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on Nov 27, 2012
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Interesting selection: Amy Kacher of Time to thrive vs. Susan Usman of WCDBPA.
Not surprisingly "Time to thrive" is representing elementary school kids and "WCDBPA" representing high-school kids.
It's not that simple. Many high school parents disagree with WCDBPA and the new school calendar. Our family would like to revert back to the old one or revamp everything so that finals are not before winter break. We'll have a senior next year.
This "issue" seems almost more like a religious war, than a scheduling exercise. Is Palo Alto the only school district around that is having this sort of problem? Or is it that a few people have been able to hijack the attention of the School Board?
Did this topic come up in the various public meet-the-candidate fora? Shouldn't this matter have been given an airing then?
The new school calendar is the best thing that ever happened. We are going to enjoy our actual school free winter break this year. HOORAY!
What is "WCDBPA"?
Agree with "Wondering": this has already circled.
And elementary school parents should have no voice in this matter; they have no idea of the academic rigor in high school.
[Portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]
My feeling is that attendance and participation in meetings, committees and board sessions BEFORE these items are decided upon is the correct way to be 'involved' in our community. All parents of school age children, all citizens who enjoy parks (or whatever issues are on the docket) need to read up, keep aware, observe timelines, community discussions and such BEFORE the votes are cast BY THOSE WE VOTED INTO PLACE TO MAKE GOOD DECISIONS ON OUR BEHALF.
I am frustrated and quite frankly ANNOYED and FED UP with those people, such as Ms. Kacher and her crew who show up AFTER decisions have been made and detract hours and hours of attention and energy away from the current agenda items and future study items in front of our city and our school board. I am devestated that we are AGAIN spending time on the calendar... when Ms Kacher's chief complaint against the calendar change is vacation plans. Come ON. Seriously?
I dearly hope that her 'voice' will be heard with a cautious ear of those on the school board. Very cautious.
Please remember that the calendar affects all families, and half of the district's children are in elementary schools.
I agree with the rant of "not saying". The first person listed as a member of the "elementary parents" is highly opinionated and is not open to ideas. She is at our school and I know her and her children. She posts endlessly on the Duveneck and Crescent Park Yahoo Groups, clearly not caring what others think of her. [Portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]
[Post removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]
@ wondering, not saying, etc.
Well, the calendar issue was settled several times before with the decision to keep the old calendar. But then supporters of calendar change came back and came back and asked to revisit the decision.
So, what is different now? Why should one side have been allowed to demand revisiting the decisions and the other side not?
@ a question
WCDBPA = We Can Do Better Palo Alto, a very vocal and controversial group of Palo Alto residents who have very firm views on what the schools should be like and push and push for their agenda no matter what. They want less homework, less stress at school but more stringent graduation criteria for example... To me they don't make sense.
It started yesterday and we have four weeks of nothing short of hell. There will be no social activities for our senior, no holiday fun, parties, family gatherings, religious activities as work is being piled on.
I am not sure about a stress free break. There will be time off, but nothing to do. Perhaps there will be a good movie that teens may like coming out on Christmas Day. Otherwise we are looking at a dismally boring Christmas to back to school day - at least as far as our Paly senior is saying. Doesn't even want to put up any decorations. It is that bad!
Our kids have graduated, so I don't necessarily have a horse in this race. But before everyone gets up in arms on whether or not there should be a review and/or a decision to change, go back or stick with the calendar --- part of the decision to change was an agreement to establish a review committee. So let's get over that point.
The current calendar format is in place for the current and 2013-14 academic years. The committee's role is to review the results and make a recommendation to PAUSD for the academic years after 2013-14.
Do I favor the current set up? No. I don't buy into the "stress over holiday break" claims. Mainly because our kids never cracked a book during Xmas break and they did marvelously in school all the same.
As I have in the past, I had proposed an alternative to the old and new calendars. I'll state it once more, using the 2012-13 calendar dates. This calendar would preserve the summer months for family vacations/camps/etc., especially August, while only pushing the last day of school a week later in June than what we normally experienced under the previous calendar format (e.g., 2011-12).
Start after Labor Day.
First day of school Wed., 9/5/2012
Veterans Day holiday 11/12/2012
Thanksgiving Break 11/19-23 (all week)
Last day of school before Winter Break 12/21/2012
School resumes 1/7/2013
MLK Day 1/21/2013
HS Final Exams 1/30-2/1/2013
2nd Semester starts 2/4/2013
Lincoln/Washington Weekend 2/15-18/2012
Spring Break 4/8-12/2012
Memorial Day 5/27/2013
HS Final Exams 6/12-14/2013
Last Day of School 6/20/2013
I'm sure someone may find some faults with this proposal. However I would propose that at least this calendar suggestion give everyone an idea of how you can avoid finals after winter break and still maintain a summer (August) for family vacations.
Good luck to everyone on the committee. I hope they reach an agreement that everyone will be happy with (or at least as much as possible!).
? Parent of Senior? The partying is supposed to occur during Winter Break, not prior. Take a family vacation during Winter Break instead of sounding like a child complaining there is "nothing to do".
The School Board consulted school districts comparable to here which have finals before Winter Break and there are no complaints. We have to give this calendar a try for a few years before revisiting.
I don't think Susan Usman is actually an active WCDBPA member, at least I have never seen her identified that way. I'm not a member (employed by PAUSD so I don't join groups) but my impression of We Can Do Better is that they are concerned about stress in the schools, and advocated for the new calendar to get a work-free break. That makes sense to me but I don't want to get into a religious war over it.
Time to Thrive strikes me as really strident, but that's also just my opinion. I doubt this committee is going to do much besides rehearse the same old arguments. The real problem with it is too many parents, not enough teachers, since teachers are the ones who have to figure out alternatives that will work and sell them to other teachers at their schools.
Sorry, I should have made it clear - this was my senior's comments yesterday not mine.
If I have to live with this over the next four weeks, it will not be good. If my senior is right about what they are told to expect for the next four weeks, then we will all be miserable and stressed.
btw we are not talking about what we as a family can arrange to do, but what society is expecting, and yes, you cannot go to a carol service, work party, etc. when they are all before Christmas not afterwards!
@Parent of Senior
Not to be a downer, but this is also what your senior will be doing next year, and arguably for three more years after that. Most universities have finals before Winter Break (regardless of when that starts--depends on quarter or semester system). People keep on flailing angrily about having finals before break for seniors, but everyone seems to forget that their senior will be doing exactly the same thing next year.
The time before Christmas was, and is, always busy. School projects and tests were constantly happening, regardless of whether it was a final or not (and by senior year in particular, many classes are cumulative--languages, math, sciences etc. all still rely on prior material even if they didn't explicitly test it). However, there is not a light at the end of the tunnel, whereas before winter break was more of a dull glow at the end of the tunnel.
But wait! What about the college apps? UCs and CSUs are due on Friday. Common App and other schools do vary with some (but NOT all) due in December, but the point is that by Friday, most students should be done with the "trickier" parts. The essays are done and the letters of rec have been requested; you do have to alter them slightly for each school, but the HARD work is done. From now on it is mostly just busy work that could have been done much earlier.
What this system does is punish procrastination and teach time management, which is important to learn before going off the following few years.
The calendar affects all families including elementary families! The new calendar leaves us two weeks without any camps or childcare in June! We feel kids should have stress free breaks too! The Board needs to enforce the no homework and no assignments due policy it has in place. Our kids will also be in high school someday and we do care.
Start school after Labor Day, have finals at end of January or early February. End later in June. The ap classes already assign work over the summer and breaks, so if you take ap classes you know this in advance.
Don't say that more than half the district doesn't matter!
"... at least I have never seen her identified that way."
Yeah, funny that. You'd hope those applying for this committee would disclose all their affiliations so that it was a balanced group.
This calendar issue clearly illustrates how we are one of the most dysfunctional school district/parent communities around. While we all seem to disagree on what calendar works best for our parochial interests, we have to agree that our process has been, and continues to be, a train wreck.
Other communities are able to make decisions and move on. Good decisions. Bad decisions. I'm sure there's a healthy mix. We just churn and churn, pissing each other off along the way.
Perhaps we should look to these other examples and focus on how to improve our process on this and other issues.
@ Crescent Park Dad
Well, as I understand it, the issue with finishing the school year as late as you advocate is that AP exams are in May and AP teachers want to be able to teach their year's worth of AP material before the end of the school year. I do believe that's the hang up with your very good suggestion.
My kids have taken AP classes. Personally, I wish those exam took place in June rather than May... but we can't change this.
I should have said teachers want to finish the year's worth of AP material before the AP test.
If the idea was to decrease stress, it may have backfired. I didn't have a strong opinion about the calendar beforehand, but with a senior this yr, I have to say I think it's increased the stress.
I have an older child who went thru on the old calendar. While my 2 kids are very different, the early start and push to get everything done before winter break seems to make both school and college applications more hectic.
Granted, if you're applying to UC/CSU only, yes, you're done this Friday. But a lot of kids apply to private schools and many of them have time-consuming supplements. With the early start this yr, there was limited time to work on apps before school started and now with homework and projects, limited time to work on essays now.
I'm not sure what kids used to study over winter break. Certainly neither of mine, nor any of their friends. Lastly, it can be hard to make a direct comparison to other local schools since they may structure their curriculum very differently.
I've spoken with folks at PAUSD about a calendar that would start after labor day, finals at end of January, school out later in June. They say this is impossible because athletes (evidently a large percentage in this town) have to be back for seasons mid-August. So if we delay the start of school but they have to be back for sports anyway, they lose a lot of their summer (out end of June, back early August) because the surrounding towns start their fall sports in August. If that weren't an issue, it seems this solution would be a really solid one.
@ elementary and interested
AP tests in May are another issue as I mentioned above.
As a parent of 2 high school kids - the high school sports/AP/college apps (senior year only and can/should be done by the end of November) should NOT dictate the calendar for the other 2/3's of the PAUSD students. Sports in particular should not even remotely influence our calendar. The high performing schools we have compared ourselves to in the past thru PiE ALL have finals in January and most of them start after Labor Day.
The kids affected by the sports/AP/college app issue represent less than 1/13th of our District.
@palo alto mom - your data about the PIE benchmark schools is true, but potentially misleading. Generally speaking, most schools in a region have similar calendars. So Wellesley starts after Labor Day, but so do poor performing neighbors Boston and Brockton. Scarsdale starts after Labor Day, but so do NYC and Yonkers. So I don't think you can conclude "high performing schools start after Labor Day" based on this evidence. It is more reasonable to conclude "most schools in a given area share the same calendar" - which in the case of San Mateo and Santa Clara counties means starting before Labor Day with finals before Christmas. While not really on point, it is worth pointing out that even Harvard has gone to this calender, shocking traditionalists by now have graduation in May instead of June (egads!).
I don't really think there is a right or wrong here, but we want to be careful drawing conclusions from those "benchmark" schools, which can be misleading as well as informative.
"The kids affected by the sports/AP/college app issue represent less than 1/13th of our District."
I would challenge this idea. Nearly every student takes at least one AP class their junior year, and AP foreign-languages can be taken sophomore year (a few people do this: 20ish, perhaps?). At Paly, almost 1 in 4 students is an athlete -- and I assume that athletes are present in high numbers in elementary school too. College apps affect nearly every senior -- so, in total, probably 1/2 of all high schoolers are affected severely by this issue and probably at least 1/4 or 1/5 of the middle schoolers. This puts it at a minimum of 2/13...
My personal opinion is no finals before break. I said this before they instituted the new calendar, and I stand by my beliefs now. I don't appreciate that the "trial" years are my junior and senior years: I guess I just got bad luck. Speaking as a student, my personal belief is that the "anti-stress" argument is BS but this is a point of contention.
To add to @True but...'s comment: Harvard has all but dropped the idea of final exams; maybe PAUSD should consider this:
I wish I had been more surprised that there are so few teachers on the committee. I am a teacher in the district and there is feeling among quite a few staff that being on the committee would be an exercise in frustration and futility. I commend and trust Debbie Whitson for her efforts and insights. I hope for the best and hope to be surprised that something productive, examined, and thoughtful comes out of the process.
@katie - it turns out the death of Harvard's final exams have been somewhat exaggerated.
Here's the list of the fall 2012 final exams - Web Link - I eyeballed it at around 250 scheduled finals (plus some takehomes I imagine).
Personally I always liked final exams - esp the "final" part ;-)
The tragedies a few years ago left people wondering how to reduce stress. Along came a few groups of people who saw that it might be an opening to get some consulting dollars or some notariety (sp) by advising the community on lowering stress. They had a laundry list, some school board members and administrators felt they needed to show they cared, so part of the laundry list was adopted without fully vetting the ideas on it, calendar being one of them. Stress from squishing material into a shortened semester, piling finals onto college apps and taking away catch-up time over Christmas was mentioned by high school parents but ignored. Those in charge were too anxious to show they cared about the stress levels in our students. Ironic and poorly thought out. It is backfiring at our house.
" is more reasonable to conclude "most schools in a given area share the same calendar" "
Interesting leap. I guess since all the schools around us are not basic aid we should revert from being a basic aid district.
It's more reasonable to conclude that a child's connectedness and hence emotional health and performance is related to the calendar used. Not from just adopting what all the school districts around them are doing.
As a parent trying to support a senior through this calendar almost every waking minute of every day for months on end now, with the worst - December finals and application deadlines -- still before us, here's my advice to parents of future seniors:
There is nothing you can do other than BRACE YOURSELVES for a stressful and demoralizing ride if your child wants to have the best chance at getting into the private college/university of his/her dreams.
According to my son, the only students who are faring well under this new calendar are:
- The recruited athletes who got college acceptances last spring or early this fall and only have one application to fill out (which doesn’t even need to be that good), and
- Students who are only applying to community college or CSUs (a 10 minute online form, no essays) or UCs (two essays done by November 30).
Don't let anyone fool you into thinking that once your child has his UC application done the rest is easy. THAT IS JUST NOT TRUE if your child wants to attend a stretch private college which, in my house, are the best matches for his interests. (There's a reason those colleges are so popular, and I don’t even mean the Ivies and Stanford. There are plenty of great colleges that are exceptionally difficult to get into, including UCs, which are among the hardest to get an offer from.)
Local authors who visited Paly told folks that seniors serious about getting into a private college or out-of-state university should treat applying to college as an AP class time-wise. That means freeing up at least 160 hours in fall semester on top of their regular life. That seems about right.
Problematic under any calendar, but made a million times worse under PAUSD’s calendar which took away ALL the free days kids had to spend on college applications. There was not one long weekend off between Labor and Veterans Day. And forget about Thanksgiving. Seniors didn’t travel to be with family. They were home working, preparing for finals and trying to get a college application or two out the door with their first real days off this semester.
Fortunately, his high school teachers didn’t assign homework over break so he was spared that additional stress. But if teachers could restrain themselves from giving homework assignments over Thanksgiving, it certainly makes me wonder why the board wouldn’t have tried the same thing and have no homework over Christmas break instead of adopting this crazy-making calendar.
Makes me wonder too if the PAUSD admins and Klausner, Tom and Mitchell, who pushed for and voted this calendar in, either 1. only cared about the athletes and public college kids, or 2. had no clue because their kids were recruited/ went to the California state colleges/universities.
This calendar has made my child’s successful and relatively peaceful career in PAUSD schools come to an abrupt halt. If I knew when he was 5 what I know now and had it to do over, I would have enrolled my son elsewhere where kids’ health and happiness – not social experiments – come first just to avoid what may prove to be irreversible fallout from this horrible, terrible semester.
Sorry to vent.
Note that, once upon a time, in Palo Alto, school started after Labor Day, 1st semester finals were in the second half of January, and school ended later in June, AP classes and sports notwithstanding.
I am very worried about my child who'll be a senior next year.
It's frustrating to me that the comments that many people make just get ignored.
As many posters have commented, this is NOT about elementary school parents on one side and high school parents on the other. There are MANY MANY (perhaps even most) high school parents who see no advantages to the new calendar, and have said so all along.
As a parent to both an elementary school child and two high schoolers (including a senior), there are NO advantages to this calendar for ANY of them at ANY time during the year (beginning school, Thanksgiving, Winter Break, ending school). The old calendar worked well. Each of them have now faced various problems this year caused by the new calendar.
In particular, as many of the folks have already commented, it is extremely hard on the seniors. Do NOT believe the people who concentrate on the UC process. Applying to the UCs is a very simple process -- only an online application, with two short essays (NO teacher advisor/counselor letter, no teacher letters of recommendation, no transcript, nothing specific to the school!). On the other hand, applying to private schools involves all of these things, plus interviews and individual supplements. (And private college deadlines are generally between December 31 and January 15.) It is clear that many of the folks commenting know nothing about the process for applying to a private college... and it is important to know that a large (and ever increasing number) of seniors do apply to these types of schools (we are no longer living in a world where the UCs dominate -- too many issues with the financials)
So, please remember to listen to those of us with high school kids who think that the new calendar INCREASES (not decreases) stress.
"Its not going well" hit on one of the big differences between PAUSD and our neighbors - our students apply to a LOT more private schools than most of the neighboring Districts which makes the college application process take infinitely more time. Combine that with the fact that our classes are often either more rigorous or just give more homework (that is feedback from college counselors and tutors that work with kids in neighboring Districts and ours, not just my opinion).
To those people who comment that colleges have finals before Winter Break - that is absolutely true. But colleges students are usually taking 3-5 classes, not 7. They don't have extracurricular activities needed for their "resume". They are seldom playing a sport that takes 20-25 hours a week in practice. Most college kids have classes, homework and free time.
@it's not going well--
Whoever told you that UC/CSU applications take ten minutes was incredibly mistaken. There are fewer short answer questions (and, in the case of CSU, fewer essays), but they do still take up a good hour or two. Furthermore, if you wish to apply to CSUs, you can't bundle the applications together--you have to apply to each one separately (unlike the UC).
@palo alto mom in particular--I'm so confused at why people think that this calendar won't work in Palo Alto when it works in almost every major university in the US as well as the Cupertino schools, Castilleja, St. Francis, Valley Christian, and Notre Dame--all of which are vigorous and produce similar college acceptances, all while appearing to cause fewer mental illnesses. So "our neighbors" who have similar aspirations to us are doing fine.
And to whoever mentioned that they should treat applying to college like an AP class with 160 hours of work in a semester--this would actually INCREASE the time kids have if they consider it an extra class, with the semester starting earlier in relation to when the applications are due.
Additionally to the people complaining about the lack of random days off: every other country in the world appears to be doing just fine (if not better) without these random holidays. In Europe they're unheard of.
If I hear one more complaint about summer camps, too, I'm going to scream. We have a capitalist society. If the YMCA, churches, and other organizations see a need for earlier summer camps, then they WILL provide them. The YMCA isn't stupid enough to run camps into September; they go with the school calendar. If the schools change, the camps will change to accomidate that need (and earn the $$$).
Historically, the district has tried other calendar experiments in the past (ski week anyone?) and not that long ago, our schools even started after Labor Day. Our school district plays around with the calendar all the time... this latest incarnation from the same group who brought us their previous pet projects. I can't explain it to anyone in my family (no one lives in CA) and they write it off as, only in CA.
While most college kids have finals before break, they are also not living at home or participating in family holiday activities. If I wanted to skip this memorable time of our lives, I would have sent my kids to boarding school.
The other PiE comparison schools (who start post-Labor Day) are subject to the same AP test dates as every school in the country. The argument that starting earlier is better for AP classes may be true... but certainly not necessary for student success.
The calendar committee should consider the national calendar of unchangeable dates (college boards, APs, etc.), college admissions (Feb 1, Jan 15, Jan 1, Nov 30), federal holidays, etc. They should also consider the state calendar for high school sports pre-season, playoffs, and finals. Setting a calendar that forces overlaps of these events is unfair to students.
As for our family, I don't expect my kids to attend a UC or CSU school. The funding situation in CA is too worrisome and I don't expect it to get any better for a long, long time. So, we are looking at regular admission, out of state and/or private school deadlines, which require loads of essays and fall right after the holidays.
The issue started over an average 4 hrs of homework during winter break and worry about finals 3 weeks after break was over. This issue affects ~3850 high school/12,500 students. College applications affect ~960 seniors/12,500. Let's not lose sight of that.
Castilleja? They didn't start until August 30th this year. Two weeks after PAUSD. They also dropped APs. So you're proposing we go back to the old calendar so we align with them?
You might also notice that they finish after PAUSD and their summer camp, used by a lot of Palo Altans, won't be available for those first few weeks.
I don't see why every point of view on this thread is not as valid as any other.
Those who have experienced senior year with finals in January and are now experiencing it again with finals in December are worth listening to.
My senior is reconciled to the fact that December will be hard work and very dull. Thanksgiving weekend was busy with typical Thanksgiving type events and also a little homework and a lot of college application prep. The fact that the doom and gloom set in late Sunday evening and has extended for the past couple of days shows that there is stress as the UC deadline approaches even though most of the work is done. We have other deadlines and some of that work is done, but not all. The fact that Christmas is approaching and there is no time to go shopping, or have fun is a very real concern to this normally outgoing teenager. The only bright spot so far is that the finals schedule seems to suit very well and there are plans afoot for the final Friday afternoon of school.
There isn't much I can do or say to a 17 year old who feels that the holidays this year might as well be skipped - perhaps in the style of the grinch or bah humbug to any suggestions of lightening up.
This senior does realise that next year college will be different and looks on this Christmas as the last Christmas of childhood. In some ways there is some regression back to more idyllic activities of Christmas past and this is just a stage in growing up. But it is a real concern nonetheless. This is for all our seniors the last December at home more than likely. I just hope that they can all find some pleasure in it too.
My son's point was that those applying to private colleges have to spend 160 + hours to get their college applications in compared to those who are just applying to CA publics that require 5 to 20 hours altogether max. 160 hours vs. 20 hours. It is easy to see which group of students get hurt.
Don't forget, Fall senior year is when many seniors still are prepping for and taking SAT/ACTs and researching colleges so they can decide which should be on their list. If they are serious about selecting the right college, that means more than looking up rankings in US News and checking out a page or two blurb in some college guidebook. Because it takes so long to fill out the applications and is so expensive (each application costs $70 or so to submit), they really need to know ahead of time whether they'd go there if accepted. Oh, and time is needed for scholarship applications and essays, interviews …
So, my son is right - UC/CSU-only applicants skate under this calendar compared to others.
There is just no time under this calendar to do the private college piece well without sacrificing something important - and I'd add essential - elsewhere unless, again, the student is a recruited athlete.
BTW - I have friends at Castilleja who HATE their calendar.
Someone mentioned that the new calendar works better for athletes. I will counter that argument as someone who has been a HS coach of a fall sport, and someone who played the same sport in HS as well as at a D1 school that runs on the quarter system (school starts late September).
I would much rather start classes later than earlier. Why? With school starting in September, I had 2-3 weeks of training (2x/day) without worrying about homework, etc. When school started, we had our base conditioning in place, our offensive and defensive schemes were fully implemented and we were ready for the season.
By the time school started, we were performing more by rote than by trying to learn team systems in conflict with our academic studies. The coaches would only need to make adjustments, not train and construct/implement the team format & program.
As for the AP argument - I agree with the others, we were certainly able to get our students to do very well on the AP tests under last year's calendar and/or the other calendars that started later in August or after Labor Day.
gee call me crazy but sounds like you all have your kids applying to way too many colleges
why not foucus on fewer and more realistic schools to apply to
i know i know you must apply to so many cause is so competatitive - lets keep things realistic and not stretch your apps too far - maybe they will have a higher acceptance rate
One thing that is important is that the new pre-break finals calendar came from Kevin Skelly. So if you don't like it, you should contact Dr. Skelly. Oddly some of the same people who get very angry at any criticism of the superintedent are also very angry about this calendar, proposed by...the superintendent! It's not required that you be consistent in your lunacy but it would help to get a scorecard.
The Time to Thrive people are just the ultimate expression of PAUSD parenthood -- my kid, my kid, my kid, my kid! What about me, what about my needs? Funny though that one of the leaders who has been the most vocal and predicting doom and gloom and disaster and catastrophe from this calendar for her kid her kid her kid -- well, her kid got into a sub-Ivy early decision and so is now able to relax over the break. Just kidding folks!
Susan Usman is NOT in WCDB. As far as I can tell, WCDB has NO representative on this committee which is entirely composed of people who oppose the calendar -- nice job, school board. But it doesn't matter, because Heidi Emberling is against the new calendar and against pre-break finals and Barb K is gone so you can kiss pre-break finals goodbye and this committee is just the icing on that cake. By the way, the poster above who insinuated that Denise Pope was just somehow a hired gun consultant in this for the money is wrong, lying, or both but who cares. The point is that the 100 craziest loudest people are going to shout down the rest of the town on pre-break finals. Congrats.
Unless I'm missing something, the district staff essentially chooses the members (perhaps ratified by the board), since the board cannot discuss other than in open session. So, if Observer above is correct about the result being a foregone conclusion (I have no idea), then that is a conclusion the district staff and superintendent were at least ok with, since they presumably could have gotten a different result if they chose to.
That seems consistent with the view that the staff, at the end of the day, isn't really that interested in this issue, and thinks either calendar would be fine. My guess is that, most of all, they would like to stop spending so much time and energy on it and focus on things that might move the needle for the kids.
"The point is that the 100 craziest loudest people are going to shout down the rest of the town on pre-break finals"
Actually, you would be well advised to realize that there may be a silent majority in this town that does not agree with the "100 craziest, loudest people" who rammed this pre-break final schedule through after it had already been rejected at least twice.
IMHO WCDBPA and their sympathizers do not represent a majority of parents in this town. After all, people did not vote for their leader in November, did they?
I fully support the new calendar and finals before Winter Break. I don't have time to go to board meeting b/c I work full time and feel there are very vocal parents hijacking this discussion. I didn't apply to colleges that had finals AFTER Christmas (such as Harvard at the time) because I knew it would stress me out. It is better to just do your best and get it all over with IMHO. Also, for those who didn't get private applications done by finals, could work on them over break. I don't agree with the argument about not finding day care. At least for my kids, this schedule will not impact my ability to find daycare. Yes, it is a bit hard to fill the first week, but there are options even for this week. In addition, this week is less expensive and less crowded to travel. But I don't use my preference for vacation timing to drive the rest of the community to fit into my vacation calendar.
Crescent Park Dad's calendar is actually the way the school calendar used to be before 2001, with the exception that winter break was a few days shorter. I never heard complaints in the ten years prior to the 2001 change.
There is only one other school district I know of that has so many complaints about the school calendar, nd that is Fremont, in the East Bay. Until very recently, when more family-oriented Asian and South Asian people became the majority there, each school level had a different calendar. Many people had one child at each level, so the holiday dates, even the summer dates, were all different and it caused huge problems for family vacations and get-togethers. Rightful indignation in that case.
You're right about the election, Dauber lost. No sour grapes here -- that's what elections are for. People who wanted 2 more years of muddle headed rambling 1:00am meetings are feeling very happy with this outcome! Go you! But it's a stretch to say that proves that the majority of HS parents and students don't want pre-break finals. There was no ballot issue on that topic. I think most people do want to give pre-break finals a chance, and all this carping before the fact has gotten on a ton of nerves.
I guess you have your opinion about how many people really want pre-break finals and I have my opinion as well, and they are different. As you said, short of a vote on this, we won't know who is right.
I personally find this calendar horrible overall. I have a particular peeve with the super early start of the school year. So do many of the international families who belong to this school district. They are not a small part of it.
This long running debate shows me that there really isn't pretty much anything that PA people won't argue about, in volume and at length, like it was the most critical issue imaginable. An issue that barely rates a mention in most communities, like a wet fall or a new store in town. The message to our kids, I guess, is that no issue too small that we shouldn't make a big deal about it, and if you don't like it, complain like crazy until you get your way.
A pox on both your houses; the loser in this debate is the community that really thinks keeping this issue alive for years serves our children. I'd be happy to settle by coin flip or drawn straws if we could just move on to issues that might actually matter.
These pro-January final exam parents with seniors expect the entire school district to work around them when their seniors can easily plan ahead and begin applications in the summertime? Many seniors take the SAT one last time in October too. Seniors need a real break without final exams (some being AP final exams) looming in the backs of their minds! Also, most seniors do not take 7 classes - thus they have an extra period or two for studying and college apps.
Face it, the academic schedule is a major issue for the high school students because they are the ones with the most stress since every grade on their transcript is important. They have 6-7 classes and need extracurriculars for college applications. And to those who dispute this, let me know how many parents chose to live in Palo Alto due to the elementary schools, and NOT the high schools. The high schools are the most important reason people move to Palo Alto.
Elementary families can work around any schedule because all their children need to know are basic math calculations and how to read. So what if they have less summer - they play during the academic year anyway.
It's preposterous that people are whining about having less vacation when they want a college-prep school district.
I would love to have Ski Week back or at least more days off during the year and adding one week to the end of the year. Those extra days off are such a relief for our high school students so they can catch their breaths.
Have the opponents of the current calendar talked to their senior kids? At my daughter's study group, the idea of a winter break is most welcome. They almost seem to be pursuing the time leading to the end of semester with vigor and taking the college app process in time, knowing they are going to get a well deserved stress free two week off period. This wasn't true with my elder child, who graduated from Gunn two years ago; he always complained about losing the winter break on account of projects and finals prep. And he was done with his apps prior to the winter break,as were most of his classmates.
I support the current calendar based on my personal experience, others could however, have different circumstances and not support this.
"Susan Usman is NOT in WCDB."
Actually, looking at their publicly facing sites, she is.
I stand corrected! She has never been active or at the school board and did not endorse Dauber for the board. She's Paly PTA, which denounced WCDB over the effort to get TA at Gunn and for raising governance concerns. She's in favor of the old calendar and against the work-free break. So maybe she's on the mailing list but I don't think that means she is representing the group's position on that committee. But maybe she is. My bet is that by the end of today she will have removed herself from the website.
The neighboring public high schools take exams before break, and students from Los Altos High School and Menlo-Atherton get into colleges at very similar rates to PAUSD students. Perhaps the real problem is a lack of organization by seniors who have waited until the end of the fall to get their applications completed. The essay questions are all available in the middle of the summer. There is really no excuse for not getting them done on time.
You are misinformed. The common application essay questions come out August 1 and others colleges' questions for my senior did not come out until September 1 or later.
Also, PAUSD students attend far more private colleges and out-of-state public universities than neighboring school students do = more essays to write all due on January 1 and change.
Paly: 60% seniors go to privates and out-of-state publics
Menlo Atherton: 37% do
Los Altos High: 24% do
It's amazing how some people are focused on a few tiny details about the calendar and ignore all the other issues with our high school students like too much homework, AP classes, tutoring etc.
Thanks "not true". Yes, the surrounding communities have high percentages of students who attend college... BUT there is an enormous difference in percentages of PAUSD students who attend private/out-of-state public universities.
Friends of mine from M-A have said that finals before break leave no room for error, illness, sleep, or a moment of procrastination the fall of senior year. So, IF the students survive the fall semester in one piece, I can understand why winter break is a relief. I just wonder if piling it all on is the healthiest approach... or just one more way (on top of all the others) to sort the wheat from the chaff.
BTW, next year, the common app will not include a topic of choice essay and questions will be released August 1st. ("Mom" - is that considered "middle of summer"?) So, next year's seniors have to hit the ground running in the "middle of summer" and won't be able to do anything to prepare this year.... which is what most private schools do with their juniors to hold their hands and guide them through the application process.
Seems like the APs tests are driving the calendar. Many colleges have advised entering freshmen to repeat their AP classes in college. Some colleges believe that a true college level course may be very different than the AP class that they took in high school. It would seem a more logical move to eliminate APs and offer more honors classes and compelling classes for all students which would open up the door for any type of calendar that works for reducing the stress of students. I believe that was the goal of the calendar change.
Before the arrows fly over eliminating APs, please think about what the goal is for our students, reducing stress. If colleges know that Gun has taken APs off the table then students will not have to fear not taking enough of them to get accepted to colleges. If students are then allowed to take courses that are truly dynamic but that do not need to be taught toward taking a standardized test, imagine how our students could bloom. You can not tell me that Castilleja expects less of their students education or acceptance to college even though they eliminated APs.
Very good point, "calendar dreaming". So many students take AP courses just for the transcript. Even those who enjoy history stay away from AP US History because it's taught to score a 5 on the AP exam, not for the joy of learning more history.
Will eliminating APs affect how the colleges view PAUSD? Afterall, they can no longer be ranked in Newsweek (which would be fine, however).
"Will eliminating APs affect how the colleges view PAUSD?"
Well, for entry into overseas colleges, AP courses are listed as requirements. Usually a minimum of 3, 4 or 5 AP tests with grades of 4 or 5 depending on college. They also call for specific APs.
SAT II subject tests can be offered but they prefer candidates to offer AP test scores. They'd probably really prefer IB if PAUSD ever got around to offering it.
I am not sure I understand your statements, popcorn. First you say "entry into overseas colleges, AP courses are listed as requirements" and then you say "SAT II subject tests can be offered but they prefer candidates to offer AP test scores". They seem to contradict each other.
I know students that were accepted to overseas colleges and did not more than one or two APs and one did not even take the test but is currently attending a college in Europe.
you wrote: "The common application essay questions come out August 1 and others colleges' questions for my senior did not come out until September 1 or later."
Yes and No. The common app preview is released in May. The essays literally have not changed in years. There was some hint that "choice" topic might be removed but it wasn't. Schools are given the coming year essays in January, and then a preview of the entire app comes out in May. The UC app essay topic also doesn't change. So the idea that your kid can't start working on their essay over the summer is false.
But even if you weren't just distorting the truth, so what if some essays are available on September 1? THEY HAVE WEEKS TO WRITE 500 WORDS. How long do you think it should take your brilliant little genius to write between 250 and 500 words on "Evaluate a signiﬁcant experience, achievement, risk you have taken, or ethical dilemma you have faced and its impact on you" or "indicate a person who has had a signiﬁcant inﬂuence on you, and describe that inﬂuence". If your gifted child is so talented that they are going to be headed off to an "elite, selective, private" school then perhaps it is not too much to think that in addition to their classes they can write 400 words on something like that. We aren't expecting the great American novel here. Are we, mom? What's that? Can't hear you over that damn helicopter!
College applications are not such a big deal -- and the kids should not be made to feel that the world is coming to an end if they don't have apparently endless amounts of empty time to write them in. Yet the anti-calendar people continually distort reality (or have a distorted reality to start from, not clear which) about this topic. Check out Paly Parent: "So, IF the students survive the fall semester in one piece." Really? "In one piece?" Because they had to write 400 words on a person they admire? or "topic of choice"? Really?
"Observer", well said! Although some seniors are still studying to take the SAT one last time in October, I too, have heard that the questions have not changed in years. A senior told me "no one starts in the summer - everyone waits until the last minute to start college applications."
I still cannot figure out why everyone makes such a big deal about those essays - paying people to edit them and all. I worked in a graduate school admissions office in town and the essays from summa cum laude students from Ivy Leagues were basic writing - nothing fancy, and some were very simply worded. The simply worded ones were actually quite interesting.
So far my son started in August and has completed 8 applications. He's had to write 17 different 250-750 word essays, answer a whole series of short questions, and write additional essays for scholarships.
All have required substantial reflection, editing, and research ("why do you want to go to our school"). Most have asked very different questions. The similar ones had twists so required lots of reworking.
Each application has taken him two full weekend days at least to work through.
None are Ivy League schools which require substantially more work I understand. Check out Brown's supplement to the Common Application. It alone has at least 8 questions beyond the Common Application. One is: "Sculptor Jacques Lipchitz once said, 'Cubism is like standing at a certain point on a mountain and looking around. If you go higher, things will look different; if you go lower, again they will look different. It is a point of view.' With this in mind, describe a moment when your perspective changed."). Most 17 year olds can't knock that one off too quickly.
My son's lucky. He is not applying to architecture or performing arts schools. Those require portfolios that my friends say take an inordinate amount of time to create.
I suppose he could have submitted his first or second drafts to just get them done, but he won't get accepted if his essays do not shine. How do you think colleges decide which of the 30,000+ applicants will get their 3,000 offers? Not on how nicely they smile.
He just told me that his essay count for 8 college applications is 22.
I'm sorry but this is ridiculous. I have had several children go to college and none of them did all the keening that you parents are doing. First of all, the vast majority of those "22" essays are duplicative or easily modified. If they are truly unique to the school, then they are short (very short, 100 words or so). Those also are very duplicative (you can have the same reasons for wanting to go to Colorado College that you have for wanting to go to Whitman). Those schools with really really involved essays (Ivys) are REACH SCHOOLS. They are called reaches for a reason. You don't apply to 5 of them, you apply to 1 of them. That's what "reach" means. The UC App essays are totally modifiable for the common app. The common app essays are the primary essays required by most schools along with a 100 words on why you like their school.
The truth is that essays do not have to "truly shine" to get you into college. Essays can really only hurt you, they can't help much. They need to be about as good as everyone else's but if your grades and scores are bad, then a good essay will not solve that problem, barring some other factor (sports, diversity, military service, geography, legacy) on your application. If your app is strong, then a bad essay can hurt you but if your app is weak, it probably won't help much at your reach school. Your goal is to write a reasonable essay that looks pretty much like everyone else's and looks like your MOM DID NOT WRITE IT. Nothing will kill an app faster than an essay that is clearly not written by the kid.
Parents, relax. It will be OK. Your kids are mostly rich, mostly white, and mostly did well in high school and on their tests. A lot of your kids aren't even applying for financial aid! Do you know how weird it would be if they didn't get into reasonable colleges? Do you even know why your taxes are so high? Please stop worrying and stop transmitting to your teens that the CALENDAR IS THE END OF THE WORLD. It's just not true.
Part of the problem is the kids who apply to too many schools, my son graduated in 2011 and one of his friends applied to 23 schools. 23. Castilleja limited the number of schools the girls could apply to this year to 8 (I think) and at least one had to be a school they had a 75% chance of getting into (not sure I have the numbers exactly correct, but you get the point).
@palo alto mom
Agreed. I think part of what drives over-applying that is the horrible counseling at Gunn. Some Gunn students and parents are ignorance-based and fear-driven because of the lack of information and advising that they and their students receive. Did you know that many Gunn seniors still had not seen a counselor by November? Obviously in this kind of zero-information situation parents are panic-stricken. Those with money hire private counselors and regard Gunn counseling as a joke. Those who can't afford it or aren't in the know panic and urge their teens to apply to way too many schools because they have no idea what works, what doesn't, and what to do. This is just another way that the poor Gunn counseling system has added to college stress for many kids and families.
That's quite apart from the calendar hysteria which might actually qualify as an actual episode of hysteria on the part of some of these parents, like the Salem witches or the LeRoy cheerleader stress-based Tourettes (Web Link). As in that case, it seems to have been contagious.
@Observer, since "over-applying" is chronic everywhere (Gunn, Paly, all over the country), it seems like a stretch to blame Gunn counseling for it. I'm not sure if your specific claim is correct but since the kids at Gunn seem to have pretty good college outcomes, and our own experiences there have been fine, your calling it "horrible" seems like an exaggeration.
It sounds like your kids' college-going experience may be out-of-date. You didn't say where they went to college, which matters too.
You should pick up this book just written by the former dean of Stanford Admissions:
It says that the top 1% apply to more than 10 colleges; that's basically PAUSD's National Merit pool - 25% of our seniors isn’t it? She recommends no more than 12 colleges. Reaches? Limit them to no more than 1/2 the list (not your just "1"). Private college counselors whom I have heard speak say that 12-14 colleges is the norm these days.
I have no clue if what you say about Castilleja is true, but it can limit their students' list without causing much harm because many of those private school girls have legacy status at great colleges and there is probably "yield management" going on there by way of calls to colleges saying which girl, if accepted, would take the offer. Don't believe me? Read this book written by a NYT’s reporter who shadowed an elite college’s admissions officer for a year:
Go on a college tour and the admissions staff will proudly share, to audience groans, that half of the applicants look IDENTICAL on paper - same SAT scores and same GPAs. The next most important thing they say are the essays. If they aren’t good, the student is rejected. If they are good, they read the rest. Good mind you, not “passable” as you say.
Just to spot check, here's what the two colleges you mentioned say about essays.
Colorado College: "Because strong writing skills are so essential to academic success at CC, we read essays very carefully."
Whitman: "We will assess carefully ...the quality, depth, and voice of your writing...a key component to academic success at Whitman"
According to US News, CC and Whitman are not alone. Reporting on recent trends in college admissions, it notes that colleges are putting even "more emphasis on application essays."
"Essays are especially crucial to elite colleges, where they 'can make or break your application,' says Pitzer's Perez." Given that Pitzer's admissions rate is 24%, “elite” pretty much captures most of the colleges Paly students apply to.
I stand by my statement that gunn counseling is objectively horrible. Glad you had a nice time but that is atypical and I am pretty sure you know it if you frequent this forum. I don't know how widespread over applying is or whether its worse at gunn than elsewhere. I have no data on that -- I said it was part of the problem not the whole problem not that it never happens anywhere else. The reflexive defensiveness of gunn is another syndrome. People are spending thousands to compensate for this. That's real money and that tells you how bad it is.
"Agreed. I think part of what drives over-applying that is the horrible counseling at Gunn"
Wow, now you're really stretching it. Even with WCDBPA's questionable data analysis, the college application support at Gunn's 12th grade support is far superior to Paly.
Line# 79: "I believe that my guidance counselor/college and career advisor can be helpful for me in applying to college"
Gunn: 86% to Paly: 78%
Line# 81: "I feel well-informed about the college application process and what's required"
Gunn: 76% to Paly: 66%
Line# 34: "My guidance counselor makes time for me if I need help"
Gunn: 84% to Paly: 69%
This is exactly the area where Gunn's counseling shines and Paly should be looking to duplicate Gunn's exceptional results. And yet you describe Gunn's counseling as horrible and bring no recrimination against Paly's counseling. It's almost as if you're attempting to demonize the Gunn counselors in spite of your own data supporting them.
@"correct information" (sic)
You quote college websites about the importance of essays:
Because strong writing skills are so essential to academic success at CC, we read essays very carefully."
Whitman: "We will assess carefully ...the quality, depth, and voice of your writing...a key component to academic success at Whitman"
What do you expect the college websites to say? "we read 10K of these stupid boring essays and mostly our brains have gone numb by the time we reach number 15 but I hope you enjoyed writing this for no reason?"
You are close to understanding the situation but still misapprend it. The way it works is that there are many equally well-qualified students judging by grades and scores. In order to get rid of some of them (required) admission officers can use the essay as an elimination tactic (getting rid of those with clearly sub par performance). BUt they would not want to select on excellent essays a student whose grades and/or scores but particularly grades to not jive with that essay. Why not? Because there is no way to tell who really wrote that essay. So if a student has an essay that is either better than her grades predict or far better than other students with similar grades/scores then it is a sign that perhaps they received a lot of help on it or perhaps didn't even write it. Teacher recs, activities, and other info is going to be better as a distinguisher than an essay of dubious provenance. However, if it is much worse than that which would be predicted or than that of peers, it could cause the application to be rejected. That is why it needs only to be average and is not worth all this blood, sweat, and toil. Regardless of what you read on the internets, it is not important to have the best essay. The single most important thing about the essay is that the student MUST write it and university admissions professionals can absolutely tell if there was adult help, every single time.
There is no need to argue with you since you keep saying that you know best, but why should anyone believe that you:
- are right about Gunn, despite data to the contrary (as popcorn posts)
- know how many college applications seniors should file, despite a former Dean of Admissions stating the opposite, and
- know how college admissions offices evaluate applications, despite the colleges' own websites and US News' researched report disagreeing with you?
Strolling back through your original posts it is clear that you are from We Can Do Better. One would think that WCDB would hate the new calendar because all 5 board members agreed that the calendar makes things worse for students without the mitigations they called for in place.
None of the sources you cite regarding the average number of apps recommend that many applications. They are being descriptive only. You are the audience for their efforts to get people to file fewer apps and readers can see what good it does. "Private college counselors whom I have heard speak say that 12-14 colleges is the norm these days." This is the best of your statements; private college counselors get paid to file applications. They build reputation by getting junior into school. What do you think the incentive is for a private college counselor to tell you to do fewer apps? Even those private pimps are not telling you to file 12-14, they are telling you that's the average.
You are determined to interpret this process in the most stressful and scary way possible. Not that you will listen, but if you want to help your child's chances in college apps do not under any circumstances help with the essays. College admissions officers can tell when a child has had help from an adult (paid, parental, whatever) and it will count against them.
"I am pretty sure you know [Gunn counseling is horrible] if you frequent this forum" - if we rely on this forum as a barometer, the world is coming to an end with Palo Alto leading the parade ;-) There are certainly unhappy people; I am not always sure how easily they could be pleased or how informed they are about the problems. But it is an area worth looking at, as it looks like the District is doing.
On paid counselors - this again is a quite common phenomenon in high-end high schools (Gunn, Paly, and elsewhere). Here's a NYT article on the trend from 2009 - Web Link . While I don't really know how many Gunn families utilize them (we did, mostly to outsource the tension from nagging our kid to get applications done), I can't think of anything that indicates that Gunn families use them more than other schools.
It may be that most public school counseling is "objectively horrible" by your standards - but I'm not sure how you draw that conclusion about Gunn vs. others.
see: Web Link
As far as comparing Gunn counseling to others, see the voluminous data that has been extensively reported in the Weekly, culminating in the process going on at Gunn now to try to make some serious improvements. As far as I can tell from reading this the only counseling deniers are the superintendent and some Gunn teachers.
This whole calendar thing seems to be overheated parents with too much time on their hands, probably because they have opted out of the work force in order to devote themselves to micromanaging their kids' lives, and now the end of high school is looking like an end to being relevant. Turning a week here and there into a catastrophe that needs to be fixed fills the time between breakfast and lunch out with the rest of the underemployed set.
"This whole calendar thing seems to be overheated parents with too much time on their hands, probably because they have opted out of the work force in order to devote themselves to micromanaging their kids' lives, and now the end of high school is looking like an end to being relevant. Turning a week here and there into a catastrophe that needs to be fixed fills the time between breakfast and lunch out with the rest of the underemployed set."
Sounds like a perfect description of the WCDBPA set and their attempts to micromanage the district.
This is Palo Alto:
-excessive micro-management of kids' college apps - can it get any greater?! It's hard to believe the current state of parent helicoptering.
-put-downs of other districts (and their calendars with finals pre-winter break) as not having as many private college admissions are kind of nasty. For one thing, each year is different, each class of students is different, things aren't static so nasty cracks at Los Altos High, for example, are out of line. And oh, I know some kids at UCLA who are high calibre and doing extremely well and are happy. I guess Stanford-affiliated peoples' tendencies to claim to be elite and to put down public schools/UC Berkeley is rubbing off here - very poor behavior and inaccurate, too.
-hyperbole over college app essays; isn't it time for your kids to figure this stuff out for themselves?
Try getting out in the real world of elite university students: there isn't one formula for "success."
Sadly, I have seen some students who were overly prepped from here (including having essys written for them) do gain coveted admissions slots, but that's the break. Anything for Ivy. Doesn't make them a better person than your or I.
helicopter parents - I'm one of the parent's that commented on the fact that more PAUSD students apply to privates schools and it was not intended as a put down for other Districts. Merely an observation. If you apply to UC's and CSU's, your application has to be in around Thanksgiving so Finals before or after Winter Break have no affect on your application process. If you are applying to schools with application deadlines in January and February, you are much more likely to be working on applications in December. In addition, private colleges typically require more essays making the process more time consuming. None of that is a reflection on the abilities of the student, just the realities of the process.