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Editorial: Threats won't build a better Paly High

Original post made on Apr 30, 2008

When Preeva Tramiel, as president of the Parent-Teacher-Student Association (PTSA) at Palo Alto High School, called a meeting last week with the editors and adviser of the Campanile student newspaper, her idea was to hold them accountable for not revealing those responsible for vandalism in the school library and for not editorially condemning the incident.

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Comments (27)

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Posted by Hulkamania
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Apr 30, 2008 at 9:51 pm

"While Tramiel said she plans to send an official letter of apology..."

Writing a letter seems to be the easy way out. I would think if she can threaten the students and staff face to face she should apologize the same way.

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Posted by Paly Parent
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 30, 2008 at 10:54 pm

Whereas her resignation may cause too much hassle that we don't want, I sincerely hope that she will not be holding office anywhere in the PTA in Palo Alto next year.

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Posted by Margo Wixsom
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on May 1, 2008 at 12:40 am

Thanks for a very informative article on these essential freedoms: speech and information. While I am always impressed and very grateful for the incredible support that the PTSA provides to staff and students at Paly, this incident illuminates the boundaries between competent curriculum and community opinion. Kudos to the faculty and Campanile staff for standing up for freedom of the press. It was certainly frustrating to have our library vandalized in this way, but calling the editorial staff on the carpet for reporting about the incident in the way that they felt was balanced was definitely crossing the line of fairness and freedom of speech. The Police Department would never consider threatening the Weekly over an article about graffiti culture. We need to treat our award-winning student publication staff with the same professionalism that they are trained to practice. Mistakes seem to have been made and an apology is in order for this uncharacteristic response. I have known Preeva Tramiel as an excellent leader, and after apologies are made, we should keep a balanced perspective and respect for all of the staff, students and community leaders who make Palo Alto the kind of place where freedom of speech and of the press are promoted and protected at all levels.

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Posted by Cindy
a resident of Midtown
on May 1, 2008 at 4:59 pm

I feel the Weekly did a hatchet job on Ms. Tramiel. She made a mistake, she apologized. Enough.
As a not very involved parent of a Paly student, I've seen Ms. Tramiel at school events a few times. I believe this is her second year as PTSA president. As such, I imagine she has spent countless, thankless and unpaid hours working for the Paly community. I cannot imagine many people being willing to volunteer for a mostly thankless job in which you are publicly excoriated for one mistake.
I have no idea what prompted Ms. Tramiel to say what she said and do what she did. As a parent I do know that we receive frequent letters and emails asking us to contribute to Palo Alto schools. As a parent I feel very reluctant to keep digging deeper into my pockets when the students don't seem to appreciate what they already have.
In cases of clear student vandalism, I would like to see a policy of collective responsibility. That is to say, the student body would fundraise to cover the cost of cleaning/repairing damage. This would 1) avoid asking students to "snitch" on peers 2). hopefully, create peer pressure to diminish vandalism and 3) show parents and the greater community that students value their environment and that they don not believe we have endless deep pockets.

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Posted by T
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on May 1, 2008 at 9:08 pm

I agree with everything Cindy wrote. I'd especially like to underscore her comment about how difficult it may become to find future volunteers now that people have seen how easily one can be skewered in the local press. I've been doing volunteer work in this community for nearly twenty years and, quite honestly, it's difficult enough to line up volunteers for even the small tasks. Who in his or her right mind is going to volunteer for a time-consuming, demanding, unpaid, thankless position like PTSA president if making a mistake (even if it's a big one) puts you at risk for public flogging sponsored by the newspaper? Most reasonable people are going to say, "No way!" when solicited. More and more, I suspect, our leaders will be people with strong agendas who care little about repercussions or public opinion as long as they can push their pet projects forward.

Why does the Weekly focus so much more negative attention on Paly than on Gunn? Gunn is a wonderful school, don't get me wrong. But still, some of these Paly stories come across like there is something personal going on in the background.

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Posted by wow
a resident of Barron Park
on May 2, 2008 at 3:59 pm

There seems to be a concern with holding someone accountable for their actions simply because they do other wonderful things.

I think Preeva finally understood the error of her ways and apologized. But not until she had either abused or misunderstood the limitations of her authority as president of a the PTSA (a GROUP of volunteers of which she was representing), threatened kids with the withholding of funds, and initially NOT apologized.

As I've posted earlier, I think she should step down and focus her well-meaning efforts elsewhere. She's clearly demonstrated and articulated a lot of pent-up frustration. Understandable and perhaps even warranted. But then it's time to recognize that her approach to dealing with this frustration is neither good for her or the kids that she's volunteering to support via the PTSA.

This doesn't make her a bad person, simply one who made a mistake that crossed well over the line. Let's not tar and feather her or anyone else that acts improperly but with well-intentioned motives. But let's not keep them in the same position under the pretext that accountability doesn't apply to good people who make bad decisions.

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Posted by Tanya
a resident of Leland Manor/Garland Drive
on May 3, 2008 at 9:52 am

"Everybody agrees that vandalism is stupid"-I'm not sure about that one at all. My guess is that Ms. Tramiel's reaction came out of frustration because it's not clear at all that vandalism and other criminal and borderline criminal behavior by teenagers in our city is taken seriously by either adults or the kids. Last year's senior prank comes to mind.
On Tuesday morning I was a witness to an incident in which a man walking his dog on the sidewalk was hit by a teenager boy riding his bicycle on the sidewalk, going in the wrong direction(against traffic), who was speeding around the corner from Greer onto N. California Ave without bothering to slow down or check that there were no pedestrians. He ran smack into the pedestrian at full speed, hitting his face with his helmet, knocking him down, injuring his knee and, I'm not certain, but his nose seemed broken to me. After the pedestrian managed to get up, he kicked, just once, in obvious frustration, the rear tire of the kid's bicycle which the boy left on the ground(he kicked the tire, not the boy, who was at least 6 feet tall BTW). A woman driver who stopped at the Greer/N. California stop sign, started yelling at the injured man, although I'm certain that she could clearly see the blood covering his face and shirt. She accused him of disgusting behavior, of being a disgusting person and yelled for someone to call the police so they can arrest the injured man. It seemed like she, and other drivers and pedestrians could care less about the injured man, who foolishly believed he was safe walking his dog on his neighborhood sidewalk. They all seemed extremely angry at the injured man, all bloody and in obvious pain, because he kicked the poor boy's rear tire, once. I really thought for a moment that they were going to lynch him, they were so angry. This was a classic case of blaming the victim and I suspect that it's this kind of misguided attitude by adults and teenagers alike that makes Preeva and others so angry. This is more about Shallow Alto being so insufferable than about freedom of speech.

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Posted by T
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on May 4, 2008 at 5:11 pm

No one is proposing that Ms. Traviel should not be held accountable for her actions. The real problem, as I see it, is the wide range of opinion regarding what "holding someone accountable" should actually mean. Frankly, some posts have come across as retaliatory or lashing out in anger more than serving the greater good. I personally believe it would do our students good to see someone getting a second chance after making an error and apologizing (even if the apology appears to some to have been made reluctantly). How many of our kids have been in that position before themselves? This seems like a "teachable moment" that we are wasting.

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Posted by Gary
a resident of Downtown North
on May 4, 2008 at 5:29 pm

Preeva Traviel should be congratulated for taking the Campanile to task for failing to take a responsible editorial response, especially since the Campinile refused to address the hate crime that took place (tagging Mao all over the place).

She applied the wrong tactics, but she should be honored for taking a long overdue adult response to the uncivilized, immoral (and, of course, puerile) attitudes of the Paly journalism students.

The Campanile deserves no awards on this one. It deserves shame.

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Posted by 07 Grad
a resident of another community
on May 5, 2008 at 4:21 pm

Threats won't build a better Palo Alto High, but opening ANOTHER topic on this issue sure won't build a better Palo Alto.

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Posted by Peter Moses
a resident of Charleston Gardens
on May 5, 2008 at 5:40 pm

I don't live anywhere near Palo Alto but had to put down some neighborhood in order for this to get posted. As a matter of fact I live on the other coast and have known Preeva for more years of my life than not. Whether you agree with her position or not, she took a principled stand that she knew in advance would result in being personally attacked and stuck to it anyway to make a point. That point seems lost to many of you and it's not my place to lecture you on what it is. Just know this: Preeva has more gumption than most of you, believes in essential freedoms beyond your overly maintained walls and has withstood these attacks while managing to retain her dignity. That's more than a bunch of overeducated snobs, many of whom don't even sign their names to their rants can say.

Why not save your vitriol for important things. You elected an actor as governor and don't seem to care how poor minorities are treated in your inner cities. Oh wait. You live in Palo Alto, where there are almost no poor minorities to speak of. Guess you must feel pretty privileged.

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Posted by Thanks Peter
a resident of Meadow Park
on May 5, 2008 at 5:42 pm

Thanks Peter. Not so much for your post, but for living far away.

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Posted by oh, please
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on May 5, 2008 at 8:06 pm

To "Thanks Peter":


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Posted by to peter
a resident of Barron Park
on May 5, 2008 at 9:10 pm

About our governor, you should remember that the Paly students were not the ones voting him seeing as we were all still well under 18 at election time, and we are the ones that would be most affected if funding was taken away.
And since when is there such a thing as overeducated?
Yes, most of us living here are pretty privileged, but many of us realize this and most of us do not think life is just dandy for the rest of America.
It is great that you are standing up for your friend, but since you admitted you live on the other coast, it really would be appreciated if you kept out of Palo Alto's business because you obviously only took the time to criticize us rather than think of how we would perceive such a situation.

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Posted by OhlonePar
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on May 6, 2008 at 12:13 am

So Ms. Tramiel brought in a ringer? I'm getting the feeling she resents having had to apologize.

Ethically, making threats to get what you want is kind of uncool. Whether you agree with the judgment of the Campanile staffers or not, threatening to pull funding was wrong. I mean, what's wrong with trying to persuade people to one's point of view *without* threats?

And on a practical level--can you think of a worse tactic to use with teen-agers?

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Posted by Peter Moses
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on May 6, 2008 at 3:50 am

I decided to switch neighborhoods to respond again. A ringer, eh? So let me understand. Only those living in privileged Palo Alto should be able to comment on Palo Alto. Gee, that's really inclusive of you, isn't it? Preeva didn't ask me to comment on any of this, I took it upon myself after reading of your overreactions to her actions. Might she had been wrongheaded in going down the path she took? Absolutely. None of you have ever made a mistake, eh? Agree with what she did, disagree, it matters not a whit to me. But getting on a pretentious soapbox and continuing to beat this woman down strikes me as bullying and unfair.

As to these kids not voting for governor, I wasn't criticizing the students, just these overindulged dilettantes who keep beating on Preeva. As to being happy that I live in the East, I echo that sentiment. I'm glad 21 years ago when I was offered a job at the Chronicle to cover news out there I turned it down because I didn't like the vibe. I live near Scarsdale, the Palo Alto of Westchester, and people from there have the same sense of overimportance that ya'll do. They are infamous throughout this area and actually are the subject of many parodies and stereotypes.

Like Scarsdale there is no real diversity in Palo Alto and nobody really seems to care despite lip service to the contrary. I feel badly for Preeva, but worse for all of you because in all of your myopic viewpoints you keep missing the essential facts. Preeva apologized and she is entitled to have an opinion different than you do. The forum she used, the threat to withhold funds are all debatable points. But the overheaded verbal bon mots of the wealthy, of piling on someone who has done so much for your community, is misplaced and now you owe her a collective apology. Why not take out an ad in the student newspaper and throw her a verbal bouquet?

Nah, that would be nice, something I can see by these rants isn't the true soul of Palo Alto. Beating down someone is.

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Posted by Elliott
a resident of Fairmeadow
on May 6, 2008 at 1:22 pm

I tend to agree with Gary and Peter Moses. Preeva Tramiel had the guts to take on a very irresponsible Campanile staff. Those kids sound like real Palo Alto brats. There was a complete lapse of jounalistics standards and ethics, in this case, and Preeva wanted them to realize the errors of their ways. Actually, I don't think that threatening the funding of the Campanile is out of bounds, in this case.

Will Preeva consider running for the PAUSD Board? I would vote for her. I suspect many others would, too.

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Posted by sue
a resident of Palo Alto Hills
on May 6, 2008 at 3:54 pm

Threats alone will not build a better school nor influence teenagers


If student writers continue to condone drug use and crime on Paly campus they should be suspended from the school and the reason recorded in their academic record permanently.

When they are 18yrs old they can start whining about their rights.

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Posted by wow
a resident of Barron Park
on May 6, 2008 at 4:08 pm

ok - let's assume for the sake of argument that Preeva apologized because she actually meant it rather than realizing it would be stupid not to after reading what others had to say about her well-intentioned, ill-thought out actions.

Apology accepted. Now resign, move on, and go apply your talents in some other volunteer capacity. This would allow us to get this ugly incident behind us and start focusing on the students again -- which I believe was her main motivation to begin with.

School board? You've got to be kidding. Her actions demonstrate, at best, that her frustration level is beyond her capabilities. At worst, it reflects incompetence in that she truly didn't understand her role or authority level as president.

Either way, if you can't keep it in check or be competent representing the high school PTSA, how are you possibly going to do so representing the entire Palo Alto Unified School District?

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Posted by Elliott
a resident of Fairmeadow
on May 6, 2008 at 4:16 pm

Preeva is a one-woman stand. Yes, she did "apologize", under pressure, but I would hope that it was just a move to cool things down. Afterall, she was right, and the student editors were wrong.

How about this: The editors of the Campinile adimit that THEY were wrong, and beg for forgiveness from us adults, parents and taxpayers?

Preeva is a breath of fresh air. I don't know her, but I do respect her.

PAUSD Board, Preeva?

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Posted by wow
a resident of Barron Park
on May 6, 2008 at 4:24 pm

Assume you meant, PAUSE Bored Preeva.

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Posted by Elliott
a resident of Fairmeadow
on May 6, 2008 at 4:38 pm


If that was an attempt at humor, you'd better not give up your day job, in order to pursue your dreams of a stand-up comic.

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Posted by wow
a resident of Barron Park
on May 6, 2008 at 4:58 pm

fair enough - I'll stick to the matter at hand.

From an intellectual standpoint, a couple of questions for you:

1)why would you endorse an individual -- any individual -- who has demonstrated the frustration levels Preeva has personally indicated, and acted out inappropriately due to those frustrations?

2) Why would those qualifications leap out at you for endorsement purposes?

3) Without getting into whether you agree or disagree with the legitimacy of her frustrations, why would her choice of responses to those frustrations suggest she'd make a good school board representative given what occurred at the PTSA level?

4) Do you think threats will be an effective tool for a school board representative?

5) Do you think it worked for the prior school board president who ended up resigning?

6) In which instances or situations where an individual is serving the broader community do you think threats actually work or improve the situation?

I'd be interested in your thoughts on the questions above.

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Posted by Elliott
a resident of Fairmeadow
on May 6, 2008 at 6:04 pm


The primary issue is adult leadership. Kow-towing to kids is not adult leadership. Preeva refused to kow-tow, except for her forced apology. I believe she understands that self esteem is earned, not provided. I think I have just aswered all your questions.

I have lived in Palo Alto for over 20 years. My two children went through the public education system. I only wish we had a Preeva on the school board, and in control, when they were in school.

The Campanile is a poorly run affair, despite its many awards, and its student leadership is remiss in its responsibilities. In fact, its leadership are a bunch of whiners. Preeva is attempting to point out the obvious.

PAUSD Board, Preeva?

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Posted by OhlonePar
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on May 6, 2008 at 6:09 pm


I'm familiar with Scarsdale--wouldn't say it's the same as Palo Alto--it's not a university town for one thing and not technological center. It's a Westchester 'burb of New York City. (And our demographics are quite different--half renters, quarter or so Asian, large number of immigrants from all over, the dot-com boom made this an odd place--property prices out of the sky, but a lot of people don't own.)

That said, I can't imagine caring enough about anything going on with Scarsdale's schools to track down the local newspaper forum and post in it about an incident at the high school. I mean, wow, isn't there anything going on in Scarsdale--is there really such a lack of activity that you're passing judgment on *us* from on high, north or so of Tuckahoe?

Palo Alto's pretty self-involved, but at least we live here. but you're actually getting yourself involved in a local dust-up from three time zones away. Sorry, I don't believe you just happened to be wandering by.

As for Preeva for board? Because she threatens kids when she doesn't like something? So we'd elect her for her great judgment? Her finesse? Her deep understanding of what authority she does and does not hold?

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Posted by Preeva Tramiel
a resident of Downtown North
on May 6, 2008 at 11:28 pm

wow, would you just call me up and meet me for coffee, or contact me directly instead of posting about me on the online forums? I am listed in the phone book, there's a Web link on the Paly PTSA webpage to my email, I'm just not hard to find. And I have six weeks left to PTA presidency at Paly. I have signed up for staff and volunteer appreciation at the district level next year. Pretty harmless.

And wow, since when is frustration a crime? Isn't it a motive towards change?

I NEVER claimed to be speaking for the PTSA, just myself,as I thought it was my duty to do. And I admitted IN THE MEETING that I misspoke about my authority over funding, and apologized then. I had also spoke to the ASB on the same topic, that did not make the papers. But the ASB did not cooperate with the vandals and print pictures they took, Campanile did.

I apologize again for taking up the time of all the student journalists. I should have written a letter in February, but I waited from January to April for the kids to come forward to make amends anonymously, but it just didn't happen. And this was vandalism of a very popular place--the library!

So, I said something. And here we are, 2 weeks later. Every day, I am grateful that we have such a peaceful town that this sort of thing can become an issue.

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Posted by wow
a resident of Barron Park
on May 7, 2008 at 12:56 am

I will not meet you for coffee nor contact you. This is a public forum and I'm simply stating my opinion about what was written about your actions at the meeting, as well as your initial response/non-apology on this forum. I don't know you so you can rest assured this is not a personal vendetta, just my opinion about how best to serve the PTSA given what has been reported.

How can you state with a straight face that you were speaking as an individual when the funds you threatened to withhold weren't personal donations you were intending to make? They were funds of the PTSA, the very organization you headed as president. Again, how could you even suggest to be speaking as an individual while referring to PTSA funds?

And where did you ever come up with the idea that I implied that frustration is a crime? There wasn't even anything criminal about your actions in response to your frustrations. However, as I've stated many times, MY opinion is that when someone, anyone, in a leadership position lets their frustrations get the better of them to the point of impeding good judgment as you did, it's time to move on for both the good of the organization as well as their own.

Again, it's just my opinion -- however it's backed up by YOUR VERY OWN statement that two weeks later, your actions are still the focus of conversation. How does this help the kids or the PTSA that you are committed to serving?

By the way, I don't believe I've said anything disrespectful of you. I've just stated my opinion that you ought to resign. I do agree with one thing one of your supporters (Eliott) mentioned above in his post and that's that your appology was forced as evidenced by your first response. This to me suggests that you apologized but still believe that the legitimacy of your frustrations somehow justified your actions.

So be it. Do I think you're an evil person? Of course not. I've opined several times that your actions appear well-intentioned. But that doesn't excuse them. Give yourself and the PTSA a break and treat yourself to an early summer vacation so this matter can die down, the PTSA can address year=end issues, and last but not least, you can rejuvenate yourself for next year so you can address your non=criminal frustrations more appropriately.

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