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Finding the way around Gunn

Original post made on Sep 22, 2012

Freshmen at Gunn High School in Palo Alto recently shared random facts about themselves in the ice-breaking game, "Two Truths and a Lie." The session was part of "Titan 101," an orientation program offered for Gunn freshman even as the school is under pressure to revamp its school-wide guidance and college-counseling program.

Read the full story here Web Link posted Saturday, September 22, 2012, 11:38 AM

Comments (29)

Posted by PA Parent, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 22, 2012 at 6:03 pm

Glad to hear that Gunn has Titan 101 and was looking for ways to improve it. Sorry to hear that the students feel so pressed to leave school early on Thursdays when these Titan sessions are often scheduled. This article did not say whether Freshmen are required to attend the sessions. If they are forced to go resenting the time taken away from an early Thursday escape that would not be desirable. I would hope that the perceived benefits of the Titan 101 program would far offset the need to leave school early in order to take care of their "multiple extracurricular time demands". It is interesting that "breathing and relaxation" was "dumped after getting panned by the students". It seems as if these skills would be extra necessary to have in one's toolkit for dealing with the multiple stresses of so many extracurricular activities. I hope the Gunn internal working group come up with some great ideas for improving the counseling overall. I think that the Gunn students deserve to have at least as many touch points with adults at school as Paly students. I don't know why there has been so much resistance to giving Gunn students a better system. Perhaps they can take Paly's system and tweek it to meet their own vision of good guidance. I think that Paly's system would definitely serve as a model of something that has been successful as well as having withstood the test of time. I was following the work of We Can Do Better Palo Alto and even attended some board meetings where some of their members were speaking. I noticed that they were unwaveringly supportive of the students at Gunn by advocating for something better (teacher advisory) for them. I would not have characterized their advocacy as "ordering the board" to do anything. I hope that they can honestly look at the benefits of TA and consider creating their own system which works at least as well as Paly's. Knowing Gunn, they will come up with a great system with their own twist on it. I wish that more Gunn parents could have attended the Teacher Advisory information session with Denise Pope that was presented by WCDBPA. I learned so much from this forum. My Gunn parent friends were unaware of this opportunity and when I shared the information they found it very enlightening as they had so much misinformation about what TA means. There is too much misinformation and misunderstanding out there about counseling systems. Hopefully more will be revealed about this at the upcoming School Board candidate forums. I would like to extend my gratitude to this parent committee WCDBPA for steadfastly researching and providing the information that the board and parents would need to implement best practices........the practices that will benefit all of our students across the district.


Posted by board package, a resident of Crescent Park
on Sep 22, 2012 at 11:01 pm

I think you'll find this is part of the effort to improve counselling effectiveness at Gunn:

"Objective: Improvements to Titan 101 (Recommended by Staff/GRW, implemented by Titan 101 Committee)

Revisions for Titan 101 have already been outlined for next year with a calendar of meetings that will help the transition of 9th graders to Gunn. There is strong staff support to increase the number
of meetings by staff and students, which will allow thoughtful curriculum delivery in the areas of personal/social and academic planning. This will help foster relationships between students and
staff on campus in conjunction with student connectedness and developmental assets initiatives. A key component is the addition of counselors meeting specifically with their 9th grade students in a
small group setting in the fall and spring."


Posted by Not a TA fan on the #s, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 23, 2012 at 7:11 am

PA Parent,

Quoting you and then responding (#1):

**"Gunn students deserve to have at least as many touch points with adults at school as Paly students."**

If you are from Gunn, no need to worry about school differences. Gunn students have at least as many touch points. It is just that Gunn students initially get them from all around campus (teachers, coaches, club leaders) and while more Paly students get them from their TAs (who btw change after 9th grade).

Student guidance survey results:

> Paly and Gunn students on how many of them have close relationships with adults on campus: The same. 49% & 50%.

> 1 out of every 4 Paly students said that there were NO adults on campus whom they could go to when facing a personal challenge.

That is despite all Paly studnets having TAs they meet with regularly who are supposed to be available outside of the TA sessions to talk to.

By the beginning of 12th grade, more Gunn students report having better relationships with their counselors than Paly students have with their TAs.

> Students saying that their counselor or TA had gotten to know them well by 12th grade: Gunn better. 59% Gunn. 53% Paly.

Neither campus should be content with these stats. Work is needed on both sides of town.


Posted by Not a TA fan on the #s, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 23, 2012 at 7:13 am

Quoting you and then responding (#2):

**"Paly's system would definitely serve as a model of something that has been successful as well as having withstood the test of time." **

From the students' perspective, Paly's TA program is not a "model" of success.

> Same student guidance survey: 37% of Paly students say Paly TA sessions were NOT a valuable use of their time and another 30% did not endorse it enthusiastically either.

As already mentioned, 12th graders:

> At Paly were less connected with their advisor than Gunn 12th graders were with their counselor.

> At Gunn were much happier with the quality of advice they got from them than Paly 12th graders were (72% compared to 57%).

That was after Paly students had spent 3 years in twice a month meetings with TAs in Paly's fully-vetted, more expensive, 20 year old program.


Posted by Not a TA fan on the #s, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 23, 2012 at 7:14 am

Quoting you and then responding (#3):

**"There is too much misinformation and misunderstanding out there about counseling systems. "**

Agreed.


Posted by LDC, a resident of Palo Verde
on Sep 23, 2012 at 11:24 am

My high schoolers had very good connections with their teachers at Gunn. My kids found the Gunn teachers very accessible before and after school and during prep periods.

My daughter has friends at Paly who say their TA sessions are NOT small groups of students, but rather large groups of students, which provides very little chance to connect with the TA.

Why has it been determined by a few that Paly's system is better than Gunn's? Paly's system may work better for some students, but keep in mind that Gunn's system works better for other students. For our family, Gunn's system worked well.


Posted by high school parent , a resident of Community Center
on Sep 23, 2012 at 12:44 pm

I hope that the Gunn working committee keeps an open mind throughout the process and looks at best practices outside the district as well as looking at Paly's TA system. It would be great to tap into the wisdom of experts in this area. There is a group in Cambridge, Mass, Educators for Social Responsibility , who have a wealth of information and research on the subject. I am sure that there are other experts out there.


Posted by citizen, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 23, 2012 at 1:47 pm

Same student guidance survey: 37% of Paly students say Paly TA sessions were NOT a valuable use of their time and another 30% did not endorse it enthusiastically either

This statistic says it all. Turning from a system which could use a bit of improvement to one which is not very good would be unwise.


Posted by anonymous, a resident of JLS Middle School
on Sep 23, 2012 at 2:21 pm

@citizen writes: "...Turning from a system which could use a bit of improvement to one which is not very good would be unwise."

True, true. However, nobody is defending the guidance system at Gunn - most of the arguments are against change, not arguments in favor of what they currently have.

So, in fact, to use your logic, turning from a system which is not very good (Gunn) to one which could use a bit of improvement (Paly) is a good step forward. We should take that step, before my kids end up there.


Posted by Not a TA fan on the #s, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 23, 2012 at 2:37 pm

Anonymous,

Compare the Gunn student satisfaction numbers by 12th grade with those from Paly and you'll see that Paly should be looking to Gunn for ideas on how it can improve the guidance and counseling services it provides students.

Sure seems that both schools should be taking a hard look at where they fall short and see what "best practices" they can borrow from the other.


Posted by palo alto mom, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Sep 23, 2012 at 2:51 pm

Both systems have their good points, but to be clear, TA classes are 25 or so kids, they meet 11 times sophomore year, 13 times junior year and 4 or 5 times senior year, so it is actually not a ton of time spent together. A lot of the time is spent learning about Naviance, picking classes for the following year and planning for all four years of school. For the most part, I would say the the students would not go to their Advisor for advice on non-academic problems.


Posted by Ken Dauber, a resident of Barron Park
on Sep 23, 2012 at 2:58 pm

In discussing counseling at the two high schools, it's helpful to be looking at the data. The best data comes from a survey completed earlier this year at both high schools. The data is extremely useful, representing a much larger sample size than prior surveys (the sample size at Gunn is 1560 students, and at Paly is 1368).

In short, the data demonstrates that students at Paly are receiving much better and more effective guidances services than are students at Gunn. In gross terms, there are 264 measures on which Gunn and Paly can be directly compared. For 239 of these measures (91%), Paly students are 5 or more percentage points more satisfied than Gunn students. For 6 of these measures (2%), Gunn students are 5 or more percentage points more satisfied than Paly students. This is an overwhelming difference, though it is completely consistent with the history of student and parent surveys for various WASC and strategic plan surveys. See the data here: Web Link.

With respect to seniors, while is true that the satisfaction gap is greatest for 9th, 10th, and 11th graders, Gunn seniors are still less satisfied than Paly seniors. Of the 6 items on which Gunn exceeds Paly in satisfaction by 5 or more percentage points, 5 of them are among seniors. Even among seniors, however, Gunn students are less satisfied than Paly students (there are 31 measures on which Paly seniors exceed Gunn by 5 or more percentage points).

But the difference in the lower grades is remarkable: there are well over a hundred measures on which Paly exceeds Gunn by more than 5 percentage points, and 1 for Gunn ("I feel well-informed about the different classes and academic options available to me": Gunn 75%, Paly 69%). Many of the gaps are extremely large, for example: "I find it easy to talk to my guidance counselor (Gunn 9th graders: 46%, Paly 9th graders: 72%), "My counselor is an important resource for me (Gunn 9th graders: 39%, Paly 9th graders: 64%), "I get enough time with my guidance counselor or TA to plan my academic and career goals (Gunn 10th graders: 48%, Paly 10th graders: 71%), "I trust my guidance counselor or TA to help me if I am struggling academically (Gunn 11th graders: 57%, Paly 11th graders: 78%).

Our students collectively took a lot of time to tell us their experience with counseling in our schools (including providing open-ended responses at Gunn [Web Link] and Paly [Web Link]). We owe it to them to listen and act responsibly. That's why I've urged that Gunn make a plan to implement an advisory system for Gunn students -- because we have a years of data and supporting research that show that this is a best practice for delivering guidance services to high school students. Our students at Gunn deserve services that are equally as good as those we deliver to Paly students, while we at the same time work to make the TA system as good as it can be at both schools.

I'm running for School Board in part because I would like to see the district be more proactive in identifying and implementing best practices across our school sites -- for more information on this point, see Web Link.


Posted by palo alto mom, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Sep 23, 2012 at 3:13 pm

Ken -

First let me say, I totally agree with you about implementing best practices from school to school.

As a Paly parent for a number of years, in my opinion, the Freshman TA's are great and meet with the kids every week or every other week. The quality of the TA's is generally good and they really help the kids. The 10-12th grade TA's are a mixed bag. The teachers that the kids truly relate to are not usually TA's (they are often very involved in other venues like drama, journalism, coaching a team, etc. Some of the TA's are terrific, some seem to be mainly doing it for the prep time, they cover things quickly with the kids and release them early.

While I am all for improving counseling at all our schools, Gunn needs to have teacher buy-in for a TA system (aka they have to be willing to be TA's). Perhaps we should examine the "best practices" at both schools and combine them.


Posted by Not a TA fan on the #s, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 23, 2012 at 4:15 pm

Ken,

I agree, let's listen to the students.

I'm looking at the same student survey data source you are.

How do you square that 37% of Paly students say Paly TA sessions were NOT a valuable use of their time and another 30% did not endorse it enthusiastically with your conclusion that Gunn must move to Paly's TA model?


Posted by questions?, a resident of Crescent Park
on Sep 23, 2012 at 4:47 pm

Ken, in the data you quote above, where is the question to Paly Students "I get enough time with my guidance counselor to plan my academic and career goals" in the surveys? I see the question asked about the TAs but I can't find the same question asked of Paly students about their GCs.
Likewise I don't see the question "I trust my guidance counselor to help me if I am struggling academically". I see the question asked of TAs at Paly but not the GCs.


Posted by David Pepperdine, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 23, 2012 at 10:11 pm

Anyone who even *thinks* that:

"12th graders at Paly were less connected with their advisor than Gunn 12th graders were with their counselor"

is smoking crack. I have a child who graduated from Gunn. Let me tell you, it wasn't possible to feel less connected with the advisor. Each advisor at Gunn has HUNDREDS of students and met with students for a total of 4 hours over 4 years.

The reasoning here is toxic.


Posted by Ken Dauber, a resident of Barron Park
on Sep 23, 2012 at 10:18 pm

@questions?

The survey at Paly didn't ask about guidance counselors providing advice about academic and career goals or about help for struggling academically, probably because of the division of labor among adults in guidance roles at Paly. Briefly, teacher advisors are primarily responsible for academic advising, while guidance counselors focus on social and emotional issues. (There's actually a third leg to the stool, which is college and career advisors at Paly).

At Paly, in addition to the approximately 40 teacher advisors, there are 4 guidance counselors (one for each grade who loops with the students for all 4 years), and 2 college and career advisors. See Web Link for a description.

At Gunn, by contrast, there are six permanent and one temporary guidance counselors who provide all guidance services, including academic advising, social emotional support, and college advising. Because the counselors at Gunn must wear so many hats, they are spread very thin. Consequently they meet with each student in grades 9-11 once each year, and spend more time with seniors who are applying to college.

The effect of a division of labor with adults in multiple overlapping roles is most apparent in Tables M.0.a and M.0.b (in Web Link). For example, 88% of Paly students and 57% of Gunn students say that at least one adult in a guidance role can help them if they are struggling academically, 91% of Paly students and 70% of Gunn students say that they can get deciding which colleges fit their goals, and 79% of Paly students and 30% of Gunn students say that they can get help if they are struggling with health issues.

We shouldn't be seeing differences of this magnitude in service delivery between our two high schools. That's why I have consistently advocated for Gunn to move to a counseling system closer to the teacher advisory model that Paly uses, with appropriate support for the change and with adaptations to fit Gunn's particular needs. If you agree with this perspective that we should be using best practices in all our schools, I hope you will consider voting for me on November 6. For more information, see Web Link.


Posted by Not a TA fan on the #s, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 23, 2012 at 11:11 pm

No reason to be so incredulous Mr. Pepperdine.

900 of our high school seniors were surveyed this spring and this is how they answered questions 21 (on page 12) and 33 (on page 22):

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

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

Web Link


Posted by Not a TA fan on the #s, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 23, 2012 at 11:19 pm

Ken,

Any thoughts about 67% of Paly students not finding TA time to be that valuable?

Question 6 on page 4: "Advisory is a valuable use of my
time"

Web Link


Posted by Seeing the forst through the trees, a resident of Barron Park
on Sep 23, 2012 at 11:55 pm

What seems to be lost in all the anti-TA talk is this: Titan 101 is a form of TA. So Gunn is already moving in that direction. And guess what? The sky hasn't fallen.

This isn't an issue of whether Gunn should adopt the Paly program wholesale. I haven't heard a single person say that. But what is clear is that, while there needs to be improvement at both high schools, Gunn has much farther to go. The Gunn guidance system is an old-school model and doesn't represent the best current thinking in high school guidance systems.

Hopefully that will be the focus of the Gunn guidance committee: bringing the best possible thinking and system to Gunn so kids are supported in the best possible way. That's what we should be talking about. All the rest of this is just noise.


Posted by Not a TA fan on the #s, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 24, 2012 at 7:13 am

Maybe this study explains why Gunn seniors are pleased with their "old-school" guidance model which is less time intensive than TA and so probably a much more direct way for students to get the information that they value and need.

This, one of the few studies of school guidance systems, is out of UCSF and was conducted just a few years ago in California with 10k linguistically and racially diverse students.

In this study, particular attention was paid to advisory programs, the school reform strategy that others have thought, like here in Palo Alto, could better address students' social and emotional needs.

Researchers concluded that advisory didn't work. "Schools need to integrate strategies of caring into their daily work and overall school climate, as opposed to simply annexing it within an advisory period."

Why didn't advisory work? "A likely explanation is that students are distinguishing between the 'real life' experiences of personalization versus the more formal structure of advisory programs.

This indicates that relationships matter more when they appear in informal, improvised, and, therefore, more authentic, encounters between teachers and students, than when they appear because of formal structures of courses, like advisory, that are institutionally designated for that purpose."

They also found that the better students felt about advisory, the worse their grades and English test scores were.

California Healthy Kids Research Project/ UCSF's Institute for Healthy Policy Studies and West Ed:

Web Link




Posted by questions?, a resident of Crescent Park
on Sep 24, 2012 at 8:28 am

Ken, the whole premise for your conclusion assumes there is no support besides GCs at Gunn. Your analysis is to compare GCs to TAs, which you've stated fulfill different roles.
As with your previous comparison between TAs and GCs your quote "Gunn students say that at least one adult in a guidance role can help them if they are struggling academically" isn't accurate. The only question that was posed to each school was: "I trust my TA to help me if I am struggling academically" versus "I trust my Guidance Counselor to help me if I am struggling academically".
This question wasn't posed to find out about GCs at Paly or teachers at Gunn. Without this information, how do you draw your conclusion that adding TAs at Gunn is the best use of resources?


Posted by teach every child, a resident of Adobe-Meadows
on Sep 24, 2012 at 8:32 am

Your report of this study is misleading. First, the researchers studied small, low income and minority schools not large, affluent white schools like Paly and Gunn. For this reason the findings are of very limited applicability. Second, the outcome measures are limited to GPA and standardized test scores. The researchers did not ask whether the students' social-emotional health improved as a result of advisory. The study asks about the relationship of students positive feelings about advisory to their GPA. This relationship is not necessarily causal at all -- as the researchers themselves acknowledge:

"The simplest explanation is that students who needed advisory most (i.e., had the lowest grades, etc.) were the ones who valued advisory most, and vice versa, and the worse they performed, the more they valued advisory. Meanwhile, students who felt good about their position in school and their relationships with teachers tended to perform better academically."

See: Web Link

The authors also conclude that the inverse relationship could be driven by the fact that many of the students who like advisory are low performing and might otherwise have dropped out but are being held into school by that relationship. There is no evidence in this study that liking advisory is causing grades to fall, and the mechanism for that claim would be hard to figure out.



Posted by Not a TA fan on the #s, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 24, 2012 at 9:33 am

Teach,

Where is the research that Ken Dauber mentions which proves that advisory improves students' social emotional lives?

This UC study says, at least as of 2010, that "the role of advisory programs specifically in supporting personalization remains murky."

This study also raises several important things that Gunn might want to ponder before jumping in.

Would Gunn find that at Paly, like in the study, "the more students, in general, reported satisfaction with advisory, the worse they performed academically" overall? If one set of students performs better with it (those with lower grades), then perhaps advisory should be mandatory for them and not implemented system-wide.

Can Gunn dive deeper to see why 67% of Paly students don't find advisory to be all that valuable? Could it be, again like the study suggests, that "students are distinguishing between the lived experiences of personalization versus the more bureaucratic, instrumental quality of advisory programs"?

Maybe Gunn will conclude, again from the study, that with more attention it will be better "able to integrate strategies of caring into their daily work and overall school climate, as opposed to annexing it within an advisory period, [which] may be more successful."

Finally, again from the UC study: "As McLaughlin (1987) said: 'you can't mandate what matters.'"


Posted by Just my opinion, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 24, 2012 at 5:21 pm

sample size at Gunn is 1560 students, and at Paly is 1368

Should we be looking at numbers? Why does Paly have 200 less students? This makes a huge difference in reaching all students.


Posted by Parent, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 24, 2012 at 5:33 pm

School has been in session for a month.

Why are they just now getting around to having a freshman orientation?


Posted by Parent of Gunn Freshman, a resident of Midtown
on Sep 25, 2012 at 11:07 am

Dear Parent ~


It seem the article was not clear. Please note that freshman orientation has not just begun. The freshman have had benefit of a number of programs/meetings supporting their transition to high school. I hear from my child that it has been very helpful and she is much less anxious that I had expected.

I appreciate the Gunn Titan 101 effort and particularly the openness and willingness to seek and consider student feedback and make adjustments for continuous improvements.


Posted by Angry Parent, a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Sep 25, 2012 at 10:28 pm

In measureing the well being of one student population vs another, I wonder if you have to normalize for the fact that Gunn students have to weave in and through the entire parking lot, in and amongst MOVING TRAFFIC, CARS and bikes, in massive herds, between classes, every day, just to get from one period to the next (meaning the heart of the parking lot is main and heavily used throughfare across campus.) - Or I wonder if you have to normalize for the construction disruptions literally from one boundary of campus clear to the other end - that has been in place for the ENTIRE FOUR YEARS, of my senior daughter's time at Gunn. Frankly, if my home, where I spent more than 6 hours a day (more than most of us actually spend at HOME), were in massive upheaval for four years straight - I'd be a basket case too.

If Mr Dauber wants to do the Gunn kids such a favor, he'd be putting up a big stink about the massive and prolonged disruptions to the students at Gunn (and so many of our campuses). Never ending really - Because the school district is apparently flush with construction cash, with not a care in the world about the students that are being so massively disrupted by it for the ENTIRE HIGH SCHOOL careers.


Posted by Palo Alto Citizen, a resident of College Terrace
on Sep 26, 2012 at 7:34 pm

I don't understand Ken's use of data but that is not the issue for me.

I have seen and interacted in a non-Palo Alto *public* high school slightly larger than Gunn with significantly less money where students, admin, teachers and parents ALL worked respectfully and commitedly to making the experience the best ever. Guess what? The teachers are accessible and not defensive, the students are respectful and earn the grades they get without parental lobbying, and everyone -- students, staff, admin,parents -- is committed to making the school a place of supportive community. People do feel connected, and proud of their school.

On the other hand, I have been in meetings at Gunn with unbelievably rude, aggressive parents who swaggered and attacked the adminstration on the simplest things when a polite request would have done the job. It was flabbergasting. In my decades spent on and off in Palo Alto, the greatest constant has been the schizophrenic culture of smugness about our superior schools combined with perpetual drum-beating about those same schools' many failings. The culture of disrespect in this district is nauseating and it starts with the adults. There is a lot of adult bullying in this district. I would give anything to have ONE civil meeting where people talked about what was right and how to build on that, without attacking and demanding that their pet ideas be adopted.

The Counselor system will work well at Gunn with tweaks, and the Paly TA system needs improvement too -- though, with modification, It might work better for Paly students. Replacing counselors with teachers who are NOT TRAINED COUNSELORS (as at Paly), shoving the TA system down the throats of Gunn students when it doesn't get hearty endorsement from the Paly students hardly seems like the best solution.

If I were an administrator I would be thoroughly sick of how every effort to reach out and do a better job is met with derisive sneers about how much better they could do.


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