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School officials explain 'connectedness' efforts

Original post made on Apr 21, 2011

The popular "Connections" program at JLS Middle School may be expanded to Jordan and Terman middle schools, Palo Alto school officials said.

Read the full story here Web Link posted Thursday, April 21, 2011, 2:26 PM

Comments (30)

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Posted by Marielena (Saint Marks/Pia Member)
a resident of Palo Verde
on Apr 21, 2011 at 5:16 pm

Finally, it seems like our hard work is starting to pay off, except that the connections program should also be extended into the high schools too, the need for our students to connect continues all the way to the end of high schools. Hopefully Dr. Skelly and to board members will consider extending the connections program to both high school. There are many students who will really benefit from it. What I like about this program is that the teachers know the child by name and their needs, and there is a lot of communication between the parents. I have two nephews that have gone through the program. I have other nephews who were not accepted because there was a long waiting list. The program at JLS should be bigger so more students can be accepted. By doing that school district will fully be implementing and putting to work Project Safety Net P-8; which says something like extending the programs that work at one school to others. There is still a lot more work and changes we parents can make happen at the schools, so please join forces to make them happen. We need to continue working to make ours schools a better place for our students. Many of them are suffering from feeling alone at the schools and with no one to talk to will be the ones who benefit the most from our hard work. Hopefully this comes true and it is not just an April Fool Joke or just a dream that will never come true.


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Posted by JLS Parent
a resident of JLS Middle School
on Apr 21, 2011 at 5:39 pm

I may be wrong, but the Connections program at JLS is a method of teaching - something like the Ohlone method and the opposite of Direct Instruction at Terman. It is not the same thing as TEAM at Paly.

As I understand it, "Connections" and being connected are two buzz words which have nothing to do with each other.

Or have I got it wrong?


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Posted by Stephanie
a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Apr 21, 2011 at 7:25 pm

"Asked why Palo Alto High's school-within-a-school TEAM program is not expanded to most or all freshmen, for example, the district said, TEAM is available to all Paly families who want it."

I do hope that this is the case as many families have said there is a lottery for the TEAM program at Paly.


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Posted by parent
a resident of Midtown
on Apr 21, 2011 at 8:22 pm

Team spirit,we need it.


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Posted by Marielena (Saint Marks/Pia Member),
a resident of Palo Verde
on Apr 21, 2011 at 10:08 pm

Oops, I belong to so many groups that I forgot to say that I am also member of the We Can Do Better Palo Alto group who is trying to make sure that the Project Safety Net P-8 gets implemented. So again, I hope that the district does extend the connection program and it is not just talk. The connections program has been working for a lot of students, and if the district in fact expands it to other school, they will be implementing P-8.


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Posted by resident
a resident of Downtown North
on Apr 21, 2011 at 10:51 pm

Fabulous. The Connections program at JLS is a more group-oriented, project-oriented mode of teaching/learning that I believe should be an option at all our schools. Among other things it fosters team-building, and more and studies lately show many positive benefits over traditional teaching methods. I'll be thrilled to have this as an option at Jordan.


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Posted by Michele Dauber
a resident of Barron Park
on Apr 22, 2011 at 10:43 am

While it is great that Amy took the time to write out the answers to these questions and distribute them to the community, it is important to read them carefully. Many of them are simply not accurate or contain rebuffs to reforms desired by the community. Some contain irrelevant information that does not answer the question. For example, one parent asked why Gunn does not have a Teacher Advisor program similar to that used in private schools and at Paly.

The "answer" rambles along about various irrelevant factors such as "teacher contracts" and ACS. It mentions "Sources of Strength," a great program but a red herring in this context because it has nothing to do with the question about teacher advisors -- it is a program of peer support. Buried in there is an admission of the obvious fact that Paly has just such a program, which tends to disprove the assertion that there is a structural reason that Gunn cannot have it. No real answer to the question of why Gunn cannot implement this program is offered despite the fact that this non-answer takes the form of an answer and contains text and words suggesting that it is an answer:

"As you've described the model at Girls Middle School, Gunn does not have a similar model. However, students have access to adults on campus (i.e. guidance counselors) and many develop relationships with teachers. The issues are funding, time, teacher contracts, etc. Paly does have a Teacher Advisory program where each student is assigned a TA who they can meet with each week.

ACS counselors, administrators, and available staff meet with students to discuss such school topic concerns. Gunn staff is reviewing how best to incorporate a similar program called Sources of Strength at the site."

We still don't know what that reason that Gunn has failed to implement the Teacher Advisor program in use in Paly could possibly be, given that parent and student dissatisfaction with Gunn's guidance and counseling programs is literally TWICE AS HIGH as that at Paly. That is, around 20% of Paly parents and students are dissatisfied with counseling while an astounding 40% of Gunn parents and students are dissatisfied. These numbers are from the district's own strategic plan surveys and are available online from We Can Do Better Palo Alto's Guidance Counseling Fact Sheet at Web Link

Here is my suggested answer: Gunn doesn't have a TA program because the district has failed to lead on this important question. Board Member Camille Townsend said as much when asked to comment on this at the last Board Meeting. She stated that she has been hearing about the superiority of the TA model over Gunn's guidance program for years. She stated that her own children thrived under the TA system at Paly. The Gunn 2008-09 WASC self-study focus group report on School Climate recommended implementing Teacher Advisors at Gunn. Yet no changes have been made at Gunn.

The Board of Education has failed to instruct the administration to implement a measurably and demonstrably better guidance model in use at one of our high schools at the other one. The Board of Education does not appear to read or use its own collected data, and there is a deep and problematic disconnect between the data the district collects and the fact that implications from that data do not seem to impact policy formation or implementation, nor to provide benchmarks against which progress is measured. Thus, we collect reams of data that do not seem to be read, utilized, or make any difference. No wonder Palo Alto parents suffer from "survey fatigue." The BOE does not seem to be listening anyway -- why bother to fill out the survey if you know it won't matter?

The reason this matters is that PAUSD has a 2010-11 focused goal of "Connectedness." The reason for this goal is that there is a full-blown suicide epidemic and contagion centered on Gunn High School. We must NEVER forget this. This for us must be the central and most important fact of our lives in this community and school district until the problems that have led us to this point are addressed and every PAUSD child can thrive socially, emotionally, and academically.

The number one most effective bang for the buck for increasing connectedness at Gunn would be the implementation of the Teacher Advisor system. There is no good reason why this cannot be done. PAUSD: please stop making excuses and implement this excellent system at Gunn for 2011-12.

PAUSD schools are great. Our kids are wonderful kids. But We Can Do Better, and we must do better as a district and as a community. To be more involved in promoting issues of student thriving, please visit We Can Do Better Palo Alto at:

Web Link


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Posted by I agree
a resident of Barron Park
on Apr 22, 2011 at 11:03 am

I agree with Michelle, many of the answers are irrelevant to the questions. They are doing exactly what they did at the meeting on February. They go around the bush a lot, and do not focus in answering just the question. I am not happy with the answers.


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Posted by parent
a resident of Midtown
on Apr 22, 2011 at 11:11 am

This group just wants to get their own benefits which is to lower everything from sports to learning, and they are using this emotional stress as their tool.


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Posted by Parent
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 22, 2011 at 2:17 pm

@ "JLS parent" said:

"As I understand it, 'Connections' and being connected are two buzz words which have nothing to do with each other."

I totally agree. While I don't have a child in the Connections program, as a parent of a fifth grader, I've looked into the program and recently sat in some of the demo classes during open house. From that experience, I didn't get a sense of "connectedness" at all.

In one of those classes, both six grade classes gathered in a classroom to pick topics for their group projects. Such group projects are supposed to be the hallmark of Connections, so I really was hoping to see a spirit of collaboration and inclusiveness among all students. Instead, I noticed that students who ended up in the same groups (typically three or four students per group) tended to be friends to begin with. As a result, some apparently less popular students ended up in solo groups, having to work on a project all alone. The teacher didn't seem to make any effort to pair them up with other students. The other students all seemed too excited about getting into the groups with their own friends to pay any attention to the few loners.

After the topics and groups were decided, the students were asked to brain storm within their groups to come up with questions for research. The groups of friends quickly began chit chatting, some apparently about things unrelated to their projects. It was really sad to see one "solo" girl sitting all by herself, with no one to talk to throughout the whole process. And no one seemed to care.

I felt awful, walking away with that girl's image in my mind. How can the Connections model be a solution to the suicide problem in our community?


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Posted by forit
a resident of JLS Middle School
on Apr 22, 2011 at 4:04 pm

Please give teachers and schools some time to be familiar with and to improve their service.


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Posted by Martha Bowden
a resident of Gunn High School
on Apr 22, 2011 at 4:26 pm

@Michelle,

"We still don't know what that reason that Gunn has failed to implement the Teacher Advisor program in use in Paly..."

Maybe this will help:
I was on Gunn's Site Council for 4 years ending last May—almost a year ago. At the beginning of my first term (Sept 2006), the parent representatives were concerned about kids falling through the cracks, especially as the school was going to get bigger—larger class sizes each year. The parents knew that Gunn and Paly had some very different practices: Paly has an advisory counseling system while Gunn has a traditional counseling system. Play had a modified block schedule (now full block schedule) while Gunn has a traditional 6 period day. Paly had a couple of days of later start times in the morning and Gunn had a Tutorial period (extra period on Tuesdays). But we wanted to understand the differences and see if we could recommend taking the "best ideas" from both schools to support kids while the school grew.

We talked about "connectedness". This is not about kids joining clubs. Research (no, I cannot reference any sources, but all high school administrators will say this) shows that kids who are "connected" to an adult on campus during high school do better than those who are not. DUH!!! So, were the kids at Gunn connected? Student surveys showed that 46% of kids did not have an adult on campus who they could talk to. 46% unconnected—OUCH!!

So, we (the parent reps) started asking about how advisory period worked. We even went to Paly and met with Scott Lawrence (who was then the principal of Paly, the former principal of Gunn, had been a teacher at Paly when advisory went into effect, and whose wife was a teacher advisor at Paly). He was our Guru on Advisory. The High School task force had not made its recommendation yet, so we asked if he were to start a new High School, what would he use—answer--Teacher Advisory. How long would it take to make a change at Gunn—about 15 years. How long did it take to get up and running at Paly—10 years. Why would it take so long to make the change at Gunn? Answer: Jobs and training. Gunn currently has 6 counselors and would only need 2, while 30-40 teachers would have to be convinced to join the "program" and be trained on how to do it. A lot of what Gunn counselors do is college advising. This knowledge, which resides in the heads of 4 people, who would be reassigned or fired, would have to be put into the heads of 30-40 teachers who would be the new TA's. Paly has a good 4 year plan for the TA's to follow (the freshman TA's are different people from the soph-senior TA's and may not need as much training on colleges and what might fit with a particular kid) so it would not be reinventing the wheel, but there would be a major taining/implementation period.

To put PALY's TA program into place at Gunn would require three things: 1) total support from the principal—the principal has to use every ounce of influence to make this happen because there will be resistance (from the 4 counselors who will be out of a job as well as the 2 left who would have VERY different responsibilities, from teachers who don't want this, from some parents who don't want this) and the principal does not have the authority to tell the staff to "Just do it". So, the Principal has to be the champion; 2) support from the staff (you need to get committed teachers to want to participate and do the extra training including being trained in emotional and mental health counseling); and 3) $$--it costs about $100,000 MORE to have the TA program (on top the salaries of the 4 counselors you would fire), as the TA's have a paid prep period to handle the TA part of the job—TA's teach fewer students than regular teachers. Oh, and yes, you have to get this into the teacher contracts.

But is this the best solution.? There are disadvantages to Paly's system—mostly for college guidance but also for dealing with emotional health issues (as the TA's are not trained in counseling)

What Noreen Likens had been working toward last year (before she decided to retire) was to take the best of both programs and integrate them. This would have left the current counseling staff in place and supplemented it with an advisory period (form and function was not discussed with Site Council but had been discussed internally). She had worked with staff to garner moderate support to do a modified program. I firmly believe that if Noreen had stayed one more year, we would have had that in place last September. And then we would now be talking about the next step or stage.

So, before you throw the baby out with the bathwater and demand that Gunn switch to Paly's model for TA, you need to your homework to understand the advantages/disadvantages of each system (not just rely on surveys) and decide if that is what you (the parent community) really want. Site Council felt that combining the "connectedness" aspect of Paly's TA program to Gunn's guidance system was the better way to do this. It is now up to the current leadership at Gunn to decide what should be done. But this will take time, as the leadership at Gunn is new.

It is not easy to make any change in a school but especially in Palo Alto. Principals have all of the responsibility but almost no authority over teachers, especially if a change involves a union agreement.


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Posted by parent
a resident of Gunn High School
on Apr 22, 2011 at 4:55 pm

Thank you Martha for that much needed explanation in this sea of reactionary behavior. Good for the Gunn staff and Site Council for being way ahead of this curve. As a Gunn parent, I do not want a complete switch to the Paly system. I would welcome the current system but adding an advisory period with willing teachers.


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Posted by parent
a resident of Gunn High School
on Apr 22, 2011 at 4:59 pm

And the next time Paly whines about something which they perceive as unfair, such as the VTP program, let's remember that PAUSD is spending $100,000 more on those students than on our students. Shouldn't we be hiring another counselor at Gunn to match the funding?


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Posted by Martha Bowden
a resident of Gunn High School
on Apr 22, 2011 at 5:07 pm

@parent

I did not mean to say that Paly is getting $100K more than Gunn as I do not know what the budget of each school is. That $100K is probably coming out of some other "bucket" in Paly's budget and going toward salaries. So, the Paly kids may really be getting shorted $100K out of other "services". Also, each school has the discretion to rent out their facilities to "earn" extra money for their programs. I don't know how Paly is coming up with the extra $$, only that the TA system is more expensive by ~ $100K (based on a conversation with Scott Lawrence in 2006)


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Posted by forit
a resident of JLS Middle School
on Apr 22, 2011 at 6:05 pm

Can we raise property tax to collect a little bit more mnoney for those extra service?Our schools' resource is stretched too thin.


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Posted by forit
a resident of JLS Middle School
on Apr 22, 2011 at 6:08 pm

one property pays seventy to a hundred dollors?


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Posted by Michele Dauber
a resident of Barron Park
on Apr 22, 2011 at 6:13 pm

@Martha

Thank you so much for this incredibly helpful account. You really helped me with my "homework," and I appreciate it. I think it sounds like Site Council worked hard on this issue and I have some questions which I hope you can indulge.

1. I am confused as to why all the momentum just died when Noreen left. It seems as though if the district was showing leadership on this issue, the superintendent and board could certainly have communicated to Katya that real effort had gone into this and set the expectation for her to carry it forward. Certainly that leadership vacuum and reinventing the wheel with personnel change is not in any way in the interest of our kids, so I am wondering if anyone on Site Council raised that as an issue during principal search and so forth. I guess I don't agree that whether or not such an effort goes forward should depend on the whim of the individual principal, particularly when so many people have expended time and effort on implementation of a programmatic change. This seems to me to be a fundamental issue of "site based" control.

I raise the "site control" issue here in part because this is clearly an issue of health and well being -- as you said, around half of Gunn kids are not connected and there is a suicide epidemic. When you started working methodically on this issue in 2006 that made a lot of sense. No need to rush into anything. But now, I think we probably agree that we are in a different situation. So there is no time to waste around this issue and solutions must be found and implemented. To get half-way into implementation and then start over is ridiculous in my opinion and I do not think this is a useful way to spend my tax bill, for that matter. Highly inefficient --though that takes a backseat to the fact that we are still not closer to addressing this important issue in the midst of a public health emergency. Some things are great for local control -- others require strong central leadership. Dana Tom actually made exactly this point at the last board meeting: differences among schools are acceptable only if they achieve equivalent results for students. That isn't the case here.

2. I agree with Scott -- the TA system is better and if I was choosing between them it would be an easy choice. I do not agree with his idea that it would take 15 years (!) to implement it at Gunn and he is just wrong to say that it took 10 years at Paly. That is just not so. In fact, there was 10 years of fighting followed by 3 months of implementation once the decision was made. We have also have talked to the former Paly Head of Guidance who invented and implemented the TA system, Audrey Hurley. She sent a letter to the Board of Ed recently suggesting that they implement it at Gunn. You can see it on our website here:

Web Link

Audrey's letter states that although there was a fair amount of complaining, it was not all that difficult in the end to implement TA. She agrees with you that leadership is key, and that the principal at Paly was behind it 100% and that this was crucial. She also informed me that it was essentially revenue neutral in the end.

3. Because the district leadership hires the principal, and sets the terms for their evaluation, it really should not be hard for the Superintendent and the Board to inform the principal that this is an expectation and to expect that they will comply.

That is how my job works and I suspect it is how most jobs work. I am accountable to the Provost and to my Dean and the Faculty Senate and to students and parents as well. One wonders in these conversations whether anyone at PAUSD is accountable to anyone? Everyone seems to have a theory of why no one can make anyone do anything ever. Meanwhile we have a death toll that qualifies us for a federal grant for communities facing epidemic violence and guards on our tracks. I really feel that under the circumstances it is reasonable that PAUSD inform the principal at Gunn that this is an expectation for her and she will be evaluated on its accomplishment.

4. While I understand why you were hoping to improve on the Paly system with the implementation at Gunn (as I said above TA is not perfect of course), I think from my perspective, at this stage of the game given the lateness of the hour and the crisis we face, let's just implement the Paly system. It is definitely better (as Scott informed you) than Gunn's current system and will make an immediate improvement. We could definitely tweak it later, and at Paly too. We have no time to waste. As you say quite eloquently we have a connectedness crisis at Gunn. I don't think we can afford to let the perfect be the enemy of the good.

My question to you, as a former member of Site Council who has thought a lot about this: If the choice is between changing to the Paly System or keeping the current Gunn system, what would you do? Based on your email I have to think that if you had only two choices you would pick TA but maybe I am wrong.

Thank you again for all your hard work on site council and your sharing this information

Best,
Michele






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Posted by Martha Bowden
a resident of Gunn High School
on Apr 22, 2011 at 8:06 pm

@Michele

The district does not interfere with the running of the schools and is not involved in most issues. Only when parents bring things to the board does the district get involved. As I said in my previous post, the #1 reason for success is the principal being the champion. The district gives the principal full autonomy to run his/her business—much like a president of a subsidiary (for a corporate analogy). No one at the district would dare tell a principal how to "run" their campus (unless something went wrong). Guidance may be given but no one gets "directions".

When I said Scott said it took 10 years to implement at Paly, that was to say it took 10 years to get it up and running correctly. This kind of system is not a process that you just turn on. From the time that Paly made the change (which was very quickly because a lot of things happened at once--a new principal, counselors retiring, etc.) it took 10 years before it was running effectively--that is why he said it would take 15 years at Gunn--making this kind of change is so major to how everything works--you have to get staff trained (and it is not about putting steps in place--it is about getting teachers extra curriculum in psychology--course work which takes quarters/semesters--getting the right people in the right jobs). This really is a MAJOR shift.

Now your definition of implementation and his may differ, but I defer to his knowledge about things running effectively as a standard of implementation. Sure you can change things tomorrow at Gunn. But will it be good? When do you judge that it is good? I contend that the day it is running as planned is the day you should use as your standard of implementation--success. Until then, it is not done. And you cannot shortchange the timeline because the test subjects are our children.

As to being revenue neutral, that may have been the case when it first went into place. Scott said it was + $100K in 2006. I have no reason to doubt his statement.

It is incredibly difficult for the Principal to make changes. I worked with Noreen for 4 years when I was on Site Council and was one of the parents who complained about how so few teachers were using InClass and why can't she just make them use it. So, I have to give her a lot of credit because she put in writing in a report to the board (the Single Plan for Student Achievement—Site Council's report) that unless it was written into the teacher contract to use InClass, the percent implementation would not increase—she admitted for all to see that it was beyond her control. That admission made me understand what she was up against—a union. As I said, she had all the responsibility and very little authority.

As to what my opinion is, I think implementing the PALY system totally would be foolhardy and would be a disaster for the Gunn kids. We can't just implement the Paly system—there is no support for it internally (how fast can you say doomed) and there is no training plan in place. This would be akin to pushing everyone into the deep end of the pool and see who floats. The fastest and most beneficial change for our children would be to add a periodic mandatory "advisory" period on some regular basis as a start. The whole intent is to increase the connections for the kids, not to alienate the teachers and kids with our little experiment. Sorry, but again I will say this is a MAJOR shift in how things are done. If you have ever studied Organizational Behavior, you need to work WITH your people—involve them in the change, get agreement, not impose it, that is if you want to succeed (or keep the employees you have).

Both as former Site Council Rep and as chair of the Gunn Senior Parent Network, I was advocating with our parents for the modified "advisory" period to be added to our current counseling system. I think this is the most effective and time efficient solution. And perhaps the best solution overall—it uses the strengths from both systems.


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Posted by Michele Dauber
a resident of Barron Park
on Apr 22, 2011 at 10:31 pm

@Martha

"The district does not interfere with the running of the schools and is not involved in most issues" unless "something went wrong."

Unfortunately "something" did go quite "wrong." So as I noted, this is not an ordinary time and whatever the relative merits (I think there are few or none) of a system as decentralized and lacking in accountability as PAUSD in ordinary times, we are in a crisis now and the idea that no one has any real authority to do anything that will bring about the necessary changes is simply unacceptable.

I think we need a serious community conversation about the idea of investing our school principals with this kind of unfettered charismatic authority, untethered to any authority structure (even, evidently, when "something goes wrong"). If we have somehow created a school system without any functioning hierarchy or authority or ability to get anything done in response to the crisis then we need to mobilize our elected leaders to get off the dime and address that without delay.

The 1960s reform based movement for local control was intended to enhance accountability not impede it. And it certainly was never intended to be a way to prevent districts from responding to a public health emergency. Do you for a moment believe that if they discovered the Gunn was built over a Superfund site that they would just sit around over at 25 Churchill Street waiting for the Principal and the Site Council to meet and consult with the PTA before implementing public safety precautions? Of course not. Although health hazard abatement measures would be disruptive in the short term, they would be less harmful in the long run than the consequences of doing nothing.

We don't have the luxury of time to allow the perfect to be the enemy of the good in this regard. I strongly disagree that adopting the TA system would be "foolhardy." Doing nothing is "foolhardy." Coming up with an untested, untried, made-up, hybrid system intended to be a compromise about which there is no data, no evidence, and no experience would be "foolhardy." Doing what Paly does with great success is not "foolhardy." It is conservative, and it is a good business practice to propagate programs that are successfully tested. It should be done and done now.

By the way, the additional of Teacher Advisors at Gunn has teacher support, as evidenced by the fact that it was recommended in the Gunn High School WASC self-study focus group on School Culture in 2008-09 (see Web Link). This focus group included 27 teachers, numerous guidance counselors, and several parents and teachers.

Next month it will be 2 years since the first suicide and four months since the most recent. The Developmental Assets Survey shows that around half of our high-schoolers are currently at-risk or vulnerable. My question to the community is: would implementing the Teacher Advisor system at Gunn be more disruptive than than the consequences of delay we have already experienced and continue to experience?

Thank you again for your comments and for the thoughtful discussion of this important topic.






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Posted by parent
a resident of Midtown
on Apr 22, 2011 at 11:39 pm

This group's endless request will only drain our school resourse and making our teachers moral lower.


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Posted by parent
a resident of Gunn High School
on Apr 23, 2011 at 7:42 am

Michelle,
Have you been to Gunn to talk about this issue with the principal or requested time on the agenda at Site Council? The next meeting is in early May, check the website.


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Posted by Baffled
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 24, 2011 at 12:21 am



"The district does not interfere with the running of the schools and is not involved in most issues. Only when parents bring things to the board does the district get involved. As I said in my previous post, the #1 reason for success is the principal being the champion. The district gives the principal full autonomy to run his/her business—much like a president of a subsidiary (for a corporate analogy). No one at the district would dare tell a principal how to "run" their campus (unless something went wrong). Guidance may be given but no one gets "directions".

"If you have ever studied Organizational Behavior, you need to work WITH your people—involve them in the change, get agreement, not impose it, that is if you want to succeed (or keep the employees you have)."

Not "impose", if you want to keep the employees you have? Aren't the "employees" you would be referring to here permanent?

It seems like the only kind of "organizational behaviour" one needs to know about here is organized labor.

I'd say skip the board and site council, a first stop may be the union.

How else does anything take 15 years to implement?!










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Posted by Martha Bowden
a resident of Gunn High School
on Apr 24, 2011 at 2:13 pm

This will be my last post on this topic. It is very difficult to discuss issues online as there is no room for response/clarification which can happen in personal discussions. But I need to clarify 2 misconceptions.

First, the union is not the problem in the long time estimate. While the teachers union has to approve this in their contract, the main time sync is that you are moving from a totally centralized support system for our students to a primarily distributed support system. You have to decide what stays centralized, what gets distributed. Do you phase it in? If so, how? Do you have the right personnel for the new job descriptions? Do you need to hire? Do you need to train? How do you train the rest of the staff and students on the new structure? How do you handle backup for your distributed support? What do you do with the people you have who don't fit the new structure?—may be tenured so you can't just fire them. What do you do when the new system fails (there are always short term system failures)? And the good teachers/counselors you have who don't like the change will find jobs elsewhere—no one is "permanent".

I don't think I can convey strongly enough that this is a major culture shift for the school. Scott Lawrence understood that and that was why he said it would take 15 years--based on his experience of Paly's implementation of their Teacher Advisor System taking 10 years to "get up and running well" under "perfect" conditions. The "perfect" condition was new principal who brought in the system and was the champion, counselors who were retiring (no one lost a job), and staff who were open to the new idea from the new principal. But there was still the training of staff and processes to work out, which took time, hence the 10 years. This is not a "plug and play" change. It takes planning, training, and careful implementation to make such a drastic change.

The second point I need to clarify is that there really was (and, I believe, still is) very little, if any, support for implementing Paly's TA System at Gunn.
"By the way, the additional of Teacher Advisors at Gunn has teacher support, as evidenced by the fact that it was recommended in the Gunn High School WASC self-study focus group on School Culture in 2008-09 (see Web Link). This focus group included 27 teachers, numerous guidance counselors, and several parents and teachers. "
I reread the document closely and I assume what you are referring to is the Area of Growth under Question E3 and E4
"Allow more time for counselors to meet with students
Add more counselors; increase staffing
Faculty advisors to help advocate for students
Increase time, money, and space"
This recommendation does NOT demonstrate support for adopting Paly's TA system. The evidence is in the first bullet—Add more counselors, increase staffing. Under Paly's model, the number of counselors at Gunn will go from the current level of 6 to the Paly's current level of 3. Also, the second point is very carefully worded to say "faculty advisors" not "teacher advisors".

I was not on that particular WASC Group, but our Group did briefly discuss "advisory". We also reviewed and were able to comment on the recommendations from all the groups before the document was finalized. And the parents who attended the reception with the WASC review committee did discuss it with the reviewers, not advocating for Paly's system but for some form of "advisory". Also, some of the teachers and counselors in the School Culture group have been on Site Council and I know their position on Paly's TA system. I think what they were stating (purely conjecture based on what I know about the people involved) was support for what Noreen was working to put into place—a system to build off of the existing counseling system to better "link" kids to adults on campus.

Michelle, if you want to talk further, please contact me directly. I am listed in the Gunn Connection under Parent Network Chairs. Click on my name to send me an email.


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Posted by Michele Dauber
a resident of Barron Park
on Apr 24, 2011 at 2:21 pm

Hi Martha:
Thanks for this. I'll email you to get together. This is all so helpful, and I agree that we should take the conversation off-line now.
Best,
Michele


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Posted by older Gunn grad
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Apr 24, 2011 at 5:34 pm

I am an older Gunn grad who had kids at Paly. I found the Gunn counseling stystem fine, seriously; I STILL remember my counselor to this day! He had a heavy workload.
I found the teacher advisor system very poor at Paly; be careful what you wish for. I strongly advise against continuing or expanding this system. I don't know teacher union concessions/ramifications; I thought teachers get lesser workload for being TAs or department supervisors. A lot of stuff seems oriented around teacher agreements.
Incidentally, there continues to be a focus on Gunn; in fact a few years back there were several suicides at Paly and a Paly grad who was a sophomore at Davis also; please check your history. Both schools should be included in all discussions.
From my perspective (parent w/kids in college), I HIGHLY recommend the two high schools be more consistent/on the same page. I remember being quite surprised (not in a good way) when I found out/experienced the multitude of differences.


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Posted by Michele Dauber
a resident of Barron Park
on Apr 24, 2011 at 9:13 pm

The data show that there indeed is deep support at Gunn for the adoption of a teacher-advisor program. 78% of Gunn students surveyed for the 2008-09 Western Association of Schools and Colleges accreditation review stated that they would support or welcome it "enthusiastically." There was a variety of support for meeting times and length of advisory period, but overall support was incredibly strong among students.

Relatedly, in the same survey, 1/3 of students did not know who to talk to about college applications and an astonishing 45% of students had no idea who to talk to about getting counseling.

Please see: Web Link at pages 30-32 (questions 46-47, 52-56)

This survey data is supported by qualitative data as well. In January 2008, then-Gunn student body President Max Keeler, was interviewed for a story on that subject by the Palo Alto Weekly:

"[Keeler] said the counseling system at Palo Alto High School was preferable to Gunn's. Paly freshmen are matched with a mentor-advisor with whom they meet throughout high school in a class called 'Advisory.' 'I really like Paly's system. Their advisors get to know them,' said Keeler...Keeler said students would complain for a bit but then 'get used to it' if another 20 minutes were tacked onto their already-packed schedules. Junior Keith Jones said he would welcome an Advisory-like counseling program because students 'never meet' with counselors in the current system."

Web Link

I think it is apparent from these data and accounts that students at Gunn would welcome the teacher advisor system just as they did at Paly.

Support for this was so strong in fact that adding advisory for freshman was included in the "areas of growth" (i.e. weakness) for improvement in the final report: "Continue to explore the possibilities of introducing a weekly advisory period for 9th graders to ease their transition to high school . . . and provide close contact with a caring adult who can mentor them." (see #3, Service Delivery. Web Link

This "area of growth" was never reported on in the progress report in 2010, and has now fallen off the radar entirely for reasons that are not explained in any document.

We should launch teacher advisory at Gunn with sufficient transition planning to support current students and then iterate to improve it after launch.


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Posted by Me Too
a resident of Midtown
on Apr 24, 2011 at 9:34 pm

'Have you been to Gunn to talk about this issue with the principal or requested time on the agenda at Site Council? The next meeting is in early May, check the website.'

Good question. These are valid issues, but people must realize that hundreds of people have participated in the process over many years to get to the solutions we have. No matter how smart you are, how much you care, how deep your insight, etc., you have to respect and participate in the process if you want to change things.

If you have been going down that route, good for you and look forward to the outcome of the process.


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Posted by Michele Dauber
a resident of Barron Park
on Apr 25, 2011 at 9:24 am

Another piece of evidence that parents at Gunn are extremely dissatisfied with Gunn counseling: in the 2008-09 WASC parent survey data, only 43% of parents agreed that "a counselor is available to help my child select classes and provide guidance in planning for the future," while a third of parents disagreed or strongly disagreed. This is evidence of a total system failure. In every survey no matter when asked or how the question is framed, parents and students at Gunn are stating that the counseling program is unavailable and inadequate.

In addition, there is very low parent satisfaction with parent-teacher communication. Only half of parents feel that there are effective procedures in place at Gunn to support communication with teachers, and a quarter of parents are either dissatisfied or very dissatisfied with this. That would also be addressed by the implementation of a TA system which gives both students AND parents a point person who knows your child best and can be an advocate and advisor on your child's progress and development.

See Web Link, page 36, question 23-24.

In terms of garnering support at Gunn, We Can Do Better does have leaders who are current Gunn parents and I agree that it is important to work with the local schools. It is also important not to continually reinvent the wheel. The site council already worked on this over a several year period. The WASC plan for 2008-09 already did the work of gauging support (it is high), and of researching implementation methods. The goal to implement it for freshman was already laid out in the improvement plan to the accrediting organization three years ago. The district has 20 years of experience with this and knows how to implement it.

There is no reason to start over now. It is inefficient and a waste of public monies. More than that, we all know that this is a program with the potential to save lives. We have spent endless hours spinning our wheels waiting for the district to do something about "connectedness," listening to laundry lists of "crazy hat day" and "mix it up time" and information about clubs and intramural sports. We heard from Kevin Skelly at St. Marks that he isn't sure what connectedness is or how to measure it. Meanwhile, we have reams of data showing that the Teacher Advisor program, a national model for student connectedness, exists 2 miles away at Paly, support for it among students at Gunn was gauged in 2008 and found to be high. We already committed to do this in our 2008 WASC plan. Starting over under the circumstances makes no sense.

School board: please do this now.


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Posted by Helen
a resident of Palo Alto Hills
on Apr 26, 2011 at 6:49 pm

Michele Dauber's comment, above, is a brilliant deconstruction of the double-talk and double-think that our children have to endure here in the PAUSD. It's mind numbing. I'm eternally grateful that my daughter was enough of a free spirit that bad teaching and educational BS mostly rolled off her back.


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