The Palo Alto Board of Education Tuesday approved Gunn High School's plan for reforms to its guidance counseling program even though the principal said it could take as many as five years for full implementation.
Board members said their approval was contingent on updates this November and next March to ensure the reforms were being measured and staying on track.
The approval came despite vehement opposition from several parent members of We Can Do Better Palo Alto, who argued that Gunn's plan -- which will require a change in the school's daily bell schedule in 2014-15 -- fails to achieve "comparable services" to those offered in Palo Alto High School's guidance-counseling program.
They cited polls from two years ago as well as from this past year indicating Gunn students and parents are less satisfied than Paly students and parents with existing counseling services.
"This is unacceptable," We Can Do Better member Kathy Sharp said, urging board members to "send Gunn back to the drawing boards and have some measureable implementation next year."
But board members said they were swayed by the level of commitment and progress in Gunn's reforms so far, which include plans to open a new college and career center this fall, designate a lead counselor as well as a specialized college-and-career counselor and hold a series of assemblies aimed at sophomores.
The school also has added a weekly email to update parents on activities of the guidance-counseling program, will make a counselor available for drop-in visits and has designated a counselor to coordinate Gunn's multiple initiatives in the area of social-emotional health.
Gunn's "action plan" for counseling reform follows the February recommendations of a parent-staff-student Guidance Advisory Committee, whose members represented sharply divergent viewpoints at the school.
To be successful, the reforms must have the commitment and buy-in of all groups at the school, Principal Katya Villalobos said, likening the change to "trying to turn around an aircraft carrier."
Superintendent Kevin Skelly challenged what he said was a faulty premise of the critics.
"This conversation starts with a mindset that somehow Gunn is broken, and I disagree wholeheartedly with that premise," Skelly said. "I think it's one of the great high schools in this country.
"Gunn, and both schools, do a remarkable job of helping families get to the next level. Kids get into colleges because they have academic experiences at our schools that are second to none."