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New Palo Alto school chief: Arriving with 'fresh eyes and ears'

Original post made on Jul 9, 2014

Palo Alto's new school-district superintendent says he's coming to town "with fresh eyes and ears" and the goal of creating a "culture of trust." Max McGee, who officially begins work Aug. 1, is spending three days in Palo Alto this week meeting with senior district staff and a range of community leaders.

Read the full story here Web Link posted Wednesday, July 9, 2014, 9:43 AM

Comments (88)

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Posted by Bob
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 9, 2014 at 1:43 pm

Sooner or later Supt. McGee is going to have to come to grips with the reality of the so-called "site councils". Best he hit the ground running, and start using the local vocabulary so that he can deal with this issue head-on.


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Posted by PAUSD parent volunteer
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 9, 2014 at 3:10 pm

Welcome!

Finding a house even with a million dollar no interest loan will be hard. I would like to suggest an idea -- inventory is low, so it's really easier to find something if you give it more time, maybe decide to take a rental for a year. Why not consider taking a rental on the opposite side of town from where you hope to find a house? Get to know our town a bit better?

"Palo Alto has a 'culture that prizes and respects collaboration'"

Which is so true. Unfortunately, that has not been the case at 25 Churchill, and especially not for the legal team advising them, which has resulted in a great deal of unnecessary conflict. I love your example, though, that you are really thinking holistically. We really need that.


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Posted by Angry at SummerSchool
a resident of College Terrace
on Jul 9, 2014 at 3:50 pm

Welcome- please tell me how you feel about my children being excluded from summer school this year because we have the financial means to pay for tutors/care? Escondido students were selected for financial needs, not academic. We are a non-native spanish speaking family and in the spanish immersion program. We have two children that were reading just below grade level at the end of the year. Summer school would have had a tremendous impact, but we were told that it was only open to students who's parents had financial needs for summer care. What is the goal of our school system- day care or education? I'm sure that it would never be a reverse situation- that only students who's families could afford to pay for summer school would be allowed to attend.


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Posted by Mary
a resident of Crescent Park
on Jul 9, 2014 at 3:52 pm

Welcome to a school district in trouble. OCR and EEOC are on full alert to the injustices done to students and staff. Skelly is leaving a legacy of shame, falsehoods, and inept school site leadership.

Good luck trying to change a culture of lies, distrust, and bullying.

Mary


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Posted by Something about Mary
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 9, 2014 at 5:23 pm

I'm with Mary on this one, Kevin Skelly has left a mess. I like Max McGee's words, but they are just words, like Skelly's words seven years ago. Max should brag less and self-promote less, and instead, he needs to clean house at 25 Churchill. The leadership team has just not performed satisfactorily.


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Posted by revdreileen
a resident of East Palo Alto
on Jul 9, 2014 at 5:23 pm

revdreileen is a registered user.

Housing is more affordable in EPA and would give the superintendent some insight into the wider community, especially since some PAUSD students live here.


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Posted by Good Luck Max!
a resident of Gunn High School
on Jul 9, 2014 at 6:36 pm

I totally agree with Mary and Something About Mary. Perhaps if we could stop violating the civil rights of our students and then crying unfair treatment by the OCR we could spend the money being spent on legal counsel doig good for our students. Skelly has unfortunately left a mess and the current Board MUST change considerably if we expect to be able to utilize all of Max's innovative and forward thinking ideas. They are just words and yea, Skelly was full of words when he came in and look where we are now. This is one of the worst boards we have ever had also and if we don't have a board on board that can give good direction and follow the will of the voters we are sunk!

"What innovative programs and practices are working in one school that could be transferable to another?" Hey, how about Teacher Advisory counseling for Gunn as well as Paly. It is totally transferable and has proven to be a superior counseling system. It's not fair that Paly's students benefit from this great system and Gunn is still limping along with their same old system because Skelly was digging in his heels and continued to stand for site based decisions about such matters even when he was directed by the board to move towards Teacher Advisory. The Board did not give firm enough direction to Skelly so in a way it is't Skelly's fault. Apparently he learned that he could just ignore the board and stonewall on any number of issues. I was totally appalled that the board took no action when it was revealed that we were cited by the OCR and Skelly had not even revealed this to the Board. I know that this may seem like I am beating a dead horse but Max has lots of damage to undo and he will need the help of the whole community and especially a couple of new board members that are on board for fixing the things that have been allowed to go wrong. One of those things is the counseling at Gunn. Now that none of Skelly's children are at Gunn and he is leaving maybe we can get moving on providing our students the best counseling across the board.

As I said, Good luck Max! We need a new postitive, open and transparent school district and with you at the helm it may be possible to give you a shot at making this district what it could truly be.........BETTER!!


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Posted by life is simple
a resident of Adobe-Meadows
on Jul 10, 2014 at 7:46 am

Except that the OCR complaints are all being found in favor of the district. Hardly on "full alert" as they are finding that the district is doing what it is required to do. Not doing what the parents want the district to do isn't an OCR issue and OCR are getting frustrated with the complaints with no basis.


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Posted by Some facts
a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Jul 10, 2014 at 10:12 am

No evidence that OCR is frustrated, except with the district. Remember the warning letter from OCR to Skelly about public comment from the district in the Duveneck case? The finding that the district violated civil rights law at Terman? The settlement agreement in the 504 case? The ongoing investigation at Paly? The Gunn sexual harassment case, not yet resolved?

Pretending that McGee doesn't have cleanup to do is pure spin. But he seems like a smart guy, so he's probably already figured that out.


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Posted by PAUSD parent volunteer
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 10, 2014 at 12:30 pm

@simple,
You wrote "Except that the OCR complaints are all being found in favor of the district."

This kind of pure spin is exactly what McGee will need to clean up or his tenure will be as controversial, unproductive, and characterized by mistrust as the last one.

You have mischaracterized what OCR does in a way that is hurtful to the many families who felt they had no recourse with our district, and does nothing to solve that problem. In fact, that kind of mischaracterization is antithetical to an attitude that anyone should have in a school district, the purpose of which is to serve children.

Except in very extreme circumstances, such as in the case of the disabled bullied child, OCR does not decide the complaints. OCR decides if the district has a process in place for deciding complaints. It's as if a state were found not to have a court system for deciding legal disputes and the federal government had to tell them to.

In the first two cases, it was as if I district was found not to have a court system, or to deny it did when citizens had problems. The OCR came in and told them the law required them to offer due process to families, in essence, to give them access to the course. In the other complaints, it was as if the federal government said, "It looks like you made an effort, but we don't have enough evidence in these complaints to be sure you didn't give these people access to the courts."

As the OCR wrote: " the evidence did not establish that the district FAILED TO PROVIDE A PROMPT AND EQUITABLE PROCESS for addressing the allegations of discrimination," the federal agency stated..." [emphasis added]

There is not enough evidence to be sure the plaintiffs weren't given access to the courts. And it doesn't even deal at all with the concern that brought the plaintiffs to the courts in the first place. Think about what that means: if vulnerable children were hurt, our district is conflating whether there was enough evidence to show they had due process procedures for handling their complaints with whether the complaints themselves had merit, and thus acting like defensive petty bureaucrats and failing to do their jobs for those children.

This is hardly a ringing endorsement of our district, and the attitude that somehow this is a fight with sides where something was "found in favor of the district," the attitude that this situation needs to be spinned against the families who felt they had no recourse rather than looking inward and making our district work better for families, is exactly what McGee will need to root out of our administration in order to restore a sense of SERVICE to CHILDREN and FAMILIES which is what a SCHOOL DISTRICT is for.

I am encouraged by what Mr. McGee says, and hopes he can indeed clean house.


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Posted by PAUSD parent volunteer
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 10, 2014 at 12:34 pm

Sorry, correction:


In the first two cases, it was as if the district was found not to have a court system, or to deny it did when citizens had problems. The OCR came in and told them the law required them to offer due process to families, in essence, to give them access to the courts. In the other complaints, it was as if the federal government said, "It looks like you made an effort, but we don't have enough evidence in these complaints to be sure you didn't give these people access to the courts."

As the OCR wrote: " the evidence did not establish that the district FAILED TO PROVIDE A PROMPT AND EQUITABLE PROCESS for addressing the allegations of discrimination," the federal agency stated..." [emphasis added]


And yet, that anyone thinks it's okay to keep spinning that against those families is what needs to be rooted out of our administration in order for us to restore trust and function effectively in service of families.


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Posted by Historian
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Jul 10, 2014 at 4:15 pm

I've read this town forum for 7 years, and the past two years have the same ole, same ole, with people complaining about bullying and lack of help for those in financial need. One would think those are real issues in PAUSD, but it's only a minority screaming here on the forum. Truthfully, there is little bullying in PAUSD that is cause for concern. My children were bullied but after I spoke with administration in elementary and middle schools, the staff and teachers ended it immediately. We aren't dealing with unreasonable parents here in Palo Alto who would ignore feedback about their children. For the most part, parents are caring here. If the bullying is ongoing, is it the child who provokes the bullying? Oftentimes, yes! Frankly, we are dealing with many children who simply lack social skills.

As far as helping those who are in financial need, I suggest they move elsewhere - there is no reason to live in of the most expensive cities in the nation if there is no money to help the children with their needs. I am flabbergasted at how many Palo Alto residents are housepoor. Some of them don't have any money to eat at Town & Country at lunchtime.

Max, Palo Altans are very opinionated. I grew up here and know this. However, it didn't become bad until about 10 years ago when residents began complaining about every little thing, and have threatened lawsuits that would be considered frivolous elsewhere. It's about winning, more than anything.


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Posted by PAUSD parent volunteer
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 10, 2014 at 4:49 pm

@Historian,
Your post demonstrates an almost complete ignorance about what just happened here in the last few years, while at the same time expressing some strong negative prejudices.

First of all, the issues with the OCR were not about normal bullying, they were about whether vulnerable children in protected classes, such as the disabled or special needs kids, had due process within the district when things went wrong. The two cases that resulted in resolution agreements resulted because in both situations, parents tried for well over a year to try to get the district to work with them to resolve problems by extending due process under the law. In both cases, the concerns were brought to board members well before complaints were made to the OCR, and only made to the OCR as a last recourse. The vast majority of districts in the country, most with fewer resources than Palo Alto, follow the laws without trouble. It is extremely rare for a district to have to be told to follow the law (using its own procedures that it already wrote to follow the law, no less).

I would also note that in making sure the district had proper procedures in place, the result of these complaints REDUCED PAUSD's exposure to litigation.

Are you suggesting families of special needs kids move out of Palo Alto if they can't afford to provide the extra costs of their educational needs? Because that suggestion is illegal. All children are entitled to a Free and Appropriate Public Education under the law, whether they live in Palo Alto, whether they are disabled, whether they can afford "to eat at Town & Country at lunchtime" or not. Are you suggesting it's better for people of lesser means than you to prioritize eating lunch out at Town & Country over living somewhere their kids can get a good education? Wow. If you are indeed a PAUSD parent, I'm glad to say I have not come across such ugly class-related prejudice in my years here so far.


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Posted by PAUSD parent volunteer
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 10, 2014 at 5:00 pm

Max, I have a very different experience than "Historian" paints. As a district volunteer, I have seen a large cross-section of families in our district, and I pinch myself sometimes at what a great community this is. Yes, you will hear me grumble about PTA politics like everyone else, but that's a far cry from the serious problems we've had in our district office the last few years. My advice to you is to watch your back, be suspicious of administrators too anxious to blame everything on terrible, terrible parents, and reorg as soon as possible. Offer retirement buy outs if necessary, just bring in your own people who you know can be trusted and will work well for the vision you have for this district.

My own take on the above comment is that we've had a lot of CYA by certain people in our district office, some who have even come on these lists as posters and let slip that they were administrators posting anonymously. They're usually the ones criticizing the parents.

My best advice to you is to really work at making both parent and teacher communities feel you are working with and for them, and not to be too much or too little on either side. And get rid of any administrators who think so negatively about either group that they can't serve them well. Especially in a public school district, you can't choose the parents. you can choose the administrators for good attitudes, competency, and how well they will work with a community of, basically, smart nice people with really high standards.

As you are probably well aware, this community is not a good match with traditional hierarchical paternalistic school administration. Parents are pretty smart and actions more than words will make or break things moving forward. You can't do this alone, though, you really are going to have to clean house at the district office.


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Posted by Old Steve
a resident of St. Claire Gardens
on Jul 10, 2014 at 8:45 pm

Dr. McGee,

Those who believe the hyper-competitive aspects of a PAUSD education are a relatively new phenomena have not themselves been around long. Having graduated high school in PAUSD in 1975, I chose in 1992 to move to Mountain View where I could both purchase a home, And have my children grow up in a vital, multicultural learning environment. I did not want to be part of PAUSD or City of Palo Alto politics anymore. Thanks for taking these challenges on, and welcome to Silicon Valley. Somebody above mentions smart parents. I certainly agree that many are highly educated, but it is not at all clear that they are being smart about the education of the children in PAUSD.


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Posted by life is simple
a resident of Adobe-Meadows
on Jul 10, 2014 at 9:09 pm

@PPV, so your long winded post simply says that, apart from the first two, the other investigations were are all being found in favor of the district. At least we can agree that the vast majority of OCR complaints have found to have no merit. Wasting the OCRs time and resources.

You might also look at how many OCR complaints are filed in neighboring districts and how many are found in favor of the district and then do a proper apples to apples comparison. Hint: it doesn't back up your position.

Time to show some perspective.


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Posted by school volunteer
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 10, 2014 at 9:19 pm

Welcome Mr. Max McGuee,

I would like to know if the new Superintendent prefers to be called by his first name, or using a title.

Picking just three goals in PAUSD sounds difficult. That's what Skelly did. A CEO or manager doesn't have the luxury to pick three goals. The job is to manage all the issues well. Most are inter-connected anyway but the ones mentioned in the article sound like a playback from the vocal complainers.

Supports are necessary, but some are only necessary because there is a failure in the classroom teaching. Take English at Paly. The idea to de-lane expects students to take an extra hour after school. Is that fair? The schools are big enough and there is a block schedule so you can creatively teach all levels.

Make the classroom time productive for students, not teachers - that's a management issue.

Alert on the issue of "this idea of balance between autonomy and the collection of individual communities in 17 schools – how do you balance that with the idea of a collective community, a district mission and vision?"

How do you deal with teacher autonomy?
The collection of individual politics in departments vs the whole school and district?


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Posted by PAUSD parent volunteer
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 10, 2014 at 10:28 pm

@ simple, You wrote, "At least we can agree that the vast majority of OCR complaints have found to have no merit."

NO. We do not agree. Neither does the OCR. Neither do the facts. The only thing without merit here is your false spin.

Once again: THE OCR DOES NOT DECIDE THE MERIT OF THE CASES. If you look at the OCR's own website, they even overtly point out that they almost never decide individual cases. THE OCR TAKES COMPLAINTS WHEN DISTRICTS DO NOT OFFER DUE PROCESS. Their goal is to get districts to extend proper PROCESSES to students, not to decide their cases for them, get it?

If you are with the district, and you think the two are the same, please say so, because it is evidence that in our district, the post settlement-agreement efforts only ended up providing the appearance of process rather than actual process. That would be proof the OCR needs to step in again.

The first two OCR complaints found serious problems with our district PROCESSES and resulted in TWO resolution agreements. Even ONE is extremely rare. In later complaints, there was not enough evidence to find the district DIDN'T HAVE AVAILABLE A PROCESS to take and assess their complaints. As a result of the first two complaints, the district took steps to begin using its own procedures for reviewing complaints. They almost certainly showed the OCR they were doing so. For the OCR, instead of saying, oh look, you've done a good job implementing our agreements, to say, we don't have enough evidence to be sure the district didn't implement those agreements properly -- again, not exactly a ringing endorsement of our district.

The way you are looking at this smacks of vengefulness from an injured ego, rather than thinking about how to make the district work. It's frankly the kind of inappropriate thinking that got us into this mess. We had two complaints that resulted in rare settlement agreements, where the district was shown to be utterly in noncompliance with the law. The district agreed to fix it, and yet did such a poor job, a lot of parents still seemed to feel the OCR was our only recourse.

For you to feel that this was somehow about a battle of district against parents -- anyone who thinks like that needs to get out of education. Fixing this will require major soul searching and culling of administrators who aren't willing to make major attitude adjustments if they have such anti-parent anti-service mindsets.


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Posted by clever
a resident of Crescent Park
on Jul 10, 2014 at 11:01 pm

@life is simple:

You lost my respect and attention as soon as you decided to paraphrase PAUSD parent volunteer's posts. That is a tactic used to change the meaning of the original poster's comments to serve your own needs/wants. We can all see the original post, so you "summarizing' it is simply for the purpose of you spinning it your own way and misleading readers.

Of course, this post will be deleted by the Weak(ly) censors in no time, but whatever.


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Posted by clever
a resident of Crescent Park
on Jul 10, 2014 at 11:19 pm

Max: No offense, but as a lifelong (multi-generation) PA resident I have very little hope that you will make a difference. That is not a statement about you, it is a sad reflection on Palo Alto and how stinking political it has become. We are no longer "a community" - we grow farther apart based on every sub-group you can think of. E.g. wealthy, middle-class, poor, Chinese, non-Chinese (caucasion), black, hispanic, high-achieving kids, average-achieving kids (considered, and given the message that they are failures in this district), kids with learning or mental/physical disabilities, etc, etc, etc...

You won't solve this district's issues unless and until you figure out a way to make this incredibly dissatisfied and entitled-feeling set of school district residents feel like "a community."


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Posted by school volunteer
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 11, 2014 at 12:38 am

clever,

"You won't solve this district's issues unless and until you figure out a way to make this incredibly dissatisfied and entitled-feeling set of school district residents feel like "a community.""

Reminds me of the people who never volunteer and complain about the volunteers.

Suggestion to the new Superintendent: Like in everything, 20% or whatever smaller percent of your customers account for 90% of your business. In the case of PAUSD, the smaller fraction is the percent of your problem customers.

I read somewhere you had instituted a "customer service" in a school system in Illinois. That presumes you actually would track problems, and have data on response times, what problems got fixed, which ones lingered on for years. PAUSD has no way of documenting customer service complaints. You would never know which teachers are repeat offenders of the same parental complaints. You'd never know how many parents actually complained.

You need data, and you need to track problems, track progress on solutions so you won't have to be doing silly things that are not your job. You're not the new minister or rabbi in town, to be focusing on building community. You will not get credit for the fluffy stuff. Not for long at least.



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Posted by PAUSD parent volunteer
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 11, 2014 at 12:54 am

@ school volunteer and clever,

Actually, clever, I very much appreciated you coming to my defense above. Thank you.

PAUSD doesn't even seems to track absentee data even though they collect it! If you ask them how many student absentee days there were at a given school last year, they can't tell you. No really, try it, they'll complain mightily like you asked them to climb Mount Everest in bermuda shorts.

But the "fluffy stuff" as you call it, is part of his job, because building relationships and goodwill is an important aspect of making schools run. Helping families feel connected has all sorts of well-studied benefits to the students.


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Posted by Paly Mom
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Jul 11, 2014 at 3:02 am

[Post removed.]


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Posted by Angry at Summer School
a resident of Palo Verde
on Jul 11, 2014 at 4:12 am

I am also angry at Summer School. It is based solely on financial need. My daughter has attended Summer School for the last 4 years, but was not able to go this year, because we can afford tutors. There were a lot of other kids at her school that went that were not at all in need of summer school. They basically got free daycare,academics, extra help while we are supposed to attend private academic classes that are very expensive. Summer school should be offered to children who are behind, or who could really benefit from it, not just based on income levels.
The summer school program used to be an Excellent Program. The teachers were handpicked and were superior to our regular classroom teachers. The small class sizes, full time aides, engaging curriculum at the child's level, all made a big difference for my children. At this point, I have gotten used to not getting help at our school. Yes, I do pay for private tutors because the school is not doing its job. If children have not mastered a math concept, or they need a lot more practice with a skill, it is up to the parent to teach them or hire tutors. The math tutorials, or after school programs are site-based. At our site, the class was a waste of time and energy. Every child who needs extra help academically should not have to hire PRIVATE TUTORS, but that is what is happening.


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Posted by Dear Superintendent
a resident of Jordan Middle School
on Jul 11, 2014 at 9:08 am

Dear Superintendent McGee:
A PAUSD Board of Education Member accused OCR of evidence tampering at it's last meeting. This is a very strong accusation attacking the honesty and integrity of Federal government employees doing their jobs. This comes long after the settlement PAUSD agreed to. PAUSD says it does not have an e-mail in it's stored record which the OCR has. Special Education has lacked records in a legal case before:

Web Link
OAH CASE NO. 2010070435
OAH CASE NO. 2011030401
From paragraph 12.
..."No IEP document apparently exists for this IEP team meeting that clearly indicates who attended because the District, according to Ms. Wade, switched computer systems and IEP documentation was lost. Information about Student's progress in his two general education classes was presented at the February 2009 IEP team meeting, it is not clear by whom. Further, District personnel who attended this IEP team meeting did not testify if a general education teacher attended this meeting. Further, the District did not have Ms. Zigler testify, who according to the District's prehearing conference (PHC) statement is still a District employee, even though she was the District administrator for this IEP team meeting and apparently the note taker for this IEP meeting."


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Posted by Enough Already
a resident of Community Center
on Jul 11, 2014 at 9:42 am

Agree that the OCR subject is overblown on these threads. [Portion removed.] PAUSD has other issues concerning more children than the two OCR complaints. My children rarely witness bullying. Girls with attitudes in middle school? Yes! But there is no solution for that.

What should be of more concern is the rigorous academics resulting in people having to hire tutors even in regular lane classes. There is no consistency in teaching - one classroom could have an unreasonable teacher who expects the world from students while the class next door (same course) glides through without pain. Because our students are more intelligent, teachers expect more. AP students want rigor - regular lanes should have workloads doable by all without children needing excessive support from parents or tutors. Parents in this district actually do the homework for their children when the teachers are unreasoanable - that's a losing scenario for all.


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Posted by Something about Mary
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 11, 2014 at 9:55 am

My kid is pretty intelligent but she is definitely not "more intelligent." That would be an arrogant statement, thus not so intelligent. Palo Alto: not as special as we think we are.


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Posted by reverse order
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 11, 2014 at 11:41 am

To "Dear Superintendent,"

You have the "tampering accusations" backwards. The school board is NOT "attacking the honesty and integrity of Federal government employees doing their jobs."

The subject is a family who filed an OCR claim NOT government employees.

[Portion removed.]

Web Link


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Posted by school volunteer
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 11, 2014 at 11:54 am

Enough already,

I know what you meant by "our children more intelligent." Something about Mary's interpretation calling you arrogant is arrogant - the idea that Palo Alto thinks it's so special. Enough of that already.

When it's convenient, the district says your B in PAUSD is an A everywhere else. But when you have to hide some institutional dysfunction (all the alignment issues and teacher quality issues you mention), the word is kids are not as smart as their parents think they are. Note the Superintendent himself is saying so in this article.

Having seen OTHER people's smart kids implode in a bad teacher's classroom, and my own average kid appear to be a genius for just having better handwriting, or drawing and coloring better, I know that it all depends on your teacher, the subject, and the school. Mr. Mc Guee best look inward before shuffling all our kids into after school programs.

There are subjects and teachers in PAUSD which are on overdrive, and some teachers who make the easiest things impossible. Most are good, many are exceptional, but there are truly deficient. Don't just ship kids to mandatory after school programs Mr. Mc Guee. Look inward first. Nobody is as dumb to want to work harder than they need to for the same grade "somewhere else." Insult to injury, the kids whose A's are our B's (C's) get into college easier than our kids do.


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Posted by reverse order
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 11, 2014 at 11:59 am

To "Good Luck Max,"

Revisionist history wouldn't you say?

Your post: "Hey, how about Teacher Advisory counseling for Gunn as well as Paly. It is totally transferable and has proven to be a superior counseling system."

Here are some survey stats that were posted on PA Online which indicate otherwise. Of 900 seniors surveyed:

67% of Paly students did not find TA time to be that valuable

72% at Gunn believed that their Guidance Counselor had been a valuable resource compared to 57% for Paly's TAs.

59% at Gunn agreed that their Guidance Counselors have gotten to know them well compared to 53% for Paly's TAs.

Despite ALL Paly students having a TA whom they meet with regularly, 1 out of 4 Paly students said there were NO adults on campus they felt they could go to when facing a personal challenge.

Web Link

Web Link

Also mentioned in that Palo Alto Online post was a 2010 UC study that said that "the role of advisory programs specifically in supporting personalization remains murky."

"Schools need to integrate strategies of caring into their daily work and overall school climate, as opposed to simply annexing it within an advisory period."

"A likely explanation is that students are distinguishing between the 'real life' experiences of personalization versus the more formal structure of advisory programs. This indicates that relationships matter more when they appear in informal, improvised, and, therefore, more authentic, encounters between teachers and students, than when they appear because of formal structures of courses, like advisory, that are institutionally designated for that purpose."

From that UC study: "As McLaughlin (1987) said: 'you can't mandate what matters.'"

Web Link



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Posted by must be anonymous
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 11, 2014 at 3:13 pm

[Post removed due to same poster using multiple names]


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Posted by Dear Superintendent
a resident of Jordan Middle School
on Jul 11, 2014 at 3:57 pm

@ Reverse Order
You interpret it as the Board of Education members accusing parents of a bullied disabled child of evidence tampering at a Board of Education meeting? Let's hope that was not the Board intended. Even for PAUSD, using a public Board of Education meeting to attack a single family two years after PAUSD made an agreement is going too far.

That this has to be clarified says all the money PAUSD is spending on public relations, special education and attorneys is not working. Their advice to their Board of Education is awful, only bringing criticism.


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Posted by must be anonymous
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 11, 2014 at 4:12 pm

[Post removed due to same poster using multiple names]


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Posted by What a Mess!
a resident of Jordan Middle School
on Jul 11, 2014 at 8:10 pm

Good luck, Max, Dr Skelly has left you with an incredible mess to untangle. You are really going to earn your pay in Palo Alto.

If only the school board had vetted your predecessor as well as they vetted you. Again, good luck--you will need it!


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Posted by reverse order
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 12, 2014 at 5:05 am

To "Dear Superintendent,"

You say that the school board was "using a public Board of Education meeting to attack a single family." No names were mentioned. Asking for a copy of an email in the OCR's files, stating the reasons why PAUSD wants to see it as required by OCR procedures, is NOT a personal "attack."

The substance of this CLAIM is that evidence submitted to federal investigators, which MIGHT have been material to the OCR's determination in that case, MAY have been tampered with.

From PAUSD's February 19, 2014 letter to the OCR:

"Several items in the investigation process cause the District concern … OCR's investigating attorneys discovered a communication from [redacted] that appeared altered to misrepresent a communication to the District that was never received."

"The Letter of Findings… creates negative implications from information that … was not available for District review or response. The Districts perception is that the investigating attorneys may have misinterpreted some circumstances reviewed and that the Letter of Findings creates some misleading impressions"

Web Link


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Posted by board watcher
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jul 12, 2014 at 11:52 am

@reverse order

You are correct that the district's Feb. 2014 letter merely suggests that an email "appeared altered."

But that characterization changed significantly in June. The resolution criticizing OCR adopted by the board on June 17 elevates this accusation to "evidence of complainant document tampering." Barb Mitchell and Dana Tom's public comments at the meeting stated that OCR "tolerated evidence tampering." This isn't couched in phrases, as you suggest, such as "might" or "may," it is a very serious assertion by the school board that evidence tampering occurred, made publicly without any documentary evidence or details. They have made public allegations of a crime.

Also, it is important to note that the alleged "tampering" was in a case involving the theft of $20 from the purse of a substitute teacher at Jordan, not any of the bullying cases. OCR concluded that there was insufficient evidence that the actions of Jordan administrators violated the accused child's civil rights.

So both the vagueness of the accusation (which if wrong is highly defamatory) and the reasons for even making the accusation (in a case closed in the District's favor) raise a lot of questions about the district's motivation in making this allegation.



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Posted by Dear Superintendent
a resident of Jordan Middle School
on Jul 12, 2014 at 12:58 pm

@ reverse order
"You say that the school board was "using a public Board of Education meeting to attack a single family." No names were mentioned."

The post was trying to ask, perhaps awkwardly, if that is the interpretation of Board member remarks, in response to your post:
"The subject is a family who filed an OCR claim NOT government employees."

Regarding no Board member named being mentioned, that is true because the Board of Education cablecasts do not show the name of the Board of Education member speaking, so it is hard to identify who is talking. This would be a great upgrade for Superintendent McGee to work on.

Cablecasts of Board of Education meetings are available at: Web Link

The two recent meetings related to OCR can be viewed at:
June 3
Web Link
June 17
Web Link

Board members speak of evidence problems at these time points in the 6/17/2014 cablecast:
evidence tampering: 1:52-1:53
altered evidence: 2:05
evidence tampering: 2:28

Evidence tampering comments made by a Board are concerning because Board members could not possibly know every detail of these situations or District's stored records. Given that, it is better as elected officials and the top officials in PAUSD they do not make statements without all the facts. It is entirely possible that e-mails exist and were sent, but the District can't find them among what must be hundreds or thousands of e-mail exchanges a day. A student's official record includes only limited documents. Parents can request a copy of their students record and see. The District does not save and store every record related to a student forever.

E-mail exchanges occur daily between families and teachers, principals, various District staff about mundane things like lunch money and absences. It is possible that an e-mail record exists and the District just could not find it or pull it up when they searched their records. Perhaps they did not use the right search terms, perhaps the District staff did not work long enough at it, perhaps they did not pay their law firm or private detectives enough.

It is better the Board not make such specific public statements about a disabled family and child or Federal employees. The new superintendent should provide the Board with better advice.

PAUSD Special Education has been missing documents in legal matters before. See the judge's decision of the Office of Administrative Hearing in due process hearings by PAUSD Special Education against families of disabled children. See:

From paragraph 12. 
..."No IEP document apparently exists for this IEP team meeting that clearly indicates who attended because the District, according to Ms. Wade, switched computer systems and IEP documentation was lost."
Web Link


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Posted by reverse order
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 12, 2014 at 4:51 pm

"Board watcher" and "Dear Super"

The reason the accusation is vague ("no evidence") is because PAUSD only has the principal and assistant principal's recollection of what the email said to rely on, hence why it asked the OCR for a copy of that email.

Dear Super is confused. My take from the board report is that the district has the email it's just that its and the OCR's are not exactly the same.

Board Watcher, you say ""tampering" was in a case involving the theft of $20 from the purse of a substitute teacher at Jordan, not any of the bullying cases. ""Dear Superintendent" claims it happened in the case brought by "parents of a bullied disabled child."

How is it that either of you know which case the tampering claim relates to?
The district did not provide other details about that claim. All that has been reported about the missing email case that I could find is this: The event that gave rise to the complaint happened at a PAUSD middle school in November 2012, the interview where the claimant's copy of that email was shared with the principal and assistant principal was on May 23, and the OCR concluded the case on June 14, 2013 saying that it could not find racial discrimination.

That same day, June 14, 2013 PAUSD asked the OCR for a copy of the email. So Dear Super, the concern about the email did not come out of the blue "two years after PAUSD made an agreement" with the OCR. There was no agreement in the disputed email case (no discrimination was found). PAUSD's request for that email was made the day the decision came out.

What was being investigated around that same time was the first OCR claim filed against the district on behalf of a disabled child who transferred from Terman to an unnamed PAUSD middle school because of bullying which must be the case "Dear Super" is thinking of. That claim was filed in July 2011 and resolved February 2013.


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Posted by Retired Teacher
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jul 12, 2014 at 6:27 pm

Watching board meetings before and after he applied for the job, McGee said he was "impressed with the board, level of discourse, thoughtful questions, interactions with staff and some of the issue they were tackling."

Hear, hear! This Board has done a great job, under great pressure and much unfair criticism! They are impressive. The district is an excellent district. Dr. Skelly did a good job, and deserved a better situation than being the target of vitriolic critics who used the OCR, already an overbearing agency, for their own ends.

My kids went through this district, and got a good education. They learned to deal with problems, including bullying, and were the better for it. I'm glad they're not in the schools now, although the schools have done the best they could with all the pressures and the incredibly demanding parents.

Good luck in the future, Dr. McGee! I hope you get a fairer shake than Kevin Skelly did.


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Posted by Palo Alto parent
a resident of Downtown North
on Jul 12, 2014 at 6:36 pm

The so-called "tampering" case is an obvious red herring, as you can see from this description: "The event that gave rise to the complaint happened at a PAUSD middle school in November 2012, the interview where the claimant's copy of that email was shared with the principal and assistant principal was on May 23, and the OCR concluded the case on June 14, 2013 saying that it could not find racial discrimination." The case is closed and there was no finding or agreement against the district, so why is the school board even pursuing it?

Even worse, why is the president of the school board, Barb Mitchell saying that OCR doesn't care about evidence tampering, when OCR found for the district? Her statement might make sense if OCR relied on some piece of evidence to find against the district -- but OCR found FOR the district. It looks like just a smear on a federal agency. That may make for some libertarian red meat for Mitchell and her supporters, but it doesn't pass the smell test for me.

"Retired teacher" says that there are "vitriolic critics who used the OCR, already an overbearing agency, for their own ends." I don't see much evidence for "overbearing" but I do agree that there are some vitriolic critics -- namely, Barb Mitchell and Dana Tom -- using the agency for their own political ends.


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Posted by Snowden
a resident of Crescent Park
on Jul 12, 2014 at 10:37 pm

As you state, Palo Alto Parent, OCR found for the district. Read this thread and you'll note the vitriolic critics who try to spin this as not the case. You just have the wrong target since the district has nothing to gain.

Since OCR found for the district, there is no sour grapes. The district is trying to improve OCR's processes. If no one challengers them, they won't change. Why does OCR deny FOIA requests? Why does OCR not question tampered evidence.?Why does OCR not adhere to there own schedules?

Do you really blindly accept poor government?


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Posted by George Orwell
a resident of East Palo Alto
on Jul 13, 2014 at 1:42 am

George Orwell is a registered user.

Dear 'Dear Superintendent',

Private detectives?

(You wrote, above: "...perhaps they did not pay their law firm or private detectives enough. ...")

Yours
G.


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Posted by reverse order
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 13, 2014 at 6:41 am

Palo Alto Parent,

Email tampering claims an "obvious red herring"? No.

There are lots of reasons why a district would want to ferret out tampered evidence.

One is to send a message to all current and future complainants that it is not OK to lie to better your claim. Our district teaches this in our schools too.

Lies can damage the district's reputation. Lies can color the OCR's view of the district in future investigations. Lies could be the reason a case goes on for 6 or more months – read is costly - instead of opened and closed quickly under the OCR's Rapid Resolution Process program where immediate contact is made with the district to obtain relevant information to resolve the complaint quickly.

Two is to alert the OCR in DC that there are extremely good reasons - for instance, sometimes stories just don't line up - to change their procedures to mirror courtroom procedures and share evidence gathered DURING investigations and BEFORE letters of findings and resolutions agreements are issued. The district knows what it did and didn't write and can quickly alert the OCR to what is and isn't true.

That helps an understaffed OCR struggling to manage its huge case load.

That also helps school districts by allowing some cases - the ones where the district alerts the OCR to complainants who messed with the truth - to be closed earlier saving our schools money, focus and resources.

And there is the morality of it all. Lying is not OK even if you don't get your way in the end. The federal government agrees. From the last Palo Alto Online discussion on this:

"Fabricating evidence presented to the federal government can land someone in prison:

18 U.S. Code Part I - CRIMES. Chapter 47 - FRAUD AND FALSE STATEMENTS. §1001 - Statements or entries generally

(a) Except as otherwise provided in this section, whoever, in any matter within the jurisdiction of the executive, legislative, or judicial branch of the Government of the United States, knowingly and willfully—

(1)falsifies, conceals, or covers up by any trick, scheme, or device a material fact;

(2) makes any materially false, fictitious, or fraudulent statement or representation; or

(3) makes or uses any false writing or document knowing the same to contain any materially false, fictitious, or fraudulent statement or entry;

shall be fined under this title, imprisoned not more than 5 years ... or both..."


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Posted by Board is government
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 13, 2014 at 6:44 am

The school board are elected politicians and government officials.. They've had a miserable run, so no, I will not accept poor government from this board. It just has not gone well and they need to go.


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Posted by reverse order
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 13, 2014 at 6:51 am

This 2014 government report is an interesting read.

In it the OCR, after noting that complaints filed against schools increased 27% this year, alerts Obama to its need for more money to address its decreased staffing levels, to augment staff training, and to conduct additional proactive compliance reviews (think Paly).

Web Link

"Funding reductions significantly jeopardized OCR's ability to keep pace and address emerging civil rights concerns."

"OCR anticipates having less capacity to maintain the quantity and timeliness of complaint resolutions in the coming years."

"Given the decline in staffing, there are limits to what OCR can continue to accomplish."

"While complaint receipts rise [OCR received 9,950 complaints in FY 2013], case processing resolution time has continued to exceed established Government Performance and Results Act efficiency measures."

"proactive compliance reviews…have suffered from spending cuts…In fiscal years 2010 and 2011, OCR initiated 74 compliance reviews, but in fiscal years 2012 and 2013, OCR initiated only 31 compliance reviews, a 42 percent decrease."

This year OCR requested $3.7 million more just to maintain its current staffing levels. Obama gave it half that.

Web Link



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Posted by Snowden
a resident of Crescent Park
on Jul 13, 2014 at 8:49 am

Board is government,

Cupertino currently has 6 special Ed cases scheduled in Sacramento. Mountain View has 4. Los Altos has 5.

How many does Palo Alto have? 1!

Please use some data to back up your position. It's not the OCR complaints, these are found for the district. It's not special ed cases, Palo Alto has far less than neighboring districts. You are blindly believing the spin of a few posters.


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Posted by FourGoalsForMcGee
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Jul 13, 2014 at 4:39 pm

Hi Dr. McGee - if you are reading this, and are looking for 4 big goals to pursue at PAUSD, here is a place to start:

1) Get us out of the OCR Quagmire.
This entire issue is a fever swamp of incompetence, lies, deceit, cover-up, conspiracy and conspiracy theories. It is dividing the community, and putting a wedge between the parents and the schools and the board. Please work to (a) close all open cases asap, at any cost; and (b) get to the root of the problems which generate new OCR cases. That brings us to the next goal...

2) Bring some accountability to the sites.
The sites (principals and teachers) have fine-tuned the art of ignoring parents & students; deflecting issues, delaying progress, and avoiding problems in general. From big issues like bullying, and accommodations for 504 students to small issues like an unwillingness to write homework down, or issues of intimidating students in classes.
As long as the sites ignore the problems they are inflicting on the students, the parents have no place to turn to get resolution. That is why they resort to OCR filings - it is desperation born of frustration dealing with sites which lack a moral compass. Even if the OCR findings show that we have good procedures, remember each complaint is an issue which was not resolved at home, but escalated to the Feds out of frustration.

3) Create a learning institution.
The sites are not learning institutions; and they should be. If you have a desire for innovation, then you are focused on problem solving. Find a problem, fix the problem, and the overall progress of the district moves forward. This is the basis of incremental improvement, good customer service, and quality organizations. This is something which is second nature to many of the Parents here in Silicon Valley, and is strangely at odds with the culture in the schools. The schools (not everyone, but many, and certainly the middle schools and High schools) do whatever they can to ignore problems, avoid responsibility for issues, and generally fail to look for system problems. While sticking their head in the sand may be a defensive mechanism to avoid accountability, it unfortunately means that years of accumulated problems have built up in how the sites treat the students and parents. A learning institution will face these problems head-on, and work to innovate solutions. This may mean getting rid of local leaders mired in problems and unwilling to work with parents.

4) Create an organization with principle-based leadership, courage, and a moral compass.
The leaders you have in your schools (Instructional Supervisors, Principals, District Staff) are not always considering the best interest of the students in their day-to-day activities. In fact, rarely is a students interest given priority over a teachers (mis) behavior. Cowardly leadership originates in organizations which lack a moral compass, are not pursuing a student-centered strategy, and who do not have the backing of their own management. All of these issues lead to environments of fear, retaliation and petty bickering. Often driven from the bottom-up following the basest of motivations; certainly organizations of weak leadership do not see the students and parents as customers to be highly valued and worked with productively towards good solutions.
The principles which will serve you well are to always focus on the students. Survey student engagement; where engagement lags, you will find the issues right behind them. Do not accept large aggregate numbers "75% of students are satisfied"... that means 25% are unsatisfied, and many are really hacked-off. Your target should be 99.7% satisfied. Also avoid data which aggregates over sites - look at the satisfaction within each classroom, with each teacher, each course, and each department. This will give you insight into where the problems are. Then apply leadership, innovation and a problem-solving approach. If your lieutenants at each site do not pursue such aggressive approaches to customer satisfaction, get rid of them. Only the exemplary survive.

Best of Luck - that's 4 good goals: Get us out of OCR; bring some accountability; create learning institutions; develop principle-based leadership.


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Posted by Dear Superintendant
a resident of Jordan Middle School
on Jul 13, 2014 at 5:15 pm

@reverse order, your post implies parents are lying, ironic since the other posters are saying it was inappropriate in the first place for Board of Education members to use a public Board Meeting to imply a parent(s) tampered with evidence. Board members don't know all the facts, for various reasons Districts may not have every e-mail ever sent at a given moment. Asking for a copy is one thing, Board of Education members publicly accusing parents (or a Federal agency, depending on how the Board remarks are interpreted) is going too far. Implying parents are liars on this site is inappropriate.


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Posted by palo alto resident
a resident of Crescent Park
on Jul 13, 2014 at 5:38 pm

@fourgoalsformcgee - please send your post to our new superintendent and the school board members too. Well written, well thought out.


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Posted by Dear Superintendent
a resident of Jordan Middle School
on Jul 13, 2014 at 5:47 pm

@George Orwell
If you look at Warrants (payments) in the Board of Education packet for the Board meeting each month, PAUSD makes payments to private detectives.


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Posted by PAUSD parent volunteer
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 13, 2014 at 5:48 pm

So, reverse order, are you willing to hold the people in the district to that standard? What at a minimum do you think should happen if district employees are shown to have lied, particularly when a student's well-being is at stake?

Would you fire someone? How serious of a lie counts? Do coverups count? Does pulling all the records out of a student file that make that employee look bad count? Pulling out complaints by the parents, or evidence showing the district employee lied, does that count?

What about exaggerating and conflating facts to come up with a false accusation against a parent the employee doesn't like, would you consider that grounds for dismissaL?


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Posted by school volunteer
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 13, 2014 at 6:15 pm

FourgoalsforMcGuee,

"The schools (not everyone, but many, and certainly the middle schools and High schools) do whatever they can to ignore problems, avoid responsibility for issues, and generally fail to look for system problems. While sticking their head in the sand may be a defensive mechanism to avoid accountability, it unfortunately means that years of accumulated problems have built up in how the sites treat the students and parents. A learning institution will face these problems head-on, and work to innovate solutions. This may mean getting rid of local leaders mired in problems and unwilling to work with parents."

The road less traveled. The experiments are always on students.


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Posted by Goal #5
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Jul 13, 2014 at 9:45 pm

Do something about the rampant cheating, and make the students caught cheating accountable, don't just give them a wrist slap.


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Posted by mountains molehills
a resident of Barron Park
on Jul 13, 2014 at 9:59 pm

"This entire issue is a fever swamp of incompetence, lies, deceit, cover-up, conspiracy and conspiracy theories. It is dividing the community, and putting a wedge between the parents and the schools and the board. "

No it isn't. It's a few parents who have been encouraged to file OCR complaints. You talk as if it's an epidemic. It just seems like that because of this paper. Ask any parent at your school and they're unlikely to have even heard of the OCR complaints. It shouldn't be a priority.


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Posted by Deniers
a resident of Crescent Park
on Jul 13, 2014 at 10:50 pm

The OCR mess is a tar pit for two reasons:
1) it is consuming more than just newspaper ink. Many board meetings and legal fees have been spent on this. IT IS a distraction from the business of teaching. And it keeps sucking us back in to pointless rancor.

2) The original case had a disabled kid punched in the nose and bleeding from the face. And nobody at that site did anything to fix this. The sites lack good judgment, and that is a BIG problem which calls into question everything they do. Sure, the OCR solution is tedious and bureaucratic: the are trying to fill a judgment lapse with policy and procedure.. It would be far better if the teachers and principals had better judgment, so we don't have to prescribe every contingency in policy. But still the problem remains one of judgment lapse - and that is no small issue.


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Posted by school volunteer
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 13, 2014 at 11:10 pm

mountains molehills,

"Ask any parent at your school and they're unlikely to have even heard of the OCR complaints. It shouldn't be a priority."

By the board's own admission, the objectives of the OCR are common goals already. The district has not been very effective in implementing improvements, for example the belabored bullying policy, which is still unclear.

Would you know how a bullying complaint or accusation is handled in your school, and what would happen if it would not be resolved by the Principal? The reality is that most families take care of their own situations case by case, and if you are not savvy enough, PAUSD can and has failed to respond to situations in an professional way. The Winston thing was like a soap opera, where anywhere else it would have been stopped long before it got so bad. There isn't even a way for staff to appeal to the district apparently.

Goal #5

I agree the schools should get a handle of the cheating. This may be a crude way to look at things but cheating is among the many stress coping techniques kids resort to, and it beats anxiety and depression. Maybe not morally, but physically, when you have no free time after a regular course load. It can happen to students too - they would be cheated if the school day was a waste of time and in addition to the their regular classes they are forced to do after school programs.


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Posted by PAUSD parent volunteer
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 14, 2014 at 1:35 pm

@Goal #5,
"Do something about the rampant cheating, and make the students caught cheating accountable, don't just give them a wrist slap."

There are 2 ways to go about this:
1) institute ever more punitive measures and make an ever more authoritarian environment, or
2) foster an environment that is focused first and foremost on learning, where kids would never think of "cheating" because they would be cheating themselves.

I am far more in favor of the latter. The former approach kills intrinsic motivation, whereas the latter fosters lifelong learners. Usually, the latter requires more effort and thought, but I think we have the kind of teachers in this district who are well up to it.


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Posted by Historian
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Jul 14, 2014 at 2:24 pm

The cheating is ongoing because PAUSD secondary schools are too difficult because teachers have a distorted view of student aptitude. Palo Alto is one of the most educated cities in the nation, with nearly every household having at least a 4-year college degree, and some high percentage having a graduate degree. To afford to live in Palo Alto, usually the breadwinner is intelligent and driven. Thus, these intelligent parents pass along their genes. In 1975, I moved to Palo Alto in 4th grade from being in gifted classes in a working class town on the East Bay but felt like a regular student in Palo Alto because of the high intelligence of Palo Alto children. Now, the children are even more intelligent than back then because real estate is so expensive.

There are some extraordinary teachers who understand the stress of college acceptances and they distribute more "A"s or they give extra credit, allow grades to be dropped, allow homework passes or use a "B" grade as a starting point and only give a "C" when the student is failing due to lack of work. Usually the young, new teachers are the super rigorous ones who give very limited (2-4) "A"s and grade too harshly or do not allow redemption because they are young and want to assert their power and think everyone should love their subject. The mature teachers understand the stress and they can teach so the students learn, yet they don't make "A"s and "B"s so difficult to attain that students resort to cheating.

Massive tutoring and cheating is due to rigorous teachers, plain and simple. And who loses? The students who don't have the finances for tutors or parents to help with homework. I know that Paly's principal, Diorio, is not doing anything to decrease the stress for our students. To parents who complain about the insane teachers, she simply tells them to contact the instructional supervisors (who don't care to make changes). And parents fear retaliation by complaining so most keep their mouths shut. Teacher evaluations should be distributed by someone other than the teacher at the end of the school year with a promise that the teacher does not receive the feedback until after grades are distributed in the summer. Students aren't going to be honest if the teacher is collecting the evaluations.


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Posted by school volunteer
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 14, 2014 at 3:28 pm

Historian and PAUSD parent volunteer,

Notice that this thread was switched to student cheating when the topic of teacher, administrator, and institutional accountability came up. I've seen that often on these threads - the English Kerfuffle thread for example - which eventually got to the issues of alignment, and teacher quality issues, died with a switch over to the tampering with PAUSD systems to change grades and how to get the CIA involved. The usual excuse is, we don't have to change anything, students and parents are cheating.

It's not all parents and it's not all students who cheat. Just like it's not all teachers cheating a student out of their time in school. I find it alarming that Mr. Mc Guee is planning after school programs to supplement the school day when it's unclear that the school day is delivering. Forced after-school programs can easily be a crutch to supplement the teaching that is not happening during the school day. I can see early intervention long before high school, but once you get to high school, it is very complicated. Students want choice, time to pursue their interests and mandatory time after school is a real joy kill.


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Posted by school volunteer
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 14, 2014 at 4:01 pm



As any student experiments are considered, a good rule would be to respect student and family time.

Mr. Mc Guee may not know this yet but starting in middle school, homework becomes overwhelming. Some kids and their families respond to that challenge very competitively, while others (irrespective of talent) can get hurt. Adding more work for struggling students is not the solution.


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Posted by Parent
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Jul 14, 2014 at 4:25 pm

The issue of homework loads is an important element of a broader discussion about the level of academic stress that we have created in PAUSD, primarily in middle and high schools.
At the prompting of parents, the district created a Homework Advisory Committee a couple of years ago, comprised of a diverse groups of educators and parents. After immersing themselves into the academic research surrounding what types and amounts of homework are most beneficial at each grade level, they arrived at consensus recommendations. Skelly then went against the committees' recommendation and was only willing to support them as guidelines due to his adherence to a "site based autonomy" ideology. Nevertheless, the recommendations had a favorable impact, although less than would have been the case if the recommendations had been adopted as policies.
This issue raises the important question of whether McGee will move toward a district model where we return to the historic PAUSD approach of greater site based innovation and district level leadership that schools share and adopt best practices. Interestingly, this core value consideration has not been mentioned in the discussion about the new superintendent or in any of his statements to date.
The board likes to speak about PAUSD as a "lighthouse" district, but this miss-guided site autonomy approach is not the practice of true lighthouse districts. I hope that board candidates will speak out about their perspectives on these issues in the fall.


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Posted by Historian
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Jul 14, 2014 at 4:26 pm

A major issue is teacher alignment. ". . . starting in middle school, homework becomes overwhelming." This statement can be true depending upon the teachers that students have. It's up to the counselors to balance the student's schedules so one student doesn't end up with too many challenging teachers or another ends up with too many easy teachers. These children take 6 classes - less than college students - AND they need to spend time on extracurriculars for college applications - AND they need to study for SATs/ACTs. There just isn't enough time in the day for these students to get their sleep.


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Posted by Parent
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Jul 14, 2014 at 5:47 pm

@Historian
I agree with your comments about the very heavy workload that our high schoolers have. It's a lot heavier load than I had attending top high school in this area and leads to counter productive high levels of stress for our kids. That's why the homework committee concluded that it's important for the homework load to be purposeful and balanced. Unfortunately, looking for the counselors to know what homework load imposed by each teacher would be very challenging to track and manage. That's why the committee recommended limits per class, with the exception of honors and AP classes.


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Posted by school volunteer
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 14, 2014 at 6:23 pm

Parent,

The new Superintendent appears to address your point with his comment

"this idea of balance between autonomy and the collection of individual communities in 17 schools – how do you balance that with the idea of a collective community, a district mission and vision?"

More than finding a collective mission and vision, for PAUSD, it's how you get the mission accomplished and how do you get that done when teacher autonomy can override collective policies. If you can't get a teacher to follow a homework policy, then nothing can work.

The only ones who do not have autonomy are students. The song Another brick in the wall comes to mind. They're the little bricks in the wall, and while they want an education, and are among the most motivated students in the country, they probably would agree with "no dark sarcasm in the classroom."

I will be looking to see how student focused the mission and vision is.




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Posted by PAUSD parent volunteer
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 14, 2014 at 6:28 pm

@fourgoalsforMcGee,

I would add another goal. To create a work-life balance track where families with high standards can expect their kids to work hard during the day and get their work done in school, and have the rest of the day for family time, friend time, and the child's chosen extracurriculars. When I was a kid, we didn't have a lot of choices. Today, the kids can take language courses, sports, college classes, high-level music activities, school after-school programs like robotics, programming, and frankly, a zillion self-guided things off the internet that boggle the mind. This is an environment where kids could be starting their own companies if they had the time to futz around with all the resources at their disposal here. I say, let 'em. How much better would it be for junior's college application to have run a real small business in their spare time than another A in AP history?

This isn't for everyone, but I'm guessing the vast majority of those with a project-based mindset would want this.


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Posted by PAUSD Legal
a resident of Downtown North
on Jul 14, 2014 at 6:33 pm

@Snowden
What you are referring to for 1 case in Sacramento?

The Office of Administrative Hearing (OAH) for the State of California calendar shows 3 upcoming items scheduled for PAUSD through September.
Web Link
A hearing calendar is not a listing of all Special Education legal actions PAUSD is involved with.
Since legal fees are high, PAUSD is likely involved with other legal activities, which PAUSD does not disclose to the public.
One indicator that legal activities may be high is from the Palo Alto Online News link above, Under School Documents, "Oct. 1, 2013 notification letter & other information on California Department of Education (CDE) Verification Review of PAUSD Special Education program. SED of CDE cites as reasons for conducing it's current verification review indicators of PAUSD non-compliance from due process hearing orders and results of investigations of complaints to SED. (Complaints to SED are a different process.)

We really don't know the full extent of non disclosed PAUSD legal involvement. Cases scheduled for OAH hearing are not a complete indicator, since most cases do not go to hearing, but are settled before hand. These still require lawyers. In mediation lawyers are not supposed to be in the room, but the District still pays lawyers to tell it what to say in the mediation session.
The District can threaten to file Due Process against families of disabled children. PAUSD knows even the threat of District taking families of disabled children to hearings is enough to scare most families away, and that most families do not want their child to have to go through a hearing.
Districts win most cases against parents because they use attorneys at all times, and can arrange Special Education to be legally stacked against the disabled child from the start. Families do not get attorneys until they know their District wants to sue them, when families have no choice if the District files due process cases against them. Also Districts try to get families to file the cases instead of Districts, because it gives them legal advantages, and they can blame families of disabled children.


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Posted by PAUSD parent volunteer
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 14, 2014 at 6:38 pm

@PAUSD legal,
You paint a pretty accurate picture of what is wrong with our district's mindset.

Another goal for McGee: get us out of here. This shouldn't be a place where this kind of thing even comes up.


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Posted by Experienced Paly Parent
a resident of Duveneck School
on Jul 14, 2014 at 6:57 pm

PAUSD's excellent reputation is based upon its college prep graduation requirements, student achievement (60 National Merit Scholar finalists each year), number of AP Tests taken (US News/World Report rankings), SAT/ACT scores. All this equates to smart children. But also, it's the top 50 students in each graduating class who make PAUSD famous, and those are the ones who are seeking acceptance into elite/Ivy colleges. Why make the regular lanes so rigorous? Just because the majority of our children are more intelligent than the basic American, doesn't mean they all are academic machines who love school. The colleges view the GPAs more highly than SAT scores. Why must it be so difficult that our B students are A students elsewhere? Why can't our high schools be aligned with other public schools? Because they have higher aptitudes it's okay to give them more rigorous requirements, thus inviting more stress? To those parents who want more rigor, their children can take more honors and AP classes.

I am glad Winston didn't allow Paly to participate in the US News rankings. We don't need more people moving here with intentions of 24/7 studying. Our children need more balanced lives.


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Posted by Fact Checker
a resident of Community Center
on Jul 14, 2014 at 8:15 pm

@Editor,

Please remove "PAUSD Legal's" post. There is only one case being heard between now and September for Palo Alto at his given link: case#2014040221.

It's this complete falsification of the facts by one side for their own purposes that make a mockery of these forums. To allow such posts to stand, the Weekly is re-enforcing their belief they can post what they want regardless of whether there is any truth.


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Posted by PAUSD Legal
a resident of Downtown North
on Jul 14, 2014 at 8:50 pm

@Fact Checker
@Fact Checker
The post asked what Snowden was referring to in his/her post, since three dates came up on the OAH calendar on the web site, and provided the link to the web site with the three dates being asked about. This is hardly the work of complete falsification. Posters should be able to ask questions about other posts on this forum.
From your clarification, it looks like the three dates on the calendar are 3 actions related to case 2014040221, as the case # you provided clarifies.
Pre-Hearing Conference
Agency Name : Department of Education - Special Education Division
Case Name : Student Judge Assigned to Hearing : Unassigned
School District : Palo Alto Unified S.D.
Assigned Office : Sacramento (SE) Date : Aug 29, 2014 10:00 AM

Case Number : 2014040221 Hearing Type : Hearing
Agency Name : Department of Education - Special Education Division
Case Name : Student Judge Assigned to Hearing : Unassigned
School District : Palo Alto Unified S.D.
Assigned Office : Sacramento (SE) Date : Sep 10, 2014 9:30 AM

Case Number : 2014040221 Hearing Type : Hearing
Agency Name : Department of Education - Special Education Division
Case Name : Student Judge Assigned to Hearing : Unassigned
School District : Palo Alto Unified S.D.
Assigned Office : Sacramento (SE) Date : Sep 11, 2014 9:30 AM


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Posted by life is simple
a resident of Adobe-Meadows
on Jul 14, 2014 at 8:58 pm

I'd say claiming there were 3 cases when there was only one was falsification not asking questions.

Looking up the other districts mentioned it's quite obvious where the numbers came from. That you were trying to deliberately mislead is also painfully obvious.


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Posted by life is simple
a resident of Adobe-Meadows
on Jul 14, 2014 at 9:01 pm

If a poster supporting the district had made a similar post to yours it would quickly be removed with "[Portion removed for misrepresenting the facts]". I've made this comment before. The bias of the paper still shows.


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Posted by Historian
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Jul 15, 2014 at 12:28 am

@Parent: The high school counselors know darned well who the infamous and unreasonable teachers are. Palo Alto is known for its outspoken residents. If your child has a few of these insane teachers in the same year, it leads to stress and depression for the student and entire family, beyond comprehension - and this is just to keep their heads above water, not to earn As. And the counselors can do nothing to help the student - they can't tell the teacher how to teach. It's no wonder students want to die sometimes or choose drugs and alcohol to soothe the pain.

@Experienced Paly Parent: Between 60-80 National Merit Semi-finalists each year - the majority becoming National Merit Scholars.


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Posted by school volunteer
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 15, 2014 at 10:47 am

Historian,

"If your child has a few of these insane teachers in the same year, it leads to stress and depression for the student and entire family, beyond comprehension"

This could sound like a stretch, but having witnessed academic stress meltdowns in our family and other families, the connection between school and student social emotional well being cannot be denied. However, PAUSD has been successful in disconnecting student stress from academic stress, and I have heard teachers and admins shift the blame to parents. While it's true that some parents are the cause of the stress, it starts with the demands from the school. You can't help but become stressed with non-stop homework, and the amount of competitive pressure that is going on in school. The valve to release the pressure is in the school's hands.

The superintendent's job is school reform, not parent reform. Note that this article includes the first alert to parents, basically kids are not as smart as parents may think. I would challenge the Superintendent and ask what the point of that statement is, given that it follows the topic of after-school programs. He comments "what people think is a child's potential and what a child's potential really is, and it always exceeds what it's assumed to be."

Does it mean that teachers are struggling to handle non-brilliant students. Why not assume everyone is not brilliant and teach to that level during the day, and have the brilliant ones do extra after school. Maybe what is being taught and how it's being taught needs revision, if normal, average students in Palo Alto cannot accomplish in a school day what others do in other parts of the country?

The real issue with school reform is student motivation. Motivation doesn't have to be a skill, it can be a culture, and if you have the right policies, and systems which everyone can count on, and adhere to, you could even have a mediocre teacher and dumb students but the overall system is positive. Currently the culture is you have to survive a competitive system, with autonomous classrooms, and it's up to you to navigate. As a person of average intelligence, I admit my heart skipped a beat when I first saw the Paly Math chart. Neither of us engineers, I was happy both my husband and I could attend the informational meeting, so we had two brains to figure it out.

So it's a matter of luck. Kids know what motivates, what has the potential to derail. By high school, they literally jump up screaming with joy if they see a good teacher on their schedule or groan and console each other if they got one that is excessively hard or complicated. With semester classes, it can be an eternity to have a de-motivating class or situation. The ones who do suffer the most are the regular students because the expectations are so high for the amount of work and material to be covered. Please don't ask them to get their learning "after" school. We are talking about regular lane classes right?


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Posted by life is simple
a resident of Adobe-Meadows
on Jul 15, 2014 at 11:39 am

"Note that this article includes the first alert to parents, basically kids are not as smart as parents may think. "
...
"He comments "what people think is a child's potential and what a child's potential really is, and it always exceeds what it's assumed to be."


Interesting how negative you are. I read it as exactly the opposite. He believes the child exceeds the parents expectations. Read the full quote:

"Part of it is, frankly, a faculty mindset too. Having three adopted children gives me great appreciation of what people think is a child's potential and what a child's potential really is, and it always exceeds what it's assumed to be."

He saying there is nothing holding the child back and teachers should expect the most from children. Not that children aren't as smart as parents may think.


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Posted by school volunteer
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 15, 2014 at 11:48 am

life is simple,

I mis-interpreted it. call me paranoid

Why would these kids with high enough potential have to attend after-school programs?

Separating kids who already face different perceptions from faculty or their parents is de-motivating, even if the programs are optional. Those kids then can't participate in sports, or other activities which could be even more important socially and emotionally.


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Posted by school volunteer
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 15, 2014 at 12:03 pm

My main point is that PAUSD caters to the top 50 students in any given graduating class who bring all the accolades to the district. Everything revolves around that and it's the untouchable. The school day and school year should be enough time to also educate the bottom and middle without having to use tutors and extra help jus to keep up with the top 50.

If there are supports, they should happen during the school day.

and I will add

ideally in the same classroom, it has been done in the past and still happens in some schools. If anyone has to be carved out away from their teacher, it's the ones who don't need the extra help.


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Posted by Crescent Park Dad
a resident of Crescent Park
on Jul 15, 2014 at 1:47 pm

If a student's GPA Is below 2.0, they are not allowed to play (or even attend practices) sports at Paly or Gunn. And the measurements are taken at mid-term, as well as at the end of the semester. So if a student ends up in a after school program, it would seem they won't be allowed to play sports anyway.


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Posted by Historian
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Jul 15, 2014 at 2:05 pm

What parent would complain if the classes are too easy and their student earns all As? The answer would be for their children to take honors and AP classes when they reach 11th grade. APs in PAUSD are no joke. If they want more rigor, a public school is not the place to demand it - there are plenty of private schools around. A public school needs to target the average student, not the top 50, who will perform well anyway.


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Posted by PAUSD parent volunteer
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 15, 2014 at 2:16 pm

I think we can and should educate every child to their full potential, that there isn't just one kind of intelligence, and every child has gifts to give the world. We can do this. Most of that battle is simply choosing to do so and trying.


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Posted by school volunteer
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 15, 2014 at 2:22 pm

Crescent Park Dad,

The GPA sports program requirement is in High School where the percentage of students participating in school teams is not high after 9th grade. The threshold for participating in high school sports teams is not only the GPA but a host of other things. This rolls into the elite mindset problems of PAUSD programs.

In middle school, or elementary - where intervention programs would be most likely to be effective, students should still be able to have access to them during the school day in their classroom.

Intervention programs in High School don't sound fair. If the district has failed to intervene earlier and now would like to invite students to spend their after-school in a remedial classroom, (if I were a normal teenager), I would ask what is the easiest way to get me the hell out of this bind. It's not just sports, there are many other activities that are more motivating.

But, I will trust that such planned programs are fair, and not a way to skip around the learning that may not be happening during the school day. I would still first examine why you can't teach a regular lane class to any student during the school day.


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Posted by Historian
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Jul 15, 2014 at 2:27 pm

@PAUSD parent volunteer: Your statement, "educate every child to their full potential". Then they would have to give extra work to the more capable students instead of forcing the lower end to rise up when they do not have the aptitude to do so. Why do we need to force teenagers to work at an adult level as if they are college students? If they choose to take 10-12 AP classes, it's their choice.


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Posted by Historian
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Jul 15, 2014 at 2:27 pm

@PAUSD parent volunteer: Your statement, "educate every child to their full potential". Then they would have to give extra work to the more capable students instead of forcing the lower end to rise up when they do not have the aptitude to do so. Why do we need to force teenagers to work at an adult level as if they are college students? If they choose to take 10-12 AP classes, it's their choice.


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Posted by school volunteer
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 15, 2014 at 3:14 pm


I've always been wary of the term "full potential." Academic potential only goes so far. While I agree that the tendency is to underestimate the potential of students, you can't then gear an entire system to the academic potential of the highest ranks. And then what? It's not like virtually graduating from high school at 14 is a deal breaker in life. What happens after that? Probably depends, and not so much on your academic maturity but many other traits which develop over the course of time anyway.

We came to this district because of the diversity, and it has been disappointing to see the sifting of kids and competition, which makes the average kids seem like the burden.


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Posted by Dear Superintendent
a resident of Jordan Middle School
on Jul 16, 2014 at 10:42 am

@George Orwell Here is one of the warrants for a Private Investigator paid by PAUSD for May, 2014. There are others in previous months.

May 2014 Warrants
81 81064917 05/23/2014 HITE, ROSS T

PO140523 INVESTIGATIVE SERVICES 010-0000-0-5830-00-0000-7600-313000-099-0000 2,328.90

Sub total: 2,328.90


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Posted by Dear Superintendent
a resident of Jordan Middle School
on Jul 16, 2014 at 10:53 am

PAUSD also paid $46,127.88 May 27, 2014 to the legal firm Dannis Woliver Kelley.

"Our extensive litigation experience has allowed us to effectively represent our clients in U.S. District Court and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit. We have a great deal of experience litigating against attorneys and advocates who regularly represent parents in special education matters in California."


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Posted by Dear Superintendent
a resident of Jordan Middle School
on Jul 16, 2014 at 10:53 am

PAUSD also paid $46,127.88 May 27, 2014 to the legal firm Dannis Woliver Kelley.

"Our extensive litigation experience has allowed us to effectively represent our clients in U.S. District Court and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit. We have a great deal of experience litigating against attorneys and advocates who regularly represent parents in special education matters in California."


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Posted by Palo Verde Parent
a resident of Palo Verde
on Jul 16, 2014 at 11:04 am

I think the private investigators are used to confirm if a student is attending our schools but don't live in Palo Alto and lying about their address. I believe there was an article about this in the paper a few years back.


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