School board eyes data, evaluation as key to this year's goals

New superintendent adds 'measurables and deliverables' to proposed goals

Palo Alto's top school officials kicked off the school year Tuesday with an enthusiastic discussion of five draft goals for the year that encourage a more data-driven, evaluation-based approach to instruction and governance.

The goals, which Superintendent Max McGee initially presented at the school board's annual retreat two weeks ago, have been revised and cut down from six to five. The goals both get at what the board wants to achieve this year across the district -- greater use of data, professional development, innovative programs and both internal and external evaluations to create a high-quality "collective community" rather than a "collection of communities" -- and how the board itself can become more accountable and transparent. (View the five draft goals and their "measures and deliverables" here.)

McGee has also stressed the importance of linking each goal back to one or more of the district's Strategic Plan's five sections: academic excellence and learning; personal development and support; staff development and recruitment; budget and infrastructure; and governance and communications.

McGee and district staff also specified numerous "measures and deliverables" for each goal, to identify concrete action that can be taken to implement the ambitious goals.

Board member Dana Tom lauded the five revised goals.

"I do believe these will move our district forward in significant ways," he said. "Each goal is unique, yet they link together in a network that really does support each other."

Board members mostly echoed Tom's sentiments, though he and others pointed out additions or changes they would like made before approving the goals at their next meeting, on Sept. 9.

Tom asked that the district's existing efforts around the Strategic Plan's area of personal development and support, which aims to "support the social-emotional need of students and celebrate personal growth across multiple dimensions," be incorporated in the five goals.

"It remains something that were putting significant efforts toward, yet I don't believe that work and effort is reflected here. It makes sense to add a measure or deliverable that encompasses some of that," Tom said.

Tom cited efforts such as the Safe and Welcoming Schools Initiative, the district's new bullying policy and homework policy as examples that should be recognized within the goals.

Other board members and members of the public said the board's second goal – balancing consistent quality and fairness across the district with individual schools' autonomy – resonated with them, for various reasons.

"I think it's fair to say the district has not done as well in the past in ensuring consistency, particularly in what Dr. McGee called horizontal consistency," said Ken Dauber, who is running for a seat on the school board this fall. "I think that we can have both. We can preserve innovation while ensuring consistency with the kind of data-based approach that Dr. McGee is suggesting."

The school board's two new student representatives for this academic year, Rose Weinmann from Gunn High School and Carolyn Walworth from Palo Alto High School, voiced concern about a high level of variation among teachers at their own schools and between Palo Alto's two high schools.

"You want teachers to have autonomy ... but at the same time, I'm sending off a transcript in October and if a kid in a different class only had to turn in worksheets and I worked so hard for that B and he got an A by doing nothing, it says nothing next to it," Weinmann said. "That's really important to students. We want innovation and we want change, but we really need those grades and we want it to be consistent."

Walworth agreed, expressing frustration that in her honors physics class this year, her class hasn't received the textbook yet, while another class is already halfway through the first unit.

Board President Barb Mitchell cautioned that McGee and staff spend more time talking to the district community about what, exactly, consistency means to them before moving forward with the goal.

"I wonder if our larger community of parents, staff, board members, students have a lot of different ideas of what consistency is and whether we know enough yet about what that is," Mitchell said. "I heard two stories tonight that illustrated a strong perspective (the student representatives) and I've heard something very different from other community members as well as to what consistency means to them. I don't have a specific recommendation other than an interest in ensuring we have asked enough questions of students in particular on what this means and what were trying to get to."

Other board members emphasized the need to further look at the district's assessment tools as it transitions into the Smarter Balanced Assessment after piloting the new standardized test in April. (Because it was still in the pilot phase, results were not reported to schools or parents.) The Smarter Balanced Assessment is aligned with the new Common Core State Standard, and board members expressed concern that the district could be moving forward too quickly with those new tests while leaving old assessment tools behind unnecessarily.

"I don't want to lose those (tools) that we've used to date, so I want some assurances around this," board member Camille Townsend told McGee. "This is a transition. What are we going to do? I don't need the answer tonight, but I do need some heavy thinking."

Members of the public who spoke to the board Tuesday night also mostly lauded the proposed goals, particularly McGee's data-driven approach, interest in creating more consistency across Palo Alto Unified's 17 school sites and commitment to evaluating innovative programs and practices in order to lift up what works and throw out what doesn't.

"I love the theme of consistency in instruction, course load, teaching, curriculum," said parent Mary Vincent, referring to the second goal, which aims to balance more fair, consistent instruction with individual schools' autonomy. "Overall, I'm very encouraged that you want clear accountability and people to be forthright."

McGee also emphasized the measures and deliverables of the board's fifth goal, which is to be proactive and transparent rather than reactive. These deliverables include doing more outreach; meeting community members for what McGee calls a "second cup of coffee;" collecting all media coverage of the district, whether positive or negative; analyzing the board's response time to complaints and comments; and implement a new communications plan that incorporates "multiple media and messengers."

"We think were pretty transparent and open, but if nobody else thinks you are, then you have some work to do," McGee said.

In other business, the board also threw its support behind a state bill, AB146, that would repeal a schools reserve cap passed through California's 2014-15 budget. All board members slammed the cap, which limits the amount of reserves that school districts can maintain for emergency funding – regardless of district size -- and was passed as part of the state budget process rather than going through a normal legislative process.

"It's atrocious that they did this," Tom said. "It's completely flawed legislation that was passed in a completely indefensible way."

The board agreed to bring the resolution back for consent on Sept. 9.

The board also added to its Sept. 9 consent calendar an authorization for staff to solicit bids for the construction of a new traffic signal at the entrance to Gunn High School and a $5,964 addendum to redesign an elevator at the new Duveneck Elementary School classroom building.

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Like this comment
Posted by Bob
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 27, 2014 at 10:38 am

> You want teachers to have autonomy

Why? And what does "autonomy" even mean in a public school system that has state-wide standards? Does "autonomy" mean that each teacher should be free to ignore these standards, and to do whatever she wants?

Hopefully not!

Certainly having District-wide standards as to what is expected of teachers in each grade level, and each topic of instruction (English, History, Math, etc.) would be the least the PAUSD could guarantee parents, and students.

Like this comment
Posted by David Pepperdine
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 27, 2014 at 12:12 pm

Most of what Barb Mitchell says makes zero sense to me.

Consistency is a pretty simple concept. What could she be thinking by trying to interpret consistency in all these different ways? Is it that complex of a concept? Is this a discussion of semantics, lexicology, etymology?

Maybe consistency just means whatever she wants it to mean.

Wow. Maybe I just went to the wrong class.

Like this comment
Posted by wondering
a resident of Crescent Park
on Aug 27, 2014 at 12:26 pm

David, what does consistency mean to you? You seem to assume there is only one meaning, please provide your definition of consistency that everyone will agree with.

Like this comment
Posted by Paly mom
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Aug 27, 2014 at 1:11 pm

Barb Mitchell was trying to fuzz out the meaning of consistency because she doesn't like the idea. She wants each principal to run his or her own ship. That's why we have zero accountability and site control run amok.

Like this comment
Posted by Another Paly Mom
a resident of Midtown
on Aug 27, 2014 at 2:03 pm

I agree with Paly Mom. Our family has been elementary through high school now. Every school is its own private Idaho. Always in the name of site independence. Why do we want site independence in a unified district? What's so fabulous about not sharing best practices and each Principal running their school like a separate Fiefdom? There is no consistency, no accountability. For example, in the same school district there are two high schools running on completely different schedules (to name only one of many differences at all levels). There is nothing unified about this Palo Alto Unified School District. Excited to see how our new Superintendent Mr. McGee will pull this district together.

Like this comment
Posted by Replace Young and co.
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 27, 2014 at 2:51 pm

Well, you know what they say, there's lies, damned lies, and statistics.

Good to see we're completing the trio...

In all seriousness, none of this is going to mean much in a culture that isn't first and foremost dedicated to serving families and children. I hope that's where this is going. Data is only as good as those using it.

Like this comment
Posted by wondering
a resident of Crescent Park
on Aug 27, 2014 at 4:21 pm

Paly Mom, you don't seem to want to define the meaning of consistency since it will box in what you want to ask for. Leaving it as a "vague recommendation" is useless.

"Oh, we want all sites to be consistent" is not a policy that can be put into practice. You need to define what that means. You can't just claim it's "self evident" and expect change to happen.

Thanks goodness the board is doing its job.

Like this comment
Posted by Physician heal thyself
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Aug 27, 2014 at 5:33 pm

This board is a disgrace. The resolution that they passed against civil rights is a joke. This board set itself up as telling the federal government how to do its job? This is a district where disabled students are punched with impunity, where a girl is best up by her boyfriend and the district refused to enforce a stay away court order, where special ed students have to sue to get services (autism allergy case) , where laws on privacy are violated (CF case) where cubberly is going to pot, where schools are dominated by ugly and unhealthy trailers, and where Phil Winston said of a black student that white girls liked him for his "black dong." In other words this district was under Kevin Skelly a mess. A mess. No matter, the same board that heard "black dong" and decided to send Phil into the classroom now has scathing criticism for other agencies.

Save us Max and Ken and the Weekly.

Like this comment
Posted by Paly Alum
a resident of Esther Clark Park
on Aug 27, 2014 at 6:00 pm

I watched the board meeting last night and was very impressed with what Max had to say. He is like a breath of fresh air. I hope that he can whoop this obstructionist board into shape. These past few years have made me weary to the point that I couldn't even watch the meetings any longer. I periodically read the Weekly news about the goings on at the highest level and found it so alarming that I had to tune out.

Now I find that we may have a chance to recover some dignity and respect with the School Board election coming up and Mitchell and Tom leaving.

I think that Ken Dauber could really help get things moving in the right direction. I have seen Mr. Dauber over the years showing up for so many meetings and offering constructive suggestions to the board. Hopefully the voters of Palo Alto will vote him in this time.

Thank you Max for giving me hope that we can move forward without having a board that won't even listen to the people who elected them. And amazing as it seems, the Supt. (Skelly) was directing them on what to do. I thought the board was supposed to tell the Supt. which direction to head in. Hopefully we can have a board that is much better equipped to give Max direction for where the voters of PA want this district to go. We certainly don't want to go further down the toilet bowl!

Physician: you say so many things in that one paragraph that kind of sum up the whole deal. Time to heal the district for sure.

Like this comment
Posted by Marie
a resident of Midtown
on Aug 27, 2014 at 7:18 pm

Marie is a registered user.

Mu understanding (please correct me if I am wrong) is that the new homework policy is optional. It is recommended but not required. This reduces its effectiveness and has been the source of many complaints on this forum.

Consistency would mean that the homework policy is mandatory and that all teachers would use the Schoology (sp?) platform for recording homework assignments.

Many complaints on this forum concern inconsistent policies from one school to another and one teacher to another. The lack of consistency has been quite clear. Above is just one example.

Like this comment
Posted by Palo Verde Parent
a resident of Palo Verde
on Aug 27, 2014 at 8:22 pm

To me, consistency means that students in the same course but who have different teachers would have...

* The same workload expectations for outside of class -example: hw, labs, projects etc
*The same grading policy. For example, if one teacher allows students to "make up" test to improve a test grade then all the teachers of the course should offer the same option. Courses with the same name should have the ame weighting of categories - HW, tests etc.
*Test within the same course should cover the same material and at the same level of difficulty.

These three things should be mandated for all courses with the same name. I don't think requiring these things would take away from teachers being able to have their own style or delivery method.

In my opinion the amount of variance between courses with the same course name at Palo Alto High is unacceptable (and from what the student board member said it appears this is an issue at Gunn as well). This variance is not fair to our student for a variety of reasons. Transcripts really can't be compared when grades mean different things but more important, in my opinion, is the disproportionate amount of workload expectations and stress that occurs. Students are not allowed to change classes because of teacher preference so they have no choice in who they get as a teacher.

Like this comment
Posted by Cut the Mike
a resident of Midtown
on Aug 28, 2014 at 3:31 am

I have been having a dream: that Board members will never cut the mike on a PAUSD student who comes in front of them to express their bullying experiences at PAUSD or something else, as Barbara Mitchell did early in this year when she cut the mike on sweet Ms. A. That was awful and no one did something to stop it including board members and Skelly. By doing this we have shown that students do not count at PAUSD and that it is not worth it to come and asked for help when being bullied. That was a horrible thing to read in the newspaper and I cann't imagine what the child felt like when Barb order to cut the mike. I am glad Tom and Barbara are leaving. That will bring us a change for sure. Imagine no Skelly, Barbara nor Tom, hopefully other members start to standing up for our students.

Like this comment
Posted by a little positivity please
a resident of Palo Verde
on Aug 28, 2014 at 12:40 pm

I would ask every one with their harsh criticisms to take a deep breath and pause for a moment of gratitude. Yes, there are many things that can be improved. But we are very blessed in this community. We should be grateful for members of our community who are willing to take on the worse-than-thankless job of school board member. Even if you disagree with them in certain areas, there should still be a certain respect for their services. They are all decent people with good intentions.

Let's keep our work toward change focused on a positive direction. The strident criticisms voiced in our community frighten away many good people from wanting to serve the community in any public fashion.

Setting goals and including accountability are important activities for the superintendent and board to be working on right now. Thanks! And many thanks to the student representatives for generous contributing their time, energy and perspectives!

Like this comment
Posted by Bob
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 28, 2014 at 12:48 pm

> They are all decent people with good intentions.

And you know this how?

Most of the school board's problems stems from their believing that they should be free to do what they want, without consequences. Like Camille Townsend being on the board for three terms--telling the community that she knows more about education than anyone else. Democracy (sort of) works because of rotating points of view that balance opposing points of view out. Townsend has no room for other points of view.

Moreover, we are left with a roster of players that have never been administrators, or managers, of organizations as large as the PAUSD. None of these people seem to believe that money has any value. Again, it was Camille Townsend that said: "The PAUSD can spend every penny it gets!" Why? It's hard to believe that anyone can trust Camille Townsend to do the right thing, to live with the means of the District, and to actually see herself as a representative of the community--rather than someone heavensent to guide the little people towards a vision that is uniquely hers.

Sorry .. but it's hard to be positive when there is so much to be negative about.

Like this comment
Posted by Board watcher
a resident of Fairmeadow
on Aug 28, 2014 at 12:55 pm

It's easy to carp from the sidelines. Ms. Townsend, Mr. Dauber, Ms. Vincent and Ms. Townsends fellow board members have been showing up and working on making better policy for students in the district for a long time. They get my respect whether I agree with everything they say or not.

Like this comment
Posted by Media Coverage
a resident of Jordan Middle School
on Aug 28, 2014 at 10:05 pm

"collecting all media coverage of the district, whether positive or negative;"

What is PAUSD doing now? Is it ignoring the negative? Only reporting the positive to management?
Superintendent McGee needs to take this a step further. Collect all media coverage for the past 2 years. Analyze it. (Don't let the current management do this, get an outsider.) What are the problems? What issues seem to cause a lot of upset or harm to the community? Is it possible things should be handled differently where they have caused pain? Is that really the purpose of a school district? What problems repeat? What went wrong? Did the public attempt to solve problems by working with staff and their management, but PAUSD was unresponsive? Usually families have a close connection with their educators, publicly complaining is unimaginable. Why in PAUSD do citizens have to resort to the media or on line blogs?

Like this comment
Posted by wondering
a resident of Crescent Park
on Aug 28, 2014 at 10:22 pm

You want the media to define what are the issues for the district? What on earth are you thinking?

Collecting feedback is fine but you also need to put it into perspective based on the source. You don't just react to media sensationalization.

Thank goodness the board is doing its job.

Like this comment
Posted by New Leaf
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Aug 29, 2014 at 5:20 am

I don't think we need to collect the newspaper articles or media coverage. This is the one thing I disagree with McGee about. I think that the Public Relations officer, Tabitha Hurley, should be discontinued. Nothing against her, I'm sure she's nice, but we do NOT need or want a PR officer. At the board meeting, her job was pushing a button when Max said "next slide please." She makes 160K/year. I could not believe it.

A school district should be, as Max said, open and transparent. Kevin Skelly was defensive, not open, and not transparent. I can tell that Max is a smart, professional who is not going to make the mistakes of his predecessor. Just hearing him speak made me realize how much we have lost out by having Skelly for the past several years. It also made me wonder what the board was thinking by continuing to extend his contract after there was so much evidence that he was not a good fit. After he failed to report the OCR agreements (2). After he defied the board direction on counseling. After he made a mess of his relationship with the Latino community. After the Paly Math letter. He just let every single situation turn into a festering wound.

Getting a look at Max was a real eye-opener. We could have had that man instead for the past five years. Where would we be if we had? Max talked about metrics, about data, about holding staff accountable for doing what they are told to do (wow), about being one unified district rather than a group of schools. He clearly read the strategic plan data, and he clearly read up on OCR. His goal 5 is right on target. His directness and clarity was reminiscent of Ken Dauber's statements to the board.

If we can now elect Dauber to back and support Max McGee, since they are on the same page on virtually everything, we will have two thoughtful, smart, competent men at the helm of the district and the days of the inept district leadership and the babbling incoherent board dithering while Rome burns will be finally behind us.

Like this comment
Posted by village fool
a resident of another community
on Aug 29, 2014 at 8:36 am

I still believe that a serious investigation is called for.
No media coverage can collect the cumulative experience of families. Each family is a whole world.

Way back I called Ken Dauber to form a Shadow Board, a "check" (as in Checks & Balances). .
I listed the reasons then. mostly - investigating, documenting.
link - Web Link

Obviously, an independent investigation is not about to happen. There is no way to correct anything without knowing what is wrong.
As far as I recall, even few board members supported serious investigation. That was long time ago, before going to secret meetings.

I wonder if the new superintendent is interested in learning the past events that led to the current culture, the facts that would have been presented to an independent committee, should such would have been formed, then?

Like this comment
Posted by Press Review
a resident of Jordan Middle School
on Aug 29, 2014 at 9:07 am

@Wondering - you sound like a District employee or someone they paid to post. (FYI, that is a great way to get the thread locked, if that is your goal).
Any organization would review media material. It's free, it's available. If PAUSD is only looking at the good coverage, that is 1. strange 2. gives the Board and senior management a false impression everything is great and staff is doing a great job. Nothing needs to be improved if nothing is wrong. That's the impression Administration gave in the Special Education Presentation to the Board last October when they were actually being audited by the State for non-compliance, claiming achievement of goals they just haven't reached, leading to spending $94K in June alone on a Special Ed attorney firm. (If Special Education has really achieved all these goals, why do they need to sue disabled students?) As a starting point, all meetings and contacts Special Education Administration has with families should be tracked. Parents should receive an evaluation form to submit after every contact with Administration. Medical clinics do this. Special Education now has 4 senior managers and two secretaries. We need to know they are using the increase in Resources wisely. Maybe that would let Max know there are problems, such as not returning phone calls or e-mails unless contacted 6 times, and stop problems before they blow up into huge legal cases. There is not a method of collecting feedback now. There is no way problems are tracked, so much is ignored. Special Education priorities are only those resulting from when Max or Charles Young or the Board gets involved, priorities are not students, families or teachers. It's likely this is the culture in other departments as well.

Yes, District employees and Board need to learn perspective, but perspective and good judgement are exactly what they lack. That is why Max needs to review past press coverage himself.

Like this comment
Posted by Sanity
a resident of Barron Park
on Aug 29, 2014 at 9:29 am

Wow, PR, you really have a huge issue. You should see someone about it! Wondering asks to define consistency and consider the bias in the press and you say they work for the district!
What do you think Max will find if he reviews the press? A press that only allows posting of their interpretation of events? A press that has tried and failed to get their people elected to the board twice? A press that focuses on SE in this district while it's sister paper ignores the far greater SE issues raised in neighboring districts?

Don't you ever wonder why no sane bioard candidate ever posts on these forums?

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

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