Palo Alto parents often fear that their children will not stand out in the sea of high-achievers, but Palo Alto Unified School District Superintendent Kevin Skelly told a group of Barron Park neighborhood residents Sunday that district students are prepared for excellence.
Skelly said that while public-university admissions formulas make it difficult for these students to distinguish themselves, private colleges agree that the applicants who attended Palo Alto schools are ready to excel in higher education.
Parents must remember that students' intra-district competition with peers, although more immediate, will ultimately be less important than competition with students from schools outside of Palo Alto, Skelly said.
"Palo Alto is not the real world."
Skelly, the former associate superintendent at the Poway, Calif., school district, said interest in student achievement is unusually high in Palo Alto.
"What separates Palo Alto is the real curiosity we have in our children," Skelly said at the neighborhood association's annual meeting at Barron Park Elementary School.
He cautioned that parents must wrestle with the temptation to expect too much from their children's academic performance.
"As parents, we get caught up with this thinking that by 18, our kids should have done something."
The college-application process can be unnerving, he added, and may be the first time in students' lives that they don't get their first choice.
But, Skelly said: "If your kid doesn't get into Stanford, life goes on."
Skelly also discussed other issues of concern to the district. He cited out-of-district students illegally enrolling in district schools, which are funded by property taxes. He described the procedures by which officials find and remove out-of-district students from school rosters.
"It's a hard issue for us to address," he said, after sharing an anecdote about a student expressing reluctance to identify her out-of-district peer.
Among residents' concerns were district predictions of increasing future enrollment.
"It's hard to read our moment," Skelly told them. "I wish I had a crystal ball."
He said that nothing guarantees that enrollment at the two high schools will grow.
Mayor Sid Espinosa also addressed residents, conducting a question-and-answer session along with City Council member Gail A. Price. He spoke about his efforts to articulate the goals for the city he stated in the State of the City address held last week.
"People can hold our feet to the fire and ask, did we get done what we want to get done?" Espinosa said.
Residents raised concerns about emergency preparedness, especially preventing the devastating impact a major earthquake might have on "soft-story" buildings, and Palo Alto's process of incorporating a a diverse community into civic life.
"If we don't engage the community … then shame on us," Espinosa said.