Editorial: A growing school movement Schools & Kids, posted by Editor, Palo Alto Online, on Mar 25, 2011 at 9:07 am
A sympathetic but defensive school board did little Tuesday night to reassure concerned parents that they shared their alarm about an academic and achievement culture in Palo Alto that is threatening the health of our teens.
Read the full editorial here Web Link posted Friday, March 25, 2011, 12:00 AM
Posted by Thankful Parent, a member of the Palo Verde School community, on Mar 25, 2011 at 9:14 am
Again thank you Palo Alto Weekly for writing about our concerns for our students, and for not sugar coating the social and emotional issues that our children are truly going through in what is supposed to be their best time of their lives. Thanks again to the Daubers for bringing out the Project Safety Net plan, and noticing that it has not been fully implemented. Thank you for truly standing up for our kids, and the ones who are not with us anymore. Hope they will forgive us for failing them. By the way the video has many cuts, I am wonder if they were done on purpose, and we can get the original video. I was there, and I noticed that there are may cuts. And even worst the testimony of one of the parents, which was very touching was voiceless. Meaning we could see her talking but we could not hear it. Very fishy.
Posted by Michele Dauber, a resident of the Barron Park neighborhood, on Mar 25, 2011 at 9:46 am
Because the audio is missing from Karen Kang's statement, I am posting the full text of her statement here.
Karen's statement was very moving. At the Board of Education meeting, the audience, which was large, burst into spontaneous applause. We have to break the silence as parents. Not everyone can thrive in this environment. For years we have heard stories from other parents, shared with some hesitancy, while standing around the soccer sidelines or watching football games at Gunn. There are many, many of us who saw our children falter in this hyper-competitive environment. Everyone feels like they are alone, but there are many with this common experience. As Karen said, we are the "silent majority."
If you can relate to Karen's statement, we need your voice now. This is a grassroots parent movement. All are welcome to join. If you are interested in participating, please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
We can do better, Palo Alto. And we will. We are launching a Facebook Group (We Can Do Better Palo Alto), a website, and a twitter feed. More will be posted soon.
Join the Facebook Group Today and receive updates about media coverage of our group, upcoming meetings, board videos, articles, and more!
Michele and Ken Dauber
Karen Kang's Statement from March 22 School Board Meeting
My name is Karen Kang. I’m the mother of three daughters who have all been educated in the Palo Alto school system. Tonight I am speaking for the silent majority of parents and students in Palo Alto.
For many of our students, school stress is making them miserable. The pressure to succeed seems unrelenting. We should not wait until one of our students sees no way off the treadmill of achievement but to end their lives.
One of my daughters, who became anorexic in high school, was at this brink. This is what she said about her experience: “I think my eating disorders, anxiety and depression were caused largely by being enrolled in the Palo Alto school system. Getting A's, being in AP classes, doing "extracurricular activities” and attending a "prestigious" college was all part of the religion of achievement.”
“I think the school officials who are reluctant to change school procedures to reduce stress have something to gain from school rankings. But community members need to realize that the students are losing out.”
“The five years I spent under the spell of this religion of achievement were a complete waste -- I spent my time working hard at what I didn't care about, got physical and mental health problems, and was extremely miserable.”
“I've had to put every ounce of my energy for the past few years into unlearning those backward lessons I learned as a student in Palo Alto. Now that those lessons are mostly unlearned, I now at the age of 24 have to start off where I should have started at age 15.”
My daughter and her Paly friends routinely stayed up until the wee hours of the morning to finish their homework. It was physically impossible to complete their assignments in a normal day. Not wanting to appear like losers, they suffered in silence. For students taking AP classes, this is not unusual.
I ask: "When will we see that the health, safety and happiness of our students goes hand in hand with academic excellence?" When will the health, safety and happiness of our students be seen as important as academic excellence?
Mr. Superintendent and School Board members, you have an opportunity to be leaders in school stress reduction—to make PAUSD a role model nationally. We have excellent local partners, a good plan and a highly visible school district. Be bold and grab this opportunity. It’s a win/win for the students, the community and the district. Please implement the Section P-8 recommendations on Supportive School Environment.
Posted by Thanful Parent, a resident of the Palo Verde neighborhood, on Mar 25, 2011 at 10:02 am
This reminds me a lot the story of Miranda who spoke at the Saint Marks meeting. It was very touching, except that now she is at home taking a break from college. To bad we do not have the video out yet. I heard it is going to be out soon. The media Center is working on it. Her story is very touching too. I sounds a lot like my Gunn's student experience. So sad, they keeps so quiet, and felt like they will be perceived as looser if they stop the race. After watching the movie "Race to Nowhere" I feel like our students are racing somewhere to the get mental illnesses from all that stress, and "literally" to the tracks. Luckily, some have been stopped. I know that at least couple of students were stopped when they were really heading to the tracks.One was stopped parent,and the other by the police on his/her race to the tracks from gun, during school ours. Others have gotten there, but not racing, and have been saved too. So sad, this needs to chance. Skelly should wake up and smell the blood, and realize that we are failing the students, and not just get out their laundry list and read it out every time the advocates (parents) stand up for the students.
Posted by daniel, a resident of the Embarcadero Oaks/Leland neighborhood, on Mar 25, 2011 at 1:23 pm
Many kids who can't thrive in the pressure cooker atmosphere of the Palo Alto schools are extremely bright, intelligent and good kids. The schools at their present form are damaging those kids- mentally, emotionally and physically. I also believe that many of the more driven and academically aggressive kids who supposedly thrive in this atmosphere are being damages just as much. The damage may manifest itself years later, sometime with tragic consequences. The school officials who still resist changing the current situation which created a "religion of achievement" must be removed.
Posted by A parent who supports the Palo Alto schools and its leadership, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood, on Mar 25, 2011 at 1:26 pm
In the middle of this attempted onslaught on the leadership of PAUSD, I want to come out and and speak out
IN SUPPORT OF PAUSD LEADERSHIP
I am one of those normally silent parents. I have been a PAUSD parent for 19 years. My family, i.e. both parents, and all our current and past students of PAUSD schools, at all levels, K-12, have always been very happy with PAUSD schools and their teachers and staff. We are also happy with our current leadership.
We have fantastic schools, with caring staff who, except for a few very rare exceptions, do an incredible job with our kids. We have a dedicated, professional, astute leadership.
As long as no one discusses what happened in the individual suicides of the past couple of years, there is NO WAY we can just pin the blame on the schools. You can't have it both ways, i.e. not discuss the suicides and then blame the schools for them. This is not honest.
There is always room for improvement in the schools, of course. My impression is that they are hard at it. Witness the new bell schedule at Paly, the new orientations for incoming students at various schools, the many teachers who encourage students and parents to speak up if there are any problems with homework, etc.
Let's give our support to our BoE and our superintendent. They are aware of the problems and trying to address them while maintaining excellence in our schools.
Let's not drive everybody away from this district. Being so aggressive and arrogant as parents will discourage quality teachers and administrators from working in this district. Believe or not, teachers and administrators outside the district (as well as inside) know which school districts have parents who are impossible to deal with. When quality applicants no longer want to work in Palo Alto, it will be our loss.
If you are not happy, do the right thing, run as candidates for the next BoE elections. And please, please, don't tell us we don't have time to wait as long as you are not willing to discuss in detail what happened to the students who committed suicide. This is intellectually dishonest.
BoE and Mr. Skelly you have my family's full support, and I suspect the support of the wide majority of the "silent" PAUSD parents.
Signed: a long time PAUSD parent
(who is almost done with it and has no link whatsoever with the BoE, the school teachers, the staff or the administrators.)
Posted by Crescent Park Dad, a resident of the Crescent Park neighborhood, on Mar 25, 2011 at 1:35 pm
I appreciate the thought and development of this editorial. It does a nice job of pointing to the problems but also does not demon-ize the BoE or Skelly.
My only nit-pick is with the fourth paragraph where the writer characterizes the concern comes from a "large and growing number" of parents.
What is "large"? If you judge by the other threads on this website, we're hearing from maybe 15-20 families. That is not a large number when you look at the 1000's of families who attend PAUSD.
It would be good to quantify exactly how many families are concerned about the high-stress state that they believe exists in the PAUSD. It would certainly help the BoE and the Superintendent to give the issue the correct level of attention.
I don't want to downplay the concerns, but if the BoE only sees the same 10-20 people at the board meetings, they are not going to buy into the concept of "large and growing" and will still respond and come across as they do today.
The squeaky wheel shouldn't get louder - it needs more wheels to be effective.
Posted by parent, a resident of the Midtown neighborhood, on Mar 25, 2011 at 1:41 pm
if some want to change the whole culture backbone of this town,why can not we list all the cons and pros to all the district residents who pay taxes to support our child ,ask the whole town to vote,let see who is the majority,who gets win.
Posted by A parents who supports the Palo Alto schools and its leadership, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood, on Mar 25, 2011 at 1:45 pm
The few unhappy parents have some easy solutions: Move their kids to those school districts where their students will automatically get better grades, or have no AP classes offered, for instance, or even home-school them.
Posted by Just Say No, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood, on Mar 25, 2011 at 2:31 pm
@ A parent who supports PA schools: you really should have signed your name.
I think one of the issues is students who are in the "wrong" lanes. They are in too high of a lane for their aptitude or take too many APs. My child actually told me he is embarrassed to say that he is in the AB Math lane. The AB math lane is the highest lane at most high schools. Your 8th grade math teacher will know which lane is appropriate for your child.
Same with honors chemistry - don't take it if you don't belong there.
Regarding APs, Paly offers so many that students can most likely find at least one to take. But don't take piles of them! AP History (APUSH) alone requires 4 hours of reading per night and reading the summer before even stepping into the classroom. Those who enjoy history should take this class, not those who just want an AP on their transcript.
And PE is not required in junior and senior years. Let the child take 6 classes and have that extra time to study! Remember that in college, students take only 3-5 classes. High school is supposed to prepare them for college, NOT be more difficult than college.
Those who are shooting for the Ivy Leagues and similar, ask yourselves if your child really belongs there. Gaining admission is only the first step. The child has to be able to thrive there or he'll burn out. . . so much for grad school.
Students also need to limit texting/emailing/FBing. The day we lost electricity was when I realized we really do have a lot of time - it's the computer which wastes a lot of time.
Academic achievement is not only parent-driven, but also student-driven. Children here can easily feel stupid. Don't let the screaming parents scare you - their children are probably taking too many honors and AP classes.
Posted by daniel, a resident of the Embarcadero Oaks/Leland neighborhood, on Mar 25, 2011 at 2:47 pm
"The few unhappy parents"...? Have you conducted a poll? I personally know dozens of parents who are very unhappy with the pressure cooker approach and I wouldn't be surprised if they are a sizable minority or even a majority.
Posted by pamom, a resident of the Barron Park neighborhood, on Mar 25, 2011 at 4:29 pm
For those parents who doubt there really are any major problems in our district and think it's just a few parents, you should read the comments made by students and what they experience (on other similar threads to this one). Many students have said that there are problems with: too much homework, too much busy work, unnecessary projects that often take up vacation time, etc.
Some parents have sniffed and said get out of AP's if you can't take it. But, the point is that APs don't have to be so punishing. There can be less homework but still very meaningful and appropriate homework. How is that here students can get very high marks on the final APs but lower grades while in other high schools students who make an A on the AP get a 2 or 3 (lower score) on the AP final. These comparisons are from experience, not made up.
We can change some of these pressure cooker problems such as teachers who expect the students to learn a lot of the material on their own. This is not bashing the schools, this is trying to deal with what students experience and what needs to be changed.
Posted by former Paly parent, a member of the Palo Alto High School community, on Mar 25, 2011 at 5:13 pm
@ "A parents" - excuse me, please do not write hyperbole about caring parents like us by posting that we are supposedly demanding an end to AP classes, a ridiculour overboard notion, when nobody is suggesting that.
Rather, people are suggesting the high schools - plural - could use more courtesy and a better atmosphere - such things are indeed possible with strong academics.
In fact, I know a lot of college students (since mine are away at college) who came out of strong districts and they are of a happier mind - it's not necessary to claim people should depart Palo Alto for "easier" districts. Reform is needed here.
Posted by Retired Teacher, a resident of the Duveneck/St. Francis neighborhood, on Mar 25, 2011 at 5:19 pm
I stand with the many Palo Alto parents who support our outstanding schools and the excellent leadership by Kevin Skelly. He is working very hard to keep this nationally outstanding school district doing its job, which is to educate and support students. Yet when he tries to report on progress, he is attacked by a small and angry group of parents in an extremely unreasonable way. Dr. Skelly deserves support, not irrational demands to lower standards and take support from core programs for untested pie-in-the-sky remedies.
Both my daughters went through the Palo Alto schools, and yes, they both lived with stress. I taught in a neighboring school district, and those students lived with stress as well. We all live with stress, and we need to support each other, students and adults, as we deal with it. We need to point out that society's glorification of money, power, and success at any price is at fault, not skilled educators who spend a lot of time helping kids reach success and showing how to deal with difficulties in and out of the classroom.
Mr. Dauber, you are the leader of this small anti-schools movement. I ask you, are you being reasonable to expect the schools to counteract all the unreasonable expectations parents, politicians, employers, and our entire society places on our kids? Have you spoken out against the parents who expect perfection from kids and schools, but never look in the mirror to see what their demands are doing? You need to look in the mirror yourself, Mr. Dauber, and redirect some of your energy and that of other parents to the real causes of many of the problems you speak of!
Posted by parent, a resident of the Midtown neighborhood, on Mar 25, 2011 at 5:34 pm
i have heard that dr.skelly was the only one who had courage to take this job after the other two whom had been chosen by the board gave up on it.the two candidates knew well about how hard it is to deal with powerful parents in this district.i really think we should appreciate what he has done for this school district,at least he cares,he can choose an easy way to deal with this matter,just relax the rules and take his pay,instead he wants to find a solution for all of our kids,high,low,middle,we as parents thank you for that.
Posted by Parent of Paly Alums, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood, on Mar 25, 2011 at 5:35 pm
Kudos to the Daubers for being the driving force in getting the BOE and Skelly to look seriously at P8. I have been astounded at the "lip service" that has been paid to the prevention aspects and frequent denial that academic pressure could have anything to do with the mental health of our precious students. Denial is not going to prevent the next tragedy. Thanks Ken and Michele for shining a light on this. Now, please dear administrators and parents, lets do something about this sooner than later because I truly believe "We Can Do Better Palo Alto" Let's make PAUSD a national role model in academic stress reduction as Karen Kang suggested. Yes We Can be the best (Palo Altans like being the best!) at turning a bad situation around.
Posted by daniel, a resident of the Embarcadero Oaks/Leland neighborhood, on Mar 25, 2011 at 6:56 pm
15-16-17 year olds are still children. Some of them can deal with intense pressure better than others, some can't deal with it at all at that stage of their life. There's absolutely no logical reason for the enormously intense pressure the schools put on our kids. It doesn't create generate students, only damaged and screwed up young people.
Posted by Resident, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood, on Mar 25, 2011 at 7:17 pm
I think I stand somewhere in the middle of this debate. I do think there should be a debate, but I don't think we can wholly put the blame on Skelly, the BoE, the schools, or even the parents, but I think that mistakes have been made and improvements can also be made.
Skelly is stuck. No matter what he does someone will criticize him. This however is his job and he must improve his communication skills and realise that dialog is two way. Standing and making speeches is not dialog, particularly when it is always the same thing. Q and A sessions mean just that and if 40 questions are asked then he should be able to answer them, if not at the meeting, then certainly in a follow up press release. Sending messages about how good his family is at playing board games, while commendable and certainly something that all families should be doing, is not being a leader and is more likely to draw criticisms rather than admiration.
The BoE are not professional educators, just parents with various experiences, who are putting their time and effort into what is basically a volunteer position. They have been elected to lead and make decisions and that is what they should be doing. They have proved themselves as unable to do that as several recent topics have proved, MI, calendar, EDM, Garland, are all good examples of that and although I have my views on these, the important thing to note is that they are all examples of poor leadership and decision making. However, too much cricticism of the BoE is not going to help as it is a thankless task and in the last election we had no candidates and we definitely do not want that happening again. We need some good candidates, like we had in the previous election when Camille's seat was just a few votes ahead of the next candidate and we had some excellent choices.
Lastly, the schools can make some serious changes. The biggie of course is limiting the size of the high schools. But more simple acts like getting rid of group projects, art for academics homework, tests of material taught - not what is about to be taught, and busywork would make a huge difference. Finals carry such a small percentage of grade points from what I am told by my kids, that more emphasis on unit tests, in class presentations and homework assignments of educational value should carry enough points to make the timing of finals irrelevant. Dumbing down the curriculum is not necessary but if the majority of students in a class are worthy of an A then they should all get an A, not lose points for picky reasons so that the teacher appears to have a broader spectrum of students. Don't make it impossible for all students in the class to get an A if they are all worthy of it.
Lastly parents must look into home issues. Too many appear to blame the schools without making any mention of admission that they could possibly be doing anything other than an admirable job. The majority of us parents are doing our best even if we don't always agree what that might mean. But, the majority of us do make some mistakes some of the time, and we must face up to that. The majority of us can think of times when we would like to have dealt with a situation with our teens a little differently. We are learning as we go along in the parenting class of life and mistakes do happen although most mistakes are not irrepairable.
Discussion and dialog are necessary, blame and finger pointing are not.
Lastly, I have looked for the facebook "We Can Do Better Palo Alto" facebook page and was unable to find it.
Posted by pamom, a resident of the Barron Park neighborhood, on Mar 25, 2011 at 7:37 pm
@Retired teacher your statement "not irrational demands to lower standards and take support from core programs for untested pie-in-the-sky remedies" is very dismissive. From what I know about some of the high school pressure cooker problems they are real. No one is asking to lower standards. On the contrary, keep APs but make grades reasonable as they are in many other districts. It is not right that teachers can't give out more than a fixed number of A's and then give surprise tests that cover esoteric info. Keep giving a fair amount of homework but not overload -- that's a very reasonable request. There are more things like this that we can change.
Since you and some other parents posting here think it is just a few angry parents that are very misguided (and like to complain for no reason?), argumentum ad hominem, that's a very weak argument. It's not just the parents who are bringing up problems, look at what the students are posting.
We are all trying to make our schools better, and by trying to hush up brave parents and sticking our heads in the sand will not help.
Posted by 8 steps, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood, on Mar 25, 2011 at 8:35 pm
Most of us are in the middle, happy with PAUSD's academic excellence, but like it or not school is where our kids spend most of their life, and to which they give MOST of their waking hours. Stress needs to be managed for the better health of everyone.
THANK YOU Daubers for keeping the focus on structural changes done (or not) in our schools to reduce stress.
Why does leadership always say it's so hard???? I googled "stress reduction techniques" and found this link helpguide.org which suggests the following 8 steps
1. Identify sources of stress - has the district identified the sources of stress?
2. Look at how you cope with stress - are there any best practices or red flags?
3. Avoid unnecessary stress - a good look at homework, merits a committee like the Math committee with teachers, parents, and this one needs STUDENTS (of all lanes)
4. Alter the situation - starting now, for the next school year
5. Adapt to the stressor - adults can adapt to stressors, don't expect kids to do it, it's like child labor.
6. Accept the things you can’t change - Fair enough, there are the basic rules of school which our students seem to be good at, too good sometimes
7. Make time for fun and relaxation - corporations have ping pong tables, chefs, we have competitive sports, lead roles in plays, science fair or some contest which requires winning, When there's only a handful of winners, it's not that relaxing! ping pong tables are relaxing, Yale law has "rent a puppy", that's relaxing
8. Adopt a healthy lifestyle - that's what we all want, and school is a big part of life so we can definitely do better.
Posted by RogueTrader, a member of the Gunn High School community, on Mar 25, 2011 at 8:44 pm
We have 3 kids who have spent their entire lives in the PAUSD. They are currently in grades 12, 9, and 7. They are all thriving, happy, well adjusted, with lots of friends. They are doing very well with their schoolwork, and my oldest daughter has been getting into some great universities.
We couldn't be happier with the PAUSD and its leadership.
Posted by MIT grad, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood, on Mar 25, 2011 at 8:47 pm
I am listening with growing alarm at the false choice that seems to be gelling in this discussion: between offering academic opportunity and creating stress in our schools. That’s a destructive and false dichotomy.
We have a choice in how we interpret the recommendations. Instead of taking away opportunities, we could be making safety nets so students can explore, push themselves, try and fail safely and try again.
Posted by parent, a resident of the Midtown neighborhood, on Mar 25, 2011 at 9:03 pm
teachers,schools,friends(good or bad),classmates will all come and go,whom are the ones that will be hurt by it forever?it is their closest family members.do they know it before that,what makes them so desperate and ignore this fact all together?
Posted by parent, a resident of the Midtown neighborhood, on Mar 25, 2011 at 9:29 pm
Sorry, but giving Skelley a pass just for showing up is silly. He knew what he was getting into when he came to this district. He's a big boy and could have said no. This is a prestigious district and super is a well-paid position. Based on history, it's a decent base for further political ambitions. Good leadership for strong parents is part of the job description.
Skelley should be judged on his performance, and so far he's not doing so well. This is a district of strong parents, and I think we are better for it. If Skelley came here to fight the parents rather than do the best job for them, he's in the wrong place.
Posted by MIT grad, a resident of Atherton, on Mar 25, 2011 at 9:51 pm
A parent who supports,
Ah. That's exactly what I'm talking about. It's not important how I or you define failure. Our schools should not be so focused on extrinsic motivation and rewards. It's how the kids feel about what they do. Taking away AP's or other opportunities will not reduce stress, it will only create different stresses and take away opportunities for kids to challenge themselves.
MIT had a lot of suicides which resulted in soul searching before I went there. They had professional evaluation and implemented huge changes that altered the environment -- didn't take away challenges or reduce academic quality, just put the focus on learning and made it safe for kids to do that. For example, no letters grades on the record in freshman year, just pass/fail, and the ability to retake a failed class. The kids see the actual letter grade themselves, it just doesn't go on the record. (Another important change was finals before holidays.) Along with that, faculty encouraged kids to challenge themselves, lead healthy balanced lives, focus on good study habits and learning rather than grades. Was very effective and resulted in more important life lessons than any of the coursework.
I went to MIT from one of the poorest school districts in the country and had no opportunity to take AP's at all because they weren't offered. There are a whole host of other stresses that go along with having no opportunity. That shouldn't be the choice here.
Putting the focus on learning and being whole people, letting the kids challenge themselves, and be happy because of the learning rather than performing to a very narrow measure of their or anyone else's expectations, is what I mean. That won't come from taking away opportunities, but rather from changing the environment and safety nets. It can come from helping them focus on intrinsic motivations and rewards rather than extrinsic.
Posted by MIT grad, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood, on Mar 25, 2011 at 9:57 pm
I couldn't agree with you more about there being no place to safely try and fail and try again in the high schools. Having the leeway to (even celebration of) try, fail, pick yourself up and try again, builds not only resiliency, but far greater success than can ever be found through narrow perfectionism.
I hear a lot of lip service given to resiliency and the importance of learning from mistakes, but no value of that in the curriculum.
Posted by 8 steps, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood, on Mar 25, 2011 at 10:02 pm
"For example, no letters grades on the record in freshman year, just pass/fail, and the ability to retake a failed class. The kids see the actual letter grade themselves, it just doesn't go on the record. (Another important change was finals before holidays.)"
are examples of the structural changes to reduce stress most people refer to
Posted by MIT grad, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood, on Mar 25, 2011 at 10:04 pm
"if the stress is from kids' own emtional relationship problem whether it is a girlfriend/boyfriend/family members,how would school reduce it for them?"
There is a good deal of research on this, that's what the focus on connectedness is all about.
You could try searching in Google scholar, or maybe even on NIH web sites for medical papers. Use different variations of the question you have asked, it is a big and important subject of research. Unfortunately, I don't know a good free place for psychology research.
But don't reinvent the wheel. Others have answered that question already in this. Reach out to some of the resources that have already given input here in town, as from Project Safety Net.
It's a little hard to figure out why it is not showing up in search because it is an "open" group and according to FB it is supposed to show up. Not that I am biased toward Google :) but I can't really figure it out. Use the URL and I will try to solve the problem and post again.
Posted by MIT grad, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood, on Mar 25, 2011 at 10:33 pm
A parent who supports..
Don't give up on the school or the kids. I think there is a great deal the school can do. That was the point of the work that has been done so far and the soul searching going on right now in this district. Of course there will be disagreements, but it's good that there are so many people who care, and it's important not to give up.
That was the point of bringing up MIT's suicide approach -- the changes MIT made to deal with the suicide problem didn't change parents expectations -- remember, half the students there are going to go from being top HS students to ending up in the bottom half of the class -- or academic standards, it changed the focus of the school and created a safe environment for learning to be the focus of education.
Posted by parent, a resident of the Midtown neighborhood, on Mar 25, 2011 at 10:44 pm
i think we should be careful not to ask for unproven dramatic changes.if a student is not challenged enough or the parents think that is the case,then those wealthy parents will spend money and send them to outside classes,there are plenty of those examples in cupertino school district,almost everyone does that.we do not want the situation run out of control,by then our school's pressure will go up not down,and schools will run out of means to control it.
Posted by Michele Dauber, a resident of the Barron Park neighborhood, on Mar 25, 2011 at 11:22 pm
OK, the Google engineer in our household figured out what's wrong with the FB search function. It doesn't work. The group is too new and FB does not index groups until they have been active for a while and have members. So, use this url to find us, and then join it. That will help others to find us later. Sorry for any confusion.
Posted by Another Parent in Support of Palo Alto Schools and its Leadership, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood, on Mar 25, 2011 at 11:29 pm
@ "A parent who supports the Palo Alto schools and its leadership" has made a very good point:
"As long as no one discusses what happened in the individual suicides of the past couple of years, there is NO WAY we can just pin the blame on the schools."
As someone who has lost a brother to suicide, I feel the pain and suffering of the families of the victims and respect their desire for privacy. However, without more information, I wouldn't jump to the conclusion that it's the schools or academic stress that drove those students at Gunn and Paly to suicide. As superintendent, Dr. Skelly is likely more privy to at least some of the background information that has been kept from the public. It'd be irresponsible for him bend to the Daubers' demand and acknowledge that there's a direct connection between the schools and the suicide if what he knows is to the contrary.
The Daubers and their supporters are not the "silent majority" as they themselves proclaim. They are a small number of extremely aggressive and vocal parents who have unreasonable expectations of the district. I've read the P-8 on Project Safety Net's website and watched the video of the relevant portion of Tuesday's board meeting. I agree with the BoE members that the district has done a lot in response to the suicides, and in line with PSN's proposal. Indeed, that's acknowledged in P-8. However, P-8 is very comprehensive, and it's unreasonable to expect the district to implement all of the items all at once, particularly since there're some that are controversial, e.g., moving the finals to before winter break.
Posted by parent, a resident of the Midtown neighborhood, on Mar 25, 2011 at 11:56 pm
i have heard in cupertino school district,if a parent camplains that the class is too difficult,a teacher will ask you:"why did not you send your kids to ap classes outside." do we want this happen in palo alto?usually the class costs around $500,without strict prerequests.i think probably a majority of parents in pa can afford it.do we want this,out of controled competition.
Posted by Ken and Michele Dauber, a resident of the Barron Park neighborhood, on Mar 26, 2011 at 8:39 am
Thank you for your post and for sharing the loss of your brother. We are very sorry for that tragic loss.
You are correct that suicide is a complicated subject. Please let us stress that no one in our group (We Can Do Better Palo Alto -- find us on facebook at Web Link)
thinks that academic stress is the only thing happening in any of
these cases. But our group includes several of the mothers who have lost children in the recent suicides as well as other suicide prevention advocates from the community because the linkages between academic stress and anxiety and depression are clear and unambiguous and depression, ultimately, is an important cause of suicide.
Academic stress is not the whole story. But it is a crucial piece of the puzzle as identified by the school district itself. The district's director of student services, the vice principal of Gunn, the district nurse, the district's consulting psychiatrist, and the
district's mental health provider were all on the executive
committee that drafted section P-8 of the Project Safety Net Plan. It is not Ken and Michele Dauber and Karen Kang and our many supporters who developed the idea that academic stress needs to be addressed. It is the school district. This is district policy. We are merely trying to hold the district accountable for the fact that the Board of Ed and the superintendent are refusing to implement it.
Community members should focus less on the individual suicides and more on the etiology of depression itself and the climate of our schools. That is what Project Safety Net does in P-8. Kevin Skelly or any school official does not have privileged understanding of what happened in these individual cases, and certainly not more than the families themselves.
We also need to get beyond the false opposition between less stress and more excellence, as MIT grad does in this thread. We can have both less stress and more excellence. We don't have to choose. This is Palo Alto. We can be a leader. All eyes in the country are on us now because of the suicides. Let's get all eyes on us because we are squarely and fearless addressing the root causes of adolescent anxiety and depression in our schools.
Posted by Gunn parent, a resident of the Barron Park neighborhood, on Mar 26, 2011 at 9:10 am
Fear is a very strong emotion. Most of my kids stress comes from their peers. They are all so concerned about getting into college. They read the paper about the cuts being made to higher education & the high unemployment numbers. This info scares them about their future. It scares parents too, and that is not lost on kids.
Many PAUSD kids have parents who attended or work at Stanford (especially at Gunn where Stanford kids live on campus), so anything less is perceived as not good enough. Add to the mix the parents who attended other brand name schools & programs, and many kids feel they have to do as well or they will disappoint their parents & themselves.
Then they go to school and talk with their friends about the need to get good grades to get into a good college, when they don't even know what "good" means for them so they think they need straight As, must take as many APs as possible and must stick with the name brand colleges. The college board marketing efforts contribute to the frenzy, suggesting test after test, always a chance to improve your score. Some colleges provide misleading admissions data. Despite the school counselors best efforts, there is much false information on campus among kids and parents. And it does make some/many/most??? students feel like they are not good enough.
Most importantly, they do not want to be perceived as a loser, but the problem is that the definition of loser varies for each kid.
I am aware of numerous changes already made at Gunn; they are doing a very good job given their resources. Most staff have been touched and they really do care. Many parents are making suggestions that are simply unreasonable given the current crisis in school funding. And the issue is bigger than just the schools - It Takes a Village. As parents, we must do our part to continually reassure and support our kids and address their fears. I applaud those who are shining a light on the need to do more.
Posted by parent, a resident of the Midtown neighborhood, on Mar 26, 2011 at 9:28 am
if the current kids who are enrolled in this school district were to be subjected to this experiment(no one knows it will work or not),if one kid can not adjust well to this new thing and this suicide happens again,whom would we blame? would the members of this group of advocates have liabilities ?what about the schools?
Posted by Thankful Parent, a resident of the Palo Verde neighborhood, on Mar 26, 2011 at 9:49 am
School officials have not answer the questions that we the audience wrote on the cards at the Saint Marks meeting. Mine is there too, but there is no answer. Anyone know when is this going to happen? I am not that young, and I am afraid that I might be gone by the time they answer them. If they ever do.
Saint Marks members: do you know who is going to be responsible for making sure that the officials reply? What is the point of telling the audience to write them if nothing is going to happened. The same thing happen at the first meeting, cards were turned in, and at that time they were not even publicized.
Here are the questions.
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?
Posted by Me Too, a resident of the Midtown neighborhood, on Mar 26, 2011 at 10:29 am
@Gunn parent, a resident of the Barron Park neighborhood - very well said. Your description is spot on with our experience at Gunn. I read your post to my Gunn junior, who concurred - it led to a good discussion (not the first) on how to think about a "good" college and how college choice does not determine your life. Thanks for posting.
Posted by Me Too, a resident of the Midtown neighborhood, on Mar 26, 2011 at 10:39 am
"The Daubers and their supporters are not the "silent majority" as they themselves proclaim. They are a small number of extremely aggressive and vocal parents who have unreasonable expectations of the district"
I agree with this perception. No one has taken a poll, so no one really knows. And I'm sure that we all are concerned about stress in the schools. But my perception is that most are pleased with what's been done. My perception is that a lot has been done by the administration, and that what some would like is incredibly difficult (witness the school calendar debate, where a relatively simple proposal just ballooned). Most of all, I am not persuaded at all of the link between these issues and the tragic Gunn suicide cluster. I do worry about school suicide, including with regard to my very own children, but it's because there is a cluster, not because there is stress.
Posted by 8 steps, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood, on Mar 26, 2011 at 11:53 am
Parent and peer pressure to do well in school, would generally be a good stressor.
However, our celebrity obsessed culture has turned certain colleges or universities into pedestals, like pretty much everything in our schools - sports, theater, especially academics, all places to celebrate somebody's excellence
in big high schools, with a focus on pedestals set up to make a few kids shine, the competition and pressure becomes unhealthy
I think kids especially but also adults want to be known by their community, and in smaller schools, you get that opportunity
to be fair, the system is working very well for many, and the issue may be a culture war
the celebrity obsessed where academics and sports have become a climbing wall for the hyper competitive, vs an atmosphere where we could keep the rat race in check, and focus on learning.
For example, instead of teachers creating hoops for someone to get A's to weed out the less than brilliant, and to swoon over the good students, they can find ways to better measure learning, and inspire the B's and C's in more creative ways.
Students not necessarily shining can still be made to feel great if the focus on stardom would not be so great. Parents have a responsibility to keep this in check, but schools also have to have a culture that is consistent with what we preach.
even the Daubers' call to action is "This is Palo Alto. We can be a leader. "
everyone wants to be a leader and shine,
I hope people will remain humble and know that while the system works for many, it does not mean it's right, and because this is public school the culture wars will continue so if we care about the students everyone could work together.
Posted by daniel, a resident of the Embarcadero Oaks/Leland neighborhood, on Mar 26, 2011 at 12:34 pm
We have no idea whether the concerned parents are a minority or a majority, no poll has ever been conducted. The fact that the great majority of parents have not been heard from is not unusual, it's the norm rather than the exception, and it doesn't mean that they are necessarily pleased with what's going on. The tiger parent types are probably happy with the stress and excessive competitiveness, but the parents I know, none of whom is of the tiger type, are very unhappy and highly concerned. I don't speculate on who is in the majority or minority and no one should either until a reliable poll has been conducted.
Posted by A parent who supports the Palo Alto schools and their leadership, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood, on Mar 26, 2011 at 1:34 pm
The "Tiger parents" may be considered a problem, but they are not the only problematic group in this district. Another group is the group of overachieving parents who won't settle for anything less than their golden kids getting into an Ivy league university, but who want everything handed to their kids on a silver platter, including their Ivy league admission. This is also a cultural problem in this town.
I sure am glad I don't belong to either group, and I have kids who thrive at Paly, post Paly, and post college, including one who is doing better professionally than several of his classmates who went to Ivy league universities.
Posted by pamom, a resident of the Barron Park neighborhood, on Mar 26, 2011 at 4:38 pm
@A Parent who supports PAUSD. Would you please consider that many parents are neither Tiger Parents or Overachieving parents as you define them. We are neither, but there are problems here in our district. This doesn't mean we don't support PAUSD. Really this is silly to insist that parents like the Daubers (thank you for your reasoned comments) are just complainers and have no justification for there discussion.
Really @Parent, does this mean that any criticism of PAUSD makes me a bad parent and the schools have no need for improvement?
@MIT Parent -- Thank you for your comments! MIT didn't just say well if we lose a few students to suicide it can't be helped. MIT didn't say it's all the fault of those tiger parents. MIT didn't lower its standards or change to grade inflation. MIT didn't lose its academic standing.
That's the point: look at what we can change. It doesn't mean lower standards. It means make the homework reasonable. Make sure teachers cover the material adequately in class. Make sure grading is reasonable (not grade inflation!), etc., and these changes will not cure everything, we know that. But it (some of the suggestions made on this forum) can help ALL students who are under a lot of pressure here.
Posted by I a gree, a member of the Gunn High School community, on Mar 26, 2011 at 5:04 pm
I agreed with Mr. Dauber and want to work with him in these difficult essue of stress at schools. Right now I have two kids at school one at JLS and one at Gunn and the amout of homework they get is ridulo hight. He spends a lot of time doing homework, and still he dose not finish it and is behind. His teachers of course get very upse. My kids are under a lot of stress not just from homework, but some how upset the teacher get beause they did not finish their homework, since I do not let them stayed up late by 12:00am. Any way I just found a big vearson of the St. Marks meeting that happened in February it is a full the meeting it is about one hour long, please watch it. I felt so bad thay way Dr. Skelly responded to the frustated parents who wanted answers and we were worried about thier kids. I think we need a new leater he kept saying... "it is hard, it is hard, it is hard".
Posted by parent, a resident of the Midtown neighborhood, on Mar 26, 2011 at 5:08 pm
if we implement all of your suggestions,would not college find out? they will pretty much know our school students' true qualities, it is like we only can about short term solutions not focus on long term,over the long term the truly good students will suffer.palo alto school district is not like mit where students are pretty much at the same level,here we can have vast difference between students,how can we copy their solutions without thinking it first.
Posted by I agree, a member of the Gunn High School community, on Mar 26, 2011 at 5:24 pm
Sorry I am so excited to hear that Mr. Dauber wants to help our kids that I clicked the submit bottom before I check my spelling. This is the first time I post. Thanks for your understanding.
I agree with Mr. Dauber and want to work with him in this difficult issue of stress at schools. Right now, I have two kids at school, one at JLS and one at Gunn, and the amount of homework they get is ridiculous high. He spends a lot of time doing homework, and still he does not finish it, and is behind. His teachers of course get very upset. My kids are under a lot of stress not just from homework, but from how upset the teachers get because they did not finish their homework, since I do not let them stayed up late past 12:00am. Any way I just found a full version of the St. Marks meeting that happened in February. It is about one hour long, please watch it. I felt so bad with the way Dr. Skelly responded to the frustrated parents who wanted answers and we were worried about their kids. I think we need a new leader. He kept saying... "it is hard, it is hard, it is hard …"
Here is the link <Web Link;
By the way St. Marks' members never answer the questions that the audience made at the meeting. I wonder why.
Posted by parent, a resident of the Midtown neighborhood, on Mar 26, 2011 at 5:29 pm
if this situation happens at high school(the same college starts to get vast different performing high schoolers from a same school in a given year),i will send my kids to outside school to get extra ap classes and passes those ap exames because i want to differenciate my kids from the kids in this gunn high school,do we want to see everyone send their kids to outside to have this fierce competition that no school officials can control(it is happening right now in you-know-what city near-by).
Posted by Thakful , a resident of the Palo Verde neighborhood, on Mar 26, 2011 at 5:59 pm
It is not just happening in the city near by. PAUSD (our own city) sends their kids to Alta Vista in Mt. View. they sent them there because they might have bad behaviors, many who go there do drugs, are involved in gangs, but the bad think is that they also sent the students that are not achieving as the teachers and principals expect them to do. I know more than 5 kids from Gunn and Paly that have been sent there. The lower achievers do not want to be kicked out of their school and be sent to Alta vista, but they have no choice because the school decides and even if students or parents disagree they are not listen. The principal and Head of the counselors gets to decide (at Gunn). Not sure who decides at Paly. When they sent them there, the lower achievers sometimes pick bad behaviors from the other, and are more prone to go into drugs because by being kicked out their 41 assets get affected, and become vulnerable and at high risk. I also know someones who works there, and she has giving me a lot of information about how the students feel when they are sent there. It is sad, that the PAUSD rejects low achievers. They do not want the ones with low scores because it affects how the school district looks. this is why we need another choice here in Palo Alto for the kids who can't work that well under stress.
Posted by parent, a resident of the Midtown neighborhood, on Mar 26, 2011 at 6:15 pm
i know a kid who was sent there,but he was with a special mentor(the one has a very high position in silicon valley) who gave him a lot of help.i do not know the kids you are talking about,but i know him, he used to eat at our home a lot later into night,coz he was lonely at home,and he was pretty on his own when was in high school,and now he goes on to community college and is doing fine.
Posted by parent, a resident of the Midtown neighborhood, on Mar 26, 2011 at 8:39 pm
i like to shop at farmer's market,when i see the tomatoes,they are fresh,smells good,can not compare them to the ones we got from sun room with air conditioner.why is that,because those fresh ones are natural,withstand a lot of harzards to survive by its own,that is why it tastes so good,smells so sweet.
Posted by Crescent Park Dad, a resident of the Crescent Park neighborhood, on Mar 26, 2011 at 8:49 pm
To the poster with 40+ points/suggestions:
You really think it is the PAUSD's responsibility to go around all of the campuses at lunch and get the names of every kid who eats alone? Or to take attendance at club meetings or chase down kids who don't join a club or quits a club?
This is starting to go towards an invasion of privacy. This is where parents have to be in touch with their kids - PAUSD is not a parent or kid monitor.
Posted by parent, a resident of the Midtown neighborhood, on Mar 26, 2011 at 9:34 pm
here are the reasons why palo alto kids in need of parents' attention(but not excessive cares):
palo alto has a very high housing cost , i am talking about average house,well over a million.this in term forces both parents to work hard to pay for the costs,it is very hard for them to juggle parents' responsipilities and works.
kids are generally live in wealthy families,parents would give them stuffs if they want,and parents think we can not spend time with you,we use this as reward,kids are playing with those computers,video game in their own room,they even text their parents while both are in house.
we need spend quality times with them,not only physically appear in front of them but actually with them.
Posted by Thankful Parent, a resident of the Palo Verde neighborhood, on Mar 26, 2011 at 10:03 pm
Parent, you are generalizing. I live in Palo Alto, in a house and I take care of my kids, I do spend time with them. My husband is the bread winner. I am the taxi driver. We go to church, take our son to the dances where he wants to go, sometimes all the way to Livermore, San Francisco, Berkly, etc. because he does not find a place to hang for teen to dance the kind of music he likes. We wait outside the place till he comes out. We do this for every one of our kids. So no, not every parent is like you are describing it. Perhaps you are, but not me and many of my friends who live here. Please do not assume things that you do not know unless you are sure and made a research and can show me the proof of your results.
Perhaps you should said: some people, or include yourself if you do, but not put a blanket over everyone. It is wrong.
Posted by Thankful Parent, a resident of the Palo Verde neighborhood, on Mar 26, 2011 at 10:11 pm
To common sense, the stress the child experience at school follows them everyone. When my child gets bullied at school or did not have time to finish his assignments, she comes home in such a bad mood that yes, the house becomes stressful too, because the teachers want us to push her to do her homework and sometimes she does not know how to do it. She wants to succeed and I do not have enough knowledge to help her or money to hire her a tutor. In my house the stress comes from the school and the demanding teachers, and it spreads to our home. From peers only they my children get bullied, and they told others not to hang out or talk to her. This makes it very stressful for her too.
Posted by EcoMama, a resident of the Community Center neighborhood, on Mar 26, 2011 at 11:11 pm
I tend to agree with "lies." The Daubers are stressing ME out with their tireless crusade to hold the school district responsible for the entire etiology of depression, related (or not -- we don't know, and neither do the Daubers) suicides, and stress issues -- without once, as far as I can tell, EVER taking any parental responsibility for whatever is going on in their lives that fuels their crusade. The thing is, whatever that impetus is, to push and push and push the school district to change is much easier than pushing parents to be introspective, to ask: what might we do differently, or how might we protect our children? ... for it is MY role as a parent to know my kids' limits. The schools are NOT responsible for that boundary setting -- for there is NO reasonable expectation, especially in jam-packed high schools, that teachers will know my kids well enough to help them say "uncle" when pinned.
The kids in high school who I know are staying up late to do mountains of homework are doing it because they're involved in non-academic things: theater productions in and out of school, music activities, sports (also in and out of school -- not just Team Paly or Team Gunn but, for example, CYSA soccer) ... the list goes on. As parents, we encourage kids to do things to be well-rounded, but do we suggest that they participate in only one drama production per year? play on a less competitive sports team? How do we help them reduce their load?
We can ask the schools to make changes, and they've made some -- personally, I find the new TEAM approach at Paly to be a great example of a laudable change -- but really, change has to start in the home. If your kid is taking too many AP classes, it's because you let him/her. If your kid doesn't have time for several soccer practices per week, and play practice, and music lessons, and homework -- well, something has to go. Or else, duh, the kid will be stressed.
It is NOT the schools' responsibility to set limits. WHERE ARE THE PARENTS IN THIS???
Posted by EcoMama, a resident of the Community Center neighborhood, on Mar 27, 2011 at 8:33 am
Daniel - It's my belief that if a poll were conducted, the majority of parents wouldn't participate; just look at site by site school survey return rates. Our school's site council received 24% participation for their last one. I repeat, where are the parents, here? While I think many are interested and engaged, how many more are checked out, uninvolved, and pointing to the school district to fix their problems because they don't want to make the time to deal with their kids? Anyone who claims that many always-on parents around here aren't like that really isn't being truthful. The schools can do better, yes, but so can most parents.
Posted by pamom, a resident of the Barron Park neighborhood, on Mar 27, 2011 at 9:50 am
Eco Mama and Lies you both have your heads in the sand and maintain there are really no problems. You are saying the big problems are with the parents, not the schools. Seems odd to me that in an area where we have so many well-educated parents that the parents who ask questions and try to make our district better are the bad guys.
The Daubers are opening up the discussion and not excluding that we parents look critically at ourselves too. That's part of the discussion. But there are changes that could be made in our schools. It is wrong to have so much busywork in the tough classes, or esoteric quizzes, or teachers who don't teach the material. What's wrong with asking the English teachers to look at the books they are choosing, from middle school on, and see how much of it is depressing. Are we putting the weight of the world on our teens' shoulders? Let's try to change what we can.
Posted by Me Too, a resident of the Midtown neighborhood, on Mar 27, 2011 at 10:12 am
@pamom - if this is really about trying to make practical adjustments, that's fine. Who would argue with less busywork or weeding out ineffective teachers? Not me, I'll join you on the committee! But the first salvo I saw was the Daubers' call to fire the superintendent because he is doing such a poor job of leading the schools to address students' social and emotional health. Within that context, people have sensibly pointed back to parents as the primary causes and source of potential cures.
So let's be clear what question we are trying to address. If it is should we work to improve the schools to reduce stress and improve connectedness, that's great - I think active parents will actually HELP the district create change it wants to pursue (witness the calendar debate). But if question is should we toss out leadership because they are so bad and wrong-headed on critical issues the schools should be leading on - I disagree strongly.
Posted by daniel, a resident of the Embarcadero Oaks/Leland neighborhood, on Mar 27, 2011 at 10:34 am
Perhaps the majority of parents don't actively participate in the attempt to change the district because they suspect they will be not be successful. The experience with the current superintended certainly justifies their pessimism. When I question those kind of parents that's the impression I get-they believe that the tiger parents are too powerful and influential and that the PASUD will not change the old ways. Parents like me who hate the present status-quo and think it's unnecessarily putting excessive stress on the kids and damages them mentally, emotionally and physically are doing what they can to relieve the stress, I personally tell my kids to relax and not take it so seriously, that I would be happy with any college they would end up in, but we are limited in what we can do because we don't want our kids to fall behind grade-wise, which in this town would only mean that our kids would become the new "undesirables".
Posted by thankfkul parent, a member of the Palo Verde School community, on Mar 27, 2011 at 10:47 am
To me Too.
If we need changes (any, then we need to be kind of aggressive otherwise nothing will happen. Believe me I have been asking nicely and nothing happens, unfortunately when the officials, poor teachers etc, see that they paycheck at risk, then changes occurred. I am sure the Daubers would love the superintendent to stay and work on this issues, but I would say that if after waiting some time and they keep saying that stress or connectedness is not an issue then is time to take different approach, which might even be asking them to leave their seat for someone else who is willing to listen and do something about it. Thanks for asking clarification. I have said, keep saying and will say it again, the well-being of our kids is everybody's bussiness, the community, (which involves the neighborhoods, stores, parents schools etc.), but because our students spend a lot time at school, we have to make sure that we address them too.
I watch the St. Marks video (the full version), and I saw that Mr. Skelly was not really hesitant to mandate schools what to do, and did not even know what middle schools offer the camps, and which did not, and ask for help, fro the audience or other district officials. He needs to know what happens at each school. yes 17 schools is a lot, but if he does not know, than how can he be making sure that our students are having a chance to connected or that the social and emotional goal is being put in action at each school? I do not think that he needs to ask every child if he or she is connected, but perhaps an evaluation given to students. Perhaps is this question was even given in the 41 asses evaluation. I never got to see each question the students are asked. I which I could know what my children answer so I could do something about it if they are one of those 47% who kids representing the vulnerable kids that the results mentioned.
Posted by Structured Person, a resident of the Professorville neighborhood, on Mar 27, 2011 at 11:06 am
[Portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff.] Unfortunately this is the world that we are live in. In China now kids learn much more structured curriculum. There is no more space for the free wheel Mountessousi Elemetary school. Remember that Hoover and most neighborhood school kids can handle much more pressure in either middle and high schools. Just ask the teachers. Yes, before you create some lie to dismiss me, please ask a either middle or High school teacher. Please do it. and I am sorry for the cruel reality but someone had to say.The are exception to the rule. Bouman Internation is Moutessouri and the kids there do very good, but it is a private school, and the kids study year around, that most likely to have more resource$ maybe that is the reason.
Posted by Retired Teacher, a resident of the Duveneck/St. Francis neighborhood, on Mar 27, 2011 at 1:00 pm
I'm glad to see many of the reasonable people in this town disagreeing with the attacks on Kevin Skelly and the questioning the extreme demands being placed on our already overburdened school district. I suspect that the majority of parents support the schools, even as they are always ready to support ways to make them more effective.
The Daubers get a lot of press, but it's certainly not clear that they represent the majority of stakeholders in our town. Their claim that the whole system is just a stress factory rather than a highly successful, nationally admired district where excellent teaching and learning goes on every day, is ludicrous. It is reasonable to ask the district to do what it can, and to support and praise its efforts; it is unreasonable to ignore the demanding parents and the distorted values of our society and put the whole burden on a few dedicated educators.
pamom, nobody denies that stress in our schools and in our society is a real probem. Nobody denies that suicide is a pressing and tragic issue and needs to be worked with. But thoughtful observers realize that these issues are tremendously complicated and difficult. We can't just slap the first twenty simplistic proposals on the problems and assume they'll go away.
As several commenters have said, we should be looking more closely at these tragic events to try to understand the broader causes and to work for really effective, more realistic solutions. Let's back away from these nasty attacks and support the efforts of our district, and work hard to change our demanding and unrealistic culture.
Posted by daniel, a resident of the Embarcadero Oaks/Leland neighborhood, on Mar 27, 2011 at 2:09 pm
Retired Teacher, you can still have a "highly successful, nationally admired district where excellent teaching and learning goes on every day" without the insane pressure, highly excessive heavy homework load and draconian grading system we have now. Less stress is not incompatible with a great school district. When my son went on extended college tours in the summer and mentioned he was from Palo Alto, he would constantly get remarks such as "oh, the district with the insane pressure and lots of suicides". He vowed not to mention Palo Alto on his upcoming spring college tour. I also strongly disagree with you on the present superintendent-he is part of the problem, he has no intention of ushering in any meaningful changes and therefore he can't be part of the solution and he must go.
Posted by MIT grad, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood, on Mar 27, 2011 at 4:25 pm
Not sure what your question has to do with anything.
My experience with teachers in the district has been very positive. They haven't all been the best match for my family, haven't always been perfect, but they've always been hardworking and high quality.
When you get to college, students are expected to bring a lot more to the table. Some of the classes I got the most out of didn't necessarily have the best teachers, but the environment for learning was always superb -- the changes made to reduce stress in response to the spate of suicides were a big part of that.
Posted by Retired Teacher, a resident of the Duveneck/St. Francis neighborhood, on Mar 27, 2011 at 4:45 pm
I completely agree with your central point that a successful school district does not have to involve "insane pressure, highly excessive homework load, and draconian grading system." What I don't know is that those three very negative phrases actually describe the Palo Alto Unified School District. I'd like to see evidence more solid than student and parent assertions and hearsay about college visit commentaries. It would be good to see Palo Alto compared to other high-achieving districts across the nation, looking at these three issues factually and objectively. I suspect that Palo Alto would compare favorably, but we need real data to be sure.
I also agree with you that we don't know who is in the majority--the Daubers and their supporters or the supporters of the PAUSD and its educators. But I disagree that those who support the district can't do so without presenting evidence that they are in the majority. On the contrary, this anti-school movement should be the ones to demonstrate that they are not just a vocal claque, but represent a significant number of Palo Alto stakeholders.
Finally, we need more analysis of these "meaningful changes" you and others propose. I applaud Dr. Skelly and the district administration for wanting to be careful before committing scarce resources to untested changes based on pressure from a few vocal critics.
Posted by Resident, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood, on Mar 27, 2011 at 6:45 pm
This is not a support Skelly or the Daubers situation. I suspect that the majority of parents here are like me. Somewhere in the middle. There are some faults, but that does not mean that Skelly or the Board need to "go". There are some overly aggressively pushy parents, some satisfied parents and some parents who are at all points inbetween.
Dialog, discussion and finding middle or common ground is necessary. This is not a time for drawing battle lines. Remember, the kids are watching and if we can't behave like adults in sorting out their schooling, what lesson will they be learning from us?
Posted by Bill Johnson, publisher of the Palo Alto Weekly, on Mar 27, 2011 at 8:38 pm Bill Johnson is a member (registered user) of Palo Alto Online
Your post was removed because it was false. Not that it has any relevance to the discussion, but Editor Jocelyn Dong was not the author of the editorial, I was. And if it matters, I have two children that each spent 13 years in Palo Alto schools, with the youngest graduating two years ago. Jocelyn was raised and went to school in Palo Alto as well, graduating from Palo Alto High School. The Weekly is blessed with many editorial and other staff members who have lived in Palo Alto a long time and whose children are, or have been, in school system. We know it well.
Editorials are intentionally unsigned because they represent the views of the Weekly as an institution. Various people write our editorials after discussions, and as publisher I approve each of them even if I haven't written them.
Posted by pat, a resident of the Midtown neighborhood, on Mar 27, 2011 at 8:48 pm
A bit of irony. In the print edition of the Weekly, on the page opposite this editorial, is the Streetwise column. The question asked was: Why do you think Palo Alto teens are stressed?
Fumiko Yamaguchi, homemaker and former physicist, replied, "There's so much academic expectation. Parents are taking even their 2-year-olds to ballet, math and various lessons. My 4-year-old speaks and reads Japanese and English, along with going to tennis and dance lessons. As a parent, I'm pressured too, feeling that I have to keep up."
Does this provide some idea of where the pressure starts?
Posted by Me Too, a resident of the Midtown neighborhood, on Mar 27, 2011 at 8:57 pm
I wonder why Bill Johnson is doing this. In a small town like ours, it is up to him whether the Daubers get a platform for their inflammatory piece last week, and this week he declares it is a "growing movement."
I hope he will seek out the counter-point for next week and things "fair and balanced."
Posted by Me Too, a resident of the Midtown neighborhood, on Mar 27, 2011 at 9:19 pm
@pat - As a parent of a junior in APUSH at Gunn, I can report that she does not read 4 hours a night or anything close to that. It is more reading than most classes, for sure, but does not seem overwhelming or even every day. It did require summer work, which surprised me. I checked around and found that this was done in other districts as well due to the volume of material required for the AP exam.
I can't speak to how the course is taught at Paly.
Posted by A parent who support the schools and their leadership, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood, on Mar 27, 2011 at 9:57 pm
Here we go again, I read again a call to limit AP classes above... What is this all about? They were once not limited at all (my first child) and things were fine for most people. Now, they ARE limited to two, we have a contract to sign and basically make a case if we want more than two.
Again, what is this call to limit AP classes all about? My reading is that it is from parents who don't know how to set limits for their kids and/or don't want to accept their children's limitations and/or want to bring down other students to limit the existing competition for their kids. Tough for you. Parents won't agree to this.
It is up to YOU, the parent, to put limits on what you kids signs up for with consideration for what is reasonable for your kids. Stop wanting to bring everybody else down to bring your kid up.
No one is forced to take AP classes, you can make a conscious decisions to opt out of this kind of race.
Posted by 8 steps, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood, on Mar 27, 2011 at 10:33 pm
Where is the logic of asking parents to limit AP's when other parents go ahead and allow their kids to take as many as they can, whether they can or not? parent control has zero chance of reducing stress
The parent vs parent game is not a good game to play in schools, and not in Palo Alto where the competition gets ugly because of the unlimited resources and it is every person out for themselves
to have a fair and balanced view, you're going to have a better argument than that it works for the majority,
Posted by A parent who supports the schools and their leadership, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood, on Mar 27, 2011 at 10:42 pm
@ 8 steps
A parent parents, that is set limits for his children.
A parent does not allow a child to take on an impossible task only because some other kids get to do it.
A parent who cares for their child will limit their AP classes appropriately AND explain to the child that AP classes are not necessary to go to a good college and to have a good life.
A kid whose parents allow him/her to take only what is appropriate for such child will be subjected to less stress, automatically. Less homework, less stress over grades etc.
Again, parents, please grow up, learn how to parent your children instead of demanding limits for other children by the school district. YOU are responsible for your own kids, not the schools or the rest of the parents
Posted by Ken Dauber, a resident of the Barron Park neighborhood, on Mar 27, 2011 at 11:16 pm
I'm happy to see that Retired Teacher is engaged in the debate in a serious way, but I'd like to clear up a couple of misconceptions from his/her posts that I think are not particular to him/her. Incidentally, it t would really help if some of these posters chose to reveal their actual identities -- I don't necessarily agree with Retired Teacher on all points, but I think his/her points don't require the cloak of anonymity, particularly if s/he wishes to draw on his/her authority as a former teacher in the district. In any case, anyone can email me at email@example.com and I'd be happy to get together for coffee or to talk on the phone to see if we can find common ground.
Contrary to Retired Teacher's statement, this is not a dispute with "PAUSD and its educators". We're actually asking the district to implement its own existing plan and policy, and the Superintendent and the school board are so far refusing to do it. Rather than restate all of these points, I'm including below comments that I made in another thread following the school board meeting on March 22:
I put the item on the school board agenda to discuss the implementation of item P-8 in Project Safety Net's plan (the P stands for "Prevention"). Here is a link to P-8, which includes both its rationale and the proposed next steps: Web Link
It's important to realize that Project Safety Net (PSN) is the district's plan, developed in coordination with the city of Palo Alto and a wide range of community organizations. The PSN subcommittee is co-chaired by the district. High level PAUSD staff, including the director of Student Services and the vice principal at Gunn, as well as the district's consulting psychiatrist and mental health provider, were all on the executive committtee that drafted the PSN plan, including P-8. The district is assigned ownership for implementing P-8 in the plan itself. The district has signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the other organizations in PSN promising to align its goals with the PSN plan.
As the school board acknowledged at its meeting, this is not an effort by a group of citizens to press a new priority on the district -- this is an effort to get the district to implement its own plan. At the school board meeting on Tuesday night every board member and the Superintendent (with the exception of Camille Townsend) acknowledged that P-8 is part of the district's own plan, that it is important, and that the district should do it. Several members expressed support for making it a focus goal for the 2011-2012 school year.
The remaining issue is timing, but it's a critical issue. P-8 calls for the district to "study, discuss, and implement" changes to reduce academic stress in the schools, and to apply those changes across all schools in the district. That is going to take time, and we're already late in getting started. There's no good reason to wait longer to begin studying options, our own experience and the experience of other communities, and to reach out to experts for help.
I proposed to the school board that the Superintendent appoint a task force of parents, district staff, teachers, and administrators to begin the study phase of P-8 now. The Superintendent appointed a similar task force two weeks ago to study gifted elementary math education. But the Board of Education decided not to appoint the task force now. Instead, the board responded by saying that it has already set its planning priorities for this year and P-8 isn’t in them. The Superintendent and the Board agreed that it wouldn’t be “fair” to change existing priorities or add new ones without engaging in a long, drawn out, planning process that can only happen on a rigid annual schedule.
Ordinarily this response might make sense, but this isn’t an ordinary situation. The premise of Project Safety Net, shared by the district, is that our kids are suffering a public health crisis. The report from the developmental assets survey that almost half of our high school students are vulnerable or at risk underlines that. There is no higher priority for the district than responding to this crisis. The work that the district is doing on other parts of Project Safety Net is valuable and important, but there is no reason that it cannot do more than one thing at once. And if there are competing priorities unrelated to student health and safety that make it impossible to fully implement our suicide prevention plan, the Board should identify them and explain exactly why they are more important.
Clearly, the school board members have lost sight of what is really at stake here. The Board of Education is placing a higher value on its own bureaucratic processes than it is on our children’s health and safety. P-8 is an integral part of the district's suicide prevention plan. Their job in a crisis is to force the organization to break out of its normal routines in order to effectively respond, not to bless inaction by pointing to a planning process. They can correct that by instructing the Superintendent to move forward now and implement all aspects of the suicide prevention plan, including P-8.
I encourage you to watch the video of the board meeting, to check my version of it and to form your own opinion. It’s linked at Web Link -- it’s under “E. Information Item” and it’s Project Safety Net, and you will see my name in the text above it. Many parents spoke in support of implementing P-8, and their testimony is well worth listening to, in addition to observing how the school board members chose to react. One of the most moving statements was by Paly parent Karen Kang but the sound is missing from the video. Her statement is quoted in the PAOnline story.
At the board meeting, Kevin Skelly once again questioned the link between academic stress and depression, mental and emotional health, and suicide. He said that it would “unfair” to link the suicides with anything about the environment at our high schools, including Gunn. With all due respect, we didn’t make those linkages, Project Safety Net did. I am part of a community-based coalition of parents, including parents who have lost children to suicide, who seek nothing less than the full implementation of the district’s own suicide prevention plan.
Much of this debate, at least in the various Palo Alto Online threads, has consisted of caricatures of positions -- for example, that we're calling the immediate implementation of radical changes to Palo Alto's schools (as opposed to beginning a process of study, discussion, and implementation, as called for in P-8), or that we blame all the problems of our children on the schools (as opposed to acknowledging that the schools have a real but not all-encompassing role in their lives). I think that we would all benefit from trying to be clearer about what it is that is actually at stake. I also think that this process would benefit from less anonymity and more accountability on all sides, and I encourage everyone involved to follow mine and Michele's example in this regard.
Finally, I invite those of you who share our concerns to join our Facebook group, We Can Do Better Palo Alto, at Web Link.
Posted by Me Too, a resident of the Midtown neighborhood, on Mar 27, 2011 at 11:31 pm
@Dauber - "this is not a dispute with PAUSD and its educators" - did you not last month write an editorial titled "Palo Alto school district needs new leadership?" Hard to see how that is not a dispute with the district. If you are backing off that position, great - I did not see it repeated above (though it was a pretty long post, maybe I missed it). Have you changed your view?
I don't agree with your views on suicide and school stress, though I think you are sincere and may have useful ideas to contribute. But when you start throwing bombs like editorials saying "fire the superintendent" it is hard to focus on any practical suggestions you might have.
Posted by Ken Dauber, a resident of the Barron Park neighborhood, on Mar 28, 2011 at 12:04 am
I think that fully implementing the Project Safety Net plan is a crucial part of the Superintendent's job. I'm hopeful that Kevin Skelly and the school board will come to that conclusion as well. Based on the Superintendent's public statements, including those at the March 22 school board meeting, he is skeptical about the connections among student stress, depression, anxiety, and mental and physical health. You seem to share his skepticism, so we may have to agree to disagree.
Posted by Me Too, a resident of the Midtown neighborhood, on Mar 28, 2011 at 12:50 am
@Dauber - yes, I am skeptical, but plenty of good ideas come from people who disagree with me on things, so that's fine. But I think your pressure tactic of an inflammatory editorial has been distracting and divisive. Building a constituency for change is a good thing, but I disagree with way you have gone about it.
Posted by EcoMama, a resident of the Community Center neighborhood, on Mar 28, 2011 at 9:03 am
The schools' highest priority is instruction of our children, not implementing Project Safety Net's plan. Look, I agree wholeheartedly that a focus on connectedness, stress reduction, and related things are a great idea -- but the highest priority? No. The schools could make it a higher priority by devoting more resources to this issue, though, as teachers need to teach -- what about more counselors, more support for a TEAM approach, etc.? Moreover, as a parent who agrees that the school district is doing a lot but could do better, I still ask what the Daubers or any program (PSN, Advocates for Youth, the Daubers' group, whatever) is doing to work with PARENTS, who also need to change their way of thinking about their kids' education and lives in high school. So many parents say "that's what high school is -- stressful and busy" -- and don't really double-click on what that might mean for their kids' health or realize that they're being dismissive about very real problems in our community. Meanwhiile, this is the first time I've ever seen Ken Dauber write about "acknowledging that the schools have a real but not all-encompassing role in their lives." I support the pressure on the district to do more faster in dealing with stress and pressure and fostering connectedness, absolutely -- but, like "Me Too," I think the methodology is all wrong. Pointing a finger at the district and saying "do more" without pointing a finger at parents and saying "do better" is pointless. And where are the KIDS in all of this -- what do they want the schools to do differently? Responses on a survey are one thing; meaningful dialogue with those most impacted is quite another. We can all do better here.
Posted by Concerned Parent, a resident of the Barron Park neighborhood, on Mar 28, 2011 at 9:04 am
Since the day we lost our first child, I have been reading the articles on line,the postings are great and it shows that people are concerned about the deaths or our children, and that they care. However few days pass by and no more talking about, the district does the same. They do not want to hear the "S" word, and they do not want to discuss it either. And this is wrong, Skell should NOT be afraid of discussing suicides because that is the only to prevent them, or at least try. Skelly likes to pretend that we are out of the danger zone, and as much as I would like this to be true, it is not. We have been very close to loose more children to suicide but when the attempts do not happen at the tracks no one get to hear about them. We all know that mental illness exist and our children are not exempt from getting them, even when they are very smart kids. Therefore it makes sense to relief the stress and create a better environment at the schools for our students. And just like our high schools are in the top 100 in academic achievement, they should also be in the top 100 when it comes to the social and emotional needs of our kids. We need to focus in the whole child, not just the academic achievement.
We could do something like
Have the same bell that Paly Has
Same Starting time that Pally has adopted
Have the same counseling system that Pay has,
Make the PE less military type
open another high school so teacher get to know the students better and meet their needs.
These are just some examples, there is a lot more that the district can do to support and meet the social and emotional needs of our students. Only then our district will be giving our students an excellent education, as they claim they are.
Posted by daniel, a resident of the Embarcadero Oaks/Leland neighborhood, on Mar 28, 2011 at 9:38 am
EcoMama, I'm not sure why you claim that the parents are just demanding that the district "do more" but they themselves do nothing. Parents have asked the district for quite some time to change the heavy homework load, to reform the draconian grading system (in which an outstanding assignment is docked points because of "wrong" fonts, page format and failure to underline a paragraph, not assign homework on breaks so students get to rest and relax, etc. The district hasn't implemented any of the stress relieving measures suggested and it's pretty obvious that the district leadership doesn't think there's anything fundamentally wrong with the status-quo. As a parent I can encourage my kids, and I do, to relax, not take it so seriously, get more rest, that they can be very successful even if they don't get into an elite college, etc, but if they do that, with the enormous pressure teachers and peers alike, they would fall behind and they are very scared about that. It would be like asking someone to walk during an Olympic race while everybody else is running as hard as they can. The playing field should be level for everybody. The change must come from the district first(and the chances of that happening under the current superintendent and school board are zero in my opinion), then the tiger parents will have to adjust their expectations.
Posted by ParentOfThree, a member of the Palo Alto High School community, on Mar 28, 2011 at 10:00 am
It is important to look at dealing with stress in our community. I do want to point out, though, that Project Safety Net’s P-8, the "plan" everyone is referring to, says “study and discuss,” in reference to a long list of suggestions, before it says implement—I understand that as instructions to “figure out from this list which of the many possible moves would be effective and select those for implementation”. So "adopting the plan" doesn't mean implement every single suggestion. I commend the board for realizing this, and not just implementing the suggestions blindly, but taking the time to really consider the implications of certain steps. Some items turn out, after study and discussion, to be red herrings, that would actually increase stress rather than decrease stress on our students, or, while they might make sense in a theoretical environment, don't work for our community.
Posted by Michele Dauber, a resident of the Barron Park neighborhood, on Mar 28, 2011 at 10:17 am
You are right that the document says "study, discuss, and implement." All we are seeking at this time is a start on the element of "study." We agree with you that there is insufficient information to know which interventions will be the best and most effective. Unfortunately it is not the case that the board "realiz[es] this, and [is] not just implementing the suggestions blindly, but taking the time to really consider the implications of certain steps." The Board has done nothing thus far to address this item in a focused, evidence-based, sustained way. All we want at this time is the formation of a committee with a public district-level commitment to move forward in a real process next year. Yet the board refused to do even that.
This is going to take time and involve a lot of stakeholder engagement and expert advice. The sooner we get started, the sooner we get started.
Posted by former Paly parent, a member of the Palo Alto High School community, on Mar 28, 2011 at 10:28 am
AP courses are only one part of the equation, but let's look at them.
There are different aspects of the AP "situation." There are certain nuances not known in advance by some parents and others are heavily advised and so do a lot of planning. What APs are taken. How many. What is the motivation. What is the norm in the past decade, in the past five years HERE. It is no longer left to the student to figure out - sad.
It appears initially a pleasant idea for each set of parents to advise their teen a supposed appropriate number of AP courses to take, suited exactly to them. Know the limits and interests of your teen. But we don't exist in a vacuum.
What the other guy does WILL affect you, and not in the sense one might think, in terms of personal choice, but rather it will be a stronger effect in that many of these others will have tutoring, support to make an abnormally great number of AP courses happen. It ISN'T done naturally, in the normal course of the educational process. I am absolutely aware of teens who took certain APs for status, competitive reasons, not because they were interested in the subject, but they were ok with it because their parents paid for them to be prepped and required them to take these course, so it wasn't such a risk and they could try to get an edge over their peers. With a regular student who does not have this money, or whose parents choose not to do this prepping, THAT kid will indeed be overloaded timewise and likely have great stress. They are at a competitive advantage.
Also, once upon a time, the kid selected AP(s) that matched his or her personal interests and talents. That was GREAT! No more. It is now a college admissions game, with little distinction among courses. I am saddened parents and students usually plan for APs with college apps in mind rather than selecting subjects for learning and subjects the student is inclined to and wishes to explore. There are also students taking AP language courses where they have a very strong background, native family speakers, outside school in the language and therefore they can throw in another AP this way.
@A parent who supports the schools remarks that parents should limit their kids if it would be impossible for them. First of all, it's obviously difficult to say upfront what would be impossible for any kid.
Therefore, a reasonable structure from the SCHOOL makes sense.
As you know, students compete against their peers for college admission offers. So if certain Tiger Moms require their kids to do a ridiculous number of APs, paying for tutoring in advance so the course is easier when they take it for a grade, then even if another parent decides to advise her kid to take "only two" then you know very well the NORM is set at the ridiculous number and the kid who has been "limited" will appear at a disadvantage for college admissions. An example of why it is necessary for the administration to step in.
It ISN'T a difference, most of the time, of sheer intelligence, as some would portray. Oh, you're just stupid, that's why you can't hack taking 7 APs. It is rather Tiger Mom-managed students who are becoming more prevalent, it's about planning in any possible way to "beat" the other guy at school -- its, sadly, a game.
Posted by Feet Voting, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood, on Mar 28, 2011 at 11:22 am
If our schools were not meeting the needs of most with all their APs, homework, tests, etc we would be seeing enrollment slip. But it isn’t slipping. Enrollment grew something like 10% just this last year alone, didn’t it?
PAUSD enrollment is increasing dramatically because our staff, teachers and parents have built a system that works for a very large number of our students, albeit perhaps not all.
Without people fleeing from but with people instead flocking to our schools, we can be certain that lots right is happening here despite Palo Alto Weekly headlines and editorials (written by the same people) to the contrary.
Posted by daniel, a resident of the Embarcadero Oaks/Leland neighborhood, on Mar 28, 2011 at 11:26 am
I'd like to add to the above post. The kids of tiger parents often start getting tutoring as toddlers. When other kids use school breaks to travel abroad, go to summer camps, visit family, go camping, do volunteer work or just relax and be kids, the tiger babies spend their breaks attending vigorous summer school programs and continue to receive academically intense tutoring. This puts other kids at great disadvantage vis-a-vis college admission. The playing field has been completely skewered by the tiger parents. Wonderfully intelligent kids who are also well rounded and worldly are seeing their chances for admission into an elite college diminish to almost zero. That's why the calls for parents (that is non-tiger ones) to "take responsibility" and not demand change from the district leadership are so hypocritical.
Posted by What about the PTA?, a member of the Walter Hays School community, on Mar 28, 2011 at 11:32 am
To Ecomama: I'm sorry, I don't really understand your point. No one can ask the district to do better without also asking parents? Why not? The PTA is involved in doing education on academic stress, at least it was a few years ago when I had a high school student. The PTA's goals certainly include parent education. It would be great for the PTA to do a series on stress to take advantage of all of this attention. I think Katie Shade and Micaela Presti are co-VPs for health and safety at the Palo Alto PTA Council, they would probably be excited to do something like this.
Posted by ParentOfThree, a member of the Palo Alto High School community, on Mar 28, 2011 at 12:20 pm
@Michele Dauber: Thanks for clarifying what you're looking for, as I read this thread it seemed like we were all jumping straight to "implement," when my understanding is that the board hasn't even had a chance to vote on the "study" part, although I do know that discussions about particular elements of the plan are well underway, you're right in saying it's not all being addressed in a cohesive, organized fashion. I support your call for an evidence-based approach to take all the great ideas that are being tossed out there and look at them in a organized fashion, and figure out which ones are best for our schools and our kids and which ones actually don't make sense in this community. What I don't want to see is a call to "implement P-8" being taken not "let's get going on figuring out what parts of this make sense" but rather as an "implement the entire list right now," because I know there are tradeoffs to various suggestions that may mean implementing them could do more harm than good. And none of us want that.
Posted by 2 cents, a resident of the Fairmeadow neighborhood, on Mar 28, 2011 at 12:36 pm
Unfortunately, unless one has had at least the experience of a child sinking into a very deep depression with a risk of suicide, I am not sure that there is much comprehension of what COULD help.
I know in our case, there is no doubt some of it is personality/wiring. Nothing can help that except love, counseling, teaching , and this was all done and still is.
But some of it is extrinsic:
1) Better school to parent communication so that parents can be told ASAP, within the first 2 weeks, when a normally "on top of things" kids starts to fail or not hand in work. This needs "on top of it" teachers who mark in-line at least by Friday every week, and parents who check the grades. In some kids, this is the only and biggest clue that something is very wrong. Months later can be too late.
2) A way for our kids to take a real rest and recharge their batteries, time for them to reconnect with family in some cases, reconnect with "non-work" relationships. I liked MIT's post: Finals before winter break. This seems to be a no brainer, a way to give a real break. But unfortunately it is fraught with "can't do" here.
3) I have no idea how to counteract this, perhaps this is something that CAN be done through school meetings, counselors, newspapers, facebooks, etc. But somehow this idea that it is an all or fail world, an MIT/IVY league/UC Berkeley/Stanford or you are a loser world, MUST stop!! It is insane! As adults, we know what has happened to what was once the "only" fine schools, the crap shoot that happens now at them as they toss the dice to admit folks on the basis of many things outside of students' aptitude and school scores. We understand that a very small percent of applicants are accepted and that the acceptance rate has nothing to do with the quality of those "rejected". We know that the level of applicants is much higher in number AND ability than even one generation ago. We also know that former "second tier" schools are now becoming top tier schools as the "rejects" go and shine at those schools ( think of what has happened to UC Davis!!)
So, how do we get our kids to see that there are many ways to "succeed" in this modern world, and not get dejected at "rejections" from some of these schools? I remember my child, now at college and quite happy, absolutely convinced that because his top 2 choices "rejected" him that he was "no good". This did not come from our family, it came from his friends/culture at Gunn.
Posted by A parent who supports the Palo Alto schools and their leadership, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood, on Mar 28, 2011 at 12:46 pm
To all the parents above who complain about AP classes:
The schools ALREADY LIMIT AP classes to 2 per student per session. (If you want more you have to ask for an exception and obtain it).
What more do you want? A total elimination of AP classes?
Second, here we go again. The suicides are again used to argue whatever people want to argue about the schools.
I will repeat the point that I have made:
As long as the suicides and their root causes are not the subject of a detailed public discussion (or at least the publication of a detailed report of the NEUTRAL inquiry that is supposed to happen one of these years), it is intellectually dishonest to pin the suicides on the schools, and to demand all changes right away.
Posted by Morning edition, a resident of the Barron Park neighborhood, on Mar 28, 2011 at 12:56 pm
"The playing field has been completely skewered by the tiger parents. Wonderfully intelligent kids who are also well rounded and worldly are seeing their chances for admission into an elite college diminish to almost zero. "
That's simply not true. NPR had a piece on the Amherst admission process: Web Link
Of note, specific test scores and grades were not the final criteria as to whether someone got accepted or not. The piece actually made it sound like the "well rounded and worldly" are actually in a better position for acceptance.
I think the overemphasis by parents and kids on grades and test scores is because those are easily quantifiable, while in reality the college admission process is much more subjective.
Posted by parent, a resident of the Community Center neighborhood, on Mar 28, 2011 at 1:02 pm
former Paly parent,
Absolutely agree, it's not just sheer intelligence, it's about pressure
Take Science, you can't take the highest of the 3 Science lanes in 9th grade unless you have a teacher recommendation from 8th grade and your Math placement is the highest,
This means that budding scientists have to be made in 6th grade (by getting As in 6th grade Math), to qualify fo pre_algebra in 7th, then make As in Algebra in 8th grade, to get into the highest Math lane for 9th, to get into the highest Science.
If the schools would allow anyone to get into any of the classes, and let students get an A or an F, at their own risk, it would be more fair than these pre-determined lanes where everyone must get an A
Posted by A parent who supports the Palo Alto schools and its leadership, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood, on Mar 28, 2011 at 1:03 pm
BTW, I think everybody should relax a bit.
1) If you are so intent on your kid going to an Ivy League, you do have a bit of a problem as a parent. Ivy League diplomas are not a sine qua non condition to have a successful, fulfilling, happy life. I know of unemployed young Ivy League graduates... So they don't even guarantee a job any longer.
2) More and more universities are looking BEYOND the numbers and the APs etc. This includes the UCs. My oldest child went to one of the 6 tops UCs (graduated in 2009 and found a very good job right away). He knew someone who worked in the admissions office of the campus and who told him that "Tiger Mom" kids can be detected rather easily by looking at the application and that they are definitely not favored. The universities are waking up to the game and they are now starting to work around it. It definitely is the case of the UCs. And I must say my (caucasian) child was a perfect example of this: not a stellar GPA by any means (above 3 but below 4), and absolutely none of the usual resume padding activities (school clubs etc.). A child who definitely did HIS own thing (he chose, not his parents)... He was admitted to the UC, did very well there, and is doing very well now.
Parents, help your kids not succumb to the lure of the traditional path for admission, and then trust them! They ARE smart and will do the right things.
But please, please, don't limit APs and academic opportunities. My same child whom I mentioned above did take AP classes (a reasonable number) because he wanted to, and took them only in areas he was interested in... and ended up with better grades in his AP classes than in his "lower" level classes, because he was more engaged (and still got sleep).
Relax!! Trust your kids and help them see what is wrong with the game as it is played. They will be fine!
Posted by EcoMama, a resident of the Community Center neighborhood, on Mar 28, 2011 at 1:23 pm
@Daniel: You've hit the nail on the head over our fundamental disagreement. You say "start with the district." I say "start with the parents" -- for the district can make a host of changes, but if parental engagement, expectations, pressures, etc. don't change, what will it matter? The district allows for more than 2 APs with parental consent. The district can change that rule -- and/or parents can stop consenting. Which comes first, the chicken or the egg? Ultimately, kids belong to parents forever, but only to the district for 13 years. Parents still have to deal with kids' social and emotional health (or lack thereof) in college. If a kid is suffering there (like the girl at Advocates for Youth who is on leave from Cornell), are we really going to point the finger all the way back to the PAUSD? Or should everyone, parents and girl included, have made some different decisions?
@What about the PTA: I'm not saying either the District or the parents -- I'm staying that BOTH need to be involved in making sustaining change -- and so do the kids! I just feel like so many of these comments are asking so much of the District, but who's working with parents on change, too? You're right, maybe the PTAs will do something -- and this is where community groups like PSN, Advocates for Youth, and places like Parents Place and Stanford need to step up, too. Someone needs to connect with parents about kids' stressors -- not just the schools. Like I said to Daniel, the schools can make all of the changes in the world, but, if parents aren't on board, they won't work. It take a village, not just a school district, to make change.
Personally, I think "feet voting" has it right -- people are STILL coming here for our schools, despite all of this hoopla. So ... we can still work to soften the culture, yes, but maybe, just maybe, we have it as close to "right" as anyone else ... but it can still get better, yes, of course.
Posted by Please be patient, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood, on Mar 28, 2011 at 1:41 pm
You had me going along with you until you said: "Finals before winter break. This seems to be a no brainer, a way to give a real break. But unfortunately it is fraught with 'can't do' here."
As Parent of Three points out, Project Safety Net’s P-8 says “study and discuss” first. Implicit in that is that there may be unintended consequences to some seemingly innocuous “solutions” and those must be identified and factored in before a decision to implement (or not) is made.
Perhaps you missed all the board meetings and PA Online posts about pre-break finals last year and earlier this (as well as all the surveys that were done) so I'll briefly review that what you call a "no brainer" is complicated by lots of things (shortened summers, uneven semesters, etc) and opposed by a number TBD of high school students, many who waited for hours at school board meetings for their 3 minutes to share their concern that pre-break finals would actually make their stress worse because it just moves the stress smack dab on top of other huge stressors (college aps) instead of spreading it out.
Lots of kids also told the board, contrary to the “conventional wisdom” posted by parents in these forums, that their winter break was “real,” thank you. So until we can quantify how much time kids spent breaking v. working we don’t even know if kids working over break is a problem in our district. Acting without that information could make stress worse without anything to be gained by it. We should know more once PAUSD survey results are released.
Until then, we do know that not many PAUSD high schoolers think pre-break finals is the change that they want to see made. What do 5 times as many kids point to instead? Homework.
Posted by Crescent Park Dad, a resident of the Crescent Park neighborhood, on Mar 28, 2011 at 1:43 pm
Noted above - the idea of extending TEAM approach to beyond Freshman. A good idea except that when students hit 10-12 grades, they really diversify their academic choices --- so you don't have a core set of teachers and subjects as the kids get older.
It works really well at the Middle Schools. The kids all have the same level of Social Studies, English, Science. The math classes, although different lanes are still comprised of kids from one team.
However in HS - kids go off and take on all sorts of different classes (especially in English and Math). The only real progression that everyone follows is History. After that it's a mish mash.
Posted by A parent who support the schools and their leadership, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood, on Mar 28, 2011 at 1:45 pm
@ parent / Community Center
Things are not pre-determined from 6th grade. While there are lanes, there are also paths to change lanes along the way.
It may require some extra work, such as taking a class during summer school, but it can be done.
Example: A kid I knew, who was in Algebra 1 (or 1A, I don't recall exactly which), so one of the lower lanes, in 9th grade. That kid went on to take AP Calculus AB, and then went on to a very good university (University of Chicago I believe).
Posted by Crescent Park Dad, a resident of the Crescent Park neighborhood, on Mar 28, 2011 at 1:48 pm
"PE less military like"....
Have you seen a PE class lately? "Country club" are the first 2 words that come to mind.
Let's start with that the classes are co-ed now. Then, the HS kids only have to take PE for 4 semesters. You can take dance instead of PE. If you're on a sports team, you don't have to attend PE during that sport's season.
It is not boot camp out there, hardly...of course the idea *is* to get exercise. Just saying.
Posted by daniel, a resident of the Embarcadero Oaks/Leland neighborhood, on Mar 28, 2011 at 1:53 pm
The superintendent could have instructed the teachers to not assign any homework for the winter and spring breaks. He could have instructed teachers to grade assignments based on the student level of comprehension and understanding of the subject's core principles, instead of deducting points on outstanding work due to font type and page format. This would have gone a long way toward reducing stress. He hasn't done that.
Posted by EcoMama, a resident of the Community Center neighborhood, on Mar 28, 2011 at 2:50 pm
@Daniel: When I asked about homework during breaks, a school board member told me that it is already school policy not to assign homework over breaks. Teachers violating that policy is an occasional problem, but, according to HS'ers I know, they're using breaks for catch-up, not for new work (and the ones I asked seem to be glad of the time to catch up, not angry that they're using some break time to do it). So I don't think it's the Super not having a policy -- he and the Board aren't enforcing it. Extending a "reading period" before exams might lessen the burdent to "catch up" during breaks. That's something that could be done with finals after winter break if the calendar is not going to change, and I think that the school board seemed willing to consider that.
Posted by parent, a resident of the Community Center neighborhood, on Mar 28, 2011 at 3:13 pm
"All qualified students are admitted to the high lane classes"
To qualify, you must have A's, and teacher recommendations, so it's is like an "application" process that starts in 6th grade, and must be maintained all year and throughout a PAUSD "career"
you might not call this competition but I think it is, because along with the geniuses are career students with summer pumping and so forth
the high lanes are not the problem, it's the culture that comes with the combination of having a gynormous percentage of kids in the high lanes, lanes that are rigid and not accessible if you didn't start in 6th grade, all having to maintain A's, and all being considered "smarter" than the rest
it' not about just smarter or sheer intelligence, it's also about pressure to perform and sheer calculation
the schools facilitate this atmosphere with the institutionalized academic caste system that allows people to pay this game like a drum
not sure that it means anything should change, but it's a greedy atmosphere, and everybody knows it, which is why posters suggest that we stay above it all, and grow up, college will be fine
Posted by A parent who supports the Palo Alto schools and their leadership, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood, on Mar 28, 2011 at 3:19 pm
As I mentioned above, you can change lanes. And you don't need all As to proceed, but generally a grade of B- or better in the current class to go on to the corresponding next class in the lane. It's all spelled out in the course catalogs.
Posted by daniel, a resident of the Embarcadero Oaks/Leland neighborhood, on Mar 28, 2011 at 3:51 pm
"the high lanes are not the problem, it's the culture that comes with the combination of having a ginormous percentage of kids in the high lanes, lanes that are rigid and not accessible if you didn't start in 6th grade, all having to maintain A's, and all being considered "smarter" than the rest
it' not about just smarter or sheer intelligence, it's also about pressure to perform and sheer calculation
the schools facilitate this atmosphere with the institutionalized academic caste system that allows people to play this game like a drum"
And this in a nutshell is the crux of the problem. Those who are aware of the educational caste system in India should realize that we have come fairly close to emulating it here in Palo Alto. It's clear that non-tiger parents can't change that, but the school board and superintendent can.
Posted by former Paly parent, a member of the Palo Alto High School community, on Mar 28, 2011 at 4:04 pm
The race starts early here.
Above average middle school student with parent-paid math tutoring = top math lane in middle school (and onwards, preferably skipping a year, if parent makes it happen); above average middle school student without parent-paid tutoring = MAYBE top math lane, maybe not.
Pressured tutoring can be stressful, take time, but it gives certain students an advantage. Can't outlaw it, but it makes for an uneven playing field, and you could require it to be acknowledged on transcript. That's my suggestion.
From what I am hearing (from various parts of the country) sounds like this has been another challenging yr for admissions, still some plum ones pending...
Ummm...currently, like right now, I wonder how many get into U Chicago w/o BC Calculus AP....not certain AB Calc would be enough in current times.
With APs, it's not that they are too much or bad, it's that they are being abused. The game playing is a shame in an educational setting. If the high schools decided to limit APs to a reasonable number, then that will be stated to the colleges as part of the high school description. Otherwise, it's a wide open door, with scheming to take the max humanly possible.
Posted by former Paly parent, a member of the Palo Alto High School community, on Mar 28, 2011 at 4:08 pm
Why is this district still growing?
- high test scores attract a certain type of parents
- large portion of the REST of CA public schools are dreadful or underfunded
Sometimes it is incredible with the costs around here to compare school facilities with (some)other states...multipurpose gyms, nice cafeterias...art facilities. There HAVE been major expenditures (both donated and district money)towards fine outdoor sports facilities - we all have different priorities, the new lacrosse field at Paly is the last thing I would have prioritized when there are other glaring needs (hint: theatre facility)
Posted by parent , a resident of the Community Center neighborhood, on Mar 28, 2011 at 6:29 pm
"As I mentioned above, you can change lanes. And you don't need all As to proceed, but generally a grade of B- or better in the current class to go on to the corresponding next class in the lane. It's all spelled out in the course catalogs."
You are misinformed about the transition from middle school, which is critical for High School placements, so you are passing along incorrect information
You cannot have a B- to advance to Pre-Algebra in 7th grade
You cannot have a B- to advance to Algebra in 8th grade
You cannot have a B- in Algebra to advance to Geom/Alg 2H and both are required to take Bio 1AC
You have to have A's in Math and Science in middle school to qualify for the highest lanes in 9th grade, and once you are there, you have to maintain the right grades
the B- you are referring to is once you are in 10th grade, and by then it's not changing lanes, just what courses you're eligible for and the direction is South, if you are not mostly an A student since 6th grade
Posted by Crescent Park Dad, a resident of the Crescent Park neighborhood, on Mar 28, 2011 at 7:28 pm
@ former Paly parent: re: game playing
The PAUSD schools already limit AP's to 2 per semester. As mentioned above, there is an exception process, but must involve the parent.
This is a free society and a free market. If someone wants to do the private tutor route to get a leg up - that is their decision (no, we did not do this). We used a tutor for our oldest because of struggles in math (not AP).
There will never be an even playing field. Don't forget that kids are not only competing between themselves at Paly or Gunn, they are competing between campuses, local high-level public schools, as well as privates like Menlo, SHP, Casti.
The universities are well-versed into the advantages and disadvantages that are present between each school.
People also have to remember that uni admissions go far beyond gpa, test scores, activities, etc. Almost all of the schools are impacted these days - so it matters as to what major your child is interested in. Case in point, my oldest niece had 4+ gpa and excellent test scores - but did not get into UCLA, USC, Duke. Admitted to Davis early admission, Cal Poly honors, UCSB honors. She wanted a business major and selected SB. Her sister, a senior this year, had almost the exact same gpa and test scores, etc. However, she wants to major in chemical engineering - she got into UCLA, SB, SD, Duke & Wake. It's all about the major and how many other kids are looking at the same field...
Posted by Joanna, a resident of Los Altos Hills, on Mar 28, 2011 at 10:09 pm
Isn't the main issue with AP classes that they get an extra point on their grade point average, so there is a real competition to take more of them to increase the likelihood of a higher than 4.0 grade point average. If the high schools stopped giving this extra point, I bet the competition to take the most AP classes would go way down.
Posted by parents, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood, on Mar 28, 2011 at 10:25 pm
And we wonder why kids are stressed. Look at the quibbling among the adults as to what it takes to be in the highest lane. Why do you even know this? Shouldn't it be up to your kids? It's all a competition among the parents that trickles down to the kids. It is not about the learning, it's about the game to get into the best school. Who picked out the school? Parents?
Posted by Crescent Park Dad, a resident of the Crescent Park neighborhood, on Mar 28, 2011 at 10:34 pm
AP gpa standard is not the HS problem - it's the colleges who recognize the 5pt scale. If the colleges refuse to adjust gpa's for AP level work, then it becomes only a recognition for doing college level classwork.
Also @ former Paly parent - PAUSD/Paly is going to build a new 400-500 seat theater, as well as remodel/update Haymarket as part of the parcel tax program. The theaters will get their work started after the new Media Arts building is completed.
You can view the new theater drawings via the Paly.net website. It will be beautiful! Also - please note it takes a very long time to plan and develop such major building projects like a theater. Installing a new field doesn't require as much time/work/approval cycles.
Posted by JT, a resident of the Crescent Park neighborhood, on Mar 29, 2011 at 2:16 am
I suspect this comment will be removed by the moderator, but here goes. Schools are supposed to prepare kids for real life. And with real life comes stress. Sometimes a great deal of stress, which feels unbearable at times. This effort appears to be nothing less than coddling by overprotective parents and the school employees who indirectly work for those parents. [Portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]
Posted by Thankful Parent, a resident of the Palo Verde neighborhood, on Mar 29, 2011 at 9:08 am
To Palo Alto On Line,
I see that Janet Dickens posted something, and it was removed. Please do not try to silence parents. She has been very brave to post with her real name unlike many of us. She could add a lot to this discussion as she is a experienced parent.
Posted by former Paly parent, a member of the Palo Alto High School community, on Mar 29, 2011 at 11:12 am
When it comes to HS and MS there was such a turnover of administrators and some teachers, that experiences/practices do change. My knowledge of college and HS is pretty current, though I do not have a student in the district this yr. If you had a kid graduate 10 yrs ago, things have changed.
So if one is limited to two AP courses per year now, (though I imagine some seek waivers on that unless there has been a radical change) which sounds manageable depending on OTHER courses (there used to be a math course that was not AP but was exceptionally demanding and high value and challenging to receive a high grade); that is a change because I know students who took up to 7, 9 over 4 years, and normally APs weren't historically intended for frosh/soph yrs and some schools don't permit them to be taken in those yrs, have pre-requisites, etc.
Again, the bar gets set by what others are doing, and if they take a subject they took last summer (Chem AP, advanced language, for example), they will have a major advantage.
However, there is an ongoing Tiger Mom phenomenon leading to a contrived competitive atmosphere beyond what would be normally expected in this high achieving area.
When a teen has been prepped/tutored in advance in an ongoing fashion, it is much easier/less timeconsuming for him/her to earn an A. Grades DO count on college apps - some kids keep constant track.
The issue IS about how it ISN'T a level playing field. If a kid was tutored one semester for one course, that wouldn't matter. That falls into the category some are posting about. Rather, we are talking about an outside SYSTEM of constant support/prepping/essay editing and so on that adds up to thousands of dollars/hundreds of hours of time to basically ENSURE A's while other kids are students learning material in PAUSD courses, doing their own work at that very time, listening to the teacher at the white board, and striving for A's, too. I hve previously suggested that students/parents must sign acknowledgement, then specify details, and this be noted on transcript.
I am puzzled by the ancillary talk about B minus grades, to my recollection we don't know anyone who focused on B minuses, for purposes of this discussion concerning competitive college admissions, we are speaking of students aiming for A's in highest lanes/toughest courses. That is the place where gaming the system occurs, not someone who is not math-oriented earning a B in an another lane.
Posted by observer, a member of the Gunn High School community, on Mar 29, 2011 at 11:35 am
Okay Stanford. Here is your chance to show some leadership, genius and humanity. Faculty members from Law, Psychology, Education and Med School are calling for stress reduction. How will you adjust your admissions to encourage high school students to be healthy mentally, physically and emotionally? We challenge you to come up with an algorithm, something Stanford is famous for, which gets around tutoring, AP overload and GPA padding, and extracurricular padding but still gets the kind of incoming freshman class you desire. No fair blaming high school counselors, start times, or calendars.
Posted by Michele Dauber, a resident of the Barron Park neighborhood, on Mar 29, 2011 at 12:03 pm
I agree that the college admissions is an issue that deserves serious attention. I am certainly not defending Stanford's or any other school's admissions process. I would never want to deny that colleges and universities, and the College Board, play an important role in sponsoring and profiting from the arms race. Colleges have also responded poorly to rising demand in general. I hope that it is clear that just because I teach at an elite school I am not a defender of elite admissions processes.
This post has some things in common with some others that react to our message by pointing to other sources of stress: parents, other teens, colleges, etc. Causation is not a 0-1 matter usually. There can be multiple causes for things. The question is what are the things you can change, and what is the most cost-effective manner of bringing that change about? Which is easier: to change 50 colleges, 10,000 parents, or one school board?
Furthermore, we don't need to reinvent the wheel since other high schools have bravely faced this problem before us and have made reforms that actually mattered in the stress experienced by their students. The question for me isn't: "am I changing everything everywhere that could possibly be a cause of student stress?" but "am I trying to change the levels of stress experienced by many PAUSD high school students in the most effective and efficient manner possible?" Even if I could convince Stanford to change its frosh admissions policy, how efficient would that be as a means to help our students now?
Of the choices for change open to me, affecting what happens at the schools seems like the best option because it (1) is a democratic institution that responds to public desire so if a sufficient number of parents and citizens want less stressful schools we can have them; (2) structural changes at school will eventually change the hearts and minds of parents and students and teachers; and (3) structural changes at schools have been shown to have a positive impact on some college admissions policies. Changes to school structure have the potential to radiate downward to parents and upwards to colleges. So I think it is an efficient approach to the problem confronting us.
This does not mean that others who want to put their energy into parent education or lobbying the College Board or Harvard are wasting their time. Those efforts matter and are good and important too. More than one thing can be causing the problem and more than one solution can be helpful in solving it.
Posted by daniel, a resident of the Embarcadero Oaks/Leland neighborhood, on Mar 29, 2011 at 12:35 pm
"Schools are supposed to prepare kids for real life. And with real life comes stress."
True, but 15-16-17 year olds are still children and many of them are just not ready to withstand the kind of pressure the high schools in this particular town puts on kids at that stage of their life. That's why the military doesn't accept 14 year olds and why we don't allow toddlers and kindergartners to lift heavy weights, climb Everest or compete in the triathlon-they are just not ready, mentally or physically.
Posted by EcoMama, a resident of the Community Center neighborhood, on Mar 29, 2011 at 3:01 pm
Michele, your last post swayed me more than anything else you and Ken have written. You make many great and sound points, and I'm beginning to see the logic in the pressure on the PAUSD. My concern is that parents won't follow suit but, rather, will wreck the change. In my experience living in Palo Alto, it's the parents who are too intense. As soon as we could elect a change-making, stress-reducing school board, they'd be replaced with those promising to put Palo Alto back on the map. It matters more that our schools are tops than that our kids are healthy. So I'm starting to appreciate that you keep speaking up ... maybe someday, others will start to listen, too.
Posted by Michele and Ken Dauber, a resident of the Barron Park neighborhood, on Mar 29, 2011 at 10:25 pm
For anyone (parents, students, teachers) interested in the issue of academic stress reduction, we are helping to start a new organization of Palo Alto citizens working on this issue. It is called We Can Do Better Palo Alto. Here is the description from our Facebook page:
We Can Do Better Palo Alto is a group of parents, students, former students, and concerned citizens of Palo Alto California. We are concerned about rising rates of depression and anxiety among our high school student population. Many of us have had that concern for many years as the result of our experiences, or those of our friends, with PAUSD. Others of us came to that concern as a result of the highly publicized suicide cluster afflicting our community in 2009-11.
We are concerned about the role of academic stress as a root cause of depression, anxiety, ulcers, panic attacks, heart palpitations, sleeplessness eating disorders, general unhappiness, and other physical, mental, and emotional illnesses and problems in our community. We are currently working collectively to pressure the Palo Alto Board of Education and the administration of PAUSD to implement Section P-8 of the Project Safety Net suicide prevention plan, which requires the district to "study, discuss, and implement" across the board strategies to reduce academic stress.
We would like the Board of Education to convene a committee to examine the issue of academic stress in a focused, systematic way as required by P-8. This committee should have as its charge to study the issue, and make a set of evidence-based recommendations for concrete actions to lower academic stress in PAUSD high schools. These recommendations can then be discussed in the community, and those that are most appropriate can be implemented.
We reject the false choice between lowering stress and high achievement. We believe that lower stress and achievement go hand in hand. Think about it. Do you do your best work in a stressed-out pressure cooker? Of course not. Neither do our kids. Join us. Together we can make Palo Alto a national model for stress reduction and a return to sanity in secondary education.
Due to the nature of FB groups it can be hard to find all the relevant documents but there are Weekly articles, videos of statement to the Board of Ed, and other materials. Click "ask to join." Anyone can join.
Posted by Parent of 2 kids, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood, on Mar 30, 2011 at 11:25 pm
There are many opinions here from people who are strongly supportive of the school administrators, and I am sure you have had a very positive experience at PAUSD. I know I have had such an experience, and for those teachers and administrators, I am really grateful. They did wonders for one of my children.
However, I also have a second child who has had a distinctly different experience - with a large majority of poor teachers, overloaded busy work, an unresponsive principal, and HUGE stress. Not bad parenting; not overloaded with extracurricular activities, Not a bad kid. Really, just a bad experience directly related to the classroom.
My point is that the random luck of the draw may have graced you with wonderful teachers, as one of our kids has; but do not deny the other parents who have suffered immensely, watching their kid pushed to the brink of emotional breakdown. These experiences are very real, and very difficult.
We have two kids, and one has had a great time, one has not. It is myopic to believe that simply because your experience was great, that this generalizes to all other parents in the district. The district has a responsibility to ALL the kids, and they are not meeting that responsibility, by their own admission.
Kudos to the Daubers for their thoughtful responses on this board, and for advocating for the students who were not so lucky.
Ask the kids, they can tell you. Research has shown that kids really do know the difference in teacher quality - ask them what their opinion is, and the source of their stress. The 'Assets' survey should not be ignored - what is going on in the classroom is a large source of stress. And it is easily resolved, without sacrificing quality of education. Our student who had good teachers did not have any lower standards of education; to the contrary - they had better teachers, learned more (not less) and did it more easily, with less homework.
High pressure does not equate to high success. Quite the opposite.
Our experience has shown exactly that higher homework load correlates to a poorer classroom experience, and less learning.
Posted by Maeve Grogan, a resident of the Community Center neighborhood, on Mar 31, 2011 at 12:15 pm
OK, second post, maybe this one will be accepted since my hot temper has cooled a bit.
I think our experiences echo the above post and it was an emotionally difficult year. I think the middle school our child attends is excellent for students who are choosing AP classes in high school. Students who have a different pace of learning, like creatives, who require downtime to reflect and draw inspiration, do not do well with the two, three, four hour homework load. Home time is their private time to work on a reasonable amount of homework AND their focused interests. It is distressing for someone who wants time to daydream and imagine to be doing hours of desk work. It is not that they can't do it or are not bright, it is just not an optimal way for them to use their time. The actual classroom teaching this year has been excellent. The after school homework time is excessive for a student who is not in training for AP classes. I think the school district can offer excellent learning for multiple types of students, not just the AP focused ones. Another track, from middle school thru high school, that offers less homework, would be one simple option that I think would make a world of a difference in stress reduction for some of the students, and maybe the teachers too. (As a parent, I would be fine if my children choose that track and worried less, at age 11, where they are going to college, even with the terror of them not going to our alma mater). Yes, this would make grading a bit more difficult, but I'm sure we could come up with an algorithm, this is Palo Alto after all :-) And I understand the people who are afraid of losing our high API, funding and house values if our test scores drop, but what if this actually creates a better school and community climate in the long run and people move here because our schools are not known for just one thing, high pressure academics, but because they are inclusive for all types of students. Competition and stress are healthy parts of life, but different people have different thresholds for both. Understanding that can really take the edge off neurosis later in life) Not everyone in public school is after an AP track. Students can be just as dedicated to their own interests and private studies after school - these studies require blocks of free time and to that creative student, are as valuable as an AP class homework load is to that AP student. I think we need to let both types of students excel, and offer varied after school work loads. (of course, this will also bring up that some teachers test on work that is learned in homework time, not class time. I think that should be included as optional extra work, and if the teacher can't meet the standards through daily lessons, then the standards or teacher should be addressed.) Thanks to the Daubers for bringing this discussion up!
Posted by batak, a member of the Jordan Middle School community, on Mar 31, 2011 at 1:53 pm
Have no experience with the high schools yet, but Jordan has been worse than mediocre. Rock bottom teachers, especially in sixth and choir, masses of pointless homework, no classroom control, tons of wasted class time.
I'm guessing that scores are high here because parents are focused on education, not because the schools are much good.
The one bright spot has been the principal's forceful response to fighting, bullying, stealing, etc.
Posted by Jordan Parent, a member of the Jordan Middle School community, on Mar 31, 2011 at 2:31 pm
Remember that this is a public school. Are your expectations too high? Not every teacher is fantastic (nor are they fantastic at all private schools). Sounds like a rough year for you. Hopefully, next year your child will have better teachers. I have two children who have progressed through Jordan and while there are some duds, there are also many good/fantastic teachers. You might consider sending your child to Harker.
Agree that Milliken and his staff have been exceptional in their anti-bullying.
Posted by Matt, a resident of the Adobe-Meadows neighborhood, on Apr 5, 2011 at 12:03 pm
The most schools can do is provide and promote adequate mental health services and hope that vulnerable students are mature enough to take advantage of them. First and foremost, schools are for learning. That's what they do. By and large it seems like the parents are just looking for someone to blame.
Posted by allison, a resident of the Fairmeadow neighborhood, on Aug 5, 2011 at 10:53 pm
I wonder why people don't seem to place any blame for this pressure-cooker situation on colleges? They are the ones encouraging applicants to pile on the APs and tell students they need leadership positions in extracurricular activities.