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What Happened at the PAUSD Board meeting last night?

Original post made by Prospective Gunn Parent, Gunn High School, on Mar 20, 2013

Does anyone have a report on the discussion and actions with respect to the counseling program at Gunn?

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Posted by board watcher
a resident of Palo Verde
on Mar 20, 2013 at 9:28 am

The school board instructed the school to make a plan to make Gunn's counseling program comparable to Paly's in terms of services. Although that is what the school was supposed to have done this time, they didn't do it, and Mike Milliken and Dr. Skelly had clearly informed the school that they didn't have to do it. Unfortunately, this was another meeting in which it was clear that the board has no control over Dr. Skelly so they gave Gunn months more to even decide what "comparable" means, and then three years to implement whatever reforms they choose to. It was very frustrating to see Phil Winston sitting there describing the awesome program at Paly and then see the Gunn administration still trying to resist doing something similar.

At the end, Michael Milliken said it would take him at least until fall to define "comparable" services and Kevin Skelly told the board he didn't even know what "comparable" meant, even though the focused goal for 2012-13 was to establish a plan for comparable services between the schools. In fact, comparability had been Kevin's idea in the first place as the benchmark (rather than equal or identical) due to the fact that he opposed bringing TA to Gunn. Now he doesn't know what it is. That was particularly troubling.

The board was between a rock and a hard place though, since it is clear that after seven board meetings in the past year on this subject they are not really much closer to getting comparable services between the schools due to the serious resistance Dr. Skelly. They keep telling him to do it and he keeps not doing it. As Gunn parent Kathy Sharp said at the meeting in the past 2 years we have had 2 studies, a survey, dozens of focus groups, 2 consultants, a faculty committee, a district multi-stakeholder process, three focused goals, and more and yet we are still no closer to getting comparable services than we were. Meanwhile 1500 more students have graduated.

The GAC presented its recommendations and all the members of the GAC, especially the parent members, urged the board to ensure that the school implemented all of the recommendations, especially the expansion of Titan 101 to other years to give an advisory program to Gunn.

Gunn presented its "draft" "Year One" plan which contained almost none of the GAC recommendations.

Michael Milliken told the board that he had directly disobeyed the board and taken the issue of "comparability" "off the table" at the first meeting. He looked very uncomfortable and was talking in incoherent word salad but fortunately none of the board members seemed bothered by this act of resistance and he will probably get a raise and a promotion. Maybe he'll be the new district compliance officer.

The board looked confused and kept asking about comparability. Camille Townsend asked about "touchpoints" and whether anyone had counted them to see if they could get them up to the same level as at Paly.

Trinity Klein said that the IC looked at the list of 40 GAC recommendations and just picked the ones they were "excited" about. She said that the school had to change the bell schedule in order to do advisory, and that she couldn't commit to doing that and just looking into it would take a year. Melissa pointed out that the Paly bell schedule was scary at first but now it is really popular and urged her to get it done.

Kevin told the board that he wanted them to just vote to approve this on April 9 even though it is only a draft and even though it doesn't have pretty much anything in the GAC report in it. They, surprisingly, said no.

KB Blanchard and Amy Balsom of the GAC pleaded with the board to ensure that Gunn had the leadership necessary to implement the recommendations and that although change is scary it is necessary and that it should be pursued.

Ken Dauber from We Can Do Better reminded the board about their comparability focused goal, asked them to send Gunn back to produce a detailed timeline with metrics showing how they would implement each of the 40 recommendations and how each would bring Gunn up to Paly's service level. That was ultimately what the board did.

Winners: Melissa Caswell did a great job asking the right questions and pushing back against Kevin. She probably shouldn't have been as forgiving as she was of the timeline. We are in year three now of a process of getting change and under the new plan Gunn got three more years to do this and another 6 months just to define the scope of the problem. That seems clearly unacceptable. Other winners: GAC parent members, Ken Dauber who has stayed on this for all this time despite being maligned.

Losers: Mike Milliken who directly disobeyed the board and got called out. Kevin Skelly, ditto but everyone is so used to that by now that no one really even acted surprised. Katya Villalobos who seemed not to notice that all the parent calls to the board to make sure Gunn had the leadership to get the job done were directed at her.

Summary: Gunn students won't be getting anything like parity with Paly for a long time. But if we stick with it and continue to dog the process eventually we may get there.

Biggest mystery: why we don't just emulate TA. It is clearly working very well. It could be tweaked here and there but for the price it is a great program. The process of re-inventing the wheel is going to take three years and hundreds of thousands of dollars. At the end, Gunn will have a wheel and Paly will have a Maserati.

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Posted by parent
a resident of Gunn High School
on Mar 20, 2013 at 9:44 am


I am STOKED. I loved the positive collaborative effort of the GAC committee between parents, students, teachers, and staff. The excitement and momentum they presented tonight was awesome. What a role model for our kids to see. This is exactly what gives me hope in the American way. And this momentum carried on through to the Gunn leadership team that created the first draft of an action plan for the first year. Everyone seemed optimistic about Gunn's counseling future. Goes to show you what positive team effort can produce.

Made me realize that comparable services may not be the way to go. So if Gunn continues on this track they may very well exceed the counseling services offered by Paly. Then will Paly have to catch up or does Gunn have to hold back to make it comparable. Gunn recognized there was room for improvements and went after it. Already noticeable in Gunn's thorough Counseling website and the new counseling email that explains exactly what's happening weekly in the counseling world at Gunn.

Way to go GUNN!!

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Posted by board watcher
a resident of Palo Verde School
on Mar 20, 2013 at 9:52 am

I forgot to mention that 4 senior boys each spoke to the board about how they have only seen their counselors between two and four times during their entire four years at Gunn. They asked for counseling improvements sooner rather than later. It was great to see them there speaking up for change, being upstanders.

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Posted by just saying
a resident of Gunn High School
on Mar 20, 2013 at 10:08 am

And you forgot to mention the excitement in the room. That the Gunn student participating on board spoke very highly of his experience with Gunn's counseling services and I think the very excited and well spoken Julie (I think that was her name) spoke of her extremely positive experience at Gunn.

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Posted by Get real
a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Mar 20, 2013 at 10:32 am

[Post removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]

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Posted by Prospective Gunn Parent
a resident of Gunn High School
on Mar 20, 2013 at 10:42 am

Thanks Board Watcher for taking the time to do such an extensive summary. I very much appreciate it.

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Posted by student growth
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 20, 2013 at 12:01 pm

My kids have thrived in the Gunn system as well. They have never had a problem going to their counselor and making an appointment or just walking in with questions when they needed answers beyond their scheduled appointments. They have had no problem meeting with either counselors or teachers that wanted to talk to when they had emotional issues. It might be helpful if parents would make an effort to explain to their students that they (student, not parent) need to be proactive in meeting with their counselors and developing teacher/staff relationships.

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Posted by Anonymous
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 20, 2013 at 3:56 pm

If the Board requested "comparability" and 'Michael Milliken told the board that he had directly disobeyed the board and taken the issue of "comparability" "off the table" at the first meeting,' why would Milliken still have a role in the follow-up. The Board may not have the authority, but if it did, it should seek someone else to do the job.

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Posted by Alexis Hamilton
a resident of St. Claire Gardens
on Mar 24, 2013 at 9:30 pm

As a GAC member I am pleased at the collaborative process that is underway at Gunn. Are the GAC recommendations ambitious? Yes! And we believe that Gunn has the staff, faculty and administrative will to achieve great things. By using the GAC's 40+ research-based recommendations as a guide Gunn has the capacity to build a world class guidance services program that blends small group and individual programs in a way that supports students appropriately throughout their career at Gunn. Consensus building at the start of the process will make the work proceed more efficiently.

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