News

Palo Alto school calendar stays same in 2011-12

But pre-break final exams are likely in 2012-13, pending a poll of teachers

Following mixed and passionate testimony about academic calendars, the Palo Alto Board of Education Tuesday night unanimously approved a 2011-12 district-wide calendar similar to that of the current school year.

However, a majority of board members appeared poised to make a substantial shift the following year -- ending the first semester before the 2012 winter break -– provided they receive assurances from teachers that program quality would not suffer by having a shorter first semester and a longer second semester.

"This is a split issue in this community," board member Barb Mitchell said.

"This is the third calendar cycle we're completing where we've had the concept to have a pilot to complete first semester before winter break. In the past, we've also arrived at calendar fatigue and then we've punted.

"I do want to stick with it this time."

The board will consider the 2012-13 and 2013-14 calendars in February, after teachers have been consulted on the question of uneven semester lengths. An abbreviated first semester would be necessary in order to complete the semester before winter break while keeping the school start date no earlier than the third week of August.

In addition to polling teachers, Assistant Superintendent Scott Bowers said he will survey parents, students and staff on the calendar issue before bringing the issue back to the board in February.

Board members said they've been inundated with "hundreds and hundreds of e-mails on this issue."

Advocates of pre-break finals, including Palo Alto Medical Foundation representative Becky Beacom, said the calendar change has for years been a top priority for groups trying to ease student stress.

"Measures like finals before winter break have been shown to provide swift and powerful relief to student stress," she said.

Nearly all nearby high schools, including Los Altos, Mountain View, Menlo Atherton, Woodside, St. Francis, Castilleja and Menlo, have switched to pre-break finals.

But opponents of the change said adding finals to already crammed December schedules could drive students to the breaking point.

"I already see (my daughter) jumping and screaming and yelling, and if she had to take finals right now her stress levels would just elevate," the mother of a Palo Alto High School senior said.

Board member Camille Townsend argued that pre-break finals may actually increase, not reduce, student stress.

Board President Melissa Baten Caswell said if the board decides to proceed with pre-break finals, special measures should be taken to accommodate performing arts students with intense pre-holiday schedules as well as seniors in the midst of college applications.

"We're never going to know if (pre-break finals) works without trying it, but I want to go into it with our eyes open," Caswell said.

Comments

Like this comment
Posted by Parent
a resident of Barron Park
on Dec 8, 2010 at 6:09 am

Just another example of killed effort to ease the kids stress. Winter break should be free for fun and relaxation, not exam preparation. Put it for the parents/ children vote, not just relay on the opinion of the small group of parents. It worked in other communities and kidsnare as busybas ours.


Like this comment
Posted by Disappointed
a resident of another community
on Dec 8, 2010 at 6:56 am

Very disappointing. There's no need for endless study, especially since the calendar issue has come up multiple times before. "Calendar fatigue" is not acceptable--what about students' fatigue while the board remains indecisive? At a certain point, the board simply has to take the leap, not endlessly delay because the community seems divided (and perhaps might not vote for them next time around if they don't appear to be weighing each and every person's opinion).


Like this comment
Posted by Confused
a resident of College Terrace
on Dec 8, 2010 at 7:33 am

"Winter break should be free for fun and relaxation, not exam preparation. "

Just a question: how much studying for finals actually occurs during winter break? At Gunn, kids go back to school on January 3rd and finals don't start until January 18th. That's over two weeks.


Like this comment
Posted by Paly Parent
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Dec 8, 2010 at 8:17 am

Winter break is free for relaxation and fun--unless the parents hijack it and insist on studying (something that will happen whenever the break ends--the kids at the meeting said that if they're doing anything, they're doing SAT prep, which doesn't go away. They also said that if they think about school or doing any school related work, that doesn't happen until at most 2 days before school starts, when they start getting in gear to go back.) Board speakers pointed out that adults "take vacations". Indeed they do. But they've learned to take vacations without quitting their jobs; why do we think our kids can't do the same thing?


Like this comment
Posted by Gunn Junior
a resident of Gunn High School
on Dec 8, 2010 at 8:21 am

Let me ask you a question, "Confused" - a high school student may have 5+ finals during finals week - not to mention several long-term projects due on finals week. So yes, studying/work does need to be done during Winter Break if the finals are after it.

And even without excess projects or studying during winter break, I think everybody knows that most of the cause of "studying" during the break is due to parent and/or school stress that creates the feeling that you must study - even if you don't have anything to do study, for fear of falling behind over the break.

This is yet another example of parents in our school system being at once overprotective and yet completely apathetic regarding student stress.


Like this comment
Posted by Gunn parent
a resident of Barron Park
on Dec 8, 2010 at 8:25 am

As a high school parent for six years now, my kids have had a major project hanging over them during winter break almost every, if not every, year. Those created more stress than finals. The group projects, especially the ones involving videos, are the worst because so many of the group members are gone and 1 or 2 end up doing all the work. The past years when teachers were not supposed to assign projects over break did not work. My kids still had assignments due the week after break.


Like this comment
Posted by Another Mom
a resident of South of Midtown
on Dec 8, 2010 at 8:49 am

What actually happened at the meeting? Was it again all folks who wanted finals after xmas or was it a mix?


Like this comment
Posted by palo alto mom
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Dec 8, 2010 at 8:53 am

I find that while very few kids actually study for finals over break, MANY of them work on projects which are due in January. That won't change no matter when the semester ends. Unless your class is only a semester long, teachers can and will assign long term projects that are due in January.

Homework (especially busy work) and projects (especially those requiring a whole group to participate) cause much more student stress than finals.

Teachers need to think about whether their assignment actually promotes learning in their subject (something which our local private schools do MUCH better than Paly). French teachers shouldn't assign cooking and making movies. Physics teachers shouldn't assign construction projects. Spanish teachers shouldn't assign collages and coloring. Math teachers shouldn't assign 100 problems when 20 is enough to reinforce the concepts... If we are preparing our student for college, we should assign the type of project required in college. I don't think a college French class will be coloring a poster.


Like this comment
Posted by Same old, same old
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 8, 2010 at 8:56 am

Barb Mitchell called it herself - punting again, instead of making an actual decision. MORE TIME to study?? This calendar option (actually BETTER ones) has been before the School Board for 3 calendar cycles - 6 years of precious time have passed. Pretty good lead time to inquire, analyze, and conclude whether such a calendar is worth enacting. HECK, I'd even venture to say that 6 years is plenty of time to investigate, strategize, educate teachers on uneven semesters, respond to parent and student concerns, put structures in place to support college apps, etc. and THEN survey stakeholders for their degree of support (all well KNOWN issues from previous calendar debates!) AAAARGH!

Asking parents and students to email "their thoughts" is useful only as a starting point - for what the concerns are - not (necessarily) as a final gauge of their support. Then study the issue. Ask principals, teachers, parents and students who live with this type of calendar how they deal with camps and apps and holiday performances, uneven semesters, et cetera. NOT to be a follower per se (no one is suggesting that) - but to inform our own decision-making process. Yet there is resistance to this sort of inquiry. Why? It's just information. Information that can be accepted and incorporated or rejected - but to not inquire?? With something so important in the balance? (the supposed opportunity to bring about significant stress relief to nearly 4000 high school students?)

Whether the parent community or Board eventually agree that finals before winter break is a good or horrible idea - our students are worthy of a better effort. 6 years? and they need more time? If it (inquiry, outreach to teachers of semester classes and surveying) can be done by mid-February, why wasn't it done prior to this vote? I think it's a fair question.

I would have respected an informed and reasoned, well-articulated, "no" decision on the proposal more than this current "rollover" calendar decision.


Like this comment
Posted by AP parent
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 8, 2010 at 9:39 am

Let's do the right thing now:

Move the beginning of the school year back to after Labor Day so that 1st semester finals are in late January or early February and no longer interfere with winter break at all.

Then, make some special accommodation for AP students, such as a special summer school or an early back to school session, or even a winter break special session for those who want to take AP classes (after all AP classes are optional).


Like this comment
Posted by Unbeliaveble
a resident of Palo Verde School
on Dec 8, 2010 at 9:49 am

I can't believe that it takes this long for the district to do his or her homework. They said they need to ask students how they feel through a survey. This should had happened a while ago.


Like this comment
Posted by A Parent
a resident of Mountain View
on Dec 8, 2010 at 11:20 am

I'm sorry to hear that the district caved in to the whining of the coddling parents. However, I am pleased that the door is not completely closed. It is my hope that change will take place at the beginning of 2012, and that the change will be to start school earlier and have finals end before the winter break.

Poo poo on the Sr. students (and their parents) that feel they will be under too much pressure to study for finals and apply for colleges all at the same time. What better way to prepare for college when all will need to behave like adults and learn how to plan their time accordingly.


Like this comment
Posted by Kyrie Robinson
a resident of Midtown
on Dec 8, 2010 at 11:22 am

The problem was NOT that they didn't do a survey, didn't work on the calendar, didn't care, or didn't try. I attended the last school board mtg, and it was clear that they did all the work thinking only (or mostly) about 9-12. Thus they proposed a pre-holiday final calendar that had the kids (ALL kids, kinder thru 12) in school until 12/23, out of school until 1/8, starting school in early August, and other wierdnesses. They forgot to take into account and survey the K-8 families, and so ultimately that proposal was flawed and doomed.

Opening the discussion to accomplish the pre-holiday finals by using uneven semesters (to keep the start&end dates the same) IS progress.


Like this comment
Posted by Cathy
a resident of Crescent Park
on Dec 8, 2010 at 11:53 am

Wow, A Parent, I don't quite know where to begin! So we are 'coddling parents' for wanting what is best for our kids but you aren't, even though what are arguing for is also what you feel is best for your kids. Then you have the gall to criticize Senior students, saying they should 'behave like adults' and just get on with it. Well, how about all High School students should be doing the same thing, preparing for college - and for the real world by accepting the deadlines that they are given and plan their time accordingly? I am in finance, I have deadlines for getting my books closed each month, quarter and year - these deadlines don't move if I have a vacation planned, they don't move if I am feeling a bit stressed. Finals are currently scheduled for a couple of weeks after winter break, plenty of time to prepare without needing to work over the vacation. How about your kids 'prepare for college' and 'plan their time accordingly' as well.


Like this comment
Posted by bigger picture
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Dec 8, 2010 at 11:58 am

I agree wholeheartedly with palo alto mom regarding the sacred concept of projects and the level of stress they induce.

Last night, I was deeply disturbed to hear that one class has assigned a project (already) even though it is not due until Jan 10th(?) This teacher's behavior completely contradicts the spirit of no homework over the break. I guess that teacher didn't get the memo. There should be no mention, not even a preview or hint, of project assignments until after the break if the schools and teachers are truly serious about work free breaks. Walk the talk. period.

In addition, education "experts" seem to love GROUP projects, but they are scheduling nightmares for students and families who are already involved in other activities. The scheduling complexity becomes exponential when multiple students AND their family obligations are considered. It's quite conceivable that the only time when everyone is available to work on a group project is after midnight.... and woe to the family who needs to drive their student to the meeting place and back. While there is a high-minded goal to cultivate the skills for project based learning (because the working world is a lot like that), adults in the real world are able to do so during the work day when everyone is awake and at the office. The concept is well intended but the logistics of making it happen are completely ignored... as in "not my problem." Perhaps a hard look at whether groups projects completed outside of class are really effective learning tools at this age level given the time and stress involved.

On the larger issue of school calendar, turning the calendar upside down - with earlier starts for pre-break finals, different length semesters, etc - appeared to be a no-brainer for the advocates of the calendar until people with less flexible schedules stood up and said not so fast. It seems to me to be a quick-fix pill that is too big to swallow. Let's get back to the concept - to reduce stress.

If there is truly a commitment to reduce stress, then walk the talk. It IS possible to not assign homework, paper or projects over break... don't even talk about them until school is back in session in January. That requires EVERYONE (teachers, parents and students) to agree.

Secondly, it IS possible to restructure the exams/assessments so that there are no big finals looming over their heads. Periodic exams should test knowledge of current material AND how that connects with material previously learned to show the more profound understanding. It is possible to do this but it may require more creative effort on the part of teachers in the way they formulate exams. I sincerely believe that this may be easier to do than to adapt a class to different length semesters. AND, if so, then whether the semester ends before or after winter break truly becomes irrelevant.

There are MANY top schools across the nation that manage quite well with semester classes, AP classes, college apps, and holiday breaks without resorting to major contortions in the calendar.

If we can step back for a moment to look at the bigger picture, there are options that may actually make everyone happier. But forcing one group or another to swallow a big pill is not helpful to anyone.


Like this comment
Posted by Not Confused
a resident of Leland Manor/Garland Drive
on Dec 8, 2010 at 12:17 pm

The only way to know all school related work stops over the winter break is to end the semester before winter break.

Simple, but apparently too fraught with angst from other "wants" ( Adults who want more August time, adults who want their kids to have December time to do sports and performing arts etc ) to actually do it.

As usual, the losers are the kids who needed a break.


Like this comment
Posted by Not confused
a resident of Leland Manor/Garland Drive
on Dec 8, 2010 at 12:19 pm

Cathy...after your books are closed, you can take a week off, can't you? How often do you go without even a weekend off for 9.5 months?

Oh, sorry..our high schoolers get 3 days off in January at the end of the first semester. That is SO healthy and good for them, isn't it? I am sure your high schoolers will thank you for this.


Like this comment
Posted by Anonymous
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 8, 2010 at 12:36 pm

Instead of surveying Palo Alto parents, teachers and students about a hypothetical, why not survey the neighboring school districts that did switch the calendar. "Nearly all nearby high schools, including Los Altos, Mountain View, Menlo Atherton, Woodside, St. Francis, Castilleja and Menlo, have switched to pre-break finals." Did it reduce stress or have unintended consequences?


Like this comment
Posted by PA Mom
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 8, 2010 at 12:44 pm

Anonymous,
Once people make the switch, they don't want to go back. I think the attitude of those districts has already been reported in previous pieces. Not having exams hanging over a young person's head, whether the kids study for them or not, is a huge stress reliever.


Like this comment
Posted by A Parent
a resident of Mountain View
on Dec 8, 2010 at 12:55 pm

This is directed to Cathy from Crescent Park. I have had kids experience both PA's current set-up (finals after the holiday break) and the current set-up for the MV/LA schools, with school starting earlier and the semester ending before the holiday break. Let me tell you that while we all we disappointed with having school start earlier in August it all worked out much better in the long run. The kids had a REAL break over the holidays, did not have projects looming over their heads. They could actually relax. They managed to study and take their finals before the break and apply for colleges without having to wait until the last minute. They were also better prepared for college.

As I've said before, people do not like change even if it is better in the long run. And yes, students AND PARENTS need to learn to make changes, learn to adapt, and in this case, get better prepared for college.

Being in finance you have monthly, qtrly and annual closing of the books. This all relates to your company's business. You need to organize your time, work hard and not get sick. What happens if they change their fiscal year for whatever reason or are acquired by another company? Does this mean that you won't adapt to the changes? You are an adult and hopefully have the skills needed to work with change.

This district issue hits people on a personal level. If there weren't problems with students stressing out and teachers having to get a year's curriculum properly taught in a short 1st semester, then I don't think the district would be having this discussion. Everyone knows that PA students seem to be experiencing extra-ordinary stress, so let's do what we can to help. There is nothing wrong with trying it for 3-4 years and then assessing it. Thankfully the door is still open for a year from now.

Our kids are in school for a short part of their life. Let's teach them life's lessens all along the way. Some of that means trying things out even if on the surface they are opposed to them. Some of those changes may produce results one never anticipated.


Like this comment
Posted by Time Mgmt
a resident of Green Acres
on Dec 8, 2010 at 12:59 pm

Love the post from Paly Parent: "Board speakers pointed out that adults "take vacations". Indeed they do. But they've learned to take vacations without quitting their jobs; why do we think our kids can't do the same thing?" I think you've made an excellent point! This is reality - being able to put aside ongoing responsibilities and deadlines for a "break" and then knowing when to come back to it without failing. That's life. Perhaps we've been trying to shield our kids too much from what they can and should expect as adults. We all need breaks, and certainly our kids do, but being able to take those breaks "stress-free" just isn't realistic.


Like this comment
Posted by palo alto mom
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Dec 8, 2010 at 1:48 pm

Not Confused -

"The only way to know all school related work stops over the winter break is to end the semester before winter break." Absolutely untrue. The majority of classes are a year long. Having the final before Winter Break does NOTHING to prevent a teacher from assigning a long term project or other work due when the students return.

The only way for all school related work to stop over winter break is for teachers not to assign any work before break which is due after break. Period.


Like this comment
Posted by Grandma
a resident of South of Midtown
on Dec 8, 2010 at 2:36 pm

When my kids were in the PAUSD, they returned to school after Labor Day. Then a ski week was instigated which brought the start of the school year back to late August before Labor Day.

Many years later ski week ended but the start of the school year did not return to after labor day. Starting the school year stayed in late August before Labor Day.

What happened to the 5 days that used to be ski week, where have they disappeared to?


Like this comment
Posted by Scary Stuff
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Dec 8, 2010 at 3:42 pm

To Time Mgmt - It is scary indeed when adults project uniquely adult perspectives onto the student experience - and is, IMHO, one root cause of both student stress AND our inability to adequately address it. To your point comparing the adult world of work and students' world of school:

Students in high school don't have the same power that most adults enjoy in the work environment. They don't have the power to request time off when they really need it - their breaks are completely dependent on the wisdom and decision-making of people whose job it is to consider and balance their "year" for them.

Sad but true - high school students can't even afford to be sick in high school. Adults can recover from a backlog of work or call in a favor from a coworker or hire a temp/a sub (not to mention still get paid while they recover!) But students feel if they miss a couple of classes they have a genuine risk of failure - that there is no physical way to make up for that lost time. They don't choose this - or do this to themselves by making poor decisions. WE - the adults - create, perpetuate and are in charge of this system.

Wonderful teachers or not - high school students are at the mercy of their "bosses" - and many believe their future college (or beyond) depends on a good grade from that boss or system - setting up a dynamic more similar to a quid pro quo or hostile environment in the workplace. But we adults are protected - by law - from that.

From the student perspective (as evidenced by 100s of teens at last year's Youth Forum) there is little to no accountability for their "bosses" either - for turning back papers on time, for responding to evaluations, for reasonable testing schedules, for adults following through on their promises to students.

No argument from me that it is our responsibility to help our children develop into strong, capable young men and women and prepare them for the future. One way is to be mindful that the environments, systems and stuctures we adults put in place for our children have very real health and academic consequences. We are accountable.


Like this comment
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 8, 2010 at 4:13 pm

I think comparing high school to work environment is not helpful to the kids.

When someone starts working their work responsibilities are their sole responsibilities. They do not need to ask for a parent to drive them to a coworkers home for a group project, to drive them to office max for office supplies for a big project, or need a parent to help with computer/printer/video/cooking/whatever. They do not have said parent need to help with younger sibling with similar needs/fixing dinner/having their own agenda.

From personal work experience with various demanding group projects/dynamics, I have not had the problems that high schoolers have just to do homework.

The best solutions to homework stress would be to reduce long term projects to be individual essays and individual research papers and make the due dates always on a Thursday or Friday and always before a long weekend/day off/break rather than after one. This would mean that weekends could be devoted to family/recreational activities and although the weeks may have some stress that stress would always end before a weekend. Have no assignments hanging over winter/spring/Thanksgiving ever. Period.

Get rid of all the busy work, group work, things that can be displayed in a classroom or consumed by the class. Get back to the basics of educating our students and leave families to teach morals and other non-academic "feel good stuff". Stop trying to make school children act like college students or good employees. Teach them how to do their assignments on their own asking for help from teachers when necessary without the need for parents driving/calling/emailing each other to arrange their schedules with classmates.

Only then will the kids themselves be able to organize their homework themselves without parental involvement which in the end will teach them maturity much better than any group project.


Like this comment
Posted by student
a resident of Gunn High School
on Dec 8, 2010 at 4:21 pm

As a student I think finals before winter break would certainly decrease my stress levels and most of my classmates I think would agree. It is ridiculous that they expect us to go on break and not study when finals are so close after. If they were before break, we would be able to enjoy break and not have to worry about finals.


Like this comment
Posted by Tom Gordon Freeman
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Dec 8, 2010 at 9:50 pm

I am one of the smartest kids at school. I took BC calc, APC physics, AP chem, APUSH, AP stat and honors English. Finals were a breeze, all in the 90's.

Finals are easy, and you don't need to study if you worked honestly through the semester.

You "parents" don't understand.


Like this comment
Posted by gunn student
a resident of Gunn High School
on Dec 8, 2010 at 11:02 pm

I also have also taken/am taking BC calc, AP Physics, APUSH, AP Spanish 4-5, AP English, and all honors available. I do not brag about being smart. I also study every chance I get. Just because I am in high level classes does not mean I do not need to work for my grades. I do all my homework, but finals are NOT easy. I personally need to study. And the dead week after winter break is not in reality dead, but full of relearning old material and frantically cramming in new work.

Most of my classes (especially AP's) administer finals before break anyway, and I'm graduating so I don't need to deal with this mess anymore. But my "parents" at least want what's best for me, and completely understand the need to have at least two weeks off to relax, or in my case frantically finish college applications.


Like this comment
Posted by Not True
a resident of Leland Manor/Garland Drive
on Dec 9, 2010 at 5:31 am

To whoever keeps writing that classes are "one year long" so there is no rest between semesters...

I suspect you have yet to have a kid go through high school. All projects, tests, etc come to a full stop before the end of the semester. There are NO carryover projects/tests etc from the first to the second semester. The kids get 3 whole days to rest. ( WOW!!!! 3 DAYS!!! How lucky they are!!!!)

Have seen you write that before, and didn't address it. Simply telling you and all who read it..it is simply not true. There is a full-stop between semesters for academic activities. Not talking about extra-curricular activities like performing arts and sports, which may have carryover.


Like this comment
Posted by Not confused
a resident of Greenmeadow
on Dec 9, 2010 at 5:34 am

To Scary Stuff: Well written. Huge difference between being a high schooler and an adult. And we, in our great wisdom, choose to put them under more stress than we ever are as adults. Won't repeat all of what you said, I recommend all read Post by Scary Stuff.

This part bears repeating by Scary Stuff:

"Sad but true - high school students can't even afford to be sick in high school. Adults can recover from a backlog of work or call in a favor from a coworker or hire a temp/a sub (not to mention still get paid while they recover!) But students feel if they miss a couple of classes they have a genuine risk of failure - that there is no physical way to make up for that lost time. They don't choose this - or do this to themselves by making poor decisions. WE - the adults - create, perpetuate and are in charge of this system."


Like this comment
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 9, 2010 at 7:14 am

Not true

You are correct that in the present system all projects are due before the end of semester. Because January is pretty dead, there is likely no probem with this. But, can you gaurantee that the same would happen with a December semester deadline? Can you see that there would be some teachers who are begged by parents for an extension due to December busy times? Can you see that with all the extra curricula activities some groups couldn't get all the necessary time to get together in December and the teachers wouldn't relent and say that they could hand their projects on the first day back in January to be "nice"? Couldn't you see that perhaps the first year there would be no homework, but gradually the teachers woud start allowing carry over work - perhaps even encourage it as they wouldn't want to grade over their break and so it would suit them to be able to leave project work until after finals?

Teachers do not want to be grading over Winter break so final grades would be left until mid January and students would be left waiting for a much longer time to get their grades.


Like this comment
Posted by palo alto mom
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Dec 9, 2010 at 8:32 am

Resident - You are so correct. If we move finals to before break, teachers are not required to hand in grades until January, so the kids would be in limbo...

Most group projects simply can not be done anytime except for long breaks. The physics projects are a great example. The kids have a long time to complete them, but as a group project, the only practical time to work on them is over a Break or weekend. As it is, usually the project gets done by a subset of the kids because the others have family obligations.

I've had 2 kids go thru high school here. Studying for finals over break was never a big stress. Doing projects over break and unnecessary busy work throughout the year are major causes of stress.

Other major causes of stress for my kids in order:
Teachers that do not turn back work in a timely manner or at all
Teachers who provide little or no criteria for their grading
Teachers who start the class off by telling their students that there is no way to get an "A" in the class (talk about how to start off a class on a negative note)
Teachers who are rude and/or mean


Like this comment
Posted by Disappointed
a resident of another community
on Dec 9, 2010 at 8:58 am

Is there some way to enforce the rule that teachers shouldn't assign work over break?

Also, gunn student and other Gunn students, do you think your lives would have been less stressful if Gunn were on the block system that Paly began this year? If so, are any Gunn students and parents trying to make that happen at Gunn in the future?

Finally, does anyone know how students at Mountain View High or Los Altos High feel about their stress levels, given that their calendars start in mid-August and have first-semester finals before winter break?


Like this comment
Posted by palo alto mom
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Dec 9, 2010 at 9:55 am

Disappointed - there is no way to enforce the rule the teachers shouldn't assign projects over Break unless the teacher's union agrees to it. Just like there is no way to enforce posting grades online or returning work in a timely manner. (All those are just no-brainers to me, but I am merely a parent).

Good question about MV and Los Altos. I would be interested to hear from parents who had students under both schedules.


Like this comment
Posted by Paly Parent
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Dec 9, 2010 at 10:30 am

A teacher from a nearby school district who had made the change a few years ago to pre-break finals spoke at the meeting and said it has turned out horribly (I'm paraphrasing), and that her students, particularly her seniors, right now are complete wrecks. She only had a moment to speak at the meeting but said she'd sent more detailed info to the board--I'd like to hear more about what she's been experiencing.


Like this comment
Posted by Disappointed
a resident of another community
on Dec 9, 2010 at 11:30 am

palo alto mom--thanks. It seems like there ought to be, by students reporting violators to the principal.

Paly Parent--that teacher, if I'm remembering correctly, was from Fremont High in Sunnyvale. I think there was something earlier on this site or perhaps in a newspaper article about students at Mountain View and Los Altos feeling less stress since the calendar change and since trying to implement some other Challenge Success suggestions, but I'm not sure. If anyone knows anything more about this, I'd appreciate hearing the details.


Like this comment
Posted by Paly Parent
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Dec 9, 2010 at 11:38 am

In my recollection, it's been reported that board members of those districts told our board members that they were happy with their decisions; I haven't seen or heard anything that reports what the teachers and students have experienced in anything but in this third hand way. Would love to get some real detail on what's been going on from the teachers and students.


Like this comment
Posted by Hurry Up!
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Dec 9, 2010 at 11:54 am

Disappointed: The new Paly block schedule has lowered stress here because it's not 7 classes everyday. The backpack is lighter too.

The School Board should not postpone this decision for another year! Why can't they come up with another solution NOW? How long would it take to survey the students? How long would it take to narrow down three proposed calendars? The gals on The View could do it in an hour!

And why can't seniors start on their applications during summer time? After the 3 years of high school work in PAUSD, one would think they have better organization skills.


Like this comment
Posted by another parent
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 9, 2010 at 12:11 pm

I think there is some feeling that Challenge Success is pressuring PAUSD, via the media, into this change - daring us not to institute "stress relievers" that they have prescribed in the wake of the recent tragedies. At the Plenary Session this year there were raised eyebrows and disapproving looks by the mediator because, as a district, we had not taken her advice already. We need to make our own decisions and survey all of our students instead of taking the advice of an outsider who is busy making a name for herself and her group. We may end up agreeing, but it must be done internally.


Like this comment
Posted by Paly Parent
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Dec 9, 2010 at 12:20 pm

@ Hurry Up! Most of the materials needed for applications (the essay prompts, the apps themselves) are not available until the end of the Aug or early September. And the students, in the summer, should be still figuring out what colleges to apply to. This timeline/guide for students might give you a good idea of how the process crunches senior year: Web Link, as might this one Web Link


Like this comment
Posted by Chris Kenrick, Palo Alto Weekly staff
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Dec 9, 2010 at 12:42 pm

Paly Parent,

In some conversations with nearby schools in October, administrators reported uniformly positive reviews of moving to pre-break finals: Web Link

School board member Barbara Klausner also reported positive reviews of the move in her conversations with students, parents and board members in the Fremont Union High School District (Homestead, Monta Vista, Lynnbrook...).

On the other hand, Homestead teacher Christy Heaton, a Paly grad, testified before the Palo Alto school board Tuesday that the change has added stress for her students and that she would prefer an assignment-free break with January finals.


Like this comment
Posted by Disappointed
a resident of another community
on Dec 9, 2010 at 12:57 pm

Does anyone know whether Gunn is considering switching to a block schedule like Paly did, and if so, when it might take effect?


Like this comment
Posted by Kind of the same, but different
a resident of College Terrace
on Dec 9, 2010 at 1:09 pm

"Does anyone know whether Gunn is considering switching to a block schedule like Paly did, and if so, when it might take effect?"

Gunn already has a unique schedule where only 5 or 6 classes meet each day. See schedule here: Web Link


Like this comment
Posted by Disappointed
a resident of another community
on Dec 9, 2010 at 1:48 pm

Thanks, Kind of the same, but different.

I was just wondering, because as I recall, the student rep from Gunn at Tuesday's board meeting mentioned that switching to block scheduling like at Paly might help alleviate stress. I think both student reps noted that having school start later (I realize Paly already does, a bit) could help too, by letting students get more sleep.


Like this comment
Posted by Paly Parent
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Dec 9, 2010 at 1:59 pm

Paly's block schedule has one day (Monday) with all 7 classes then only 3-4 any other day. That works out great for my daughter, because she has all weekend to prepare for Monday, but only half her classes to prepare for any other day (one class on the 4-day schedule is PE, so it really turns out to be just half). Definitely would recommend Gunn considering it seriously.


Like this comment
Posted by Disappointed
a resident of another community
on Dec 9, 2010 at 2:26 pm

Paly Parent, I agree--it sounds a lot less stressful. I'm wondering why it hasn't happened yet at Gunn.


Like this comment
Posted by Hurry Up!
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Dec 9, 2010 at 4:27 pm

@Paly Parent: Thank you for your answers and links. That's a shame that universities don't give students at least a month in summertime to start on their apps.

@Disappointed: I read or heard that Gunn cannot begin earlier due to the bus schedule for LAH students who attend Gunn. Again, this is heresay and questionable reasoning.


Like this comment
Posted by kudos
a resident of Leland Manor/Garland Drive
on Dec 9, 2010 at 10:01 pm

Quick thanks to Dr. McEvoy who pushed the Paly late start time and block schedule through. My son is a freshman so I don't know the difference, but I can tell you he is doing wonderful with the new format. Thanks!


Like this comment
Posted by gunnstudent
a resident of Gunn High School
on Dec 9, 2010 at 10:03 pm

I haven't heard students wanting block schedule at Gunn, but Gunn is a big school, so I could just be missing it. I like Gunn's schedule because it is a little bit of every class every day, which really helps with retention. If a student has prep periods, he/she basically gets one hour four out of five days to work during schooltime, which is incredibly helpful. I tend to have smaller assignments assigned more frequently, so my homework load is manageable. Gunn also has tutorial, which is very useful.

I really wish Gunn could start even 30 minutes later, but I don't do sports, which might change one's opinion? I have heard that school cannot start later because of traffic and the bus schedule. Basically, the schools on Arastradero have staggered start times to try to alleviate traffic. (Not that it helps traffic...)

Commonapp went live in early August, but is prone to crashing. It is very finicky, not submitting some teacher rec's or allowing me to copy and paste from my mac. Finding my way through the college packet process was also incredibly stressful. A great way to cut stress, especially for seniors, would be to have more mandatory counselor meetings. (although due to time constraints highly unlikely)


Like this comment
Posted by bigger picture
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Dec 10, 2010 at 12:14 am

I find it interesting that palo alto mom and Resident also have said that group projects (to be completed outside of school time) are major sources of stress... for entire families.... yet all the education experts have chosen to ignore this issue entirely in their group-think where the justification for big projects is to prepare students for real world jobs. It "sounds" like a great idea, but the reality of completing these projects is another story. And real-world employers have said that graduates are less prepared and less creative than ever before.

In our household, project based assignments in elementary school(!) were modified to be completed entirely at school after many parents complained about the complexity involved and needing to teach their children how to even approach the problem.... plus, too many projects were turned in that were clearly not the student's work. Our oldest child went through and it was miserable for everyone. By the time our youngest went through the curriculum, the difference in household stress was astounding. Moreover, there was no difference in learning the material. In fact, the youngest.... taught how to do the projects by the teachers in class... actually learned the appropriate level of expectation for a project at that grade level. I don't think I can say the same for my oldest.

In the meantime, the fact that (at least one ) high school teacher has discussed a project due 1 week after break when there is (was) a district policy to have no assignments during break shows that there is a complete disconnect between the district office and what is actually happening in the classrooms. Isn't anyone holding this teacher accountable? Is it even possible to do so?

Looking at another major factor in the school workload... exams... opinions seem to be evenly divided among parents and students whether exams are before or after break... not that exams are not stressful, but that the exams are not something that would ruin the break.

The message I get is that serious attention should be directed at the homework/project workload itself. Outside activities have always and will always be an important part of a well-rounded individual. The time devoted to sports, the arts, church or family has not changed that much over the years. But the school workload has changed. Piling on mountains of homework does not seem to reinforce learning... and by doing so, students sacrifice the one variable they can control in their busy lives... sleep.

If you start from the premise that students get 6-7 hours of sleep a night with the current calendar, then rearranging the school calendar without any attention to the student workload may result in students getting a month of 3-4 hours/night followed by 2 weeks of non-stop sleep over winter break. Does that qualify as reducing stress?

The whole calendar issue is an attempt at an easy fix.... some kind of pill or medicine that we can take for the headache from beating our heads against the wall. Maybe we should just stop beating our heads so much and start thinking again.


P.s.
I understand that students in other countries have less homework/busywork and more class time. The latest test results released this week shows they outperform US students by a wide margin. Anyone want to negotiate for more teaching hours with the unions??


Like this comment
Posted by Disappointed
a resident of another community
on Dec 10, 2010 at 7:17 am

Thanks, Hurry Up! and gunnstudent. It would be nice if every student had a prep period, but my understanding is that unless a student is doing a sport, that doesn't become possible until the 2-year PE requirement is fulfilled.

To bigger picture, at my son's school, group projects are also completed at school. I can't imagine trying to coordinate schedules to work on projects outside of school--kids are way too busy these days. Neither I nor my son is a fan of group projects, and I think the reasoning that they prepare them for the real world is a bit faulty. In a real-world job, most people actually have time in their 8-hour workdays to meet; at school, and usually afterwards, students' schedules are filled, so there's no convenient time or place to meet. It seems like eliminating any group projects that can't be worked on during class time would be a good solution--has anyone proposed that at Gunn or Paly?

Also, why can't parents hold teachers accountable when they assign homework over break by simply reporting "violations" to the principal? At my son's school, which has a similar homework ban over breaks, parents are told by the administration to report teachers who violate the policy, and they do! The problem is, some teachers find ways of working around it, such as by having a lengthy assignment optionally due either right before a break or after a break, which means students who don't have time to complete it before the break end up working on it over break. But that's rare. Perhaps Gunn and Paly parents should try to enforce the no-homework-over-break policy by reporting violations, either anonymously or as a group.








Like this comment
Posted by Eyes Wide Open
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 10, 2010 at 7:38 am

I'm with "another parent." What's the deal with Challenge Success?

I get it that it is anti-stress, but what exactly is it basing its recommendations on?

The Weekly a short while ago reported its founder, Denise Clark Pope, as saying there is no research that ties stress to the timing of finals. Web Link

All our school board and Challenge Success supporters can cite are subjective reports by school administrators who voted in an apparently unsubstantiated idea of what might work. (Common Knowledge: Once someone has committed to a path almost nothing can move him from thinking his decision was sound, especially facts to the contrary. It's called entrenched thinking and is part of the human psyche.)

So before Palo Alto gets entrenched, it should do its research. I'd like to see something someone can actually verify that would help me here like data that shows

- whether high-achieving PAUSD kids are more, less or just the same stressed as teens everywhere

- which of our kids are the most stressed

- what level of stress is optimal for learning (certainly CS is not advocating for kids to be so stress-free that they are zoned out in class) and where are our kids are on that scale

- what actually reduces stress

Like a post says above, Challenge Success incites by intimidation and rallies parents to march in the streets to take back their schools. These are pretty militant words for a problem and solution that seems it cannot verify in any scale.

So before Palo Alto falls into the CS line, it would behoove all of us to make sure that Challenge Success' fixes apply to us and that CS is not just the latest campaign that sells books and capitalizes on parent fears - figuratively and literally - by creating a common enemy (teachers and schools) so parents are spared the hard work of seeing what role they play and figuring out what they can do through effective parenting to guide their own children.

This wouldn't be so troubling to me except that school policies that affect real kids in very real ways are being made here. People who care deeply about children and education, like parents in Palo Alto, owe it to our kids not to go into this blindly.


Like this comment
Posted by Input
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Dec 10, 2010 at 7:46 am

"The winter break is intended to be a time that is free from schoolwork for students and staff. There should be no expectations on the part of students or staff that schoolwork is done over this period. No assignments should be given over the winter break, and any long-term assignments given before winter break should not be due during the first week back from the break." This is the exact language with which Kevin Skelly communicated the winter break homework policy to teachers. It is also on the official calendar. Assignments given before the winter break and due the second week back (1/10-14) are not violations of this homework policy. If you are interested changing the homework policy to state that no assignments given before winter break can be due after winter break, then your energy would probably be best spent lobbying the school board to change the language of the homework policy.


Like this comment
Posted by I remember
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Dec 10, 2010 at 6:46 pm

It's unrealistic to expect kids to allocate their study time so that they feel free over winter break. I remember having exams after vacation and I hated it. It hung over my head and didn't allow me to relax. Now as a parent, it will hang over my head again as I watch my kids carry that weight over the holidays.


Like this comment
Posted by Disappointed
a resident of another community
on Dec 11, 2010 at 7:28 am

According to a recent article in the Paly student newspaper, 74.8 percent of the students prefer the new block schedule and later starting time and feel it reduces their stress (see article below, with more details):

Web Link

I still don't really understand why this couldn't be done at Gunn, too, and am wondering whether students and/or parents have formally approached the administration to propose it.

Unrelated question: I've heard that the Paly course guide lists AP Computer Science as being available, but that it actually isn't because not enough students signed up for it. Has this been true in the past too, or was it just a fluke this year?


Like this comment
Posted by Disappointed and disillusioned
a resident of College Terrace
on Dec 11, 2010 at 9:46 am

SO very disappointed in the Board for its decision here. Just heartbroken on behalf of high school students and staff. In the same week it is revealed that three more suicide attempts have happened at the tracks, the Board caves in to local bullies who don't want their vacations moved and does not take this single, substantive step to try to reduce stress--even on a two year trial basis. Lots of parents on this thread agree that moving finals before breaks would make a huge difference. I really wish the board had done that.


Like this comment
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 11, 2010 at 10:00 am

People stating their opinions are not bullies.

Good grief. If we teach our kids that listening to others opinions and taking heed of what a large number of people think is caving in to bullies then our kids are getting a very bad message.

Bullying is something done by power and without justification to those who are weaker just for the fun of it. Listening to two sides of an issue, thinking things through and then making a decision is the way important issues are decided. Calling this bullying is just sour grapes by those who didn't get their way - another tactic of true bullies.


Like this comment
Posted by accept responsibilty
a resident of Crescent Park
on Dec 11, 2010 at 10:32 am

Disappointed and disillusioned,
"In the same week it is revealed that three more suicide attempts have happened at the tracks"
If you want to change for your child, it's in your power to do it. You have complete control over what your child needs to do, when they need to do and how they do it. It is also your responsibility to do so. Don't try to shift this blame onto the district.


Like this comment
Posted by palo alto mom
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Dec 11, 2010 at 11:57 am

accept responsibilty -

Are you suggesting that Disappointed and disillusioned can "change their child" and call their teachers and tell them that their child will be taking a final the week before Winter Break because they are "in control" as a parent?

Parents have NO control over what their child "needs to do, when they need to do and how they do it" when it comes to school - unless they homeschool them. Not an option for most parents, since they have jobs.


Like this comment
Posted by accept responsibility
a resident of Crescent Park
on Dec 11, 2010 at 9:41 pm

"Parents have NO control over what their child "needs to do, when they need to do and how they do it"

Yes they do! You just choose not to accept responsibility to monitor and regulate your child's workload.


Like this comment
Posted by Same old, same old
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 12, 2010 at 11:28 am

Yeah...what is the deal with those Challenge Success folks over at Stanford?! Who do they think they are inflicting THEIR vision of "Character, Well-being, Resilience, Engagement, Motivation, Problem Solving, Independence and Achievement" on Palo Alto students and schools?

And the founder trying to be sneaky...showing off her own academic integrity in that quote about no studies involving controls. We got her good then, didn't we? Everyone knows that CS' research from 80 schools, their published articles, collaboration with other educational experts around the world isn't REAL research - "quantitative and qualitative"? Gimme' a break (no pun intended)... next she'll be saying that the real-life pre-Break finals experience of (now) 54 out of 61 public high schools in San Mateo & Santa Clara County is worth looking into. Qualitative data - sheesh. They (and their rabid parent supporters) have completely underestimated Palo Alto's resolve to wait it out until the "real" research is in. You'd think after 6 years of failing to pass a pre-break finals calendar (and now another year to "study") they'd get it. Well...we'll show 'em again in year 7 won't we?!

After all... like you said, Eyes Wide Open, who knows "whether high-achieving PAUSD kids are more, less or just the same stressed as teens everywhere"? And if those other teens have just as high depression and anxiety rates as ours, (or NAME the indicator - we dare ya'), no need to change anything, right? (And, I hear you, whatever's good enough for the high achievers will be good enough for the "other" students - the non-high-achievers, the checked-out... no need to do research on THEM).

And I'm just sorry I missed that rally and parade of parents demanding to take back their schools (let alone any of their militant words) - that must have been something. I couldn't find any reference to it in the Weekly (editors???)

Okay - end of sarcasm. It's even tedious for me. But Eyes Wide Open's post was filled with statements and characterizations of Challenge Success that were misleading and unfair at BEST. If there was militant eye-rolling at their last conference (don't know, wasn't there), those of us who have watched 6 years of the unscientific, failure-to-study-beyond-one's-initial-thinking approach go by (while thousands of students could have benefited from a relatively simple - YES, relatively simple - change to the school calendar), completely understand.

"So before Palo Alto gets entrenched, it should do its research. ...So before Palo Alto falls into the CS line..." - really? 6 years, EWO, and we've got nuthin'. Exactly who's entrenched and who in PAUSD is falling into the CS line? Parents marching in the streets? I wish.

CS creating enemies of teachers and schools so parents are "spared the responsibility of their own roles"? Not so. Check out CS' page on the parents role - Web Link

From Mosby's Medical Dictionary - the definition of Denial: "an unconscious defense mechanism in which emotional conflict and anxiety are avoided by refusal to acknowledge those thoughts, feelings, desires, impulses, or facts that are consciously intolerable".

Powerful nature of Denial - example: When those who have eyes open but minds closed to documented health circumstances of teens (perhaps too painful to believe?), misrepresent and attack those who are responsibly and scientifically working to address the issue.

Sincere apologies for the lengthy post.


Like this comment
Posted by june vacation
a resident of Gunn High School
on Dec 12, 2010 at 2:28 pm

What happened to starting school earlier in August and ending school in May? The AP classes would benefit (2 more weeks to cover the same amount of material would certainly reduce stress), finals would end before break (finals includes a few days the week before devoted to review, and most teachers do not pile on stuff that week before finals), and everybody who wants to travel could do so in June when fares are less and resorts are easier to get into. What is it about August that so many people are so adamant about taking vacation then? Is it because "that's the way we've always done it" or is there an actual rational reason that trumps the rational reasons for starting school earlier in August?


Like this comment
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 12, 2010 at 2:46 pm

Just to clarify. I think the reason people want to take vacation in August has nothing to do with cheaper travel or easier to get into resorts (??) is because many companies have busy Junes and it is hard to take time off then. It is because many families want to visit extended family who can host them in August but not June. It is also because many specialized camps (not PA kids camps) for teens involved in various activities nationwide occur in August. Many families also can't take vacation in June because of sporting activities such as All Stars, etc. and want to take them after sports are done.

It doesn't really mean that people want to take them in August because they have always taken them in August. It means that they take them in August because it is convenient to take them then for many reasons rather than in June which is difficult.


Like this comment
Posted by Disappointed
a resident of another community
on Dec 12, 2010 at 4:58 pm

I understand this, but there are plenty of high-achieving students (just as high achieving as in Palo Alto) in Los Altos and Mountain View who face similar camp, sports, and parental vacation issues. Those students, though, start school in mid-August, have first-semester finals in December, and get out in early June (June 3, in 2011). There's nothing unique to Palo Alto schools or circumstances that would preclude switching to this type of calendar. It's just sad that nothing seems to move forward. Clearly the original proposal fell by the wayside.


Like this comment
Posted by Not confused
a resident of Leland Manor/Garland Drive
on Dec 13, 2010 at 6:27 am

To June: You are far too sensible. That is the problem. Common sense always loses to ...whatever you want to call what happened here.

Ya know, we have to think about all the elementary and middle school students and families who would suffer, having to shift their whole year back a week. And all the performing arts kids who would have a too packed December ( because, y'know, performing arts has no control over its schedule), and all the sports kids who would have too much to do with sports AND academics in December ( because that is what school is for, to cater to sports.)

Much better to keep all the status quo, then wring our hands over the students who are stressed out, depressed and high risk, and study what we can do to help them some time in the future. And, of course, everyone knows that taking a real rest to re-charge has nothing to do with stress/depression reduction. ( ha )


Like this comment
Posted by Parent
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Dec 13, 2010 at 8:48 am

My son could not sleep well last night due to 4 tests this week. I can only imagine how he will do during finals week after the holidays. The holidays are going to be full of stress for him. Thank you to the School Board for my son's sleep deprivation until the end of January. I'm guessing sleep deprivation is a factor in teen suicides. I guess one less student doesn't affect the School Board unless it's their child.


Like this comment
Posted by Paly Parent
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Dec 13, 2010 at 8:54 am

But I think the question being raised by parents--and by the high school kids who spoke at the meeting--is whether "overloading" already stressed kids in December might be worse for them than cutting into their "recharging" time (and the students indicated that that's about 2 days affected, the 2 days before school starts again) over break. That's the question that has yet to be researched in any way, and one that should be. And that is a place that our district, and our very busy kids, may differ in what we find than elsewhere, and one we should investigate for ourselves. Our community may also differ from neighbors in where our family ties lie, meaning that week in August makes a much bigger difference to us, perhaps, than it does to Mountain View. We need to do our own homework.


Like this comment
Posted by Paly Parent
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Dec 13, 2010 at 8:58 am

@Parent. My child is tired too, it's a very busy time both at school and at home--there are a lot of projects due, plus unit tests. And I'm thankful that she'll have time to catch up on her rest over the break, before jumping in to the busy finals period. I shudder to think what condition she'd be in right now were these finals this week instead of unit tests.


Like this comment
Posted by Disappointed
a resident of another community
on Dec 13, 2010 at 10:16 am

Paly Parent says the students have a lot of projects due now and unit tests, so adding finals before break would just make things more stressful. But what if all these projects and unit tests were REPLACED by finals? My guess is that they would be, which would lessen the workload considerably.

It sounds like parents, students, teachers, and administrators should all meet to work out some process that would prevent students from being overloaded at any time of the year. Maybe there's actually no need for final exams, something that was suggested at the recent meeting by one of the students. Why not have grades be composed of scores and grades on a series of shorter exams, papers, projects, etc., that would take place throughout the semester? I had a course like that in grad school, and everyone loved it, even though the course itself wasn't of particular interest to anyone. The grading policy (a series of short papers, no one big paper or project, no final exam) made our lives a lot less stressful.


Like this comment
Posted by Parent
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Dec 13, 2010 at 10:34 am

I wasn't clear in mentioning that my son did not sleep well due to the STRESS of the tests. He couldn't fall asleep and then tossed and turned. It was not that he was simply staying up too late, studying. He will be stressed until final exams are over. We don't even pressure him. He wants to earn good grades on his own. "What if I get a bunch of 'Bs'?" he asks. I don't want to go to a CSU. He's always been a good student. He also has some teachers who boast that they teach college level material. And why? I ask. They are not adults in college yet.

The School Board does not understand because in their day, academics were easier, plus most of them have Stanford, Harvard, or Ivy League degrees so they believe in students being top achievers at all costs.

@Paly Parent: Palo Alto family ties are not "different" than those of surrounding Silicon Valley schools.

How about a few dead days before final exams so the students can relax during Winter Break?


Like this comment
Posted by bigger picture
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Dec 13, 2010 at 1:37 pm

Same old, same old,

Let's get back to the issue, which, given the number of posts, is near and dear to many hearts.

The disagreements with moving the calendar are not trying to undermine studies by Challenge Success or any group/individual per se. I am in full agreement with the recommendations for block schedule and later start times.

My disagreement is that this is a much more complicated issue than "just" moving a few dates for school. I see the calendar proposal as a way of shuffling things around, moving the furniture.... but not taking a hard look at the core of the problem... that there is too much furniture in the room... or too much work being foisted upon the students outside of school hours. Moving the dates may work better for some students at the expense of others, but it's still not going to be the magic pill to cure the disease.

It would be really tragic if the calendar was adopted and everyone walked away assuming that the problem was fixed.... only to find out that it wasn't.


Like this comment
Posted by Same old, same old
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 13, 2010 at 7:57 pm

Bigger Picture... We're still very much on the same issue. My post was a reaction to a post by Eyes Wide Open that was deceptive about the research behind finals before winter break and horribly unfair to individuals and institutions committed to student health. If this is the only form of dialogue the community is going to get on this issue - then this is just one of the "takes" of the "give and take".

I've listened to opponents' testimony at school board meetings that wouldn't pass a high school stats course or a college ethics class - and I'm tired of it. Until there is a true dialogue - instead of one-way "conversations" via email or 2 minute position statements at school board meetings - Town Square is the only opportunity for a somewhat direct exchange.

Let's argue the points on their merits - but let's be honest.

Being honest... of course pre-Break Finals is moving the furniture around - it has NEVER been put up as "the" solution. Block scheduling and late start are in the same category - and have provided instant relief for thousands of students at Paly. (Interestingly, educators note that block scheduling is a much more difficult shift for teachers to make than one to pre-Break finals).

You're right, though... none of these address the actual root causes - e.g. overwhelming or irrelevant homework, overscheduled students, testing and grading practices, a perception that there are only 5 "good" colleges, etc.

Try getting hundreds and hundreds of teachers to agree voluntarily to make these types of changes - or to get the college acceptance situation to return to sanity - or to try and convince everyone that there are literally thousands of great universities. Think how many years that would take and how many thousands of students would struggle through in the meantime.

Or within a year, we could bring some immediate lightening of our current students' load by yes, moving the furniture.

We're capable of doing both - short term and long-term - comprehensive vs. stop-gap. Or we could continue to do nothing.






Like this comment
Posted by Answer Me These
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Dec 13, 2010 at 9:29 pm

Answer me these:

How does cramming everything (college essays, performances, finals study, family holiday traditions. . .) in to December reduce stress and fit with Challenge Success' anti-stress recommendation to "reduce overlapping assignments" and "create longer breaks" between high pressure events such as exams? Web Link

Why is no one talking about SOS’ (Stressed out Students aka Challenge Success) Survey which found "no correlation ...between stress level and the difficulty of the academic courseload" at neighboring Mission San Jose High in Fremont and at the other schools CS surveyed?
Web Link (“SOS Survey Results Disclosed to the Public”)

Why the silence about CS' Survey finding in Needham, MA that students with more homework got better grades and students with better grades had better mental health?

Why PAUSD’s laser focus on academic Asian and Caucasian students when large-scale surveys – local and statewide - show that across the board "Caucasian/White and Asian American students were least likely to report feelings of depression?"
Web Link (KidsData.org “Emotional Health: Selected F acts”)

Perhaps post-break finals isn't the problem after all. Maybe if we read all that is out there we'd find, like Needham High did after it took the Challenge Success survey, that "most students are quite resilient to acute stressors." Needham’s bottom line after reviewing its CS’ survey results: the onus rests on adults to help those children most sensitive to stress to make wise choices and create their own "competencies to mitigate" their stress, not even hinting that changing their school’s finals schedule would help.


Like this comment
Posted by Same old, same old
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 13, 2010 at 10:43 pm

I agree with Answer Me These. Let's have an authentic discussion and get answers to these and other questions about student stress and what does or does not help.

Before our Board makes a decision in February, how about a panel with Dr. Pope and parents, students, teachers and admins from some of the local schools who currently have pre-Break Finals? (pro and con) Should be easy enough to find. For fairness and balance, we should be sure to include representatives from schools that have changed back to post-break finals.

Let's have that informed discussion at last. Leaving questions hanging out there to try and make an argument (pro or con) won't bring us to an informed conclusion.


Like this comment
Posted by Answer Me These
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Dec 14, 2010 at 7:40 am

Same Old,

I agree.

I see your frustration in your earlier post but does it help to direct it at the parents who want us to be right about how we approach this? You both are on the same page about wanting to address stress after all.

I can see in their posts and from what I observed from watching the school board meetings how very afraid the “other” side is of moving more stress to the wrong places (i.e, putting finals in an already amazingly busy and stressful December) and their fear that we will end up with students' mental health suffering MORE rather than less because of it.

My advice: Both sides should insist that the school district put together the task force the school board directed it to convene 2 or 4 (or 6?) years ago. (Just think how different this discussion would be if we had that information now!) An hour long panel of opinions like you suggest may be informative as would information from the task force after it took a hard objective look at, like suggested above, which of our kids are the most stressed, what causes those kids UNDUE stress, and what has been SHOWN to work (i.e., research supported) to reduce and manage the stresses they are under.

Things can go very wrong for kids if PAUSD doesn't get this right.


Like this comment
Posted by Disappointed
a resident of another community
on Dec 14, 2010 at 9:07 am

And things can go very wrong for kids if PAUSD never tries anything but instead endlessly researches and debates the issue--inaction is also a decision.


Like this comment
Posted by Same old, same old
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 14, 2010 at 9:36 am

Dear Answer Me These... Thanks for your calming post. I also see and understand the fear and concern - on BOTH sides of this issue - and believe that we all want to get this right. No argument there.

What frustrates is the failure to actively and openly discuss the option before us. That has not been done. There are answers to the very good questions and concerns raised by parents, teachers, students and Board members. It's frustrating to see another opportunity for an informed decision pass us by - no matter WHAT that decision would turn out to be.

The fear that fuels the "pro" side is a deep concern for the here and now - for our current students under incredible strain and a desire for their immediate relief. To see that opportunity slip away for a sixth year is as frightening as it is frustrating.

No, this calendar measure is not the panacea - but it is something; something that other schools have said is the best move they ever made, that offered immediate relief for students, teachers, and families. That alone should warrant serious inquiry (inquiry - not a suggestion to follow blindly).

And inquiry beyond the simple "did you/do you like it?". Inquiry into HOW did/do you work with uneven semesters? What other measures were necessary to deal with the busy month of December? or for your seniors and college apps? And on and on and on... along with, of course, your suggestion to examine the research.

But that's not what we got. We shall see if we get anything close to that by February.

Lastly, I do agree with your statement, "Things can go very wrong for kids if PAUSD doesn't get this right." If the calendar is changed, there are essential adjustments that must go along with that change - or stress could actually be increased. That being said, it is also clear that "things" are already at/beyond the serious stage for our teens and simply maintaining the status quo is our failure to act on their behalf.


Like this comment
Posted by no skin in this game any more, just wisdom
a resident of Leland Manor/Garland Drive
on Dec 24, 2010 at 12:03 pm

I asked my now second year university child "semester end before winter break" type what he thought of the PAUSD system of finals/projects after winter break. Now that he has the experience of the other way under his belt, he can't believe PAUSD is continuing its old way. His specific quote is "I can't believe Palo Alto is so stupid it keeps doing this to their kids. What could be the reason?".

He speaks, now, from knowing what a real break feels like and being able to return refreshed to each second semester of the year, as opposed to the exhaustion of his high school years, which are so much more demanding than university years. ( University years one isn't generally doing forced "volunteer" work, extracurricular activities/clubs, sports, busy work in school, and struggling as much to go through those horrid adolescent years, in addition to taking college level classes taught by high school teachers, and wasting the tremendous amount of time that is wasted in high school vs. universtities)

However, as I have said before, we have no more skin in this game, and the rest of you with younger kids can keep doing what has failed our kids in the past and hoping for different results. ( Maybe you will be lucky and either A) have a kid who doesn't care much about grades/colleges so doesn't stress or B) have a kid who is absolutely brilliant and doesn't have to study to do well, leaving free time for the extracurriculars/busywork/volunteer/sports etc..being Palo Alto kids, like Lake Woebegone, I am sure they are all in the B category)

Good luck with that.




Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

Let's Talk Internships
By John Raftrey and Lori McCormick | 1 comment | 1,278 views

Populism: A response to the failure of the elites: Palo Alto edition
By Douglas Moran | 3 comments | 1,224 views

Couples: Sex and Connection (Chicken or Egg?)
By Chandrama Anderson | 2 comments | 1,025 views

Zucchini Takeover
By Laura Stec | 2 comments | 858 views