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Original post made
by Parent, Another Palo Alto neighborhood,
on Oct 25, 2007
I was going to tell this to Dr. Skelly personally, or write it up with my name today on Town Talk, but there is too much potential to be seen as simply a brown noser, so I will keep it anonymous.
In all I have personally experienced in talking with him, listening to him, watching his results, and going last night, I believe Dr. Skelly is a good person, honest, transparent, direct, dedicated to the kids, respectful of all people, wants to listen and learn, open-minded, thoughtful, very sharp minded, and dedicated to being ethical.
He is all those things, and at the same time he is no wimp.
He will work for what he believes is right, no doubt. There is confidence, backbone, and experience there.
I, for one, have no doubt he and I disagree on a couple things already, but I also have no doubt that I could tell him why we disagree and what I believe he isn't understanding or doesn't know. I really believe he would listen openly and respectfully, and maybe even change his mind with new information, not just dig in his heels on a pet project. If he still wants whatever he wants at the end of the day, I believe he will have be able to actually explain why he draws different conclusions in spite of the new information, not simply through ignoring the information.
This will be refreshing, to have someone who might even be able to reframe objections in a respectful way which shows he really understands them, even if he disagrees with their conclusions.
He seems to be someone who understand he works for the community through our Board, and who will do his best to achieve whatever vision the Board and Community set in the next year, in whatever priorities we agree on, in an ethical and respectful way. There is no way that we can all agree on the end results, but I believe I can trust him to do the best he can to accomplish what we, the community, and the Board, agree to accomplish in the next year.
That said, I heard last night many things
1) He is dedicated to a change in the way we "hire" around here. At last a high position is going to be advertised and all candidates openly vetted. ( The new Jordan principal position). He flat-out will not simply hire the first one who wants it internally or the one he likes. There will be an open process. What a breath of fresh air!
2) He heard someone make an objection to taking Federal money for our own rich District ( The FLAP or upcoming FLES grants), given that there are so many districts in need of that money. He clearly listened, he heard the kind heartedness in the intent of the commenter, empathised, re-framed and thought out loud, and ended up still saying we should take it, but then stated good reasons why he disagreed with her, that this was not taking money away from others, etc. Ok, agree or disagree with him, I had to say that I admired his answer, and the way he treated her. He clearly thought about it.
3)He can admit an error. Wow, how refreshing was THAT??? He admitted that he ..well, I can't remember his exact words ..but the end result was that he DID say that he wished he could take back his sentence about the 20-30% of High School kids who are not being served well here, or whatever that was. He admitted it was an off the cuff comment with no specific data or plan attached to it, just a comment that not everyone fits into the overachiever or the Special Ed areas of High School, and we need to try to "hook" the ones that might get away.
4) He stated something very categorically which is not going to be popular, but gave good reasons for it..and that was a Charter threat was not something we should plan around. We would deal with it if and when it happened. I, personally, loved it and agree with it, but it is not "common wisdom".
5) He stated categorically he would not support "revisiting" MI. At the same time, I heard him say that he is very leary of exploring expanding or creating more "choice" programs with the issues of equity of access surrounding them. So, I heard that he understands at least THAT valid comment, without giving it a derisive flavor. THAT is a relief.
6)Skelly had praised us at length in his intro ..about how involved we were, how knowledgeable, how "insatiable" is our desire for info etc. In answer to one question from someone about how he feels about our ( her words) "insatiable" desire to give our opinions, I thought for sure I would hear what I am used to hearing, a derisive dismissal of all of us and what a pain we are and just a necessary part of the job etc..instead, I heard him welcoming our input. He even said he reads the blogs! How refreshing was that!!??
There was more, but I have to stop now. Besides, I am sure you are tired of reading this!
I pretty much took away the same things as Grateful. I think he's smart, a listener, realistic about what he can do and yet ambitious for positive change at the same time. I think he knows that he has some very active parents to deal with, but I agree that he welcomes their input. At the same time he seems to know that he's not going to please everyone all the time.
I think he'll be a safe pair of hands -- the big wild card is really going to be the Board. If the new BOE can act both rationally and creatively, though, we could be in for really exciting times.
Indeed, out of our problems could come some really cool solutions. That's, for me, the big unknown about Dr. Skelly. He says all the right things. I think he'll help us rebuild as we need to and raise the money we must etc. I certainly don't think he'll be a disaster like his predecessor. But if he's able to go beyond talking the talk, and to counter the innate conservatism of schools (which he admits) to shepherding through some of the really positive changes he wants to see in our district (to redefine student success as more than just high SATs and a place at a brand name college, as just one example), we could really start justifying our reputation as one of the best school districts around. THAT I'd love to see.
One other thing: I heard loud and clear Dr. S's desire to not revisit MI. In a sense that's not his call because the BOE could yet ask for that. But if he's serious about FLES and gets it to work, I'm cool with that, too. His point that we shouldn't have PAUSD policy determined by charter threats was both refreshing and, I feel, absolutely right. How diffferent things might have been if we'd had a Super with that attitude sitting at the BOE meetings earlier in the year!
A bit of an echo chamber here, cuz this is Grateful writing, but I agree with you totally.
Thanks for the good post. You hit on a couple points I wanted to get to, but said them better than I would have.
I remembered another subject he touched on..Bonds.
Money for facilities - he is definitely hot on a bond as soon as possible, and frankly couldn't understand any of us complaining about increasing taxes, given that CT pays 2.2% property taxes etc. I suspect that he doesn't understand that most of us (my reading..I may be wrong..and I know there are a few who would completely disagree with any more taxes, but I think most would support more for the schools) would have no problem at all paying more to the school district..we just want to agree with the specific goals of the money and TRUST that the goals will not be diverted. Our home prices are also much higher than even CT, so our 1.3% is more in absolute dollars than 2.2% of most CT homes..although I know many of us pay for lower values. He is also not acknowledging that there is a property tax revolt happening in many high housing price/parcel tax areas, and that the overall tax burden in CT is less than the overall tax burden here in CA.
So, I think the Bond issue is more complicated than he thinks it is, but at the same time a possibility if we support the goals of the Bond and trust they will really, really happen.
Darn, gotta go. Will add more later of other points he made.
Interesting. I really wanted to go last night, so I'm glad to hear the impressions. It goes along with the opinion I've been forming of him. He's shrewd in a way that Callan was not. Also a fair amount of ego and self-assurance. Well, that won't always be pleasant to deal with, but it's probably necessary to survive in Palo Alto. I think he's going to do what he wants, but it seems like his judgment is better than Callan's.
Sounds like he doesn't want the political no-win situation of revisiting MI, but I don't think he would have ever seen it as a priority. I think he also gets why it needs to limited. And he is right in that it is the board's decision.
Skelly, if you're checking us out, what about half of Greendell for MI in 2010? It would give you flexibility in the rest of the district and with the Garland site. We Ohlone types and, from the sound of it, the MI types, really aren't looking forward to a jam-packed campus and a shotgun marriage.
And what about looking at Young Fives at different elementaries in the child watch rooms? People on the board seem to like the idea and it would generate some revenue.
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