Two-thirds of high school students in Palo Alto "feel tremendous pressure to succeed academically," according to surveys taken at Gunn and Palo Alto high schools.
At the same time, at least 70 percent say they are "fully able to pursue interests outside of academics," and more than 65 percent say they "feel valued for talents other than my academic success."
That portrait of high school life emerged from a survey administered by consultant Kelun Zhang, who was charged with analyzing the counseling systems at Gunn and Paly.
Zhang will present her report and recommendations to the Board of Education Tuesday, March 27.
"Students at both schools face significant academic, college-going and social pressures in high school," Zhang said in her report. "At the same time, some students have not yet developed strong connections with adults on campus and with their high school community."
Just half of the students on each campus said they "have a close, trusting relationship with at least one adult at school," according to Zhang's survey data.
Though Gunn and Paly have substantially different guidance-counseling systems, Zhang steered clear of a direct comparison.
Rather, she took each model on its own terms to recommend improvements.
However, where survey data made comparisons possible, Paly appeared to have an edge in terms of student satisfaction with counseling services.
Gunn employs six guidance counselors who are charged with academic guidance, college and career planning and social-emotional support.
Paly augments its staff of four guidance counselors with a network of 46 "teacher advisers," who meet regularly with students through their high-school years.
Higher satisfaction levels at Paly's were reflected in a number of survey responses.
For example, 67 percent of students at Paly and 49 percent at Gunn agreed with the statement: "My guidance counselor is an important resource for me."
As for the statement, "I find it easy to talk to my guidance counselor," 73 percent at Paly, and 63 percent at Gunn, agreed.
In the area of social-emotional support, 55 percent of Paly students and 42 percent of Gunn students agreed with the statement: "I believe my guidance counselor can help me with personal issues."
Asked about their general levels of satisfaction, 53 percent at Gunn agreed that they are "satisfied with the level of support I get from my guidance counselor." Seventy-two percent at Paly said they are "satisfied with the level of support I get from my teacher adviser."
Those results seem to lend credence to the arguments of a parent group, We Can Do Better Palo Alto, which last year called on Gunn to adopt Paly's "teacher adviser" model.
Leaders of that group are urging members to express their views at Tuesday's meeting.
The survey data make it clear that "the Paly teacher advisory system is strictly better than the Gunn traditional counseling model," We Can Do Better organizer Ken Dauber said in an email to school board members.
Dauber and his wife, Michele Dauber, reformatted Zhang's survey data into their own comparison chart.
"You said clearly to the community a year ago that it's unacceptable to deliver services of significantly different quality to students at different schools within the district," Dauber said in the email to the board.
"That is what is happening in the high school counseling systems, and it's time to move Gunn to a teacher advisory system on the Paly model."
Dauber said he was disappointed the counseling report "seems designed to obscure the central fact that the data reveals."
In her district-wide findings, Zhang said "both schools have solid foundations with talented, hard-working, student-focused guidance counseling teams.
"Yet guidance counseling remains one of the least understood functions in a school."
Guidance counseling could "greatly benefit" from strategic planning that would articulate a mission, determine metrics to measure goals and create accountability systems, Zhang said.
Tuesday's public meeting begins at 6:30 p.m. in the board room of school district headquarters, 25 Churchill Ave.
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