High school counseling returns to school board Schools & Kids, posted by Editor, Palo Alto Online, on Jun 12, 2012 at 9:51 am
In the charged debate over guidance counseling services at Gunn High School, Superintendent Kevin Skelly has suggested hiring an additional counselor and giving the school a year to create a "more thorough revision process."
Read the full story here Web Link posted Tuesday, June 12, 2012, 8:11 AM
Posted by parent, a member of the Terman Middle School community, on Jun 12, 2012 at 10:49 am
I though the main discussion/concern was: "Gunn students are at a significant disadvantage when it comes to counseling. How do we improve Gunn counseling?".
I am unpleasantly surprised that the conclusion is to add one more counselor to both Gunn and Paly? How does adding one more counselor to BOTH high schools make it FAIR when the baseline is so different, and is significantly lower at Gunn?
Dear administration: please listen to students, please read the surveys carefully. In the survey, most of the comments were centered around the counselors' lack of interest in students' future, and their lack of "care/empathy" towards students, and the lack of communication (in some cases, no communication at all). Now, if you add one more counselor of the same profile to the program, HOW DOES IT HELP?
Posted by Gunn Alumni, a member of the Gunn High School community, on Jun 12, 2012 at 11:00 am
Dear Palo Alto Community,
Although I don't agree many things they say, I would like to first applaud Mr. and Mrs. Dauber for their tremendous dedication, leadership and hard work.
As a very recent Gunn Alum, I would like to address some of the community concerns from my perspective. Although counseling isn't perfect at either school, I believe this really isn't the primary way to address academic stress (or stress in general) at our schools. I was very pleased and still have a fantastic relationship with my counselor and this is because I sought his/her help from an early stage at Gunn. Any student can experience good counseling if they personally seek it and make an effort (yes, this may involvement a few road bumps or obstacles, but the Gunn counselors I know and I have spoken with just about all of them, will help you). No matter how "good" a counselor or a counseling system is, it still is the student that needs to initiate the relationship. I completely agree that not all students have the ability/desire to create this relationship. This is precisely why I don't think changing the counseling system or creating all this controversy over which counseling system is better (which is clearly offending and hurting people) is the right source of action. Even a "perfect counseling system" won't suit every student, because it is the student that needs to seek the help that they need.
Instead, I think that instead of changing counseling to address adolescent stress, we should take quick and easily applicable measures to lower the amount of adolescent stress and increase community spirit. Palo Alto should have well organized community-wide gatherings to watch Gunn/Paly football, basketball, water polo, swimming, track, baseball games/meets (Good spectator sports in which Palo Alto athletes are really good at). These games should be community-wide events that involve tail-gating and fun for the community. There should be more exciting ways to increase connectedness between students and teachers or students and students rather than forced meetings. For instance, school wide "dress like a teacher you don't know day and meet them at lunch" day, or how about, encouraging more involvement in physical fitness with wider publicity of Gunn open track workouts or open gyms (students at any physical level will benefit and I know from personal experience that these are fun and inviting atmospheres). I think everyone posting on this board can agree that more physical fitness will help students physically and mentally. In a short period of time, I thought of three ideas which I know will instantly help the student body at both Gunn and Paly. Let's focus on increasing the overall community of Palo Alto and lower the need for counseling in the first place. Let's attack demand, not supply. I know that if I could think of three ideas while writing this post, the creativity of our students and our community will address these issues significantly better than changes to the counseling systems. Hell yes, We Can Do Better Palo Alto! Let's direct our energy to more exciting events that encourage student involvement rather than force it!
Finally, let's take a step back and realize how privileged and lucky we are. So many things have to be going right for us to have two schools which produce students who become Olympians, actors, entrepreneurs, community volunteers and overall fantastic citizens. We are in a privileged and world-renown community and our students have been and will be changing the world. Issues exist, but let's not beat up our administrators and school board. They work tirelessly and have the same goals as you have. Let's remember that many of these folks have children also in the district. They are just as invested as you are and care just as much as you do about the well-being of our schools. Let's embrace the positive energy of our community and the people that create it.
Posted by David Pepperdine, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood, on Jun 12, 2012 at 11:26 am
The data (read: facts) make it abundantly clear that Advisory is a preferred model that benefits students best. While I agree with Gunn Alumni that many students can and do seek out their counselors and have a good relationship with them, it is also true that a student most in need of counseling and support is least likely to seek it out.
Which is precisely why an Advisory system which has far more touch points and establishes a more personal, adult, non-parent guidance resource is vital, especially at a community like Gunn. I am sure that board members who are parents would benefit from such a system as well.
Posted by paly parent, a resident of the Duveneck/St. Francis neighborhood, on Jun 12, 2012 at 11:42 am
Just to be clear -
Gunn currently has 6 Guidance Counselors and one Career/College Counselor. PAUSD is proposing to add 1 Guidance Counselor.
Paly currently has 4 Guidance Counselors, 2 College Counselors and 1 Career Counselor (who also manages community service and has other Paly duties) plus TA's (not sure how many). Each TA has about 75 students they meet with on a regular basis - an average of about 10 times a year.
Question - how does Gunn pass out forms for registration, etc. currently?
Posted by Come Together, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood, on Jun 12, 2012 at 11:44 am
Dear Board: What a long, strange trip this has all been but you now have the opportunity to give Dr. Skelly the "clear board direction in these areas" that he recognizes "would be enormously helpful" that he is asking for. You have seen the data and research about this and it is clear that Gunn is due for a counseling makeover which will benefit our children immensely. The model is Teacher Advisory and it can be customized to fit the Gunn student community. Listen to our kids! I know that you have all read the comments by the students themselves. How can you ignore their pleas for change? Bottom line is, this is about our kids. Delay would be foolhardy. How can adding a counselor do anything to help? There are plenty of teachers and staff at Gunn who are interested in advisory who have been denied the opportunity to have a close up look at it because of pressure from above. You as a board can remove that pressure by making a clear decision to start the process moving forward to adopt the TA model. If you take up Dr. Skelly's suggestion of adding another counselor this would be a mistake as it would barely have any impact and it might take consideration of TA completely off the table. This would only be a band aid put on a hemorrhaging wound (or rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic if you prefer). It's time for all of our high school kids to have the same counseling advantages. Whatever has been driving the resistance from the top needs to be put to rest. Dear Board, we know you can do this. You can help free up the energies from the top spent resisting this change into more positive areas like really providing help for our kids where it is clearly needed (again, the data from your own survey shows this). Step up and do what you know is right. We elected you to provide the very best support for all of our precious children and by stepping up to the plate and calling for this change NOW we can put an end to all of this nonsense and also be proud of you for doing what you have been elected to do........provide direction! Do it now please! The parent community (I for one) will be out there to support you in these positive changes. Too much energy has been expended in going backward......it is time for us to move forward as one positive force to affect change for all of our kids. Thank you.
Posted by hope this helps, a member of the Gunn High School community, on Jun 12, 2012 at 11:44 am
Both of our high schools had students who reported "needs improvement" in their survey comments. If you read the survey quantitative results you'll see students’ "needs improvement" message for BOTH high schools coming through there too.
I've found the various Gunn counselors my kids have talked to to be extremely caring, professional and well-trained but there are too few of them for the number of students at the school.
Not sure what 1 additional staff person will do at Paly, but if Gunn uses him/her as a counselor it will significantly lighten up the current counselors' loads and allow them more time to spend with the fewer students they will have. That'll be a huge help to them no doubt.
It is a perfect short-term solution which will pay off in spades next year. And I suspect we'll be reading about some good and well-thought out continued and long-term improvements come this spring.
I hear some trepidation about Gunn in your post. Here are some things that might help relieve you of your concerns. The counselors' experience and professional training below is news to me too.
PAUSD’s outside professional assessment of Gunn's counseling staff:
* "Gunn counselors are widely regarded as very hardworking and dedicated to student wellbeing."
* "[S]tudents who are very proactive about seeking help from adults or who are clearly struggling are being served well and responsively.”
Baseline (students) - In Titan 101, freshmen meet with teacher advisors 11-12 times a year. Students are required to meet with their counselor individually once a year in Grades 10-12. All are invited to meet with their counselor (or any counselor for that matter) as needed throughout the school day. All students also meet with counselors in large groups at least twice a year.
Baseline (parents) - Parents can meet with their child's counselor individually (as needed by appointment or drop in and by email) and in groups (at least once a year and when invited to Class PTA Parent Network meetings).
Counselor experience and training - All of Gunn’s Guidance Counselors have 78 years of professional counseling experience combined. Each holds a Masters Degree in Counseling (2 years of post-college study) and has completed the additional training and met all of the requirements for the State of California’s Pupil Services Credential in School Counseling.
Posted by Ken Dauber, a resident of the Barron Park neighborhood, on Jun 12, 2012 at 12:06 pm
The district's recommendation for an additional counselor and even more time to consider the issue has two problems. First, it doesn't meet the school board's direction on March 27, reaffirmed on May 22, to return with a plan for achieving comparable services at Gunn and to strongly consider teacher advisory in doing so. Second, adding another counselor at Gunn will make it much more difficult to make structural changes. The school board already has told Dr. Skelly not to hire any additional counselors at Gunn for exactly this reason.
The district's recommendation is virtually identical to Dr. Skelly's "confidential" memo to the school board of April 20 privately disagreeing with the March 27 direction. That's because the process at Gunn has from the beginning been about resisting the school board's direction, rather than honestly implementing it. School board president Camille Townsend's characterization of the Gunn process as "obstructionist" captured this fact. We have put together a detailed chronology based on internal PAUSD communications that illustrates this point in detail, at Web Link
The real losers in this have been Gunn students, whose needs are being pushed to the sidelines, and Gunn staff who have been prevented from exploring advisory by the opposition of their leadership.
The school board clearly understands that bringing advisory to Gunn would bring Gunn students the same benefits the district now provides only to Paly students. It should refuse the district's offer of more delay and resistance, and direct staff to begin implementation planning for TA at Gunn.
Posted by Ken Dauber, a resident of the Barron Park neighborhood, on Jun 12, 2012 at 1:03 pm
@confused, see the data and other materials linked from Web Link
This is the data that led the school board to conclude that Paly, using a teacher advisory model, is providing its students with far more effective guidance services than is Gunn, which uses a traditional guidance model. Having invested in 20 years of experience with TA at Paly, moving to a teacher advisory model at Gunn can be accomplished with a clear understanding of the implementation issues and a wealth of local knowledge to draw on. Incremental changes like the ones the district has proposed don't get the benefits of TA (e.g., many touchpoints over the course of the year, a division of labor, multiple adults in guidance roles for each child), so can't be expected to produce comparable results
Posted by One more mom, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood, on Jun 12, 2012 at 1:50 pm
Has anyone considered that, no matter one, no matter where, teenagers will tend to be critical of everyone and of everything? That's my experience with teenagers, including the nicest ones. This probably skews a bit the results of student surveys in my opinion.
Posted by Former Paly Parent, a resident of the Old Palo Alto neighborhood, on Jun 12, 2012 at 2:03 pm
I agree wholeheartedly with "Come Together." The board needs to assume a leadership role, which means giving clear direction to staff (preferably in the form of a motion and vote). That is their job, and it would help a lot if they did it.
Posted by Ken Dauber, a resident of the Barron Park neighborhood, on Jun 12, 2012 at 2:48 pm
@confused, I'm always perplexed by this point, which has become a well-worn canard in this discussion. The fact that only some of the busy high school students at Paly see the value in the time they spend in advisory doesn't mean that we can't see that value -- and we have the advantage of seeing the impact of TA in both the quantitative and qualitative results and in the research. Why would we think that Gunn students wouldn't derive the same benefits as Paly students do, as reflected in the overwhelming gap in these results?
Posted by palo alto mom, a resident of the Duveneck/St. Francis neighborhood, on Jun 12, 2012 at 3:21 pm
Ken - I have questions about staff buy-in and funding a TA program at Gunn.
Has any of your research supported the idea that 30 or 40 Gunn teachers are interested in becoming part of a TA system?
Where does the $$ come from. I believe the TA program costs Paly $200K. I think Paly uses "discretionary" funds to pay for some of the TA system, Gunn uses theirs to pay for Engineering, Industrial Design, and some of the Computer Science classes. Are the parents and students willing to reduce or eliminate some of those electives in order to add a TA system? Is there a less expensive way to support the Gunn students while preserving some of those electives?
Posted by Ken Dauber, a resident of the Barron Park neighborhood, on Jun 12, 2012 at 4:01 pm
@palo alto mom
Thanks, those are good questions. On teacher buy-in, the willingness of more than 20 teachers to serve as advisors in Titan 101 for freshmen is a clear indication of interest. Paly doesn't have trouble filling TA positions, and teachers at Gunn aren't fundamentally different. It's important to realize that the opposition to TA from the top meant that Gunn teachers who want to learn more about advisory didn't have the chance to and in any case heard from the beginning that it wasn't going to happen.
On funding, we're not arguing about whether to spend more on counseling at Gunn, since the district is also proposing additional staffing. In any case, the idea that funds have to come from teaching would only be true if there were no other lower priority items. That's why the school board said on May 22 that the decision should not be driven by assumptions about tradeoffs. I have more thoughts and analysis on this at Web Link
Posted by Sharon, a resident of the Midtown neighborhood, on Jun 12, 2012 at 4:22 pm
There is no objective evidence that these programs do any good.
There is clear evidence that they can do serious harm.
High school is an educational agency-not a forum for psychobabble programs however well meant-they are feel good programs for some parents.
Most parents do not want such programs-they with their physicians are competent and qualified to asses and treat any and all adjustment problems.
Only qualified MD psychiatrists are competent to make differential diagnosis and prescribe medical or other interventions.
There is a real problem with paraprofessional therapists -who are not working under the supervision of an MD psychiatrist- interfering with our kids welfare without parental permission in our high schools.
Enough is enough
-Gunns system works -- we do not need anymore paraprofessional " counseling" programs that have no proof of either safety nor efficacy is our high schools.
Posted by parent, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood, on Jun 12, 2012 at 4:26 pm
As I understand it, Titan 101 is designed as a transition program for freshman. It is not a teacher academic advisory program. There is a huge difference in the amount of training that teachers need to have to be a teacher advisor. I don't thin you can say that interest in Titan 101 would compare to interest in TA. I think it would be helpful to actually poll the teachers and not assume what they want. In reading through the emails that are posted on the district website I certainly don't get the idea that the teachers are knocking down the door to be a TA.
Posted by data dizzy, a resident of the Palo Verde neighborhood, on Jun 12, 2012 at 6:55 pm
If most Paly students differentiate how they utilize the various advisors and counseling groups on their campus - seeing their TAs as navigators for academic and regular school-related communication, the college and career folks for, well, college and career (!) and the 4 Guidance Counselors or ACS on-campus as counselors they would go to for personal problems, that would offer another possible explanation for the student response numbers on that question.
Truth is - we really can't know. While Paly's multiple models may overlap on how students use them to some degree, there are intentional distinctions that affect how (or why or whether) students use them.
This particular survey question makes an assumption about TA that students cannot or may not agree with (that TAs are for personal problems and that students go to TAs for personal problems). Because of that it's impossible to infer what student responses meant on this one. All we can conclude is that 42% would feel comfortable talking with their TAs about a personal problem.
Posted by mattie, a resident of the Downtown North neighborhood, on Jun 12, 2012 at 7:17 pm
So, how does the funding work? I infer from above comments that there's a bucket of funding that goes to Paly and Gunn, and Paly spends it on an elaborated advising structure whereas Gunn spends it on other things. Is this right? If so, shouldn't proposed reallocations of those funds be weighed against the expense and success of those other programs?
Is part of the proposed change by the We Can Do Whatever folks to reduce guidance positions at Gunn and use the funds on teacher advisory, presumably more teachers with portions of their load dedicated to advising?
I know there's heat in these discussions, so I want to add that these are all honest, open questions. Thanks for helping me understand the background.
[As an aside, there's a link to a Facebook page above, which I find annoying, as many folks like me don't like Facebook and don't have accounts... public web pages are easy and advisable.]
Posted by confused, a resident of the Crescent Park neighborhood, on Jun 12, 2012 at 7:45 pm
And that 42% is only slightly higher than the percentage that feel uncomfortable or very uncomfortable talking to their Advisor. You're also forgetting the majority of students who would *not* recommend going to the counsellor to a friend who has a personal problem. There's an obvious pattern here.
So, no, you can see why they consider the advisory to be a waste of time.
This is also a critical question to resolve and is a clear reason why TA is failing at Paly. If students don't consider something worth their while, they simply won't use it. How can TA be effective if students don't think it's worth using.?
This needs to change immediately. You can't ignore this type of response with comments like "we know better" or "we don't know".
Posted by another thing, a resident of the Leland Manor/Garland Drive neighborhood, on Jun 12, 2012 at 8:16 pm
One guess why the Paly TA system received low marks on whether or not the students felt they could talk with their TA is quite obvious: There is a huge demand for teachers to participate in TA. Some of the teachers, while great in the classroom, do not have the experience or wherewithal to help students through the emotional concerns of high school. The school, however, NEEDS to have a certain number of TAs and so you end up with the really great TAs and the really average TAs. I shouldn't have to point out that the "really great TAs" end up with a certain kind of student and the uninvolved student/parent receive the leftovers.
TA can work at any school but you have to have the staff to make it happen. Paly makes it work with average results, per the data above. There is no promise that the Gunn staff, while excellent teachers, have the capacity to counsel and advise their students in the manner that TA expects.
I would not want my Gunn Junior to get a rookie TA who has had limited training to advise him on the college process. Doomed, TA @ Gunn is.
Posted by Gunn Staff, a member of the Gunn High School community, on Jun 13, 2012 at 8:55 am
It is good to see such healthy debate about all this, especially from parents.
Parents: Step back and dust off your memories from high school. How many times did you see your counselor? If you wanted a class change, did you know whom to see? If you didn't, would you not be able to figure out that you should talk to your teacher who would then tell you to see a counselor?
I must also ask, Do you confuse your children? Because, on the one hand, you seem to think they are amazingly bright, gifted, talented, award-worthy young men and women. On the other, you think they are brainless buffoons who cannot stand up for themselves and ask simple questions to know the resources available to them on campus.
Lastly, someone asked if there is teacher buy-in. Has anyone ever polled us? No. Are we curious about the TA system AND other solutions? Yes. Back up. Give us time. Let us think. We have come up with immediate solutions for next year. The rest will come. A fantastic system that will benefit all the students is coming--soon. Give us the opportunity to find solutions; throwing the baby out with the bathwater without any sort of thought should not be a viable solution.
Posted by palo alto mom, a resident of the Duveneck/St. Francis neighborhood, on Jun 13, 2012 at 10:38 am
The TA system at Paly isn't really a "counseling" system - here is the link to the roles played by TA's, Guidance Counselors and College/Career Counselors at Paly. Web Link
In addition to advising students along the way, TA's are also supposed to get to know the students well enough to write a knowledgable college recommendation letter. There is also an attempt for students to have their TA as a teacher when possible, facilitating the get to know you process. Students don't really get to "choose" not to use their Advisors. They meet as an Advisory class at scheduled times over the year. In theory, getting to know your fellow students in your Advisory class (which is the same in 10th, 11th and 12th grade) helps students feel more connected.
The TA system works, but it is not the only possible model for increase student/teacher contact and relationships. I think what the District and Gunn admin is saying is that they would also like to explore other avenues of providing support to Gunn students.
Posted by confused, a resident of the Crescent Park neighborhood, on Jun 13, 2012 at 1:23 pm
One other point of interest, though this thread is probably dead. The response from Gunn and Paly differ on the question: "I feel physically safe on campus". Gunn rated a 194/200 and Paly 179/200.
Both are over 160 so are doing well and this doesn't need addressing but anyone know why students at Paly would feel less safe than those at Gunn? Is it just the location of the campus?
As a side note, this question was Gunn's top result. Paly's top result was 188/200 for "I understand the difference between requirements for high school graduation and the requirements to enter a four-year college" (Gunn scored 190/200 for this).
Posted by data dizzy, a resident of the Palo Verde neighborhood, on Jun 13, 2012 at 2:03 pm
You have misstated the data and claim that it represents something it cannot. First, for the actual survey responses from PAUSD - Web Link
If Paly students see TAs as the ones who help them with basic academics, but the Guidance Counselors as the go-to source for PERSONAL and serious academic problems, one cannot conclude that student disagreement on Question 15 - "I feel comfortable going to my TA about personal issues..." or "If a friend is struggling with a serious personal issue, I would advise him/her to go see their TA" - comes from dissatisfaction with their TAs. Student disagreement may just as easily come from the fact that they didn't agree with the question's premise.
Question 5, 14 & 16 show clearly that Paly students do differentiate who they will go to according to whether their challenge is academic, personal or career.
We have to be open and honest as we look at this data. Your comment misstates the data and relies heavily on the false assumption about TA mentioned above: "And that 42% is only slightly higher than the percentage that feel uncomfortable or very uncomfortable talking to their Advisor. You're also forgetting the majority of students who would *not* recommend going to the counsellor to a friend who has a personal problem. There's an obvious pattern here."
- First of all, assuming we are talking about Paly, Question 15 - these were agreement/disagreement statements. There were no response options of uncomfortable, very uncomfortable or comfort in general.
- Second, the percent of students who disagreed or strongly disagreed = 32%. I see 42% as more than "slightly higher" than 32%.
- Whether students would recommend their friends to TA for a personal problem is fraught with the same false assumption about TA. If it WERE relevant, you claimed a majority of students would not recommend their friend to a TA for personal problems when the number is actually 36.6%.
What matters is that you are doubling down with an already flawed question and exaggerated claims about the numbers to support your conclusion.
Let me be clear, I'm arguing that the survey question you rely on for your conclusion is flawed. It can't deliver what it was intended to deliver. And you can't draw the inference or conclusions that you are claiming - at least from "it".
Finally, we could learn a lot more about what students might have been thinking if we just had access to the open-ended comments linked to these questions. However, they do not show up on the District's web link (above) and I don't see them on the links provided by WCDBPA. There are 171 on Question 6 - (the value of TA), 54 on Question 15 (about using TA for personal issues), 66 on Question 16 (about using Guidance Counselors for personal issues) and on many questions throughout the survey students were encouraged to "Feel free to explain or add additional comments here".
I hope someone out there can point me to a link that reveals these responses. It would be so disturbing to think they have been left unread and overlooked in the analysis.
Posted by confused, a resident of the Crescent Park neighborhood, on Jun 13, 2012 at 3:02 pm
My original response was going to be that having only 42% thinking they can go to their TA is an abysmal response rate. However, I was giving you the benefit of the doubt.
Your subsequent response, however, shows that you still believe that a 42% rate is good! Are you serious? That means that 58% don't have an opinion or wouldn't go to them. This is an appalling response rate for a group designed and trained to support and interact with our kids. How can you not see this?
I really don't know what else to say, apart from you brought the term "comfortable" into this, if you want to change it to agree/disagree, it doesn't change the result.
Posted by data dizzy, a resident of the Palo Verde neighborhood, on Jun 13, 2012 at 4:20 pm
I am only staying in this conversation because I can't stand to see data twisted - especially in the names of students. And now you are twisting my words. I made no judgment statement about what the data meant - good or bad. Nor did I inject any new words.
Are these not your words?
"And that 42% is only slightly higher than the percentage that feel uncomfortable or very uncomfortable talking to their Advisor. You're also forgetting the majority of students who would *not* recommend going to the counsellor to a friend who has a personal problem. There's an obvious pattern here. "
If you expect to bring others along with your conclusion, you'll have to (sorry) "do better". It is crystal clear to me, and now every other poor person still reading this, that you are either unwilling or incapable of considering straightforward feedback on your claims, and that you, indeed, remain confused.
Posted by data dizzy, a resident of the Palo Verde neighborhood, on Jun 13, 2012 at 5:16 pm
Last time, Confused... The statement students responded to was this: "I feel comfortable going to my TA about personal issues that I might be struggling with."
The response options were whether they agreed or disagreed with the statement, not as you claim "uncomfortable or very uncomfortable" .
42% agreed with the statement (hence we can assume that 42% were comfortable). 32% disagreed or strongly disagreed with the statement - and there could have been a number of reasons - one being, they go to a differnt category of counselors for personal reasons.
From the actual survey responses. Objective. Simple, actually.