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Palo Alto school board members praise counseling reforms

Original post made on May 7, 2014

Palo Alto school board members Tuesday said they were pleased with efforts by high school and middle school guidance counselors to improve their programs. But the new efforts were not enough to satisfy longtime critics who say the two high school programs are not equal.

Read the full story here Web Link posted Wednesday, May 7, 2014, 9:52 AM

Comments (20)

Posted by Gunn Parent, a resident of Gunn High School
on May 7, 2014 at 11:19 am

Really, Skelly said "fixate" on satisfaction surveys? Gosh...why listen to what your constituents want. I'm SO glad he's leaving.

Posted by Cubberly Area, a resident of Greenmeadow
on May 7, 2014 at 12:05 pm

What is the purpose of the counseling program?
Who benefits from the program?
What is the perceived purpose of the program?
What do the students- parents need from this program, and how can it support them with their individual needs/goals?
Can/will the school district support the above?

Posted by Pleeeeeeeze, a resident of Greendell/Walnut Grove
on May 7, 2014 at 12:11 pm

Haven't we hear enough BS from departing Skelly over his tenure to think that what he has to say has much credibility? Thank goodness he will be moving on as will Mr. Tom and Barbara Mitchell. The whole mess that masquerades as a functional school district needs a complete tune up and remake. The first thing it needs is honesty. Let's face the facts, the current regime has not delivered and I am frankly appalled at Mr. Tom's cheerleading for the "wonderfulness" of all this. Time to move on.

I hope that someone else besides Mr. Dauber has the best interests of our kids in mind come election time. So far, he is the only one that would get my vote.

Posted by Pleeze, a resident of Greendell/Walnut Grove
on May 7, 2014 at 12:14 pm

[Post removed due to same poster using multiple names]

Posted by Gunn parent, a resident of Fairmeadow
on May 7, 2014 at 12:18 pm

First the gap in satisfaction with counseling quality between Paly students and Gunn students isn't some fixation of a few critics. It has shown up over and over in survey after survey conducted by the district over the past 25 years. Most recently the district hired a consultant to look into it and she uncovered a huge gap. Then the district's strategic plan refresh had an entire page called: "The Paly Gunn Counseling Gap."

To write a story about this without using that documented evidence but just to make it appear that this is a he said/he said between Dauber and Skelly is irresponsible. This data is brand new, from the district itself. Your reporter only has to look at it in order to write a clear story that explains the issue based on facts.

Web Link

For example, on page 75, of the district's own current strategic plan, the headline of the page (in big letters) is:

"There is still a large gap in non-academic counseling satisfaction across Gunn and Paly."

This page includes a graph showing that 54% of parents at Gunn, compared with 73% of parents at Paly, are satisfied with the non-academic counseling their students receive. Among students, it is 58% of gunn students who are satisfied compared with 68% of Paly students. None of this was mentioned last night, which is appalling and Camille Townsend was the only board member -- to her credit -- who even asked where this data was.

For availability of counselors, 63% of students at gunn, compared with 75% of students at Paly were satisfied.

For quality of nonacademic counseling, 60% of students at Gunn compared with 73% of students at Paly were satisfied.

For college counseling, the gap is also persistent and even more troubling in terms of the trend line.


That number is atrocious. It is unacceptable. And for the Superintendent, who is paid by the parents of this district to accuse Gunn parents of being "fixated" when they are relying on the district's own survey data to say that they are concerned about this gap is just unacceptable. These are the district's own survey metrics. THe parents did not conduct the survey and they have every right and responsibility to expect accountability for a gap of this magnitude, particularly when it has persisted over such a long period of time.

The trend line is also alarming -- Paly improved student satisfaction by 23 points between 2008 and 2013, while Gunn improved only 9 points. All stakeholder groups, including parents, teachers, and students rate Gunn significantly less good than Paly on every dimension involving counseling.

For the superintendent to dismiss this data as an obsession of parents is appalling. For the Weekly to report it without noting that the data actually supports the parents' contention is irresponsible. Now the district has decided enough of these inconvenient metrics -- it will now no longer collect this data. It can't improve satisfaction with the Gunn system up to the Paly standard so it will simply stop finding out and pubicizing that highly inconvenient fact.

Only the Paly student rep even asked about it and she got a very dishonest answer to her pointed question from Brenda Carillo.

No board member supported her, which was also sad to see.

It's bad enough that the district staff is dishonest and the board is worthless. Could our newspaper at least report the facts?

Posted by Parent of Gunn students, a resident of Gunn High School
on May 7, 2014 at 1:12 pm

Outrageous to expect Gunn parents to accept a vastly inferior counseling system (and schedule) to Paly's. As usual, the Board and Skelly are trying to avoid having to make any changes at Gunn. Why would changes at Gunn affect school quality when those same changes at Paly did not affect school quality? Enough with the status quo at Gunn. I want equitable services. Step up and lead and make some changes at Gunn - the Board and Skelly's reliance on a site-based decision-making policy has resulted achieved absolutely nothing there. We want a teacher advisory system and block scheduling, just like Paly.

Posted by Parent of Gunn students, a resident of Gunn High School
on May 7, 2014 at 1:19 pm

It's outrageous to expect Gunn parents to be satisfied with an inferior counseling system to Paly's. I can't believe this discussion is still continuing, with absolutely no results. Why is it that changes at Gunn might affect overall school quality whereas the same changes at Paly did not? If anything change would make Gunn a better school. Skelly and the Board's reliance on a site-based decision-making policy has achieved nothing at Gunn. Stand up and lead and make some changes for the better there. I want block scheduling and a teacher advisory system, just like Paly has. I want equity between the 2 schools and right now it simply does not exist. It doesn't seem like it ever will given current leadership's complete lack of will to make any significant changes for the better at Gunn.

Posted by Southsider, a resident of Barron Park
on May 7, 2014 at 2:11 pm

The story on Gunn counseling and the school board is the same as the story on the City Council and Measure D. 4 out of the 5 school board members are northside residents in the Paly district. They are just not as concerned about Gunn. Their kids don't go there, their neighbors don't complain about it to them, they don't run into Gunn parents at the grocery store. It just doesn't register with them. That's why Dana Tom can gush about how wonderful it is, despite the evidence.

Compare to the reaction of the school board to delaning English 9 at Paly. They were all over that one, which affects many fewer students, like white on rice.

We need strong school board candidates from south of Oregon Expressway if we are going to get equity for Gunn. Right now, Godfrey and Foster are from the north side, Dauber is the only candidate from the south and he has already run once and lost.

Posted by different take, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 7, 2014 at 4:05 pm

Gunn parent,

Since you support full disclosure, you probably should also mention that all of the stats you point to are from surveys taken in Spring 2013. Since then, Gunn has revamped its counseling program - adding counselors to bring the ratios down and opening a separate college center staffed by 3 people devoted entirely to college and career prep (the Paly model). So the survey results you cite are references to a system that no longer is.

You also didn't happen to share the results of the 2012 Guidance Surveys: both high schools had almost identical percents of students who felt that they belonged when on campus, who had a close adult on campus to confide in, and who said that their counselor/TA made time for them when they needed it.

Web Link

You forgot to applaud Gunn for being exemplary in college support in ways Paly may want to emulate. Gunn tops Paly in a-g completion rates: Gunn 91% and Paly 80%. Gunn tops Paly on the percent of seniors who attend college too: Gunn 99% and Paly 90%.

Web Link

Perhaps there will always be guidance differences between our high schools because, with limited resources, counseling departments need to balance needs. Paly has chosen to emphasize emotional support.

The problem with striking the balance the Paly way is that, in the survey you link to, parents said that is NOT the balance they want: 69% said prioritize learning to the 13% who said prioritize social emotional support.

Posted by David Pepperdine, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 7, 2014 at 4:09 pm

[Post removed.]

Posted by Gunn parent, a resident of Fairmeadow
on May 7, 2014 at 4:15 pm

@different take

If it's true that this survey, less than one year old, is no longer reflective of reality at Gunn, then repeat the survey asking the same questions and let's find out. I'm sure you have no problem with that since the new data will surely prove your hypothesis. If the data from repeating the same survey show that the gap has closed I will personally applaud the result and pronounce this matter resolved using my real identity.

Posted by different reality, a resident of Midtown
on May 7, 2014 at 5:43 pm

@different says that the reason that Gunn is worse than Paly is that "counseling departments need to balance needs. Paly has chosen to emphasize emotional support."

2 things. First, shouldn't we "emphasize emotional support" the same amount in both our schools? Second, shouldn't the school with the suicides get some emotional support?

Second, if that's your answer why is the college counseling also worse at Gunn. Perhaps you didn't see the above:


I think you need to amend your post to read: "counseling departments need to balance needs. Paly has chosen to have excellent counseling for both academic and support services and Gunn has not. Because the board is full of Paly parents -- and getting fuller -- no one gives a flying donut."

Posted by different take, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 7, 2014 at 6:51 pm

different reality,

Where to start?

I did not say that Gunn was worse than Paly.

The stats that Gunn parent posted are out-of-date because of changes made at Gunn AFTER the survey was given, so ignore them. Re-publishing what Gunn Parent said in all caps won't change that.

IMHO we should emphasize what the community wants most. In that survey, 5 times as many parents said that they preferred a focus on academic support as those who wanted social emotional first. Both are important but unless you know how to find more money, typically one has to be cut to get more of the other.

As for which school has had the most troubled students, stroll back to the early 2000s and you'll see Paly in the news for a string of the same unfortunate events.

Saying that "Paly has chosen to have excellent counseling for both academic and support services" may be overstating it. Look at the stats for a-g completion and college plans I posted above- Gunn shines on both measures. Also, the 2012 Guidance Survey shows that 1 out of every 4 Paly students said there was no one at Paly they felt comfortable talking to if they had a problem, only 1 out of 3 found the mandatory TA sessions helpful, and less than half were comfortable talking to their TA about a problem.

Posted by Long memory, a resident of Downtown North
on May 7, 2014 at 7:48 pm

Lots of cherrypicking in that last comment. Here's the comparison of the full dataset from the 2012 survey:
Web Link

Is the overwhelming advantage for Paly in this comparison out of date? It seems unlikely, given the fact that it tracked closely with years of data before and since. But without running it again, we can't know exactly what the gap is now. Tellingly, no one at Gunn seems eager to get those numbers. A school board dominated by Paly parents is not going to force them to.

Posted by old data, a resident of Adobe-Meadows
on May 7, 2014 at 8:41 pm

Yep, that survey is now out of date. Gunn's made a ton of changes and is coming up fast. Paly better look out or they'll have this parents group asking them to adopt Gunn's model. Nah, they'll never admit they were wrong, even if they're losing.

Posted by Gunn parent, a resident of Midtown
on May 7, 2014 at 9:49 pm

Prove it. Continue to administer the survey. On what is your comment about how "gunn is coming up fast" based? Just pulled it from your behind? Conduct the same survey again as the school board instructed. Make the survey results public. You would think someone with your (and Skelly's) confidence would be just super thrilled to do that since it would prove your case. And I already said that I will announce publicly that the problem is solved. All you are is one little survey away from proving all the enemies wrong. Everyone will see how right you were. All those enemies encircling you, attacking you. Don't you want to prove them wrong, once and for all?

Here's your change. And I will even double down. Readminister the survey using the same metrics, as ordered by the board multiple times and show that the counseling gap has closed and that Gunn and Paly are now returning the same rates of satisfaction with counseling (see: Web Link) and I will announce that the problem AND donate $1000 to PIE. What are you worried about? It's fixed!

Posted by parent, a resident of Palo Alto High School
on May 7, 2014 at 10:13 pm

What I don't understand is why there aren't a huge number of Gunn parents on this forum making their happiness unknown. Is it because they aren't unhappy?

Posted by Snowflakes, a resident of Charleston Meadows
on May 7, 2014 at 10:44 pm

I think you were right the first time. Gunn parents are making their happiness unknown. Rumsfeld couldn't say it better.

Posted by Gunn Parent, a resident of Gunn High School
on May 7, 2014 at 11:12 pm

Good to hear. Over the last couple of years you can really see how much Gunn's counseling has improved. I wouldn't really want the TA system. I've heard so many parents from Paly say the TA process isn't all that it's cracked up to be.

Posted by Gunn Parent, a resident of Gunn High School
on May 7, 2014 at 11:14 pm

Good to hear. I have seen how much Gunn's counseling has improved over the last couple of year. I wouldn't really want the TA process. I've heard from so many Paly parents that the TA system isn't all that it's cracked up to be.

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