Town Square

Post a New Topic

Board selects top candidate to lead Palo Alto schools

Original post made on May 16, 2014

A top candidate to replace Palo Alto Superintendent Kevin Skelly has been selected and will be publicly identified "in the next few days," Board of Education President Barb Mitchell said.

Read the full story here Web Link posted Friday, May 16, 2014, 9:19 AM

Comments (25)

Posted by Gunn dad, a resident of Gunn High School
on May 16, 2014 at 10:53 am

Some big shoes to fill.... literally and figuratively. This is a thankless job, but setting the right expectations is key. We expect nothing less than full transparency and a bold vision that balances academic rigor with the psychological well-being of our students. Given its "brand" and global visibility, Palo Alto has the opportunity to be the school district others aspire to be. Best of luck, mysterious new superintendent!

Posted by JLS dad, a resident of JLS Middle School
on May 16, 2014 at 11:10 am

Yes, we also wish her/him best of luck with this sometimes crazy community.

As for "thankless job", it's Board Member that's thankless. Virtually unpaid, brutal hours, nothing but gripes from the community. Thank you Board for your efforts at finding a replacement for Skelly.

Posted by Peter Carpenter, a resident of Atherton
on May 16, 2014 at 11:22 am

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

Note that this was done with zero opportunity for public input or comment and the identity if the person selected is still secret.

Posted by Parent, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 16, 2014 at 11:34 am

Of brother. I hope the board is looking for someone with a good attitude who actually thinks that making more in salary than the governor of one of the largest and most diverse states in the nation, and more in perks and salary than the President of our superpower gets in salary, in order to work in a district where there are thousands of parents who provide unparalleled donations of time, funds, expertise and care, and kids who are vastly more responsible and industrious than virtually anywhere else, is a sweetheart deal. For that to happen, the superintendent will have to have the nerve to reorganize and ferret out some of the bad apples of staff incompetence, pettiness, and resentment that Kevin Skelly was the lightning rod for. They will still be here when he leaves. And he or she will have to want to rather than constantly resisting working with parents. Makes for a completely different organization with w whole different culture.

Posted by Parent, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 16, 2014 at 11:36 am

As for board member being thankless, JLS dad, if it's so without it's compensations, why can't we seem to get rid of some of them?

Posted by out with the old, a resident of Adobe-Meadows
on May 17, 2014 at 9:30 am

@Parent, because everyone offering to replace them is even more incompetent! The current board is the best we could get. That says everything you need to know.

Posted by Parent, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 17, 2014 at 1:48 pm

Oh, I don't think so. Ken Dauber would not only have made a great board member, I think his presence would have helped make any of the others better just from being outside an echo chamber.

The last election was a choose 3 out of 4 option, so if you look at the pairing of incumbents with one of the two newbies, Dauber was very, very close. Especially considering how low-key his campaign was last time, I think if he chooses to run this time, he will win. Have you looked at the others who have been announced as considering a new run? Infinitely better than the incumbents.

You forget that some of the incumbents extended their tenures by getting the elections moved to a different cycle. Who instigated that? The incumbents. No one had to twist their arms to stay.

Most of these old-tireders don't have kids in the schools anymore, and can't seem to make way for those who do. School board has in the past been a springboard to other office. There are opportunities for malfeasance, if one is of that bent. There are plenty of reasons. Again, if the job is so thankless, without its compensations, why do the incumbents cling so hard?

Posted by Fred, a resident of Barron Park
on May 17, 2014 at 2:47 pm

My thanks to the Board for getting this done, and hopefully a good hire.

@Parent, I'm sure some of the board members do find the job rewarding. For certain, though, many are discouraged from pursuing the position by the negative aspects mentioned above. I consider it the toughest volunteer job in Palo Alto, both in terms of hours and the psychic toll. If you think otherwise, great, and I hope you will step up and put your hat in the ring and encourage others to do so. More choices almost always lead to better outcomes.

Posted by Parent, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 17, 2014 at 4:04 pm

@ Fred,

I think the job would be a lot easier if the culture of the district changed to one of working with families instead of the old hierarchical pedagogical model.

That involves both a culture shift, a values shift, and a change in procedures that would require study, thought, and soul-searching. The board could make life a lot easier for themselves if we, for example, understood the ways the community wanted to be involved and made better and less-impactful procedures for interfacing with staff and the board so these interactions are optimized in terms of result. When 800 elementary school parents sign a petition asking that the district just delay the decision about the math textbook for another year in order to take into account a program that had been left out of consideration by mistake, that the publisher was willing to provide for free for our consideration, and that such a large percentage of district parents favored, and the district just says no, that sets all of us up for conflict, unhappiness and discord. A different process that valued the parent input differently might have come to the same conclusion in the end (or maybe not), but it could have used up fewer resources, caused less conflict, and made everyone happier.

Instead of griping about the negative aspects, look at why they are happening (with people who are about problem-solving, not bellyachers who like to throw up their hands and point fingers of blame that things can never be better), and make things better.

I think we should have term limits with the board, though. School board and our community are not benefiting from the hangers on whose tenure becomes more and more about them and less about what they are accomplishing for our kids the longer they stay.

Posted by out with the old, a resident of Adobe-Meadows
on May 17, 2014 at 4:29 pm

@parent, I know who previously ran and was including everyone who had previously run in that statement. We got the best result we could. It says everything.

Posted by Fred, a resident of Barron Park
on May 17, 2014 at 4:53 pm

@Parent - thanks for your thoughts. On terms limits, there is one member of the board who has served more than two terms (Ms. Townsend),and I believe I read the two whose terms are ending have said they will not be standing for re-election. Maybe you are referring just Ms. Townsend, not sure.

I actually disagree with your main point, which I take to be that parents should have more involvement and control over how the schools work. Parents, while they care deeply about their children, are for the most part not trained as youth educators. I believe if you look at outstanding schools systems around the world, you will find that parents play a limited role in actual schooling or educational decisions, like the textbook decision you mentioned. Certainly we all need educators, administrators, and a board we feel we can trust and rely on (and for the most part, I really think we do); as parents, our #1 role is electing and/or serving on the board, and providing input in the ways that are provided to guide general direction and policy decisions. The rest, as they say, is best left to the professionals.

Posted by Parent, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 17, 2014 at 6:42 pm

@ Fred,
"I actually disagree with your main point, which I take to be that parents should have more involvement and control over how the schools work."

Actually, you didn't understand my main point, though I would agree with the point you thought I was making, too.

My main point is that our district would function better if it understood how to interface better with parents and had better processes for it so the result of interaction was more positive.

It is now a well-understood phenomenon in the business world that innovation comes from users (see von Hippel, et al) But understanding that isn't the same as making it easy to take advantage of that. Studying how parents interface with the district, how to best meet the needs in the most efficient and helpful way for all parties, would help everyone's satisfaction. I think such a study would be best in a culture where working WITH families rather than the last century's top-down heirarchical model serves our district far better. And I think far more parents in this district would agree with me.

To your other point about parental involvement in the educational system, here's a good article from greatschools that clarifies this point:
Web Link
Per the Finnish schools:
"I think that parents feel the schools are so well prepared that it's [parental involvement] not a real priority. In general, parents do other things with their children — after-school activities, trips, community events."

Does this mean we're headed down the wrong track? Not necessarily. Some things like parental involvement and longer school days may be necessary to help U.S. schools catch up"

The recent article on the new parental caution in the Atlantic Monthly also had a separate article that made the point that parental involvement in our school districts to ensure that the education and resources are top notch, that things run well, etc., definitely makes a difference for the better, i.e., parental meddling in kids' homework, bad, parental meddling in school districts to make them better, good.

It would be great if our nation had some of the energy and investment from government that exists in systems like Finland and Switzerland, and the focus on work-life balance, but we don't. Parents are the only ones with the interest and inclination to solve that. Your focus on "leaving things to the professionals" doesn't take into account the black and white differences between philosophies and what those professionals do. We don't have the kind of professionals or systems you speak of that would provide such a great education or support if parents did nothing. (One of the simplest examples - we don't have the kind of great public transit most European countries have and our district stopped paying for buses, so parents volunteer to drive for school trips or the school cancels them.)

Our whole system is set up to allow for local control. The whole governmental setup of a school board, and its almost complete independence as a governmental body, is in order to allow local control. Control from the families, not control from the state or professionals above. And certainly not control from petty bureaucrats who are insulated from above AND below. That's never a recipe for success in any system.

This is a community with high standards and expectations. We pay handsomely for our schools and have a right to expect them to be well-run. I think there are objective ways they fall short or could be better, and it's really parental involvement that has pushed for those improvements. Do you have kids in the system now, or are you just speaking as an outsider? Having worked with many parents over the years, and speaking as someone with kids in the system now, I think very highly of the parents and think our schools are in every way better because of parental involvement.

And it's a cop out to portray this as parents running amok making educational decisions professionals should make. The math petition I mentioned above was a request to delay a decision -- BY PROFESSIONALS -- in order to allow THE TEACHING PROFESSIONALS to evaluate materials that had, through a mistake, been left off the table from the very start and were never considered. No one was suggesting the role of the professionals be usurped, only that reason prevail, and the parents ensured the process that should have taken place, and that even many of the teaching professionals wanted to take place, could take place without cost to the district.

Posted by Fred, a resident of Barron Park
on May 17, 2014 at 9:41 pm

@Parent - thanks for clarifying. I like the Finnish school example (take a read of Sahlberg's "Finnish Lessons" if you are interested in a short book-length treatment of how things work there). In the Sahlberg quote you reference, I'm not sure he had Palo Alto's fairly elite schools in mind when he referred to US schools needing more parental involvement to "catch up." I actually had the Finnish model in mind (among others) when I made my earlier posting about parents backing off and entrusting education to strong professionals.

I have to slightly disagree with your point about "local control." The US has evolved in large part to a system of state regulation of many aspects, with further controls at the district level. I'm not sure how different that is from Finland, esp since California has 38 million people vs. Finland's 5 million.

Your vision of "control from the families" is not really familiar to me, and not the way I have seen US public education work. The citizens elect the school board, who hires the superintendent, who administers the system within the framework dictated by fairly extensive state standards. That's pretty much how it works everywhere we've lived. Maybe I misunderstand the kind of "control" you mean.

It certainly is useful for parents to get involved on issues that concern them, and lobbying the school board, talking to administrators, serving on task forces, etc. is fine. I didn't mean to imply otherwise. I may have been recalling a different math textbook battle than the one you mention. If you thought the process was flawed, it seems appropriate to point it out - but parents weighing in on the content of the decision, substituting their judgment for the educators, seems inappropriate.

I'm not sure how much it matters, but since you ask - we have graduated one child and have more still in the system; we've gone through elementary through graduation and beyond, with kids ranging from special education classes through top lanes. We've been active volunteers at the site and district level, and worked with hundreds of other parents over the years. So we are familiar with PAUSD parents ;-)

I stand by my view that the most important involvement we can have is to encourage strong school board candidates and elect them; and that the biggest impact they can have is to hire a great superintendent. If we fail in those jobs, it is hard to succeed overall. If we do those jobs well, I think we can sleep well (or do whatever else we do at night ;-) knowing things are in good hands.

Sorry for the overlong post!

Posted by Cassandra, a resident of Mayfield
on May 18, 2014 at 5:32 pm

To All of Shallow Alto: Good luck with your new Super. You will need it. Skelly is not the only member of the district jumping ship: site admin and veteran teachers are also bailing. Rearranging the chairs on the Titanic is not going to solve the problems for our children, for our schools, for our community. Kevin Skelly was tarred-and-feathered by a mob. Bad Karma boomerang's around . . .

Posted by Peter Carpenter, a resident of Atherton
on May 18, 2014 at 5:37 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

I am stunned that the Palo Alto community is willing to have the selection of a new superintendent done totally in secret without any public input on the person not only being considered but who will be HIRED before there is any opportunity for public scrutiny and public input.

If you have a dysfunctional school organization you have only yourselves to blame.

Posted by 2 million feathers, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 18, 2014 at 5:47 pm

What feathers? Do you mean $2,000,000 that we showered him with 7 years? Is the yay the $1,000,000 interest free loan? Skelly was not run out of Oak I Alto, he stayed well past his welcome. Save those years for the schools who will not be able to attract top administrators for years.

Posted by Neigjbor, a resident of another community
on May 18, 2014 at 6:17 pm

Peter, did your district (Sequoia) use the same process for their last superintendent that you're proposing?

Posted by Peter Carpenter, a resident of Atherton
on May 18, 2014 at 6:43 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

"Peter, did your district (Sequoia) use the same process for their last superintendent that you're proposing?"

Yes and I hired a lawyer and we filed a Brown Act complaint because they did.

Posted by Alphonso, a resident of Los Altos Hills
on May 18, 2014 at 7:02 pm


Well, how much money did you waste on your process. More important, was the Sequoia hiring process successful or not?

Posted by Peter Carpenter, a resident of Atherton
on May 18, 2014 at 7:15 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

"Well, how much money did you waste on your process."

I didn't "waste" any money because that complaint put them on notice that the citizens were paying attention.

Posted by Cassandra, a resident of Mayfield
on May 18, 2014 at 8:01 pm

[Post removed.]

Posted by I'm not special, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 18, 2014 at 8:49 pm

And you are not the Super, as you call him, or the new one, which is a her. And Palo Alto is no more toxic morass than the next district. We are just not that special.

Posted by village fool, a resident of another community
on May 18, 2014 at 10:46 pm

@Peter Carpenter - You are stunned, rightfully so. Thank you for taking the time to write trivial common sense.
"This is the way they work. If they do not talk about it, maybe people will think that the problem does not exist." – Ms. Gaona Mendoza
[Portion removed.]

Posted by volunteer, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on May 19, 2014 at 7:02 am

[Portion removed.] The employees in our district work their fingers to the bones doing the right thing for our kids. True, no one is perfect, but everyone has our children's best interest at heart. [Portion removed.] It is a true testament to the dedication of the district staff that anything moves forward because of all the Freedom of Information Act Requests (Demands) the district receives (thousands - do you know how much time that takes) - all about nothing. [Portion removed.]

BTW there was plenty of opportunity for input about the qualities people would like to see in a new superintendent. They are not elected officials, they are employees of the district.

Posted by parent, a resident of Community Center
on May 19, 2014 at 7:34 am

[Post removed.]

If you were a member and logged in you could track comments from this story.

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

On Tour at Selective Schools: Chapman, La Verne, Redlands, Whittier
By John Raftrey and Lori McCormick | 1 comment | 1,898 views

The dress code
By Jessica T | 17 comments | 1,782 views

Two Days to Save This Dog?
By Cathy Kirkman | 15 comments | 1,185 views

. . . People will never forget how you made them feel.
By Chandrama Anderson | 0 comments | 1,163 views

It Depends... Disguising Real Characters in Fiction
By Nick Taylor | 0 comments | 388 views