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Voters get first peek at school-board hopefuls

Original post made on Sep 25, 2007

All six candidates for Palo Alto school board kicked off the race Monday evening by presenting their platforms at Duveneck Elementary School.

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Comments (23)

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Posted by Parent
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 25, 2007 at 12:35 pm

Any comments from those there who were not quoted above?

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Posted by Parent
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 25, 2007 at 1:12 pm

Liu seems to be completely out of touch with the needs of the other half of kids that actually do (really, honest, trust us) live in Palo Alto! Astonishing!

"Taking a completely different tack, Liu said he didn't perceive an achievement problem. The 20 to 30 percent was measured largely by fluctuations in the performance of individual students and not a cause for concern, he said. Rather, he focused on the district's high-quality education. "When my daughter was in Paly, she told me, 'Dad, don't worry about (it). As long as I'm in Paly, we're the best,'" he said.

This is a seriously scary statement from someone hoping to be in charge of policy for our school district (which maybe he wasn't aware - actually needs to serve the needs of all students, not just the high achievers.)

Has the guy ever even talked to one of our high school principals? Has he ever read a SIP report or been to a board meeting? His bizarre head in the sand belief that the achievement gap is non-existent (because of his daughter's results?) is completely consistent with his wacky idea that harmony in PAUSD would be restored by vastly enlarging the MI committment.

And on the other end of the spectrum, Ezran thinks a vocational school is a viable third option in PAUSD? How many 8th grader parents are throwing in the towel on college before the kid even shows up to 9th grade? Do we have a lot of those out there?

Cmon, we need people with solutions that bring all our kids up to excellence, not blissful ignorance of the bottom 1/3, or just resignation to bottom 1/3 achievement. We need to identify them, then help them. Our principals at last year's SIP reviews said we are already doing a good job of indentifying them - we now just need to put programs in place that help them. We are stagnating on the achievement gap problem.

Camille said the staff is studying closing the achievement gap... Still. Well yes, except for the massive year and a half long (and counting) diversion into MI - at her fervent and inexplicable urging.

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Posted by I was there too
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 25, 2007 at 1:35 pm

The biggest disappointment to me was that some of the questions asked were really softball questions. "Why do you want to be on the school board?" Who cares! We have big, serious, long-reaching important issues facing our district. The candidates need to be asked hard, controversial questions -- repeatedly, if necessary, until answers are given and commitments are made.

With a dozen more events planned, this is an unprecedented opportunity for the PAUSD community. I hope that more members of the online community show up to these events and ask the smart questions that are so often posted here.

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Posted by RWE
a resident of South of Midtown
on Sep 25, 2007 at 1:43 pm

Camille Townsend:
"Hurt feelings could be healed by focusing on shared aspirations, Townsend said.

"I like the phrase 'building barns.' You find common goals and come together on that," she said."

This is the kind of SPIN that I expected from Townsend.

I liked Bated-Caswell's measured retort:
"But board members should be held concretely accountable to improve communications, ...They should pick the most important recommendations from the summer report on district relations by outside consulting firm Geoff Ball and Associates, then monitor their own progress,..."

THAT'S the kind of answer that Towsend shuold be giving. The "building barns" comment is just like Townsend; it sounds like the catchword phrases she used in her last campaign.

She was full of those phrases then, and when she got to the BOE, everyone wondered which person had been elected, the one making all the silky promises, or the one who seemed determined to impose personal agendas, and ignore important community feedback.

Expect more of the same this time around.

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Posted by what about Melissa
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 25, 2007 at 1:49 pm

And how did Melissa help build communication about MI? Did she encourage a study session to really have the PTA council look at the issues from all sides, see how to heal the divisiveness that was brewing right under her nose?

No, she ducked. And then put in some personal opinions to a allegedly neutral organization without giving others the opportunity to talk about it.

Great example she set.

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Posted by board watcher
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 25, 2007 at 1:56 pm

Melissa was not on the Board. She was not responsible for building consensus on MI, which is a ridiculous demand anyway given the way the whole debate unraveled. Camille, on the other hand, essentially said "I don't care about consensus. This program is just so darned neat, to heck with the people who object."

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Posted by Parent
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 25, 2007 at 2:11 pm

I'm sort of wondering why we would think the PTA would have been tasked with 'healing' a problem that Camille had the biggest hand in creating in the first place? Where was Camille in trying to heal the community? Was she sitting in any board meetings asking the staff any relevent questions about the huge holes in the feasibilty study? Was she asking where the money came from? Was she disclosing her husbands employment in a Stanford Think Tank that consults on China education matters? Was she voting to put the strategic planning process high on the staff priority list in place of low priority MI? Was she acklowledging the 1000+ community signatures against MI? Was she returning any emails?

[Portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]
And why would the PTA have any more responsibility for this than say, the superintendent, the assistant superintendent, the sitting BOE voting on the issue, the staff advisors, the principals, the teachers...

[Portion removed by Palo Alto Onlines staff.]
I have every confidence that a community wide strategic planning process will be Melissa's first priority, where it was non-existent on Camille's radar.

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Posted by OhlonePar
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Sep 25, 2007 at 2:18 pm

Hmmm, well this tends to confirm my earlier impressions. I like that Hauser and Klausner put forth concrete suggestions for the high-school overcrowding issue. Baten Caswell gets props for (gasp) actually suggesting we try to avert an overcrowding issue down the road.

Ezran continues to sound like a nice guy who's not quite in touch--vocational high schools might be great in, say, Oakland, but Palo Alto? I just don't think there's that kind of demand. And, given the necessity for college degrees to get into the job market (even though many jobs don't require college-level education), it's doing those kids no service. Underachievement is relative. I don't get the impression that underachievers at Paly are illiterate, say, just not at the level, for whatever reason, of competing at the top level. And I'll guarantee you some of those underachievers are bright, but having issues for whatever reason.

Liu's comment is just strange. How does he *know* that the gap is simply fluctuating scores by individual students. Who let out that info out? But, frankly, I think it goes with what seems to be his main interest--making the top students excel even more. Again, I wonder if he understands that the district's mission is to educate all the students in the district, not just the best and the brightest.

As for Camille--she doesn't begin to acknowledge that her high-handed behavior during the MI debate--where she dismissed the petition opposing the program (with far more signatures than the one supporting it) with a wave of her hand and a "who cares?" Yes, guys, literally--I was there, I saw it. [Portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]

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Posted by par
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 25, 2007 at 2:24 pm

[Post removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]

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Posted by Parent
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 25, 2007 at 2:26 pm

[Post removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]

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Posted by RWE
a resident of South of Midtown
on Sep 25, 2007 at 2:49 pm

About Mr. Liu: I don't think that he's ready for prime time, and I don't know that his position on Madnarin education is as important as he thinks it is, as China is far from becoming the next world economic power than the popular press seems to think. Sound diligence on China's future point to some very troubling issues that will probably keep that country internally focused for quite some time.

That said, leaning Mandarin for love of the language, or to learn about another culture, would be a valuable exercise - but again, don't expect that it will somehow lead to massive job opportunities 10 years hence. (btw, I'm neutral on MI)

That said, Liu does have some interesting things to say about "moral education", in terms of helping kids inculcate a sense of responsibility towards others. He also has some important things to say about physical education, which is in serious need of imporvement in our youth culture (including information about general nutrition, and mental strategies for coping with stress)

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Posted by OhlonePar
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Sep 25, 2007 at 5:39 pm


Not ready for prime time is a good way to put it. I think Liu is thinking about things and cares, but he doesn't quite know enough to make the best decisions. I do agree with him on phys. ed. As for moral education, well, I consider that my job as a parent, though if Liu is talking about school-specific things, like plagiarism, I'd say there's a lot to be said for that.


The MI/PACE parents I know of are all American citizens. I do know non-American citizens who support MI, but none of the ones I know of have been active, though they could have signed a petition. I think pretty much all the kids are US citizens. I think, actually, it's pretty hard to dive into local politics if you're a non-citizen. I think it's fairly baffling.

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Posted by Concerned Parent
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Sep 25, 2007 at 8:56 pm

Someone put web links on another thread regarding the MI Program.

One link is from the United Kingdom, and it shows the grant application for the MI program in PAUSD. When you click on the story link, it makes people think that it was a big hit over here.

The site looks like the web site is from SCOTLAND or ENGLAND, but it could be managed from China.

Would someone please look at this and comment.

(OhlonePar, are you up for a comment?) - smile.

I have made hard copies to send to PAUSD of this propaganda.

Web Link

Web Link

and finally, This one from the Confucius Institute

Web Link

I think that the MI group intended to drag us into this for the long haul from day 1.

"Oh, what a tangled web we weave when we practice to deceive".

Parents considering the MI program should check these links.

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Posted by vote watcher
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 25, 2007 at 9:39 pm

[Post removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]

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Posted by RWE
a resident of South of Midtown
on Sep 25, 2007 at 10:44 pm

vote watcher, with due respect, I would be careful about the way you state your concern. What you say may be true, but if I were ethnic Chinese it wouldn't be a far stretch from misconstruing your concern.

We're all citizens here, all from someplace else; that's what makes this region, and our city, such a wonderful place. There is real strength in all this diversity, if you have the leadership qualities present to tap into it.

If I'm Norwegian, and Norway is a powerhouse economy (which it is, for its size, but not "world class"), then I might be pushing for Norwegian to be taught in our schools )"NI" :)

People are rightfully proud of their ethnic heritage,

I don't think there's anything wrong with pushing for more foreign language instruction. I'm neutral on whether we have MI, with a slight preference for universal foreign language instruction for all students.

That said, the PROCESS that we engaged in the faux pax known as MI was abominable, and directly contributed to by BOE members who had a firm opinion one day, and the next, another, and then, another. Camille Townsend was front and center through most of that mess, and others. Without stating the obvious, I hope to see three newly minted BOE members this November.

Dana Tom has two years to show that he really meant what he said when he promised to improve communicattions as his campaign mantra (what an ironic platform, given what has transpired these last months). He's a good person, who does care for the community (as does Camille Townsend). But that often isn't enough.

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Posted by vote watcher
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 26, 2007 at 9:29 am

there is nothing wrong with being proud of one's heritage, actually eithnic diversity is what makes Palo Alto and the Bay Area unique and a great place to live. Having said that, where is the language immersion going to end, lets not forget that India has the second largest population in the world and is an economic powerhouse as well as China, so are we going to have a Hindi Immersion (HI) program as well? How about the largest ethinic group in Palo Alto, are they going to demand their own language immersion program? Ethnic pride is personal and is encouraged but it should not impact others. Language immersion programs impact everyone in a school district, and with the budget crisis, the need to raise money to fix the schools, and pay for services that makes Palo Alto schools coveted by others, we do not have the extra money to spend on projects like MI.

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Posted by Parent
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 26, 2007 at 11:17 am

It is true to say that we are all global citizens and we are all proud of our heritage. There is nothing to say that one heritage is more important than any other. However, the point of citizenship is much more to do with voting rights than ethnicity in terms of an election. There may be some parents who are very interested in getting their kids into an immersion program, if one were started, who may actively try to create one. But, if we are talking about getting some of the more actively pro MI candidates elected onto the board this fall, then some of these families, although very interested in MI, may not be able to vote their candidate in.

This is nothing to do with citizenship values, just voting values.

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Posted by Parent
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 26, 2007 at 11:30 am

How many of the candidates were at last night's board meeting? And how many of them took part by speaking on the agenda items at public forum or open forum?

This would be a good indication of how serious they are on the various items and what their position is.

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Posted by RWE
a resident of South of Midtown
on Sep 26, 2007 at 12:07 pm

And thus my point; we are STILL talking about the latent residue that came out of the messy MI process. What a darned shame! And, what a *waste* of public passion! Thus, the call for accountability.

Sometimes, controversy is necessary in public institutions, to force a point that needs attention. Sometimes, it's not an overall bad thing to raise ire if there are structural problems present within an institution that noboby has been willing to solve.

That wasn't the case with MI, and it wasn't the case with what transpired with the Management Team fiasco.

As far as more immersion programs (again, I'm neutral on MI), I see a real danger in losing the "neighborhood" quality of our neighborhood schools. "Language immersion creep" is something that our teachers and site administrators are very concerned about, because it tends to change the nature of parent involvment at various schools).

We need to have a BOE that is capable of *intuiting* what the downstream effects of its decisions are, *beyond** the obvious benefits of the programs that it chooses to implement. This is currently NOT being done.

How can we improve this situation? Our BOE **MUST** find ways to solicit - and pay very close attention to - the input of teachers and site administrators. Kevin Skelly can be a big help in moving this along.

If we start paying more attention to the earned wisdom of the people who teach our kids - day in and day out, our school system will be far stronger. PUblic inputs are also a key component of governance, but so far we have sacrificed MANY classroom efficiencies and endured near-chaos (from an institutional stanpoint) because we are not tapping into organizational knowledge the way the best organizations in our culture (public and private) have learned. We have a way to go, but we *can* accomplish this with the right leadership.

I'm suggesting that we solicit the opininions of our best teachers and site administrators and *take them seriously* - in fact, going so far as to have their imput on important strategic and tactical changes considered by the BOE to have *formal* input *required* by our teaching and site administrative staff.

The BOE cannot continue to operate in a vacuum, minus the KEY imputs described, above - not if we want to sustain continued excellence. We have been bleeding our school district of institutional good will for too long.

This district - and too many others - have been operating too long in a closed-loop administrative model. It's an antiquated model that does NOT serve well, and is NOT adaptive, especially given the nature of change in our world. We have to do something about that. The first thing we can do is know what's going on in the place where our kids are educated, and from the people who do the educating - in the classroom, face-to-face, every day.

To suggest, as some BOE members have (as Camille Townsend has, for instance), that teacher and site administrator inputs are unnecessary, is an egregious error in judgment, and shows a lack of enlightened institutional wisdom. I would have serious doubts about voting for any candidate that agrees with Ms. Townsend on this point.

PAUSD is a "whole" thing. We need to be working toward generating a "whole" that is larger than the sum of its parts. Ee'd best start by *learning* about the PAUSD operation from the *bottom-up*, instead of trying to impose 1950's style management and demeanor into the 21st century, as our last supervisor did.

Study after study after study in the private and public sectors, performed by organizational change, organizational efficiency, and knowledge management experts support what is said above. We need to inculcate the institutional wisdom of those who are "on the ground", and doing the work.

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Posted by keepmindsopen!
a resident of Midtown
on Sep 26, 2007 at 5:10 pm

Regarding "Parent's" comments on tech schools: "And on the other end of the spectrum, Ezran thinks a vocational school is a viable third option in PAUSD? How many 8th grader parents are throwing in the towel on college before the kid even shows up to 9th grade? Do we have a lot of those out there?" etc. etc.

Why not?! Why would going to a tech school be considered throwing in the towel? Voc-tech schools aren't the same as they were 30 years ago! It's not about 'shop' -- and so what if a tech school were! These schools can be a great opportunity for the right kind of student who is not thriving in a pressure cooker environment like Paly or Gunn.

Check out this school as an example: Web Link and Web Link

Most of the districts that send kids to this school are high-powered districts similar to PAUSD with 90+% of their seniors attending 4 year colleges.

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Posted by anonymous
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 27, 2007 at 6:16 pm

Many teens need help in school these days, help to stay motivated to stay in school. Across the country there are teens who just aren't making it through because the system is failing them and they are failing the system. Palo Alto is not immune to this.Our school system at the high school level has nothing that I know of, to offer teens who might do well in a non-traditional setting, be it vocational, tech, performing arts, etc. We need to bridge the gap of the acheiver and the non-acheiver by offering something that motivates the failing student to stay in school and learn. If that is ever agreed on, we need a group of people strong enough to implement such a school in our city. Wouldn't be great if Palo Alto did something we all felt proud of, something that would help everyone.

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Posted by curious
a resident of Midtown
on Sep 28, 2007 at 2:23 pm

I missed the meeting at Escondido last night about the Board Forum

Anyone go? I don't see any reports anywhere. Can you write ( be fair!) a fair description of your assessment of what happened, who said what?

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Posted by Sophomore in Mr. Sabagg's class
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Nov 5, 2007 at 5:43 pm

I am a Palo Alto High School student reaserching the election for a current events project. Personally I beleive that Klausner's idea of staggered days and adding a zero, an eight, and a nine period would be a feasable solution to the overenrollment plan. Not only would this reduce class sizes, but would also give teachers and students more breaks between classes (preperatory periods) to do work, study or socialize. Even though the school day might be longer, we would have the same amount of classes and for those who want to overacheive, would open options of eight nine or ten class schedules. As a student I feel this option, although may not be popular with some students is a reasonable solution to an imperative problem.

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