Town Square

Post a New Topic

'Change school calendar,' Stanford lecturer says

Original post made on May 5, 2011

Palo Alto schools will "see the benefit" if they change their academic calendar to end the first semester before the December break, a Stanford University researcher on student stress told an audience at Gunn High School Wednesday night.

Read the full story here Web Link posted Thursday, May 5, 2011, 11:32 AM

Comments (100)

Posted by Pope the Pope?, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 5, 2011 at 7:52 pm

Denise Clark Pope must think she is a pope

preaches about challenging success, and then everything under the sun in the process

"trust me"

"You have to love the child who is before you...."

I think her message tends to pit parents against other parents, or against the schools, since everyone seems to be doing something wrong except her.

Posted by Agree, a resident of Palo Verde
on May 5, 2011 at 8:17 pm

I agree.

Posted by Resident, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 5, 2011 at 10:18 pm

We have helicopter parents, tiger parents and now I am hearing about snowplow parents, you know, the ones that try to move all the difficulties out of their children's lives so that they never learn about stress, never learn how to solve problems and never learn how to fail.

Posted by Michele Dauber, a resident of Barron Park
on May 5, 2011 at 11:00 pm

These comments are pretty mean-spirited and petty. Denise Pope really cares about kids and schools and is trying to help to improve our community, as well as other communities around the country. It takes guts and determination to do what she is doing (as well as a strong grounding in the literature and the facts). We should all count our blessings that Challenge Success is located here at Stanford and that Denise is willing to offer so much of her time and attention to PAUSD.

Her book is also very informative. Her project has shed a lot of light on a subject that has for too long been shrouded in secrecy. Parents whose kids cannot manage the stress of an environment like Palo Alto are often too ashamed to talk about their experiences. They assume (wrongly) that because many people talk about how successful their children are, that if your child is depressed or anxious or cutting class or having a hard time with school that it is because of something wrong with your parenting. But what if it's not only you?

We have to break the silence and the shame that this community often attaches to kids that have different learning styles or cannot manage under the ridiculous homework load imposed by our "excellent" schools. The more parents come out of the closet, so to speak, and share their stories about how their kids struggle, the sooner we can start to organize effectively for change.

Denise is helping to remove the stigma attached to having a child who experiences mental health issues, or anxiety, or stress due to academic pressure. That is an incredibly valuable thing.

Parents have to know that they are not alone. If your child is not doing well, he or she is not the only one. Many parents are afraid to talk about what is really happening with their child because they fear that people will judge them or judge their child.

If only parents knew how many others are experiencing the same issues and problems. For those whose kids are happy and well-adjusted and not struggling with success or self-esteem issues, that is wonderful. But not everyone is so lucky and we have to break the silence so that we can make positive political change. Our children deserve a school system where everyone can thrive socially, emotionally, and academically.

Posted by Another Member of We Can do Better Palo Alto, a resident of Palo Verde School
on May 6, 2011 at 12:26 am

I agree with Michelle, Denise is wonderful, and I am thankful for her book, and for coming to the meeting yesterday. She has opened my eyes, and I know that now I will be a better and more supportive parent, hopefully her involvement in the school will open the eyes of the people who work with our kids too, so they too can learn to create a better and more supportive environment in their classrooms. I do not know how long has she been working with Gunn to improve the school culture for our students, but I could bet that it was after the suicides. Perhaps, if we had her help before we would not had so many suicides. We are all raising our Palo Alto kids kids, not just the parents. We are a community and when a child dies we are all guilty. Ironically today was the second anniversary that our first wonderful child died at the tracks. Thanks Denise for the time you spent last night talking about these issues which might be very difficult for some of us parents. Only when we start changing the pressure cooker and share the difficulties our children are going through, we will change,we will change the Palo Alto Culture. And if you are one of those whose children are doing great ask yourselves are they really? and if they are, please extend a hand to help other people's kids who might not be so lucky. And let's be thankful to the people who really care about our kids.

Posted by parent , a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 6, 2011 at 1:22 am

I am changing my handle from Pope the Pope? so it doesn't sound so petty

What I was trying to say is that for me, "expert" messages get lost when they come from a pulpit. Even more so, if the message is somehow connected to fear about the suicides.

I'm not ungrateful for someone that "really" cares about our kids.

I just happen to think that everyone really cares about our kids, and the suicides are not related to a lack of caring.

Pope is one of hundreds of "experts" and I would say the same about any of them that feels "preachy" to me.

Posted by My frustrated 2 cents, a resident of Greater Miranda
on May 6, 2011 at 5:37 am

We can't "reverse the culture" of a family, and if a family pressures the kids, there is nothing to do about it.

We can't "reverse the culture" of aiming to get into extremely competitive universities. We CAN explain to kids that much of being accepted into Universities boils down to areas they can't control concerning "diverisity", such as gender, color, background in life etc. The kid need to understand this, and accept the roll of dice in their lives.

They also need to understand that there is more than one great university for them, and the best one is likely NOT the "Ivy league or equivalent" one. They need to know that so much of "Ivy League" is hype, and return for the tuition dollar is poor compared to many, many universities. It is a rare kid who is aiming for a PhD in something from a prestigious university...ok, fine, that may be the kid who needs the prestigious undergraduate program. The rest? Hardly...

So, getting alongside all the above, what ARE the areas a School District can control? Calendar. Limiting the culture of busy work assignments, especially in the honor and AP classes. Informational asssemblies re: time management, stress management. Options other than "everyone has to go to college or they are a failure" thinking ( which, as much as I love Skelly, this "everyone has to go to college" attitude is NOT helpful to some kids who really and truly will never be able to handle any college).

So, get to it! Change the calendar. Let kids rest. Give them a REAL break after the 1st semester, I don't care when it is, whether at Winter break or in January..whatever!! Just do it! Let them recharge for 2 weeks with nothing over their heads! These guys, ( a lot of them anyway) haul their behinds with little sleep, little down time, for 5 months..good grief, just give them a rest! Do it for a year, and see what we think!

Change the times if you want. I don't care. I think it is silly, given that whether we start them at 8 or at 9, they will stay up as late as they can...they will just shift to even later. Oh well. But, heck, if you really want to, go ahead. It will make it rough for those with after school sports/clubs/activities to finish that, gt home for homework and dinner, but I don't care. Just try it! If if fails, so what? Do it for a year and see what happens.

It isn't like the apocolypse if we try something and we don't like it!

We act like we are so inflexible, we simply CAN'T try something different from what we are used to... what are we teaching the kids about life? Roll with it, adapt, experiment, enjoy the ride, and if we don't like the ride we're on, ok, we'll find another one. Big deal!

Just my 2 cents.

Oh, and get rid of silly work for honors and AP kids. Ok, the classes not in Honors or AP, fine..cut out magazine projects out of papier mache...etc. I get that, the kids in regular classes perhaps need to keep working at this level ( and i know for a fact many still do). But, for goodness sakes, especially at the college level AP classes, kids at that level do NOT need busy work!

Posted by even more frustrated, a resident of Palo Alto High School
on May 6, 2011 at 8:00 am

Reality check--the calendar that is on the table shifts school two weeks earlier into August and ends it in May.

Pope, whether you love her or hate her, did not say this kind of change would help anybody.

Finals can happen before break within our traditional late Aug to second week of June calendar--that's what happens in most private schools around here. If finals before break were really the issue, that's what we'd be talking about, moving finals, which doesn't require calendar change for every student in the district (elementary and middle school kids).

No, the folks insisting that drastic calendar change is needed to move finals seem to have a different agenda--match the school calendar to the AP testing schedule, and end school as soon as possible after AP tests are completed in May. And all the rest of this is a smokescreen.

This should not be driving this discussion. Folks who want pre break finals, fine, you can have them within the context of a traditional late August start--I'd really question those who say you can't and find out what their real agenda is.

Posted by everybodyisthesame, a resident of Terman Middle School
on May 6, 2011 at 8:29 am

I feel silly watching those happening here. In asian whether it is in Hong Kong or Japan or China,students bear much much more pressure and less supporting system from school only receive pressure, and yet they complain much less than people in here. Is that strange,because we are people,everybody is the same,they should feel the same way as we do, but look at them, they get good education and we ship our jobs to them, because they are working hard for the same job for less money,and we are still debating this useless staff.Now we are in a global economy,we are not only competing with local students we are competing with all the talents from other countries as well.I really feel petty for our students.

Posted by palo alto mom, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on May 6, 2011 at 8:31 am

Over and over again, at Gunn and elsewhere, we hear, 'It's not about the learning, it's about the grades.' We need to reverse that culture," she said - Not only is it all about the grades, its all about the AP classes. Our whole calendar, from school start dates to scheduling Proms, revolves around AP testing. As mentioned above, lots of private schools manage to start at the end of August and complete finals before Winter Break. They also get out before we do and don't have as many random holidays.

The culture at both Paly and Gunn is college at all costs. There really are kids who should not got to college - even here in Palo Alto. Heading anywhere but a four year college is viewed as a failure, unless you have financial issues (which BTW, is perfectly acceptable, even to the kids). If you have financial issues, its ok to go to Foothill. What is NOT ok, is heading right to work, becoming a hairdresser, mechanic or electrician. Even if you can make more money that way. Not only is in unacceptable not to attend college, our high schools don't prepare a student for anything but more studying.

Posted by pamom, a resident of Barron Park
on May 6, 2011 at 8:34 am

@2 cents Your comment "Oh, and get rid of silly work for honors and AP kids. Ok, the classes not in Honors or AP, fine..cut out magazine projects out of papier mache...etc. " suggests this is OK for regular classes, but I disagree. This emphasis on project learning and busy work most students don't like it! My older child took AP History and loved it, but my younger child didn't want to do all that work required and took regular History (really this shouldn't be viewed as "lower" because it is just the normal class to take), and it was dumbed down with all the silly projects, paste and paint, as if it were grade school and it was a waste of time.

On Pope and Challenge Success may be missing the elephant in the room: the universities admission process. The expectations that students receive top grades, top SAT scores, and excel in leadership activities, and very important -- community service -- all of these demanding expectations are what drives students to push themselves too hard. The message (from Pope) seems to be to try to tell parents slow your students down, don't let them work so hard! Yes, there are problems with parents who push their kids too hard, but the bigger problems are with the admissions process itself. It's the universities who are setting the bar so high that is driving all this overloading of work and expectations on our students.

Change the admission process!

Posted by everybodyisthesame, a resident of Terman Middle School
on May 6, 2011 at 8:47 am

>"Change the admission process!"

While they are at it, ship our jobs back and give it back to our local less educated students.

Posted by Another Member of We can Do Better Palo Alto, a resident of Barron Park
on May 6, 2011 at 9:12 am

Why not educate them, instead of just teaching them to do good at testing? which sometimes involved cheating; this is what Pope said in at the meeting too (may be she used other words, and I have also read it on other books. This way our kids would be successful when they enter the workforce too, and they won't just be good at showing they are good at academics and memorizing. It is a shame that America the country of innovation has to sent their work to other countries because they feel that our high schools graduate cannot do it right.

Posted by everybodyisthesame, a resident of Terman Middle School
on May 6, 2011 at 9:22 am

Those countries are just teaching their kids knowledge,and sometimes go to the depth that we can not imagine and is very unnecessay. But I can recall it is the USA where the first car was invented,but look who gets it done better and make a huge money out of it,it is Japan.

Posted by Another Member of We Can Do Better Palo Alto, a resident of Palo Verde School
on May 6, 2011 at 9:40 am

Exactly that is what our kids need to be taught Knowledge not mental skills; which is what I have heard from many Gunn students, that they just memorizing a lot of material for all the testing but special for AP exams because they want to get the best grade so they can apply to best universities, and then it is out the window.

Posted by everybodyisthesame, a resident of Terman Middle School
on May 6, 2011 at 9:43 am

They were tested so rigorously sometimes even one point can decide their funture as whether to go to college or to return to do labor for the factory, look now Seoul has Samsung,Janpan has Toyota,China owns US massive Debts,we are afraid they steal our jobs,it is actually their teaching system that we need to be afraid and be aware of.

Posted by everybodyisthesame, a resident of Terman Middle School
on May 6, 2011 at 9:54 am

Yes,they need to memorize everything from Math and Physics Formular English words to ancient poems(very hard,a complete waste of time,because ancient language is very difficult, not as the same as modern language), they can not say it is useless,they just memorize it. Now, it turns out,on the massive scale, they raise their kids to fit into society well.

Posted by Accentuate Gunn's Positive, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 6, 2011 at 10:25 am

Whenever I read about Challenge Success' work I hear "non-caring schools," "peer pressure" and "disengagement" at school. Why does Challenge Success focus on the negatives and not highlight the positives?

Gosh, "70 percent of Gunn students said there's at least one adult on campus they felt comfortable going to with a problem." In my book, that number is astoundingly high for a public high school with 2,000 very diverse students.

PAUSD's recent comprehensive Developmental Assets survey shows that Gunn rates better than Santa Clara County high schools overall on measures like a caring school climate, positive peer relationships (78% v. 70%) and engagement at school (74% v. 66%). Better than Paly too.

Are we at 100%? No. But we are better than most of our neighbors and that is something to be proud of. There is room to improve to be sure, but we shouldn't ignore our successes and be persuaded that the sky is falling when an outside group, which always seems to look at the glass as half full, comes to our campus to reprimand us.

Gunn is a large, great high school and has lots to beam about.

No school would be perfect on any of these measures BTW. That's called adolescence.

Posted by Michele Dauber, a resident of Barron Park
on May 6, 2011 at 10:26 am


Thank you for taking out the ad hominem and focusing on the issue. So let me say that I agree with your comment about parent-blaming on substance. I think there is too much in general of the "love your child unconditionally" stuff in all of these various talks. I think that all parents -- unless they have something wrong with them of course -- love their child unconditionally. And, if they have something wrong with them, they probably aren't at this lecture, and if they are telling them from the lectern won't matter.

I also agree that the "love your kids" stuff tends to perpetuate the pernicious myth that parents who have lost their child to suicide just didn't love their child enough, and that it is their fault. So, if I was giving a presentation like this, I would personally focus not on telling parents to "love their kids" but on goals like these:

Short term:

(1) Educate yourselves about the college process and read "Colleges that Change Lives." Change your expectations of success. Many of us were admitted to elite schools 30 years ago and have no idea how much the criteria has changed. I went to University of Illinois at Chicago, which had open enrollment when I attended, so I wouldn't know, but Ken went to Yale and says that there is no way he could have been admitted under today's standards. The change since parents of today's seniors applied is astounding. Denise did discuss that, and I think that is a very important part of parent and student education.

Denise actually spent very little time on the "love your child" thing, and a lot on the above. I think any mention of it hits a nerve for people because they feel that they are being blamed individually for a systemic social problem. If your child is unhappy or not doing well it is not because you didn't love them. It is because they are in a system that is competitive, unconnected, overly achievement-focused, unnecessarily stressful, and as my daughter put it in her college essay "hostile to learning." We need to focus on structure and assume that we all love our kids and the absence of love is not the problem.

The problem is that school reform is a middle and long term goal. It can't happen fast enough to help your children if they are already in high school. I think that's why Denise focuses on "what you can do," which mostly is about parenting and family stuff.

Middle term goals:

(1) Organize to change the schools. Your child spends 71% of his or her waking hours in school and homework, according to the figures presented by Denise. Your ability to help your child depends on your ability to change what is happening in those hours, not just the "PDF" (playtime, downtime, family time) she discussed. We need more democratic accountability. Our school officials rise and fall on test scores, and achievement. The incentives are wrong and we need to use our democratic process to make change.

(2) Relatedly, organize to change the reliance on the College Board in driving our curriculum from the bottom to the top. The College Board is a money-making corporation located in New Jersey that has suddenly grabbed control of our entire high school curriculum. It is driving everything from the content of our courses, to teacher assignments, to piles of meaningless facts that must be memorized, to our calendar (I am in favor of the change to pre-break finals but I am not naive about the role of APs in the change). The role of this outside organization in standardizing our children's educational experience should be seriously re-examined at some point. If you want to question the role of "outside organizations," I would look to the College Board not Challenge Success.

Long term utopia:

(1) Organize to change the college admissions process. There are 3,000 colleges. This is a big project. Not that it isn't important but it won't happen quickly, certainly not quickly enough to help your children. But if you stay involved after your own children are out of school you could help to change it for others in the pipeline.

(2) Organize to open a third high school or a school within a school or a charter school using a Challenge Success model where both academic excellence and connectedness are equally high priorities. Many families, ours included, see the benefits of a small school (~300-400 kids). There is no reason we cannot have that option in Palo Alto given that there is sufficient demand. Again, that is a longer term goal. It could have happened when we had a high school task force but Kevin took that off the task-force agenda so they were not allowed to consider the option of reopening Cubberly as a third alternative smaller school. That is too bad because a lot of the issues that are causing controversy now might have been addressed by that. We have no idea what would happen in an environment of true consumer choice. Perhaps if people were allowed to vote with their feet it would be clear that either the majority or a large minority of parents and students are dissatisfied with the current offerings.

Challenge Success is doing the best they can given that Gunn has not signed up to be a Challenge Success school, does not actively participate in Challenge Success's school reform program, does not implement the Challenge Success strategies for fostering a caring school climate, and only uses Denise for lectures on parent education. Don't blame Denise Pope for the fact that PAUSD has failed to really implement her program. If you are a Gunn parent, send Katya Villalobos an email ( requesting that Gunn become a Challenge Success school and implement the reforms rather than just have token speeches and presentations.

Posted by everybodyisthesame, a resident of Terman Middle School
on May 6, 2011 at 10:41 am

If we can not bring jobs back (low or high level), everything is impossible, there will always be competition, if our school fall behind then kids from others schools other countries will take over,there is no doubt about it, This year UC Berkely has 32% outof state foreign students,think about this...

Posted by skeptic, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 6, 2011 at 11:04 am

I'm feeling pretty cynical about Challenge Success, after hearing DCP speak on several occasions. While it is clear she cares about kids, they perceive her as hypocritical and giving a mixed message. She wants them to forego striving for the Ivy League and head for the other 200 selective schools instead. But she commands credibility because of her Stanford status. She actively goes after Gunn with her list of solutions which she uses for all schools but in the same speech says she is not in favor of a one-size-fits-all solution. The message is mixed up again. We are able to think for ourselves, another of her messages which she is not heeding.

Posted by anonymous, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on May 6, 2011 at 11:10 am

I was interested reading this thread that someone mentioned that if a different calendar could be tried, really it could be changed back if necessary, so why NOT give an innovative calendar a try...and I got to thinking...perhaps the REAL issue is approval from the teacher's union?
I also think the world of high school is revolving WAY too much around AP's/College Board - as was posted, a very profitable monopoly. Tricky what can be done about that (return to learning, what a concept!), but well worth pondering.
Yes, university admissions are really something nowadays...

Posted by skeptic, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 6, 2011 at 11:18 am

These colleges are marketing to us and we are revolving our families around their sales pitches. If you don't smoke, you won't be cool: if you don't attend these colleges, you loose. Tobacco company: higher education. Health problems: health problems.

Posted by Resident, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 6, 2011 at 11:28 am

I think it is worth pointing out that California colleges, particularly UCs are not putting the education of Californian students as a top priority. They (UC Berkeley, for example) are accepting more out of State and out of country applicants because they get more money from them.

This means that no matter how good a Californian student may be, they are competing with out of state and foreign students for places at our universities.

The problem of college acceptance is very big. The competition is very high. Nearly all our students are worthy of a place at UC, but the reality is that they won't get it because the UCs cannot offer all the Gunn or Paly students with the right qualifications a place because they have to limit and spread their acceptances. There is something fundamentally wrong with a system that means a well qualified Palo Alto student won't be offered a place whereby a less qualified student from a myriad of Bay Area high schools will. There is nothing wrong with these students getting places in our UCs, but what is wrong is that Palo Alto students are not getting into UCs when out of state and foreign students are because of funding.

This is what happens when the state education funding is broken. Now the latest proposal is to cut 20 days from our schools' calendar to save money. That means that either our students are going to learn less or have to cram more studies into less time.

At least if we get away with STAR Tests and various other timewasting uses of our 180 days at school (could be 160) and start making each day in school educational and academic, we might get something back. But we should be increasing the number of school days not decreasing them.

Of course foreign taught students are doing well. They are not in a broken system. The answer is not to pile on higher expectations for our students but to completely overhaul the broken system of education and college acceptance.

Posted by everybodyisthesame, a resident of Terman Middle School
on May 6, 2011 at 11:37 am

What is wrong with foreign born students get into UC and IVY?Can you believe a majority of those students have 2400 full score on SAT under their teaching system in a foreign environment and with their pockets of money, you can imagine...

Posted by parent , a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 6, 2011 at 11:47 am


I'm not blaming Denise Pope for anything, I'm making the observation that her message of challenging success gets lost when she expands it to all sorts of levels that nobody has a monopoly or authority on... the "love your kids" with the added tone of "you guys don't get it, I know better"

even more annoying though is to hear that "if only" our schools would take her advice and do everything that Challenge Success recommends, the suicides could have been averted, or "if we don't" take her advice, booh! something bad is going to happen.

As a medical patient, I do not take the recommendation of 1 doctor, and I do not work with 1 expert. I am also a skeptic when someone is zealous and preachy about their particular advice, their own message. Pope's research is not exactly rocket science, but even if it was, I would not elevate her to any larger status than the next expert.

If I would email Villalobos, I would say.

MS. Villalobos,
Thank you for not signing up with 1 expert, lecturing you and all of us, on what to do. Thank you for listening to all of the many and various voices that are in our schools, parents, teachers, students. I would never fault you for having taken, or not taken Pope's "to do" list. I hope you will not be sidetracked by one expert or another, but take everyone's good intentions and advice in good measure. I would rather you keep working together with the entire community, than following the blueprint and prescription of 1 organization or expert.

I do appreciate Pope's contributions, and she's right about specific things she has researched about, but it's a far far far stretch from being able to prescribe.

Posted by everybodyisthesame, a resident of Terman Middle School
on May 6, 2011 at 11:58 am


Well said.

Posted by HMB, a resident of another community
on May 6, 2011 at 12:13 pm

AP is such a racket! I hate that kids who want to go to a top school, or even one of the "lesser" UCs, have to load up on these courses to prove they are taking a demanding program but, more important, get the weighted grades to improve their GPAs. Although some teachers do a good job with AP classes, most just force kids to memorize with flash cards and teach to the test. Almost NO critical thinking involved. My older son and his friends got together and formed study groups to take AP tests for courses that weren't offered at their school -- I thought they were nuts to do that, but it just goes to show you don't need a teacher for these courses. (My son got 4s and 5s in the 19 AP tests he took, except for one of the physics tests, where he got a 2.) I was really pissed off at how much that cost, so I put my foot down with my other son. In fact, once I learned that the district COULD NOT mandate your child taking the test if you were in an AP course and could not deny the weighted grade, we looked at what kind of credit the schools he was interested in would give for AP classes, and discovered that many schools DO NOT offer credit for many AP courses, or credit only for 4 or 5 (when 3 is passing -- but no credit!). We right away were able to identify some AP tests that it would not be worth the cash for my son to take -- if it wasn't going to get him any credit, but he already got the advantage of the weighted grade, what's the point? AP is such a racket -- it disgusts me! High school curriculum and college admissions needs serious reform. It is such a stupid game right now, and I hate the way we play it. My older son is thriving at one of those "colleges that change lives" and my younger one, who caused a lot of consternation at school because he applied to "only" five schools, is headed to a UC. I am so glad we are done with the high school rat race!

Posted by skeptic, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 6, 2011 at 12:20 pm

[Post removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]

Posted by everybodyisthesame, a resident of Terman Middle School
on May 6, 2011 at 12:25 pm


You need to thank Gunn,because your son is thriving in IVY,I have a friend in mountain view los altos high school district,her kid was the highest ranked in their school then,when in graduation celemony she could not sit on the chair, every ten minutes she was called to get award),she got into Ivy,guess what because her high school is not at the same level as Gunn, now she is behind,has problems.

Posted by not again, a resident of Crescent Park
on May 6, 2011 at 12:55 pm

Just separate out the issues!
Deal with ending the first semester independently from an earlier start in August and you can get this approved. Taking 2 weeks away from everyone in August is just wrong.

Posted by Full disclosure, please, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 6, 2011 at 1:51 pm

[Post removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]

Posted by parent, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 6, 2011 at 1:52 pm

The cheating statistics presented were national. It's a problem everywhere including at Stanford. Results from too much pressure to get the grade. Unfortunately, most kids see it as a means to an end and not as an ethical issue. Dr. Pope doesn't preach. She presents research and let's schools and parents decide what to do. More importantly she advises parents to get over the issue of feeling bad when they can't say their child is going to an "elite" school. In regards to every parent loves their child unconditionally, one student on the panel said that one of his best friends was kicked out of his house for several days because he came out of the closet. That's not unconditional love. Also, you may love your child unconditionally but your child may not perceive that when you tell them you are disappointed in their performance even when they have tried their hardest.

Posted by Darren Neuman, a resident of Community Center
on May 6, 2011 at 3:47 pm

I sat through the entire lecture, and I came away with a very different view than most of the posting's here: The kids presenting were very bright, articulate, and had very clear opinions that were well-thought out. Frankly, I think they answered some questions much better than the panel. Bravo!

Now, if you look at the kids as actually being bright, intelligent kids, listen to their message: (almost verbatim)

- Please, please give us a break over holiday. Please change the schedule
- Junior Year is REALLY stressful. It is a huge amount of work."

They spoke well, they made their point, they know what they are talking about. We as a community should listen.

The district asks the kids to be flexible, resilient; perhaps it is time for the district to try the same. Go to a new calendar, move finals before break. So what if one semester is longer than another - just move that content into the next semester. Try it. Be flexible.

Thanks to the kids for presenting their view.

Posted by Darren Neuman, a resident of Community Center
on May 6, 2011 at 4:12 pm

@everybodyisthesame -

You write: "if our school fall behind then kids from others schools other countries will take over,there is no doubt about it"

It appears from your posts that you believe the kids and panel presenting are looking to lower academic standards. I came away with a very different message: eliminating busy work, changing the calendar, lowering stress will INCREASE academic performance. There is plenty of research and practical evidence to this idea. It is not rocket science.

We need to move education forward through innovative changes, not through rote memorization and massive labor. Look around at Silicon Valley - this place did not materialize out of working mindlessly harder, but rather by working much, much smarter.

It seemed to me that the presentation I saw made a good deal of sense to improve the academic standing of our kids. Nobody had the goal to lower academic performance.

Did you actually attend this presentation?


Posted by Glad Darren was there!, a resident of Downtown North
on May 6, 2011 at 5:13 pm

I missed this particular session with Denise, but I'm so glad Darren was there! I am very familiar with her work - and increasing student engagement and passion for learning has always been at the heart of her work, initial and subsequent research, and recommendations. Glad that her message came through at least for some of the attendees...

Darren - thank you for listening to the students and advocating for their voices here. Thank you for sharing your perspective as well.

Posted by Completely Different Take, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 6, 2011 at 5:14 pm


The PAUSD student surveys show a different picture than that presented by the 4 students the other night. 4 out of every 5 PAUSD high school students do not want school to start earlier in August. While a large majority like the idea of pre-break finals, about 2/3rds oppose it if it means an earlier August start.

Web Link

Also, you mention research that supports the idea that a change in the calendar will lower stress and INCREASE academic performance.


Both PAUSD and Challenge Success have both spoken out on your first point (calendar and stress) saying that there is no solid research on that point.

Web Link (Pope on pre-break finals: "There hasn't been hard core research where you have a control group, do follow-up and check stress levels. That hasn't happened")

Web Link (PAUSD: "there is no empirical research that investigated the relationship between stress and pre-break finals").

As to calendar and heightened academic performance, I don't recall PAUSD mentioning this as a rationale for pre-break finals either.

In PA Online forum posts last Fall, there was a memorable discussion about how brain researchers established long ago that breaks enhance learning.

From the February PA Online thread:

UCLA Psychology Professor Bjork : "Bjork called the study - break - study pattern 'interleaving.' Put that word into Google and what pops up is a study psychologists call 'classic' and 'extremely influential' by Shea and Morgan (1979) (I think cited in one of Bjork's slides) testing a 10 DAY break. After 10 days, 'participants who had practiced under interleaved conditions performed far better than the blocked practice participants ... who appeared to have learned virtually nothing.'"

Posted by Darren Neuman, a resident of Community Center
on May 6, 2011 at 5:28 pm


I never mentioned moving the calendar earlier in August, so I agree with you (and the kids), I don't like an earlier August start.

Research does show that performance degrades with stress. It is obvious. I can look at my own work, and I know it degrades when a family member is seriously ill, or there is a death in the family, or even minor stressors. I find it hard to believe kids are somehow immune to this.

The kids simply said that Junior year is really a lot of stress. It's hard to argue with that.

Posted by everybodyisthesame, a resident of Terman Middle School
on May 6, 2011 at 5:36 pm

[Post removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]

Posted by parent, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 6, 2011 at 5:45 pm


The Juniors are expressing their point of view, well taken, but they are not the entire district.

The appeal from Pope to change the calendar is consistent with stress specific to those grade levels, college application and AP related issues that have little or no relevance to the rest of the families in the district.

kids frying in non-air conditioned rooms in practically July, working parents scrambling for child care for practically May, grandmas around the world called with the news to cancel August long days of summer plans, and kids that will soon leave for college taking FInals during what is actually the holiday season..... ironic that we are advised to challenge success but to prioritize school calendar above everything else.

Posted by Darren Neuman, a resident of Community Center
on May 6, 2011 at 5:46 pm


I am at a high tech company, and I see people from all around the world, (Asia, Western & Eastern Europe, Africa & America). It is very hard to see anything other than this: Silicon Valley hires the smartest from everywhere. I don't necessarily attribute this to the school system where these people came from. They are all very very bright. So were the kids last night. Well spoken, intelligent, hard working. They can get a job anywhere.

I simply don't buy your logic that Silicon Valley is entirely a product of foreign schools, or of any particular race. It is a product of brilliant people; regardless of where they are from.

I would be happy to meet and discuss this further if you like.

Posted by parent, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 6, 2011 at 5:53 pm


I just noticed you also may not favor early August start, that is exactly what is on the table.

Instead of "CHange calendar" this headline may as well read,

Kiss long days of summer in August goodbye

Posted by Darren Neuman, a resident of Community Center
on May 6, 2011 at 5:59 pm


I am not really sure I like what is on the table; I think we are likely in agreement on that. The proposals to move finals earlier don't rest absolute on the premise of changing the start/end dates for school.

There are a few other options out there; the point I was mainly making is that it is clear that the students (Soph, Junior & Senior) all would prefer finals before break. We should be able to find an option which meets their needs.


Posted by a Paly parent, a resident of Palo Alto High School
on May 6, 2011 at 6:01 pm

The reason we should not just change the calendar is that MANY, including my family, have work commitments or set vacations that cannot be changed. Look at the various forums and listen to the community comments at the school board meetings. There is a real cost to changing the school calendar. It is incredibly annoying to have this fact denied or minimized by people who can't possibly know anything about which they are denying, which is how important that week or two in August is to their family. So please accept that this change will adversely affect a number of families.
It seems obvious that study free winter break is a great idea--it is! I'm all for it--in isolation! But it can't be enacted in isolation. It has a number of costs (such as a horrifying December for seniors) that makes its net benefit uncertain at best. That is why it is so much better to try a year of pre-break finals with the SAME school start date as now. We will learn much about how well it works without incurring the certain costs. There are a number of ideas on how to do this, including my idea of having pre-break finals for year-long courses and January finals for the 1 or 2 semester-long courses students take.

Posted by Completely Different Take, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 6, 2011 at 6:04 pm


Moving finals doesn't relieve the stress, it just moves it to December which for many (especially athletes, performing art students and seniors applying to college) is an extremely stressful month already. January is much slower for students = more time to do everything out = less stressful.

Here are some other data points to consider before you conclude whether a winter break followed 3 weeks later by finals is more stressful for students than squishing it all into 3 weeks in December(just posted on the other calendar thread too):

PAUSD asked students how much school work they did last winter break and it wasn't much: 4 hours was the mid-point (half did less, half more) with 58% doing no more than that, 81% no more than 8 hours and 88% no more than 12 hours. That is over 16 days.

The district did not ask students whether they preferred having the break for that work or minded it, but when asked to select the one thing that students disliked most about pre-break finals 37% said they disliked that pre-break finals didn't give students an opportunity to catch up.

50% disliked more that pre-break finals conflicted with college application deadlines.

If you take away over 2 weeks of free days to get pre-break finals, you are taking away days students can use to work on college aps and/or catch up. Can anyone explain to me how that makes sense?

Posted by Resident, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 6, 2011 at 6:38 pm

I have no doubt about the sincerity of the students at the meeting. I believe they feel stressed. That is however the nature of teenagers. I understand that they feel stressed and would like the stress to disappear. They have been told by adults they trust that somehow they need to get rid of stress in their lives and that by having a real break they will have less stress.

To begin with, they have no idea if the reality of prebreak finals would relieve stress. They think that a stress free break sounds wonderful - 2 weeks of no schoolwork means that they would magically have a stress free start to the second semester.

Unfortunately, the reality is that teens, no matter how sincere they are, are just teens. They are still immature and although they sound sincere, make good arguments (which they may have been spoonfed) they are still immature, vulnerable and gullible. They like hearing about how their stress can be relieved instead of learning how to deal with the stresses in their lives. For the record, there are a lot more stresses in an average teen's life other than schoolwork. Family relationships, boy/girl issues, pms, zits, money, chores, cleaning rooms, all cause stresses for teens. Schoolwork reductions will not reduce these other stresses. Life is full of stress and learning how to deal with stress is part of growing up.

Giving teens 2 weeks to spend sleeping til noon, playing video games and hanging out because they are bored, is not giving them a complete break. Taking away the rigors of an average schoolweek with all the school and outside pressures is a complete break, if they feel they want to study then it is because it is inherent to them to panic. Doing away with projects, busy work, and other expectations during breaks is a much better method of giving the majority a true break.

Posted by Maeve Grogan, a resident of Community Center
on May 7, 2011 at 1:21 am

Dear Resident & PAUSD Community,

I have a few questions. The first is for Resident, the second for the PAUSD community.

Question 1: Do you personally know the students who spoke and did you discuss their motivations with them? If you know them, in your opinion, are those young adults who stood up in front of a large crowd (prepared a presentation, and spoke about what they believe is a significant source of stress in their lives) taking specific action to reduce their stress or are they being manipulated? (in all fairness to Resident, there is a large amount of whining going on in a teens life, but it is our job as parents to sift through it and find the important issues under the hubris)

Question 2: How are complaints and stress handled in our homes? Do we as parents and educators take the time needed to give complete attention to our young adults, not just to their assurances that everything is fine for fear of appearing less than, but equally to their complaints and questions. How was listening modeled by your parents, did anyone listen to/ignore your complaints/questions? What did that feel like? Is it the same in your home, or different?

My opinion is that there is no one right answer for anyone to question #2. It's just an exploration of how we arrive at our own parenting styles. Often we parent as we were parented and it is sometimes an unconscious patterned reflex. It is a thankless job to try to make everyone happy, as everyone speaks from their own different life experiences.

I would like to see no start date change, and finals before break because I believe this little experiment might just reduce some of the student's stress. Of course it won't reduce everyones and for those who love to swim in stress to build resiliency, I'm sure this will cause even more stress, so in a strange way, they might just be happier. (this is a JOKE, a tool used to break tension) I think that most of us do try to hear our children, I'm just suggesting that sometimes it's easier to hear what we want or are preconditioned to hear than listen to what is actually being said. If the calendar change is not effective, then we can change it back. Or try something else. We have the power and the world will not end if we make a mistake or two. There will just be a whole bunch of new grumpy people ...not too different from today :-)

Posted by Huh?, a resident of College Terrace
on May 7, 2011 at 7:08 am

Why has this gotten so twisted around? Because the proposed solution is, in the words of a parent at a previous board meeting, a sledge hammer to crack a nut. Why not try moving finals for a few classes to before break without changing the start date? It's not like teachers are using the same final every year. Can't they just give a revised exam in December and a smaller exam for new material in January? I doubt it would require a major revision to the curriculum.... In fact, teachers could use the same curriculum (same length semesters) and just change a few tests.

Posted by Resident, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 7, 2011 at 9:14 am


Answer to Question 1. You answered it in your brackets. Sorting through teens whines is indeed a very difficult job for parents and other adults they come into contact with. As I stated, I respect the opinions and the sincerity, I listen and thoughtfully gave my opinion as a parent of teens and as a former teen myself.

Answer to Question 2. As already stated, I am a former teen who was never listened to and my needs were never considered. In some ways that is very good as I remember I would have dropped out of school and got a job in the local grocery store if I had my own way. However, because of the poor parenting I received in other areas, I am determined not to make the same mistakes as my parents and actually listen to my teens and consider my teens needs but not all their wishes.

My kids are listened to, but are reluctant to talk so I wait patiently until they are ready. I let them make their own decisions as far as possible, but don't let them think the grass is always greener. I let them make some mistakes and suffer the consequences, sort out their own problems as far as they can and teach them to be independent. They do appear to have a philosphy that they deserve to live a stress free life and expect that one day when they are adults they will be happier and stress free. They imagine that one day all problems such as family interdynamics, stuff going wrong, and the things that cause stress in my life (stuck in traffic, car trouble, kid trouble) will not happen in theirs. They are well adjusted teenaged people with as yet few experiences in life. They need the adults in their lives to help them think through the problems and stresses they encounter.

My teenage years were unhappy because of poor parenting. I am not following my parents mistakes, although I will admit that I have made a few different ones of my own. Learning through the mistakes of others is just as important as learning through one's own mistakes.

As for the teens who spoke at the meeting. No, I don't know them. But, I do know that if I had spoken at a meeting in my teen years, I would now be laughing at my immaturity and naivity.

Posted by Michele Dauber, a resident of Barron Park
on May 7, 2011 at 9:27 am

I was actually there at the meeting and all three of those kids were the farthest thing from naive or immature. They were unbelievably mature, articulate and clear. You can disagree on the merits but name calling, patronizing, and dismissing them based on youth is a fruitless pursuit, something you would know had you been there.

It was totally obvious to me that the kids on that panel would not be sleeping until noon and playing video games if he had a break. Of course, if they did, what's it to you? They're kids. But it is more likely that the senior anyway would read War and Peace (in the original Russian), the junior might hang out with her friends, start to research colleges, and split the time between her two households, and the sophomore might be singing in choir. They all had activities and interests they felt they could not indulge due to the pressure of studying for finals over break.

Your comments on this particular topic would be better informed had you been there rather than just relying on gross generalizations about teens.

Posted by Resident, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 7, 2011 at 9:30 am

Michelle, fair comment.

Not all teens are like that though :)

Posted by Michele Dauber, a resident of Barron Park
on May 7, 2011 at 9:34 am


Can't disagree there...some of mine were and some weren't. I wasn't. Ken probably was. :)

Posted by Amy, a resident of Community Center
on May 7, 2011 at 11:17 am

I know how unpopular it is to bring Stanford into the conversation, but has anybody considered how hard this will be on Stanford families? I don't mean fancy vacations, I mean that there are serious childcare issues with this new calendar. Stanford is a huge employer and there is no getting around the Stanford spring cycle. Stanford ends in the middle of June. This new calendar just adds to the number of families who will be forced to out the or little kids in all day programs - that's very hard on the littlest kids. For what? This is crazy

Posted by Maeve Grogan, a resident of Community Center
on May 7, 2011 at 12:02 pm

Dear Resident,

I don't have much time this morning but wanted to thank you for your post. I do understand what you are saying and chuckled when you mentioned that the kids want a stress free life, you don't know how many adults I know who are still in that mindset at times, myself included. I also agree that stress free is not reality. I think healthy stress adds a vital element to life. It is tricky figuring out what is a healthy stress level for other people though. Some people can finish a project over a few weeks and others are "optimal' with last minute adrenalin pumping through them. I have friends who are both types. I think each person has a different threshold and that is where good relating skills are important, so each person, or student can communicate to the best of their maturity how stress affects them. I think some of the students will thrive with two weeks off and some will want to get ahead on their next round of APs. The school administration gets the fun task of figuring out how to respect the most student's, parent's and teacher's wishes. I've read all the survey results and feel they lean slightly toward no change in start date and finals before vacation. I look forward to seeing the vote outcome, there are lots of valid comments and arguments on the table.

On a personal note, It sounds like a strong, open relationship with your children is a high priority for you. Kudos.

Posted by palo alto mom, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on May 7, 2011 at 1:09 pm

This is about a LOT more than finals. Even a class without a final (many, many of them) still has projects, tests, etc. As a parent of a senior, the stress over break is not so much studying for finals, it is that the semester is not over. Even with out a lot of work, you are still thinking about the projects, tests, etc. that await you when you return. After Winter Break, it is a new year and most of us are ready to start something NEW, not repeat the same old, same old. But for PAUSD kids, its just back to the grind. The semester ends in January, the kids get 3 days where they truly do not need to even think about school or classes. 3 days out of the whole school year.

Mentally, most of our teenagers have school to think about from August to June with a 3 day break. We should either extend the break at the semester or end the semester before Break. We're smart people, we can figure out how to do that without starting school in the beginning of August.

Last week and next week are AP tests and STAR tests in the high schools. That is 10 school days where most of the Junior and Senior classes are not covering new material because too many kids are taking AP tests and would miss it. Those ten days easily balance the difference in the semesters.

Posted by Diana D, a resident of Community Center
on May 7, 2011 at 4:34 pm

I am not sold by Ms. Clark's unproven ideas. In fact, I am angered and frustrated by these ideas.

I see no benefit to the proposed early-August calendar, but it's very easy to see how this would increase stresses and cause problems. Children need the family bonding that very often occurs in August, especially when close family members and friends are located outside Palo Alto. Everyone else has August free, at least until the last week of August. With a change like this, important family bonding time will be lost. And that's very bad for our children.

I would think that Ms. Clark would see that family time to strengthen bonds is a stress-reliever. Apparently not. She'd rather simply support pre-break finals, which is something even most high school students don't want if it means starting in early August. At least she admits that any supposed benefit to this change is not proven.

Clearly this proposal is supported by a small organized group of very vocal Gunn teachers (as we saw at the last board meeting) who are being supported by their union, which is rallying resources such as Ms. Clark to their cause. It's reprehensible that this group would use our children's supposed stress to support the work schedule they prefer, at the expense of allowing families to have August with our children.

I hope the board sees through this manipulative ploy for an improved work schedule that some teachers prefer. I hope they will instead listen to the community's real needs and desires.

Posted by Michele Dauber, a resident of Barron Park
on May 7, 2011 at 5:00 pm

Come on, people. Some of the parade of horribles and accusations of bad faith on this list are just silliness. Everyone in this conversation has good motives; everyone agrees on the principle of wanting less stress for our teens. We just disagree about the values that are important to protect and what we are willing to give up to get those values.

I personally think (as do many people) that pre-break finals are a very important value and worth giving up some other values -- vacations in August, having some adjustments to the calendar here and there, conflicts with spring sports to get it. As I have said many times, I support that because to me the suicide epidemic is indicative of a larger emotional wellness issue in PAUSD. This is an important change that can yield big benefits toward reducing stress in our schools.

Other people don't think so. They think that having finals after break is not a big deal and that it would not be worth losing a week to two weeks from August in order to get that. Or they are skeptical about it. Or they are fearful that it will just add stress because they don't trust PAUSD to do anything that will actually reduce stress since our stress machine has a one-way ratchet. Or their kids are doing fine in the current regime and they don't want to rock the boat. Or their kids aren't old enough yet to be in high school and they don't get it. Whatever the reason they don't want it. OK. I don't think they are bad people, just they don't agree with me.

What I think we could do without is the overdone parade of horribles: moving finals is going to lock children up "frying" in suffocating heat (in "practically July" which is apparently when August 16 now falls in the calendar) or hurt "grandmas around the world" or destroy Christmas, and the people who want to move them are cynically using the suicides as a "ploy" to get their secret agenda. Doubtless the plot to kill Christmas, bake the toddlers, and break grandma's heart were planned by Denise Pope and the evil union in a secret underwater volcano.

No. People just disagree on the values here. That's what democracy is. It's fine to advocate strongly for your position and to make it an issue in the hiring and supervision our school officials. But can we stop the histrionics please?

Posted by another parent, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 7, 2011 at 5:47 pm

Oh, and "If we don't get these changes, we will have more suicides," is not histrionics?

Posted by Michele Dauber, a resident of Barron Park
on May 7, 2011 at 6:02 pm

@another parent

Unlike the quotes I used, which are real, I don't see the quote anywhere in this list. There are no statements to that effect in the list, either. The closest I can find to it is: " I do not know how long has she been working with Gunn to improve the school culture for our students, but I could bet that it was after the suicides. Perhaps, if we had her help before we would not had so many suicides." The poster's point is not about the calendar at all. The poster is defending Denise against ad hominem and anonymous attacks in this list (why don't you use your own name, anyway?) and thanking Denise for trying to help the school develop a multitude of strategies to create a "better and more supportive environment." Perhaps, according to the poster, if Gunn had been concerned with creating a caring school climate prior to the epidemic, we would not be where we are today.

That post doesn't even mention finals before break. No one thinks that finals before winter break is a magic bullet to prevent suicide. It, however, one strategy that has been proven to reduce stress. Stress is a cause of anxiety and depression, which can lead to suicide. Taking action to reduce stress is important, particularly in our current crisis.


Denise Pope. That comment is not about the calendar at all, and it does not say

Posted by parent , a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 7, 2011 at 7:14 pm


I like what huh? points out about the calendar change

"in the words of a parent at a previous board meeting, a sledge hammer to crack a nut."

except the stress issue is not a nut, it's more like a boulder, and to reduce stress we may not need a sledge hammer, who knows...maybe it's a feather.

The calendar change process is becoming a contest about what reduces stress or not, and what the experts think or not. It should actually be treated as any other major decision for the district, and that is to consider everything about it. You're making a big push because of the stress connection, but opposing the calendar change does not mean opposition to reducing stress.

There must be a compromise somewhere, and I will accept whatever the board decides (I don't have a choice obviously) comfortable that they weighed all the issues, grandma and everything.

By the way, though I don't agree with the calendar change, I I love what you and Ken are doing.

Posted by Michele Dauber, a resident of Barron Park
on May 7, 2011 at 7:27 pm


I agree totally that those who oppose calendar change also are in favor of reducing stress. I agree with what you are saying that a great deal of the contest is about what is the best way to reduce stress and I think that everyone is acting in good faith. I agree also with those who would have liked a more systematic, data driven approach to stress reduction, in line with that suggested by P-8 of the Project Safety Net plan.

My fear is that this calendar debate will become so divisive and angry that we will lose sight of the emotional/mental well-being issue and the Board will become wary about taking up the stress issue pursuant to P-8 as a result. That would be the worst result in my view. That is why I hope we can all agree that we are people of good faith genuinely concerned about stress reduction, though we may differ on what will reduce stress.

Thanks for your kind words.


Posted by Resident, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 7, 2011 at 7:38 pm

Just worth remembering, our children are watching the behavior of the adults in their lives and learning. Let's hope they see that everyone is doing and saying what they think is best for them and that they don't see the bickering and name calling. This should be a good opportunity to teach the next generation how to problem solve and compromise without being divisive and other negatives.

Posted by nofeathernohammer, a resident of Midtown
on May 7, 2011 at 7:58 pm

We need to do nothing.Our kids are watching, if the parents fighting like the tigers, they would feel more stressed and scared.nothing,nothing,nothing.

Posted by parent, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 7, 2011 at 10:30 pm


One of the things that I like about your initiative is that it focuses on issues that many of us were unable to fully express after the suicides, that we care deeply about what happened, that we're not blind to stress in our schools for the variety of reasons you're aware of. And that academic stress is a health issue that merits vigilance.

The Board can become weary, but I'm sure parents will not become weary about doing better, and I see the schools are individually trying to do better, regardless of district or board leadership.

The calendar debate is completely legitimate, and whichever way it goes, it's part of a larger process to do better. It should not impact how the board or anyone perceives future stress reduction efforts, or considered a political win or lose for anyone.

Posted by Perspective, a resident of Greenmeadow
on May 8, 2011 at 4:08 am

I, too, am worried that this will again devolve into simply voting for whoever shows up and yells the loudest.

This has been a problem historically, and it still is..witness the delay again that happened on this issue.

This calendar shift idea has been fought over for years. Those of us who have "been there done that" with the experience to know it is a GREAT idea for our kids' sake to give them a real rest are "done", which leaves a lot of folks who are just starting, or who have only elementary kids in the home, and have never watched their teen not rest during winter break, with finals/projects hanging over their heads.

Think about it folks..if you have a big project due when you get back from a vacation, what do you do? How do you rest? When you have a free moment on your vacation, what enters your mind? Do you come back "refreshed"?

Versus all your work is DONE before you leave on vacation, your cell phone and laptop are home, and you have nothing on your mind during the same vacation.

Posted by Look at what the kids said they want, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 8, 2011 at 7:10 am


How do you know that this change will result in a real break?

78% of our students said that they were assigned homework due the week they got back despite PAUSD doing all within its power to direct teachers not to assign work. 74% of students called out homework as their biggest school stressor - 26 times that of finals.

Homework - due the week back. Finals - start the middle of the 3rd week after they return. Kids screaming that homework stresses them out. Kids not minding finals when they are.

City of Palo Alto Youth Survey: Web Link

PAUSD Student Survey: Web Link

The district is chasing after the wrong thing here.

So, if the board votes in a new calendar, just know that it:
- will do nothing for those who want "a real break") BUT
- will cause MORE STRESS because it will add the pressure of finals into an exceptionally busy month for lots of reasons already mentioned (family events building up to the holidays, seniors applying to college, semi-professional performing arts students in holiday production PAUSD has no control over, etc, etc, etc)
- will impact K-8ers summers and childcare for naga.

Trust me. I've a high schooler. For those who don't, you'll see when you get there.

Posted by focus on the kids, a resident of Crescent Park
on May 8, 2011 at 7:13 am

The board already recognizes that this has nothing to do with stress reduction. They've moved that off the table.
[Portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]

Posted by nofeathernohammer, a resident of Midtown
on May 8, 2011 at 7:20 am

We need to do nothing about "academic stress",because it is not the root of problem,nothing,nothing,nothing.

Those are not about how much we care/love/plan for our kids,it is about how deep they care/love parents.If we can teach them to care about the ones who love them,and to be unselfish,self-centered,it will greatly help them.

Posted by parent , a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 8, 2011 at 9:29 am

FIrst of all, I think adversarial situations are important and positive for our district and schools because the worst thing is when decisions are made in the dark, no public engagement, and I find the "been there, done that" approach a bullying tactic.

Regardless of what you think about the calendar, let the opinions flow, the more informed the board's decision will be.

Anyway, the big deal about the calendar is not even that we disagree on that we want a work free break, it's about August and asking to change to an entirely different summer pattern. Malign the revolt all you want, but the ask is for a "change" and I hope to be at the board meeting to join any disruption if it gets my view heard.

this goes for no feather no hammer as well btw, I disagree with you. I think academic stress is a a health crisis, and I think we need to do better.

Posted by Perspective, a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on May 8, 2011 at 9:38 am

If the semester ENDS before winter break, there is no homework, no projects..nothing..due after the break.

That is how I know that this will give a real break. ..a real break BETWEEN semesters is the only way to let the kids rest, because between semesters means just that....between. Not during.

It doesn't take a PhD to understand that nothing hanging over your head from school means there is no school stress ( brought by the school) during the whole break...ipso facto, less stress. We really don't even need "evidence" to prove it, because the converse is also us the "evidence" to prove that the current calendar is less stressful on students than the proposed calendar.

I really can't understand the reluctance, but luckily I am done with that fight, no more skin in the game for us.

Gotta agree that the vacation argument is silly...many folks don't do stuff they would like to in early June because we HAVE school, many graduations have I missed for all the years my kids had that extra week or two in June of school?

And focus-on-the-kids.....your post is silly. Why else would anyone be wanting to change the calendar except out of a common sense belief that our kids need a REST mid year? One could accuse you of not being "for the kids" either,but please note that Ms. Dauber is gracious and mature about acknowledging that most of us mature and dedicated adults are trying to balance choices...

As for the poster who said that 78% of kids had homework assigned over the winter break so why try to move finals back to before miss the point. We are trying to END the semester before break, so there is no homework, no projects, no finals hanging over the kids' heads. We tried the "no homework directive" but finals after way, and as completely predicted, it did nothing to stop the projects and homework due after break. Work expands to fit the time alloted, it is a fact of life for teachers and student alike

Good grief, the viciousness of your post is revealing.

Posted by parent, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 8, 2011 at 9:46 am

"This calendar shift idea has been fought over for years."

hey, I get the sense that the calendar change is less about stress reduction for the proponents, than maybe about preferring pre-summer or June for vacation.

Years ago the stress issue was not even on the radar, and you'd think that if it was, that there would have been a better case for tying this change to stress.

years ago people were worried about stress, and the only thing they could focus on was calendar?

Posted by nofeathernohammer, a resident of Midtown
on May 8, 2011 at 9:55 am

"Second" of all, the awareness of those teenager's emotional probroms is of the most urgent for those parents. Often times(99%) it is the boyfriend/girlfriend/family issues/self-imagse that are at the center stage of their emotional disturbance.If they only can love their parents as much as their ownselves,then ,there will be no suicides.

Nothing,nothing,nothing are due to "academic stress".

Posted by focus on the kids, a resident of Crescent Park
on May 8, 2011 at 9:59 am

These changes do not address academic stress. So, instead of dealing with the real issues, we're stuck here arguing about a lame duck initiative that isn't going to improve anything.
We've now gone from trying to reduce academic stress in our children's lives to a "headliner" initiative.
This initiative has been a total waste of everyone's time but we can't let it go because we have these huge egos driving it.

Posted by Resident, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 8, 2011 at 10:09 am

Really interesting that no one has mentioned that Spring Break comes in the middle of a semester and the kids get no break, or that there should be no homework assigned over Spring Break.

The timing of Winter Break coming at the end of a busy holiday season means that traditionally for everyone there are activities which occur at this time of year. Regardless of the timing of finals, there will always be a rush to get things accomplished before the break whether we are talking about teachers, students, or people working in non-academic spheres. If teachers are breaking the rules about assigning homework over winter break, it may just be that they are giving students a little longer because of the December rush. Otherwise, the homework might have been due the last day before break - adding to the craziness.

People (parents and students) who stress over winter break because the semester hasn't ended, will still stress because the year hasn't ended. Semester classes may have finished, but there are very few semester classes. All other classes are half way through and teachers and parents (and perhaps students) will still try to get a head start on the material coming up.

This complete break is not going to work with me. I'm sorry.

Posted by Resident, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 8, 2011 at 10:13 am

Additionally, I am saying that I don't think any homework is assigned the last day before break and expected back the first day after break. No. From what I have seen of my kids' work, the teachers assign the work mid December and extend the due date from the last day before break until after break as a means of stress reduction. Otherwise it would be due before break. The kids can choose when to actually do the work and many choose to take winter break to do it. After all, the teachers don't want to grade the homework until after break.

Posted by nofeathernohammer, a resident of Midtown
on May 8, 2011 at 10:48 am

Today is a special day for Mothers. I want to say those mothers are not forgotten,we will always remember them,and remember their kids too, that this whole thing will make our community a better place to live.

Posted by Michele Dauber, a resident of Barron Park
on May 8, 2011 at 11:06 am


Your comment that "If they only can love their parents as much as their own selves, then there will be no suicides" reflects total and utter ignorance of the causes of suicide. The children who died were suffering and terribly ill. They loved their parents as deeply as every other child and they were beloved by their families. Their illnesses and deaths had no more to do with a lack of love from or for their mothers and fathers than does that of a child dying of cancer or car accident. You are desperately in need of education on the subject of anxiety, depression, and suicide. Academic stress does play a role in depression and anxiety, which in turn can cause suicide. Your misinformed comments are deeply hurtful to me and to others who have lost children to suicide. Please apologize and educate yourself. Here is a resource on suicide you might find useful.

@ parent

Stress was on the agenda in the 2006 effort to change the calendar, because the Paly WASC report (Western Association of Schools and Colleges) for accreditation specifically recommended finals before winter break as a stress reduction measure under Paly's improvement goals for that WASC. There were 2 suicides at Paly in 2005-06, and that was likely the impetus. Here is the language from the 2006 Board packet regarding the proposed calendar describing the reasons the change was being considered:

Other Important Considerations in building the calendars were:
Ski week caused significant challenges for many families.
Staff, student and family opportunities were impacted by shortened summer break of
current calendar.
Numerous instructional days are lost in second semester due to testing, special
schedules/activities, etc.
Later school starts reduce the number of instructional days prior to high stakes exams
held the first two weeks in May.
WASC recommendations for Paly included suggestion that finals occur before Winter
The SHARE and SOS organizations presented information on student stress with a
request to complete finals before Winter Break.
Semester exams after Winter Break did not allow students to have a "real break."
Some students find it difficult to quickly regain focus for finals following the twoweek break.

SHARE and SOS for those who don't know are the anti-stress organizations that were active in Palo Alto at that time. Kevin Skelly more or less disbanded Share, and SOS became Challenge Success. I believe this is the basis for the "been there done that" comments by some parents on this list.

Here is a link to the entire 2006 Board Packet for those who haven't already become completely sick of this issue:

Web Link

Posted by nofeathernohammer, a resident of Midtown
on May 8, 2011 at 11:10 am

If it is due to illness,then we need a good doctor not this changing calendar which drags every body in.

Posted by Michele Dauber, a resident of Barron Park
on May 8, 2011 at 11:14 am

I don't know why the weird 3/4 replaced the bullets above. Anyway, here is the link to an excellent video program that from American Foundation for Suicide Prevention:

Web Link

Posted by anonymous, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on May 8, 2011 at 11:16 am

From my perspective as an older, experienced parent, Michele Dauber's post just above is an EXCELLENT SUMMARY OF THE SITUATION.

Posted by parent, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 8, 2011 at 12:06 pm


"Later school starts reduce the number of instructional days prior to high stakes exams

held the first two weeks in May."

Is this about AP's then?

Yet one more change to accomodate AP performance?

Everything else seems to have a potential fix and improvement without having to go to an earlier start, except for the AP calendar.

My concern would be that tunnel vision on the calendar will lead to no other measures to reduce stress, and how ironic that APs are at the heart of an earlier start.

This issue has become political because of the wanting to be right or victorious about it, in the absence of the broadest considerations that impact everyone, not just AP testing, or juniors.

Maybe other schools have accomodated calendar to improve their AP scores, and performance and to reduce stress about them, since we know less stress makes for better performance. How ironic that this goes back to APs.

Posted by Michele Dauber, a resident of Barron Park
on May 8, 2011 at 12:25 pm


Agreed. But there are many voices that have to be accommodated in the construction of the calendar. This is the compromise document we have, and now we have to take a position up or down on what we have been presented with. Anyway, that's what our group, We Can Do Better Palo Alto has been able to find about the history so I hope that helps.

We have a new website for anyone who is interested:

Web Link

Join our facebook group and our current lively discussion currently about the need for advisory at Gunn:

Web Link

Today is Mother's Day. Please remember in your thoughts and prayers all the mothers of Palo Alto who have lost children to any cause, including suicide.

Posted by nofeathernohammer, a resident of Midtown
on May 8, 2011 at 12:33 pm

@parent of another

Congrats,go and join this group.

Posted by Look at what the kids said they want, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 8, 2011 at 5:27 pm


When the semester break falls is not relevant for year long classes. 2/3rds or more of the classes Palo Alto students take are year long ones freshman and sophomore year, and in junior and senior year some students only have year long classes.

Year long classes have x amount of curriculum to cover in a year. If teachers cannot cover it all in 180 teaching days, they'll assign work over break regardless of when break starts/tests are given because there is always the next chapter. I know because I've talked to people in schools with pre-break finals. They get homework assigned over break in their year long classes.

To all others who think this is driven by APs so teachers can have more time to teach before the May AP exams:

Read others' posts on this.

Under the current calendar, many teachers finish up all they need to teach for APs well before the exam so adding two weeks in August will just have those teachers either (i) finish up with what they need to teach even earlier, or (ii) fill the time with supplemental curriculum (which adds to homework, stress, etc). that kids taking AP classes in other schools don't have to master to get the same grade in the class.

Our current calendar gives students enough time to do well in their AP classes. Just take a look at PAUSD's AP scores: with the later August start and June dismissal, 93% of PAUSD students get 3s or better - passing scores that can earn students credit at colleges which recognize APs.

Schools in the Midwest and East Coast start even later and manage to get top AP scores too, with even less time between school start and the national May exam dates. (Wellesley High School has 92% score 3+ with a September 1 start. Edina 86% score 3s or better with a September 7th start.)

I do see AP classes as part of the calendar discussion for other reasons, which is how the current calendar gives kids an opportunity for project-learning after the May exams when students have finished the AP curriculum.

Some teachers don't do much during this time and are frustrated that there is little to do until school gets out. No doubt those teachers prefer the earlier start/earlier release. Other teachers see it as finally having time to engage students by digging deep into the concepts behind some of the topics they often skim over. Maybe PAUSD can give the first group more support so they can do what the second group does so well.

Both calendars give AP teachers with extra time on their hands an opportunity to dig deep, the only difference is when in the year it occurs.

Neither calendar will make a difference on how well our students will do in the class because they already do so well. There is only one AP which can't seem to get through everything during the school year and that's AP US History. Those students know ahead of time that they will have summer reading to do and don't seem to mind. Does starting school early for all K-12 so that the reading APUSH students need to do occurs during a school instead of summer day make sense? Many think not.

Posted by focus on the kids, a resident of Crescent Park
on May 8, 2011 at 5:37 pm

"Stress was on the agenda in the 2006 effort to change the calendar,"

And, amazingly, the calendar didn't change and the suicides stopped. This wasn't magic, it is because they started targeting the actual issues causing stress. The board recognizes this now, which is why they don't relate the calendar change to stress. Only the lobbyists continue to do so.

Posted by parent , a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 8, 2011 at 6:01 pm

focus on the kids,

On that note, I'd like to add that the most proactive effort I have seen to stop the suicides was Track watch.

The parents that got Track Watch together deserve tons of credit. No political BS or emotional hostage kind of stuff.

Calendar change has all sorts of agendas cloaked under stress reduction, and pit all of us against each other.

Posted by nofeathernohammer, a resident of Midtown
on May 8, 2011 at 6:11 pm

They are not very nice using those mothers.

Can our school think of a better way to help reduce our kids' stress, I believe in our schools now,only our schools.

Posted by parent, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 8, 2011 at 6:12 pm

and I really don't understand why they dragged the students into the debate,

when Pope says "trust me"

it's not that illogical that Juniors taking AP's will feel less stress if the calendar accomodates everything to fulfill that goal.

no need for data to support that, of course it will be less stressful for them.

and it also feeds the obsession to do better on AP's.... and all the resulting stuff, we're AP junkies.

Posted by nofeathernohammer, a resident of Midtown
on May 8, 2011 at 6:18 pm

We still need our schools to come up a better way to address and solve this.

Posted by curious, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 8, 2011 at 7:50 pm

has anyone polled the teachers on what they would like? kind of seems like they may have a valid opinion. Don't know where they stand, but if I were a teacher I would want to compress the school year into the shortest number of calendar days as possible and have as long a summer as possible. I think that is what was going on when I was in school and I sure don't remember being stressed. Anyway, is there a Palo Alto teacher out there with an opinion?

Posted by focus on the kids, a resident of Crescent Park
on May 8, 2011 at 9:26 pm

Curious, they did. The teachers in the humanity courses said they couldn't do it with un-even semesters. That is why there are only 2 calendar options; instead of giving the board the option to leave the start date alone but still give finals before the break.

Posted by DistrictNeedsLeadership, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 8, 2011 at 10:12 pm

The board needs to show leadership; they can create a third option, stop pandering to the teachers, and for once listen to the community. Start in late August, finals before break, no homework over break, and finish on the same schedule. The teachers can adjust far easier than the entire community.

Posted by nofeathernohammer, a resident of Midtown
on May 8, 2011 at 10:21 pm

Our schools need to stand out and find us a way to address this.

Posted by Perspective, a resident of Greater Miranda
on May 9, 2011 at 6:21 am

To "look at what the kids said they want" who believes that year long classes mean that it is irrelevant when the semester ends.

Having been there, done that, I can tell you that no, you are wrong. When the semester ends, the semester ends. Yes, the next semester continues the year long class, but it is, indeed, a new semester. That means a real break for the kids if we let them have one at semester's end..finals done, projects done, homework done, for that semester.

I don't care when the kids get their 2 weeks real rest, it could be in January for all I care after the current first semester ends, extending our June stop later in the year. Fine with me. But, of course, there would be a lot of angst over child care for the younger set, 2 weeks of AP studies being taken away, blah blah blah.

Just stop the darn semester before winter break.

Posted by change doesn't mean sacrificing August, a resident of Crescent Park
on May 9, 2011 at 9:36 am

Since we have the two threads the same:

Web Link

"...keep the current calendar, have final exams before the winter break, AND use those last two weeks of the semester in January for meaningful project based learning..."

Posted by Look at what the kids said they want, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 9, 2011 at 11:19 am


Call Monte Vista High School (Cupertino) parents whose teens have an even semester pre-break finals calendar. Their kids still get homework over break. There are lots of other schools with pre-break finals whose students do too. That's what I'm going on.

And you? Even if your kids were at a school that didn't have homework over break, how do you know that would happen here when, according to 3/4rds of our students, their teachers assigned homework over break despite being told not to?

Posted by parent , a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 9, 2011 at 11:52 am

Look at...

I wouldn't be surprised if Monte Vista/Cupertino first goes to the AP Calendar, and sets their calendar to conform to it. That would mean early start, no August.

If this was about real learning (no external tests) there would be no issue with August.

Posted by poorjuniors, a resident of Palo Alto High School
on May 9, 2011 at 12:07 pm

@parent above

It is still unfair that our poor juniors need this relieve so desperately while evrybody else are happy now, can we help them too, this is the group that are most in need and most stressed,does anyone have anything in mind?

Posted by parent , a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 9, 2011 at 12:26 pm

Quite frankly, the schools and 11th grade curriculum should have been the focus of attention to find ways to reduce stress. It's up to the schools to come up with ideas, this is the only one?

it will be the strangest problem I've seen that can be tackled with only one solution, and the reason is the "high stakes exams in May" the AP calendar. A constraint like this can kill any further ideas. Or the alternatives would be too much work for the schools. The calendar change is simple enough, just ask everyone else to adjust.

Posted by poorjuniors, a resident of Palo Alto High School
on May 9, 2011 at 12:43 pm

Yes, we need our school to come up with the solution.I hope they will put our Juniors in their minds too, and as equally important as other 1-11 grades.

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

Post a comment

Posting an item on Town Square is simple and requires no registration. Just complete this form and hit "submit" and your topic will appear online. Please be respectful and truthful in your postings so Town Square will continue to be a thoughtful gathering place for sharing community information and opinion. All postings are subject to our TERMS OF USE, and may be deleted if deemed inappropriate by our staff.

We prefer that you use your real name, but you may use any "member" name you wish.

Name: *

Select your neighborhood or school community: * Not sure?

Comment: *

Verification code: *
Enter the verification code exactly as shown, using capital and lowercase letters, in the multi-colored box.

*Required Fields

On Tour at Selective Schools: Chapman, La Verne, Redlands, Whittier
By John Raftrey and Lori McCormick | 0 comments | 1,650 views

The dress code
By Jessica T | 14 comments | 1,468 views

Two Days to Save This Dog?
By Cathy Kirkman | 13 comments | 973 views

. . . People will never forget how you made them feel.
By Chandrama Anderson | 0 comments | 825 views

It Depends... Disguising Real Characters in Fiction
By Nick Taylor | 0 comments | 267 views