One of the sharpest critics of the guidance counseling program at Gunn High School says she is "cautiously optimistic" that the school is now on track toward a counseling model she would find acceptable.
Gunn parent Amy Balsom, member of a parent-staff-student advisory committee that spent five months arriving at 40 recommendations for counseling reforms, called Principal Katya Villalobos's first-year action plan an "important start," though it "does not go anywhere near far enough."
Villalobos will present her action plan to the Palo Alto Board of Education tonight. Palo Alto High School Principal Phil Winston also will make a presentation on Paly's counseling program.
In addition to her service on Gunn's Guidance Advisory Committee, Balsom is a member of the parent group We Can Do Better Palo Alto, which for two years has urged the board to order Gunn to adopt a Paly-style "teacher-advisory" counseling model. The teacher-advisory system uses about 40 teachers to augment a small staff of full-time counselors.
Taken together, the more than 40 recommendations of the Gunn Guidance Advisory Committee "moves us closer to a counseling model that I'd find acceptable," Balsom said.
But Villalobos's year-one plan hits only a small subset of the recommendations, she said, adding that the 40 are "not a menu from which to pick and choose."
However, she said, "change of this sort takes time and planning, and we are only a few weeks into a multi-year implementation.
"I remain cautiously optimistic."
Meanwhile, We Can Do Better leader Ken Dauber called Villalobos's first-year plan "weak and insufficient."
"Unfortunately, Gunn did not adopt the consensus recommendations of a district-led multi-stakeholder committee...for systemic, measurable change," said We Can Do Better leader Ken Dauber, who ran unsuccessfully last November for a seat on the school board.
"Instead, the Gunn administration offered to make only a few minor changes here and there," Dauber said.
Among her first-year plans, Villalobos says she will identify a "'guidance curriculum lead' position, which would allow for an appropriately credentialed counselor to lead the department in its refinement of a mission statement and creation of a four-year scope and sequence of guidance curriculum."
The person also would help expand space and services in Gunn's College and Career Center. Villalobos also will describe plans to expand efforts to identify and support struggling students.
Balsom said she will urge the board and Superintendent Kevin Skelly for "full implementation" of the 40 recommendations, with requirements for regular progress reports.
In other business tonight, the board is expected to approve "conceptual designs" for a new indoor athletic center at Palo Alto High School, consisting of two sunken gyms surrounding Paly's existing aquatic center. The gyms would be connected by a covered walkway along one end of the pool, with architectural echoes of the walkway that connects Paly's Tower Building with Haymarket Theatre.
With groundbreaking projected for June 2014 and occupancy by August 2015, the athletic center is on an accelerated timetable because it will be funded and closely overseen by the Peery family of Palo Alto, which has extensive experience in real estate and development.
Following a 5:30 p.m. closed session to discuss labor negotiations and employee discipline, the board will convene in open session at 6:30 p.m. in the boardroom of school district headquarters, 25 Churchill Ave.