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'Time of healing' needed in school district

Consultants warn of 'escalated hostility' if Board of Education, superintendent don't address dysfunctional management practices

New Palo Alto schools' Superintendent Kevin Skelly and the Palo Alto Board of Education ought to spearhead a "time of healing" in the school district, consultants Geoff Ball and Associates advised the school board Tuesday night.

The recommendation -- and numerous others -- were outlined in a report commissioned to assess allegations from the Palo Alto Management Association (PAMA) that outgoing Superintendent Mary Frances Callan and her senior cabinet members treated employees unfairly.

Overall, the report found, the district lacks clarity on decision making, meeting management and purposes and is confused about the relative roles of the school board, superintendent and managers, consultants said.

Discontent with an amorphous system of governance created a tense and frustrated atmosphere in which "people too quickly jump to assumptions of malicious intent (rather than simple misunderstanding, lack of skills or even incompetence)," the report stated.

The report identified five areas needing improvement or action: relations among the board, managers and superintendent; the committee system by which information is gathered and discussed; key work processes; board policy leadership; and the strategic planning process.

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The consultants warned that if the board were to forego making systematic changes the district would suffer the "loss of long-tenured talent to other districts." There would be "continued, if not escalated hostility between the Board and the managers, loss of energy and commitment in support of high performances, loss of trust and rapport, and damage to the Board's credibility."

Consultants came to these conclusions after conducting five months of interviews with 71 people including all school board members, the current superintendent, all senior cabinet members, and more than 50 members of the Palo Alto Management Association.

Many members of the group said they felt their expertise and experience was being disregarded or disrespected, the report said. The district lacks a systematic channel to flow "expertise and advice into policy making," the consultants found.

"They reported having been asked for opinion or input 'after the fact,' to confirm a decision that had already been made," consultants said.

Board members would do their own research into issues when they felt the quality of information given them by the staff was questionable, the report found.

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District personnel also commented on the board's lack of coherence, as reflected in numerous split votes.

Board members attributed it to "differing views" on how they should work with the superintendent as well as with one another. Others attributed it to a lack of vision.

"A strong majority complained that the Board does not provide a consistent vision, use educational expert in the formation of policy, or educate itself sufficiently before making a decision," according to the report.

Consultants recommended the school board follow a strategic plan and avoid reactive decision making, consultants added.

"Sometimes you need to say, 'No,'" said Jerry Talley of Geoff Ball and Associates.

The board ought to "reaffirm local values," adopt a renewed focus on policies, and build a "code of conduct" for board members, Talley said.

"With the superintendent, the board needs to take the lead in developing and modeling PAUSD values," he said.

Consultants recommended the district could adopt more respectful language to challenge unacceptable behavior such as the following:

"Excuse me, but what you just did seems outside our agreements"; and "My understanding is that we were not going to do X anymore"; and "I can hear that you're angry, but we agreed to attack the issues and not each other."

The school district as a whole needs to create an environment in which professionals feel safe to address complex and conflicted issues rather than wasting effort on protecting themselves or maneuvering for a better position, consultants said.

There needs to be a culture of "mutual respect and belief in each other's best intentions even as disagreements emerge," the report stated.

When it comes to blame, the consultants advised district personnel not to point fingers.

"No one and everyone" is to blame, they said in the 31-page report. "What does matter is peoples' ability and willingness to listen to each other without a presumption of guilt or innocence, of being right or wrong, and with an interest in moving ahead together."

Looking forward, the vast majority of teachers and managers felt Palo Alto schools were a great place in which to work, Talley said. Most were also "optimistic" the district could change for the better.

"This was the time," Talley said he heard from interviewees about the board and the superintendent to make positive changes. "This is the year to do it."

Board members expressed support for the consultants' recommendations.

"This is the culmination of a period that has been very, very difficult and challenging for the board and the community," board member Gail Price said. "We are all committed to ensure we move forward in an optimistic and hopeful way."

"This is a time for healing," board member Mandy Lowell said. "We want managers to be respected as professionals."

"The report presents actionable work for us to do," board member Barb Mitchell said.

Kara Rosenberg, principal of the Palo Alto Adult School, thanked the board on behalf of PAMA for addressing the organizational process.

"Figuring out what the issues are is the easy part," board candidate Melissa Baten Caswell said. "The hard part is how to make the change."

The consultant is expected to meet with Skelly in early July to share their report with him. The board will begin working on changes with Skelly in the fall.

The consultant's full report can be found here.

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'Time of healing' needed in school district

Consultants warn of 'escalated hostility' if Board of Education, superintendent don't address dysfunctional management practices

by / Palo Alto Weekly

Uploaded: Thu, Jun 28, 2007, 2:21 pm

New Palo Alto schools' Superintendent Kevin Skelly and the Palo Alto Board of Education ought to spearhead a "time of healing" in the school district, consultants Geoff Ball and Associates advised the school board Tuesday night.

The recommendation -- and numerous others -- were outlined in a report commissioned to assess allegations from the Palo Alto Management Association (PAMA) that outgoing Superintendent Mary Frances Callan and her senior cabinet members treated employees unfairly.

Overall, the report found, the district lacks clarity on decision making, meeting management and purposes and is confused about the relative roles of the school board, superintendent and managers, consultants said.

Discontent with an amorphous system of governance created a tense and frustrated atmosphere in which "people too quickly jump to assumptions of malicious intent (rather than simple misunderstanding, lack of skills or even incompetence)," the report stated.

The report identified five areas needing improvement or action: relations among the board, managers and superintendent; the committee system by which information is gathered and discussed; key work processes; board policy leadership; and the strategic planning process.

The consultants warned that if the board were to forego making systematic changes the district would suffer the "loss of long-tenured talent to other districts." There would be "continued, if not escalated hostility between the Board and the managers, loss of energy and commitment in support of high performances, loss of trust and rapport, and damage to the Board's credibility."

Consultants came to these conclusions after conducting five months of interviews with 71 people including all school board members, the current superintendent, all senior cabinet members, and more than 50 members of the Palo Alto Management Association.

Many members of the group said they felt their expertise and experience was being disregarded or disrespected, the report said. The district lacks a systematic channel to flow "expertise and advice into policy making," the consultants found.

"They reported having been asked for opinion or input 'after the fact,' to confirm a decision that had already been made," consultants said.

Board members would do their own research into issues when they felt the quality of information given them by the staff was questionable, the report found.

District personnel also commented on the board's lack of coherence, as reflected in numerous split votes.

Board members attributed it to "differing views" on how they should work with the superintendent as well as with one another. Others attributed it to a lack of vision.

"A strong majority complained that the Board does not provide a consistent vision, use educational expert in the formation of policy, or educate itself sufficiently before making a decision," according to the report.

Consultants recommended the school board follow a strategic plan and avoid reactive decision making, consultants added.

"Sometimes you need to say, 'No,'" said Jerry Talley of Geoff Ball and Associates.

The board ought to "reaffirm local values," adopt a renewed focus on policies, and build a "code of conduct" for board members, Talley said.

"With the superintendent, the board needs to take the lead in developing and modeling PAUSD values," he said.

Consultants recommended the district could adopt more respectful language to challenge unacceptable behavior such as the following:

"Excuse me, but what you just did seems outside our agreements"; and "My understanding is that we were not going to do X anymore"; and "I can hear that you're angry, but we agreed to attack the issues and not each other."

The school district as a whole needs to create an environment in which professionals feel safe to address complex and conflicted issues rather than wasting effort on protecting themselves or maneuvering for a better position, consultants said.

There needs to be a culture of "mutual respect and belief in each other's best intentions even as disagreements emerge," the report stated.

When it comes to blame, the consultants advised district personnel not to point fingers.

"No one and everyone" is to blame, they said in the 31-page report. "What does matter is peoples' ability and willingness to listen to each other without a presumption of guilt or innocence, of being right or wrong, and with an interest in moving ahead together."

Looking forward, the vast majority of teachers and managers felt Palo Alto schools were a great place in which to work, Talley said. Most were also "optimistic" the district could change for the better.

"This was the time," Talley said he heard from interviewees about the board and the superintendent to make positive changes. "This is the year to do it."

Board members expressed support for the consultants' recommendations.

"This is the culmination of a period that has been very, very difficult and challenging for the board and the community," board member Gail Price said. "We are all committed to ensure we move forward in an optimistic and hopeful way."

"This is a time for healing," board member Mandy Lowell said. "We want managers to be respected as professionals."

"The report presents actionable work for us to do," board member Barb Mitchell said.

Kara Rosenberg, principal of the Palo Alto Adult School, thanked the board on behalf of PAMA for addressing the organizational process.

"Figuring out what the issues are is the easy part," board candidate Melissa Baten Caswell said. "The hard part is how to make the change."

The consultant is expected to meet with Skelly in early July to share their report with him. The board will begin working on changes with Skelly in the fall.

The consultant's full report can be found here.

Comments

Parent
Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 28, 2007 at 11:32 pm
Parent, Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 28, 2007 at 11:32 pm
Like this comment

What about the other important item on the agenda last Tuesday, enrollment increase planning. That is also an important topic and I have heard nothing. Was it discussed? Were any decisions made?


OhlonePar
Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jun 28, 2007 at 11:56 pm
OhlonePar, Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jun 28, 2007 at 11:56 pm
Like this comment

Healing--as in, oh sh--, people are so pissed off about MI that they might vote against the next bond.

At least we'll be spared another self-righteous lecture about behavior from Ms. Callan.

I think the healing should begin with an extraction of a couple of school board members, followed by pathology reports on Callan's governance and just how hand-in-glove the school bureaucracy got with PACE.

Then maybe we could follow this up with a competent treatment plan where the board and the district actually, oh, comes up with some real solutions to the district's problems/


Not healing yet
Barron Park
on Jun 28, 2007 at 11:56 pm
Not healing yet, Barron Park
on Jun 28, 2007 at 11:56 pm
Like this comment

It's funny how we're told to "heal" on two fronts now -- upper level management & MI. And yet, the two seem to be one and the same in many respects.

My favorite quotes are from page 28 of the management study (aka "Organizational Development Project", found here Web Link):

Note: this was a study of the management team, ostensibly nothing to do with the other trauma facing the district right now.

"The Situation:"

"it seems that the relevance of the current strategic plan has diminished and it is not regularly used to guide planning and decision making"

"A majority [of management team survey respondents] were also concerned about how the Board preserves strategic priorities in the face of parental pressures."

"The Analysis:"

"A robust strategic plan requires a willingness to be constrained by the plan, which means saying "no" to some new demands in order to preserve the direction and momentum toward strategic goals."

Uh, yes. Isn't that what most of us have been saying all along?

Any chance the board will take *that* into advisement and re-consider (again) its flip-flop on MI? Nah ... who needs a strategic plan. Biggest check and best threat letter wins.


Parent:
Yes, enrollment was discussed starting at 10pm, after dealing with mandatory budget approval and other business. No surprises there -- the board will wait until fall to see how enrollment is actually shaping up. The only motion made (and passed) was to not change any boundaries for now.


Ready for change
Evergreen Park
on Jun 29, 2007 at 9:16 am
Ready for change, Evergreen Park
on Jun 29, 2007 at 9:16 am
Like this comment

Healing is only possible if people want healing to take place. If people enjoy the excitement and stimulation of feuding, then they'll keep the hostilities and finger-pointing on the front burner. If this dysfunctional district is to work more harmoniously, then people will have to work at finding common ground and join together in things that can be agreed on. Obviously, there needs to be some changes, and the best present we could give the new superintendent is a positive attitude and serious effort to let go of grudges. That doesn't mean squelching frustrations, but it does mean not taking glee in how bad the bad stuff has been and instead focusing on what we want, not what we don't want. Positive language toward positive goals.


out with the old, in with the new
Greenmeadow
on Jun 29, 2007 at 9:38 am
out with the old, in with the new, Greenmeadow
on Jun 29, 2007 at 9:38 am
Like this comment

"If the Board were to forego serious efforts in these areas, we would anticipate significant
negative consequences (i.e., loss of long-tenured talent to other districts, continued, if not
escalated, hostility between the Board and the managers, loss of energy and commitment in support of high performance, loss of trust and rapport, and damage to the Board’s credibility)."

oh, brother!
typical shrinking violet tactics - - called in some circles "let the holy words of the sacred consultant wash away our sins, even though we screwed up really, really bad". it's kinda like asking mama for a fifth chance.

so, our tax dollars went to hire a consultant to help dysfunctional administrators and a few elected board members learn how to "play nice" and "clean up their mess"? how quaint

some advice for the new sup:
1 - clean house! if you don't, you'll find out really, really fast why you shuold have - - start over with people your employees can trust, instead of trying to repair years of conscious insensitivity

neither you, or site admins and teachers who have been stonewalled for years by the likes of Cook and Bowers should not have say goodbye and start over with your own management team - otherwise spend the first two years of this assignment picking cleaning up a mess not of your own making
-----
-----

some advice to the community:
1 - replace Camille Townsend. she fought positive changes right down to the wire, and continues to be a loose cannon - - I have yet to see a more ineffective board chair


natasha
Meadow Park
on Jun 29, 2007 at 9:50 am
natasha, Meadow Park
on Jun 29, 2007 at 9:50 am
Like this comment

Seems unlikely that meaningful change could happen at Churchill without taking a good hard look at the competence and mangement style or some of the administrators, and removing them as appropriate (and I think many people agree that removing one or two them WOULD be appropriate -- they have forgotten they are public employees and that the district is not their own private playground), and taking a good hard look at the patterns that have gotten us here. As I tell my children, "Saying you're sorryu and promising to change your behavior doesn't cut it. I want to SEE the change. I want to EXPERIENCE the change. No change in behavior = no change in attitude. No change in attitude = consequences." My kids are only in elementary school and even they get this. We wouldn't even have needed a consultant if the Board had listened to the deep problems in the first place and taken respoinsibility for being something more than a rubber stamp for the Superintendent's recommendations for the past however many years.

The reason people get mad and then bring up old wrongs is that at so many levels, behavior never changes. While nice talk and respectful tone are important, they are the beginning, not the solution. Without consequences, no one changes. Being held to account is pretty standard in adult work situations. It should be in the District as well. The best thing Mr. Skelly could do is take the time early on to examine each administrator and manger's work and performance closely, and not let the clock start ticking all over again on receiving consequences for their blatant and offensive attitude of entitlement.


Jim
Greenmeadow
on Jun 29, 2007 at 11:59 am
Jim, Greenmeadow
on Jun 29, 2007 at 11:59 am
Like this comment

natasha is correct. What we have had for years is power-tripping attitude from a few senior administrators. Where is the accountability, and where are the consequences? Gee, an expensive consultant's report is their life-raft? We deserve better people for our tax dollars. (I just read the report; it's full of nothing but common organizational sense, pasted over with 1980's-type edu-speak...sheesh!)

I'm gonna work hard against Townsend this fall, as are my friends. As for the senior administrators that are left, if the new superintendent keeps them on, knowing what he probably already knows by now, it will be a warning about his management style and approach. Cook and Bowers should be replaced, as they were long aware of these problems, with even more problems festering in the teacher corps (that this so-called "solutions report" doesn't even address. Scott and Bowers can be very quiet and comforming when they need to be; I wonder if the new superintendent will see through that.


Jim
Greenmeadow
on Jun 29, 2007 at 12:01 pm
Jim, Greenmeadow
on Jun 29, 2007 at 12:01 pm
Like this comment

I meant "Cook and Bowers can be very quiet and comforming when they need to be; I wonder if the new superintendent will see through that."


natasha
Meadow Park
on Jun 29, 2007 at 12:24 pm
natasha, Meadow Park
on Jun 29, 2007 at 12:24 pm
Like this comment

I'll join you in the campaign, Jim! If I hear one more time from an administrator about how we should forgive and forget, when *nothing has changed from the situation that made everyone furious in the first place*, I will just go crazy. When people who behave like the district or the school is their personal feifdom, someone needs to step up who is not afraid to say that's wrong and stop the behavior.


Resident to the 10th power
Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 29, 2007 at 3:02 pm
Resident to the 10th power, Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 29, 2007 at 3:02 pm
Like this comment

Finally had time to catch up on my papers today.

Quoting from the Palo Alto Daily's report on the Consultants - Web Link

*******************************************************************
"Managers told the consultants they're sometimes frustrated by board members' oversensitivity to community concerns and tendency to supplement staff reports with their own independent research.

"Some focus group members felt that the latest wave of community e-mail carried more weight than the cumulative wisdom of internal educational experts," the report stated.

Board Member Mandy Lowell said she frequently gathers additional information from the community's local experts, including those at Stanford University.

"None of that is a substitute for the educational professionals," Lowell said. "Maybe I need to do a better job of conveying that I'm not trying to duplicate their work."
**************************************************************

Ummm...since when does an elected Board member being sensitive to the community's concerns mean 'bad'? They are supposed to set policy based on what we, the taxpayers, elected them to do to keep our tax dollars flowing in. They are supposed to hold our District accountable, and we are to hold our Board accountable.

This implies that the Staff believe they should have free rein to do with our tax dollars whatever they see fit. They don't believe their job is to advise on best educational research and strategies,and the ELECTED Board's job is to set policy on how best to prioritize and implement their recommendations.

And, do the managers who feel that the community e-mails carried more weight than their "cumulative wisdom" STILL not understand that very little of the "latest wave of e-mails" had anything to do with disagreeing with their "cumulative wisdom" that immersion is the best way to learn a language?

Do they still think that this was an argument over whether or not immersion is good? If this is an accurate reflection of their views, then it shows a complete disconnect between what they believe/understood and what was reality. Or, maybe they did, but their arrogance makes them believe that they are right about not only good educational practice, but about the way to implement and prioritize in a District. In other words, it looks like they believe that the rest of us are too stupid to understand what is "good for us", and why bother having a Board?

Lastly, did it occur to any of them to wonder why so many others feel a need to do outside research? It may be because the research we get is one sided and incomplete, with foregone conclusions well known before the report is even begun. No need to go into it all now, but in my opinion we never got a full, honest, multi-sided report on anything big in our District in the last year. Reports were circumscribed from the outset, with little critical thinking through sourced pros-cons of many options so the Board could decide how to proceed, and obvious critical contributors left off reports, from the AAAG report, to the Feasibility Study, to the Charter vs. Choice Report.

THAT is why there is so much research going on outside of Staff's.


Look inside yourself when you think others are "taking" your job..maybe they are filling a vacuum.


District watcher
Fairmeadow
on Jun 29, 2007 at 4:15 pm
District watcher, Fairmeadow
on Jun 29, 2007 at 4:15 pm
Like this comment

Parent writes: "What about the other important item on the agenda last Tuesday, enrollment increase planning. That is also an important topic and I have heard nothing. Was it discussed? Were any decisions made?"

There's a news story up. Web Link

Nothing decided, but apparently lots to think about.


natasha
Meadow Park
on Jun 29, 2007 at 4:28 pm
natasha, Meadow Park
on Jun 29, 2007 at 4:28 pm
Like this comment

Resident to the 10th power -- I agree with you completely. This attitude, which thy didn't even appear to try to conceal or modify for the benefit of the consultant, is the reason Mr. Skelly will have his work cut out for him weeding out the problem administrators so they will not continue to corrode the environment in the district.


Tired
Barron Park
on Jul 1, 2007 at 4:48 pm
Tired, Barron Park
on Jul 1, 2007 at 4:48 pm
Like this comment

"So, who's to blame? In a sense, no one and everyone. For the purposes of this assessment, it doesn't matter."

Of course it matters if the prime person responsible for this mess is leaving. Everyone is to blame? Really? What tripe!


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