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Best teachers, better counseling top priorities

Original post made on Apr 9, 2008

Better counseling and attracting the best teachers are top priorities students, teachers and parents want to see in the new Strategic Plan for Palo Alto schools, according to an extensive survey, Superintendent Kevin Skelly told the school board Tuesday.

Read the full story here Web Link posted Wednesday, April 9, 2008, 7:30 AM

Comments (55)

Posted by terryg, a resident of Evergreen Park
on Apr 9, 2008 at 7:42 am

this is irresponsible:
The results contained bitter pills for some, including a suggestion that some parents drive teachers to quit their jobs and a strong sentiment that introducing foreign-language classes to elementary schools is a bad idea.

The survey asked exisitng teachers why applicants don't accept the jobs. I'm not sure how you can say that "they are being driven away" as applicants have never interacted with the parents here.

and, on Foreign Language, of the 3000+ parents surveyed, 46% had it in their top 5 priorities - how is that saying it's a bad idea. It wasn't as high for the other stakeholders but I still don't see where you get "it's a bad idea."

I sat behind you at the BOE mtg last night and I can't imagine how intrepreted the data this way unless you were just angling for a more interesting story.


Posted by Jim, a resident of Crescent Park
on Apr 9, 2008 at 8:21 am


The "strong sentiment that introducing foreign-language classes to elementary schools is a bad idea" comes from the Principals not the parents.

It is clarified here:
"In one meeting, he asked principals to place a green dot next to productive ideas and a red dot next to distracting ideas. Not a single principal placed a green dot next to foreign languages, but there were 26 red dots next to the program, which parents pushed for in the wake of last year's board decision to start a Mandarin-immersion program."

There was more than one group being surveyed.

Posted by terryg, a resident of Evergreen Park
on Apr 9, 2008 at 8:33 am

Thanks Jim, your point is well taken.

Posted by PA Dad, a resident of College Terrace
on Apr 9, 2008 at 9:17 am

Re. support for FLES.

"Board members, including student board member Andrew Tesler, criticized its results as unclear because parent groups were not broken down by elementary, middle and high school. Different parents have very different concerns, Townsend said."

I'd very much like to see how support for FLES breaks down across parents from the different school levels. Why would it be a high priority for parents who no longer have children in elementary school? -- they might want it in an abstract way but if this survey was their chance to advocate for real changes in the PAUSD, they're going to prioritize things likely to impact their middle and high school children. So I'd suggest a truer measure of support for the idea would be to look at support among elementary parents.

Also, I hope the board isn't too distracted by the idea of FLES being 'distracting' to school principals. Of course it would be distracting from their current priorities because it would be an entirely new priority. And it would be a pain to implement, like anything new.

But if language exposure in elementary school is what children need to compete in the global marketplace (which I not be surprised to find that a majority of elementary parents feel), then the BOE can make it a priority and the claims of it being a 'distraction' are moot -- because it would now be part of the elementary schools' core mission.

Posted by Parent, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 9, 2008 at 9:29 am

I agree with PA Dad

One of the problems with the survey is that we were told to answer the questions in relation to our eldest child in PAUSD. For me, that is my high schooler. If I had had to answer for my middle schooler, my answers would have been different, particularly as having the experience of going through it once I could see what was more important for the second that I was not aware of for the first.

As for FLES, having one child start language in high school and two who started in middle school, I really do feel that if they had had the opportunity to start in elementary school it would have really helped. I also agree with the premise that learning a language helps English skills as it is only learning a new set of grammar rules that makes them understand the importance of good grammar in English. Until they learn another language, things like tenses, conjugating, etc. don't mean anything to a child, but once they see it in the context of a foreign language it makes them much more aware of what they are saying in English. Therefore, I even more strongly agree with FLES for elementary students even though it is too late for me, than I would have said when my first child was in elementary.

Posted by Arden Pennell, Palo Alto Weekly staff writer
on Apr 9, 2008 at 9:38 am

Arden Pennell is a registered user.

Hi Terry,

Thanks for pointing out that the question specifies applicants, rather than those who left employment. (For readers' reference, the question was "What do you think are the primary reasons we lose good applicants to other districts?") The article is now corrected.

Also, as the articles states, Superintendent Kevin Skelly said no principals with whom he spoke supported foreign languages in elementary schools, despite the parent approval on the survey. My point is while parents want languages, Skelly clearly said that the administration does not.

Thanks for reading carefully.

Posted by Paul Losch, a resident of Community Center
on Apr 9, 2008 at 11:07 am

I find the concerns expressed by the principals about introducing foreign language at the elementary school level (FLES) to be entirely understandable and not at all surprising. This is the same concern that was expressed at schools when it was considered a dozen years ago. While I am a long standing advocate of FLES, I do think a few points around this can be made without my bias coloring my thinking:

1. It may well be that there are other more important priorities, as the principals see it. It is critical that those be specifically identified, so that the Board ultimately can decide which are the priorities the district should have. If there is nothing more specific than there are "other priorities" that are more important, it is not possible to make intelligent trade-offs around different choices we face. FLES may well lose out on such an assessment, but I think it has shown to have enough community interest that it needs to be considered on its merits alongside other choices, not treated as an "interloper" that needs to justify its existence over other priorities.

2. Principals play a crucial role in assuring a stable learning environment on the site, and so introducing a major change of any sort runs counter to their role. That is not to say that the principals we have are inflexible or rigid in their thinking, but introducing a new program or curriculum is a huge undertaking, so they are rightly cautious about its implications for keeping the ships of state sailing well. This is true for anything, it just happens to be FLES at this point

3. I will suggest that we are not learning enough from our peer districts on how they have handled this. Clearly, there are a number of excellent school districts around the country which have implemented FLES successfully, so we are not wandering into unknown territory here. If FLES is chosen to be a priority, it will be a huge change management challenge for the district, but we can benefit from lessons learned elsewhere to develop our own implementaiton plan.

I agree with another posting that suggests parsing out parent input by grade level would be helpful. I won't speculate about what it could do to findings. We could be surprised, they may be counter intuitive, with HS parents thinking FLES is more important as they see where their kids are once they start language instruction, and parents with younger kids not seeing the benefits above and beyond the already fine education they see the kids getting at the elementary schools with the present curriculum. We shall see.

One word of caution around this entire strategic plan survey--the survey opinions are very very important, but they are just one form of input. It can help make some things a "no brainer," one way or the other. Ardent resistance and enthusiastic support make for easy choices. Other things will not be so crystal clear, and that is where taking the pulse of the community, drawing on professional educators' expertise, and leadership by the Board and District Staff all need to be blended into the strategic choices made.

Posted by Paly parent, a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Apr 9, 2008 at 11:28 am

With all the talk about introducing foreign languages in the elementary schools, I've never once heard anyone discuss the QUALITY of existing programs. My two high-schoolers have had terrible foreign language class experiences. Their teachers have been very poor. Perhaps the program itself is poorly thought out. Their courses pale in comparison to the language classes I took in high school. My kid's French class is conducted at a snail's pace, seemingly geared toward the slowest learner; projects all require students to produce highly decorated posters, PowerPoint slides, and cartoon strips. It's very disappointing and a serious waste of time. I would like to see the district revamp existing foreign-language programs before adding more mediocrity at earlier grades.

Posted by Another Paly Parent, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 9, 2008 at 11:40 am

I am with Paly Parent above. I have had no experience of French, but have seen both German and Spanish at the high school level. German is no longer taught at Paly which is why we changed to Spanish. But, both classes were taught without any inclusion of technological methods. Even when I learned languages back in the 60s and 70s, the language classrooms were the most advanced with technology. We had tape recorders and individual learning centers and even spent time corresponding with students in the respective countries. Now languages seem to be the poor relation when it comes to classroom spending and the only real way to use the language is occasional trips planned to countries that use the language. More innovative teaching of languages must be implemented at both middle and high school levels as well as teaching languages earlier in elementary school.

Posted by Paly parent, a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Apr 9, 2008 at 11:53 am

Thanks for your support, Another Paly Parent. But I don't think a lot of money needs to be spent for language instruction--just get some good teachers! All they need to do is use the language in class . . . oddly, my son's teacher rarely speaks French in class (though she is a native speaker). It's ludicrous. Kids will learn far more from a good teacher who immerses them in the language during class each day than they will learn on a short, expensive trip. And they'll learn more from interacting with one another and their teacher in the language they're learning than they will sitting in a language lab.

Posted by palo alto mom, a resident of Crescent Park
on Apr 9, 2008 at 2:47 pm

In addition to strong teachers, I'd like to see a big improvement in the consistency between teachers.

After a generally wonderful experience with elementary school teachers, I've been amazed at the range of abilities of the secondary school teachers. My child had mostly good teachers at Jordan - except for Math and one English teacher. Paly is like a roller coaster - mostly fabulous and dedicated teachers - but the terrible ones are truly terrible.

For example, as a freshman, you have a choice of a wonderful history teacher who is a Paly treasure and on the other hand, a teacher who tells the kids not to bother her about when homework/tests will be returned. (I'm sure there are other teachers who are terrific.)

A Biology teacher who the kids can't understand (her english, that is) who gives out study sheets for her tests, then doesn't test on what is on them and who spends a lot of class time going off on tangents so info does not get covered.

I wonder if any time is spent reviewing the grades of the students in a teachers class - a fairly good indication of how they are teaching.

Posted by Another Paly Parent, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 9, 2008 at 2:55 pm

Paly Parent

I agree that occasional trips abroad are not a good way of teaching use of the language, but I do think that some technology can help. My real idea of using the language would be to perhaps have a joint work session with say the SI students at Escondido or the French students at the International School whereby the older kids run a fun project for the younger kids which is done through the target language, or at least have some type of big brother/big sister buddy type get together.

I think that many of the language projects are more cultural in theme and do not necessarily help the language learning and replacing some of these projects with something more technological would be a better use of time. Coloring posters, flags, menus, etc. is fun, but teaches little in the way of language skills.

Posted by OhlonePar, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Apr 9, 2008 at 3:07 pm

Look, MI has been poisonous--no principal in her or his right mind wants to introduce a gigantic language debate into their school, which given the Palo Alto scene is what we'd get.

I think it would have been quite different if, like MP, PAUSD had introduced a simple Spanish elementary program at all the schools.

But in Palo Alto, our cultural diversity at this point is all too likely to translate into rancor over the introduction of one language over another.

I would still like to see afterschool language programs combined with summer immersion. Make it available for those who want it at a reasonable price and don't force it down anyone's throat--or take up school-year time and space.

Posted by Paul Losch, a resident of Community Center
on Apr 9, 2008 at 3:51 pm


Your analysis may be valid, but I don't think so. It suggests motivations by the principals that are around avoiding community conflict, which I don't think is what we want in principals, and which overlooks their valid concerns as educators and administrators around implementing any sort of major curriculum change to an existing elementary school program that is generally well regarded.

These people are first rate professionals, and want to do the right thing by their kids. They also know that there are times when changes in policy require them to implement them, even if they have personal misgivings about the changes. It comes with the job, as it does in most professional positions.

I would be more interested in understanding what they believe the key priroties should be, and why they are of the belief that these priorities trump consideration of introducing foreign language curriculum at the elementary level. Discourse around how MI has come about or how if only we had done it like another district doesn't help in navigating this matter in this district, given where things are.

BTW, Menlo Park has many similarities to Palo Alto as a community, what do you think it is about their success in introducing elementary language instruction that cannot be replicated next door in Palo Alto?

Posted by PV Parent, a resident of Palo Verde School
on Apr 9, 2008 at 4:15 pm

I think it has been wonderful for PAUSD to survey parents to ask about the strategic plan goals and considering the overwhelming success of the response, I am not alone in thinking this.

To get to the specifics of FLES, I am particularly pleased that PAUSD is listening to what parents want in this matter rather than only hearing principals and other educators. It is a well used phrase that we as parents can have what we want for our children provided we are willing to pay for it, and I do agree with this up to a point. However, if the majority of parents want something taught in the schools then this should be taken into strong consideration. I know that this has potentially lead to problems in regard to issues like evolution v intelligent design and obviously we do not want to have a situation like that, but if the majority of parents are interested in the schools teaching language, or technology skills, or personal finance, etc. then the schools should be listening.

I feel sure that in Palo Alto there would be parents who are interested in having their own pet project taught, but one small group should not rule the majority. Rather, if the majority want something taught then why shouldn't the schools teach it. It is up to the majority in a diverse district such as ours to be able to weed out what is not worth teaching rather than what is a good idea. A diverse district can only produce a better outcome when it comes to majority decisions.

Posted by Teacher Mom, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Apr 9, 2008 at 5:57 pm

I'm a teacher who works in another district and the fact is, Palo Alto has the reputation of having the worst parents. Personally I would NEVER work here. When I go to parent meetings or school functions, I can't help but think that many of the parents have a warped sense of reality and I pity the teacher(s) that have to deal with them. I also see a lot of stressed out, depressed, and poorly behaved children. Who wants to work their tail off for little pay, nutty parents, and bratty kids?

Jordan needs better teachers ... I have had two kids go through there and we've had only a handful of good teachers and two that were truly exceptional. A master degree does not equal a quality teacher and I feel Palo Alto needs to change their hiring standards. My son has a horrible math teacher at Jordan. She may have several advanced degrees in mathematics, but she has no skill as a teacher or working with middle-schoolers!

I hope the new district plan is a catalyst for change.

Posted by Disappointed, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 9, 2008 at 6:46 pm

I find it disappointing to read that Palo Alto school principals are opposed to introducing foreign language instruction at the elementary school level.

I cannot think of any sound educational reason to be against this introduction. All (or most) European countries start teaching foreign languages some time during elementary school for example.

To me, the principals' position strikes me more as a refusal to make changes, to take on a new project, and a preference for their comfortable status quo. And I find it deplorable.

Posted by Disappointed, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 9, 2008 at 6:52 pm

Teacher Mom:

I am not a teacher and, yes, I am a Palo Alto school parent and I agree with you and the teachers who brought this up.

Many, many (although not all) Palo Alto parents are unbearable. Condescending, snobbish, cliquish and overly demanding. They actually also take out their detestable traits on their fellow parents. I got to the point where I had to grate my teeth to even go to my kids' schools because I dreaded having to deal with those parents... And I did respond in the survey that one of the biggest problems that Palo Alto schools face is definitely the parents.

Posted by OhlonePar, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Apr 9, 2008 at 7:34 pm


Principals want to be able to run their schools smoothly and have their students meet particular academic goals. We already have a situation where we make a lot of demands on the schools.

I think what was done in Menlo Park could have been done in Palo Alto except that the well was already poisoned--for whatever reasons we no longer function as a unified community on schools. Parents are just that more demanding in Palo Alto than in Menlo Park and it's led to a divisive situation. MI was poisonous not because some parents wanted Mandarin Immersion but that they wanted it at any cost and while the leaders of the MI movement had kids young enough for the program.

For whatever reasons, those situations haven't arisen in Menlo Park in the same way. It's a much smaller district in terms of schools so I think there's not the same kind of competition for resources.

While I haven't heard specifically that PA has a bad-parent reputation, I can believe it. I feel, to some extent, that I have to win the trust of teachers--there's a wariness I've seen. On the part of parents, I think there's a feeling that since it costs so darn much to live here that the education had better be top-notch.

Posted by we have feelings too, a resident of Fairmeadow
on Apr 9, 2008 at 7:53 pm

Thanks, Disappointed, for your comments, although I am confused about what you mean by 'the teachers who brought this up.' Maybe I missed something? I reread posts, and it seems that parents brought up the 'parent issue.' (And the editor started the thread which seems a little like stirring the 'let's bash PAUSD' pot...)

Anyhow, I AM a teacher in the district, and my knees went a bit weak when I read a few of these posts, and I had to respond. (I have been advised to not read Palo Alto Online for this reason.)

I see a lot of professionalism among the staff when it comes to 'dealing' with parents. I will refrain from near-libel in my post (unlike others) and will not tell stories that identify what specific parents have said about me, to me, and behind my back about my looks, my body, my clothes, etc... (Yes, some of it gets back to us.) C'mon!!! Give me a break! It sounds ridiculous, but maybe teachers should start a parent rating Web site. oh no, wait, there already IS a teacher rating site... does it still sound so ridiculous?

I am grateful for and LOVE my job and think I am pretty good at it. I love working with kids and enjoy working and building partnerships WITH parents, and I think the vast majority of people with whom I work and have worked would feel the same thing.

Can't we all get along? Let's be respectful, professional, and kind to each other.

Posted by OhlonePar, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Apr 9, 2008 at 8:42 pm

Hmmm, sounds like teachers could use something like we could hear the nitty-gritty details of what you really think of us.

As hard as it is, I think it helps if you don't take the acting out of parents too personally. There's a lot of energy and ambition floating around that gets channeled into the whole child-raising thing and it does get out of control.

Posted by potkettle, a resident of Crescent Park
on Apr 9, 2008 at 8:42 pm

Teacher Mom, I couldn't take your post seriously. Your first paragraph sounds off at "nutty" parents with a warped sense of reality and your second sounds like you are one of those PA parents that you deplore so much.

Posted by PA Dad, a resident of College Terrace
on Apr 9, 2008 at 8:45 pm

If PAUSD staff truly believe a damagingly large number of parents to be way off-base when it comes to making demands of the district (as opposed to just the few hot-heads, thoughtless oafs and blowhards you'll find anywhere), then I think their leaders need to do a much better job of both communication and parent education.

It should be extremely easy for district parents to find information about what behavior is legitimate and what is meddling when it comes to dealing with teachers, principals and administrators. We also need regular forums to which confrontational parents are specifically directed where they can learn how to advocate for their children in ways that will persuade instead of putting school officials' backs up.

Even the non-confrontational and reasonable among us, though, could use a forum (other than this board) where we can ask questions about pedagogy and school standards – perhaps each principal should have a state-of-the-school night once a year, where the agenda specifically offers information--and invites parent input--on the fundamental direction of the school. Or maybe the district needs a more robust way of anonymously assessing parental satisfaction with a particular school beyond relying on whatever comes over the transom, gets thrown up here by anonymous posters or is communicated in quiet words whispered into high-ranking ears by well-connected 'insider' parents.

Certainly, the district also needs to be resilient enough that it can deal with being looked at with a critical eye – if parents are right in saying (as they have on this board) that the quality of language teaching at the high school level is shockingly varied, the district's answer can't simply be to blame the messenger. And it should have enough professional pride to want to do something about the problem.

Some issues of concern to some parents, of course, can only be resolved by the BOE, and we desperately need involved parents to help shape into their broad policy decisions.

But there are many others that should never reach that level. My impression, however, is that many parents don't know how else to work for change. Many have complained here that, under the last Superintendent's regime, they felt ignored, snubbed and patronized as they tried to take issues all the way up the command chain. Perhaps we're still dealing with the fall out from that.

It seems to me that one person's passionately caring parent can very easily be another's interfering busybody. That's always going to be the case. So how can we retain the passion that so many parents have in this district for high academic achievement (surely a good thing in principle) but turn that passion from being confrontational to collaborative?

And how can we turn that abstract passion in parents (I want my child to do well in the sense of gaining entry to a brand-name college) into a passion that benefits the particular children they are raising (who might be happier and more successful contributors to society if they saw themselves as measured by more than just the colleges to which they are accepted)? – a problem that I sense is behind a fair proportion of parental complaints that educators see as unreasonable.

Parent education and a willingness to engage in discussion here could surely only help.

It might not be fair to expect the district to do the heavy lifting on this, but it is run by educators, after all, and it's also in its own best interests to get parents on board as best they can.

So, as we outline our big strategic vision for the district, I hope we can make a priority of communicating to parents why decisions are made and how they can work with the district – and with fellow parents – to understand what is reasonable to expect of the district, how they can best advocate for the things that they have every right to advocate for, and what falls under the umbrella of change that needs to be advocated for at the level of the BOE.

Posted by OhlonePar, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Apr 9, 2008 at 8:59 pm

PA Dad,

You raise several good points. I think one overriding issue is that there isn't a consensus on how our schools should be or even what good teaching is. I know overprotective parents volunteering alongside parents who think the schools aren't tough enough. You know the teacher's getting it from both sides.

A local educator said to me diplomatically that Palo Alto parents are smart, but becaause they're smart they tend to have an opinion about
*everything*. We're really not inclined to just let the schools do their jobs. The good side of that, I think, is that the quality of our schools has stayed high and we can raise money in the district. The downside is that teachers are subject to a lot of comments.

Basically, we all care, oh boy do we care. And I think when it comes to our kids it is very hard to agree to disagree.

I think the art of managing and negotiating with other people is something that is learned over a lifetime. I don't think quickie solutions like forums would do the trick. Palo Alto parents are the way they are for some pretty clear reasons when you look at where we are.

I think, though, it helps to take a deep breath and think consciously about how to build a constructive relationship with a teacher where there are issues. Or, if you're a teacher, to take a step back and try to see why a parent's upset--it's not always obvious or even about what's going on in class.

Posted by PA Dad, a resident of College Terrace
on Apr 9, 2008 at 9:41 pm

OP -- I pretty much agree. But even if PA parents are as inevitably and unchangeably opinionated as you suggest, aren't there mechanisms that the school district could set up (deliberately designed to engage rather than conflict with such personalities) that could help build those constructive relations with teachers (and principals and district staff) that you talk about?

Okay, maybe quickie forums aren't the answer,but wouldn't some sort of an ongoing effort to offer parents and teachers support at those moments when neither side is feeling like they are being heard be a help to both?

Posted by Andrea, a resident of Crescent Park
on Apr 9, 2008 at 10:01 pm

I really don't have much confidence in the results of the survey. It provides a list of issues and asked us to prioritize them over the next 2-3 years. Most of the statements from which we were asked to choose seemed to better fit with a mission statement. For example, wouldn't fostering diversity, hiring the best teachers, improving communication, just to name a few from the list, all be part of the core mission of this district? Why ask us to prioritize the top five? All are equally important and all should be at the core of our mission. This district should already be addressing the majority of the issues on the list. If not, why not?

It was like asking me on which of the following should parents of infants focus: food, shelter, love? Duh, they are all equally important to the child's well-being and should be at the core of the parent's mission. However there might be some room for prioritizing things like carpeted nursery, high-end stroller and other equipment, teaching sign language, organic food only, breast feeding, etc.

I was expecting to find other types of issues in the district survey for ranking, such as physical fitness, upgrading technology, alternative programs for non-college bound students, music and art, other enrichment programs, facilities upgrades, foreign languages, transportation and safety, acheivement gap, and so on. And I would have liked more room for other input or suggestions not found on the list.

In the end, it was a disappointment. Too bad, because I have been looking forward to a new beginning, but it's feeling like cookie cutter, same old vague, generic blah blah.

Posted by Curious, a resident of Fairmeadow
on Apr 9, 2008 at 10:20 pm

to we have feelings too,
did you read that site? (
there are some quote from "ratings" - about different teachers at Gunn
"…a teacher you MUST have if you don't want your life to be meaningless…",
"Its not possible to not love Mr. <>. We had the best time reading Macbeth! And thats amazing, because we all hate Shakespeare.",
"if he taught all 7 of my classes, i would never fall asleep or be bored. i walked into his class by a schedule mistake, and in one period, his enthusiasm convinced me to stay. love him.",
"great teacher. He is a true model of what every teacher should be like."
, "I LEARNED!!! That's a miracle. He makes you think, and you'll never look at the world the same way again"

Very useful site, in most cases students are able to appreciate good teachers.

Posted by OhlonePar, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Apr 10, 2008 at 2:37 am

PA Dad,

I do think there's been a huge issue with transparency--i.e. letting the Ohlone community know a day before the board meeting that there had been Ohlone/MI talks. That caused a serious issue with trust, to put it mildly.

I think some of the tensions are endemic. Public schools are bureaucracies and in some ways teachers are very protected--i.e. tenure. At the same time, public schools are a public trust--in that sense, we have every right and, frankly, duty to be opinionated.
To some extent, we're stuck with one another.

I think Skelly is trying to move in the right direction--there was a real effort with the survey to get feedback and he clearly responded to concerns about the lotteries being open. I think that sort of responsiveness can only improve things.

But, as I consider the bond, I also realize it's not enough--yet. I'm a pro-bond sort of person--but as I consider it I see that at this point I just don't trust the district to do the right thing. I don't want, for example, mega-elementaries built. Ohlone should never become a 500-student elementary school. Big schools are bad for kids and it's criminal to create one at a site with a single small entrance. So when I hear talk of two-story buildings, part of me wonders if they'll be used to create oversized schools.

I read these bond issues and hear what people are proposing and I don't know what the hell is going on or how there will be accountability.

So what's the solution here? I can go to the school board meeting, wait all evening and get my three minutes to speak. Or maybe there will be a few forums where I can raise my hand and hope someone will call on me.

I've done those things and I swear I get better results posting here where at least there's a chance to engage, to discuss. I guess I'd say my problem with public forums is that teachers and administrators have the habit of treating parents as students to be lectured or instructed instead of what we actually are, which are a type of shareholder.

Which is a very roundabout way of saying that I think there's something about the dynamic that doesn't lend itself to easy fixes.

I suppose to me the quintessential dysfunctional forum was one of the ones on MI at Ohlone--there was a moderator who very carefully avoided calling on anyone who appeared angry and got huffy if anyone spoke in an angry tone. At the end, Mary Callan who was on her way out and in thorough disgrace had the nerve to lecture people on *their* behavior.

In other words, it was supposed to be a forum where people's views and concerns were heard, but it was all about trying to control reactions and minimize the appearance of emotion. It made people angrier.

The survey had a bit of the same issue--I had to write in my big concern--overcrowding. Other hot-button choices weren't on the list--an effective strategy to deal with "charter"mail, for instance.

So to sum up this ramble--I think it's the nature of teacher types to want to control the "classroom" and the "curriculum" and that can be extremely frustrating for those of us are long out of school. It's been the nature of school politics and management, though, that they set the forums. Also, I think, change is more likely to occur because of squeaky wheels than because of thoughtful educational policy--in part because there is very little *real* debate and discussion of issues at these forums and board meetings.

Seriously, with all the pettiness and rancor that erupts on the Forum, I learn more about what's going on with the schools here than I do at the schools or the meetings.

Posted by Parent, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 10, 2008 at 8:55 am

Andrea - you're right. The survey was garbage. It basically said - here's our job description - tell us which of the items in our job description you want us to work on. preparing all kids for college? hiring, retaining, training teachers??! Please. Academic achievment? Almost everything in the survey was the core business of the district.

The only thing that stood out was the ONE SINGLE program listed - foreign language (the only item up for debate in terms of a 'priority' question). What about all the other possible program focuses? Where did they go? Why didn't we see not even one single program/priority option besides foreign language listed?

Its like holding an election and putting one name on the ballot. The survey was pure garbage.

I guess they prove once again - you get what you pay for.

Posted by PA Dad, a resident of College Terrace
on Apr 10, 2008 at 9:26 am

Here's another concern I had about the survey: it seemed that you could take it as many times as you liked!

Anyone know if there was any way the district could tell if they were getting multiple replies from particularly zealous respondents? (Just tracking IP addresses won't help -- families with high school students and two parents might legitimately respond three or four times.)

Posted by PA Dad, a resident of College Terrace
on Apr 10, 2008 at 10:20 am

OP -- you say:

"Also, I think, change is more likely to occur because of squeaky wheels than because of thoughtful educational policy--in part because there is very little *real* debate and discussion of issues at these forums and board meetings."

I hear you. So where can have that debate? That's really what I was asking above. If school-run forums, as you suggest, treat parents "as students to be lectured or instructed instead of what we actually are, which are a type of shareholder," then we need something else.

Maybe it's at the BOE level that we should be expecting this. Board Members are our elected representatives, after all. And they're the only ones with the power to make the district do anything. So why can't they set up discussion forums where they asked to discuss the very broad issues we face and where parents and other stakeholders can can argue their point of view?

That certainly doesn't happen at BOE meetings, as you say. I've always been dismayed by how reactive BOE meetings are. And by how little the decisions made there seem to be based on what you could call an articulated vision of public education.

The same thing bugged me about the BOE 'debates' we had before the last election. They weren't debates at all (no-one got to ask follow up questions to the candidates' many bland statements) and it was shocking how little the BOE candidates spoke about education (it seemed more like a competition to be elected CEO of a private corporation -- with everyone emphasizing their management and budget experience and not seeming much interested in taking a position on the very real educational debates that we face (school size, charter policy, the value of languages, whether our 'choice' schools are worth the divisiveness, the traffic, etc. etc. )).

Posted by anonymous, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Apr 10, 2008 at 10:59 am

I am not an old timer and don't know too much about Palo Alto politics, but thought I heard that BoE is a stepping stone to city council, then state assembly? so political aspirations sometimes motivate those seeking to get on the BoE. Maybe that's why a Harvard resume is touted so often...I would have thought a California education/knowledge of California educational issues, etc. would be much more relevant...but then, I never went to Harvard.

Posted by Disgusted parent, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 10, 2008 at 11:05 am

Oh hey. did anyone see 'improve security' on the survey? Nope. why not? Too bad our sites are getting burglarized, vandalized daily. How is our daytime site security by the way? In this day and age, some people might like to see security get some higher priority considerations.

It looks like there was no creative thought or research whatsoever to the items that made it on to this survey. How come?

(And where was science? where was technologoy? where was improved english language? where was improved math program? where was PE? where was art? Where was drama? music? Other electives? Why didn't they ask us to weigh in on ANYTHING other than elementary language?

Survey said... Do you value us doing our job? or do you value us adding foriegn language to elementary schools. The survey was utter garbage.

Posted by Palo parent, a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Apr 10, 2008 at 12:31 pm

I too found that the survey did not ask the right questions, and it did not allow me to respond in a way that made sense. I gave up on it after a couple of pages. I wonder how many of us did the same thing.

Posted by PA Parent, a resident of Barron Park
on Apr 10, 2008 at 3:03 pm

I asked a teacher friend, who has taught locally and in various districts around California, and she said that PA parents do have a strong negative reputation. This does not center on the parents' advocacy of their children. The issue is that parents see a problem at school, or what they take to be a problem, and come at teachers demanding particular solutions instead of letting the teacher respond. That is, the parents are "know-it-alls," who believe they have knowledge about education--even if they've never studied it.

I can understand this feeling by teachers. Imagine what it would be like if someone walked into your workplace demanding you change your work habits in particular ways, even if that person has no domain-specific knowledge that would underpin their suggestions. That's Palo Alto. This leads to the bunker mentality OP referred to: soothe the excitable parents and get them out the door, rather than respond to the issue.

Yet, clearly there are times when genuine issues arise, when parents need to take complaints up the chain of command. I agree with PA Dad that the district could be doing more to foster an atmosphere in which all stakeholders (parents and teachers) can come together to address issues of mutual concern.

It seems like the mission of Ohlone should deal with such issues better. Any Ohlone parents have feedback on how well teachers and parents work together to resolve issues?

(I don't mean to suggest that all problems boil down to pushy ignorant parents. If a teacher is not meeting the needs of your special ed kid (or of your gifted kid or a teacher is permitting your kid to be bullied), and you've approached the teacher with no result, then you have genuine conflict.)

Posted by Love your teachers, a resident of Crescent Park
on Apr 10, 2008 at 3:20 pm

The good thing about "bad teachers" is that it makes you appreciate the good teachers even more.

The good thing about "bad parents" is nothing.

Good teachers and Good Parents: Together we will turn out great kids, who will grow up to do great things. And we'll have fun at it.

Bad Parents: No amount of abuse you give teachers will make up for the fact that your kid's biggest problem is you. I'd like to beat you like drums for offending any teacher. You can change, get involved, serve instead of demand, show leadership, and your kids will read, write, and do everything better.

District, I suggest that instead of looking for "rules of engagement" to deal with parents, you look for "rules of engagement" for how you spend money. It's not about you, it is about the public trust. If nothing else, FLES vs immersion highlights the deeper problems that exist in terms of how spending decisions are made in the district. I suggest you start by taking some pointers from Andrea in Crescent Park, she's on to something, and she has a sense of humor.

Posted by Parent, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 10, 2008 at 3:33 pm

I feel that I am probably the last parent to complain to or about a teacher and generally feel that a teacher is much more qualified than I am to deal with a class of kids. However, I have seen some really good teachers and some that are going to be good one day, but at the time are still too young or have not had kids themselves, be in a position to really understand the kids from a real perspective rather than the text book perspective they have been trained in. The best teachers, I feel, are ones who have had a few years experience, have made a few mistakes and learned from them, and have been parents themselves.

Saying that, the worst teachers I have experienced have either been in the category of teaching too long and have either got tired and lost enthusiasm, or not as up to date with what their responsibilities are in the present rather than the past, or are too young without the experience necessary to get a "gut feeling" about a situation. The problem with the former is that they don't get any better and the latter is that given a few years they will become much better.

Apart from all of this, unless it is to do with not being able to control a rowdy class or what to do with the recurring problems of bullying, and the like, I would never interfere with what a teacher is about. If I am unusual in this, I would be surprised because I can't imagine anyone doing anything different.

Posted by Parent, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 10, 2008 at 4:30 pm

Apart from the reputation of being the worst parents, I think we also have the reputation of being amongst the best. From volunteering to drive on field trips, participation in classroom projects and fulfilling the needs of the merest hint of a teacher's wish list, I think we support our teachers wonderfully. It seems to me that although some may interfere too much, we do our part with appreciation lunches and the volunteering which many other districts do not get.

Posted by Mom 3, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 10, 2008 at 5:35 pm

The survey was pretty vague when it came to putting language in priority - I seem to remember just a line about "world languages" which doesn't really get to specifics of WHEN to start them (elementary vs. middle), HOW to implement teaching them (FLES for all, fluency for all, fluency for a few, etc.)

I personally would have put new language choice programs as a last priority, but rank adding language to the curriculum highly, and getting better offerings at all levels highly.

Posted by Response, a resident of Barron Park
on Apr 12, 2008 at 8:43 am

Yes, Palo Alto Parents are known for being extremely difficult. You'd be surprised to find out that parents in most districts volunteer to drive on field trips, participate in classroom pojects, and fulfull the needs of teacher wish lists. This is common.

From my extensive teaching experience (within PAUSD and other distructs), I can confirm that Palo Alto Parents, as a whole, have definitely earned their reputation for being difficult.

Posted by pa resident, a resident of Midtown
on Apr 12, 2008 at 9:21 am

Response -

That's an awfully blanket statement - "Yes, PA parents are known for being extremely difficult." There are so many parents I've been involved with over the years that respect and support the teachers at our schools. -- How many other districts have organizations like PIE that raise millions for teacher aids, special art and science programs, etc, all focused on helping children AND teachers do their jobs.
Of course there are the occasional over-reactive, over-involved parents -- just like any district, by the way. Learn to deal with it -- just like all of us have to deal with difficult co-workers, bosses, etc. in our jobs. And I bet if you talk to the most experienced and best teachers they learned a long time ago how to deal with those occasional parents who send way too many emails and show up unannounced. In other words, I think the benefits of parental involvement far outweigh the negatives in this district.

Posted by anonymous, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Apr 12, 2008 at 11:22 am

From my experience, it's not accurate to say that PA parents volunteer at the same level as in other districts. PA parents volunteer MUCH MORE and donate MUCH MORE! B

For one example, back in Sunnyvale Elem. School District, as volunteer parents, we were clipping and saving Box Tops for Education. At the end of the year, the school had enough to purchase a fax machine. Things were on that level.

Posted by George, a resident of University South
on Apr 12, 2008 at 8:14 pm

> attracting the best teachers

Ah .. anyone who ever attends a school board meeting hears "we have the best teachers". So, how is that people want "better" teachers when they already have "the best"?

Posted by palo alto mom, a resident of Crescent Park
on Apr 13, 2008 at 8:37 am

We do have great teachers - but some mediocre to terrible ones too. We want to CONTINUE to attract great teachers - particularly in math and science at the secondary levels, where I have found the largest concentration of mediocre teachers (middle school math, high school science).

Posted by OhlonePar, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Apr 13, 2008 at 3:25 pm

Yes, we have PiE, we also have PACE. Let's see, a small group of parents who badger the district for YEARS over a boutique program and threaten a charter when they don't have their program. They then get their program by bumping kids from another program.

Yes, I'd say Palo Alto has difficult parents. [Portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff.] I'd say what happened with MI epitomizes "difficult parents"--selfish, over-demanding, unable to see beyond their own interest, *entitled* beyond belief and unable to truly negotiate.

I mean talk about not letting the schools do their jobs without undue interference. I mean some of our parents are so difficult that *we* parents don't want to deal with them.

And we all know that there's ton of the run-of-the-mill stuff we don't hear about--overprotective parents, pushy parents, outraged parents who think Gunn should be a feeder school to Stanford, parents who think their child's brilliance isn't being challenged, parents who think their kids are overburdened, parents who kind of resent staying at home so they push their frustration into over-the-top parenting, parents who resent working so hard to pay the mortgage so they demand perfection from the schools,

We're not all bad apples, but we have them in our district barrel. I'd say the one thing we don't have our apathetic parents in any large amount--so that's the good thing, but, of course, we're a collective headache. It only takes a couple of pain-in-the-ass parents in a class to make for a really unpleasant teaching experience. Sometimes one real loon can do it all on his or her own.

Posted by Paul Losch, a resident of Community Center
on Apr 13, 2008 at 6:52 pm

I think I am going to rent the movie from a few years ago "Welcome to Pleasantville." Now there was a town where people all knew their place and exactly how to comport themselves for the good of all.

Posted by Out of district, a resident of Woodside
on Apr 13, 2008 at 7:19 pm


Your comment of "It only takes a couple of pain-in-the-ass parents" is too funny and spot on. As an educator, I am so thankful for parents at all the schools I have worked at because their efforts have helped students. It's only when one or more parents lose sight that the students are the focus and not the parents that a classroom or even a school can become a toxic environment.

Posted by pa resident, a resident of Midtown
on Apr 14, 2008 at 9:31 am

Hey - MI made it into our school district with a lot of help from the district. 18 or so board meetings on MI? I don't think it's accurate to "blame" the parents entirely on this one. They kept the ball rolling but there was plenty of support from district administrators/board members. Cancel the latter and you may not have the former.

I"d like to hear factual experiences by teachers in the district regarding pushy parents and not a lot of supposition. How do they deal with them? If there are parents upset because suzie studied hard for her test and still only got a B, then why can't teachers politely explain why a "B" and that's it. Unhappy parents? Too bad. Perhaps an overall policy on how to deal with parents unhappy about grades is in order.

My only complaint as a parent might be being blind-sided by a grade or finding out later that an assignment was turned in and lost and thus a grade affected. But if every teacher used In Class this becomes a non-issue. This system would certainly help the "helicopter" parents stay in touch. In Class or the equivalent system (personal website) should be an absolute requirement by the district. No excuses on this one.

Posted by Ashley, a resident of Barron Park
on Apr 14, 2008 at 11:23 am

Not sure about Paly, but Gunn absolutely needs a total overhaul of its counseling department. It has been over 5 years since I've been in the PA school system, but I still have siblings there and it doesn't seem to have improved. The counselors are unbelievably incompetent and seem to have little to no knowledge of the subject matter in their 'area of expertise'. Luckily many students in Palo Alto don't need to rely on the counselors because they're fortunate to have parents who are educated and involved, but still....if the School District is going to pay anyone to advise impressionable kids in planning for their futures, they should at least hold them to minimal standards of competence. The incompetence in that department is truly appalling. They have actually been known to advise kids to not even try applying to college because there's no chance they'll be accepted - and then the same kids apply anyway and end up being accepted to top-tier universities. True story! Useless. It would be better to eliminate the positions entirely than to pay them to erroneously shatter children's dreams with bad advice.

Posted by OhlonePar, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Apr 14, 2008 at 1:03 pm

pa resident,

Oh, I agree there's plenty of blame to spread around. But the topic was difficult parents--and that was simply a situation where the parents were demonstrably difficult--i.e. particularly the charter threat and the demands as to how the board should behave within that letter. Trust me, that's not standard behavior in your average school district.

I do see it as a flip side of a couple of good traits--we're involved as a group and we're intelligent enough as a group to get out there and think about it.

We're also diverse--and that's also what makes us difficult--because we can be difficult in so many very special ways.

I'd love to hear real stories myself, but there are pretty strong confidentiality agreements. I've noticed even our anonymous teacher posters are discreet that way. I know some people in education, so I do hear some things and I've seen some things. I also know a lot of parents and some of my best friends are, frankly, the kind of parents who take, er, management.

I'm not a difficult parent, but I've also been lucky--obviously, we got in on the lottery and there are no learning issues. I don't know what kind of parent I'd be if I felt my child was not getting what was needed.

Posted by Mike, a resident of another community
on Apr 14, 2008 at 2:13 pm

The InClass grading program stinks. Also, its tied to the central class rosters. If a kid transfers classes, his grades are wiped out automatically with no warning.

Posted by kids in the bubble, a resident of Crescent Park
on Apr 16, 2008 at 12:38 pm

Too bad enrollment growth isn't a top priority:

"However, despite these efforts, based upon enrollment data from the
district, and information gleaned from surveys of these incoming
students, it appears that Addison is over-enrolled in kindergarten by
approximately 35 students.

In order to address this over-enrollment, the district has determined
that a kindergarten bubble class will be opened at Addison for the
2008-09 school year. Without it, these 35 students would be
overflowed to schools around the district, many of which are
experiencing their own enrollment growth issues."

Posted by Parent, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 16, 2008 at 12:48 pm

One bubble class won't take 35 students, it can only take 20. That means there is still an overflow of 15 students. That is taking that all will turn up and none will go to places in private schools they are also seeking. It would be very helpful if parents who decide that they will not be taking up their kindergarten spot in any school, would let the school know so that those who want the space can get it.

Posted by OhlonePar, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Apr 16, 2008 at 8:19 pm

That's the second bubble class at Addison in three years--there was one two years ago. When does a bubble stretch into a strand?

Posted by choiceProgram, a resident of Greenmeadow
on Apr 17, 2008 at 8:45 am

Wow! 95 kids applying for 60 places. I know Addison scores high but, with those odds, it's a choice program rather than a neighborhood school.

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