Parents, school officials, exchange tense words Schools & Kids, posted by Editor, Palo Alto Online, on Feb 14, 2011 at 9:40 am
Frustrated parents interrupted school district officials Sunday evening in a sometimes tense discussion of the emotional well-being of Palo Alto students. Sunday's gathering, titled "Stand Up For Our Youth," was organized by 11 local religious congregations and by Peninsula Interfaith Action, a coalition of 30 congregations
Read the full story here Web Link posted Monday, February 14, 2011, 9:00 AM
Posted by Parent, a member of the Palo Alto High School community, on Feb 14, 2011 at 9:40 am
My heart goes out to the Brooks' twins quoted above, and I know they are not alone in feeling left out and not valued for who they are.
I strongly suggest you find a church group, or similar, to hang out with in your spare time. You will find yourselves accepted by leaders and peers for who you are and not by how you perform, as well as making new friends - possibly from some you know from school already but not that close to.
Church and other groups are non-challenging (except in internal ways) and fun as well as supportive.
Posted by former Paly parent, a member of the Palo Alto High School community, on Feb 14, 2011 at 10:15 am
The pressure for top college offers is no joke around here.
One thing I found had changed in this district over the years relates to school-based activities. It would help if there were more clubs/activities available that were not so calculatingly related to the student's/their parents' desires for a strong college app -- just regular old interest-based activities. This USED to be the case, and made part of school "fun" at times, but now, if someone "slacks off" others happily move ahead on their resume brownie points.
I am also very disheartened about what community service has become in recent years. Pressure to accumulate a ridiculous number of community service hours, required by parents, adds to stress.
It's not just Palo Alto, there are communities like this elsewhere around the country, but somehow some kids have experienced a more pleasant environment (elsewhere)
Posted by Mom, a resident of the Old Palo Alto neighborhood, on Feb 14, 2011 at 10:39 am
I agree with the mother quoted in the article who said her students feel like the administrators and teachers do not care. We feel the same way.
There is an attitude of indifference at Paly that is shown in not returning e-mails, difficulty getting a meeting with the college counselors, teachers not grading the work they assign promptly (or sending it out to graduate students to grade instead).
Posted by mutti, a resident of the Adobe-Meadows neighborhood, on Feb 14, 2011 at 10:41 am
I had five kids in various Palo Alto Schools at various times -- with varying degrees of 'connectedness'. One dropped out his Freshman year and had to repeat that year at a private school, where he did graduate 4 years later. His younger brother was elected Homecoming King! One daughter transferred from JLS to Terman because she was bullied out of the school. With all that I'd say the major responsibility to change the student's attitudes has to be in the family. As high achieving parents, we also tried to tell our kids to 'have a life.' B's were perfectly acceptable, and even an occasional C if the class was really hard. College was expected, of course, but a Cal State was fine. Save the 'big gun' schools for grad school. None of our kids will be CEO of a Fortune 500 company, but they are leading happy, productive lives. Parents, get your priorities in line.
Posted by PALY parent, a resident of the Duveneck/St. Francis neighborhood, on Feb 14, 2011 at 10:49 am
Why is there no plan to measure progress? How will we ever know if there is change that will make a difference to students who do not feel valued in our district? Dr. Skelly needs to have a vision and plan. Where is the leadership here?
Posted by Becky Sanders, a resident of the Ventura neighborhood, on Feb 14, 2011 at 11:02 am
I was at the meeting and my impression was that PAUSD is really not prepared at this time to outline what it is doing specifically to meeting the focused goal of youth connectedness and how they will measure their progress. The goal is achievable, but I'm not sure Dr. Skelly is making it his personal priority to make that focused goal his focused goal. I like Dr. S. He's hard working, but his passion to meet the focused goal did not come across at the meeting. That made me sad.
And as always, thank you Chris Henrick for covering these important issues. Because you wrote about his meeting, now many parents know about it. The meeting was videotaped and is being prepared for playback... people can contact: firstname.lastname@example.org and I'll let them know when it's up online and on the Media Center's TV channels. Thanks again, Chris.
Posted by Crescent Park Dad, a resident of the Crescent Park neighborhood, on Feb 14, 2011 at 11:18 am
To Parent - the Brooks twins are not left out and or feeling un-valued. They are indeed part of a thriving group of kids/friends. They are both highly involved in school activities and such.
What they were doing/saying was actually very, very commendable - which is they were trying to represent those students who do not have a voice or feel that they are part of the plan. Both boys are great kids and I tip my hat for their sensitivity to other students who seem to be on the outside looking in.
Posted by I am dissapointed too, a resident of the Barron Park neighborhood, on Feb 14, 2011 at 11:51 am
I was at the meeting, and it was disappointing when a parent asked the district, what has changed, and the person speaking on behalf of the district could not come up with a concrete answer. She did a list of things that the district has been doing over the years, but not after the Social Emotional Goal was adopted. Later she was asked again. The board member attending the meeting said that what have changed is that they hired a person (Amy Drolette) to do the social emotional work, but this is not true, she is just replacing Carol Zepecky (same position as hers), and she was hired before the goal was adopted, so this was not a satisfying answer either. Board Member also said that to tell what has change would need another meeting. Didn't they know this is what they needed to talk about? They have plans, and they are looking into things, a lot of promises, but nothing concrete yet. It is sad to see that Skelly is afraid to tell the principals what to do, what he really should be afraid of more suicides. The children who die to suicide are trying to tell us something is wrong, but we do not listen because it is uncomfortable. I know it is not just the school job, city, and parents are also making changes. If there is another meeting Interfaith needs to make it clear to the district that they want to hear news not the same old list of things that they have been presenting since child one die.
Posted by JMH, a resident of the Barron Park neighborhood, on Feb 14, 2011 at 12:02 pm
I worked for years at a company where we did annual Gallup polls to get the pulse of the employees. Why not use the same concept with the kids? It's very measurable and can give some great feedback as a start. A few simple questions, left anonymous, could give some really great direction and insight as a place to begin. What is your favorite thing about school, what do you hate about school, what extra activities would you like to see, how many close friends do you have, what is a dream of yours, do you feel supported at home, etc.
The company would have a meeting about the results and they would be reported as well as action items from those results would be given. Obviously every item couldn't be followed up on immediately, but we were we were being listened to and that the door was open to make changes. Our voices mattered.
At home, I'm sure many parents do this already - ask your kids the hard questiions and be open to the answers: do I pressure you too much? do you feel listened to? do you believe I care about your interests and dreams? are you lonely? do you have friends? how can I be a better parent? how are you feeling about your homework?
Also, teachers see it all - they know who sits alone, who seems withdrawn, who's having a hard time. They should also be given a chance to share what they see on a day to day basis and offer suggestions. They take a lot of criticism and blame, but I know the majority of them work hard and pour themselves out for our kids.
I hope as the community continues to work on these very real issues that will, honestly, always be there to some extent, we see each other (teachers, administration, parents, other students) as allies and advocates. We all have a responsibility to help each other.
Posted by Parent, a member of the Palo Alto High School community, on Feb 14, 2011 at 12:03 pm
copy and paste from the other thread which should be added to this thread
<<Posted by Ted Henderson, a resident of the Midtown neighborhood, 5 hours ago
I went in hopeful that there would be a discussion. I left angry and frustrated that too few answers were actually given to real questions. They did, however, spend a significant amount of time spewing edu-speak to an audience that didn't understand terms like RTI, CASL, and learning teams.
Posted by Parent, a member of the Palo Alto High School community, 2 hours ago
Thanks Ted for letting us know.
I was thinking of attending because I am very concerned about this topic, but considering some of the past meetings, I was reluctant to give up what is family evening in our family on Sunday. It sounds as if I did the right thing spending time with my teens rather than listening to experts.
Posted by gunn parent, a resident of the Green Acres neighborhood, on Feb 14, 2011 at 12:15 pm
I was at the meeting and wondered why this meeting wasn't advertised in the Gunn Connection (the parent weekly email). When I asked one of the volunteers, she said "maybe they were not aware of that avenue of communication". The school board superintendent was at this meeting. One would HOPE that the organizers are aware of ALL the PA school email lists and that they better advertise subsequent meetings.
As to how one defines and measures something as "amorphous as connectedness" (VoxPop) - there was a definition given. If I recall, it had to do with at least 3 adults that are not the parent that a student feels cares about their overall welfare (not just academic).
We survey students about all kinds of things - drug and alcohol use etc. Why couldn't we survey students about a variety of social /emotional questions including ones about bullying, self image, # of adults that care about my overall welfare etc. In order to reach out to those that fit into the risk categories, it would need to be not anonymous.
If I were in charge, I would be figuring out which kid does not attend any of the 93 clubs at Gunn, does no sports or intramurals, never attends sports events, eats alone. I would divide up every student that was not on at least one list of those things (the ones there are lists for) and have one of their teachers reach out and BECOME one of those concerned adults that cares about their overall welfare. I would measure the results of those reach outs.
Posted by Me Too, a resident of the Midtown neighborhood, on Feb 14, 2011 at 12:22 pm
I'm curious if people have specific ideas of what the school should be doing. Is it the school's job to monitor the emotional health of students and to work to improve it if it is lacking? That's seems like a very big goal indeed - desirable, sure, but it may over-estimate what a school can do and under-estimate the impact of family and peers (which are out of the control of the school).
I can understand that those who want improvement in this area are frustrated not to see it - what parent would not want this? But I wonder if we are asking the wrong people to solve our problems.
Posted by Parent, a member of the Palo Alto High School community, on Feb 14, 2011 at 12:31 pm
I agree with you. I thought about attending the meeting but thankfully decided against it. I was hoping to hear more about what is going on in the Interfaith group and the community.
Our schools are in the education business and that is what we want them to do. The emotional areas of the kids' lives can be caused by outside school issues, at home, at sports, etc. Sometimes the kids need to find some adult to care about them who is not family or school related. The Interfaith group that put this on should be aware of this and share what they are doing to help. I have heard nothing about what they had to say, what they are doing and how they are helping kids who are not getting help from home or school. They are in that unique position of being non-threatening to our teens and they should be doing, and should be seen to be doing, a lot to support the teens.
They may well be doing some of this, I know that some churches are, but if they are not reaching out to the teens themselves, then why did they put this meeting together in the first place?
Posted by observer, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood, on Feb 14, 2011 at 12:46 pm
I think we should be asking the school to do what they do best - teach thoughtfully. With our new administrative teams in place it might be a good time to really examine our curriculum, which is not as accessible as it could be to all students. Some of the pressure these busy honors and remedial students feel might be relieved by going to the fundamental heart of what we do and making sure kids are not given too much busy work, expected to memorize too many facts and move at an accelerated pace if it is not necessary. Their emotional state could improve as a consequence.
Posted by Stunned, a resident of the Midtown neighborhood, on Feb 14, 2011 at 1:09 pm
It is stunning that people are happy that they didn't attend the meeting and then have the audacity to complain that this group or that group isn't doing enough. If you care about teens, show up. Do some work. Volunteer. Do something other than only complaining about it on blog posts.
I know what some of these groups are doing and they ARE reaching out to kids. St. Marks has long sponsored and sent parishioners to the after school homework help program at Jordan. This is just one example. While this is a community issue, teens spend a majority of their awake time involved in school, either attending or doing homework. To suggest that the school district, which is an incredibly important part of students lives, has no responsibility toward being a part of their community is ludicrous. What has been asked is that the district do something about those who can least help themselves. It hasn't been asked to solve everything, but to be a part of the solution. It doesn't have to be big, but it has to be intentional. Whether we like it or not, kids learn a lot about community at school. It would be better that what they are learning is how to be a part of a caring, supportive community rather than a dog eat dog, screw your neighbor automaton from a education factory.
Posted by parent, a resident of the Midtown neighborhood, on Feb 14, 2011 at 1:09 pm
P.E classes are too much for those little 6,7,8 graders,especially a mile a day. i do think they prefer free play time or free work out time to socialize with other kids in the same grade,and they can relax and reenergize too.
Posted by Parent, a member of the Gunn High School community, on Feb 14, 2011 at 1:10 pm
I agree with Al Brooks and Miranda Chatfield's comments. Nothing has changed for the better since I was a student here; it has become even more intense. My child is a Gunn sophomore who feels "stupid" for not getting all A's.
Several of her teachers have consistently had the wrong attitudes: critical instead of supportive, negative instead of positive, exclusive instead of inclusive, shaming instead of helping. Yes, they are human, but they do not appear to be in the classroom to nurture and share a love of their subject matter.
I believe certain steps can be mandated to ensure connectedness such as simple eye contact with students. She reports that teachers have received new iPads. At least one teacher now spends the period using the iPad instead of instructing. He is even less connected than before. If students are not allowed to have cell phones and other distractions, why do the teachers have them? Teach by example. And please, stop eating in class. One has to question how often the administration drops in on the classrooms. The teachers who are not serving our students have a greater impact on our children than those who are.
JMH has a great point. My daughter does not feel the teacher surveys are anonymous, regular, or heeded. As a parent who notices when the guards are on the train tracks, it is extremely disappointing that change and progress do not even seem to be on the horizon.
My other child attends JLS, where I was told the ACS counseling program is full. It was full 3 years ago; has staffing increased since then? Bless the various teachers at JLS who noticed the challenges my children were facing, and took action to help them by utilizing available resources.
As another parent alluded to, my greatest wish is for my children to be happy in life. That shouldn't have to wait until after the final bell rings, or after graduation.
Posted by Parent, a member of the Gunn High School community, on Feb 14, 2011 at 1:14 pm
Yes, we as parents are responsible for our children's emotional health; however, we spend less quality time with our children than they do in school. Remember teachers who had an impact on you? They're etched in our brains forever.
Posted by High School Mom, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood, on Feb 14, 2011 at 1:59 pm
From the article:
"It's a great result to have more kids connected -- but if your kid is not connected -- it doesn't matter that 97 percent or 98 percent are, if your kid is not."
Well, NO school anywhere can be 100% of everything to 100% of students. That's just not humanly possible. This expectation is impossible to fulfill.
I know some families in this town who have done a horrible job raising their kids. They ignore their kids, they shun their neighbors, seem more interested in having a huge house and a luxury car than connecting with the community themselves. In turn, their kids look poorly adjusted, seem like loners and don't thrive at school. What needs to change in these cases? It's the parents and the families, not the school. Whatever the school does won't help those kids. Wake up parents!
Posted by ThoseWhoCan't, a resident of the Palo Alto Hills neighborhood, on Feb 14, 2011 at 2:03 pm
Having a child who recently graduated from high school in this district, although I wasn't at the meeting I can just hear the rambling meaningless drivel full of vague terminology that no doubt comprised Skelly's response. Teachers are not doers, and sadly many of them aren't thinkers either. The teaching profession is prey to fads and easily intimidated by a community of parents such as the pushy high achievers found in Palo Alto. To the teachers' credit, however, they are here to impart concepts; they are NOT psychiatrists and they are NOT the cause of the trouble here in Palo Alto. The cause of the trouble are the pushy high-achieving parents who put relentless pressure on the teachers as well as kids. I still recall the biology teacher telling me it was all she could do to answer the questions of the top kids in class -- the questions she'd have to go home and research before coming to school the next day -- so she really couldn't spend all that much time with kids like my daughter. Well, I say, screw the top kids who are fed tough questions by their parents around the dinner table. If they want to show off, them to go LOOK IT UP and report back the next day, themselves. It's like everyone in this town is afraid of looking dumb, so the pressure just ramps up and up and up.
Posted by A Parent, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood, on Feb 14, 2011 at 2:06 pm
I am a parent and agree with "observer." You cannot blame students for wanting to achieve As, especially when they are competing with students from all over the state and the nation. But you can blame teachers for adding to their stress by making it far, far harder to earn those As and Bs at Paly than at other excellent high schools. The AP curriculum is hard enough. Yet some Paly teachers feel they must go far beyond the curriculum. Even the non-AP courses often seem to have expectations that exceed what should be expected. And I agree that teachers should not use cells in the classroom, which some do, and that the administration should set the standard of teaching and homework being creative and meaningful.
Posted by Parent, a member of the Palo Alto High School community, on Feb 14, 2011 at 2:18 pm
Yes maybe you are right and many more of us should have attended the meeting but unfortunately not all of us could and we look to the newspaper reports to find an accurate account of what was said.
From the little I have heard and the video I saw online from PA Weekly, I can't help feeling that I was better off having a family evening with my kids as we do most Sundays. Kids feeling connected to their families start with spending time together as families, not being left alone on a Sunday evening while parents go out and learn hints on how to find out how happy our kids are.
My kids are very involved in church activities which give them the outlet away from home and school. I help there in activities they are not involved in. I myself volunteer in many ways at schools and I know that many parents do all sorts of things at schools. Your assumption that parents are not doing their bit and that they should start volunteering more as well as going to listen to experts when they may be spending time with their kids is hardly worth responding to.
If churches are helping out, this would have been a great forum to let the community know. Whether it is helping with homework or giving hangout time to kids, it is good to know what is out there. I would very much have liked to hear what other outside school help there is for our kids.
I know that Paly has made some changes this year, but I don't need to go to a meeting in a church on a Sunday evening to find that out. I know what help my kids are getting and where they are getting it from. Sharing some of this information with those who are not aware of it might have been useful to others. I understand that in a school setting recommendations of which churches have youth activities may not be appropriate, but I would have thought that in a church this information could have been shared.
Finally, I do agree that looking at curriculum changes and finding where we can get rid of busy work and group homework projects as well as the type of projects which kids sell to each other or parents do instead of the kids is a great idea. This happens in my experience from kindergarten (science fair projects) right up to the high school physics projects. These are some of the highest stress problems in our family. Planning and scheduling group projects and making our kids do the projects themselves when we all know that parents do a lot of the work for other kids have been sources of disagreement in our home from the early years. These practices should stop asap.
Posted by Concerned mom, a member of the Palo Alto High School community, on Feb 14, 2011 at 2:27 pm
I agree with gunn parent, a resident of the Green Acres -- there are ways to measure which programs connect teens with adults and their peers and to focus efforts in particular on the teens who are not connected and feel alienated. You can simply survey students or get their input as they did for the new small learning community program at Gunn. Student testimonials are on Gunn's website:
Dr. Skelly said this is a "hard" goal. True, but there needs to be an understanding of which programs and methods best connect students and increased efforts to expand these. That is what must happen to bring about any meaningful change in the lives of students in the PAUSD who are not feeling valued or connected.
Posted by Parent of 2008 Gunn Grad, a resident of the Midtown neighborhood, on Feb 14, 2011 at 2:45 pm
My son, who graduated in 2008 and is now in college, wrote a mini-article regarding today's education of youth, I think he's right on point!
I think that today the idea of education is too often paired with the idea of a career, of finding a means to support yourself. But, in making these ideas a couple the focus becomes learning only what you need to know for that particular industry or that particular venture. In acting in accordance with this association you will learn only how to become another gear in the system, you will effectively stunt your personal growth. The real value of education rests not in finding your economic niche, but in escaping your innate ignorance of the world around you; education allows you to become familiar with the unknown while exposing yourself to the wonders of natures diversity. Education will not only grant you the awareness of all the forces that make life what it is, but will incite your imagination to all that could be. We are all born into an isolation of sorts, in that the only certainty is of your own thoughts and feelings. This means that communication is the key to understanding, without the means to communicate you are locked inside yourself. Essentially, your knowledge is in direct correlation with your linguistic ability, so as one grows so does the other. The world itself seems to change as you learn to talk, again when you learn to reason, because it is information that changes situations. We are born with an extremely limited ground floor perspective, if you should ever seek to fulfill your true potential it is imperative that you strive to attain a birds eye view.
Posted by Quantity/Quality, a resident of the Barron Park neighborhood, on Feb 14, 2011 at 3:01 pm
A comment above says that the kids spend more "quality time" at school than at home. I believe they spend a larger Quantity of time at school, but the Quality time should start at home. Some days I only get 30 waking minutes with my kids that isn't "getting dressed, making meals, grab a backpack, do homework, etc." as I'm a working mom. But those 30 minutes need to be quality time. I set up dates with each of my kids every week to make sure they know they have special time with me, my full attention. They also have full permission to respectfully tell us how they're feeling about anything, and they do. We listen and respond/take action as needed.
I believe only Quality time at home will determine if the quantity of time spent at school is quality as well.
Posted by Retired Teacher, a resident of the Duveneck/St. Francis neighborhood, on Feb 14, 2011 at 3:03 pm
Parents, congregations, and Interfaith Action,
Blessings for your efforts to enlist the PAUSD to reach out to isolated and/or depressed students. As a parent of two Paly grads, I've seen the stress kids have to deal with. I'm also a retired teacher (from a neighboring district), and I know from 40 years of experience that schools can't do it all. What are you doing, parents and organizations, beyond working with the schools? Have you organized yourselves and your families to reach out to just a student or two each? Have you written letters to newspapers and emails to suggest ways to lessen pressure on kids, remove stress, and help teach all ages to develop more humane and less driven perspectives? If you have not, I encourage you to move in these directions as well!
Posted by High School Mom, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood, on Feb 14, 2011 at 3:12 pm
To those who ask to get rid of lanes and give As to everyone:
Yes, let's do grade inflation and give everyone As in every class. Let's dumb down the curriculum, including in AP classes. No, wait, let's get rid of lanes, and of all AP classes. Let's have the exact same classes for everybody and let's give everybody all As all the time. This way everybody will feel good about themselves.
And no one will be ready for the world at large. Good deal...
Posted by Midtown resident, a member of the Palo Alto High School community, on Feb 14, 2011 at 3:25 pm
My three kids graduated from Paly in the early 1980s when the teachers were doing what we paid them to do ... TEACH. They're not hired to be psychiatrists or substitute parents. They're hired to push some education into often unwilling brains.
Sure it's tough for a highschooler, but no body's going to nursemaid them when they have to make their own living.It's a competitive world out there. If we parents who live in Palo Alto had not been tough and agressive, we wouldn't live here.
If anyone thinks it is too tough to live here, there are a lot of other places in the world. Try sending your kid to school in Singapore!
Posted by Real Work, a member of the Gunn High School community, on Feb 14, 2011 at 3:26 pm
I want my kids to do well long after they graduate from high school. That won't be measured by if they got straight A's or what school they are accepted to or even what career they end up with.
The real work is at home. It's easy to get caught up in the "feel" of Palo Alto - the homes, cars, titles, etc. We grew up very middle class - never a new car, my folks have furniture they bought when they were first married still (over 45 years ago), etc. But my siblings and I have confidence, independence, security and all that comes from a home of family first. I want my kids to have strength of character and be equipped to handle life far beyond high school. I want them to enjoy school, to learn, explore and discover, laugh and make memories.
I agree with some of the posts - there is a large amount of high achieving parents who expect straight A's from their kids. I've heard parents yelling at their kids outside Gunn that their grades are unacceptable, with the child's head hanging low. I've heard of students disrespectfully challenging and belittling teachers because they "know more" . . . or so they think. Who's raising that kid and how will they do once they're out in the real world?
It's not everyone, but it impacts and affects many. Is your kid being a lawyer or engineer or doctor that important? Is the title on your own business card and the membership at a club and the summer trips to Europe that important?
Someone said it is the educators job to educate and too much of this is being put on them. I agree. For all of those who want them to figure it out, are you willing to give up some time at work, some money, some pride and seek help and make a plan for your own family?
Posted by 3X Gunn Parent, a resident of the Midtown neighborhood, on Feb 14, 2011 at 3:43 pm
All three of my children completed PAUSD and graduated from Gunn. Child #1 was a "Good Student". This child had absolutely no problems, made excellent grades, graduated, went on to an top caliber college and grad school and is now a successful entrepreneur. This is clearly the person that the PAUDS curriculum is meant for.
Children #2 and #3 have had problems.
#2 was not traditional learner and had learning disabilities that only managed to separate him from the "good kids". He ended up with drug problems, which he overcame. He graduated, barely, but only with help from the district. I am not implying that the school caused my child to take drugs. Only that they had no idea what to do with a child that was like Child#1.
Child 3# had major depression (diagnosed and under treatment), friends committing suicide, he hated school, and when there were medication/depression issues refused to attend. We received very little support from Gunn, to the point where they began the process to send him to Alta Vista for truancy (and did this without notifying us). This is a child under treatment. We threatened legal action and they backed off.
This is anecdotal, of course, but these are my children. When it's your kid it just does not feel anecdotal. It's very real.
To be completely fair in both cases above there have been individual teachers or administrators who did care and did try. But there were more who seemed unconcerned.
When anyone asks me if the PAUSD is a good district I am careful to warn them that if your child has any problems or does not fit the mold of a high achieving student, you may want to think twice. Or buy a house here anyway and expect to send child to private school.
I was unaware of the meeting last night. Believe me, I would have been there.
Posted by PA Dad, a resident of the Duveneck/St. Francis neighborhood, on Feb 14, 2011 at 4:01 pm
While it is probable that all of the EdDs and PhDs in the audience (none?) understood how critical "student connectedness" is for our kids' "social-emotional health," I completely agree with the objection that it is just more words.
I understand we are not supposed to reiterate that Gunn kids have committed suicide -- that could lead to copycats. But that was what drove all of this to start. And as far as I can tell from this meeting and all other communication is that the only item of measurable relevance to that point is the fact that "all secondary school teachers and staff members will complete suicide-prevention training by the end of February."
That is good.
Reading through the comments above, there are a number of actionable items the district could undertake:
1) Survey the kids and publish the results.
2) Identify the kids who have no visible connections and reach out to them individually.
3) Show leadership -- don't be "loathe" to direct the principals.
4) Implement the "exam before break" program, even if it WILL interfere with long-standing vacation plans.
5) Respond with more than lip service to parents (and kids) who call, send an e-mail or request a meeting.
Any or all of those would be better than Drolette's desire to "respect the agenda."
Unmeasurable, imprecise "goals" are hard to pursue. Specific, measurable objectives with well-defined targets and action plans are much easier to pursue, monitor and attain.
One of the positives of the Palo Alto environment is the results-oriented culture of the local world-reaching business community.
It is not too much to ask our educators to present an understandable, grounded and data-driven plan.
Posted by Just the facts, a resident of the University South neighborhood, on Feb 14, 2011 at 5:00 pm
To "I am disappointed too":
Amy Drolette is not the replacement for Carol Zepecki. Someone else was hired to take the major portions and purposes of Zepecki's job. Drolette was hired sometime between last spring and the beginning of this school year; I'm not sure exactly when during that timeframe and don't want to add another mistaken notion here. Her responsibilities include areas related to Zepecki's scope and areas related to the topic of this forum.
When folks state "facts" that are not actually true, it lessens the validity of the discussion here.
Posted by Chris Kenrick, Palo Alto Weekly staff writer, a resident of the Old Palo Alto neighborhood, on Feb 14, 2011 at 5:27 pm
Carol Zepecki, who retired in June after 12 years as the school district's director of special education, managed services for the roughly 10 percent of students who are Xb5CRin special education. She also became the district's point person for responding to the suicides and helped to develop the community-wide coalition Project Safety Net. Zepecki essentially has been replaced by two people: Holly Wade as director of special education and Amy Drolette, who coordinates student services and represents the school district on Project Safety Net.
Posted by parent, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood, on Feb 14, 2011 at 6:14 pm
Have any of you seen The Race to Nowhere? Sounds like Miranda. Rushing, hurrying, working hard to get where? Sounds like a lot of kids are working hard for the grades to get to a place where they have no idea what to do when they get there. Don't think this is just the school's problem but is the parents who are pushing their kids. We want the schools to let up on the kids but we also want them to get into the Ivy Leagues. Can't have both so decide what you want. Happy kids or kids like Miranda who achieve but aren't sure what they have achieved. Realize too that the district is dealing with a myriad of parents and desires. Some want more academics, some want less. We all judge each other way too easily. Reminder, your kid just essentially passed through you. You didn't pick out the DNA they got so ease up. Maybe you were lucky and got the DNA to get into Harvard, but maybe your kids weren't so "lucky". Some of this is not in our control.
Posted by teacher, a resident of another community, on Feb 14, 2011 at 6:21 pm
I see 150 of your kids every day, less than an hour. I don't know who's alone at lunch because I'm at my desk, talking with a student, correcting papers, working the email onslaught & eating a snack.
Lots of posters expect teachers to monitor the emotional well-being of each child. I try. Mild distress probably won't be immediately obvious. Severe distress is. I've spoken with parents about extremely distressed children & suggested counseling for them. Surprisingly, or maybe not, most parents are very resisitant to hearing any such recommendations & refuse.
You have the privilege of living in the same house with your children & having opportunities to interract, ask questions, listen, speak, share meals, see that they get enough sleep, see who their friends are, know what music they like & monitor their internet use. I don't. These are parts of both your responsibility & your pleasure. Stop blaming teachers for not rearing your children as you might wish. Not our jobs. Perhaps you & not the teachers could more easily ask your kid if he participates in any of the 93 campus organizations? Over dinner?
By the time we get freshmen, many of their habits, attitudes & beliefs have been formed, at home. Are they tolerant & accepting of others? Are they truthful & honest? Have they learned kindness & empathy? Do they wear $300 sunglasses, carry 4G smartphones, enjoy 2nd homes & lavish vacations, brag about their parents' affluence, & expect & receive brand new luxury cars for turnng 16? These are 2 of the many kinds of kids who have to sort themselves out in relation to their classmates. We also get freshmen who tell us that they have to get into Stanford or Harvard or their parents will be "mad". What are you doing to your kids?
Maybe there should be orientation sessions for parents, starting about 6th grade, teaching them how to help kids have realistic academic expectations, (including not going to college but learning a much-loved trade) & good manners.
We do the very best we can, working long hours outside of the classroom, preparing lesson plans, correcting papers & exams, responding to email & voicemails from parents, & meeting with our peers & administrators. We can only work with the partly formed raw materials you send us.
Posted by gunn grad, a member of the Gunn High School community, on Feb 14, 2011 at 6:27 pm
As a Gunn grad now at an ivy league school, the academic pressure at Gunn was unnecessary. Schoolwork here takes much less time and frankly is at the same level, possibly easier, than the highest tracks at Gunn. What people don't realize is that the kids who get into the ivy league schools from Gunn and Paly are generally predetermined; they are mostly recruited athletes, legacies, or people with extraordinary extracurriculars. A focus on connectedness would be a welcome change in my opinion, it would improve the emotional health of the students, create a better high school experience, and probably wouldn't affect what colleges they get into.
Posted by parent, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood, on Feb 14, 2011 at 7:02 pm
Teacher - very well said. Thank you. As for smaller schools, there will still be a ratio of staff to students. I went to a hs with 460 students. There were kids who were not connected because they don't want to be. It was not for lack of people trying. Take a serious look at the message you are really giving your kids, not just the message you think you are giving.
Posted by Barron Park Parent, a resident of the Barron Park neighborhood, on Feb 14, 2011 at 7:34 pm
I watch the video. This is a great video. Thanks for putting it on You Tube. We got to see the other side of the Palo Alto School District. I thank the lady who literally stood up for her children students of Palo Alto District. It was about time, if all the parents who feel that changes need to happen, had the guts to stand up for the students, I am sure the suicides will stop or decrease. I cannot believe that the PAUSD district lost another student to suicide last month. That is what Amy Drolette said at this meeting. Thanks for the people who organize this meeting. Too bad it took this much work for the district to finally adopt the social emotional goal, or maybe, it took a lot of pushing from the faith community. Many years after the first two Paly (Palo Alto High School) students died to suicide at the same tracks. Don't you think that it took too long for the superintendent to make this a priority. Great job, Faith Group, for helping this lady stand up for our Youth. I would give this video 5+ stars *****+
Posted by Why in Palo Alto?, a resident of another community, on Feb 14, 2011 at 7:43 pm
I simply don't understand anymore why Gunn and Paly have these problems to such an extreme degree. I've seen "Race to Nowhere," and I know student depression and stress exist elsewhere, but they really do seem to be much, much worse in Palo Alto. Other communities have wealthy, high-achieving parents and stressed students, but the latter aren't committing suicide. The only conclusion I can reach is that something is amiss with the Palo Alto schools themselves.
Posted by Me Too, a resident of the Midtown neighborhood, on Feb 14, 2011 at 7:59 pm
We have a suicide cluster, unfortunately aided by high-speed train crossings in the center of town. Given those unfortunate facts, we probably need to do more than most to detect mental illness and reach out to at-risk children (and others) in our community.
Some CDC stats for context (Web Link) - from a survey of 11,000 high school students:
• 24.1% of students had thought seriously about attempting suicide .
• 17.7% of students had made a specific plan to attempt suicide .
• 8.7% of students had attempted suicide .
• 2.8% of students had made a suicide attempt which resulted
It's not a Palo Alto problem, or a school problem - it's a human problem. We all need to work on it. Let's start with our own kids.
Posted by parent, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood, on Feb 14, 2011 at 8:05 pm
Suicides occur in all districts across the county. It is the third leading cause of death in teenagers. We only know about these suicides because they occurred on public property therefore they can be reported in the news. Otherwise the public is generally unaware when suicides occur. Our district is not any different than most. Ours just occurred in public. I think Palo Altans are looking for someone to blame, the school district, instead of society and the pressures we all put on our kids in general.
Posted by Parent, a member of the Palo Alto High School community, on Feb 14, 2011 at 8:05 pm
I really don't see why nearly everyone is blaming the schools.
Teens always have problems of some kind, usually not a unique Palo Alto issue. Some may have problems with school. Some may have problems at home, with perhaps Tiger Moms, or Helicopter Parents, or just parents that have not been brought up in the US and the kids are caught between the old country culture and the American culture. Some may have problems with girl/boy relationships. Some may not be able to get on the sports team they want. Hey, some may have zits like volcanoes!
Not to belittle any of these issues, but school culture cannot be the cause of all the problems are teens have and certainly can't be expected to deal with all of them.
To all the parents who are asking questions, I think you are on the right track. What is more worrying is that there are many more parents out there who are not asking the questions, either of their kids, themselves or anyone else. The parents who show that they are caring - not because they are turning up at various meetings, but because they are doing something to help, somewhere, are not the problem. The ones who are doing nothing and don't appear to care what their kids are up to, the ones who are insisting on Ivy Leagues and perfect As, the ones who are paying large amounts of money for tutoring, coaching sports or music, and expecting to live their fantasies through their kids, or the ones who have no idea how to talk and relate to their own kids are part of the problem.
The other part of the problem are the kids also. I can remember how difficult it was to be 14, and 15, and 16. To worry about zits, whether someone liked me or not, whether I would get a date for the dance, or how I could get some money to buy the latest LP, or fashion accessory. I remember what it was like to be a teen and that the problems were not always what the adults around me assumed they were.
I wanted to have someone to talk to who was not a parent, or a teacher, and certainly not a counsellor. I wanted to be myself at the same time as wanting to be like everyone else. I wanted to know all the answers to the big questions of life, and I didn't want anyone to know how scared of growing up I really was.
The schools can't be blamed for all the problems of teenage life. Don't expect them to do it all and don't expect all the parents to have the same values. They don't.
Posted by Palo Alto Teacher, a member of the Palo Alto High School community, on Feb 14, 2011 at 8:42 pm
At Palo Alto High, I demand the absolute best from my students. I assign high loads of homework and projects. I make extremely difficult tests and do not curve. In my class, you have to work hard for your A. I will not round a 79.999 up to a B-.
This may build stress and hurt in the short run, but it is worth everything in the long run.
Posted by Former Paly Student, a resident of the Duveneck/St. Francis neighborhood, on Feb 14, 2011 at 8:46 pm
I am a former Paly Student, now at Princeton, and I am SO, SO happy that this happened. Speaking to friends who attended other high-achieving public and private schools, NO ONE has the kind of problems Palo Alto has. My friends are openly shocked by the problems in Palo Alto.
I suspect that many members of the administration look to student like me, succeeding academically largely because of the support of my parents and my personal drive, and assume that everyone is fine, and that they needn't expend more energy. I wasn't fine. Very, very few students are 'fine'.
In my opinion, Paly was a toxic environment for most students. I think it is a combination of two things: an extraordinarily high-achieving atmosphere throughout Palo Alto, and a school administration which makes little effort to engage with the average student. I was incredibly lucky to be the sort of student who could benefit from that environment, but even I often felt that I didn't measure up to Paly's standards.
To make any real change possible, parents have to commit to changing their expectations of their children.
My suggestion for the administration is to work on establishing a sense of community on campus. I recognize that this is vague, but I know that my community of close friends was what got me through Paly. Students need to feel connected to each other, they need to feel like members of something, before they can feel accepted and start to feel comfortable being the person they are. The utter lack of connectivity on the Paly campus was perhaps the most disturbing aspect of my high school experience.
Most importantly, however, we need to continue to have these discussions - this is what makes Palo Alto so amazing, and so capable of turning around.
Posted by former Paly parent, a member of the Palo Alto High School community, on Feb 14, 2011 at 8:52 pm
@A Parent -- you stated above
"The AP curriculum is hard enough. Yet some Paly teachers feel they must go far beyond the curriculum."
There IS a reason for this, you apparently don't know some key background on the situation: No -- not that the students are geniuses, as some may think (or some parents want you to think), though there are gifted students, of course, here, like anywhere.
fyi, there are quite a few parents who do years of advance planning/calculating with regards to their student(s)' high school educations -- curriculum choices do not happen serendipitously or by student's own interests in many cases. Those with money who manage their teen's educations closely position them advantageously when it comes to a head: top university apps. I do not advocate these practices, but they do occur and they affect most students intentionally.
In fact, it's notable that MANY parents here pay big $$$ year after year to have their kids (average to high-performing students) prepped/tutored ahead of some courses (APs as well as SAT/SAT subject tests), so when they take it, it is more likely to be an A. There are rafts of courses from tutoring centers that are NOT aimed at remedial students, but function as clever prepping for highstakes courses. These parents require their students to take the highest level courses available - college apps to top 20 USN&WR schools ARE very competitive currently. With geographic diversity desired, this means PAUSD students seriously compete WITH each other.
In past it has been reported some teachers witnessed students yawning (which they attributed to boredom) and they therefore in response accelerated the course. This is most likely to occur in top level Math courses, though also possible in Science courses. Of course, if someone has already handheld you to learn the material, it is likely you might be a bit bored.
In meantime, it IS also true that Paly kas some fine quality AP courses on offer that should stand on their own merits. Some are not graded on an easy scale. To the extent I have knowledge (of certain ones, I have seen demonstrated that these AP courses may provide very solid preparation for university courses at major universities. It IS tougher/more stressful for the minority of students who have not been handheld by their parents/their parents' paid friends/their paid tutors/tutoring centers.
Posted by Charlie, a resident of the Barron Park neighborhood, on Feb 14, 2011 at 9:14 pm
Imagine if everyone needs to pay to attend school, then people are less likely complaint about this to the school but something else. Don't want to see teachers act like FBI agents in school. Teachers should be leave alone for teaching.
Gunn graduate: I bet you'll find working to be much much easier than attend Ivy league college later on!
Remark: Some of the high achievement schools like Fremont mission high has trains running within the walking day and night. Also it also happens to some low achievement school as well!
Posted by Teacher, a resident of another community, on Feb 14, 2011 at 9:41 pm
to Why in Palo Alto - No, the schools aren't the problem. It's the parents. Here's an example.
Cell phone use in the classroom is a distraction. PAUSD tried to prohibit bringing them into classrooms. The parents had fits. "I need to be able to reach my child at any time. There could be an emergency! Our kids must have their phones." Schools attempt to regulate - phone is supposed to be off during class. Guess what's a major problem? Cheating during exams, by text. It is nearly impossible for 1 teacher to monitor the action of phones the kids hold in their laps. The phones have calculators which are OK during tests. We try, rarely catch out a cheater. Couple problems here - the cheating skews test grades, demoralizes those who are honest & don't cheat, reinforces the apparent attitude of entitlement that whatever they can get away with is all right, etc. Honest students are afraid to call out their classmates because that would risk social ostracism. Kids who are caught are sent for disciplinary action. Sometimes lots of pleading leads to a soft-hearted vice-principal will give the kid another chance. Under school disciplinary regs, the cheating episode is to noted in the student's permanent file. You know, the file that goes with transcripts for college appls? Cheating on the permanent record? Bye-bye Ivies, Stanford. Hello Foothill. Oops. It was all for naught? Parents, step up. Teach your kid right from wrong & never make grade success so important that your kid will risk his future. Better yet, re-think cell phones in the classroom. Remove this temptation for your youngster. Might help kids feel "connected" if they know that they're not being penalized for being honest.
Posted by Yay for the Teachers, a resident of the Palo Verde neighborhood, on Feb 14, 2011 at 10:53 pm
I HIGLY RECOMMEND EVERYONE READ, RE-READ AND PRINT THE TEACHERS' COMMENTS. Bravo bravo! As a Mom of two at Gunn, I thank you and totally agree with everything you have said. We keep closely connected with our kids and let them know they are loved and that we have high (though not unrealistic) expectations. I, for one, love when you give us feedback and want to thank you and let you know you are appreciated. :) please continue to stay as connected as you want and don't let the turkeys get you down.
Posted by EcoMama, a resident of the Community Center neighborhood, on Feb 14, 2011 at 10:58 pm
I'm all for "it takes a village," but, in order to do our part as parents and community members, we really need to know what the school district is doing to address student stress! Why didn't Drolette or Skelly hand out a school by school breakdown of what's old, what's new, and what's coming? I attended the meeting, and Skelly highlighted Terman Tiger Camp and JLS Panther Camp -- then noted that there was no comparable three-day orientation program at Jordan. How does a parent know what their elementary kid is getting into? Where do we find a site-by-site comparison -- and, more importantly, HOW is it okay for Jordan to lag behind Terman and JLS on all of these issues (something that was glaringly apparent in the meeting)? Skelly says he won't mandate -- but WHY NOT? Lead, darn it, Skelly, LEAD. Otherwise, it is not Palo Alto UNIFIED School District -- it's Palo Alto Every School for Itself District. And that is NOT good enough for what we pay to live here.
At the end of the day, of course, families and community members are an even bigger part of caring for our kids than the schools and their teachers. HOWEVER, it is NOT just parents causing this stress. "So what" about the block schedule change at Paly when there's still way too much homework to be done in a reasonable amount of time. "So what" about the QPR when middle school teachers won't be "made" to do it. "So what" about all of the initiatives Drolette rattled off when no one is making the teachers implement them. Jordan is fast becoming a bad example of what not to do -- and what happens when no one "requires" anything... anything but homework, and loads of it. And that's a shining example of where community members have the district's back, for it is homework helpers from St. Marks, who hosted this meeting, who show up for those kids.
Imagine if drunk driving laws were "optional." To me, yes, we all share responsibility, but the PAUSD ought to be able to say that within its reach, it's doing everything it can to reduce student stress and to improve kids' social and emotional health while at school and/or involved in school activities (homework included). After last night's presentation, I find that laughable. They can talk a big game, but they can't make principals or teachers "do" squat to change meaningfully. Just look at the calendar mess! Our poor kids ... who fortunately have parents who can try to effect change. The ones who care most sadly seem to opt for private schools with tighter controls.
Posted by Stop the blame game, a member of the Gunn High School community, on Feb 14, 2011 at 10:59 pm
I am sorry that the dialogue has lapsed into a blame game.
The point of the program last night and the collective efforts of the faith community was expressly to seek a meaningful partnership for our youth, to understand what is being planned and done so that the efforts can be supported by the many members of the community who care deeply about the safety and well-being of our precious kids.
Perhaps if the school district assumed a more open and collaborarive posture and welcomed the good ideas and actively engaged parents, we could together do so much. I understand the parents' frustration with Ms. Drolette's presentation as it came across as reading a laundry list.
With school being one of the primary places kids spend their waking hours, there is a prime opportunity to increase awareness through education about mental health, how to help self and friends who for many different reasons may be troubled from time to fime. In fact, one of the 5 top goals of Project Safety Net for this year is mental health curriculum in the schools. California has this as a state mandate with specified curriculum already developed. Implementing that would be a meaningful way to empower the kids with knowledge to help them through school and life in general.
Let's stop pointing our fingers at each other and start offering our hands to work together in good faith for the kids.
Posted by bill kelly, a resident of the Barron Park neighborhood, on Feb 14, 2011 at 11:03 pm
The stress of Gunn is self imposed by the parents and the kid's peers. I've had three kids at Gunn and I have a clear message: Forget Ivies if you want a life, and pick a track in math/english/language which you'll succeed in, finally, have a social life. Is it acceptable to go through Gunn and not take an AP? You bet! Wake up people there are 3000 colleges out there! One of them is for you and your kid.
Posted by Teacher, a member of the Palo Alto High School community, on Feb 14, 2011 at 11:13 pm
I have to say two things: 1) the aggressive, pushy behavior of the interrupting parents in the video provides terrific insight into how many Paly parents treat teachers; and 2)"Connectedness" is very, very important but it requires a global shift that no one administration could possibly execute -- it requires a shift of PARENTING philosophy (which in part has to do with not bullying and badmouthing your kid's teachers), SMALLER CLASS SIZES so that teachers can actually get to know their students and are able to display to them that we care -- It's pretty hard to do with 30+ students in the room and their parents emailing us to challenge grades or demand a meeting if their kid is getting a B.
My advice is: Let your kids be kids, let them fail, let them struggle, let them fight their own battles, let them know that a B doesn't define them and that a B is perfectly respectable if they gave their best effort, stop telling them that they have to go to an ivy league school, and stop blaming the schools for their stress and unhappiness. They are unhappy and stressed because they have never learned how to be resilient. They are unhappy and insecure because they watch their parents fret over their grades and argue with teachers about them - it devalues and disempowers them. Stop micromanaging their lives, tell them that you accept them as they are, and let them BE!
Posted by Stop the blame game, a member of the Gunn High School community, on Feb 14, 2011 at 11:36 pm
I very much appreciate how much you obviously care for the students.
I am sure that there are parents who could do a much better job at parenting.
I personally know many of the parents who have tragically lost their beloved sons and daughters to suicide. They are loving, kind, gentle, and loved their children wholly and unconditionally. Your words of blame are piercing to our hearts.
There should be a forum where parents are engaged as was the district last night, to honestly identify changes that we could make in ourselves, our relationship with our kids, and in our homes.
The forum last night was the opportunity for the district to honestly identify its plans and actions. What changes have been made? What changes are being sought? How can parents and the interested community help?
In the face of students so troubled that they are cutting and killing themselves, this is not the time for patience. Almost two years since the most recent losses (let alone in 2003 and 2004) and a year since the last interfaith-sponsored forum, the district asks for patience and gentleness. After six deaths and a larger number of unreported attempts, it is high time for IMPATIENCE!
Posted by Me Too, a resident of the Midtown neighborhood, on Feb 15, 2011 at 12:02 am
I think your impatience is misguided. The primary cause of suicide is mental illness - not AP classes, not school calendar, not bell schedules, not tough grading curves, etc. The schools can help in helping identify signs of mental illness and depression, since they are adults who have regular contact with kids. And they can help by providing potential adults for kids to talk to (just as all other youth institutions can). But this is not a school problem and there is no school solution, and it seems unfair, even misguided, to expect educators to be our front line defense for our kids mental health. That's a job we as parents must do.
Posted by Another Teacher, a member of the Palo Alto High School community, on Feb 15, 2011 at 2:45 am
Dear Me Too,
I would like to quietly second your comment regarding mental illness. The blame-game is emotional terrorism, but (and this might be more important to some) it also yields no authentic solution, merely the semblance of a solution.
PS: for every student who says college is easier than PALY, there are students who can't cope. Stanford just implemented a program to help the "failure deprived"--that is, kids who can't deal with earning a B+...sound familiar?
Posted by Another Frustrated Parent, a resident of the Midtown neighborhood, on Feb 15, 2011 at 8:21 am
It is sad to hear that our leader does not have what it takes to mandate "all" schools to take action as he is afraid that he might get into bad relationships with the principals, but remember he is only taking care of his job. Last superintendent lost it when she did not agree with some principals who joined and got her out. Teachers and principals can overpower the superintendent. So as bad as I feel, I can't blame Skelly, he is just protecting his paycheck. Wouldn't you?
Same thing with the board members, they can't push Skelly to something he does not want to do. Principals do not want to mandate teachers what to do once they get tenure, So our students voice and needs are not heard nor meet. It is very frustrated. Our students spend a lot of time at school, I have a child in middle school who comes home crying because other kids make fun and are very cruel to her, and the way the school addresses the issue is not effective. My last choice is to home school her. I heard many PAUSD are doing that after they lost the battle with a district that did not want to or could not meet the students needs.
Posted by concernedparent, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood, on Feb 15, 2011 at 9:33 am
Shouldn't we at least be looking at measures that are known to be a factor in connectedness, especially where we have control of it?
School size in high schools is a huge factor in "connectedness" (where interestedingly, class size is not). Not surprisingly, research shows connectedness suffers in ultra-large schools.
So why are we spending so much money making Gunn and Paly ultra-large campuses, spending money to increase systemic challenges to educational quality and connectedness?
Where is the leadership here to have the discussion with the community about the implications of the direction of the Measure A construction? (And no, there is no "discussion" allowed at planning meetings with the community, and most of the community don't know what happens there anyway. Also, these are not meetings where the community has any input in direction anyway, so please don't insult by bringing that up -- as the administration does when confronted with this issue.)
Posted by jean, a resident of the Barron Park neighborhood, on Feb 15, 2011 at 10:00 am
Clearly, there are many reasons why students are stressed out beyond what is healthy. Sometimes parents are to blame for acting in what I'd call "tiger mom" mode. But there are problems with the schools: high school is too crowded. Some teachers want too much project work that takes a lot of time to do but not much real learning. Project work was supposed to help students connect and make the material more interesting and meaningful but more often then not ends up with parents having to help out or their kids are up all night. And then there are some teachers who don't really teach the subject so students have to get tutors. There are some wonderful teachers in our district but there are some problems with this over done project learning, busy work homework. Let's all try to do what we can to reduce unhealthy stress.
Posted by Yes! to the teacher, a resident of another community, on Feb 15, 2011 at 10:06 am
I am the spouse of a teacher and I agree 125% with the Teacher's first comments above. The teacher I live with spends so much time, energy and heart on the classes he teaches. He has been hurt greatly by comments of both students and parents to him - harsh and ignorant comments, many times fueled by fear or anger.
He has also had great joy and been given strength and support to continue by amazing comments and successes of students and parents. Fortunately there are a lot of these parents as well.
From my view it is so easy to see the parents who are concerned and involved, working as allies with the teachers, versus the ones who are focused purely on achievement and grades. It's also easy to see the students who reflect the manners and priorities that they have learned from their parents, versus right and privilege.
The teaching environment, especially at the HS level, is stressful for the teachers as well. They have the pressure of high expectations in their teaching, combined with the amazing pressure of the parents and community, the economy and it's affects on the schools, resource issues, space issues, and more. While many of the parents around them are making major three figure salaries for what they are doing, the teachers' salary for all they are expected to do majorly pales in comparison. Yet, you expect them to be expert teachers, counselors, sudo-parents, physcologists, get your kids into top colleges, etc. My husband probably works 65 hours a week, at least.
How many of you would be willing to trade $250k a year for $80k, and work with all the expectations and pressures you put out there?
Please show them more respect and teach your kids to respect them as well. That's part of the connectivity issue as well. Model it.
Posted by JM, a resident of the Charleston Meadows neighborhood, on Feb 15, 2011 at 10:51 am
I spent quite some time on school volunteer works, including suicidal prevention efforts.
I'm quite disappointed with the behaviors of the parents' during the meeting: interrupt the talk to bring up the un-organized frustration.
If you are part of the so-called "highly achieved Palo Alto parents community", then ask yourself: how do you define "connectedness", and how do you expect others, PAUSD or anyone, to work on "connectedness" with your own kids?
I personally don't appreciate random ranting, especially after so many rounds of discussions about the problems.
Ask not what PAUSD has done for you. Ask what you have done for the community on this specific issue, before you blame others.
Posted by Crescent Park Dad, a resident of the Crescent Park neighborhood, on Feb 15, 2011 at 10:57 am
To Teacher: You are spot on.
Parents: You are responsible for your children - their manners, views, outlook. Talk with your kids - make sure that they understand what you believe is important (academically) and what should not be a concern.
Posted by Retract those fingers and lend a hand!, a member of the Gunn High School community, on Feb 15, 2011 at 11:23 am
Mental illness, including depression, strikes even the most otherwise well-adjusted and connected person. Just like any other disease, a child could suffer from mental illness even if they have good, loving, and caring parents.
When that happens, we must all work together to support the child in need. Such illness is not a matter of who is to blame for it. Who is to blame when a child is diagnosed with cancer? With asthma?
Posted by Parent, a member of the Palo Alto High School community, on Feb 15, 2011 at 11:37 am
First, I agree that the size of the schools is a big problem. There has never been a discussion either in a community outreach meeting or at the Board level of reopening Cubberley. When the High School task force met to come up with recommendations, they basically reported that reopening was not on the table for discussion and never looked at.
If the BoE really want to make our schools more connected then size is something they must discuss.
Secondly, mental illness and depression are illnesses, but like many illnesses they have causes. Some cases may be genetic, but others may be caused by stress, too little sleep, bad diet, etc. Perhaps the question should really be "what are the pressures that are causing mental illness?" rather than just blaming mental illness as if to use that excuse to hide the pressures. After all, if there was an outbreak of chicken pox, TB or foodpoisoning among our students these questions would be asked. Why should mental illness not be treated the same way?
Posted by School size matters, a resident of the Barron Park neighborhood, on Feb 15, 2011 at 11:47 am
To Concerned Parent,
You are so right when you say that school size matters. I think that is the biggest part of the problem. Once I sent an e-mail to my the school principal about some serious problems that my child was having with another student who had threatened my child, when she replied, she mixed up my child's name with some else. When I replied and corrected the name, she said you know I have 2,000 students, how could I know their names?. I do feel disappointed that the extra money I am paying for tax is being used to make bigger schools. It is ridiculous! What they should have done instead was open another one, so teachers and principals got better chances to know the kids, and keep an eye on all those who smoke marijuana during school hours, recess and lunch time. There is a lot of these going on, but the school keeps it a secret and parents of these children do not even know it. I have a question for our district leader: How are you going to feel when the addition to Gunn High School is complete when students die because it was already too big. Did you ever stop to thing that the problems are going to be even bigger and students are going to be more disconnected and lost? At least 5 students are not going to see the big school because they are already on their graves.
Posted by jt, a resident of the Leland Manor/Garland Drive neighborhood, on Feb 15, 2011 at 11:49 am
Our oldest child dropped out of Paly much to our dismay, but she just thought the pressure was rediculous...she traveled the world, got some perspective and she is a college graduate now at 33, honor roll all through her post high school work...she is a brilliant, happy scientist now..
Our second child was put through the ringer and sent to Alta Mesa where he completed a total of 208 units, was captain of the basketball team, President of his small class - only to be told that he would not graduate because he had not taken one required class..he was not allowed to walk with his class and was so traumatized by the school system he never returned to school. I happily report he is stable and has a great family but PA school district treated him like a dirty worthless person.
We took our third child out of PA schools, sent him to a private school where the Jesuits made him appreciate who he was and he has excelled in life, given so much back to society and is healthy...wish I had the same experience for all my children.
Good luck in PA. Your kids put alot of pressure on themselves. Love them until it hurts. Accept them for who they are and not what the schools or the other parents expect them to be...they will surprise you.
Posted by new in town, a resident of the Palo Verde neighborhood, on Feb 15, 2011 at 12:09 pm
I want to echo the points raised by Parent of the PA HS community:
Connectedness is pretty tough in a school with over 2000 students. Plain and simple. Is there any chance to re-visit this mega-school decision that has apparently been made?
I also believe we are all susceptible to a degree of mental illness when faced with prolonged sleep deprivation and a feeling of never being able to catch up. When it takes a minimum 4.3 to get into Berkeley (as the admissions director stated in "The Race to Nowhere"), and the AP teachers reportedly take pride in piling on hours of homework, that is a recipe for lowering anyone's threshold of stability.
Finally, I am alarmed at how often I see cheating coming up on these forums. It sounds widespread and must contribute to the sense of not being able to compete on merit for those who choose to be honest. Cell phone allowed during tests? That is ridiculous. Put them in a basket at the front of the class in case mummy has 'an emergency'. Teachers should not have to police that.
I want my kids to be honest and do the right thing and my heart will break for them if they see kids less capable who succeed in getting ahead through cheating. Shame on people who encourage their child to cheat. Disgraceful.
Posted by too big to fail?, a resident of the Downtown North neighborhood, on Feb 15, 2011 at 12:35 pm
Why can't school size, and the competitiveness in these schools be dealt with in the same sentence?
It's a brutal combination for everyone,
the reason you have "un-organized frustration" and not everyone has been active in doing "something" about this is, is because this is not a bake sale, or a fundraising auction
this is about a scary combination- size of the schools with an outrageously competitive system
what caring parent will start organizing for a change when they are barely trying to get their kid through school now?? I applaud the parents doing nothing but caring for their own family
It's absolutely up to the district to acknowledge parent concern about the size of our schools.
As for the Xtreme competitiveness, I do not believe in giving everyone A's and I don't espouse dumbing down anything, but I also don't believe in the macho academic culture in our schools, where some teachers and admins included are in the race to prove there are no limits
connectedness will happen when the academic caste system is dealt with, or the size of schools change.
in a small school, nobody feels bad about a certain percentage of kids excelling, but in a giant school where practically half of the school is on top and the other half is at the bottom?
"We have great students, which has a lot of upsides," says April Scott, Monta Vista's principal. "The downside is what the kids with a 3.0 GPA think of themselves."
Gunn, and South Palo Alto have a lot in common with Cupertino. The demographics of the community are rapidly changing and are causing rapid social dislocation. As adults, we struggle with the impact of globalization. Our kids are struggling too. We owe it to our kids to have an open dialogue about these changes even if it is uncomfortable.
Posted by Ann, a resident of the Downtown North neighborhood, on Feb 15, 2011 at 1:29 pm
We need to focus on education, not grades! My child is a wonderful student at Paly, but he feels that there are some teachers who are not teaching at all! They are letting the kids do all the work on their own. They assume the "smart" kids can learn on their own from the textbook. Lots of kids have As, but they are not learning from a teacher.
In math class (highest lane-sophomore), for example, he has to learn on his own from the textbook. During class, all questions are placed on the board for other students to resolve. The teacher does not teach! She hides in the corner!!! And we, like other parents in this class, have to pay for tutors.
Because a kid is in a upper lane, it does not mean they do not need a teacher. Also, there are teachers who spend a lot of time talking about their own lives, their everyday stuff... there is too much info about teachers' personal lives in the classrooms at Paly.
Everyone is so worried about grades... we should focus more on education than grades. What are our kids really learning in some classes?! In every meeting parents talk about some of these teachers' behaviors, but nothing has changed. Something must be done!
Posted by Ann, a resident of the Downtown North neighborhood, on Feb 15, 2011 at 1:51 pm
And again, there are teachers and REAL TEACHERS. Just read the entire posting from 'teacher' and love it! Thank YOU for the message. I hope my kid will have more teachers like you than of those I described above.
<<<You have the privilege of living in the same house with your children & having opportunities to interract, ask questions, listen, speak, share meals, see that they get enough sleep, see who their friends are, know what music they like & monitor their internet use. I don't. These are parts of both your responsibility & your pleasure. Stop blaming teachers for not rearing your children as you might wish. Not our jobs. Perhaps you & not the teachers could more easily ask your kid if he participates in any of the 93 campus organizations? Over dinner?
By the time we get freshmen, many of their habits, attitudes & beliefs have been formed, at home. Are they tolerant & accepting of others? Are they truthful & honest? Have they learned kindness & empathy? Do they wear $300 sunglasses, carry 4G smartphones, enjoy 2nd homes & lavish vacations, brag about their parents' affluence, & expect & receive brand new luxury cars for turnng 16? These are 2 of the many kinds of kids who have to sort themselves out in relation to their classmates. We also get freshmen who tell us that they have to get into Stanford or Harvard or their parents will be "mad". What are you doing to your kids?
Maybe there should be orientation sessions for parents, starting about 6th grade, teaching them how to help kids have realistic academic expectations, (including not going to college but learning a much-loved trade) & good manners.>>>>
Posted by Ann, a resident of the Downtown North neighborhood, on Feb 15, 2011 at 2:16 pm
"Too big to fail", my child is a straight A student, and he is focused on college applications, but he is also very much focused on learning! For him, learning is not relative and he does not feel he knows plenty, neither do we believe that. He is not too tired to learn, he is eager to learn. The focus should be on learning, not on grades.
Posted by Concerned Parent, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood, on Feb 15, 2011 at 2:37 pm
For those above concerned about school size (because it has such an impact on connectedness and quality) -- it is not too late to change direction (without losing a lot of money), but it is 11th hour.
It will only happen if parents get in and demand that the school district take a DETAILED AND SPECIFIC look at the 3rd high school question again (probably as a choice school) ASAP. And the discussion needs to be with parties that are not married to the decisions that have been made thus far in the construction. I think it would also take leadership from someone outside the administration, because the leadership on this issue inside has been notably lacking.
Posted by Concerned Parent, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood, on Feb 15, 2011 at 2:42 pm
When I say the district should take a look at the 3rd high school question "again", I am referring to the cursory task force, long before Measure A, that never came to a conclusion and never really looked at the issues at stake here.
Opening the 3rd high school was never examined in detail at all in relationship to the Measure A construction (even though Measure A was clearly written to allow work on Cubberley if necessary), it wasn't considered at all really in deciding to enlarge Gunn and Paly. Many things have happened since that decision was made, including a tanking of the economy (cheaper construction of faster single-story) and the student tragedies. It should be looked at now, but parents will have to demand it.
Posted by too big to fail?, a resident of the Downtown North neighborhood, on Feb 15, 2011 at 3:04 pm
why should it come from the parents, it should come from district leadership ("the one notably lacking")
Skelly seems all too comfortable about "dealing" with issues, but this is the kind of thing one expects a leader to actually DO something about
he and everyone that is quick to lecture parents can act blind, and dumb about the school size issue, but failing students due to gigantic schools is not a parent leadership issue, it's the district's responsibility
the 11th hour should be on district leadership, not the parents
Posted by Power of the Parents!, a resident of the Midtown neighborhood, on Feb 15, 2011 at 3:20 pm
I have been trying to work with the schools and district to identify areas within their realm that would support student health and well-being. It is easy to marginalize one voice.
The superintendent made it clear when asked when and how he would report to the parents on further progress, he answers to the school board.
The school board is responsible for policy and performance of the superintendent. If all the parents concerned about the health and welfare of their kids work together, maybe the board and the superintendent will finally hear us and do something concrete.
Who will join me at the next school board meeting on Tuesday, February 22, at 6:30pm!!!
Posted by Carol, a resident of Menlo Park, on Feb 15, 2011 at 3:26 pm
Reopening Cubberley appears to be desirable. Is it possible to do that? Most of the high-density housing built in the last 20 years is in the Charleston-Meadow-Loma Verde-San Antonio section, east of El Camino. Alma, RR tracks, & El Camino are such physical barriers that it seems it would help "connectedness" and restore a sense of belonging, at least to a neighborhood, if kids in the described geography could all go to Cubberley.
Posted by Parent, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood, on Feb 15, 2011 at 5:37 pm
Regarding opening a third high school: This community can't even come to a civil consensus on changing to finals before the holidays for reasons as silly as "my family always takes vacation in August". How would it be possible that you could come to consensus on what type of high school should be built versus another general high school? That would, god forbid, involve changing boundaries. You want to tell me there wouldn't be a huge outcry over learning your child would no longer go to Gunn or Paly the way you thought. If I were a board member I wouldn't touch that issue with the proverbial 10 foot pole.
Posted by High School Mom, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood, on Feb 15, 2011 at 5:40 pm
One thing I agree with is that our high schools are too big. The reopening of Cubberley has been discussed for years to no avail. It seems it is a complicated mess involving the city and PAUSD as well as many non-profit organizations residing there and a staggering cost for reopening that site as a high school.
One alternative, practiced by some large high schools, and at universities (e.g. UC Santa Cruz) would be to divide up the existing high schools into smaller units within them, calling them "houses" or whatever. A student would belong to a house that would have its dedicated teachers for most core classes and its own social events and connectedness activities. A bit like Team if you wish, but for everyone. It is a path worth exploring.
Posted by I will join you, a resident of the Palo Alto Orchards neighborhood, on Feb 15, 2011 at 6:09 pm
Power of Parent,
I will join you. I and other parents have been trying to get Skelly's attention,so he can do something about it. However, he will only listen if there is a bunch of parent standing up for the kids and not just few. There are a lot of things he can do for our kids. I know it is not the school's job, but the schools have a lot to do with the suicides. Our kids spend a lot of time at school. Wen we do nothing about it and other kids died, like the last girl, who like the others found no way out, and was not taken care off properly, even though they said they did, it was not enough or effective, otherwise she would still be alive or in a hospital getting the help she needed. It is everybody's fault, not just the district, not just the parents, not just the teachers, we all contributed to her suicide. The schools by moving her to another school, we the parents who knew suicides were taking place, and all we did is attend few meetings and then we forgot about it. Only few parents continue to work in this issue. Forgetting about it is what the district want us to do, so we do not remind them that someone died and nothing effective was done about it. I hope more people will join the next board meeting. Hope to see you there.
Posted by Parent, a member of the Palo Alto High School community, on Feb 15, 2011 at 6:40 pm
Not sure if I can make the next Board meeting, but I will try.
To make this work, there needs to be a coordinated effort, the Board will not take too much notice of a couple of individuals.
It needs to have a large number of well behaved people present who are willing to fill in cards to speak for 3 minutes at the open forum time. Although present high school parents are the ones who understand the problem, it will be much more relevant for elementary parents to make their voices heard, at the least middle school parents. Any changes will not be made in time for our present teens.
Posters being held by the audience are worth doing. Also, any petitions or letters from other parents could be handed in.
The relevant issues are that the high schools are too big and the possibility should be explored of reopening Cubberley as a magnet, choice, 9th grade only, science or liberal arts campus under the leadership of either/ or combined Gunn and Paly - a type of daughter campus, rather than a fully fledged stand alone high school.
Speakers will only be allowed 3 minutes, so any relevant data about school sizes and optimum learning and connectedness should be handed in separately to the Board Members and Skelly.
Likewise, a plethora of emails to the Board Members PAUSD email addresses starting asap along these lines would show them that parents mean business.
If anyone has any other ideas, they can be added here too.
Posted by Jack, a resident of the Greendell/Walnut Grove neighborhood, on Feb 15, 2011 at 6:51 pm
too many people are speaking in code here. for starters, I have no idea what exactly "connectedness" actually means. Either there is something people can't talk about in public, i.c. something politically incorrect, or people making up words like this and people commenting here and people complaining in the meetings have no idea what the he*ck they're talking about. If you actually want to complain about something, better phrase it in ways that are understandable to most people who can read. Maybe your kids are having problem because you and teacher at school constantly throw out meaningful drivels like "connectedness".
Posted by Anon, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood, on Feb 15, 2011 at 7:03 pm
Parent, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood, writes:
"Regarding opening a third high school:"
I think that the community should seriously consider *four* high schools, not just three. Gunn, at least, has twice the population that it did initially. There is really no reason why a high school needs more than about 600 students to support a full curriculum with good math tracks, music programs, etc. And, a smaller school means ordinary kids can "make the team" in sports if they work at it. There are many advantages and few disadvantages to smaller schools.
"This community can't even come to a civil consensus on changing to finals before the holidays for reasons as silly as "my family always takes vacation in August"."
August is often the best time to take a family vacation, so, I don't consider that "silly". Unfortunately, the unwieldy college admission process encourages a too-early start, so, if I were on the school board, I would have to vote for an earlier start :-( But, I can understand very well why families without high school juniors/seniors would not want to go back to school on August 1.
"You want to tell me there wouldn't be a huge outcry over learning your child would no longer go to Gunn or Paly the way you thought. If I were a board member I wouldn't touch that issue with the proverbial 10 foot pole."
Just as many parents and kids would be happy to get the heck out of Paly and Gunn, so, *open enrollment* might work fine. I'm not trying to dis- Paly and Gunn, but, lots of kids do not thrive in such a competitive environment. Some do, but, lots don't. How about if we open a couple of 600 student high schools as a smaller alternative to Paly and Gunn?
Posted by Nancy Crewdson, a member of the Palo Alto High School community, on Feb 15, 2011 at 7:10 pm
I am the mom who first interrupted the meeting. I am one of those people who prefers to work quietly in the background. I shocked myself by standing up -I don't even know what made me stand up: except one fundamental thing.
I couldn't keep sitting there and do nothing.
The speaker had lost the audience. People were leaving and everyone look bored. In essence, the audience had tuned out. The words kept coming, on and on. A good teacher keeps the class engaged. This speaker was talking at us. No one was engaged.
The speaker had a wonderful chance to say - "hey, I don't know the answer but yes there is a problem, and here are some ideas we can do together to make progress on this very difficult and serious issue". instead it was "strategies", "transitions", an endless reading of power point slide with a vocabulary that never rang true.
There had been tremendous energy in the room, and it was fizzling out.
Is this how it is in the classroom? Do our kids tune out too? I am sure the answer is yes. If I (normally a very respectful person) have the urge to shout out "Stop. Use words we understand. Talk to us. We are here because we desperately care, and want to be part of the solution!" what chance do our kids have to be heard?
So I stood up and said, in effect: "Excuse me - but the words you are using do not mean anything. This is not a vocabulary parents and kids relate to. Please use words we understand. Engage us. We want to work with you. It is a big problem with no easy answer. We know that. Please be real with us, and together we can work together to make our community a better place for all - and especially for our youth"
If we can't talk to one another with a sense of caring and compassion and acceptance, using a common language of empathy and listening skills that everyone understands, how can we ever foster true relationships? And isn't the most fundamental pleasure in life to love and be loved?
I sat down, mortified at my outburst, and yet stimulated by the passion of so many who feel that working together, we can make a very real difference in the lives of our youth and adult- both the troubled ones, and also the ones striving for the top. We all are vulnerable.
It is not the job of the schools to solve this problem. It is not a problem that can be solved by an institution. We can go a long way if we ALL just pay attention to one another. Is any one missing? who is tuning out? Eye contact, a smile, a touch, a simple Hi, if we just remember to look out for others, we can each of us make a world of difference.
I sincerely apologize to the organizers and to Dr Skelley and Amy Drolette for my rude interruption. It was rude, and I should have followed the established rules of behavior - don't make waves.
Posted by Why in Palo Alto?, a resident of another community, on Feb 15, 2011 at 7:37 pm
I too was concerned about the size of Palo Alto high schools. However, after much research, I discovered that size doesn't always matter: There are high schools with even more students than Gunn or Paly where students--and staff--really do seem to be a lot happier and where students speak happily of their experiences, both while there and after graduation. Some of these large (and highly ranked!) high schools aren't particularly ethnically diverse, but others are. Maybe Palo Alto itself is simply too high-pressured and high-achieving a place...with too much tunnel vision.
Posted by too big to fail?, a resident of the Downtown North neighborhood, on Feb 15, 2011 at 7:51 pm
"We can go a long way if we ALL just pay attention to one another. Is any one missing? who is tuning out? Eye contact, a smile, a touch, a simple Hi, if we just remember to look out for others, we can each of us make a world of difference."
OK, can we then also then stop these community meetings that do absolutely NOTHING?
"eye contact, a smile, a touch, looking out for others" is hardly the higher standard for Standing Up for Youth, it's like the bare minimum, this is not exactly the Bronx!
there is no shortage of community interest here, actually there is too much interest and it does things like choke even the smallest of things like changing the calendar
but if there was Leadership - being AHEAD of the issues (calendar has not been perfectly handled), anything is possible
the lack of leadership to deal with school size is a failure of the district not the parents
Posted by David Cohen, a member of the Palo Alto High School community, on Feb 15, 2011 at 8:17 pm
Thank you, Nancy, for posting a comment with your name. I am a Paly teacher and I'm interested in reading and understanding perspectives here, but the anonymity drives me crazy. I understand the anonymity - I just don't like it. I still learn something by reading, but I almost never post anything.
I would just like to add that I see lots of suggestions from everyone about what other people do. I think we all need to look in the mirror - and I mean that as a parent, city resident, and teacher. I can do better. Like another teacher who commented above, I try to be available to my students outside of class time. I try my best to communicate that I care about more than grades, and I try to make my curriculum engaging. I tell my children that I love them for who they are, that I value respect, honesty, and effort and expect them to demonstrate those qualities. I try to tell my neighbors and fellow parents about the great Paly students I know who are thoughtful and caring and down to earth, and who have learned they don't have to play the high-stakes, high-pressure game.
Posted by Publius, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood, on Feb 15, 2011 at 8:33 pm
David Cohen, a member of the Palo Alto High School community, wrote:
"Thank you, Nancy, for posting a comment with your name. I am a Paly teacher and I'm interested in reading and understanding perspectives here, but the anonymity drives me crazy. I understand the anonymity - I just don't like it. I still learn something by reading, but I almost never post anything."
The Federalist (Papers) was anonymous. Everyone agreed that the arguments stood on their own merits.
Posted by Janet Dickens, a member of the Gunn High School community, on Feb 15, 2011 at 9:12 pm
I don't know what neighborhood to select. We moved to PA from Stanford in transition to another community out to the Peninsula after the death of our son, Will in October 2009. It is very difficult for me to post-this morning I had it all written in my mind. This community needs to come together-no one thing is to blame, it is complicated, it is not just mental illness-Will was never diagnosed-we were involved, our kids were engaged, we belong to and have participated in a strong faith community, we did everything we could for our family, why us? We have 2 kids that graduated from Gunn, one an Earth Scientist, a professor at Rice and one a Veterinarian working for the USDA-he almost flunked out of Gunn. One in Middle College at Foothill, loving it, thriving, can't be on campus anymore at Gunn-too sad-too many memories-lost her brother and best friend. The small cohort at Middle College has given her high school life back to some small degree. We have/had high hopes for our kids to succeed and want(ed) to help them in every way that we can (could). I hope you never have to walk in my shoes or the other moms' that have lost kids to suicide. Will would be graduating this spring from Gunn and I live with that every day. What can we do collectively to make this a better community for our kids, the best community for families, we should be the model community. Thank you all for what you are doing-we are in crisis and need to help each other-thanks Janet Dickens
Posted by For Those who want to go to the board Meeting, a resident of the Palo Verde neighborhood, on Feb 15, 2011 at 9:17 pm
I think that we should meet first, the weekend would be perfect, we could meet at a coffee place, chat and organize otherwise we will not make an impact on the district. Please tell others that it is about time to stand up for out kids. They need our help now. Parents whose kids are elementary students, this is the perfect time to start getting the schools better so when they get there, they will have less hard time then the ones who died or have attempted suicide.
Posted by Carol, a resident of Menlo Park, on Feb 15, 2011 at 10:09 pm
Please, Too big.....
I respectfully submit that high school students are NOT young adults. Yes, some of them are closer to that state than others, but they really are better defined as large, hormonally unsettled children. Brain development isn't complete until about age 23. Last area to develop regulates judgment. Perhaps that explains some of the poor choices they may make and suggests a need for some benevolent adult guidance.
Posted by concerned parent, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood, on Feb 15, 2011 at 11:52 pm
Why in Palo Alto?
Size does matter. You can find exceptions, but why would we spend lots of money hoping we'll be the rare exception?
“there is good evidence that it would be optimal to make [schools of more than 2,000 students] smaller.” -- review paper Douglas Harris
What would be our reason for spending lots of money to pursue the opposite of optimal, with the hope that our school would be the exception rather than the rule (especially with the recent tragedies to consider)?
Posted by Kathleen Blanchard, a resident of the Midtown neighborhood, on Feb 16, 2011 at 12:06 am
What compassion and grace you have shown in the face of such profound loss. I know your pain, for I too have lost my son, beautiful child full of love and kindness for others.
Your courage to reveal your identity has inspired me to share that I was the one who posted the rallying cry to join together at the school board meeting (Power to the Parents).
No child should be lost this way or family and friends to suffer such grief. In the spirit of the beautiful way in which JP lived his life, I am dedicated to taking the painful lessons that we have learned to better help our children.
Nancy, thank you for identifying yourself, too. Your frustration and thoughts resonated with me.
Please, let us all work together in good faith to make a difference.
Posted by Nancy Crewdson, a member of the Palo Alto High School community, on Feb 16, 2011 at 6:32 am
Janet - Thank you for coming up to me after the program on Sunday ane expressing your support. I would love to meet you.
My daughter is also at Middle College, and loving school for the first time ever.
For those who do not know about it, Middle College is a District program for juniors and seniors who are not thriving in a traditional school environment - and can handle college level courses. It is a small supportive community (size matters). She will graduate from Paly, holding her head up high.
She says the teachers Mike and Trish are the best she has ever had (along with Mr LaSalla at Jordan, and Selene in the Paly Guidance office).
The dedicated and gifted teachers are the ones that make the difference. Who are they? Let's ask the students - and also ask them what is it about this teacher that is special? Part of the PIA model is to conduct face to face interviews. I bet we will learn a lot.
My kids never had David Cohen, and I appreciate you speaking up.
My heart goes out to Vic, Janet and Kathleen and their families, and all the other families who suffer this unimaginable loss.
My heart also goes out to all the teens who are disengaged, lonely, sad, pressured, depressed, don't know where to go or how to cope. In fact, it is not just a teen problem, as these feelings can strike at all ages.
I thank all of you who are posting constructive and positive comments, as we grapple with these issues. It is very nice to have a forum of caring people to exchange thoughts with.
Posted by in the schools, a resident of the Fairmeadow neighborhood, on Feb 16, 2011 at 7:49 am
I agree that the high schools are way too large to allow teachers to be able to pay attention to all their students in a more personal way.
Why aren't they divided up into 'houses'? I know it limits students' choices - sometimes of teachers, sometimes of electives - but it allows a large school to behave like a smaller one, by creating COMMUNITY. I also know it can be a a bit of a logistical nightmare with scheduling, but research shows it really makes a difference.
Posted by Parent, a member of the Palo Alto High School community, on Feb 16, 2011 at 8:13 am
The House system (like in Harry Potter) is a good system and could really help.
JLS has Team Shakespeare, Team Da Vinci, etc. so there is a precedent already.
The House system does not necessarily mean that classes should be involved, but it could be just a way to promote House spirit throughout the school.
Each student could be allotted a "House" in their freshman year which they keep for their 4 year career. The "Houses" could have a certain hangout space for lunchtime and the students could vote for the head of "House" (like class president). There could be competitions between the different Houses and points could be allotted for various activities such as winning sport, academic and other achievements like robotics or music. Unlike Spirit week, this could go through the complete school year.
A buddy system between seniors with sophomores, and juniors with freshman, could also help.
Posted by kmom, a resident of the Greenmeadow neighborhood, on Feb 16, 2011 at 8:35 am
I would love to see smaller High Schools in Palo Alto. The schools are so big that they don't even know who your student is. Communication is lacking because with so many students, no on has the time for it. But, as others have said, opening another High School does not seem to be on the agenda. So, I would recommend to parents that if these schools stay large, march down to the administration and let them know who your child is. Insist on communication, insist on them knowing who your child is, so that they can better educate them and help them mature.Let them know your concerns and their concerns and take an hour of the principal's time to express how you feel about your child's experience (good or bad) at High School. The worst thing you can do is hope that the administration is going to make things better for your struggling student because experience these past 4 years has shown me that unless you go and stand up for your child, the administration won't either. If you think something is wrong at your high school than go down there and tell them. All of us have suffered over these past 4 years, parents of successful students and challenged students alike. After graduation last year, parents looked more like they had survived a "war" than anything else:kids too.
Posted by palo alto mom, a resident of the Duveneck/St. Francis neighborhood, on Feb 16, 2011 at 8:47 am
Mandating things like Panther camp, etc. - I don't think the Superintendent or Principals and mandate anything that is not in the teachers contract.
Mental illness - sleep deprivation increases the risk of mental illness. Stress increases the affect of mental illness. Some stress is normal, we put a ridiculous amount of stress on our kids.
High Achievement - how many other communities in the country have Steve Jobs, Steve Young, Mark Zuckerberg, Larry Page, John Doehrr, etc. as neighbors? Pretty hard to live up to.
Teachers - most of the teachers in PAUSD are wonderful, caring, hardworking people. The ones who are not are glaringly bad and often just mean.
The reality is that grades are all that matter in our high schools. High school in Palo Alto is only a path to college, not a place to learn. And EVERY college freshman I know (and there are dozens of them) have found college to be MUCH easier than high school. Less classes, nicer teachers, no need to focus on extra-curricular activities that are only for a "resume" and no busy work homework.
Posted by Bill Johnson, publisher of the Palo Alto Weekly, on Feb 16, 2011 at 9:38 am Bill Johnson is a member (registered user) of Palo Alto Online
Thanks to all of you who have contributed comments here. It is the kind of meaningful and thoughtful discussion (for the most part) that we envisioned when we started Town Square.
One of our current goals is to establish a better way for parents to engage in ongoing dialogue on family and school issues without it relating to a specific story or event.
To achieve this, we are looking for one or two Palo Alto parents who have at least one child in elementary school (in addition to children of other ages) to begin writing a regular column/blog about their personal experiences as parents raising children in Palo Alto, including issues relating to academics and the emotional health and development of kids in our community referenced in some of your postings. As parents, we experience many highs and lows and many challenges and this blog would be a way for others in the community to share their thoughts with each other in an ongoing forum.
If you have any interest in hearing more information or discussing this, please send me an e-mail at email@example.com.
Posted by Greg Smitherman, a resident of the Midtown neighborhood, on Feb 16, 2011 at 10:21 am
I chaired the meeting Sunday night and have been working with the Youth Advocacy Group for the past 18 months. This is clearly an emotional issue and one that we all care about a great deal.
We began this group with the focus of how can we help our teens. There are a lot of great programs in the city and in the school district, but we knew we could do better. We also started with the idea that there is no one to blame. We did not nor do we find fault with anything being done. We should be honored by the effort the district, the board and especially the teachers do for our kids. But that doesn’t mean we can’t do better.
After quite a bit of research (which included research from the CDC, the Gates Foundation, John Hopkins and the USAF) and untold number of meetings with parents, students, administrators, health care professionals, educators, and board members, we settled on the idea of connectedness.
After hearing our concerns and seeing the need the school board acted quickly and adopted as a key focused goal for this school year, a plan to develop a multi-year, systemic approach to improve student connectedness.
The intention of our meeting Feb. 13 was to hear about the district's plans to implement the connectedness focused goal over the next few years. It was intended as an interim report as there is still a lot of work to do in this multi-year goal. It would be unrealistic to have expected that all the answers would have been reached. We intend to continue supporting the district in working towards that one goal as this is a community issue and we all have a role. As an interfaith community, our members are active participants in the youth ministries of our many congregations, which is also an essential responsibility we carry as members of our community. We see the connectedness focus goal as a necessary first step in changing school climate, which has been a hot topic here, in a positive direction.
This is not a cure all, but it is one thing that we can actively do that only has positive outcomes. It was one of the most interesting things we discovered in our research. There are absolutely NO DOWNSIDES to better connecting with our kids.
We are still looking for a date for our next committee meeting, and anyone is invited to join us. You may call either of the numbers at the bottom of the agenda you took from the meeting, or call the Peninsula Interfaith Action office and leave a message with Nadya Sigona for me or for Mary Klein - (650) 592-9181
I am pleased to see such energy devoted to this topic and I hope you bring it to our next meeting or to the next school board meeting. If you don’t speak up, you can’t be heard.
Posted by former Paly parent, a member of the Palo Alto High School community, on Feb 16, 2011 at 1:30 pm
Some of us wish ALL the students to do well currently and in their future endeavours. To that end, as a parent of young adults, I will share a few things to those younger parents who may be unaware/naive to what's going on here lately.
The unpleasant "Tiger Mom" phenomenom is active here.
- add counselors to HS that can encourage high achievers/strivers who do not have "Tiger Moms" that have cunningly managed their school careers, arranged for so-called community service (paid for by parents on a program!!) overseas working at a Vietnamese orphanage or other such nonsense etc. Some of these things strain credibility - hope the adcoms are catching on. Indications are that some prepped students are getting screened out if universities hold interviews (since kids can't stand on their own two feet).
There ARE some kids out there who are made to feel badly about themselves, though they shouldn't. It isn't a level playing field with regards to college apps currently, times are competitive and some parents here do unethical stuff on behalf of their kids
- administration leadership matters - model ethical behavior, forbid cheating/plagiarism, be supportive/encouraging to all. Be careful whom you glamorize.
- It is tasteless as some kids brag here about perfect SAT scores (never mind they were usually paid tutored for yrs and scores CAN be raised a lot with such prepping) --> see recent Stanford research on Facebook
-find a way to bring back an emphasis on enjoyment of learning not just getting through it for a grade/entering a competition
- encourage/reward decency, honesty, manners, good taste in the high schools(instead of constant bragging about contest winning -- which also often has been carefully prepped)
-require parents/students to declare (put on transcript in writing) when student has prepped/taken course previously (at commercial college prepping center, at JC, at summer course, etc.)and now takes it for a grade against students learning by themselves as they take the course.
Posted by Sally Bemus, a resident of the Community Center neighborhood, on Feb 16, 2011 at 2:43 pm
Luckily we live in a community full of amazing adults ready to volunteer time and resources to support our youth. I am hoping that some of you can pitch in and volunteer time and/or resources for Ignite, a multifaceted youth event planned by our youth with the support of the Palo Alto Youth Collaborative. Ignite is taking place at Lucie Stern on Friday March 4th from 7-11pm. (contact Jessica Lewis at the City of Palo Alto firstname.lastname@example.org)
Background and details: The Palo Youth Collaborative was founded a few years ago and works to address youth concerns and coordinate teen activities. The group includes representatives from the city, school district, nonprofit agencies, health organizations, religious groups, and businesses.
In the spring of 2010, the Youth Collaborative sponsored a series of youth forums aimed at promoting honest and open dialogue amongst teens and adults. Three priority areas arose: a more caring school environment, youth friendly businesses, and teen events and activities. There are teams of adults and students that are working on each of these three areas.
The teens expressed numerous times the desire to have more dances and other social activities. After some discussion, the idea transformed into IGNITE, an event that not only is a high school dance but also one that offers a more diverse variety of activities. IGNITE will be held on Friday, March 4, 2011 from 7 to 11 pm at the Lucie Stern Community Center. The planning committee is expecting between 500-750 students, all of who either live or go to school in Palo Alto. Youth, working alongside adults, are planning the entire event.
The Youth Collaborative is now seeking support in the form of volunteer time the day of the event and donations of food, entertainment or always welcome financial support. Please contact Jessica Lewis at the City of Palo Alto if you can contribute in any way. email@example.com
Posted by Barron Park Parent, a resident of the Barron Park neighborhood, on Feb 16, 2011 at 3:04 pm
I feel very conflicted about staying in Palo Alto. My kids are happy enough. One in middle school and one in elementary, but what about the future. Do I keep them here? I really don't have to live here. I could live elsewhere. I am someone who has really done the best that they could to try to make a difference, but I can see that this problem is not going to be solved in time for my kids.
Posted by parent, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood, on Feb 16, 2011 at 3:53 pm
For all of you and your friends who are concerned about the state of our youth in Palo Alto, how many of you are going to give your time and effort to contribute to the solution and volunteer at the IGNITE event listed above. Talk is cheap. When you sign up, please let the organizers know so that we can find out how many who are expressing their frustration are willing to contribute to the solution and not just endlessly complain about the situation. I hope you will prove me wrong.
Posted by High School Mom, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood, on Feb 16, 2011 at 4:13 pm
In spite of all the (real) problems that are discussed here, there are many happy kids in this town. My children had all their schooling in Palo Alto. The older ones are out of college now and have no regrets. They constantly say they are happy they went to high school in Palo ALto because it prepared them so well for college. I still have a child at Paly currently and this last child is very happy there as well and not overwhelmed. So don't despair. I really don't think people should start planning to move out of Palo Alto for schools. There are many factors in how the kids feel, and their parents' attitude is a huge one IMO.
Posted by too big to fail?, a resident of the Downtown North neighborhood, on Feb 16, 2011 at 5:16 pm
it all depends on the kids, the parent's attitudes, there are probably mostly very happy families, very happy with the High Schools.
it's public school though, and concern for those who don't have choices, in terms of wealth, academic or other strengths, we can do better
it's not a system with 10% on top, it's a system where probably half the students are excelling, and the pressure to not be one of them is real. Especially when some not so special kids think they are the cat's meow because they squeaked into the top half.
even happy kids would benefit from smaller schools, they would be even happier
Posted by High School Mom, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood, on Feb 16, 2011 at 5:54 pm
You are right too big to fail... I am just responding to the parent above, Barron Park Parent, who is contemplating leaving Palo Alto before her/his children reach high school. I just don't think people should panic at this point and plan an exodus from the district. Although there clearly are problems, we also have many children who do just fine, and we have parents and a school district who work hard to make things better for all.
Posted by Member, a resident of the Charleston Meadows neighborhood, on Feb 16, 2011 at 6:05 pm
If our kids can't bare the pressure at school, how can they compete with other people when they enter the real world?. Remember, it is an age of globalization. There are so many kids in China and India who are going through much tougher systems now. Our kids have to face the reality sooner or later.
Posted by Gunn Parent, a resident of the Midtown neighborhood, on Feb 16, 2011 at 6:21 pm
If your child or others are doing good and enjoying school does not mean that there is no problems, yes, there are some kids who are doing fine, but the fact that six have died, tells me that we can do better. Imagine if you were the one who lost his or her child. Would you like other parents to tell you "it is not so bad, my child is doing fine." We have to think of every child as our child, other wise nothing will improve and another child would die, and it will be everybody's fault. We are lucky our kids are still alive. Imagine the empty rooms of the mothers who lost their kids. No one knows who is going to be in their shoes next time our kids get the news that another child die to suicide. Please join the board meeting and stand up for our youth before is to late.
Also your kid cannot be doing well, he was just in a school where her classmate died, and there was a service for the girl during school hours, bust by being there is very traumatic for anyone. Unless he has no feelings, he will not be affected. My children took a long time to show the signs or post traumatic stress after the suicides.
Posted by James Hoosac, a resident of another community, on Feb 16, 2011 at 11:37 pm
After reading so many comments I'm afraid that I disagree with the push for "connectedness". It is not going to solve the problem.
I think the issue is about confidence. It is about how to instill absolute, unshakable confidence into a student's heart, regardless of his or her current academic or social performances.
SAT scores, great colleges, are only one track to achieve one's potential. But it is far from the only one.
Creativity, teamwork, entrepreneurship, leadership, courage, endurance and other vital skills, while may not be measurable by any hard scores, are extremely valuable for a teenager to achieve future success in his or her life.
I think the schools, as well as parents, can and should work hard to provide opportunities to teach students such life lessons.
Posted by Nora Charles, a resident of Stanford, on Feb 16, 2011 at 11:57 pm
Wonderful comments from the teachers. I had high and junior high teachers in my family, and remember how hard they worked at school and for hours at night and weekends at home. It it totally unrealistic to expect teachers to be psychologists, aware of every nuance of each student. I was stunned to read that Palo Alto teachers are often contacted by parents when their kids receive B grades, or insist their kids carry cell phones in the classroom.
As for "connectedness," this sounds like a and meaningless new buzzword. Teenagers are not all the same, and some kids are just introverted. I would have been mortified as a very shy teen if I'd been persuaded to join groups or clubs or had anything forced upon me. My heart goes out to the parents who lost children in the last few years. I hope some action can be taken to stop the intensely competitive, driven culture of this city, and kids can know that it's okay to go to ANY college, and things will still turn out okay.
Posted by EcoMama, a resident of the Community Center neighborhood, on Feb 17, 2011 at 8:19 am
I appreciate the call for attendance at next week's board meeting, as there's something I think the district's missing -- which was glaringly evident from Drolette's and Skelly's presentations, too. The district can focus all it wants on "connectedness," which is a right and good thing to focus on for students' well-being -- and parents and the community need to focus on that, too. But before we keep saying "connectedness" and "it's not just about the schools," we have to ask: has the school district does all it can for students' mental well-being? Ask a kid. I asked a few who claim that the single biggest thing bringing them down is the sheer volume of homework, much of which they feel is "busywork" -- but it's tied to grades, so they're tied to their desks. How about a cultural shift, PAUSD, where your homework policies are actually enforced, and where the workload is meaningfully reduced? There wouldn't be a calendar debate if teachers were made (and it should be in their contracts) to abide by the policy of no homework during breaks! And what about Harvard's no-finals model? Could we learn something from that? For my fear is that we can "connect" all we want, but if we fail to address the route cause of the problem -- all work and no play -- then the culture of stress will not alleviate. If our teachers are as good as we claim, they should be able to teach effectively with less work sent home. Ohlone does it, right? Why can't that model be an option for middle and high schools, too -- or at least an option for those who want it? And if teachers are really teaching the way some parents claim above -- by not really teaching -- then they need to get the heck out of the PAUSD. There are a lot of parents in this district who overstep their role and get in teachers' faces, true -- and that's wrong -- but at what point are we going to demand that the Board and Skelly make teachers reduce work and teach better? Do our students need to unionize so that THEIR needs are met? We can all do better -- and the schools really need to get on board. I'm not convinced yet that the actions are going to catch up to the buzzwords.
Posted by Me Too, a resident of the Midtown neighborhood, on Feb 17, 2011 at 8:43 am
@Ecomama - it seems like any high school student/family can choose lighter homework and less "stress" by adjusting their schedule for an easier course load - and many/most do so. No one is forced to take 3-4 AP courses in junior/senior year, the highest math lane, honors science, etc. And things like choir, yearbook, and newspaper count has courses, which require work of course, but not of the same type and level as an academic course.
We don't have to take away choices from those who seek the challenging courses and heavy work loads to give options to those who want something different. The problem is the desire to "keep up with the Joneses" in terms of always taking the toughest schedule possible. Changing that doesn't require anything from the school district or the teachers - it is under each of our control.
Posted by hours of homework is counter to connectedness, a resident of the Palo Verde neighborhood, on Feb 17, 2011 at 9:07 am
I agree that large schools are the antithesis of fostering a sense of belonging. I went to one and hated feeling like a number.
That said, connectedness sounds like it is just going to pile MORE programs onto already packed schedules.
The glaring takeaway I had from "The Race to Nowhere" was that the sheer volume of homework - that was not always tied into the classroom material - was the trigger for less sleep, more stress, and eventual feeling of hopelessness.
Who will have time for "Connectedness" when they have 4-6 hours of homework and projects nightly after school and other activities?
Kids need sleep. Prolonged lack of sleep can trigger a form of depression in someone under a lot of stress.
District should take a holistic look at the homework burden, reduce % of grade tied to homework, and ensure it is meaningfully "connected" to class content.
How's that for a new definition of "connectedness"?
Posted by pamom, a member of the Gunn High School community, on Feb 17, 2011 at 9:41 am
As I understand "connectedness" it is nothing new. And as for schools getting more and more into social/emotional business that could become a problem of another sort. Teachers already can spot a troubled teen and recommend counseling. Feeling connected would become much easier at a smaller high school -- our two high schools are too large.
Getting into the UC's (never mind the privates) is very difficult and drives a lot of the stress over grades, activities, and community service. Some of it has gotten out of hand as described above. Good grief, our UC's expect teens to be perfect adults. That should be changed. I don't know how but it is a big part of the problem.
Posted by Looking for answers, a resident of the Ventura neighborhood, on Feb 17, 2011 at 9:45 am
@ hours of homework is counter to connectedness:
How about project-based homework--like Connections at JLS and the Ohlone Elementary model. You can have homework that also connects kids when they must work together on projects. This is more like the real world, where we are required to collaborate with our colleagues. We learn to listen to each other, compromise and get along. Maybe we should be asking for less homework that isolates kids and more homework that connects them. You could be required to read a play alone, or you could be required to perform acts in a play together. These learning models already exist, so would just be a question of expanding them. But not sure there will be any change unless Dr. Skelly decides to require some results. Clearly, he is not willing to do that.
Posted by palo alto mom, a resident of the Duveneck/St. Francis neighborhood, on Feb 17, 2011 at 10:20 am
I would love to have more things mandated in the teacher's contracts -
no homework over winter or spring break
posting assignments on-line
returning assignments in a timely manner - 2 weeks or less
a minimum amount of classroom time spent on actual instruction
Homework - I remember talking to my daughter's 6th grade teacher, a grade where they still have a lot of control over homework quantity since there are 2 teachers for all the academic subjects. She said that for every parent who complains there is too much homework, there is one that complains there is too little. But I have never heard a student complain that there is too little homework.
My concern now that she is in high school is that much of the homework is busy work. I'd rather they spend their time on in-depth learning rather than coloring and drawing in French and Economics.
Posted by Parent, a member of the Palo Alto High School community, on Feb 17, 2011 at 10:28 am
Connectedness is not the word I would have chosen, but I believe the Board of Education has used it as one of its goals. Therefore, it has become the buzz word for what is lacking in our high schools.
Every child needs to feel connected in some way to the school they attend for several hours each day and most weeks of the year. They may not be the type who want to join a lunch time club, or have lunch with a large number of friends. But, they do want to have a space at school where they feel they are able to feel it is non-threatening and OK to spend time just being themselves. This usually happens at lunch, but can happen other times. It may be the library, or the Student Body room, or a classroom with a teacher who is all right.
Hearing of kids who have nowhere to eat lunch in a relaxed manner even if they are happily on their own is not a good idea.
But, please do not put connectedness with group homework projects. These are a pain to coordinate and often the reason our kids are up late as they are only able to connect with project partners after 11.00 pm. Take this weekend for example, my Paly student has a project due on Tuesday and even though this is a long weekend, he is free today and leaves tomorrow morning to return on Monday evening. His project partners are already away and come back Monday afternoon. Guess what, we will have to have a very late night Monday evening when he comes back tired from his weekend away. (This is an organized trip so we can't just come back early).
A great deal of the stress in my kids' lives are coordinating with partners for group projects.
Posted by parent, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood, on Feb 17, 2011 at 1:47 pm
"I would love to have the following things mandated in the teachers' contracts:
no homework over winter or spring break
posting assignments on-line
returning assignments in a timely manner - 2 weeks or less
a minimum amount of classroom time spent on actual instruction
I'm sure the teachers would love to have the following things mandated in the parent/student contract:
No taking students out for unexcused vacations and asking for the homework and classwork that they will be missing - I know you think it is only just this one time, but there are 150 students and "only one time"
No going to the teacher and asking them to raise their child's grade because they really need that A. No matter they didn't deserve that A.
No bad mouthing a teacher to any and all because you didn't get your unreasonable request or you didn't even make the attempt to ask the teacher why they did what they did. You just assumed they did it because they "are a bad teacher" and don't care
Teaching and expecting your children to show the teacher respect and not continually disrupt the class and take away teaching time from all the students
I could go on but you get the point. Unless kids and parents meet halfway and follow through on their commitment then nothing will change.
Posted by Holy Cow, a resident of another community, on Feb 17, 2011 at 2:19 pm
This Stand Up for Youth discussion is fascinating. As a Walter Hays, Jordan, and Gunn grad of some 40 years ago, I moved out of Palo Alto 20 years ago to "escape" the urban grind and a desire for my children to experience mountains and fresh air on a daily basis -- hence I live in Bend, Oregon. Palo Alto was a great place to grow up, the Schools were fantastic, the weather unbeatable, but I sensed an incipient growth of pressure to excel and compete in all things, unfortunately, at the expense of community, and the value of the individual. I currently mentor high school kids in Bend as to their future plans, with the goal to help kids fully with resources, whether their goal is to attend Harvard (there are some), to join the military, to enter the job world, community college, vocational school, or other...ALL OF THESE ARE VALID choices, and if we honor these choices and goals among our children, and love them unconditionally, CONNECTEDNESS HAS A BETTER CHANCE. As I review how friends of mine have done, there is not much of a difference from those who attended San Jose State, Chico State, Humboldt and many other state schools, versus the some 60 plus from my class that attended Stanford. This is a valuable discussion taking place in Palo Alto.
Posted by palo alto mom, a resident of the Duveneck/St. Francis neighborhood, on Feb 17, 2011 at 4:41 pm
Parent - I am sure that teachers would love to have that list too - but my kids are respectful (even when the teachers are not), turn in their work on time (even when the teacher takes 6 weeks to grade and return it), show up for class unless they are ill (unlike some of their teachers who miss a ton of school). We have never asked a teacher to change a grade except when there was work that my child completed and was missed on the grade sheet.
One perhaps obvious problem with lunchtime "connectedness" is there is no place at either high school big enough for student to congregate - unlike most schools where there is a cafeteria that allows the whole student to hang out at lunch.
Posted by Sue, a resident of another community, on Feb 17, 2011 at 5:28 pm
It is very difficult to swim upstream in a culture that defines its individuals by their achievements.
Even if parents or religious groups try to offset the intense pressure, the reality is these kids' lives revolve around school, spending a good 70-80% of their waking hours physically at school or engaged in homework.
Peer pressure will always win out.
There's always homeschooling, or moving to a different school district..
Posted by Barron Park Parent, a resident of the Barron Park neighborhood, on Feb 17, 2011 at 6:17 pm
Some people thrive on competition, some people just need to feel needed. I can move mountains, or at least I am willing to try, with a bit of encouragement. However, if someone tells me that I am one of 100 people being considered for a job, I am the first to say .. well I guess you don't need me.
Many people of all ages probably feel the way I do, but this place (Palo Alto) attracts the other kind of person.
If you tell them that 1 million people are competing for one spot, they get all excited about competing. These people want their kids to be like themselves. It is just that too many of them in such a small place is creating a big problem (even for them).
Posted by Tired of these meetings, a resident of the Palo Verde neighborhood, on Feb 17, 2011 at 7:00 pm
I like attending these meetings, but I am getting tired of them. They have their own agenda, and they do not take questions or comments from parents, and if they do, they probably throw them to the trash. We the one who ask the questions never get to have the answers. Like this time, they asked us to write the questions, but I bet you, that just like last time we will never get to hear if the school district people read them or not. I think this is one of the reasons the lady interrupted the meeting. Good for her, I felt like doing the same because i am tired of them just reading the same list over and over, but I did not have the guts. Going to the board meeting will get the superintendents and board members attention, but if it it only happens once, no improvements will take place.
Posted by Student, a member of the Gunn High School community, on Feb 17, 2011 at 11:43 pm
I agree with Superintendent Skelly's statement that success should be considered within the context of an individual, not within the context of society. Every student should try their best at school. This should not be an excuse for students to slack off. Gunn and Paly are great schools because they provides ample resources for students to reach their potential. Of course, that potential may be different depending on the student. For a high-achieving student, this may mean taking the hardest courses and earning a 4.0. But people (especially parents) have to realize that not EVERYONE has to be that student. Some students do not have the capacity to reach such a point, and that is perfectly fine. I am not saying this in a derogatory tone - it is simply a fact. We have to recognize the level of a child's potential and push them to reach that potential. Again, this varies from child to child. The one problem we may have is that every parent believes that their child can be perfect.
The one thing we cannot do is to let our students "relax and have a good time". A little pressure is always good. We have to push our students to try their hardest at school. The result is not as important as the effort. Gunn and Paly prepares their students very well. Even a straight-B student will be very successful in the long run.
In terms of the teachers not doing enough, that is absolutely false. As a senior at Gunn, I feel like every teacher is trying their best. It is impossible and simply unfeasible to keep track of everyone. If anyone deserves the blame, it is the parents.
Posted by Mom of 2 still in our schools, one graduated, a resident of the Leland Manor/Garland Drive neighborhood, on Feb 18, 2011 at 5:21 am
Dear Student just above this post: You are spot on....thank your parents for teaching you the value of YOU, not in context of what the culture is here, but in context of you being a unique and special individual who will figure out your own place in this world.
Having a child who is now at university graduate from Gunn, and hearing how anyone not in the "high lanes" and getting all As was "stupid", and having another who will be veeeery fortunate to graduate at the "lowest" level..all in the same school...well, it is tough, this is certain.
Not sure how much was always this way. I have a half-century behind me, and there were always the "Kotter's kids" in my high school. On the one hand it was worse for them than now in that there was very little to no support for them in the high schools. On the other hand, there was a lot more in the way of successful, societally acceptable avenues for moving forward through vocational education. Not everyone is made for college, nor should everyone aim for it.
As I told my first one, never undervalue the need for good auto mechanics, plumbers, various carpentry and construction trades from buildings to roads, electricians, farm trades, ranch trades, truckers, train engineers, store owners, tech builders of computers, weavers, seamstresses/tailors...what mathmetician or history major can build a shack to live in, grow enough food to live on, hunt the meat he must eat, weave and sew his own clothes, or make a pencil to write with? Who can build the computer we are all posting with, the coffee maker we use to drink our coffee or plumb the gas lines for the stove?
We have to remember the value of each working together.
It isn't all about the teachers, or the schools, or the parents, or even the "faith communities", though they all help, of course.
It is about each child growing in the knowledge that each of us has a purpose that is valuable, and that we each need to find and grow into.
We can't all be physicists! If we were, we would starve and die of the elements.
For me and my family, this is deeply embedded in my Faith, that each of us are needed and contribute, and aren't judged by our relation to others, our grades or which college, if any, we go to once we graduate high school.
Suggestion to help our kids that our schools CAN do...
1) "lanes" for the non-college bound so that these kids have a chance to find a non-college trade to pursue before we lose them, something to "connect" them to our real world.
2) a real rest between semesters of at least one week, where kids can re-charge their batteries. This would help the exhausted overachievers.
3) consistent, weekly internet postings by teachers of what each student has handed in and what the test scores are for parents to see to try to "catch" their kids when they begin to show signs of struggling. So often, we don't see it until it is too late or nearly too late to get a kid the help he needs. The parents are the first line of defense. We can't expect teachers with hundreds of students to notice that an all A student has stopped handing in his homework or is suddenly failing tests.
Posted by pamom, a member of the El Carmelo School community, on Feb 18, 2011 at 9:12 am
Not mentioned is another problem in the high schools which is you are either in a very difficult high lane class or a very slow and boring class. For example, this happened to my son who heard AP History was a lot of work. So he took the regular history and it was awful: 11th graders doing dioramas, posters, and way too many presentations. The teacher did not believe in lecturing or teaching. Students were supposed to learn from each other. Math has a lot of lanes which seems to take care of students fairly well (except there are a few math teachers who don't teach it). But there is a problem with this either high course or very low level course in high school.
Posted by Greg Smitherman, a resident of the Midtown neighborhood, on Feb 18, 2011 at 7:16 pm
To "Too big to fail?"
We have not pushed any specific issue such as school size as a solution to better connecting students. There are many ways to accomplish it, but the solution adopted has to take into consideration the practical aspects of the financial situation the district is in. Our group has asked something be done, but left it up to the professional educators to decide how best to implement it. It would be fantastic to have smaller schools, I am just guessing that is not an economic reality right now and wouldn't want to wait until it was to try and solve this issue.
To others who have written in about the disappointment of not having their questions asked. Our group shares that frustration, but we simply ran out of time. We had hoped to get to several of them and had time allocated, but answers to some earlier questions went longer than anticipated. However, all of the questions submitted have been sent to the board and administration. If you want a personal answer to your question go to the next school board meeting and ask it. There is always time for public comments and you would be welcome to ask your question.
Posted by Seeking transparency and engagement, a resident of the Midtown neighborhood, on Feb 18, 2011 at 8:03 pm
Dear Greg Smitherman,
Thank you and the interfaith community for the effort to pull us together and to seek engagement with key institutions such as the school district.
How may we get a copy of the questions and comments that the public submitted? These were intended to be asked and answered in this public forum but as you noted, time ran out. So since there is not an expectation of privacy, I would be very interested to know what the audience was thinking and interested to hear about, even if we do not have answers.
Posted by Bill Johnson, publisher of the Palo Alto Weekly, on Feb 18, 2011 at 8:50 pm Bill Johnson is a member (registered user) of Palo Alto Online
The Weekly asked the sponsors of the meeting to provide the questions from that evening so we could post them for the benefit of those at the meeting. They declined our request.
However, since they are being sent to the school board and superintendent, they automatically become public records and we will be requesting them from the district next week. Once we receive them we will post them.
Posted by Palo Alto Homeowner, a resident of the University South neighborhood, on Feb 18, 2011 at 9:47 pm
I read the article and am puzzled why the school is responsible for a child's "connectedness." I would think that connectedness would be enabled by the values of the community and parents. The article also spoke to being valued for whom one is. So wouldn't the question be directed to staff and parents alike as to how they can value a student for whom he/she is? Actually, the same topic came up in a church group this week, but it was in relation to how adults aren't valued for whom they are. One thing I do know is that socially I don't name drop (I could) or university name drop (I could), and I suspect that many people would think that I was being "stupid." There is, however, more to life than networking, whether in high school or afterwards. And not everyone needs to go to college. And those who don't are often quite "cool" and to me at least, highly valued.
Posted by palo alto mom, a resident of the Duveneck/St. Francis neighborhood, on Feb 18, 2011 at 10:13 pm
Palo Alto Homeowner - you are absolutely right that not everyone needs to go to college and that who don't are often "cool" and valued as adults. But as a Palo Alto high school student - the ONLY goal that is really recognized is getting into a great, 4 year college. The perception is if you want to do anything else, you are a loser. If you go to a community college, you are a loser or your parents are broke. If you go to a CSU, you are a step above a loser, but the CSU's and UC are mostly "safety" schools (except for UCLA and Berkeley), you haven't quite made it. Ridiculous, but true. Go to an adult party with parents of Junior or Seniors (and sometimes much younger) and all the discussion is about colleges.
As a District, we need to get a non-college focussed life.
Posted by Seeking transparency and engagement, a resident of the Midtown neighborhood, on Feb 19, 2011 at 9:08 pm
Dear Greg Smitherman and Bill Johnson ~
I am disappointed that the questions which were purposefully submitted to public reading and response are being kept secret. This flies in the face of the effort to engage the public and furthers the lack of transparency which hinders engagement.
Thank you Mr. Johnson for seeking these questions by other means.
Thank goodness for the media when they are doing their job.
Posted by changeup, a resident of the Leland Manor/Garland Drive neighborhood, on Feb 19, 2011 at 10:20 pm
I'm sorry I missed this important meeting to "start" a dialogue with the community. I don't think it is up to the District to enforce "connectedness" in our public school system. Connectedness means participation; some people want it, others want to be left alone. As for the children who are on the fringe or struggling in our community, perhaps there are other things going on inside the youth or in their families. I think the main question should be - how involved can a school administrator, teacher or counselor be in a student's life if they see them struggling?
I wish the adults of Palo Alto whether they are alumni or have students currently in the school district would share how they stay connected (participate) in the Palo Alto Community. It is finally a blessing that both Gunn and Paly administrations and parents are speaking to each other and promoting community development. In the past I witnessed a counselor in 2009 reply that "Paly is doing things better for it's students than Gunn". I was speechless and didn't ask why they made that remark. On another note, during an evening of "track watch" as a Paly parent; the Gunn parents were very happy to see a Paly parent helping them. There was also a homeless woman who said she would rather give back to and help the Palo Alto Community since she was receiving aid at a shelter like none she had received anywhere before.
I think it would also be helpful for the PA Community to know that there are some parents who did not believe in giving their teenagers medical assistance; perhaps not understanding the signs they were seeing or under that their student would not outgrow their imbalanced behavior. I think "continued childhood and teenage education" for all adults should be the main priority for the district to promote parent participation and connectedness. If our children see open and friendly communication, participation in school academic, artistic, musical, sport, environmental, school property beautification, etc. activities by all administration, teachers, and parents (current and alum) then everyone has a better chance of staying connected.
There are already many compassionate Palo Alto citizens, lets keep the ball rolling and invite all the Paly and Gunn graduates back to speak to the parents, teachers and administration. They are the back bone of this community whether they have settled here or not; they have very important information to share. WE just need to ask the questions.
Posted by College Bound makes things worst, a resident of the Barron Park neighborhood, on Feb 20, 2011 at 3:11 pm
If you want to be cool, you have to the impossible to go to good universities. This message is being put into the minds of our Elementary students. Barron Park Elementary School started a program called College Bound, it is supposed to help students to get on the path to college, however, it creates competition very early (second graders, when parents start to apply). The problem is that they can only get few of the kids who applied, and many get denied a place because they have learning disability or the principal and teachers do not think they are college material. The decision about who qualifies is made long before the child applies, however they do get everyone exited about the program, and make the parents apply for it, as they cannot say beforehand that they will not admit certain specific students. And at the time of selection these students get rejected and kids get the message that they are not good enough for college. The way kids are selected for this program does not work, as it puts students into a lot of stress and competition, and the rejected ones get teased for not being accepted or not being good enough for the program. Ones in the program, students and parents get threatened with being dropped or with not attending the trips or parties if they do not good enough academically. In one case a child was left behind and could not celebrate the end of the school year party for the college bound program because a the end of the year was not doing as good academically as she was expected. She had good behavior and was not a problem maker student, but nevertheless she did not get to celebrate her hard work. Sadly this is the memory the students has in her mind about Barron Park and college bound. She felt really bad not that she did not get to go to the trip, and the rest of the college bound kids made fun of her, even though she had worked so hard before (the whole school year).
Posted by changeup, a resident of the Leland Manor/Garland Drive neighborhood, on Feb 20, 2011 at 11:12 pm
Dear College Bound resident in Barron Park,
The College Bound program and story you have recounted sounds awful for the young child, her parents, and the other children and families in the school. I hope you have gone to the Principal, asked why this type of singling out is occurring in your school with such young children and voiced your concerns, then followed up with a letter to the Principal. The PTA would also be an excellent place to ask questions and see if there are other parents who are concerned. If you aren't satisfied with the Principal's response then voice your opinion to the Superintendent's Office, and also follow up with a letter. And if they don't address your concerns then write all the member's of the school board. It only takes one person to start a chain reaction to investigate unnecessary and stressful academic environments.
Posted by Barron Park Parent, a resident of the Barron Park neighborhood, on Feb 22, 2011 at 11:04 am
Re: An Idea
Is anyone interested in starting a website or Facebook in which kids who were not "perfect" students could share their success stories? Parents could also post about education/vocational programs they have discovered.
This way we can redefine "Palo Alto" success to include a broader range of experiences. At the same time, we can also be educating students/parents about educational and/or vocational options that they might not have considered before. It could also feature students who have found happiness and success notwithstanding difficult personal situations and/or disabilities. People could also share ideas, problem solve and connect.
There are many success stories out there, and many paths to success that did NOT including getting into a top tier college, we just need to get these stories out there. The idea is to highlight/celebrate these options. We could perhaps even get some of these successful people to come and speak to students/parents.
If you like this idea, please write to me firstname.lastname@example.org
Posted by Bill Johnson, publisher of the Palo Alto Weekly, on Feb 25, 2011 at 6:26 pm Bill Johnson is a member (registered user) of Palo Alto Online
Below are the questions that were submitted on cards by the audience at the St. Mark's youth forum. They were compiled by the forum's organizers and then submitted to the school district. The Weekly requested a copy, which was provided by the Superintendent's office.
February 13, 2011 Community Meeting
Questions submitted by the audience.
1. How will you measure success specifically?
2. While respecting each schoolï¿½s autonomy, how will you ensure enough is being done at each site? A little here and there will not be enough.
3. Why donï¿½t you speak to the issue? Why canï¿½t you speak directly? Kids are lost and need mentors. Cut the BABBLE. HELP!
4. When will the plan for next year be done and presented?
5. Amy D said: ï¿½We have learned that if we push our kids to work hard, theyï¿½ll do it.ï¿½ BUT arenï¿½t we learning that this is false ï¿½ that kids donï¿½t want to be pushed? That it is to much?
6. JLS has the ï¿½Connectionsï¿½ program
a. Who does it serve?
b. How successful is it?
c. Why doesnï¿½t a similar program exist at the other middle schools and the high schools?
7. Shouldnï¿½t we hire seasoned professionals ï¿½ licensed MFTs or LCSWs for our schools?
8. It is fine to give the principals some autonomy in getting things done, but why is Dr. Skelly afraid to lead on the issue? He is the Superintendent. What does he have against this focus goal?
9. Why are thing so different among schools ï¿½ e.g. Tier Camp, Panther Camp ï¿½ Whereï¿½s Jordanï¿½s? The Addison community event ï¿½ why isnï¿½t it happening elsewhere?
10. What has changed?
11. The feeling of frustration is obvious among concerned parents. Many are eager to engage in change ï¿½ but the administration and principals seem to avoid engaging parents but speak to them, if they speak at all.
12. Why go through all the programs we already know about that we know arenï¿½t enough?
13. This is a middle and especially high school problem. Why are you bringing elementary programs into this meeting?
14. How many students do these programs involve - Camp Everytown, SLC at high schools?
15. Where are the teachers tonight?
16. From Amyï¿½s presentation, am I to conclude that nothing new has been done this year? All the programs she listed have not been effective if you listen to the students.
17. Arenï¿½t most of these programs self-selective ï¿½ i.e. they only reach kids who choose to be reached? What % of kids are actually in these programs?
18. Clubs have existed for a long time. We have concern for students who do not want a club. What will be for them?
19. Why did it take so long to make the ï¿½social-emotionalï¿½ need a top goal? Please Reply.
20. Iï¿½ve been impressed with the Connections program at JLS. Any thoughts on expanding that program into the other middle schools in the district? (Seems to be a great learning community)
21. The TEAM program at Paly seems to be an enormous step toward connectedness. Why not expand it to all or most freshman?
22. How can the schools improve identifying suicidal youth?
23. How is the district educating students about their own social/emotional behavioral development and growth so they know when to break the so called ï¿½code of silenceï¿½?
24. What % of HS students in Palo Alto attend camp Everytown? Is there a risk that this experience leaves a student open and raw with no good outlet to help them reintegrate into the rat race?
25. Can you expand the ï¿½peer helperï¿½ program in the high schools in a substantial way?
26. Why are kids who are failing not held back?
27. More after school programs. The ï¿½bullyï¿½ on the school ground.
28. Please stop using acronyms!!
29. There is much talk of the benefits of the Paly bell schedule. Whatï¿½s stopping its implementation at Gunn?
30. Regarding the various programs at the school level:
a. Are all kids aware of these programs?
b. Are kids given an opportunity to give feed back on the effectiveness of these programs?
31. Why was this meeting not advertised in the Gunn Connection (email) newsletter?
32. What changes can parents make at home to support connectedness at school?
33. Girls Middle School has a connectedness program where a teacher and group (6-10) students meet regularly through-out the year to discuss stresses and concerns in school life. Can this be done at Gunn?
34. Challenge success is one of the most innovative programs to address the underlying culture in high achieving communities and is based right here at Stanford. Why hasnï¿½t PAUSD embraced this program?
35. The focused goal was passed 5 months ago and this is all that there is to report? What in the world are they doing? Havenï¿½t they looked at best practices anywhere else? We donï¿½t have to re-create the wheel.
36. To Amy Drolette:
a. List of Systematic Programs is business as usual.
b. Same old programs will not have a different result.
c. Grade level list: same as above
37. As an educator, I recognize ï¿½edu-speakï¿½. My child is still invisible to his teachers. How do you get a teacher to ï¿½buy inï¿½?
38. Is ACS doing an adequate job?
39. Are interns sufficiently trained to deal with suicidal teens?
40. Why are so many students dying?
41. Are we asking PAUSD to change our culture or are we going to change our culture?
42. I no longer feel proud to be a student at Palo Alto because I get sad when my friends die.
43. I am most concerned about children who donï¿½t have friends, who eat alone. Does PAUSD reach out to them?
44. Amy mentioned lots of clubs, extracurriculars etc. Is anyone measuring or seeking out those kids that donï¿½t participate in any of those or STOP attending? (e.g. signs of disconnection)
45. What does connectedness have to do with the competition described by the Gunn student?
46. High school counselors recently came to JLS to talk to incoming freshmen. My 8th grade son came home that afternoon and as we talked about the presentation, he said, ï¿½I think I need to get a tutor for studying for the SAT.ï¿½ As a family, weï¿½ve never talked about the SAT, at least not yet. One of our wonderful youth speakers tonight said, ï¿½teach us to value ourselves outside of academics.ï¿½ High school isnï¿½t just about pumping kids up for college. What is the message you want your counselors to give new students about making high school a truly meaningful, healthy experience?
47. Is there a planned budget increase for 2012 for psychiatric staff in-house at Gunn and Paly?