Gunn High School is at a turning point in its history. Still in mourning, still anxious, the school awaits the naming of its new leader — a new principal to fill the shoes of Noreen Likins. Kevin Skelly, our thoughtful district superintendent, is about to decide among candidates. What kind of person should he choose? We owe it to ourselves, and to Mr. Skelly, to think about this and let him know.
Because, as an English teacher at Gunn, I see our young people Monday through Friday — say "hi" and "goodbye" to them, witness their moods, ask them how they're doing, listen to what they say and read what they write, inquire after their (mostly superhuman) work- and stress-loads, see whether their eyes seek me or turn away, light up or are clouded — I have the advantage of knowing how they feel.
I believe that it's this kind of knowledge, and the willingness to acquire more of it, that we most need in our new principal. All wise decisions — about scheduling, staffing, school rules and requirements, safety, counseling, emotional support — will fall out of a feeling for the texture of our kids' lives.
Too many children I teach are sad. They are worried and scared. Night after night they struggle to get off Facebook, do tons of homework, wrestle with whether to cheat or not, get to bed at 1 or 2 a.m.
They long for more time with friends; they have important dramas with friends; they are rejected by friends; they have their first, piercing joys and sorrows with boyfriends and girlfriends. So alert are they to every fluctuation in their (and their classmates') GPAs that every exam they take feels as if their futures are being decided.
Gunn's bigger classes and bigger campus make them feel anonymous. The slow closing of doors at our state universities, and plunging acceptance rates at colleges nationwide, make them feel even more so. And yet their youthful ardor and idealism and intensity as teenagers allow them to accomplish Herculean feats in academics, athletics, extra-curriculars, service to others, caring for each other. They write essays for me that reveal that the struggles of Jay Gatsby, Scout Finch, Hamlet and Ophelia have touched them deeply.
They are our pride and joy.
But if there is one thing that our dead have taught us — have cried out to us in their last acts — it is that they can wear the faces we want them to wear, they can put on a brave front when all inside them is collapsing, and that we can think that we know them when really we don't.
So our new principal must want, above all else, to know them. In my view that is the central qualification.
Whatever your view, I hope you'll write to Mr. Skelly (25 Churchill Ave., Palo Alto 94306; firstname.lastname@example.org) and tell him.
Marc Vincenti, teacher
Gunn High School
Firefighters are gathering signatures for their initiative petition to freeze staffing at stations and engines at current high levels. This would decimate Palo Alto's budget and continue excessive labor expenses. Changes in staffing levels would require an election costing about $200,000. I urge you to refuse to sign the petition when approached.
The letter sent out by the firefighters union gives many phony reasons why the initiative is essential. Here are some claims and facts.
Claim: changing staffing levels will increase 911 response times, interfere with paramedics and could close a fire station near you.
Fact: Management proposed cutting firefighters by one person/engine. There still will be adequate firefighters to respond to calls. Cutting firefighters on an engine, say from 4 to 3, won't increase 911 response times. Medical staffing could be protected by hiring non-firefighters for some paramedic tasks. There are NO proposals to close any fire stations near residents.
The letter compares emergency calls and staffing levels in 1976 with 2009 showing far more calls with slightly fewer staff in 2009. Why the comparison with 1976? Because 1976 was before Palo Alto established paramedic service so few calls then were medical. In 2007-08 there were 4,552 paramedic calls, 58.9 percent of 7,723 total calls. There were 192 fires. Typically paramedic calls are more than 60 percent of total calls.
The 2009-10 Fire Departments' budget is $25.532 million, 17.7 percent of the General Fund. It increased $1.087 million, the only department that increased.
Firefighters were the only employee group that refused to make any pay concessions this year to help cover the budget deficit.
An initiative asking citizens to vote on employee staffing levels or working conditions is a very bad idea. That task is not in our job descriptions. The city manager, department managers, and City Council should set staffing levels, working conditions and employee pay and benefits, not voters.
Despite my opposition to this initiative I greatly value and appreciate the high quality, dedication service and capability of our firefighters and the excellent work they do.