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By Jay Thorwaldson

About this blog: I was editor of the Palo Alto Weekly from June 2000 to January 2011, capping a more than 50-year career in journalism and writing since Los Gatos High School, where I was editor of the student newspaper and president of the speech...  (More)

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On Deadline: Recognizing heroes in a world of stark contrasts

Uploaded: May 16, 2011
Palo Alto's community-based "Project Safety Net" effort to create a safer environment for young persons received a significant commendation last week (May 10).

The 2-year-old Project Safety Net Community Task Force received a "Community Partnership Award" from Stanford University, an annual recognition of work Stanford people are doing in the community -- in this case health care professionals from Stanford Hospital and Lucile Packard Children's Hospital who have joined with others from the Palo Alto Medical Foundation and private practitioners.

Other award recipients included two groups that provide a sharp contrast with the Safety Net project: the Peninsula Family Advocacy Program, a medical-legal partnership to improve access to health care for low-income families; and the Redwood Environmental Academy of Leadership, or REAL, which engages Sequoia High School District (Redwood High School) students in hands-on environmental work at Jasper Ridge and elsewhere.

A Miriam Aaron Roland Volunteer Service Prize was also was awarded to Janice Ross, who teaches drama and dance at Stanford, for a decade-old program in which she and a group of her students teach youthful jail inmates to dance, called "Dance in Prisons: The Arts, Juvenile Justice and Rehabilitation in America." She said the program is transformative for both the young inmates and for her Stanford students despite the contrasts in their lives.

The Safety Net task force is attempting to implement a "comprehensive, community-based mental health plan for overall youth well-being in Palo Alto."

That's a tall order, almost a mission impossible. But the effort could literally be a life-saver for some young persons who are struggling with the pressures of life, school and in some cases their own emotional crises. The task force was formed in the wake of a cluster of youth suicides, a huge wake-up call deeply affecting the community at all levels.

The group has developed a plan that includes 22 strategies -- with both long- and short-term actions -- in three broad areas: education, prevention and intervention. Details are at www.PSNPaloAlto.org.

The effort builds upon nearly 30 years of concern in Palo Alto about the well-being of youth -- the Palo Alto Weekly did a cover story in the mid-1980s on teen stress and efforts to address sometimes fatal crises of young persons. There was an effective anti-stress program at Palo Alto High School that dated back into the late 1970s, a relaxation-training program by a woman named Ann Gagnon.

But Project Safety Net is broader and more sustained than anything preceding.

Developing a cohesive plan was a huge undertaking by the diverse group. But implementing the various elements will be far more challenging -- particularly if the changes are intended to remain in place for more than one generation of young persons.

The complexity of the challenge can be assessed by reading through the responses to the Palo Alto Weekly story on parents Michele and Ken Dauber's criticism of the Palo Alto Unified School District actions to date. As of this morning (May 16) there were nearly 150 comments posted.

Many of the comments on Town Square (www.PaloAltoOnline.com) are insightful and on point, constructive even in disagreement. Some, as always in an open forum, are snarky, uninformed and just plain mean -- including some personal attacks. There is some give-and-take on how many young persons are depressed and thus vulnerable , with purported "facts" ranging from 3 percent to more than 30 percent, with citations of sources.

Given that 3 percent of the estimated 8,000 high-school-age students in Palo Alto would be about 240 young persons in deep emotional pain, isn't that a crisis?

Multiply that by 10 and it just increases the magnitude of the problem, not the depth of the pain or hopelessness of depression that make it what has been called a "fatal illness" for some. Converting hopelessness to hope is still an imperfect science, or art -- especially since a hopeless person often perceives statements about there being hope as a cruel joke or deception.

The Dauber's aggressively maintain that the school district is not doing enough. They have created an organization, "We Can Do Better," which will be holding an organizing meeting tonight, May 17, at 7 p.m. in Room A6 of Cubberley Community Center, 4000 Middlefield Road. So far it has just 20 members and an e-mail list of about 130.

It's hard to argue with "We Can Do Better." The bottom line is not whether the Daubers, who lost a child to suicide two years ago, are right or wrong in their harsh criticisms but whether the schools, the community, parents and fellow students are doing enough to be effective.

The real challenge is to create a community-wide environment that can be sustained year after year, long after the terrible months of the suicide cluster fade into history. Most such efforts simply fade away as time passes or new tragedies overshadow old concerns -- such as deaths from drunk driving or binge drinking or drugs or self-destructive high-risk behaviors.

As a journalist who has written about such "do something" efforts for more than a half century, I believe the biggest challenge is to create an effort that lasts, one that is more than a year or two endeavor -- one that becomes institutionalized in schools and in the culture of the community and its families, part of the fabric of our being.
What is it worth to you?


Posted by Misha, a resident of ,
on May 16, 2011 at 7:30 pm

Thank you for recognizing the collective efforts of all who make up Project Safety Net.

Many of the contributors have been dedicated for many years in support of the community and its youth. They do it with a positive spirit, seeking to work together, quietly, without seeking the spotlight for themselves.

These are the of the community who deserve to be recognized.

Posted by Ken Dauber, a resident of ,
on May 17, 2011 at 6:55 am

I second Misha's comment. The Project Safety Net plan is a strikingly thoughtful document and reflects an enormous amount of work and dedication. As Jay points out, fully implementing the plan is going to take an even greater amount of work and focus, carried out over a period of years with a sustained sense of urgency.
As for We Can Do Better Palo Alto (http://wecandobetterpaloalto.org), our goal is to work with PAUSD to urge that it fully meet its commitments as one of the key members and leaders of the Project Safety Net coalition. We have commended the district for acting quickly in some areas of the PSN plan and criticized it for lagging behind in others -- most notably, in failing to begin a focused examination of how to improve student emotional and mental health by reducing unnecessary academic stress as called for in section P-8 of the plan. I'm looking forward to the day when we are all moving forward on all aspects of the Project Safety Net plan, and I'm hopeful and confident that will be soon.

Posted by Confused, a resident of ,
on May 17, 2011 at 7:57 am

My understanding is that the depression and suicidal thought stats for PA are similar to neighboring towns/counties and the nation as a whole. Is that true? In that case, we happen to have a suicide cluster (as other towns sometimes sadly have), but about the same level of mental illness. Do we have a nationwide youth mental health crisis then? Or is teenage life just as its always been?

Posted by Don't get it, a resident of ,
on May 18, 2011 at 8:33 am


I always appreciate your posts and perspective, but I think you are wrong on this one.

I agree that groups like Project Safety Net have a great infrastructure and take great care in their responses, in their research and in their messaging and are the efforts that our community and media should (and do) support.

But to give equal billing and very small and caustic group which intentionally and repeatedly spreads misinformation is irresponsible. This is not what you refer to as just quibbling about the magnitude of all bad numbers. It is much more serious than that. It goes to credibility - how can anyone trust a group which doesn't care enough to be accurate and informed before they speak?

People who do not care to be accurate and cherry-pick "bad" facts are advocates and should not be promoted as advisors.

Why instead of praising them don?t you ask them why they, who pepper all of their comments with their professed, overarching and I suspect sincere concern about teen suicides, are NOT working with THE group which our community has officially charged with addressing this - Project Safety Net? Why do they need to have their own meetings, their own, often contrary, messaging, and their own limelight gotten via hyperbole and embellished data?

Palo Alto is a city full of thoughtful, caring and intelligent citizens and encouraging such groups with ink and praise defeats all our other credible and sound efforts because the public will tune out because of the harsh tone and conflicting info. While soon enough this will undermine the efforts of the Daubers and their ilk, it will also minimize the effectiveness of Project Safety Net and all I imagine would agree that that would be a great loss to our community.

Posted by Michele Dauber, a resident of ,
on May 18, 2011 at 9:40 am

@Don't get it

I am writing to respond to your anonymous, incorrect and totally unsupported assertion that our data is embellished or somehow "cherrypicked." The data on counseling and homework we have presented to the community come directly from the district's own strategic plans and WASC surveys. There is no contrary data anywhere that we have found in any of those sources. Nor has anyone from PAUSD challenged those numbers -- instead they have admitted that the numbers are accurate.

Our data on depression estimates comes from numerous sources such as the California Healthy Kids survey, the NIMH, and the CDC. Mental health professionals and doctors are among our members and they concur that these are the appropriate statistics. The public can read the data (which we cite and link to) for itself and draw its own conclusions.

Your assertions are bald, flatly false. You have posted no specifics or particular facts you challenge or any supporting documentation or evidence that could support this allegation. That is because there is none.

I take serious exception to this because I am an academic and charges that I have somehow embellished or used cherrypicked data are extremely offensive. Please support your arguments with evidence.

In terms of Project Safety Net, we have met with the leaders of Project Safety Net and they are supportive. Our goal is to generate support among parents for the full implementation of the PSN Plan, specifically item P-8 of that Plan. You are misinformed. In terms of whether we should be working with PSN, we see our mission as complimentary to that of PSN but somewhat different. Our purpose is one of advocacy to get PAUSD to implement the PSN plan.

In terms of our numbers, our organizational meeting last night was extremely well attended. We had approximately 40 community members who were energized and excited to learn the data, and join the cause. We had a very informative presentation on counseling at Gunn, homework, and PSN P-8. People signed up to work on committees and to get more involved. There was a lot of excitement and enthusiasm. We believe we can make a difference, and that Palo Alto can do better.

It is fine to have a contrary view. I see that you feel the school district is already doing a great job on student social-emotional health and you are entitled to your view. But if you are going to lodge what are essentially defamatory allegations about our integrity, please do so by stating your name and giving evidence.

Posted by Wynn Hausser, a resident of ,
on May 18, 2011 at 9:44 am

Jay - thanks for your always thoughtful and insightful observations.

@Don't get it - I challenge you to demonstrate specifically what the We Can Do Better group is misrepresenting. In the presentations I have seen and in everything I've read developed by the group, they show where EVERY number comes from and source EVERY expert they quote. And in the majority of cases they are using the DISTRICT'S OWN DATA.

We Can Do Better's goals overlap the Project Safety Net work but do not replicate it. The current priority of the group, as described in last night's presentations, is to get the District to implement the P-8 recommendations it has already agreed to. In fact, it has signed an MOU but dragged it's feet since. The second goal is to convince the district to adopt a new guidance system at Gunn. These are both entirely consistent with the goals of Project Safety Net, and both groups share members.

There are many ways for concerned citizens to engage on these very important issues, and anyone involved should be commended. Your broadside, personal attack does nothing to contribute positively to a solution and your lack of data to back up your anonymous criticism makes it seem like you have a personal axe to grind.

Posted by Paly Parent, a resident of ,
on May 18, 2011 at 9:58 am

Firstly, I am anonymous to protect my own kids from possible ridicule and definite embarrassment (justified or unjustified).

I have one question about this group as opposed to PSN.

From my understanding, Project Safety Net is a group of chosen people, staff and parents, who are on a school sanctioned committee.

We Can Do Better, is a group of parents who have formed an advocacy alliance to support PSN, but WCDB is open to anyone and everyone who wishes whereas PSN is a chosen/volunteer committee which cannot at this stage be joined by anyone who is interested in getting involved.

Please can you clarify, confirm or refute my assumptions.

Thank you.

Posted by About PSN, a resident of ,
on May 18, 2011 at 10:40 am

From PSN Website:

"School District and City staff decided to bring everyone interested in helping together. ... As PSN members continued to meet the group continued to grow as more community members wanted to get involved.

Due to the size of the evolving task force a need quickly emerged to have a smaller executive committee and chair to help make decisions and set direction. An Executive Committee was established and consists of [names individuals from PAUSD, the City (Community Services, Police department, and City Manager's Office) ACS, Kara Grief Counseling, Packard/SU Dept. of Psychiatry, PAMF, PTA Council, and additional parent and teen representatives]."

PSN lists a phone number anyone who wants to assist PSN or attend its meetings can call.

Web Link

Web Link

Posted by observer, a resident of ,
on May 18, 2011 at 4:42 pm

Data from the 2008 Strategic Plan Survey is outdated because so much has been done to improve the counseling at Gunn since then. PiE support has allowed the hiring of another counselor and four informational night meetings - one for each grade level. Counselors are spending more time identifying students who may have emotional needs that are not obvious at home or amongst peers. They have started a College Pathways program to guide students whose families have never attended college.

In addition, the assumption that people who indicated dissatisfaction with Gunn's system would prefer Paly's system does not follow. There has been at least one retirement from the pool of Gunn counselors since that survey was administered and a good percentage of those numbers could have been due to personnel issues.

There are those who would say that education research is biased politically. For instance, the study from Georgetown done about 20 years ago asserting that girls were being neglected in the classroom. It was proven false. Reacting to research is dangerous until it has been vetted fully. Things which work in controlled environments do not always work in a heterogenous public school like ours, especially with the local population extremes that we have.

Finally, Paly has had a suicide cluster since the TA system has been in place. The TA system did not prevent it.

Much of the suicide data is confidential but some people might say that our counselors are preventing many, many more suicides every day than the TA system at Paly.

Posted by observer, a resident of ,
on May 18, 2011 at 5:08 pm

One more thing. I am looking at a document published by the PAUSD titled "Strategic Plan Update" dated April 8, 2008. Page 17 has a graph of "Gunn versus Paly satisfaction with counseling services" 57% of Gunn students were satisfied with Gunn versus 50% with Paly. 47% of parents were satisfied with Gunn versus 56% with Paly. Not much difference there. And do we focus on the student or the parent numbers. In fact the title of the page says, "Opinions of counseling services do not differ significantly by high school and student ethnicity."

Posted by Michele Dauber, a resident of ,
on May 18, 2011 at 5:32 pm


First the data we are citing is not only from the 2008 Strategic Plan but also from the 2010 Strategic Plan update (which is entirely and completely consistent with the 2008 data) and the 2009 WASC reviews at both Paly and Gunn. Thus, the most consistent data, from just one year ago, is identical to the several years of prior data. In all of the years of surveys and data, there is no contrary evidence -- that is, no evidence that any group of respondents were more dissatisfied with advisory than with Paly's system than with Gunn's. To my mind, that is powerful evidence that we need to implement best practices across the district.

Second, I don't understand how these various surveys taken over the past ten years in PAUSD on satisfaction with counseling could be "politically biased." I also don't understand your suggestion that we have "population extremes" in Palo Alto. Palo Alto is a quite homogenous community. There isn't any reason that what works at Paly won't work at Gunn.

Third, there are no guarantees against bad things happening. But advisory is one of the most important structural features of schools where kids feel connected. The academic literature has confirmed this repeatedly (see, e.g., Darling-Hammond, Ancess & Ort, arguing that advisory is one of the essential strategies used by schools to improve student achievement and to ?ensure connections to parents and attention to student needs.?). PAUSD has argued to the Paly WASC review committee that the advisory system is a "national model for the delivery of guidance" services and that its teacher-advisors are a "crucial extra set of eyes" ensuring that children who are experiencing difficulties are noticed and referred for assistance.

Finally, with all due respect, your last comment does not make sense. Those counterfactuals are not possible, or useful, to try to figure out.

The important point is that an advisory system will allow the counselors at Gunn to spend more time engaged in what they are credentialed and trained to do, and less time helping with scheduling and other tasks that are done by teachers in an advisory system. That should provide more ability to target the counseling resources where they can do the most good, while providing connectedness and support to all students.

Advisory, as Gunn principal Katya Villalobos said at the Gunn event last week, is "awesome." It is a win-win-win for teachers, students, and staff. It is part of the Project Safety Net recommendations. We should do it without delay.

Posted by Misha, a resident of ,
on May 18, 2011 at 6:15 pm

How is it that this piece about the collective work of the PSN in support of youth well-being as recognized by Stanford University has been co-opted by the narrow topic of student advisories? Can we please not take away from the good and positive work of many others by overrunning this forum with that discussion?

I am not saying don't discuss, just do it elsewhere!

Please let's respect the good work of others and their well-deserved recognition!

Posted by Michele Dauber, a resident of ,
on May 18, 2011 at 6:20 pm


Regarding your second post, the data is not user friendly. However, please look here:

Web Link

Using this document, you must find each school separately (they are alpha), then the parent and student surveys. What you will see in comparing Gunn and Paly is that the schools differ very significantly on measures of dissatisfaction (students, for example, indicating that they are either "unsatisfied" or "very unsatisfied.") Those numbers are essentially twice as high for Gunn as Paly on every measure and across time periods.

Because this data is not user friendly, we have compiled it into a factsheet, which you can download free from our facebook page at:

Web Link

Here are some of the highlights:

Gunn Students (~260 respondents)
41% are either unsatisfied or very unsatisfied with ?support from college/guidance counselors? (compared with 28% at Paly)
39% of Gunn students are dissatisfied with availability (compared wth 16% at Paly), and
38% are dissatisfied with the quality of services (compared with 22% at Paly).
33% do not feel that they have received ?effective college counseling.? (compared with 22% at Paly)

Gunn Parents (~660 respondents)
39% are either unsatisfied or very unsatisfied with ?counseling services" (compared with 22% at Paly).
32% are unsatisfied with availability of counselors (compared with 14% at Paly)
39% are unsatisfied with the quality of counselors (20% at Paly)
48% (compared with 20% at Paly) feel that their child did not receive effective college counseling, and nearly 20% feel strongly that their child did not get effective college counseling
65% (compared with 39% at Paly) believe that one of the district?s top priorities should be to ?Improve college/career counseling so that all students and parents have ample guidance for future opportunities.?

The 2010 data is essentially the same, as is the WASC data.

Posted by parent, a resident of ,
on May 18, 2011 at 7:25 pm

I think this blog got co-opted because Jay did not mention the good things and improvements which have been going on at Gunn - he is following an entrenched trend at the Weekly. And no one at the paper has taken the responsibility to call out the Daubers and friends on their negative attitude towards the school - on the contrary, they are given as much air time as possible. When readers react to the negativity they perceive (check out Wynn's original letter), the Daubers use it as an opportunity to preach their one-size-fits-all remedies.

Is there anyone representing Gunn on PSN? No parents, certainly.

Posted by midtown parent, a resident of ,
on May 18, 2011 at 9:18 pm

To parent,
Are you attacking Project Safety Net, the Weekly, the Daubers, their friends, or Jay? I can certainly see that you feel strongly about "negativity".
Anyways, I'm confused about what point you are making. It sounds like Project Safety Net wants to make some changes at Gunn to make it better. That doesn't mean that it has a "negative attitude" towards Gunn any more than your doctor has a negative attitude towards you when he tells you to quit smoking. Can you be clearer about what you are saying?

Posted by Don't get it , a resident of ,
on May 18, 2011 at 9:23 pm


Agreed. 240 kids in deep emotional pain, no matter what percentage it is, is troubling.

The problem is that groups professing that their policies will help them don't know who those children are. They assume it is the high homework, high AP kids. But how do they know?

What if it is the C- kids who don't have much homework or academic stress and who, if more engaged academically in school, would be happier?

What if their unhappiness had nothing to do with academics but was because they were bullied or had a horrible home life? We know those kids hurt, a lot. We know those kids are at greater risk, a lot. And we know that most often they are not the straight A students because their energy and attention understandably is focused elsewhere. By devoting efforts to reducing homework as one prong of a school-centered 4 step plan to help them, we will have done absolutely nothing for them.

So it isn't that no one cares, it is just that many know that scattershot solutions based on unsubstantiated assumptions have no more than a random chance of helping.

As to credibility, take WCDB's claim to KCBS Radio railing on PAUSD today because more than 1/3 of PAUSD kids do at least 3 hours of homework a night. Apart from overstating what the 2010 Strategic Plan survey says (14.8% spend 21 hours or more a week on homework), WCDB doesn't mention that this is a stat about parents' perceptions. Perceptions are inherently unreliable. With YouTube, Facebook and chat windows open along side Word docs, how possibly could a parent know how much is homework and how much is play. That stat is meaningless. (The survey didn't ask students that question.)

What about WCDB?s "stress" stats? What they don't tell you is that 48% of our students say that they are the major source of their own stress, over 2 times those who say their teachers are. So why is WCDB focused on school-based solutions?

As for WCDB Paly-is-superior-to-Gunn-counseling, what they don't say is that when students were asked to rank what the district?s priorities should be, counseling didn't even make their top 3 list. And again, WCDB cites parents? unreliable perceptions. Even if reliable, WCDB refers to parent satisfaction with ACADEMIC counseling but omits any mention of parents? perceptions about PSYCHOLOGICAL counseling where Gunn's stats trump Paly's on both questions asked (availability and quality).

Posted by midtown parent, a resident of ,
on May 18, 2011 at 10:00 pm

To Don't get it,
I'm as confused by you as by Barron Park parent. Are you saying that we should not make the changes in the schools that Project Safety Net wants because "many know that scattershot solutions based on unsubstantiated assumptions have no more than a random chance of helping"? It seems like you are trying to attack the Project Safety Net plan by taking issue with this other group, WCDB.
Project Safety Net spent lots of time studying this and coming up with a plan. I don't think it's all that useful to be like "But how do they know?" I would take you a lot more seriously if it sounded like you had read the plan. I really don't understand why you are attacking Project Safety Net.

Posted by Michele Dauber, a resident of ,
on May 18, 2011 at 10:11 pm

Here is the data:

1. It is not We Can Do Better that is calling for returning homework loads to a sane and manageable level. It is Project Safety Net, item P-8.

2. You are misinformed as to the data on counseling. You state that we "omit any mention of parents? perceptions about PSYCHOLOGICAL counseling where Gunn's stats trump Paly's on both questions asked (availability and quality)." This is wrong. In fact, the data is as follows:

14% of Gunn Parents (compared to 9% of Paly parents) are unsatisfied or very unsatisfied with the availability of psychological counseling

16% of Gunn parents (compared to 10% of Paly parents are unsatisfied or very unsatisfied with the quality of psychological counseling.

The fact that Gunn parents are about 60% more unhappy than Paly parents with psychological counseling, compared with being100% more unhappy with academic counseling does not translate into Gunn "trumping" Paly.

We do not "omit" this information. You are again mistaken. It is on our "Counseling Gap Fact Sheet" that anyone can download from our facebook site at:

Web Link

3. Homework. Student and parent perceptions are essentially identical. The 2008 Strategic Plan queried students and parents. Here is what the students said:

a. In the 2008 Strategic Plan survey, 34% of all high schoolers reported being "extremely stressed" by their homework.

b. This is consistent with the 2010 Palo Alto Youth Council Survey in which in answer to the question "what in your school environment stresses you the most?" 84% at Paly and 56% at Gunn said "homework." At both schools, students responded that if they could change one thing about their school it would be "less homework, lighter workload."

c. In 2008, PAUSD did indeed ask students this question (N=~450). You are again mistaken. 38% of students surveyed in 2008 (stated that they were doing 16 or more hours of homework per week, and 15% stated that they were doing 21 or more hours of homework per week. My statement to the KCBS reporter was that meant that students were doing more than 3 hours per day, 5 days per week. That is accurate. I quoted directly from the report, reading it to her, and gave her the cite to it.

The KCBS story states that "the Palo Alto district's own survey" reported these numbers. That is accurate. It is the 2008 strategic plan survey. However, I note that the student numbers and parent numbers are quite similar (around 34% of parents in the 2010 estimated their kids to be doing 16+ hours per week) and that most parents (2010 N=~700; 2008 N=~1200) (though perhaps not the accurately named "Don't get it") actually have a quite good idea of how much work their kids are doing.

Anyone who wants to see this data should email us at info@wecandobetterpaloalto.org for copies of our counseling and homework fact sheets and slide decks from the open meeting yesterday. I especially invite "Don't get it" to avail yourself of the facts, as it is quite time-consuming to correct you piecemeal.

Posted by parent, a resident of ,
on May 18, 2011 at 10:31 pm

I guess I'm just sifting through the stuff put out by the Weekly to look for positives about Gunn and seeing none. As a Gunn parent I see many, many positives and have seen many changes since the tragedies a few years ago. That Jay and the others don't see it, makes me suspicious that they don't know the place very well. That makes me think these suggestions are not well thought out. They are all calling out "connectedness" but none of them are really connected to our Gunn community. They are grandstanding.

Posted by Misha, a resident of ,
on May 18, 2011 at 10:39 pm

Dear parent,

As a matter of fact, a number of Gunn parents are working with and through PSN to try to make positive and lasting changes. There are parents with children at other schools, too.

Posted by parent, a resident of ,
on May 18, 2011 at 11:46 pm

Who? And are these parents representative of the Gunn community? That's what I'm not sure of. What is their agenda and have they been getting input from the Gunn community or from so-called experts? I've never been approached by anyone from the network to see what I think, that's for sure, nor has anyone else I know.

Posted by Misha, a resident of ,
on May 19, 2011 at 12:20 am

Dear parent,

You are right. The parents who volunteer on various aspects of PSN do not all formally represent the views of all the parents. They are just good people willing to contribute their time, efforts, talents, and thoughts towards the collective effort to better support our youth. Some focus on Trackwatch, others gatekeeper (suicide prevention) training, yet others developmental assets. The PTAC is represented as well as other organizations that reflect to varying degrees the parent perspective.

May I respectfully suggest that you go to the PSN website, check out the comprehensive research and resources, and consider offering your hand to join in this effort on any or all the various strategies.

Please, be a positive partner in this net we are weaving to help our precious youth survive and thrive.

Posted by Don't get it,, a resident of ,
on May 19, 2011 at 12:33 am


My issue is with your methodology. If the facts support your message, use them. But please don't blast your vision over the airwaves with dated info, omitted caveats, and the like.

For example:

1. I've read some of the other threads and you flip back and forth on this, but last I saw you agreed that Project Safety Net's operative word was "study" not "implement." PSN does not call for changes to homework or for that matter implementation of anything before a study, which has not yet happened, is done.

[For midtown parent: I support Project Safety Net's plan. I just want to clarify that it does not give marching orders but rather gives suggestions for our community to consider/study, discuss and, if they make sense, then implement. WCDB appears to want to skip over the first steps and rush to implementation without the study or discussion.]

2. The public hears what you say to the press, not what you have buried in a doc on a Facebook page.

But assuming your Facebook posted numbers are correct, are you suggesting that Gunn's long established counseling system which surveys show many more parents like than dislike should be overhauled because Paly's gets a few points better ratings (14% v. 9%, 16% v. 10%)?

You must know that these are NOT scientific surveys with professionally crafted questions given in perfectly controlled settings which represent a meaningful number of parents (600 out of 8,000?). Most would view these slight percentage differences as noise. Why do you use them as the basis of a public campaign to ridicule Gunn?

3. I get that students say that their number one stressor is homework. That is not in dispute.

But the issue, again, is your methodology.

It is cherry picking if you don't use the most recent homework survey data available and it is just guessing when you say the student views would have been the same if students had been asked in 2010 what they were asked in 2008. Things have changed at our high schools in the last few years, especially at Gunn, and so 2008 student data may very well look different than 2010's. And, again, parent perceptions are only that - perceptions, not reality.

But my bigger point is that you told KCBS Radio that 33% of PAUSD students do at least 3 hours of homework a night while the 2010 survey says 14.8%. By not being clear that you were measuring over a partial week, you gave the impression, intended or not, that the number of students affected is over two times what it actually is and that is what it reported.


A carryover from the thread that Jay mentions in his post - didn't you say there that 33% of teens suffer from depression when your authority (NIMH) stated 8%?

Thank you for clarifying that you are not authorized to speak on behalf of Project Safety Net.

You did not address other points that were raised (students the source of their own stress, not ranking counseling on the top of their priority list). Relevant?

Posted by Ken Dauber, a resident of ,
on May 19, 2011 at 6:57 am

@Don't get it

I'll let Michele respond point by point if she wants to, though I would invite readers who have gotten this far to look further up the page for more data about how parents and students react to counseling at Gunn and Paly across a range of measures and years.
I want to comment on a persistent tactic of yours that I think "midtown parent" addressed nicely. You equate pointing out areas for improvement at Gunn and suggesting solutions with a "public campaign to ridicule Gunn." As the previous poster notes, that's like saying that "your doctor has a negative attitude towards you when he tells you to quit smoking." If we have a counseling system at Gunn that, despite the best efforts of a highly trained and caring staff, doesn't work as well as the advisory system at Paly, then it makes sense to change it. That would benefit everyone, including the counselors themselves, who will be more effective in their roles. Defending the status quo against positive change isn't doing anyone any favors, least of all students, teachers, and counselors at Gunn.

Posted by Michele Dauber, a resident of ,
on May 19, 2011 at 7:42 am

I'm done playing whack a mole with an anonymous poster.

As I said above, I told KCBS radio exactly what is in the 2008 survey: that 1/3 of our students have more than 3 hours per day 5 days per week. That's what I said. It is likely that the reporter used the "three hours per day" in the written version (not the audio) because she did not consider the weekend to be part of the work week. For most people, 5 days per week is the week. But I said 3 hours per day five days per week.

Why are you repeating something I already answered?

Isn't the real question whether we think more than 3 hours per day five days per week is a lot? I think it's a lot, and I want to address that. Let's have that discussion.

You seem to be arguing that hours of homework actually dropped between 2008 and 2011 even though you have no evidence whatsoever for that claim. That is an odd thing to assert since absolutely no one thinks that happened and there is no evidence for it either nationally or in PAUSD.

Do you have some reason to think that homework loads have dropped since 2008? That's not what the parents we have been meeting with in our open forums and house meeting say. They say that if anything homework is increasing. These data seem accurate to everyone I talk to including teachers, School Board members, and district officials. Most people think they are an understatement.

I stated that "as many as a third" of high school students suffer from depression. That statistic is accurate. All estimates, from the NIH, the CDC, and the California Healthy Kids survey show that 1/3 of teens have had a two week period of depressive symptoms so severe that it lasted 2 weeks and they could not do their ordinary life activities. Another statistic, from the NIMH, is that around 11% of teens are diagnosed with "depressive disorders." It would be a mistake to rely on the 11% number because relying only on diagnosed disorders would severely underestimate the actual incidence of depression. Who is diagnosed is a function of many things including money and insurance. The question asked by the CDC is intended to capture those who may have suffered a "major depressive incident" to estimate the possible extent of the disorder in the population.

That is why saying "as many as a third" is accurate.

I cannot state enough how wrong it is for people to post anonymous accusations disputing known facts or accusing an academic of dishonest manipulation of data or evidence.

Not only are you attacking my reputation without any evidence, you are doing it anonymously, and also throwing up a cloud of misinformation about depression in the public forum.

The only sensible thing you have said is that the samples are small (and they may suffer from sampling bias, though you didn't say that). That is why we provide numbers across a wide range of surveys -- WASC, SPSE, Strategic Plan, Strategic Plan Update, PA Youth Council - to show the broad consistency of the results. This makes it more likely than not that the differences are real and reflect real gaps in the underlying population. The methodology is not mine, it is PAUSD's.

That said, unless you have some reason to think that these numbers are inaccurate -- and your gut feeling does not count as a reason -- then there is no reason to take reams and reams of consistent findings over a decade and discard them.

If you have an argument with the policy prescriptions, by all means please state your view. I see that you think Gunn and Paly are great, welcoming, warm, noncompetitive places where no one has too much homework and only 3% of teens suffer from depression (or is it 8?). I welcome that discussion. And let's have it using your real name.

But your agenda seems to be that Ken and I or the dozens of members of We Can Do Better (we're growing!) who want to have an open and frank conversation about stress in our schools and the mental health implications of that stress are somehow illegitimate participants in the dialogue.

Kevin Skelly definitely agrees with you. He stated to CBS radio that it was "not appropriate" for parents to be involved trying to call attention to P-8 or these issues. I don't agree, and I don't think you and Kevin are in the majority on this.

Posted by Michele Dauber, a resident of ,
on May 19, 2011 at 9:29 am

I hate being dragged down a rat hole like this, but:

1. 2008 is the "most recent survey data" asking students about homework. 2010 asks parents about homework. As noted above, it was interesting to me that parents do in fact know with accuracy how much homework their kids are doing (an interesting fact that in itself speaks volumes about our homework culture);

2. Many of the samples are perfectly reasonable, or even quite large. For example, in the 2008 strategic plan survey, there were around 600 parents from each school, out of 2000 families. That is a large sample, if it is not biased in some systematic way that would cause you to think it is unreliable. Similarly, the WASC reports from 2009 surveyed over 1200 Gunn students, out of a population of around 1800. In 2010, there were around 600 family surveys out of around 4000 families. Again, not an unreasonable number provided that you don't think there was a systematic bias.

There is no reason to believe that the 60% gap in dissatisfaction between Gunn and Paly on quality and availability of psychological counseling is "noise" as you assert without support. Please support that statement with any evidence.

3. I agree that P-8 says "study discuss and implement." That is what we are doing right now.

We have started the study and the discussion because the district did not. This *is* the study and the discussion. We Can Do Better urged the district and the Board of Education to launch a task force to study these issues listed under "next steps" on P-8 but they declined to do so. We decided to take up the charge, and have launched the study by examining the district's own data, and get the discussion started by disseminating that data to the community. Right now, right here, we are having "study" and "discussion," though the discussion is bogging down in your unfounded and really ill-informed attacks on my right to talk and my credibility rather than on the issues themselves.

Would I have preferred that Kevin Skelly and our elected school board members lead this study and discussion? You bet. I already have a full-time job of my own that I would prefer to be doing. But the issues are too important and the stakes too high to fail to address these critical issues. Parents can't "implement" without the cooperation of the district but we don't need to wait for others to "study" or "discuss."

We have spent hours and hours poring over the district data, and studying it. We have spent hours researching and reading the academic literature. I probably know more about the relative merits of advisory than most teachers or district officials at this point. We have spent hours and hours meeting with parents and teachers and other district officials, disseminating the results of our investigation and study, educating ourselves and the community, and having an informed discussion of the issues.

You can join that study and discussion and be part of the solution.

Posted by Jay Thorwaldson, a resident of ,
on May 25, 2011 at 2:41 pm

Jay Thorwaldson is a registered user.

Sorry for the delayed response to the allegations that I or the Weekly have some kind of prejudice against Gunn High. I personally really like Gunn and have no problems with either high school -- and believe the new leadership at both schools seem to be contributing to even better environments. It does get a bit tiring to have this old allegation resurface. Regards, -jay

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