A Gunn High School committee will have until early next year to develop long-term reforms to the school's guidance counseling program, the Palo Alto Board of Education indicated Tuesday night.
The consensus came in a four-hour discussion that included an acknowledgement by Superintendent Kevin Skelly that he could have "provided better leadership" on the contentious issue.
Skelly was directly taken to task by board member Barbara Klausner for what she described as his failure to accurately communicate the board's direction on counseling issues to Gunn staff members. (Read Klausner's comments)
"At this point the governance process has broken down, and only Dr. Skelly has the ability to put it right," Klausner said before extracting a pledge from Skelly that he will ensure "the right conversations will take place" as Gunn moves to improve its guidance counseling program.
Skelly and Gunn Principal Katya Villalobos assured the board that Gunn will not prematurely rule out adopting a "teacher adviser" system similar to that of Palo Alto High School, an option they earlier had appeared to be resisting. But Villalobos said a range of possibilities would be explored.
A parent group, We Can Do Better Palo Alto, has lobbied for more than a year for Gunn to adopt a Paly-style advisory system, and the group's co-founders, Ken and Michele Dauber, last year called for the board to replace Skelly.
Several board members, including Melissa Baten Caswell and Dana Tom, appeared to agree with Klausner's criticism of Skelly's leadership. They suggested staff members had permitted their emotional reactions to criticism to interfere with an open-minded consideration of teacher advisory as a possible path for Gunn.
"I feel we had a governance issue here where it felt like the outcome was predetermined before we came in the door," Caswell said.
"Somehow or other we need to go back to having a discussion without politics getting in the way."
Tom agreed, saying, "What I've tried to do is isolate my emotional reaction to some of the discussions and emails I read from my usually somewhat rational thoughts about the actual topic itself."
Several members of We Can Do Better urged the board to order swift adoption of a teacher-adviser-style system at Gunn. But they were outnumbered Tuesday by Gunn teachers, former students and current students, most of whom pleaded for Gunn to be given time to work out its own system.
"We have a talented faculty and staff with specific strengths and an institutional history," Gunn French teacher Anne Jensen said.
"You cannot just duplicate programs because every school is different… Please allow us the time and the resources to create a plan that will work for Gunn."
Gunn parent Kathleen Blanchard said ," I echo the sense of urgency for change, but also the need for a thoughtful and meaningful process to come to a wise decision."
Board President Camille Townsend said she relishes a good political debate, but that the "level of personal attacks on people (in the counseling discussion) got beyond the pale.
"There's nothing we can do except continue to ask people, 'Please don't do that," Townsend said.