News

Editorial: Accountability not in lesson plan

With the resignation three weeks ago of assistant superintendent Michael Milliken, Palo Alto school superintendent Kevin Skelly was handed an unexpected gift.

Milliken's departure offered Skelly his first opportunity to make a key staffing decision since the maelstrom of controversy stemming from a finding by the federal Office for Civil Rights that Terman Middle School administrators failed to effectively investigate or stop the bullying of a disabled student. That finding was so embarrassing that it caused Skelly to keep it secret from the board and public last December.

Instead of using the Milliken opening to find a person who might signal to the community an acknowledgment of mistakes made and improvements needed, his quick appointment of Terman principal Katherine Baker sadly sends just the opposite message.

It is a defiant move that either says there is no accountability for serious mistakes or that Skelly believes the district was the victim of an unfair civil-rights investigation that has improperly impugned the management practices of him and his lieutenants. Either way, and perhaps by design, it also sends the message to outside authorities like the Department of Education that in Palo Alto, we do as we please and the opinions of such agencies about the way we run our district don't matter to us.

And most regrettably, it sends the message to the parents of all students who have suffered through traumatic bullying or harassment in school that their concerns are valued so little that the promotion of the person most responsible for mishandling the Terman case is more important.

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Katherine Baker may indeed be the most outstanding and qualified person for the job of director of secondary education of our school district. While she has only been at the district for three years, she has been a conscientious and responsive principal. We have no reason to think she isn't capable of performing Milliken's job.

But promoting her at this time, with wounds from the civil-rights investigation not yet even beginning to heal, shows immense insensitivity and poor judgment.

Accountability has long been a problem for Palo Alto. Mistakes are so quickly praised as being part of the Silicon Valley innovation culture that the concept of consequences has been lost. "Learning to fail" is indeed an important lesson, especially for young people.

But part of the lesson needs to be that actions have consequences. Accountability needs to find its way back into the play book of our public institutions, and especially at the school district.

A shift on vehicle-dwelling

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Tuesday's vote of a City Council committee recommending adoption of an ordinance to ban vehicle habitation was only surprising because it was unanimous.

Contrary to her earlier votes and statements on the issue, Council member Gail Price joined colleagues Liz Kniss and Larry Klein in supporting a new law after going through what she described as a "difficult shift" in her thinking.

She is not alone in struggling to balance her compassion and concern for the homeless with an increasingly problematic situation at the Cubberley Community Center and at other locations throughout the city.

Larry Klein, who previously minimized the problem, has now also concluded that Palo Alto cannot remain the sole community to permit dwelling in vehicles because it is becoming a magnet for such people.

There now appears little doubt that when the ordinance comes before the full City Council in September it will be adopted.

Price's heartfelt comments resonate. She explained that in examining how current city policy was working, she came to the conclusion that we don't help the homeless by allowing them a place to live in their car when what they really need is "intensive help and referral to support services."

All three council members argued that the problem of homelessness is much bigger than Palo Alto and that the city is already providing extensive services to the homeless.

As written, the proposed ordinance would have a very long implementation period, too long in our opinion. It provides for a 60-day outreach period to educate vehicle dwellers about the new law and on services available to help them, and then a 30-day "warning" period during which no enforcement would take place. Actual enforcement would be on a complaint basis.

The ordinance will finally provide a needed tool to address problem cases, where vehicle dwellers are impacting neighborhoods or, in the case of Cubberley, have established what city staff has described as a de facto homeless camp.

Addressing this issue is not easy for anyone involved but it is long past time to take action. We especially commend Gail Price for the reversal in her position. She could easily have opted to remain opposed and simply be out-voted by her colleagues. Instead, she stepped up and provided leadership.

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Editorial: Accountability not in lesson plan

by / Palo Alto Weekly

Uploaded: Fri, Jun 28, 2013, 9:40 am

With the resignation three weeks ago of assistant superintendent Michael Milliken, Palo Alto school superintendent Kevin Skelly was handed an unexpected gift.

Milliken's departure offered Skelly his first opportunity to make a key staffing decision since the maelstrom of controversy stemming from a finding by the federal Office for Civil Rights that Terman Middle School administrators failed to effectively investigate or stop the bullying of a disabled student. That finding was so embarrassing that it caused Skelly to keep it secret from the board and public last December.

Instead of using the Milliken opening to find a person who might signal to the community an acknowledgment of mistakes made and improvements needed, his quick appointment of Terman principal Katherine Baker sadly sends just the opposite message.

It is a defiant move that either says there is no accountability for serious mistakes or that Skelly believes the district was the victim of an unfair civil-rights investigation that has improperly impugned the management practices of him and his lieutenants. Either way, and perhaps by design, it also sends the message to outside authorities like the Department of Education that in Palo Alto, we do as we please and the opinions of such agencies about the way we run our district don't matter to us.

And most regrettably, it sends the message to the parents of all students who have suffered through traumatic bullying or harassment in school that their concerns are valued so little that the promotion of the person most responsible for mishandling the Terman case is more important.

Katherine Baker may indeed be the most outstanding and qualified person for the job of director of secondary education of our school district. While she has only been at the district for three years, she has been a conscientious and responsive principal. We have no reason to think she isn't capable of performing Milliken's job.

But promoting her at this time, with wounds from the civil-rights investigation not yet even beginning to heal, shows immense insensitivity and poor judgment.

Accountability has long been a problem for Palo Alto. Mistakes are so quickly praised as being part of the Silicon Valley innovation culture that the concept of consequences has been lost. "Learning to fail" is indeed an important lesson, especially for young people.

But part of the lesson needs to be that actions have consequences. Accountability needs to find its way back into the play book of our public institutions, and especially at the school district.

A shift on vehicle-dwelling

Tuesday's vote of a City Council committee recommending adoption of an ordinance to ban vehicle habitation was only surprising because it was unanimous.

Contrary to her earlier votes and statements on the issue, Council member Gail Price joined colleagues Liz Kniss and Larry Klein in supporting a new law after going through what she described as a "difficult shift" in her thinking.

She is not alone in struggling to balance her compassion and concern for the homeless with an increasingly problematic situation at the Cubberley Community Center and at other locations throughout the city.

Larry Klein, who previously minimized the problem, has now also concluded that Palo Alto cannot remain the sole community to permit dwelling in vehicles because it is becoming a magnet for such people.

There now appears little doubt that when the ordinance comes before the full City Council in September it will be adopted.

Price's heartfelt comments resonate. She explained that in examining how current city policy was working, she came to the conclusion that we don't help the homeless by allowing them a place to live in their car when what they really need is "intensive help and referral to support services."

All three council members argued that the problem of homelessness is much bigger than Palo Alto and that the city is already providing extensive services to the homeless.

As written, the proposed ordinance would have a very long implementation period, too long in our opinion. It provides for a 60-day outreach period to educate vehicle dwellers about the new law and on services available to help them, and then a 30-day "warning" period during which no enforcement would take place. Actual enforcement would be on a complaint basis.

The ordinance will finally provide a needed tool to address problem cases, where vehicle dwellers are impacting neighborhoods or, in the case of Cubberley, have established what city staff has described as a de facto homeless camp.

Addressing this issue is not easy for anyone involved but it is long past time to take action. We especially commend Gail Price for the reversal in her position. She could easily have opted to remain opposed and simply be out-voted by her colleagues. Instead, she stepped up and provided leadership.

Comments

hypocrates
Crescent Park
on Jun 28, 2013 at 8:30 am
hypocrates, Crescent Park
on Jun 28, 2013 at 8:30 am
Like this comment

" We have no reason to think she isn't capable of performing Milliken's job."
Yet you're going to castigate the district for promoting the most able person to the position.
You really can't get this right, can you?


Perfect
Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 28, 2013 at 10:05 am
Perfect, Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 28, 2013 at 10:05 am
Like this comment

The Weekly is simply being nice, good for them. I will be surprised if any defender of the current regime, including the twosome of Kevin Skelly and Charles Young, or the board members, would take issue with this editorial. All administrators keep their jobs, in fact, Katherine Baker keeps her job and gets praise, no one is demoted, and the next school year begins. There is simply no accountability. If something goes wrong, Skelly pulls the aw shucks routine, Young goes MIA, and the board gets loud and says that they want answers. But let's look at the carnage of a violation of the Civil Rights of a young girl, the private placement of another student that will cost us in the six figures after just a few years, the increase in cost of legal services, and the vulnerability to other lawsuits now that many parents realize that PAUSD was not operating at a level of excellence, but in fact, many administrators were bungling their way through the year. Sadly, this is a result of the guy at the top, the one we pay a whole bunch of public money, setting the tone, and that is why Baker should never have been moved to Michael Milliken's spot. The appearance is that Skelly moved Baker to fill a spot that would have been nearly impossible to fill, remember that Young was the result of a second round of interviews two years ago. This demonstrates to OCR that Skelly has addressed the problem and no more training is needed. It also takes away the problem of trying to attract experienced talent to his leadership team, and that is a problem now. June is the best month for these moves, as the kids say, no one cares. Only the minority that criticize Skelly, Young, and the board care about the dishonesty that has characterized Skelly's team, though there is even smaller minority that cares about the critics, and that tiny group of people are the apologists and attackers of the critics. The majority of Palo Altans could not care less about any of this and probably don't even know that anything that has happened over the past year, and that is exactly what Skelly and the board have banked on.


hypocrates
Crescent Park
on Jun 28, 2013 at 10:54 am
hypocrates, Crescent Park
on Jun 28, 2013 at 10:54 am
Like this comment

The weekly is being honest in once sentence and ignoring that fact in the rest of the article. Running of at random tangents which have no impact on assigning the best person to the position.
You really think PAUSD should employ someone who not as qualified or capable because of a single pressure group? They have the best person of the job right there. Do the right thing and leverage them!


Fire Kevin
Barron Park
on Jun 28, 2013 at 11:42 am
Fire Kevin, Barron Park
on Jun 28, 2013 at 11:42 am
Like this comment

Fire Kevin! He is either too stupid or too arrogant to have moved that Terman ex-principal to the district office. But the same "Peter Principle" applied to the movement of Scott Bowers for elementary school principal to head of HR. Of, course, the DO is a graveyard for a career in PAUSD, or a springboard to other high paying jobs in other school districts. Maybe Kevin is a genius by promoting whats-her-name to a job in DO. So many employees have used that promotion to move on or move out of PAUSD such as Debra Lindo.

Kevin, retire now and do us all a favor.


David Pepperdine
Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 28, 2013 at 1:56 pm
David Pepperdine, Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 28, 2013 at 1:56 pm
Like this comment

I find the following statement laughable:

"...she has been a conscientious and responsive principal."


boscoli
Old Palo Alto
on Jun 28, 2013 at 2:37 pm
boscoli, Old Palo Alto
on Jun 28, 2013 at 2:37 pm
Like this comment

The approach of the board toward Skelly, and the approach of Skelly toward his most incompetent and hubristic underlings are the same: BROWNIE, YOU ARE DOING A HELLUVA JOB.


Man Up
Adobe-Meadow
on Jun 28, 2013 at 6:46 pm
Man Up, Adobe-Meadow
on Jun 28, 2013 at 6:46 pm
Like this comment

Unless reformers can put forth 2 strong candidates with the public backing of prominent establishment citizen at an early stage of the next election cycle then this is what we will get. Right now we have high test scores and college acceptances that have masked a multitude of problems. Following the suicides there was a rare willingness to soul-searching and looking for solutions on the part of a large segment of the population but that has now waned in favor of the standard policy of "don't criticize our schools." That policy has proved extraordinarily resilient and resistant to facts.

In order to restore accountability as this editorial urges, many people who have been saying privately that Kevin Skelly is not up to this job, and that the board is not doing its job, must say so publicly and back candidates who can defeat the incumbents should they choose to run for 3d terms. These must also be reform candidates who would be able to stand up to Kevin Skelly and represent the taxpayers and the parents of this district with a focus on transparency, good governance, and ensuring that all rights are respected and social emotional health of our teens is as important as high test scores.

At this point, the board and Skelly are hurting the reputation of the Palo Alto schools. they are becoming shorthand for mismanagement, bullying, and suicide. At this point, there is so much smoke that people understand that there must be fire-- and the fire is that we have management that is not accountable, not transparent, and not public-regarding.

So far, I have seen a lot of people saying privately what they need to say publicly. You all need to man up. It can't just be that every time Kevin screws up that everyone can just wait for Ken Dauber and the Weekly to ask for change and transparency. You all -- City Council, former School Board, "prominent and important" people in the community (I assume you know who you are) -- you all have to step forward and run for the board in order to preserve what is actually excellent in this community.

If you want evidence, take a look at the number of 5th graders who apply to private middle schools from Palo Alto. The problem is real. Fortunately there is a solution if only our leaders have the courage to act.


the_punnisher
Registered user
Mountain View
on Jun 28, 2013 at 7:55 pm
the_punnisher, Mountain View
Registered user
on Jun 28, 2013 at 7:55 pm
Like this comment

The real issue that Asst. Super may have retired on is that there might be a " big storm a' brewin' " and and as anyone knows " do-do splatters ".
For example: one of the reasons my advisor in these Special Ed issues retired was the impending storm that broke with SJMN headlines about the behavior of a certain superintendent just South of you.

Stay on top of this issue and you may even have a story and a scoop before the SJMN!


Skellyton Crew
Leland Manor/Garland Drive
on Jun 28, 2013 at 9:40 pm
Skellyton Crew, Leland Manor/Garland Drive
on Jun 28, 2013 at 9:40 pm
Like this comment

PULLLLEEEEAZE get the Skelly out of Palo Alto! he is bad for our reputation, or brand, our schools credibility. He should no longer be working here! He is a detriment to our community, as well as a liability. Why can't the BOE see this? Most everyone else does! Why are they willing to let this turkey bring them down with him??????


IB Brockovich
Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 28, 2013 at 10:06 pm
IB Brockovich, Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 28, 2013 at 10:06 pm
Like this comment

The largest part of the solution to all this can be summed up in two words, "FIRE SKELLY" followed by a call for new candidates to replace the spineless jellyfish that have been masquerading as school board members. The whole thing is just ludicrous. I couldn't imagine a more dysfunctional group of people than the Supe and his Board. The Board was elected by the tax payers in Palo Alto to carry out the will of the electorate. The board has not had the gumption to even follow through on the most simple directives. It's time to say goodbye to the whole mess. Anyone else who lied like Skelly has and then had the nerve to hire PR folks to cover for the harm he has caused students in this district does not deserve to be at the helm in this district. We need more than a "satisfactory" (Dana Tom) performance level from someone who is paid a base salary of 278K a year. With all of the perks he receives on top of that he is being paid over 300K for a totally incompetent and disgraceful (not to mention the money the district is having to put out in amped up legal expenses) job performance. I hope he is looking for another job now so that he won't have the disgrace to live down of being fired which is what he totally deserves!!!


village fool
another community
on Jun 29, 2013 at 2:11 am
village fool, another community
on Jun 29, 2013 at 2:11 am
Like this comment

I can not see how any correction can result only from from letting go of the one in charge and changing the board. It seems to me that a serious discussion about accountability/transparency/etc is just a preliminary, crucial step prior to being able to consider changes. It seems to to me that the atmosphere that enabled the issues triggering the OCR investigation and all the rest was not created recently. I'll just mention the infamous case of sexual abuse by a teacher in a middle school years ago - as it turned out, all knew for a long while, and no one stepped forward to protect the student and address the issues. There was, and still is, unfortunately, an atmosphere - corporate culture, that enabled that. It seems to me that those mentioned above just perfected the existing law of the land. I am trying to say that without an independent investigation - spelling out the things that went wrong to the tiniest details, and spelling out the new standards that will - hopefully - emerge, nothing can change. I found the following in one of the documents that were released after the Weekly exercised the Brown Act. I am quoting the Superintendent here, again:
"As I often say, the community and staff take their cues from us in terms of how they relate to each other." - 9/2010. I have pasted this quote, along several others here - (Web Link).
It seems to me that the OCR have found pretty compelling samples of the cues given, and taken in terms of - how to relate to each other. It seems to me that nothing can change when the job security/family health insurance/retired plans etc. of all employees is dependent on the unspoken rules/codes of conduct of the current corporate PAUSD culture.


Alphonso
Los Altos Hills
on Jun 29, 2013 at 11:33 am
Alphonso, Los Altos Hills
on Jun 29, 2013 at 11:33 am
Like this comment

"Katherine Baker may indeed be the most outstanding and qualified person for the job of director of secondary education of our school district."

But PA Online does not want to miss an opportunity verbally bully the school district - just like the kids in school who bully others for no good reason.


Can't we all just be positive
Charleston Meadows
on Jun 29, 2013 at 12:02 pm
Can't we all just be positive, Charleston Meadows
on Jun 29, 2013 at 12:02 pm
Like this comment

@Alphonso.
Yes, let"s equate critical thinking and accountability with verbal abuse. Then we can claim that holding senior administrators accountable is equivalent to abuse of a disabled child and subsequent serious federall violations of civil rights.
Perhaps we should substitute accountability by the administration with annual little trophies for each administrator. "Most Improved", "Best Spirit", etc. I encourage other posters to submit their own nominations.


False
Adobe-Meadow
on Jun 29, 2013 at 1:11 pm
False, Adobe-Meadow
on Jun 29, 2013 at 1:11 pm
Like this comment

The OCR complaints are and continue to be a way for the anti-skelly crowd (and by crowd, I mean the same 10-12 people who perpetually complain about everything) to make noise.

Baker is a very good principal and will do great work at the DO. Congrats to her.


my nominations
Adobe-Meadow
on Jun 29, 2013 at 1:51 pm
my nominations, Adobe-Meadow
on Jun 29, 2013 at 1:51 pm
Like this comment

"Least subject to subpoena"

"shortest commute to deposition"

"most worn-down kneepads"

In all seriousness, at least Katherine Baker won't be able to use her "very sophisticated" knowledge to "help" any more special ed students. She is now in a job that is removed from all consequences which seems like a perfect fit. Even better if we weren't paying her salary, but I don't want to be churlish.


Shucks
Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 29, 2013 at 1:57 pm
Shucks, Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 29, 2013 at 1:57 pm
Like this comment

False, are you one of the 5-6 complainers who attack anyone who dares to criticize the superintendent and school board?


palo alto parent
Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Jun 29, 2013 at 2:10 pm
palo alto parent, Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Jun 29, 2013 at 2:10 pm
Like this comment

As mentioned above, we have high test scores, mostly terrific teachers, smart students and great college acceptances. That is what the majority of PAUSD parents care about. Very few people outside of Palo Alto pay any attention to things like the OCR investigation, so our "reputation" is secure. In addition, Stanford was just declared the "smartest city" by the brain-training program company Lumosity, so Palo Alto is pretty secure in its academic reputation.

If you want things to change, you need to put your time where your mouth is and run for school board.


my nominations
Adobe-Meadow
on Jun 29, 2013 at 4:09 pm
my nominations, Adobe-Meadow
on Jun 29, 2013 at 4:09 pm
Like this comment

False wrote: "The OCR complaints are and continue to be a way for the anti-skelly crowd (and by crowd, I mean the same 10-12 people who perpetually complain about everything) to make noise."

I think what happened is that those 10-12 complainers have a mole inside the district and that person destroyed all the very good policies on bullying and harassment that the district officials wrote and the board adopted years ago when they were required. Then, what happened is that that mole who is part of the cell of 10-12 complainers hacked into the district computer system, and substituted the gibberish policies currently shown as part of district policy, you know, to make the district look bad. They had to be very careful to write them in such a way that they are a confused mess and also full of illegality. Very clever of the 10-12 complainers. Then, that same mole, by using a Vulcan mind meld, forced Katherine Baker to totally absolutely and unequivocally bungle her job and violate the rights of the disabled girl. Then probably through the same mind-meld, the mole forced Baker to tell federal investigators that she didn't want any of their stinking free training. Very sophisticated and all that. Then, the 10-12 complainers notified OCR and the press and voila! And then the finale was of course promoting Baker. Wow those 10-12 complainers are fantastically brilliant and oh so effective. They make Edward Snowdon look like Heidi Emberling.


Gunn parent
Barron Park
on Jun 29, 2013 at 4:40 pm
Gunn parent, Barron Park
on Jun 29, 2013 at 4:40 pm
Like this comment

I agree with David Pepperdine. Why would you say, "she has been a conscientious and responsive principal"? If she had been conscientious and responsive, there wouldn't be a finding that she was unresponsive and ignored the policy and the law. I don't think this matters much -- it's hard to think of a less consequential job than the one she's going to -- but at least be consistent.


Um
Charleston Meadows
on Jun 29, 2013 at 5:11 pm
Um, Charleston Meadows
on Jun 29, 2013 at 5:11 pm
Like this comment

@pa parent i don't think anyone mentioned "terrific teachers" that I saw.
@nominations the whole thing is appalling and I applaud the weekly for its well deserved expression of disgust with Skelly.


Same old...
Esther Clark Park
on Jun 29, 2013 at 8:25 pm
Same old..., Esther Clark Park
on Jun 29, 2013 at 8:25 pm
Like this comment

I disagree with "false" - I only count the same 7-8 people consistently complaining about everything PAUSD. Everyone I talk to is very happy with PAUSD and support our educators. Sorry you don't feel the same. You can always run for (and probably lose) School Board.


Expand your horizons
Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 29, 2013 at 9:08 pm
Expand your horizons, Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 29, 2013 at 9:08 pm
Like this comment

Same old, if "everyone" you talk to is happy with PAUSD, you need to meet more people.


pa parent
Stanford
on Jun 29, 2013 at 10:09 pm
pa parent, Stanford
on Jun 29, 2013 at 10:09 pm
Like this comment

"Conscientious and responsive"? Except for the part where the federal investigators found her to be unresponsive and not conscientious that makes total sense. Weekly, you sound like the school board in praising things that don't deserve any. If you want to say she seems like a nice person or that her owl collection is very extensive or that she sure knows how to grow a tomato, that's fine. But how can you say "conscientious and responsive" when she was actually found by a federal investigation to have FAILED TO RESPOND PROPERLY or in a conscientious manner to the bullying of a disabled child. What is going on over there? Get your red pen fixed, would you?


What?
Barron Park
on Jul 1, 2013 at 1:26 pm
What?, Barron Park
on Jul 1, 2013 at 1:26 pm
Like this comment

I think that Skelly's brain is not working. How can he promote to someone who get us into trouble by no protecting the special education child who was being harassed. In conclusion come to work at PAUSD and if you messed up you yo get promoted even if you do not deserve it, or if you do not have what it takes. This is the message Skelly is sending to the rest of the staff.


Au contraire
Community Center
on Jul 1, 2013 at 2:11 pm
Au contraire, Community Center
on Jul 1, 2013 at 2:11 pm
Like this comment

On the contrary, I think the message he is sending is that he supports full inclusio. Cor district staff. Katherine Baker is merely being mainstreamed into 25 Churchill street, just like Amy Drolette. She had no need to worry as they talk all the time about how to stop people from bullying the vulnerable members of district staff. Indeed the school board strongly supports social kindness towards senior district staff.


Gimme the Cue!
Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 2, 2013 at 2:18 pm
Gimme the Cue!, Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 2, 2013 at 2:18 pm
Like this comment

Kevin Skelly is like a disease, and he is slowly killing his host, PAUSD. Word of his misdoings is out in the general public now, has even been reported in the SJMerc!

[Portion removed.]


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