Kevin Skelly regrets achievement-gap comments

Parents meet with Skelly to find ways to improve learning for Latino and African-American students who are falling behind in performance scores

Palo Alto schools Superintendent Kevin Skelly Monday night apologized to about three dozen mostly minority parents for his skeptical statements about closing the achievement gap between Latino and African-American and white and Asian students.

"I think I owe our community an apology," Skelly said. "Some people could interpret my comments as giving up on kids. I wish I had chosen my words more carefully."

Skelly earlier said it isn't possible to expect that average children who come to the United States without speaking English and whose parents have little formal education to match achievement levels of youngsters whose mothers have advanced degrees in English and can afford to stay home and supplement their children's educations.

Some parents were upset that Skelly said schools cannot overcome the influence of the community and home life in improving student learning. Some were also upset that Skelly did not know why the achievement gap had widened for African-American and Latino students in the district.

After apologizing, Skelly discussed ways to address the achievement gap. Currently, African-American and Latino minority students in the district fall about 100 points behind white and Asian students according to the California Department of Education's academic-performance index.

"What we need to talk about is our children that come into school with high expectations, but by high school they're not there," Marvina White, a member of the Parent Network for Students of Color, said.

"It feels like there is no energy being put into finding out what is happening, which to me feels like an emergency."

White suggested that the district assign a staff member to focus on finding ways to improve the achievement gap for minorities, a recommendation Skelly said he would take into account.

White also recommended that the district take a systematic approach to eliminating the achievement gap.

"It's important to access the data in terms of race and ethnicity, otherwise there's no way to figure out the problems," she said. "It does have to do with race. If you don't see it that way then you can't solve the problem."

Palo Alto parent Lisa Daniels said parents and teachers need to take an individualized approach to improving education for minority students. "My son is the only black kid in the classroom," Daniels said.

"Self esteem is probably the biggest thing we need to work on for our children."

Nearly half the parents in the room nodded in agreement.

"I have to make sure that my child's self esteem is high," Daniels continued. "Our gap is that children need to be encouraged."

Skelly said student success depends on a myriad of factors. "To me the right metric is talking about getting kids ready for colleges," he said. "It's a universal metric."

Skelly said the district should look at its students' college readiness to measure academic improvement.

"I think we need to survey the kids and see what they're thinking," parent Michelle Kasper said.


Posted by OhlonePar, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Feb 10, 2009 at 7:24 pm

Poor Skelley. It wasn't PC, but I think it was honest.

Posted by Edwin, a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Feb 10, 2009 at 7:43 pm

stop using race as an excuse for the failure of your own parenting skills. If your kid is not up to par, is another resignation due to a manufactured racial bias going to solve the problem? Empower your own children with good morals, values, and solid family values. Stop the blame game!

Posted by Nora Charles, a resident of Stanford
on Feb 10, 2009 at 7:43 pm

Nora Charles is a registered user.

But don't home life and community play a tremendous part in students' lives and learning? Why should he have to apologize for these comments?

Posted by Outside Observer, a resident of another community
on Feb 10, 2009 at 8:01 pm

It's sad that Skelly is yet another victim of PA liberal PC.

Posted by Yellow, a resident of Midtown
on Feb 10, 2009 at 9:57 pm

"It feels like there is no energy being put into finding out what is happening, ..."

Don't deceive yourself. The truth is plain and simple. If you want to get ahead, work harder. Don't blame other people. This sense of entitlement is really your biggest liability.

Posted by carlos, a resident of Green Acres
on Feb 10, 2009 at 10:18 pm

Skelly simply stated the obvious, an attitude that seems to land people in trouble in this town. It's almost as if you can no longer make honest comments if you are a public figure.

Just like many kids will never manage to be NBA stars, many will never become college material or achieve academic success. It's a reality you see all over the world, and many of the underperforming kids in the district will probably equally underperform no matter where you place them. At a certain point, we as parents and taxpayers have to question the fairness of dedicating scarce resources to try to rescue the ones falling behind, resources that could otherwise be used to push the good students to the next level. As we cater to the lowest common denominator, mediocrity will be the end result and kids will develop a sense of entitlement. Feeling entitled to not fail no matter what, which will make them ill prepared to face the reality of today's global competition.

Posted by Walter_E_Wallis, a resident of Midtown
on Feb 11, 2009 at 2:40 am

Walter_E_Wallis is a registered user.

There are cultural impediments to absorbing an academic education, just as there are cultural impediments street smarts. If you deny or suppress discussion of these impediments then you are surrendering to your own bias.

Posted by but seriously, a resident of College Terrace
on Feb 11, 2009 at 6:56 am

Maybe Skelly misspoke. I am less concerned about his lack of political correctness than the sense that he is excusing the WIDENING achievement gap and dismissing the issue of minority students graduating without basic skills in disproportionate numbers as a parent and community problem rather than something to work to minimize. Even if you can't eliminate the achievement gap because of economic realities and cultural issues (which imho have partly to do with deferring to authority and not demanding, while many entitled PA parents feel a good grade is their child's God given right regardless of performance) you can at least compare youself to other communities with similar cohorts nationwide. Being one of California's best is really not that impressive since California is near the bottom of the heap in terms of educational quality. How about comparing ourselves to some of those other districts that the administration was throwing up to us when they said we had to have MI to be competitive? Suddenly now we are changing the basis ofcomparison? Consistency would make addressing these issues less of a moving target. Find a list of comparable districts nationwide and stick with it as you work through what is possible and what is desirable and what is acheivable.

Posted by Up by my boostraps, a resident of another community
on Feb 11, 2009 at 7:50 am


And what would those "cultural impediments" be?

Posted by Perspective, a resident of Midtown
on Feb 11, 2009 at 8:24 am

There is NOT a "widening" achievment gap...if you believe this to be true, please cite your source so we can look it up.

In fact, the entire nation is rising ( or at least, was..we'll see what happens now...) and the bottom of the boat is rising along with the top of the boat.

Poor Skelly. He is a straight-talking guy who tells the truth as he sees it. He was hung by liberal PC crud which can't see the forest for the trees, which refuses to address the obvious and REALLY address problems, preferring to continue blaming "society".

Posted by Perspective, a resident of Midtown
on Feb 11, 2009 at 8:30 am

To the question of "what would the cultural impediments be?"..I would love to hear you venture some informed guesses, up by my bootstraps.

Posted by Mistake, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 11, 2009 at 8:40 am

I guess the test scores speak for themselves. It's a pity Skelly spoke out. Will he lose his job like Chief Johnson?

Posted by Walter_E_Wallis, a resident of Midtown
on Feb 11, 2009 at 8:56 am

Walter_E_Wallis is a registered user.

Cultural impediments?
How about denying women equality, denigrating the value of book learning, emphasis on machismo, gangbanging?
Cultural impediments to academics becoming street smart would include a faith in law and fairness and over reliance on persuasion.
Race is NOT a culture. Denying cultural limitations does no one any favors.

Posted by PA resident, a resident of Midtown
on Feb 11, 2009 at 10:07 am

Kelly said this to teachers who met with him before his meet with the parents- "People who are heart broken by my remarks are people of color. People who agreed with my comments are white."
Nobody disagreed in this room packed full of teachers, administration, students, and staff.
Who is afraid of this truth? Ask yourself who benefits by the power structures in place?

My view is that we cannot claim to have an excellent school district, without trying to achieve excellence in all aspects- including closing the achievement gap. A continuing focus on this will be necessary to achieve equity, in a world surely lacking.

Posted by paly parent, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Feb 11, 2009 at 10:15 am

The most important part thing any district can do to close the achievement gap for ALL students is the most basic -good, caring teachers. Especially in HS, we need more teachers who:

present material in multiple ways, not just repeating what they have already said if students don't understand

are approachable and caring

are willing to help students - not just refer them to peer tutors or websites (although both can be helpful)

spend time instructing, not just handing out worksheet and giving class time to work

are in the classroom, not on vacation or at a meeting, class, etc.

hand back work in a timely manner

Posted by Parent, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 11, 2009 at 10:33 am

Kevin Skelly was attempting to excuse himself from his JOB, which is to address and close the achievement gap. It might hard, and he might not like it, but that's what he's getting PAID FOR. Whatever the reasons for acheivement gap are, its his job - not to dismiss it as undoable, but to show the public specifically what this district does to keep narrowing the gap.

Its ironic that in the original article, Skelly said (for example) that preschool education is an important step. Reaching kids early is a well known factor in addressing achievement gap. Yet, what is Palo Alto doing? They have a ritzy 'Young Fives' program that is a LOTTERY admission, limited in space, (selection NOT based on need or risk). And they have a space limited first come first serve preschool program as well, Preschool Family, also not based on need or risk.

So let's take a step back... we have space and resources to do programs completely optional and for pure status' sake (MI, SI), yet we don't have the space or the resources, or the will, to address all the kids that need intervention at the kinder level and pre-k level. Pathetic.

Skelly, instead of making excuses, how about telling us what you are doing SPECIFICALLY and what the district is planning SPECIFICALLY to address and close the achievement gap. (hint - how about starting with exapansion of Young Fives and Preschool options for at risk kids.)

There are alot of less fortunate school districts out there who have A LOT MORE students at grave risk, that don't have the luxury of throwing up their hands and saying it can't be done. If YOU don't feel up to that challenge, then maybe you should resign (or our school board should help you exit), so we can hire someone who does.

Posted by hopeful, a resident of South of Midtown
on Feb 11, 2009 at 10:53 am

To close the achievement gap is a worthy goal, but ask any teacher (any teachers out there please respond) about the correlation between academic success and parental involvement, interest, and emphasis in their kids education. I was told a story by a teacher excited by the parental enthusiasm at their first Open House in a less "stellar" district; their mentor asked "Did you notice who showed up? The parents whose kids were doing well, not those who needed to show up." Schools cannot realistically produce "equal products" with different inputs. It is not primarily about race but, I believe more about the obvious parental edcuation levels, which allows them to be the primary "teachers" and "tutors", and the cultural and individual family emphasis on education and its importance. That being said, I believe that the most effective use of societal resources is at the preschool level and with early parenting education. When the achievement gap is in place at entry to elementary school it seems to only widen. I believe Peninsula Family Connections is a wonderful model for that goal (and I have no relationship other than as a donor).

Posted by Mom of 2 Gunn grads, a resident of Fairmeadow
on Feb 11, 2009 at 10:55 am

Skelly spoke the truth, but some people don't want to hear it.
My daughters struggled in the highly competitive Gunn atmosphere, and they weren't recent immigrants. It is a matter of the individual student deciding to do the hard work or not. Coming from an educated family helps but it only takes the student so far.

Posted by single mom in south pa, a resident of Barron Park
on Feb 11, 2009 at 10:58 am

i agree with comments about culture. achievement is not race specific, as everyone knows. it's about the culture in which you exist, it's about how determined you are to fulfill your potential, it's about having someone believe in you. how about all of us who are moved by this issue stop "commenting" and start mentoring.

Posted by Concerned Retiree, a resident of Midtown
on Feb 11, 2009 at 11:06 am

I agree with Carlos' comments above. I am sick and tired of the chip which seems to reside on the shoulder of so many Palo Alto liberals and even more unfortunately, African Americans. Skelly is right in his initial comments.

We will not make progress until whites and blacks can talk candidly and openly. Genes and money and the degrees of the parents are the best indicators for academic success.

Posted by Test-Scores-Speak-Loudly, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 11, 2009 at 11:21 am

The test score gap is well-known (outside the so-called "education community"). Every systemic review of education always calls out this disparity. Unfortunately, education is now religion in America.

Read the US NAEP results -- US and CA test results coincide.

Skelly did the right thing by saying what he did. The most important input into "education" is the parent's contribution. Maybe schools do add a little bit .. but there is not very much evidence of that's being true--when you look at the data.

Posted by Concerned Retiree, a resident of Midtown
on Feb 11, 2009 at 11:21 am

I agree with Carlos' comments above. We cannot make progress without candid discussions of the facts -- test scores, grades, etc. Genes, money and the academic degrees earned by the parents are the best indicators for the academic success of the children.

As a single parent of two Gunn graduates, I can also attest to the handicap my not being more of a presence in the PTA and life of Gunn High was for both of my children. They are successful today, but their academic success at Gunn would have been furthered had I been able to be more involved.

The chip which seems to reside on the shoulder of so many Palo Alto liberals and even more unfortunately, African Americans merely holds us back. Skelly is right in his initial comments.

We need to foster open discussions among all of those involved with the schools.

Posted by Old PA resident, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Feb 11, 2009 at 11:29 am

I don't know if the kids with good test scores are getting a good education, or just getting good grades. I have interviewed and worked with many of these high achievers, and find that many of them don't seem to have learned anything, other than how to game the system to get good grades. If the more emphasis was placed on understanding and applying the education we would have a better work force.

It is possible that cultural differences and expectations of children should be addressed by providing other paradigms of education. Not every smart kid learns well sitting in a classroom listening to a teacher talk.

Posted by OhlonePar, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Feb 11, 2009 at 11:40 am

Hold it,

I'm a Palo Alto liberal and I'm not bashing Skelly. I think he wasn't careful in how he said what he said, but I think he was being honest.

I think Parent has a point that it is Skelly's job to deal with the achievement gap. Where we might differ is that I don't think Skelly was trying to wriggle out of that. I read what he said as an attempt to state what he was up against.

While the headline of the story, which Skelly didn't write, made Skelly's comments about race, Skelly's own comments did not mention race. So I think he's getting a little unfairly hammered here.

Is it clear, by the way, that we have kids graduating from the schools here without basic skills?

Posted by support kelly, a resident of Fairmeadow
on Feb 11, 2009 at 11:53 am

I support Kelly for his courage. His comments might not be politically correct, but were honest. What's wrong of stating a fact?

Posted by To Be Fair, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Feb 11, 2009 at 12:26 pm

Gee, shouldn't we look to oust Skelly for his gaffe like we did Chief Johnson?

Posted by Becky Brewer, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Feb 11, 2009 at 12:29 pm

I won't comment specifically on Kevin Skelly's remarks since I was not in attendance when he made them originally, nor was I present at the meeting at Paly. From a personal perspective, as an employee of the district and also a parent of three children of color who have attended Palo Alto schools (living in Palo Alto), this is not an issue of parent's not doing their part, working/non-working, test scores, or having access to computers, tutoring, etc. The issue goes much deeper. Our students of color are affected in ways that many of you who commented do not seem to understand. For example, being the only student of color in a classroom, being the only student of color on a team, not having administrators of color, DOES negatively affect how some students view themselves. This has been apparent beginning in elementary school and has continued through high school. My children had friends of different ethnicities, but felt the pressure once they got to high school to choose only friends of their same ethnic group. Our children had all of the support (parental, financial, tutorial) that you are referring to, and I cannot tell you exactly why Paly did not meet their needs, but it didn't. My nephew who attended Menlo Atherton had a very different experience and school support which saw him through high school and on to a college education. There is a disconnect somewhere. You can't dismiss statistics like these.

Posted by For Palo Alto, a resident of Adobe-Meadows
on Feb 11, 2009 at 12:34 pm

Whose fact? I would bet that you are most certainly not of color. And you probably have not had any experience with racism.

Posted by curious, a resident of Adobe-Meadows
on Feb 11, 2009 at 12:36 pm

"but felt the pressure once they got to high school to choose only friends of their same ethnic group. "

Why did they feel this pressure and where was it coming from?

Posted by State the Facts, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Feb 11, 2009 at 12:36 pm

Becky Brewer :

One of the most influential and positive administrators in our family's experience was Dr. Jones at Walter Hays Elementary. A black man in a predominantly white neighborhood.

Posted by For Palo Alto, a resident of Adobe-Meadows
on Feb 11, 2009 at 12:37 pm

Thank You Becky. Your comments are right on the mark, and we should continue to pressure the district for solutions, not excuses.

Posted by Parent of Three, a resident of Barron Park
on Feb 11, 2009 at 1:06 pm

Skelly's initial comments were really well chosen and right on the mark! He didn't say that NONE of the kids coming to schools with limited English and whose parents have little formal education CAN'T match the achievements of kids coming from more affluent and educated homes, just that it is MORE DIFFICULT for them, more of a challenge for them and for the schools. Some of the disadvantaged group have extraordinary gifts and will succeed, but the group as a whole - because they are starting well behind and do not receive peer and parent motivation- will not catch up with those who have had a headstart and a cheerleading family encouraging them along. If you disagree, then you disagree with Dr. Bill Cosby and with President Obama.

Posted by Becky Brewer, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Feb 11, 2009 at 1:11 pm

To address the comment above, I am not of color, that is correct, but my biological children are, and I am speaking on behalf of them. I'm not sure what you mean by "whose fact."

In response to the next comment, the pressure was not from a specific person but that the students feel the need to be with other students who know what they are seeing and feeling.

I agree that Dr. Jones was an influential and positive administrator but there is no one in this position at the high schools at this time.

Posted by Perspective, a resident of Midtown
on Feb 11, 2009 at 1:12 pm

Becky, everything you say is true...i also am a white parent with kids of color.

However, what on earth does anyone think a DISTRICT can do to address the "only black/brown/yellow/white/arab/israeli/german" etc kid in the class? BUS IN more to keep 'em company? Really? All we can do is move somewhere with where there are more kids of color to keep 'em company ..or teach 'em to be themselves and keep moving. It is up to us, as parents, to teach our kids to deal with reality, and the reality is that our kids of color will be in a small minority pretty much wherever they go, whether in colleges, professional jobs, etc. Better learn now how to deal with it.

As for choosing kids the same color as them in High School to pal around with. My gosh, I am appalled that you think this is true of all kids. For some reason, my kids have friends based on who they like, not their colors. I suspect that is more true than not, since I didn't do anything in particular to "teach" this, other than teach that each person is valuable for WHO THEY ARE, which is their character and actions, not WHAT COLOR OR GENDER they are.

The "culture" of our home promoted hard work, academics, acceptance of consequences, and respect for themselves and others. I have seen other "cultures" in families that promoted athletics over academics and blaming teachers and "society" for problems, over getting to work and dealing with life.

Posted by Resident, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 11, 2009 at 1:38 pm

There are many students who are in a very small group within our schools. These students may be the only muslim wearing a headress, sikh wearing a turban, jew wearing a scull cap and prayer apron, or other obvious visual distinction, and only stand out because they can be seen by the naked eye as looking different. Generally speaking these kids manage quite well in their environment. If you could "see" things like child of a convicted felon, or child who had suffered sexual abuse, you would find many other reasons why a child may feel they were the only one. This group has no apparent distinction amongst the class, but still may feel it. On top of that, you may have a child of color (since that is the phrase mentioned by previous posters) who feel that they are different from everyone else.

This is Palo Alto. If truth be known, many of our students are different in some way or other, and in fact being different is almost the norm. Whether it be, color, creed, class, family background, or culture, there is no overall norm. And, if someone can't feel that they fit in here where we are generally extremely accepting of everyone regardless, then that is sad. Moreover, perhaps they should look within themselves to see if it is really true or just their perception, before trying to blame the system.

Posted by PAUSD parent, a resident of Gunn High School
on Feb 11, 2009 at 1:44 pm

For true quity and equal opportunity, the District should also address the attenion-gap and support-gap between the Latino and African-American and white and Asian students. Many in the later groups are deemed "they will be fine" and left alone by the school to fight for their own needs, which their families try hard to make up, by tutoring and enrichment outside the school, at high costs and big sacrifices. It's a matter of priority. Some take it upon themselves for their children's educational success, and some leave it to others. The latter demand the most resources and will never satisfy, while the first just quietly accept and do the best they can. Is that fair?

Posted by Becky Brewer, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Feb 11, 2009 at 2:11 pm

My last comment to the above -
As mentioned in my previous comment, my children also had friends from all ethnic groups, were expected to treat everyone regardless of who they are with respect and dignity. This is not about one group. I am not placing blame, I want all children to have a chance at success and whatever we can do to give children this opportunity is most important. We should all want this.

Posted by terryg, a resident of Evergreen Park
on Feb 11, 2009 at 2:23 pm

I think we are confusing socioeconomics, with blaming busy and/or lazy parents and ethnic achievement gap. While socioeconomics and parenting both play a huge role in achievement they aren't the only factors. If you look at this study, Web Link it shows that even at similar income levels blacks and latinos lag behind. This is happening in our district and we can't blame parenting as I can't imagine how we'd say black and latino parents at similar income levels are more busy, or at any income, more lazy. There is something else going on. We can point fingers and say those kids should just work harder or teachers should work harder but they have been working hard and the gap still exists. I think we really we want to get the best out of every kid because it's good for all of us. IMHO the district should dive into the data, understand what we can and work on it. It's a national issue and granted we can't solve everything but I would feel much better if our district made understanding and addressing the issue a priority.

Posted by Gunn mom, a resident of Midtown
on Feb 11, 2009 at 3:57 pm

The widening achievement gap may be due to OBE or "progressive" education which discourages any kind of rote learning, workbooks, memorization, drills, etc. To do only this kind of work is just as wrong -- a mix of both project learning and traditional approaches is best. Maybe the kids of parents who can tutor or hire tutors helps overcome any gaps. Kids from more disadvantaged families or parents who are unaware that their might be something missing don't get that kind of help. These gaps don't really show up until high school and then it's very hard to overcome. Compare our public school curriculum to what students are doing in some of our local private schools!

Posted by Perspective, a resident of Midtown
on Feb 11, 2009 at 4:19 pm

TerryG: Yes, similar economic level, but minority color, brings out that there is still an achievement gap. HUGE study done by a Berkeley professor (from the Caribbean or Africa, originally, I think)on a District in Chicago showed that kids who were normed for the same economics ( house, car, vacation, disposable income etc)and parental education level, but different colors, STILL had the color achievement gap.

He then brought out the differences in how the family treated academics ( IN GENERAL more praise for athletics than academics in black families, little praise for hard work in school) and how the kids had tremendous peer and media pressure to not "act white" ( defined as do homework, succeed in school, dream of colleges etc).

The kids started out pretty equal, but by the time they were in High School were the same gap level down as most of the nation.

Amazing stuff. I will try to find the author and book. Pretty heavy book.

Also found this in a book by ..was it Sowell? Davis? About the tremendous pressure on kids in "inner cities" to not be "white" and move up and out. The pressure is by peers who ostracize anyone who is working at school and apparently on his or her way up and out of the ghetto. Hard to resist that.

All that to say..what can a DISTRICT do to fight that kind of peer and family norming? I have to say..I have started to see a little of the looking at non-white role models on TV and in Sports in my own kid, and I am not happy with that pull. It takes a lot of emphasis on choosing outcomes to try to overcome the "color/cool" pull I am seeing in him. Unfortunately, the days of Bill Cosby type role models for kids of color are simply gone.

But, we'll keep plugging.

If it is so hard for him to resist the siren song, and he is in a very educated, "successful" family in a great area with great friends, how much harder must it be to be in a single mom family surrounded by peers who are trying to keep you "down" so that you aren'd acting "white".

And how on earth does anyone outside the family or neighborhood fight that?

Posted by Sharon, a resident of Midtown
on Feb 11, 2009 at 4:23 pm

The whole "self esteem" approach to education is a complete disaster, kids end up feeling great about themselves while performing hopelessly.
Bandura at Stanford showed years ago that what counts is self efficacy a sense of pride that come from achievement, not the other way round.

How much of the performance gap is caused by the Tinsley kids from EPA?

PAUSD cannot be held accountable for the performance of kids from another district, it is time to sunset that program.

Asian immigrants do well because the parents have the right attitudes and commitment to education, the same is true for many immigrants from the Caribbean when the are in tact families with a mother and a father.

[Portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]

I strongly believe that part of the solution is trade schools for those who cannot thrive in academic courses, graduates of trade schools can have dignity and pride in making a contribution and a decent living, maybe the next generation will move up.
That is the story of most immigrant groups in the history of the USA, a few generations of tradesmen the progressive further education.

Look at the history of the Jews the Irish the Italian and German immigrants over time.

The days of entitlement are over for good, it was a dead end experiment that has done much more harm than good.

Posted by Resident, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 11, 2009 at 5:14 pm

To some extent, there is some dumming down of the curriculum to which I can only explain it by saying that it is to help those finding the academic challenge hard but enabling them to get a good grade. It has already been said that handing in homework, regardless of whether the work is good or bad, enables a poor student get a reasonable grade. Other than that, some of the homework, in high school as well as middle school is pretty pointless. I have seen plenty of assignments from both levels this year. Why should a high school junior be coloring colonial outfits, or making posters of family members in a language class? Why should a middle schooler be decorating alphabet books? The only answer I can come up with is that it enables those who are doing poorly in tests or written work catch up their grades with a hands on project that they can excel in with very little academic requirement.

Posted by MukhMan, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Feb 11, 2009 at 7:42 pm

I think Kevin Skelly hit the nail right on the head. His original comments are factually true, and minority parents need to be held accountable for the poor performance of their children. But the District has an important role as well; it has to be a collaborative effort.

At Duveneck, we have quite a few kids who are bussed in from EPA. They are all Latino from what I have observed. The few African-Americans are actually from within our affluent neighborhood.

[Portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]

The schools need to intervene NOW rather than do the social promotion thing, then screw up their lives in high school. From the beginning, they should have high expectations for these kids and challenge them to perform. I think this is better for their self-esteem than treating them like "slow" kids. English Language skills are absolutely critical, as everyone agrees. As for the ethnic/color identity issue, this is true for any minority (including the Asians who are performing at or above the level of European-Americans). What child isn't? My child is a high-performer and popular, yet she often whines about her "brown-ness" and wonders if people see her differently because of it. She is also insecure about our financial standing (very middle class) compared to the older, wealthier parents of her classmates who get everything they want. How do I explain to her why I won't buy her a Wii? And there a host of other things. Does that stop her from working hard and doing well in school? Nope.

In any case, to the parents who are complaining and blaming race: turn off the TV (or throw it out the window), visit the library often with your kids, and give them lots of attention. Inspire them. I grew up in a poor household, but that didn't stop me because my parents believed in me and challenged me. You should do the same instead of demanding your school play parent.

Posted by Responsible parent, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Feb 11, 2009 at 8:00 pm

I applaud Mr. Skelly's comments. I believe his heart is in the right place. The reality is that our kids spend only 6-7 hours in school each day. What happens to the other 8-9 hours? Parents, take responsibility and work with your teachers and school to help your children. Take a look at our economy and the global competition, You cannot afford to play the blaming game. Read to them, raise your expectations and be proactive in their learning process!!

Posted by PointOfView, a resident of Midtown
on Feb 11, 2009 at 8:09 pm

It has been written that it is the job of the commissioner to reduce the education gap.

I respectfully disagree. Education is not fundamentally a tool for political ends. The commissioner's job is to provide the best education s/he can to the population served.

Given the different abilities, development and support among the different students in the district, it seems clear that different students are capable of different rates and amounts of learning.

A district that closes the gap between the students could otherwise learn the most and those who cannot has done a great disservice to those who can learn more.

There seems to be an assumption that each student can learn as much as any other student. This is a false assumption. There should be a gap between the best performing students and the worst performing students. The larger the gap, the more opportunity has been provided by the school to learn.

If there are social issues identified by the gap, we should address those. But the school is then an indicator of those issues, and should not be confused with the cause of the issues. Otherwise we will be papering over the issues and deliberately weakening our schools.

Posted by Parent, a resident of East Palo Alto
on Feb 12, 2009 at 2:01 am

I'm an Africian American/Caribbean parent who was a product of the Tinsley program and so is my child. I have a Masters degree. I'm involved in my child's school. I praise hard work in school over sports. My child was a in Montessori preschool at 2.5. My child was reading at 4 years old.

But, by six, enrolled in Palo Alto schools in an all asian/white class with tons of educational opportunity and resources began falling behind at the same time they began experiencing the racism. Self-esteem almost completely depleated, no friends, no playdates, no invites to classmate b-day parties. Children refuse to sit next to my chld at lunch because of color. No lesson plan for anything regarding our culture, nothing that resembles anybody BLACK! Let's be real - wouldn't that affect you? Amazing, since white chidlren imitate anything Black. Clothes, language, music...

Not one of those children would ever come to our house in East Palo Alto! You can bet on that. We came for the educational opportunity, our goal, what we experience is so sad/bad I am looking to take my child out of PAUSD. "Those people" may vote for Obama, but they won't consider their actions racist.

Palo Alto use to be a liberal supportive and open community who's residents embraced East Palo Alto and the Tinsley program. That is no more. Just by reading the posted comments shows the distain for people of color and the have nots. Everyday we experience how nasty this "asisn" based community can be. Frankly, its outrageous.

I am not looking for a handout, we pay our way. We contribute to PIE! I am looking for a world class education for my child. I am so sad our family found just the opposite, which surely contributes to my childs poor achievement. No one will ever be able to convince me that the achievement gap is anything more than RACISM and CLASSISM. Those parents buy tutors at $60.00/hour, special classes at $175.00, they travel to places we could never afford, they take special skills training on how to learn in class, they spend hundreds on teaching their kids how to learn. We don't have those privledges. We do the best we can but we work at a disadantage in this setting.

Maybe not on purpose but the teachers respond to children who look like them and talk like them and have ideas that run together. The teachers I have don't value what we do.

Let's stop fooling ourselves. Given the same opportunity and resources as PAUSD, trained teachers, well supplied classrooms, PIE funding in East Palo Alto - I would have a child who could learn as well as those childen in my own community and since you don't want us there we wouldn't be thre. Forget why Tinsley was created.

Kevin Skelly I really like you - you keep trying and keep trying to do the right thing. Shed some lite on how serious this really is if you want to help. This is bigger than you want to know.

Don't you think it kills me to send my child to a place where they are not wanted, treated badly, taught with bias, leave PAUSD each day with worst self esteem than when I sent them? How many hours each day should we take off our jobs as East Palo Alto parents to facilitate learning at the school for our children? And, how many more times do you think my child will believe me when I say everyone should be treated fairly and no one is better than another?

Posted by Walter_E_Wallis, a resident of Midtown
on Feb 12, 2009 at 2:41 am

Walter_E_Wallis is a registered user.

What a beautiful example of where discussion can go when it is truly open. I am neither black nor female but I earned early on that any temporary advantage from my white maleness was negated by the reduction in group effectiveness when decisions were based on irrelevant factors. EPA Parent, the diaspora of closing Ravenswood and of Tinsley was a tragic mistake. Any classroom time is better than bus time. When my children went to Costano and Ravenswood the facilities and instruction was as good as in Palo Alto. I was run out of EPA because I was white, but hey, nobody said life was easy. Your insult to your community by shunning them may well have cloaked you and your children in a cloak of victimhood as their albatross.

Posted by Leigh, a resident of Community Center
on Feb 12, 2009 at 8:26 am

It is for all of us to work for a better result for every child. In some aspects, we are making progress. I had to explain prejudice to my children. It still made no sense to them. Their friends are Asian, mixed race, Latin, etc. They are friends with kids because of their common interests. My kids are in kindergarten. Perhaps there is hope for a time when being gay, black, Latin or anything else will make no difference in who your friends are. Prejudice is taught to some extent.

I have lived on both sides of the tracks. I grew up with few privileges in a working class family. I still struggle with higher math. I had no one to help at home & no money to hire a tutor. There are advantages to having a pair of well educated parents.

Don't be fooled by privilege either. Kids suffer ill effects of parental pressure, competition and schedules for small children that require a PDA and heroic effort on their part.

Let's not hang anyone for stating what is true. I lived that story. I rose above my circumstances. To say, I had no circumstances would be naive.

Every parent can contribute to the success of kids from different backgrounds by treating them like other kids. Invite them for play dates, say hello by name and otherwise treat them just as you would want your own child treated. The golden rule raises it's head again.

When applying to college, they understand the kids who worked and had fewer advantages. Test scores are a single measure of a person. These kids are not just a number. They are a story. Some have better endings than others. Everyone of them deserves respect and kindness.

Posted by Dawn, a resident of Downtown North
on Feb 12, 2009 at 9:38 am

There IS an achievement gap. A fact, plain and simple. Stop feeling so offended by everything and just be happy your children are in a Palo Alto school receiving a great education.

Palo Alto wants to create diversity and these kinds of issues are the result.

Posted by Becky Brewer, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Feb 12, 2009 at 9:58 am

I completely agree with the parent from East Palo Alto above. I also believe that Kevin Skelly wants an open dialogue and help figuring out what to do to help all students be successful in this district. I have lived in Palo Alto most of my life and my husband grew up in East Palo Alto and attended Palo Alto Schools. I can only speak for our family, but we both had a positive experience at Palo Alto High School in the 70's and I believe we could learn something from looking back. Palo Alto was an open-minded, welcoming place when we were growing up.

Posted by get real, a resident of Adobe-Meadows
on Feb 12, 2009 at 11:17 am

Sorry, can't take the post from East Palo Alto above seriously.
Their child was reading at the age of 4 but by the time they left kindergarten the child was "falling behind". Lot's of children <b>finish</b> kindergarten not being able to read. PAUSD's curriculum for reading at kindergarten level doesn't require it - Web Link
So, unless you're far overstating your child's ability at 4, how was your child "falling behind" by the time they left Kindergarten? Or did this falling behind happen over the summer?

There are also lots of locations for play dates besides going to EPA. Your child is being bussed to a school in a different district. You need to be creative and not expect it to be the same as going to a neighborhood school. Try meeting up at the Winter Lodge or Palo Alto bowl.
I don't recommend out of town visitors go driving around EPA on their own. Are you really surprised I don't let my child bike to EPA for a play date?

Posted by Local girl, a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Feb 12, 2009 at 11:24 am

Thank you, Becky!

Posted by paly parent, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Feb 12, 2009 at 12:36 pm

EPA parent - Your experience makes me feel sad for your children (and you). I'm surprised there was not more intervention at the school to facilitate friendships, etc. At the elementary school my children attend, I don't think that would have been tolerated if the staff was aware of it. The reality is there just aren't that many African American students in PAUSD, your suggestions for making them feel more welcome and included would be helpful. And unfortunately, get real is correct about people wanting to stay out of EPA, it is a safety issue, not a race issue. I won't take University to the Dumbarton, much less let my child play there.

Becky - Your suggestions for helping our students of color would be welcome too!

Posted by Kevin, a resident of Midtown
on Feb 12, 2009 at 1:28 pm

It is ironic that ethnic identity education (segregation) is being replaced by ethnic identity education (neosegregation). Instead of integrated schools, we now have ethnic "acheivment gaps", ethnic identiy isolation, ethnic identity victim status, ethnic identity rejectionism, ethnic blame. From a couple of posts in this thread, it would appear that we are going to get ethnic identiy play dates organized by our school communities.

If one reads between the lines, there is a call by those who are now complaining, to go back to ethnic segregation. Seperate but equal, and then each color/ethnicity group can feel good about its self esteem. The new twist on this old idea is that it will happen intra-school instead of inter-school.

I have a better idea: Ban all collection of ethnicity/race data by school officials. This will instantly eliminate ethnicity achievement gaps. Each child will need to be treated according to his or her own ability and effort and individual needs.

Posted by carlos, a resident of Green Acres
on Feb 12, 2009 at 1:49 pm

Despite the good intentions of many of these comments, I still see some unfortunate sense of victimization and entitlement.

Being an immigrant from race/class-conscious Latin America myself, let me share some of my own observations. I think PAUSD offers great opportunities to people of all races/socio-economic backgrounds. As in any other setting in life, there will always be 'minority' groups (based on whatever criteria you choose). Now, it's unrealistic and unreasonable to expect the system to cater to all 'minority' needs, so for those of you who feel 'isolated' in this environment, maybe the practical answer is to try harder to integrate into this setting, and if it's so bad for you, you can always attend a different school district.

An example I like to share w/ Americans is that of Alejandro Toledo, the former president of Peru. He was a poor Peruvian Indian boy who got a scholarship to come to college to the US. I don't think he spent much dwelling about the achievement gap during his education in the US. Instead, he maximized the opportunities given to him, eventually getting a Ph.D. from Stanford, and then becoming the first elected president of Indian descent in Peru's history. And for those who don't know it, people of Indian descent in Latin America face worse discrimination than any people of color in the US.

Let's not expect our school system to fix deeper issues in our culture/society/families.

Posted by ParentingInSchools, a resident of Crescent Park
on Feb 12, 2009 at 7:55 pm

EPA Parent, you're experience makes me sad too. You need to be more involved in the school, so:
- Talk to your child's teacher!
- Make sure you have your name/email/phone listed in the school registry
- Engage other parents at drop-off and pick-up (make friends!)
- Volunteer to read in the classroom
- Volunteer for recess duty
- Volunteer to help out in the school library
- Join the PTA
- Volunteer to help organize PTA events (make friends!)
- Attend all PTA events (make friends!)
- Run for a PTA post
These are all free and more important to your child than donating money to PiE. For your child, you need to be part of the school community and it won't happen without you reaching out.
Make time for some of the above even if you work full time. By second grade you should be on speaking terms with lots of parents in the school.

Posted by Walter_E_Wallis, a resident of Midtown
on Feb 13, 2009 at 5:55 am

Walter_E_Wallis is a registered user.

Kevin, for one glorious moment we did have that ban on segregation by statistics, then the rent seekers discovered he value of identity politics and threw away 200 years of the march toward a raceless society. All animals are equal, except some are more equal than others. Where did I see that?

Posted by Perspective, a resident of Midtown
on Feb 13, 2009 at 1:52 pm

Many blessings on you Carlos. This is what makes immigration so necessary to our country, to help us remember that here we have the most opportunity of anywhere,..we just have to go get it. I am a kid of a foreigner, and came to this country when I was 4. Hmmm..turned out fine, though NOBODY in any of my classes anywhere had a parent from the country mine came from, let alone could understand a word he said.

To the parent who was upset because there were NO playdates for her kid in EPA. Well, guess what? We live as far away from the schools as you do, but in the opposite direction..and how many playdates do we get here? Almost none. You have a chip on your shoulder, and instead of blaming "racism" ( are you trying to tell me we are more racist than when you were growing up???), how about looking at reality. If you live by the school, you have playdates with your classmates. Where we live, our kids had playdates with the neighborhood kids, who did not go to the same schools as my kids.

Oh NO! Poor us!! Must be racism!! ( Wait a kids look "white" and 1/2 their classmates WEREN'T...hmmm)

As for "falling behind". Sorry, don't buy that is racism. Everyone develops differently, and many problems don't show up until later in school. If your kid was reading at 4 years old and then is "behind" by 3rd grade, you probably should look at some learning issues. If a teacher has recommended you get help for your kid already, did you take it, or did you cry "racism"? If the teacher DIDN'T recommend help though your kid is clearly it becuase they are afraid you will sue them as "racist" for recommending help?

Stop blaming "racism" and start looking for solutions from within.

Posted by Perspective, a resident of Midtown
on Feb 13, 2009 at 1:56 pm

BTW, not to mention another dose of reality. Until recently, EPA had the highest homicide rate IN THE NATION. If you don't live there, you don't realize it has really cleaned up. If you thought the "playdate" was in an area with the highest homicide rate in the nation, would you send your kids there for a play date?

I lived in EPA almost 30 years ago and heard gun shots pretty regularly, had my place broken into, etc..hard to live down that rep, though it is MUCH MUCH better now. I would not be too worried in most areas now.

Posted by Anonymous, a resident of Gunn High School
on Feb 13, 2009 at 2:46 pm

Perhaps not Mr. Skelly, but some of the schools administration should definitely not be talking about fixing the gap, when they are unscrupulously putting effort into widening it. Allow me to elaborate. I go to Gunn High School, and am Latino. When I first got in, my first elective was called school service. I had never registered for that class the year before, and had no interest in wasting a class period where I could be learning and getting my UC requirements done, to go collect role sheets and deliver call slips to those kids who were learning. Anyone who has done this before knows that virtually all the kids who are assigned to this job are Latino/immigrant students. So many are put in without requesting that class. I have personally asked many of those kids and they say that they never signed up for it. When I tried to leave the class and take criminal and civil law, the principal, Noreen Likins, asked me If I'd rather do foods instead. Why foods, If I asked for law? They would rather have minorities take worthless electives, than more challenging academic courses. Secondly, the high school tries to fix their problem of having too many students by telling many Latino students specifically (because some of their parents do not speak English and most likely will not understand or be able to protest) that they qualify for early graduation, their SOPHOMORE year! That's impossible. This happened to a friend of mine at Paly. He did not do well his sophomore year (a Latino), and his counselor told him he should repeat that year, but that at the same time, he still qualified for early graduation. Anyone with common sense knows that you can't even meet the graduation requirements for high school in just two years if you have to repeat a year, let alone those for UC's. Thirdly, there is a ridiculously disproportional amount of Latinos in Special Ed. at Gunn. Many of these students do not belong there, but because of previous academic issues, are put there, and cannot get out. Leaving kids in Special Education who do not belong there in the first place is only widening the gap, not closing it! This clandestinely happens at both high schools thanks to the administration we have running them. I mean no disrespect to Mr. Skelly, but would like to bring to his attention what's happening down here on a level that he cannot see.

Posted by Resident, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 13, 2009 at 3:02 pm

My white child had four friends over to play video games this morning. One was also white, the others were African American. One of these has previously been here, the others I had met before but not in my home. All of these kids were polite, respectful, and a pleasure to have in my home. They obeyed the house rules, tried something new for a snack, and left the house in the state in which they found it with thanks. I can only hope my kids do the same when they are in others' homes.

I have no idea where these kids stand academically, but it seems to me they have no chip on their shoulders about who they are and have the right types of attitude to make them succeed in life.

They will be welcome in my home any time.

Posted by Perspective, a resident of Midtown
on Feb 13, 2009 at 3:20 pm

My advice to you, Gunn Student, and all others who experience what they believe is the racism of low expectations: GO DIRECTLY TO SUPERINTENDENT SKELLY AND TELL YOUR STORY!

If this is really happening to kids who are coming into High School with passing grades from Middle School...then he needs to know.

Or, ask the following: how many of the kids being put in your shoes have come into the high school with failing grades from middle school? Is it THIS, or color, which is "laning" you?

As for the Special Ed and racism issue...this is a chicken and egg problem. To claim racism with the special ed services is to shoot yourselves in the foot. The bottom line is, if a kid has problems and can benefit from the Resources of Special Ed, then he or she should get the resources. Why is there a higher percentage in Special Ed who are minorities? Maybe the non-minorities are invisible becuase their parents are paying for their special support themselves after school insteadd of having their kids in Resource during school. Maybe there are more single parent kids who are minorities..which automatically raises their odds of having problems in schools. Maybe there are more kids who came into the schools at a disadvantage to begin with, like half the vocabulary in kindergarten of their non-minority peers and no knowledge of alphabet, colors,etc..and never "caught up". Who knows?

Instead of complaining about the disparity, be grateful for the extra help. Or, I guess kids could leave the PA district and go where there is very little help for kids in trouble.

This is a community which cares deeply about the achievement gap, and has worked hard to do what it can to help. I suspect it may also be becoming a community which is getting tired of never hearing "thank you", and always hearing complaints, blame, name calling and lawsuit threats.

Posted by anonymous, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Feb 13, 2009 at 4:35 pm

From what I've observed, I tend to back up what Anonymous (Gunn student) has to say

Posted by OhlonePar, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Feb 13, 2009 at 5:40 pm

Interesting. I'd think a couple of other factors would create a disproportionate number of minorities in special ed at the high-school level.

First, learning issues are detected very early among more privileged kids. I know several kids who were sent to speech and other forms of learning therapies in preschool. The earlier the intervention the more likely that you won't need it later on. By the same token, these same families know to put their kids in Young Fives--and can afford private programs if they can't get into the district's program.

Second, affluent families with a kid who's not going to cut it at Gunn or Paly will put their kid in a private school. You jigger around the system until you make it work for you.

Which isn't to say that there's no unfair laning going on. Administrators can get jaded and lazy and start working on assumptions (aka stereotypes) and that's got to be insanely frustrating. It would be interesting, though, to hear both sides of what's going on.

And, yes, anonymous, go to Skelly.

Posted by Kim Bomar, a resident of Nixon School
on Feb 13, 2009 at 5:59 pm

I'm not sure that all of the hostility in some of these posts can be neutralized by the facts, but I'm going to give it a try:

1. I am one of the parents in the Parent Network for Students of Color. I am black, but hardly a lazy minority who doesn't know how to parent-- a graduated magna cum laude and Phi Beta Kappa from Dartmouth College before before obtaining masters and law degrees from Stanford, which was followed by a Fulbright Fellowship in Singapore. Now, I am a part-time attorney and stay-at-home mother for my 1st grader and 4-year-old sons. My husband (also black) is a Stanford professor among the top of the field globally in the area of computer science. (He also founded a very successful technology company.) I volunteer at the school every week, read regularly to my children (both of whom are excellent readers), teach them Chinese (I, myself am trilingual) and piano, and supplement their math learning. I encourage them to have a "growth mindset" and give them lots of unstructured free time, and follow all the other advice of educational experts. The comments by many on this post described their idea of black and Hispanic parents as lazy, lacking in values, immoral, shirking their parental duties, etc., have nothing to do with me or with the other parents who are active in the Parent Network. Despite all of this, test scores for black children-- even children like mine-- decline from middle school through high school in this school district.

2. Closing the "achievement gap" does not mean that all children should perform equally in school, which was Dr. Skelly's misunderstanding of the term (which is amazing given that he is the superintendent). It means that children, regardless of their race, will score "proficient" on the relevant standardized tests.

3. Some schools in this area are having great success in increasing the numbers of black and Hispanic students who test "proficient" on the standardized tests. Some schools have closed this gap, and even more have narrowed it. But these are only schools and districts that have actually. What parents of black and Hispanic students are asking is only that the PAUSD try also. Is this really such an unreasonable request, given that others with fewer resources than ours are seeing positive results? Not if you believe in the ability of all children to learn.

Posted by OhlonePar, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Feb 13, 2009 at 6:06 pm

Hi Kim,

So, what do you think is going on in this district? Is it what's being described by anonymous Gunn student? The socioeconomic difference between the groups (though obviously not with all members of any group)? As a resident of Palo Alto have you seen any of the issues faced by Parent in EPA?

And what makes some schools more successful? Menlo-Atherton was mentioned in one thread (this one?) It's a much more diverse school--is it, to some degree, a numbers game?

Posted by Sharon, a resident of Midtown
on Feb 13, 2009 at 6:06 pm

Special Ed classes consume time and money, there is no incentive for PAUSD district to place kids in those classes who do not belong there and it does not.

Developmental disabilities can be genetic, the result of the mothers consumption of drugs or alcohol, birth difficulties and exposure to toxins like lead, smoke etc at an early age.

It does not do anyone any good to pretend that there are no difference in IQ and aptitude for academics, nor to deny the low value placed upon academics by some ethic groups.

Trade schools are the solution. Quotas are not.

For example the elite law schools applied quotas to get more black students into the schools.
The results--- a disaster---many dropped out and a very large proportion of those who some how graduated never pass a bar exam and can never work as lawyers.

What a waste and unnecessary experience of failure.

Being good a trade boosts self esteem and dignity, that should be an option as it is in Germany and the UK.

Posted by OhlonePar, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Feb 13, 2009 at 6:22 pm


For Pete's sake, if you're going to natter on about genetics know what you're talking about.

You wrote:

"Developmental disabilities can be genetic, the result of the mothers consumption of drugs or alcohol, birth difficulties and exposure to toxins like lead, smoke etc at an early age."

Those are NOT instances of genetic disabilities--you're listing a series of *environmental* causes. Genetic means inherited, passed down through the genes, not drug consumption.

How can you not know this?

Posted by Kim Bomar, a resident of Nixon School
on Feb 13, 2009 at 6:53 pm

To OhlonePar, I don't know what is going on in this school district. I have heard some horror stories (of low expectations) from a few high school graduates, but personally I only have experience in elementary school (Nixon, in fact), and my experience at Nixon has been excellent in all respects. But clearly the train runs off the tracks, or some latent problem manifests itself in serious ways, after elementary school. I don't have the answers, but think it's possible for the district to find out. And input from kids like Anonymous from Gunn should be part of that inquiry.

Historically, there has never been an interest in solving this problem (and in fact, we never had the statistics before No Child Left Behind required them). The issue is whether we in this district, in 2009, believe in the ability of kids to learn and have an interest in solving this problem. In some districts, the answer is yes. Or, at least, let's give it a try. I hope the comments on this article are not indicative of the opinions of this community as a whole.

Posted by ParentingInSchools, a resident of Crescent Park
on Feb 13, 2009 at 7:15 pm

Kim, I'd be interested in hearing your opinion on EPA Parent's experience. Why do you think your elementary school experience is the polar opposite of hers?

Posted by OhlonePar, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Feb 13, 2009 at 7:46 pm


As you can see from my user name, I'm also parent at the elementary school level, so my knowledge of what goes on at the high schools is very secondhand. I hadn't seen these kind of issues at Ohlone--but one's immediate experience is, of course, quite narrow. I also haven't seen the bullying, but I believe people when they say it's an issue in the district.

I wonder if it does have something to do with how very, very competitive the high-school environment is. Certainly doesn't foster a sense of unity when only a couple of kids are going to go to a given school, but a couple of hundred are applying.

I don't think the comments in the Forum are representative of the community as a whole. The town has a more liberal voting record than you'd think from reading these forums. People who write here are often venting--but a lot of people around here don't vent.

Posted by Sharon, a resident of Midtown
on Feb 13, 2009 at 8:05 pm

developmental disabilities are caused by genetics or pre/post natal environment or a combination of factor.

IQ is 80% genetic.

Consider the Ashkenazi Jews, the are predominant in Nobel Prizes and as chess champions, they consistently score very high in IQ.
They also culturally support two parent families and discourage divorce.
The WSJ today points this out as well as the fact that they have a high incidents of Tay Sachs disease, the two factors, high IQ and disease are genetically related.

Immigrants who came to the USA were historically those with a drive ambition and capability to succeed.

Those who came unwillingly were selected for brawn not brain.

On the 200 anniversary of Darwin we need to take his ideas seriously and stop denial.

Posted by time=$ for some of us..., a resident of Midtown
on Feb 13, 2009 at 8:33 pm

parentinginschools: yes, you offer a lot of wonderful ideas to get involved in your kids' education, but by no means are they all free. not everyone has the luxury of taking the time out of a working day -- or not working outside of the home -- to do recess duty, etc. as a teacher, i know how difficult it can be sometimes to reach working parents, let alone set up a meeting with them. i feel for them and do what i can to be flexible and available, but i have my own family to consider too.

it takes a village.

Posted by anonymous, a resident of Midtown
on Feb 13, 2009 at 8:41 pm

The achievement gap is nothing more than the result of many years of descrimination of our children of color. Many instructors like Skelly think that our children can only learn so much, and instead of teaching our students of color when they get to high school, at the firs difficulty that the child has, they qualify them for special ed. the bad thing is that they give them the least support they can, so they do not learn anymore after that. There is a tremendous difference on the kind of support that PAUSD gives to students of color comparing to white. One of my children is a special ed. and I had the most terrible times on the IEPs when I requested extra help, almost everyone treat me nice, but if I agree with everything they say and did not ask for more everyone they were nice to me. By the time my child got to high school, I got to learn how the system works and how to get the most support for my child. However by than it was to late because my child was evaluated and they found out that she was reading at first grade level. I was involved in my child's school a lot, and I could see the big disparities of the amount of services my Latino palo alto resident student got compared with the rich. If you want your child to get the right support he or she needs, you must not be Latino, related to African American, nor poor. I you are none of this you will make it, but if you do, your future is already predetermined by the district. You will probably not graduate from high school, and if you are a special ed Latino student you will be going straight to work without a chance for college. And if you are lucky enough you might go to community college and will take remedial classes just like Skelly said.
Yes our students can do it, but they have to work very hard and we need to stop saying that it is unrealistic. Look who is our president today. Someone along the line he had a teacher who believed in him and inspired him.
Skelly do not just say sorry, you only spoke the truth, and you let out your truth feelings. Now is time to move on, and show that you believe in our kids, by getting each name of our disadvantage students of color and start working with their teacher's and their parents to close the gap they have been dragging since the first day they enter kindergarden. Please have an advocate who can really look up for our children and who makes sure that our students in special ed, are getting the right support. This is the only way the gap will be closed.

Posted by another becky, a resident of Gunn High School
on Feb 13, 2009 at 8:56 pm

As a graduate of Gunn who will soon be a teacher, I could see several ways that the achievement gap was perpetuated in high school. For example, it seemed clear that for the most part, the best math and science teachers were all assigned to the high lanes of math and science. This meant that students in the lower lanes would be taught less effectively, falling further behind.

I was disturbed at the inherent racism in many of these posts - if black and Latino students are systematically falling behind, saying that this gap is inevitable, that certain people aren't capable of achieving higher or that certain families can't raise successful children, is saying that there is something wrong with blacks and Latinos. If parents are members of a group like Parent Network for Students of Color, they are obviously involved in their children's educations - assuming that they aren't seems to me like reliance on old racist tropes. Of course students in the PAUSD school district come from different family backgrounds, and some will have more home support than others. This does not mean that it is okay for us as a district to write off entire groups of people. If entire racial groups are far behind, we clearly need to do better at serving these racial groups.

The issue has nothing to do with just being liberal or "PC". It is about the lives of these kids who are not being properly served by what is supposed to be one of the best districts in the state. Trying to educate everybody properly is not charity work - we all benefit from an educated work force (or else why would we have public education in the first place?). We also all benefit from diverse learning experiences (as the world we are trying to prepare for is itself diverse). The fact that there were no black students in my AP English class when we read Raisin in the Sun was a detriment to me, not just to the students of color who were not able to me in the class.

Posted by ParentingInSchools, a resident of Crescent Park
on Feb 13, 2009 at 10:13 pm


You are right. What made me sad was the picture of a child alone at school and a parent that didn't want to send their child to school.
Yes it does take a village but, as a parent, she really needs to start reaching out. Don't let that child fall through the cracks.

Posted by Sharon, a resident of Midtown
on Feb 13, 2009 at 10:34 pm

It takes a village to raise an idiot, it takes two parent families to raise kids with resilience and self efficacy.

The ethnic differences in kids performance are the responsibility of the parents.

Obama was raised by a two parent family, his grand parents.

Posted by is this Palo Alto?, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 14, 2009 at 12:25 am


You sound like some old geezer stuck in time, about two decades ago. Intelligence is no longer measured by a few metrics. Nor is economic prosperity driven only by manual labor from one of your "trade" schools. Today we trade brains, and we can use all of them. Do you not read the papers?

Fast forward, there is an economic crisis that has pretty much been designed and executed by your Darwinian gods. The brightest, the best of the genetic pool. Nobody is immune from being a total idiot. We just can't yet measure how idiotic some of the best, and the brightest really are, but soon enough we will - so far, we're just seeing symptoms of a malaise in the superior beings you dream about.

You need new material because your theories of supremacy and trade schools is just plain old. Is this Palo Alto?

Posted by OhlonePar, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Feb 14, 2009 at 12:54 am


You blew it big the first time, so I should take pity on you, but nah .. .

As it so happens, Jews scored *below* average when they were first tested back in the early 20th century. They do score now above other groups, but environment and levels of education did, in fact, make a difference.

Sorry, but your performance here doesn't convince me that you're a good judge of how intelligence is determined.

Posted by OhlonePar, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Feb 14, 2009 at 1:28 am

Is this Palo Alto,

Sharon's not an old geezer, she's either an immigrant or child of immigrants from a certain subcontinent. Unfortunately, other cultures besides ours have their share of bigotry and ideas about inherited status. Some of the uglier comments we see in the Forum aren't from people of European descent.

I mean what we're really looking at is someone arguing in favor of a hereditary class (caste) system--which is actually quite un-American. She's unfamiliar, for instance, with the different reasons groups of immigrants have come here--i.e. religious freedom, not starving to death, indentured servitude--all sorts of things that did not involve being the best and the brightest, more like being the least wanted.

Posted by My two cents, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 15, 2009 at 6:27 am

To Kim Bower

I see Palo Alto teachers and staff trying hard to narrow the gap. Just look at the district's recent strategic plan. Almost all of it seems to be about narrowing/closing that gap.

Where I think the focus should be is not on Skelly who authored that plan and pushed it through, but in the classroom. Teachers care, but they just do not differentiate their instruction enough to be of much help to kids on the edges.

Palo Alto should be more creative about how they organize classrooms and instruction. Many teachers believe teaching to a narrower range of students is more effective, but they they don't do it because they don't want to be called racists if the groups are not balanced racially. They opt instead for PC window dressing in a structure that prevents them from being able to deliver the all the goods all the time.

Posted by Perspective, a resident of Midtown
on Feb 15, 2009 at 6:32 am

What is particularly funny is that SINCE the 60s, and the implementation of the many "liberal" policies meant to improve the lot of the poor black person, the achievement gap in schools has WIDENED, the number of poor black kids has INCREASED, and the prison racial composition has flipped upside down to the same as the "outside" world to 80% minorities...

Sorry, doesn't fly, whoever you are who thinks the Achievement gap is from "many years of discrimination". NO, it is from many years of "road to hell" good intentions which have been destroying the black family and destroying education.

Read "White Liberals and Black Rednecks" by Thomas Sowell, and be shocked.

Posted by Perspective, a resident of Midtown
on Feb 15, 2009 at 6:36 am

Sharon, you are correct. You are seeing the result of "deconstructive" thinking from our liberal education system. This has taught our kids that "intelligence" comes finding the opposite of what is written in the words. It was a natural outcropping of the Newspeak that was spreading throughout Europe and here, and really took root in our Universities in the 60s, flourishing in the 70s and 80s. This kind of response by OP etc shows that they are in their 30s and 40s. Those coming out of school in the last 10 years have left that pseudo-think behind.

Posted by Perspective, a resident of Midtown
on Feb 15, 2009 at 6:42 am

My 2 Cents: You are talking about going back to the old fashioned way we used to teach, which was to separate kids into the "bluebirds" the "sparrows" and the "finches" early in the year, then teach them at their level, trying very hard to bring them up to the next level if they were able.

This went out of the window by the time the teachers graduating in the late 60s and later started entering our education system..and now we havee the results. As usual, the black and white, all or none thinking led to throwing the baby out with the bath water, and we ended up with warm body graduations in order to "preserve self-esteem".

Pity, so many lives ruined by not getting kids to excel at their level, then move on to vocational school or whatever suited them.

As an aside, but related, did you know that once California got rid of Affirmative Action acceptance into Universities ( Thanks Ward!!) our minority GRADUATION FROM COLLEGE rate went up?? Turns out that when you let people sort themselves on the basis of MERIT they are more successful at what they attempt. Odd,...

Posted by Color, a resident of Jordan Middle School
on Feb 15, 2009 at 7:10 am

To Parent (EPA)

If it's any consolation, I'm white and my child had few to no play dates in one of Palo Alto's more social elementary schools. Part is because parents have kids so busy after school that there is little time for play, but my take is that in our corner of Palo Alto like people like people like them. It wasn't just the color of your skin - it seemed to be the color of your hair too where brunette children didn't play with the blonds.

I did not see this discrimination with the children in the classroom or on the school playground. But when parents stepped in to coordinate after school gatherings, they were the ones who made the decision as to who was in and who was out.

Maybe it was just our class.

Posted by Perspective, a resident of Midtown
on Feb 15, 2009 at 7:32 am

Honestly, you guys. Quit the pity party. You said it best "When parents stepped in to coordinate.." do you really, honestly believe that ANYONE is discriminating", saying "no, I don't want my kid to have a play date with that one..he is blond, not brunette like me".

You said it yourself..PARENTS stepped in. PARENTS made friends with each other and/or were proactive. The kids get the life their parents provide. If a parent isn't there picking up the kid, or involved in the school..well, then the parent isn't there for those "hey! ya wanna come over?' Or "hey, I have an appointment, can you take little Timmy for me?" or "hey! would you be interested in helping set up the Class play?....and while we are at it our kids can hang out" etc.

BTW, my parents did NOTHING, absolutely pick up at school, no involvement in ANYTHING, no coming even to scout meetings or play practice ..nothing. And guess what? I was one lonely kid. NEVER had a play date at all until we moved somewhere there was a neighbor kid in junior high. I had no idea how to start and make friends so I didn't have any until that neighbor. If your kid is lonely, look to yourselves.

MY kids have friends becuase I make an effort to make friends myself and be proactive.

Geez, folks. Quit whining and get out there!

Posted by Color, a resident of Jordan Middle School
on Feb 15, 2009 at 7:46 am

Oh, I guess I should have added that I was one of those parents who always picked up my kids after school and was there for the causal playdate opportunity. Even tried to arrange them many times.

No pity here, just trying to add some comfort in numbers to others who have had the same experience.

The message is that life can be tough and it is better to learn that when you can do something about it like what we did. We got our child involved in activities outside of the school community where friendships were easier to come by.

All parents should take a breather and let their kids find their own friends. You do no one a favor, including your own child, by orchestrating their friendships for them.

Posted by paly parent, a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Feb 15, 2009 at 8:45 am

To the Gunn Graduate who stated "for the most part, the best math and science teachers were all assigned to the high lanes of math and science. This meant that students in the lower lanes would be taught less effectively, falling further behind." It is VERY true at Paly also. The best teachers usually teach the honors/AP classes, with the mediocre teachers at the lower levels. I have also found very little differentiation (aka explaining tough concepts multiple times in multiple ways). The achievement gap is not just race related, once you are behind it is hard to catch up because you are stuck with the less caring, less competent, burnt out teachers who should no longer be teaching in addition to being behind.

Posted by achievement gap in teachers in Middle and High School, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 15, 2009 at 6:47 pm

paly parent,

That is the bottom line, teachers, teachers teachers, teachers, teachers; the BEST teachers can handle differentiation, the WORST teachers cannot. Some teachers cannot even handle InCLass! In Middle School and High School it's a crap shoot, unlike Elementary, where more teachers are BETTER!!!! The Russian roulette with teachers in Middle and High School is hurting students, and it's wrong to see all teachers painted with the same color.

In Middle School and High School, there is a serious achievement gap in the teachers!!!

And one serious improvement Middle and High School teachers could make is in ATTITUDE!

Posted by juxtaposition, a resident of Crescent Park
on Feb 16, 2009 at 12:52 pm

"Skelly earlier said it isn't possible to expect that average children who come to the United States without speaking English ...."

If only you try: Web Link
"In Victoria, Shaheen Hasmat was celebrating after being named dux of his high school and finishing with a tertiary entrance score of 99.8. Only five years earlier he was an Afghan refugee with almost no English."

Posted by Draw the line, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 16, 2009 at 2:03 pm

to juxtaposition--
Then Shaheen wasn't average, was he?

Posted by AGTMHS, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 16, 2009 at 2:28 pm

Draw the line

Could you maybe be fearful?

Why else focus on a defeatist attitude?

See the post on the call for more diversity in Science, the numbers are such that unless you can birth more white males, the future is in seeing the potential in everyone.

Posted by juxtaposition, a resident of Crescent Park
on Feb 16, 2009 at 2:49 pm

To Draw the line,

Only if you think that Skelly is right.

Posted by juxtaposition, a resident of Crescent Park
on Feb 16, 2009 at 3:49 pm

I would paraphrase Skelly's comments as:

"Skelly earlier said it isn't possible to expect that [we spend the required resources on the] average children who come to the United States without speaking English ...."

We can do this. We're just limiting what we are willing to spend to do it. That's not to say that we don't do anything, just that we hit a point where there is no more funds to support them. As noted above, if a well-off Palo Alto parent find their children falling behind, they will pull out all stops including private tuition.

Does anyone know how much, as a percentage of the district's budget, is spent on reducing the achievement gap? How much do people believe we should be spending?

Posted by Interested in Education, a resident of Palo Verde
on Feb 16, 2009 at 6:34 pm

It does take lots of resources and Geoffrey Canada, who runs the Harlem Children's Zone has it right. Take the time to watch his interview with Charlie Rose:

Web Link

I believe Mayor Bloomberg in NYC is a big supporter. Knowing what they have done here, what can our own community do? Harlem Children's Zone works on parents education, student and parent accountability and involvement, and working to provide the very best teachers and leadership in the schools. They offer parent education for brand new parents- it's never too early to start.

Early on in his campaign, Obama pledged to replicate Geoffrey Canada's work in other urban cities that needed help. I hope he can come through on his promise!

Also, don't overlook the work that the Bill and Melinda Gates is doing in Education:

Web Link

Posted by numbers, a resident of Downtown North
on Feb 17, 2009 at 1:23 am

does anyone know how many PAUSD students are in the Achievement gap?

Posted by Sharon, a resident of Midtown
on Feb 17, 2009 at 7:34 am

[Post removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]

Posted by Paly Mom, a resident of Midtown
on Feb 22, 2009 at 12:41 am

It took quite a while to read the many comments, but I think this is an extremely important discussion that the whole community needs to participate in. (It's actually long overdue.)
My daughter, who is Latina, started out in PAUSD at one elementary school. I would say our experience was somewhere between OhlonePar's and the parent who felt her child was often excluded. It was often clear to us that some parents and occasionally school personnel had stereotypes about Latinos. For example, I often felt that when my daughter was invited somewhere, well-meaning parents assumed we didn't have the money to pay our share of the cost of the activity. Since we are middle class, I was surprised by this at first, then grew accustomed to it. I knew they meant well, but it caused me to wonder what other assumptions they might be making that weren't true. It was also obvious that some moms were more comfortable with their daughters making friends with white children and encouraged these friendships more, even if my daughter happened to be playing much more with their daughter at school. Occasionally, a parent would refuse to let their child come to our home at all, even though their daughter really wanted to, sometimes pleading in front of me, and a couple of times my daughter's friends told her that they were sorry but their mom didn't want to invite her to their party. (Once, all of the girls in the class were invited except for the two Latinas and the one African-American, who of course found out and felt very bad.) Sometimes very obvious things happened at school. For example, when I arrived to chaperone a field trip, all the kids of color were assigned to my car (along with my daughter). When my husband showed up for the next field trip in the same car, he was sent to the office. The secretary wanted him to prove that he had enough car insurance. (When I asked other parents if they had ever been asked to show evidence of how much car insurance they had, they said they hadn't.) When I asked the secretary about it the next day, she told me that in her experience, renters often don't carry enough car insurance, so she wanted to make sure. (Maybe this was snobbery as much as racism, but it came across to my husband, who had taken the day off work to chaperone, as racism. He never volunteered to participate in another school activity.) At the end of the third grade, my daughter's teacher told me that she had recommended her for GATE in the fourth grade because she was outstanding in reading and writing. At the beginning of the fourth grade, my daughter came home saying, "My teacher never calls on me. I often raise my hand, but she never calls on me" and "I don't think she likes me. She doesn't talk to me." My answer was, "Just keep trying. She will notice that you're a good student." My daughter then began to come home very unhappy that some students were being taken out and given more advanced books to read (the GATE program). All were white, and some had been in classes with her the previous year and weren't really such strong readers. I still held off contacting anyone, somewhat incredulous. Finally, I called the GATE coordinator at the district, and she told me that my daughter should have been included in the GATE reading group, so a mistake must have been made. She notified the teacher, and my daughter was then included in GATE activities. If the third grade teacher hadn't told me, my daughter would never have been included, even though, according to the reading test administered in the 2nd grade, she was then reading on the 5th grade level.
So are all these people terrible, racist ogres? No, in fact, I liked her 4th grade teacher and thought, after she started recognizing my daughter as the good student she is, that she turned out to be the best teacher she had in elementary school. It does make me wonder though about the experiences of other students whose parents might not be as assertive.
Fast forward to high school...My daughter attended a private middle school but wanted to attend Paly. She was very excited about it, and I had heard such fantastic things about it that I assumed it would be fine. Wrong decision! We have found that the school has a real problem that it's in denial about. As explained in the WASC report, "While 74.1 of its graduates overall had completed the A-G requirements for California universities, only 44% of Hispanics and 36% of African Americans had, as recently as 2006." I didn't see a figure for White students or Asian students, but I would assume it would have to be fairly high. These figures reflect the reality that there are few Latinos or African Americans in AP or Honors classes, and the ones who are in the classes sometimes feel that teachers question whether they belong there. One example: My daughter's teacher last semester recommended that she move to the lower lane of English this semester, even though she had made an A- first quarter and ended up with a B. She currently has an B+ in the Honors class, which she is enjoying. This kind of thing has happened several times. Our experience has been that some school personnel, including many teachers, have lower expectations for Latinos and African Americans and tend not to view them in as positive a light as White and Asian students. We have also felt that this occasionally influences grading when it is subjective (essays, journals, projects) or final grades when the teachers do not use InClass. (Several times she's had grades almost identical to those of close friends in her classes who are Asian or White; they've ended up with A's and she's gotten a B.) Again, this doesn't mean the teachers are terrible people, just sometimes unconscious of stereotypes they have which influence the way they view students. The problem though is that this has a huge impact on students of color in Paly (and I doubt Gunn is different). Confident students begin to lose confidence. Students who were previously leaders begin to doubt their leadership ability and fade into the background. In my daughter's case, it has meant that we've had to give her lots of support to help her feel good about who she is and to continue believing in herself. Some of this might just be parenting an adolescent girl, but not all.
I think a large part of the problem stems from the fact that P.A. parents and staff assume that the vast majority of Latinos and African-Americans are in PAUSD because of the Tinsley Act. Many don't believe these students belong in the district and feel that they bring the level down since they don't see them as having the same cultural advantages and readiness to learn and excel in school (a view expressed frequently by P.A. Online posters). The fact is that the majority of Latino students at Paly live in Palo Alto, not EPA. The view expressed by "Perspectives" that many P.A. residents are getting tired of never hearing "thank you" reflects that assumption that these students are all outsiders. Aside from that, Tinsley students have been in PAUSD schools since kindergarten or first grade, so there's really no excuse for them not to be scoring proficient on standardized tests. (And please don't give me that rubbish about the school not being able to make up for the disadvantages they experience in their homes and families. There are some other districts
who are doing a better job with Latino and African American students. If they can do it, so
can we.)
Some suggestions:
1) As Kim B. suggested, really try to find out what the point of view of the students of
is. Do anonymous surveys, ask probing questions.
2) Hire more qualified teachers and staff members who are African American and
Latino. The Stanford Step Program graduates some topnotch teachers every year.
Why aren't the schools hiring more? At my daughter's elementary school there was
not one Latino and only one African American. All the classified personnel were
White except for the custodian. At Paly there are a few Latino and African American
teachers in the classroom (not much evidence of the "significant headway in hiring
underrepresented minority teachers" alluded to in the WASC report). There are a
few more in non-classroom positions. Aside from the fact that role models can
make a huge difference, this would have some effect on the problem of low expec-
tations and the "us and them" mentality.
3) Engage the faculties in anti-racism workshops during staff development days, not
with the purpose of taking them to task, but to make them more aware of the expe-
riences of Latino and African American students and to get them to take on some
of the responsibility for addressing the problem.
4) Most importantly, create opportunities for discussion so that these topics get
discussed and really dealt with, not swept under the rug until it's time for the next
WASC report.

Posted by palo alto mom, a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Feb 22, 2009 at 9:07 am

Paly mom - thank you for your well written and informative post. I hope you send it to Dr. Skelly and the BOE, I think it would be very valuable for them to read.

Posted by Sharon, a resident of Midtown
on Feb 22, 2009 at 3:10 pm

"This is Black History Month, perhaps an appropriate time to call attention to an aspect of black history that has been papered over and all but forgotten in the official accounts and in what is taught in schools.
How many people today, black or white, know that the National Association for Colored People was founded by three white folks, two WASPS and a Jew, and that it was led and funded until well into the 20th century"Web Link

This is the kind of Black History education that Al Sharpton, Jesse Jackson Un-Rev Wright et al. don't want the blacks of America to learn.
Three whites starting the NAACP? That might interfere with their business model.

Posted by California Mom, a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Jun 12, 2011 at 12:06 pm

Kevin Skelly spoke of students who require more assistance and the district has to put more energy into those students. Honor students are already at a high level and arrive to the school with the full package ready for success. It takes a village to raise any students potential.
Interesting,, I saw Kevin march in for the Stanford University 2011 commencement and the president of Mexico delivered the commencement speech... I was inspired and I hope Kevin Skelly was as well.

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