. The senior administrators are the same ones responsible for the feasiblity study. One might have hoped that Skelly would have been briefed on the contributions Ms. Cook and Ms. Cohn-Vargas and others made to the trust issues in this district, both with senior management and with the MI brouhaha. Apparently he, like his senior staffers, knows best and is omniscient, while the parentsof Palo Alto are merely stupid and navie and overinvolved.

I would take an unpopular but honestly disclosed decision over the eternal spin any day. Skelly's looking to shape up like Mary Frances Callan, Part Deux.

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Posted by PA Dad
a resident of College Terrace
on Oct 18, 2007 at 1:37 pm

For all those expressing disappointment, here's an opportunity to express your feelings to Dr. Skelly in person:

Oct. 24: Community-Wide Conversation with New PAUSD Superintendent Dr. Kevin Skelly, Jordan Middle School Auditorium, 7 p.m. to 9 p.m.

If you are planning to go, what are you planning to say? And if you are organizing the event can you explain how questions will be dealt with -- will they be 'filtered,' by someone, for example?

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Posted by parent
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 18, 2007 at 1:59 pm

I would ask him how much it would cost to open a 3rd high school, start up and recurring. And what locations have been considered? How long would construction take, what construction would be required? I'd ask him what size the school would be, and what size would the other two high schools be? I'd ask him what the boundaries would be of the schools in the three school scenario and if there would be peer streaming (1-1 feed from each middle to each high school. And whether students in mid program at one school would be allowed to finish at their current school or would they be required to switch immediately to new school when it opened. (ie: seniors move to new school). And what is the likely time to opening of a new school? Would a bond be required to fund it?

Oh, he wouldn't be able to answer? Why not? Did the dog eat his homework?

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Posted by yet another parent
a resident of Escondido School
on Oct 18, 2007 at 1:59 pm

Good suggestion, PA Dad. I'm not sure I can make it, but if I did I'd ask him the same question that Claude Ezran fielded so well.

"What is the Superintendent's relationship to the Board of Education?"
And I'd ask the same to all the other BOE candidates. In retrospect, this is one of the underlying causes of the problems we're seeing today. A few board members got their hands slapped last spring for doing too much information gathering on their own. Supposedly that was the job of the district personnel. I believe they conducted their own research in part because they were handed biased data, yet they intended to make well-informed decisions.

I'd like to see a Board that can face the Superintendent and his staff and say, "Go back and get more balanced data. Then we'll talk."

The other thing I might ask the Superintendent about are his plans for documenting the lottery process for each of the 5 lottery programs and making them open to the public.

Finally, I'd ask him if he's aware that the expansion of Spanish Immersion at Escondido is bumping neighborhood children, which is in direct violation of district policy. What are his plans for remedying the situation?

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Posted by Terry
a resident of Midtown
on Oct 18, 2007 at 2:00 pm

If Skelly didn't think the Task Force (presumably put together before he started?) was up to the job, or was looking at the right thing, it was right to disband it. Having task forces running around is a dangerous game and I think we want a super who tries to keep control the process. If he screws up, we can fire him.

As to what the TF decided - I don't know what role Corey Levens played on the TF; presumably he (she?) was one of many, and perhaps not a key player. That the TF "as a group" didn't make the decision doesn't really bother me at all.

Our city needs leadership and Skelly is stepping up. If he succeeds, bully for him; if not, we can boot him. But at least somebody is leading.

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Posted by Leadership?
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 18, 2007 at 2:17 pm

I'd ask him what he THOUGHT would happen when he said
The task force met over the summer and decided....
when the task force really DIDN'T meet over the summer and decide...

Making up stories to defend his position isn't leadership. Its chickenship.

If he's a LEADER he should have gone to the board and community and said, I recommend you postpone or reconfigure the task force for these good reasons. And then given them his list of convincing, good reasons, and convinced them on the merit of his position.

Instead he basically gave the board no choice. He told them we have a group of people who are punting on this objective because they have disqualified themselves.

Terry, did you read the article?

"Skelly said he felt his executive recommendation not to look at a third high school made sense but should have nonetheless consulted others. "It seemed to me not to make sense to use people's time that way, [but] in fact we should've asked them," he said. It was inaccurate to represent the decision as unanimous, he said. "It was my oversight to not inform all the members of that direction and then also imply that that was something the whole task force decided on," he said."

Terry, Are you actually defending this as leadership?

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Posted by Board Watcher
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 18, 2007 at 2:21 pm

No Terry, it wasn't his right to disband it. The board voted it in. It was his right to recommend a different course, and to present a convincing argument for the board to reverse course.

There is no harm in changing course when merited.

But lets get very clear - its not his "right" to single handedly over rule the board of education.

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Posted by Grandma
a resident of Gunn High School
on Oct 18, 2007 at 2:39 pm

To all the parents who are complaining that a 3rd High School is not being discussed by a District wide task force. Would you be willing to transfer your high school students out of Paly and/or Gunn and have them attend a third as yet unnamed, new High School?

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Posted by Terry
a resident of Midtown
on Oct 18, 2007 at 3:41 pm

LOL - he doesn't me to defend him. I think that he has no problem telling the Board they are off-base, which is good, since they frequently are. The Board needs to be led - ever seen how a private company board really works?

If he made a mistake, he admits it. I like that. But he got the result he wanted. I like that too.

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Posted by umm, maybe it is still a honeymoon, but..
a resident of South of Midtown
on Oct 18, 2007 at 5:49 pm

I like that he admits he screwed up in his presentation, but I think, as the new Super in charge now, he has the obligation to re-direct the Board on what the task force should do, rather than just let it run its course based on what the OLD Super wanted, then ignore everything anyway.

I get the impression he really wants to listen to what this group has to say, and wants the group to research real ideas that the Board and he can actually respond to. I don't know if a 3rd high school is or is not a good idea, but I DO know I like having the impression that this guy can admit a mistake, apologize, explain his thinking, then direct what he wants out of the Task Force..and I have the distinct impression he will actually listen to what the results are and evaluate them.

In other words, this isn't just a pat on the head to interested parents, this is professional.

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Posted by parent
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 18, 2007 at 8:45 pm

So, CEO's lying to their boards to get their way is professional. That's funny, I though leadership was getting people to follow you because you have a good argument and a good vision - not trickery.

Wow, proud of this behavior!? Amazing. His ideas might be good, but his execution on this was wrong. Ends don't justify the means. No way. And by the way - his idea ISN'T good. In fact we DO need to understand the facilities issues and alternatives for capacity with a new high school - no matter what type of program you decide to house there, you need to understand your facilities issues so you understand your options, and have a long term plan in mind (because it will take a long lead time). Facilities issues ARE THE issue here. Not a distracting sidebar.

It certainly is just a pat on the head to interested parents - akin to "Run along now, and don't worry your pretty little heads about what's REALLY going on."

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Posted by Carol Mullen
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Oct 18, 2007 at 9:41 pm

Secrecy, unwillingness to have residents gathering information, dishonest PR: ideal breeding grounds for carelessness, incompetence, or worse.

None of these boards or the senior staff members should be given the right to say "Trust me. I know better than you do that I don't need your input. Don't waste my time telling you what I plan to do. "

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Posted by OhlonePar
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Oct 19, 2007 at 4:15 pm

I know some school administrator types (not in PA) socially and I have to say I think there is an us v. them mentality. And I don't think there's a culture of transparency nor an understanding of why transparency matters.

Also, thinking of both Callan and Claire Wilcox--whew! it looks like you can get some real arrogance going among some of them. They get used to giving orders and they quit listening.

It sounds to me like Skelly has many things going for him, but this wasn't handled well. He should have been upfront about this.

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Posted by Palycls2012
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Oct 19, 2007 at 9:03 pm

Palycls2012 is a registered user.

Well, I got to agree with all your fine minds, but mabye they may be tired of many parents coming to their office and giving their "valuable" opinion. Seriously, would you like many thousands of opinionated people filling up your day on some tangent? Not I.

But, of course, I have an opinion.
1) I would appreciate a third school, preferably a school on some academic extreme (a very high/low achieving school), so that there could be more filtering. Viva 1984 if I can have a mansion.

2) The school should be
a. not a knock-off. The school should be fully equiped for its mission
b. Fully open. Anyone should be able to enter it.

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Posted by OhlonePar
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Oct 19, 2007 at 10:08 pm


I'm sure they *do* get sick of listening to parents. However, you're not doing the job when you filter out everything.

I mean Callan's huffy attitude toward the parents at the Ohlone MI meeting (She lectured us on not being polite enough.) told me a lot about why she'd been forced out. Instead of trying to understand why people were so pissed off and finding a more effective way of putting forth her views, she reacted with a lecture--as if she were in position of authority, which she wasn't. It didn't seem to occur to her that to those of us in the audience she was someone who'd failed in her job and was leaving in disgrace.

I don't know, maybe that's the kind of hubris helps one climb upward in the school hierarchy, but it's not a great way to deal with the parents around here.

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Posted by PA mom
a resident of Professorville
on Oct 20, 2007 at 11:01 am

To those who truly want to improve our district, lets try supporting our new superintendent instead of second guessing him. I'm assuming we hired Dr. Skelly for his knowledge, experience and abilities. We should value his opinion and let him do his job. Any new "boss" will make changes in an organization and its direction, usually that is why they are hired.

Parent of another PA neighborhood, having heard Dr. Skelly speak, facilities are an important issue to him, including a long term plan. Just because he doesn't feel that the plan needs to include a 3rd high school at this time - which would be extremely complicated and expensive if we want to provide a comparable education to that of Paly and Gunn - doesn't mean he is a CEO who is lying or resorting to trickery. That was really out of line.

Carol Mullen - there has been no secrecy or dishonest PR. Just a new superintendent making changes which probably will include mistakes.

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Posted by give him a break
a resident of Midtown
on Oct 21, 2007 at 8:14 am

Yes, we all have to remember that he was dealing with a task force set in place just before he was hired. In other words, it really is his job to do his best to fine tune the jobs of all these VOLUNTEERS and PAID people so that that they don't waste valuable time and money.

If he had set the original task force, then switched them around, that would be a different story.

But, I think we have to remember that new bosses make changes in direction, and I have no problem with it.

Also, give him a break...he is having to rely on MFC to get his information about various groups and projegts, and it is going to take a while for him to figure out that he can't trust her "interpretations" of what was said, or decided. What employee is going to tell him the truth about her when they all have to work for her and him, and they have no idea if they can trust him, yet, with information about her, no matter how factual?

In fact, I noted that he did NOT blame anyone else, he took the full hit on the chin himself, like a real "buck stops here" kind of boss.

Hear Hear.

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Posted by give him a break
a resident of Midtown
on Oct 21, 2007 at 8:19 am

In fact, maybe we should help out the employees a bit, and those of us who have served on task forces and had meetings where she is in charge should go tell Skelly FACTUAL information about her job performance in various areas.

Many of us have caught her in flat out, completely wrong statements in Board and Task Force meetings, have watched her steam roll the original intents of task forces into something else, twist what was concluded in a meeting into something completely different to the Board, heard her make claims about the appropriate use of her power that are...well, ..let's say they verge on believing she has many powers that she doesn't.

Maybe we should each talk to Dr. Skelly, stating facts only, for a couple minutes, and he will hear some of the warnings that he should have heard already, but probably hasn't from fearful employees.

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Posted by natasha
a resident of Meadow Park
on Oct 21, 2007 at 8:23 am

Upom reflection, I realize that what you say is true. There is no doubt that he has had to rely largely on the problematic senior staff at 25 Churchill for his information, that he took his report to the Board in good faith, and that he has learned a valuable lesson from this. It shows great character that he knows teh buck stops wih him and that he took full responsibility for the miscommunication. In fact, I would think that after this he will take what his senior staff say with a grain of salt, since he has inherited a whole group of people who have been thriving on cronyism and secrecy and back room deals during the entire MFC tenure. He seems like the kind of upstanding leader who might even have the strength to make some much-needed staff changes. I feel sorry for him for what he has to work through. I look forward to hearing him at more public meetings.

And shame on his staff for thinking they are invulnerable and omnipotent and that they can conduct business as usual after this whole year's fiasco.

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Posted by natasha
a resident of Meadow Park
on Oct 21, 2007 at 8:27 am

But wait a minute -- what are you people saying about his having to rely on MFC? I thought she was gone now! Is she is some horrfying senior consultant position from which she can continue to reign and pull in a double salary between a fee and her retirement? Please tell me that's not the case. Are you perhaps referring to MArilyn Cook? If so, couldn't agree more.

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Posted by OOPS!!
a resident of South of Midtown
on Oct 21, 2007 at 5:02 pm

SORRY, Natasha..MC, not MFC!! You are right, it is Marilyn Cook, not the now gone ex-super, to whom I referred.

Thanks for your post, btw.

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Posted by Parent
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 21, 2007 at 5:23 pm

According to the quotes in the paper though, its sounded like an intentional decision by Skelly and Laurence to formulate a story around disbanding the HSTF under false pretenses. Was the underlying motivation worthy? perhaps. But does that mean the ends justifies the means?

Isnt' that exactly what we've been struggling with for the past year and a half - underhanded means, that put small interest groups and a small contingent of administrators in total control of defining the ends - on behalf a community that really is just a nuisance, and that permeate the system with distrust?

I still think what happened here is more important, and requires a much bigger consequence than, "isn't our maveric new superintendent just a swell go-getter" (pat pat wink wink)

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