One-on-one: School board candidates question each other

Sept. 16 debate was sponsored by League of Women Voters and Palo Alto Council of PTAs

The five people running for two seats on the Palo Alto Board of Education were given a chance at the Sept. 16 debate, the second of the election season, to ask one other candidate one question. Below are their questions and summaries of the responses. They were given one minute to respond and the person who posed the question was allowed a one-minute rebuttal.

Terry Godfrey's question to Catherine Crystal Foster:

We have new superintendent, Dr. McGee, and he spends good deal of time talking about evaluation, which is music to my ears and the ears of many. Barron Park has a new maker's studio (for example). How do you evaluate something like the maker's studio versus the outcomes we want for our kids?

Foster responded that it was a great question because how the district evaluates (programs) is going to be the way that the board can bring the district forward and scale innovative programs. She said to start off, she would look at what the maker's studio's initial goals were, meet with those who worked to create the program and then figure out a data-collection plan to evaluate it. She said it is important to look at what you can do with the resources available and to keep a timeframe in mind. She also said it's key to "make sure we have usability in data" as "you only want to collect what you're going to use." With something like the maker's studio, it's important to think about what you want the kids to learn, how you want them to be interacting with each other and then come up with measures that are "very carefully tailored to what the goals are to get usable, actionable information" to decide whether to scale or cut a program.

Gina Dalma's question to Ken Dauber:

You've been advocating continuously about the need for a 13th elementary school and we've seen enrollment numbers taper off in last couple years. Would you still advocate for a 13th elementary school (if elected)?"

Dauber said that he would. He said he knows some people take the fact that there's been only moderate growth in student enrollment for the last several years as an indication that the district doesn't need to open a 13th elementary school, but that the district has needed to build a new school for a long time. He said over the last 20 years, the average size of elementary schools in Palo Alto has gone up by a third, yet the district has only opened one new elementary school -- in Barron Park in 1998. He said research shows that the optimum size for an elementary school is between 300 and 400 students, but only two of Palo Alto's elementary schools are that size. In 2008, the district set aside its size policy, which set a limit of 450 (students) for elementary schools, because they couldn't be sustained anymore. He said schools now are too crowded and it's time to open a 13th elementary school.

Ken Dauber's question to Gina Dalma:

All of the candidates, including both you and I, have expressed enthusiasm for Common Core. What we haven't talked about in very much detail is how it should be implemented, how long it will take for a successful transition, what some of the pitfalls are. What strategies do you have to make sure Common Core is going to work in Palo Alto?

Dalma said that in her work as a member of the National Common Core Funders Steering Committee, she's been working with 27 districts across the country to "do just that." She said the district needs to hone in on a vision that answers the question: "What do we want to achieve with Common Core?" That vision needs to be "owned" at every level of the district, from teachers to schools to administration. She said the Common Core rollout is not a short-term transition, but rather one that will take five years. She said the district must focus on teacher professional development, education technology, student programming and formative assessments during the transition period.

Dauber responded that he thinks the board needs to pay particular attention during the transition period to assessments and benchmarks of student achievement. Since the district piloted the Common Core's new Smarter Balanced test last spring, it does not have standardized testing results from those students. Current board member Camille Townsend has this year expressed her concern about that gap in assessment and Dauber said he thinks her concern is valid, "meaning we're going to have trouble with tracking a baseline of students in the transition to Common Core."

Jay Cabrera's question to Terry Godfrey:

There are so many opportunities and options for building interactive technologies to have the community more involved with the board. What's one or two that you might be interested in?

Godfrey said she agrees with Cabrera that the way the board currently gathers input when it makes decisions is "not optimal." The standard procedure is community members come to board meetings and wait for an agenda item and speak to it. She said that only lends itself to people who have the time to do that and "sometimes you miss out on other points of view." She said she would support sending out more surveys and using technology like clickers or online voting tools. She said "that sort of thing for us would be really useful to get a broader base of input instead of counting on people to come and stand in this room to do it or to email board members."

Catherine Crystal Foster's question to Gina Dalma:

Counseling at Gunn and Paly has been a subject of interest and controversy in our district. Please name any specific changes in counseling at Paly and Gunn that you have agreed or disagreed with, and tell us what changes you would like to see made to the current counseling programs at the two high schools.

Dalma started by explaining the difference between the two high schools' counseling programs, mostly focusing on the advisory system at Paly, which pairs an adult adviser with a specific student. She said it has been proven through surveys that Paly's system provides a "much better environment for students than at Gunn" and the board should look at what's working at Paly and scale it to affect all students.

Foster responded that she is interested in seeing how various "small, incremental" changes being made at Gunn and Paly will play out. She said the difference between the two programs goes back to the issue of evaluation and wants to make sure the board has a clear sense of what they're trying to achieve at both schools.


1 person likes this
Posted by stats vs stats
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Sep 17, 2014 at 11:17 am

Gina Dalma should take a closer look at the survey results on guidance.

Paly students were not too keen about the TA program with something like 1 out of 3 Paly students giving it a thumbs down saying that, even with Teacher Advisors, there is no one on campus whom they would approach with a personal problem.

Web Link

1 person likes this
Posted by Where's the beef?
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Sep 18, 2014 at 6:24 pm

@stats and stats. I'm not sure which survey you are referring to. Here is data from the district's high school guidance survey that was released in March 2012. See Web Link

The data was collated comparing all of Gunn's guidance services to all of Paly's guidance services. This should not be read as a comparison of guidance staff personnel. At the time of the survey Paly students had three adults providing them guidance services as opposed to Gunn students who only had one guidance counselor per student providing the same guidance services.:

Students responding that at least one adult guidance counselor at Gunn; guidance counselor,TA or college/career counselor at Paly can help with supporting me if I am:

Struggling emotionally. Gunn 43% Paly 84%

In a difficult family situation. Gunn 39%. Paly 82%

Struggling with health issues. Gunn 30%. Paly 79%

Struggling with friends and peers. Gunn 41% Paly 83%

Struggling in class. Gunn 53% Paly 88%

Generally stressed. Gunn 48%. Paly 86%

The Gunn Advisory Committee made up of Gunn students, parents, teachers, counselors, and admin that was formed to study ways to improve Gunn guidance after the survey results were reported came back with a recommendation to expand the Titan 101 teacher advisory program for the upper grades.

1 person likes this
Posted by analysis
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Sep 19, 2014 at 2:00 pm

The "beef" is in the assumption that it's TA that is the cause of the differences.

The analysis you point to deliberately left out the top 5 issues at both schools and the fact that Paly students think TA is a waste of time.

[Portion removed.] However, if you don't understand the problem, then applying a random solution, which doesn't solve any of the top 5 issues and students think is a waste of time is probably not the right approach.

This is really the issue with Dauber's approach. He uses data to validate his solution rather than using it to understand the problem. It really is poor practice since it builds up straw-man arguments that have to be dismantled before you can go about finding the appropriate solution. To really solve a problem, you need the focus to be on the problem.

[Portion removed.]

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Posted by Parent
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Sep 19, 2014 at 2:33 pm

Both of our kids have valued Teacher Advisory at Paly and that is the most common response that we've heard from other parents and students. Paly's hybrid of TA and professional counselors is the best overall program that I've seen, despite its imperfections. It has never been claimed to be a panacea, but that's a lot different from your claim that Paly students think it's a waste of time. Our kids sure didn't.
It appears that you're actually doing data cherry picking that you are projecting onto Dauber. It's pretty clear that effective advocacy by Dauber and the parents on the Gunn advisory committee is what resulted in more attention and resources devoted to counseling at Gunn.
[Portion removed.]

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Posted by analysis
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Sep 19, 2014 at 2:36 pm

Here's the link to the article on the north-south divide: Web Link

Specifically: "When asked about a "sense of community," 79 percent of residents north Palo Alto gave the city the top two ratings of "excellent" and "good," compared to 59 percent in the south. When asked about "openness and acceptance of the community toward people of diverse background," 84 percent of the respondents in the north gave the city rave reviews, compared to 68 percent in the south."

That's pretty damning.

You need to look beyond headline figures. Jumping to conclusions and applying a "one size fits all" solution to a problem is not a trait I want to see in a board candidate.

A simple question you could ask is how the "solution" addresses the top 5 concerns raised by students at both campuses in this survey:

1. I feel anxiety about getting into the colleges that I want to go to
2. I feel tremendous pressure to succeed academically
3. My family expects me to attend a top college
4. I feel anxiety about my workload at school
5. I feel pressured to take a challenging load of Honors and AP courses

@Parent, Not me - it was in the survey results. Unfortunately Ken decided not to include that nugget of information in his "analysis".

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Posted by Parent
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Sep 19, 2014 at 4:32 pm

I'm not sure if I'm following your reference to the National Citizens Survey from your link. Are you saying that lack of Teacher Advisory at Gunn caused south Palo Alto to have a less favorable outlook toward the city? I doubt that even the strongest backers of TA would claim such a tenuous correlation.

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Posted by Where's the beef
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Sep 19, 2014 at 5:44 pm

Teacher Advisory is one of many strategies listed under Project Safety Net P8 to address issues of student stress that were reported in the 2012 survey. TA's don't replace credentialed counselors, they just download tasks that don't require a counseling background with curriculum provided by the guidance department. Why wouldn't you want students to get extra academic counseling support?
At any rate Dauber has been lobbying the board to study and implement P8 strategies since 2011. The plan states:

Study, discuss and implement additional environmental strategies that create a more supportive school and learning environment, such as finals prior to winter break, revised test and project calendars, revised homework policies addressing purpose and volume, academic integrity concerns, tutorials and advisories, and social and emotional skill development.

@stats vs. stats. I don't see any data in the survey to support your claim that Paly students think TA is a waste of time. In fact in the survey Paly students reported very high attendance rates for advisory : 64% with zero absences, 28% with 1-2 absences, 5 % who couldn't remember how many and only 4 % who had missed 3 or more advisory meetings.

1 person likes this
Posted by stats vs stats
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Sep 20, 2014 at 3:51 am

Where's the beef,

You said "I don't see any data in the survey to support your claim that Paly students think TA is a waste of time." Look at page 32: 67% of Paly students disagreed with this statement "Advisory is a valuable use of my time." That means that only 1 out of 3 students find value in it.

Both high schools - with their different counseling systems - have similar results where it matters:

"I find Paly/Gunn to be a welcoming place" 72% at both high schools

"I have a close, trusting relationship with at least one adult at school" 49% at Gunn and 50% at Paly.

"I know that there is an adult on campus who cares about me" 52% at Gunn and 59% at Paly.

This despite Paly's TA program where students meet with the same ONE Teacher Advisor once a month for years on campus vs. Gunn's appointment/drop in counseling system.

Why not 100% student happiness with TA at Paly? Because TA is not the the model counseling program that candidates Dalma and Dauber believe it to be:

Paly Students on TAs

67% answered NO: Advisory is a valuable use of my time

66% answered NO: If a friend is struggling with a serious personal challenge,
I would advise her / him to go see their TA

59% answered NO: I feel comfortable going to my TA about personal issues
that I might be struggling with

53% answered NO: I believe that my TA can help me deal with personal

Paly Students on Guidance Counselors

58% answered NO: I feel comfortable going to my Guidance Counselor about personal issues that I might be struggling with

50% answered NO: If a friend is struggling with a serious personal challenge,
I would advise her / him to go see a Guidance Counselor

Paly Students on College Counseling

34% of 12th GRADERS answered NO: I feel well-informed about the college application process and what’s required (compared to Gunn's 24%)

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Posted by Where's the beef?
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Sep 20, 2014 at 5:51 pm

@ stat vs. stat

I don't think you understand the role of TA's and I really don't appreciate your attacks on this great group of teachers that are willing to go the extra mile to support our students.

Here from the same survey are the issues you addressed shown as a positive:

I feel well-informed about the requirements for graduating from high school and being eligible to apply to college: Paly Seniors 92% All Paly students 87%

My TA makes time for me if I need help: Yes 74%

I find it easy to talk to my TA: Yes 77%

My TA knows me and understands my goals and Challenges: Yes 61%

My TA is an important resource for me at Paly: Yes 63%

I am satisfied with the level of support I get from my TA: Yes 72%

It is not fair to attack TA's on their performance for social and emotional health advising. Teacher Advisors provide academic counseling and not social emotional advising and should not have been evaluated in that area. The consultant who was a grad student and not a guidance professional did not understand the role of teacher advisory until after she administered the
survey. Those questions are the equivalent of evaluating English teachers on the basis of how well they explain math word problems to their students.

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Posted by stats vs.stats
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Sep 22, 2014 at 10:06 am

Where's the beef,

You: "Teacher Advisors provide academic counseling and not social emotional advising and should not have been evaluated in that area."

If true:

You might want to compare Paly to Gunn's academic success stats. There you will see something like 99% of Gunn students going on to college compared to Paly's 80% and, as has been mentioned many times here, Gunn topping Paly by lots on a-g/college readiness completion rates too. On academic measures, TA is NOT better than traditional counseling at Gunn.

On social emotional measures, Paly has only one guidance counselor per grade who students are to seek out if they need help vs. Gunn’s 1.5 or 2 on average who call students in for check-ins and they get to know in a variety of contexts.

So Paly effectively has 1:500 ratio for social emotional help compared to Gunn's 1:200 or so. On those numbers, it is not looking like the Paly model is better for social emotional support for teens either. Which is probably why 58% of Paly students said they did NOT feel comfortable going to their Guidance Counselor about personal issues that they were struggling with and 50% said they would not advise a friend who is struggling with a serious personal challenge to either.

So to me this begs the question why Paly TA is the model Dalma and Dauber – who, rightfully so, are concerned about social emotional support - recommend?

Ken Dauber back in 2012, after the report and these stats were publicly reported: "I don't think there is any other change that we could make in our schools that would increase connectedness for our kids as much as teacher advisory at's clear that the differences in effectiveness between guidance at Paly and at Gunn are due to the fact that Paly uses a teacher advisory model and Gunn uses a traditional counseling model. ...[and is] consistent with the academic research on the benefits of teacher advisory over traditional guidance models." Web Link

Again: 67% of Paly students did NOT find TA time to be that valuable

Gunn's satisfaction results were as strong if not stronger than Paly's in many important ways too (on top of those I posted above):

59% at Gunn agree that their Guidance Counselors have gotten to know them well compared to 53% for Paly's TAs.

72% at Gunn believe that their Guidance Counselor had been a valuable resource for them compared to 57% for Paly's TAs.

Ken Dauber says that his praises of TA are "consistent with the academic research on the benefits of teacher advisory." Not so. Per researchers at UC San Diego, there is no reliable "supporting research" out there that shows teacher advisory works better than the system Gunn has now.

Web Link

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

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