News

Editorial: Win, lose or tie?

Scorecard of school media coverage is another self-inflicted distraction

Score this editorial in the "loss" column.

Incredible as it may seem, we taxpayers have been paying the Palo Alto school district's "communications coordinator" to go through local press reports each week, enter them onto a spreadsheet and rate them as "win," "lose" or "tie."

For the last four months, 108 media stories and editorials, most from the Weekly, have been monitored, scored and cataloged by Tabitha Kappeler-Hurley and reported to Superintendent Max McGee, principals and other administrators.

The practice became public this week when McGee gave the school board his first quarterly update on how staff is progressing on the board's annual goals, established in August.

Ironically, the goal this activity is supposedly supporting is to "anticipate, respond, and promptly resolve potentially distracting and disruptive issues in order to maintain focus on the District's vision..."

McGee's idea, he said, was simply to demonstrate that there is more good than bad written about the schools, data he thought would help correct misconceptions he found when he arrived.

The win-lose-tie record so far, according to Kappeler-Hurley's scoring system? 52-10-46

But the scorecard, which lacks any clearly thought-out criteria, resulted in ratings that demonstrate one of the many fallacies of this task. For example, stories about recent suicides were rated a "tie," a story about a school-board candidate forum was rated "lose," as was a report on the amount of money being spent on legal fees, and a Weekly election editorial endorsing Terry Godfrey and Ken Dauber was rated a "win." Huh?

Kappeler-Hurley told the Weekly that a story categorized as a win successfully shared the "good work that the district is doing."

"Even if it's something that you could say is a negative story or a story that highlights a problem or an issue, it's still very much possible for it to be a 'tie,'" she explained. "Is it fair reporting? Is it balanced and give good information? It may still highlight a problem and that's fine. That's the role of media, to share information."

She added that a story that might have left out information the district provided to the reporter "might slide it over to the negative."

McGee initiated the rating activity, he says, because when he arrived in August he found a "bunker mentality" about the media's coverage of district activities.

"When I first got here, what I heard from members of the community and especially from the leadership team is, 'We are under fire from the media. We have a bunker mentality. We are paralyzed by all the negative press,'" he said.

McGee said he had similar data prepared when he served as superintendent of schools in Illinois.

Monitoring media coverage (not the rating of stories) is common for large companies and public agencies where many diverse media outlets over a large region are covering them. In the old days, the result was a "clip file" of news stories that would be circulated to key people within an organization.

But for a local school district to do this is not only a mistaken use of resources, but leads to exactly the kind of distraction that McGee has so correctly targeted.

It was one of several such distractions just in recent days that generated completely avoidable controversy, including a nonsensical proposal to modify the district's conflict-of-interest rules and a serial meeting Brown Act violation caused by McGee consulting with three board members on an issue and then informing a fourth of the majority's opinion.

To his credit, since he arrived McGee has been trying to coax the board into realizing the harm that can come from distractions like these. He has underestimated, however, his ability to steer board members away from them, and has contributed a few of his own by being too eager to please each board member and then too defensive when the issue comes to light.

McGee is still learning how to lead in a community weary of controversy and tired of political gamesmanship. And he has the difficult job of still having a board majority who won't let go of past controversies even as he is strongly urging them to move on.

With a long break for the holidays, we hope McGee and the board will reflect on how they can work on real issues in a productive way. If they do that, the "wins" in press coverage will come naturally.

Related content:

New Palo Alto school district communication strategy meets concern

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Comments

4 people like this
Posted by parent
a resident of Community Center
on Dec 12, 2014 at 9:43 am

One disconcerting thing I have observed is that McGee seems to want to be able to disclaim responsibility not only for decisions made by Skelly in the past but also for the ongoing impact of those decisions today and in the future. The former is reasonable, but the latter is not.

When a corporation purchases another, it buys not only assets but liabilities. McGee gets both the good and the bad. He is now responsible for all decisions, and he is being paid a very handsome salary for taking that responsibility. We have every right to expect him to step up and say "I see that these decisions were made in the past, but I do not see any value coming from them today, and in fact they are distracting from what I want to get done, so I recommend walking away."

Here's an example: McGee tends to disclaim responsibility for anything to do with OCR. He says he wasn't here which is fair enough. But he's here now. There is no excuse for his failure to educate himself on the subject, find out all the facts, craft a position that brings this to a solution, and then implement it. I am getting tired of hearing him say "I don't know all the facts." Why not? Is $300,000 per year plus an insufficient amount of money to expect you to find out all the facts? Find them out. They aren't the mystery of Stonehenge or the human genome. Read the documents and come to a conclusion.

On the FOIA requests, there is nothing more wrongheaded than the course that is supposedly being pursued by McGee and the board to obtain the file from the Terman case. The idea that it will contain anything other than a slew of embarrassing and harmful facts is a total fantasy. This is a file that was the basis for a finding against the district. It will contain interviews with staff, some of which will probably document staff statements that were not accurate, and some of which will probably implicate other staff members in errors or wrongdoing. There will be nothing good for morale in that file. No one knows for sure but if you were betting, you would have to say that the information in that file will be highly unflattering to a number of staff members, most especially Katherine Baker.

The board members are only making matters worse by saying that they want "transparency" and their only plan is to "let it ride" obtain the information and then post it to the internet. Melissa Caswell yesterday was quoted in the Post saying "it doesn't cost anything to put these documents on the web." Dr. McGee if you cannot tell that you are in trouble, you are not doing your job. If those documents go on the web, you have destroyed morale at Terman. If they don't you will be sued by the press which will then put them on the web anyway.

Your only intelligent course at this point is to put a period at the end of this mess and walk away. Otherwise you will be reliving the OCR mess for years to come, as people pore over the documents, construct their accounts of what happened, and to what constructive purpose? How will that help anyone? For a guy who wants to move on, this is the worst possible strategy.

This community wants and deserves closure on this mess. Those documents are not the way forward, they are the way backward. [Portion removed.]


1 person likes this
Posted by Another perspective
a resident of Crescent Park
on Dec 12, 2014 at 10:40 am

It is common practice in most organizations and companies to track media coverage. The spreadsheet that is described here is a way to analyze coverage to see if the resources allocated towards communications are effective at driving positive stories. If there is no analysis of the type described here, how can PAUSD know if its communications efforts are working? There is constant critique of the fact that PAUSD hired a communications person, and now time and energy is being spent criticizing how she does her job. The majority of school districts around the country have a dedicated communications staff person to manage press, community outreach, etc. to help ensure strong community support for local public schools and students. So what is the big deal here?


1 person likes this
Posted by not built here syndrome
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Dec 12, 2014 at 10:54 am

It's because they don't understand what Max is trying to achieve. Anything that they didn't think of is, by definition, a waste of time. It's a common problem with people who have worked in large organizations. They can't step outside their zone and appreciate what can be achieved by bringing in practices that have worked elsewhere. They have a very limited world view.

It's also this wrong-headed mentality by parts of our community that has resulted in the bunker mentality within the district. Now, we have a board member who, rather than trying and fix the problem, wants to ignore it. Even to the point of disparaging it with straw-man arguments implying the district didn't care about accuracy. What?!


3 people like this
Posted by No spin zone
a resident of Evergreen Park
on Dec 12, 2014 at 11:17 am

When the district hired a PR person after the OCR mess came to light, board members promised that her job would be communication, not spin. Now we find that she has been classifying news reports by whether they portray the district in a positive or negative light. In a public agency, the role of communications is to promote transparency and accessibility, not "driving positive stories". Taxpayers have an interest in paying for transparency. They don't have an interest in "driving positive stories" beyond wanting the district to behave in a way that does that naturally. Our "communications officer" should be making sure that community members and the press get the information they want quickly and accurately --- good or bad.


1 person likes this
Posted by not built here syndrome
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Dec 12, 2014 at 12:16 pm

[Portion removed.]

This isn't about "spin". It isn't about driving ANY story. It's about collecting and presenting data. Real data, yes it is subjective and you'll find the same subjectivity when you analyze the "open questions" in surveys. This isn't something invented here.

This is about showing the district employees, who have developed a "bunker mentality", the real situation. If Max can show, by data, that news is generally positive, then he can help remove the "bunker mentality". If it is generally negative, he has information he can work with.

This isn't rocket science. It's not spin. It's a simple analysis based on facts. It's used for all open ended questions in survey analysis and has been proven to work. What is your real complaint?

Your alternative is just circulating a couple of feel good stories, as one board member suggested, firing from the hip, with no data to back up his proposal. If this is the sort of thing we will be getting, them I'm very soon going to start to regret my vote.


2 people like this
Posted by parent
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 12, 2014 at 12:53 pm

Agreed. The first disappointment in McGee. He clearly doesn't seem to understand that any negative media coverage isn't a chicken and egg problem. The district needs to clean up its act, and that should start with an honest look within. They could use media coverage to facilitate, but this rating effort would seems to indicate they are unable to hear truth from others.

How about instead reviewing public and private communication from district people for what percentage is factual and false? Intended to help or intended to cover someone's ... misdeed's? And if it doesn't pass as 100% factual and helpful, looking at all sides, send it back to the district office for a rewrite? (Hint: this won't be possible to do unless they let go of a lawyer-backed and paid CYA mindset).


3 people like this
Posted by Skellytons
a resident of Stanford
on Dec 12, 2014 at 12:55 pm

Dr. McGee doesn't have to deal with the leftover Skellytons that keep cropping up. He can choose to move on without expending any more of our precious resources on trying to revisit the OCR cases. Ken and Terry said that they wouldn't support it during their campaigns as did the others (except for Catherine Crystal Foster). I think that the public voted for Terry and Ken partially because they made promises to move on from the misguided strategies that clearly were detrimental to our students and district during the last administration.

Speaking of expending precious resource money, why in the heck do we need a very highly paid employee doing PR for the district. If we were doing more things right there would be more positive stories period. End of story. I am wondering what she found out about how many of her press releases are being used to give the district more "wins". She should be ashamed of ranking suicide as a "tie".


2 people like this
Posted by parent
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 12, 2014 at 1:16 pm

@another perspective,
The trouble with your point is that the purpose of most organizations is different than the purpose of a school district, which is not to make profit for itself, not to make itself look good while covering up problems, not to protect the interests of employees at the expense of the most vulnerable or even objectionable "customers".

The purpose of a school district is to educate children, to serve families. I understand what Max is trying to achieve, I and the rest of us just know his problem is not borne of perceptions of media coverage, but rather failures of employees to honestly implement the goals of a school district, and their lack of ability to own up to, learn from, and apologize for mistakes.

He would have done better to teach them all the elements of a good apology, and to dismiss those who could not learn.

Skellytons,
I don't think the biggest problem was Skelly. The biggest problems are the upper management, probably Young, Wade, and Carrillo. They are still here, and McGee seems to be drinking their Kool-aid, and thinking the solution is just getting them to see the media isn't out to get them. Given what has happened, the media has been lobbing softballs. (Even if they believe it, now what? Would that they really had been out to get them, our kids would be better off.)


2 people like this
Posted by Robert
a resident of Fairmeadow
on Dec 12, 2014 at 1:37 pm

Keeping tabs on media coverage is something most PR people do. Not necessary to rate articles/TV/radio coverage as good/bad/tie (that's usually obvious!). Make sure the admin/board people see/hear all the coverage, not just the negative stuff. This practice also shows what the PR person has been doing in terms of responding to media and generating stories. PR people not only relate to external media and pitch stories, but communicate with employees and their families as well. I have worked in the PR field and as a reporter/columnist, so I know both sides. Both sides need each other, ultimately.


2 people like this
Posted by parent
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 12, 2014 at 2:33 pm

@ Robert,
Again -- this is a school district. They don't keep tabs on how often their employees lie to families of vulnerable children. They make no attempt to honestly analyze past mistakes and correct them. They should not be spending money padding their image and analyzing media in order to achieve that end. It comes across as an extension of dishonest policies that put families last. Spend time learning how to communicate with families. Now THAT would be more helpful to them than all the dishonest glossy PR in the world (if the goal is to run a school district rather than improve the resumes of current and former employees).


3 people like this
Posted by parent
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 12, 2014 at 2:36 pm

A word to the wise:

Dr.McGee,
I sense the beginning of the end of the honeymoon. If you want the love affair to continue, surround yourself with people worthy of it. Use your broom to clean house, or you will live to regret it like your predecessor. Again, word to the wise...


1 person likes this
Posted by not built here syndrome
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Dec 12, 2014 at 3:11 pm

They are not spending money padding their image. They are spending money dealing with the bunker mentality that has been created within the district. No where has Max said that this data collection is to improve the districts image. It is to analyze and correctly represent the facts.

The idea that the super shouldn't be concerned with issues facing teachers and staff is laughable. He obviously has seen from the initial surveys that this is an area that needs to be addressed. Perhaps your first step would be to request the results of those surveys and understand the problem before you start with accusations. You know, work constructively with the district.


1 person likes this
Posted by parent of 2
a resident of Greenmeadow
on Dec 12, 2014 at 3:20 pm


I don't have a problem with the PR person categorizing the media coverage of late. No one said a suicide article was a 'win'. They are categorizing articles based on accuracy no matter what the topic is. I also feel the media always sensationalizes stories big time and THAT does have an affect on the school district, our teachers and our students. PAUSD has been attacked with negative parent groups and negative media stories for the last two/three years. I would be extremely disappointed if PAUSD didn't try something to combat this

Media coverage gets more bang for their 'negative' stories than the positive ones. So I think it is important for our teachers, staff and students to understand and feel what they do that is good and successful. The media is not going to do this for them. Ken Dauber is not going to do this for them...thus the need for a PR person. We can argue until the cows come home but that negative push will never lead to a positive school district. We need to embrace and encourage all the teachers and staff that work hard to create a great school district, while still acknowledging that we have some bad teachers. I don't want to lose our good teachers and retain the small amount of bad ones by such an attack.

I'm just hoping the kids don't read Palo Alto online. They work too hard. For all those kids that are putting in hours of homework each night because they believe in a dream. A dream that hard work will pay off. Hard work will get them into a college. College will get them a career. Something that is fun and will allow them to earn enough to get through life. PAUSD has A LOT of those kids. Let's not forget about them or push them aside as we work on the other 20%. Let's have a 100% solution.


1 person likes this
Posted by Parent
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Dec 12, 2014 at 3:25 pm

First, I am encouraged by many of the initiatives McGee has taken since his arrival.
However, this media scoring program is not his finest hour. While this kind of action is more common among for profit companies whose purposes may be to influence or even manipulate consumers, this is not a common or acceptable practice for a public agency. On a related thread Cathy Kirkman quoted a prominent journalism professor about McGee's practice,
"I have never heard of it before and I don't think it's good idea because there's a fatal ambiguity: is a story "negative" because it's poorly done, biased or sensationalized.... or is it negative because it's delivering negative news... or is it the latter but called the former by people who can't face "negative" news?"
Our tax dollars should be spent on our students, not on scoring whether or not a suicide is a "win" story for the district, or scoring candidate debates, which places the district dangerously close to improperly interfering in elections.
McGee stated that part of his motivation was to dispel the notion within 25 Churchill that there was a media bias against them. As he stated Tuesday, that notion has been refuted and the goal accomplished. Rather than declare victory and move on, he has dug in his heals and insisted the practice should be continued, in furtherance of promoting the PAUSD brand. Sometimes good leaders in the public sector become enamored with private sector practices and objectives. Focusing on the "brand" of PAUSD has been part of our problem. Our first and last goals should be to do our best for the kids. We should not be in the business of marketing a brand.
It will be interesting to observe how he handles this now that the practice has become a negative distraction for the district, one of the things he's trying to avoid. Will he show a bit of understandable stubbornness initially, based on the usual self confidence of a strong leader, or excessive determination to stick to his guns despite negative consequences for PAUSD, paradoxically harming the brand he wants to defend?


Like this comment
Posted by YallShowedHIMallright
a resident of another community
on Dec 12, 2014 at 3:34 pm

WOW! Yeah... I'm sure Max's 'predecessor' is SOOOOooo full of regrets now, cuz, yeah- Y'ALL SHOWED HIM!

Web Link


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Posted by not built here syndrome
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Dec 12, 2014 at 4:08 pm

I thought Cathy's friend's comments were interesting. Did he talk with Max before offering an opinion? Did he offer any alternative to the approach? Did he even Google "analyzing media bias positive negative" - you'll see numerous hits for this type of analysis.
Again, this isn't rocket science. It's a well understood principle. It's kind of a shame that a journalism professor has never heard of it.

You then go on to agree with Max but criticize him for not stopping when you stay stop. Again, unfortunately, like Cathy's professor, you have no experience in dealing with dispelling bunker mentality whereas Max does. Rather than let him do his job, you decide when he should start and when he should stop. Sorry, I don't have any faith in your direction.

Finally, you again, erroneously, state that this is focusing on the "brand" of PAUSD. That isn't the case, this is about dispelling the bunker mentality amongst teachers and staff. It has nothing at all to do with the "brand" of PAUSD. Please stick to the topic.


1 person likes this
Posted by Parent
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Dec 12, 2014 at 5:19 pm

@not built here
The issue isn't whether media bias exists, which is a subject that has been widely debated for a long while. The issue is whether a public agency using public education funds should be engaging in this sort of practice. If you can find a reference to a school district doing a similar action, it would be interesting how it was viewed elsewhere. Dr McGee mentioned he'd done it through the Illinois superintendent office, but nothing popped up on it when I did a quick search.
In your effort to undermine Professor Rosen's comments, Web Link, you ask if he even Googled publications about media bias. I suspect that he didn't need to do a search since he's cited extensively on the subject, Web Link and Web Link.
Also, I didn't say that I agreed with what Dr McGee had done, merely that if disputing the notion of press bias was his primary objective, he could declare victory and move on. We'd all like him to proceed positively under a fresh start.
You went on to assert that I have no experience in dispelling bunker mentalities. I'm not sure what your basis is for that claim, but it's not correct.
Finally, you claim that I erroneously stated that this is a focusing on the PAUSD brand. Although the Weekly article and editorial did not report it, Dr McGee spoke about this at the board meeting on Tuesday as one of his primary reasons for wanting to continue the practice. In suggest you watch the tape.
It seems that you want to take me on more than focus on the wisdom of the practice being debated. Hopefully, we can return to the discussing the issue.


2 people like this
Posted by parent
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 12, 2014 at 6:10 pm

"They are not spending money padding their image. They are spending money dealing with the bunker mentality that has been created within the district."

Have you ever met anyone who had low ethical standards when it came to telling the truth, and witnessed what pretzels they twist themselves into when they get caught? They don't know how to apologize and move on. If they get pressed for the truth, is putting a spotlight on the person telling the truth, or even getting them to stop digging in regardless really the solution, especially if those people have responsibility for children's lives?

Have you ever tried working with people like that, especially when they hold a lot of power? Walk a mile in some of these parents' shoes before you start making [portion removed] accusations about people not trying to work with the district. If McGee really wanted to stop the bunker mentality, he should have justifiably cleared out some of the poor performers and brought in his own team. [Portion removed.]


1 person likes this
Posted by Parent
a resident of Downtown North
on Dec 12, 2014 at 6:51 pm

Just a correction, McGee said he wanted to continue tabithas ranking for "brand management." As Daubet said, that's imprudent. He tried a lot of different ways to signal that now that McGee had put this in the update the press would report on it and he would be criticized. He did everything except say "max this is going to look bad and be a distraction." Max already knew that the weekly was onto it -- they probably already had a copy by Tuesday. You don't need to "see around corners" when you have a board member waving a yellow flag and the newspaper nipping at your heels. That's more like seeing down the runway. Suicide is not a "tie." That is the most cynical thing I have ever seen. Even Kevin Skelly wouldn't have done that.


1 person likes this
Posted by Another Parent
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Dec 12, 2014 at 7:07 pm

Parent (above) is correct. Dr. McGee spoke at the 12/9 board meeting about "brand management" in connection with his response to questions raised about the "win, lose, tie" media metric. He said, "It's part of brand management." He then went on to describe his prior experience with this type of approach to brand management in Illinois.

The district’s PR person has been a controversial position (and expense) from the beginning. Take a look at former Paly Principal Sandra Pearson’s common-sense letter of protest to the board when the job position was first announced: Web Link

In her letter, Pearson stated: “Your decision to create a $150,000 communications officer has puzzled and dismayed me. If the administrators are fulfilling their job responsibilities, they are the ones in the best position to communicate with the public. They are inside the issues. They are hired to represent the District. It is unnecessary to layer another person in the mix. When I was principal in the District, we had a communications officer. That position appropriately was one of the first to be eliminated when cuts had to be made. I believe you are making a mistake to allocate precious resources for a communications officer. I urge you to hold your administrators responsible for communicating effectively.

“Ask any teacher how $150,000 might be used to support teaching and learning in the classroom. I doubt you will find any who would opt for a communications officer.”


1 person likes this
Posted by Robert
a resident of Fairmeadow
on Dec 12, 2014 at 8:57 pm

Wow. If this communications or PR person was being paid $150K by a school district, that's WAY out of line. I would place a job like that at around $70K. It wouldn't take a heavyweight.


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Posted by More nadirs to come
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 12, 2014 at 9:13 pm

[Post removed.]


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Posted by B Minkin
a resident of another community
on Dec 12, 2014 at 11:24 pm

[Post removed.]


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Posted by Parent
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Dec 12, 2014 at 11:30 pm

[Post removed due to deletion of referenced comment.]


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Posted by B Minkin
a resident of another community
on Dec 12, 2014 at 11:42 pm

[Post removed.]


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Posted by short timer
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Dec 13, 2014 at 12:55 am

[Post removed.]


3 people like this
Posted by SuggestionForMax
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Dec 13, 2014 at 7:54 am

It seems most of the problems with the PR effort arise from the on-dimensional view of win-lose-tie.

It fails to encapsulate the whole picture.

I suggest using two dimensional rating image & accuracy.

This would allow an article on suicide to be clearly negative on image, but positive if accurate. A two dimensional analysis is far more useful to address bunker mentality.

For example, articles which are negative image but inaccurate am need a PR person to correct inaccuracies. This helps the community and school.

Articles which are positive image and accurate should be celebrated.

Finally, articles which are negative image AND accurate are places where the school needs to improve its people, management, strategy and systems. This is a compass pointing towards the way out of the swamp.

Our district has an enormous difficulty internalizing their own shortcomings, and therefore tend not to address serious shortcomings in poor judgment, mismanagement, mistreatment of students and teaching quality issues.

This shortfall in competence is masked by a separate narrative. If you read the news and look at the comments you see two divergent narratives in conflict:

A) the school is pressuring our kids and harming them through incompetence, unequal teaching quality, lack of HW policy. The quality of instruction is low and the test/homework load is high - you better get a tutor for survival. The school has a shared responsibility to address suicides , for which they have done little. Issues such as bullying and mistreatment are buried in sites that have no district accountability.

B) the schools are some of the highest performing in the state, parents pressure the kids to take too high level classes, our teachers are great, parents ask for more HW, and provide tutors to game the system. Education is complex, and parents and students are too inexperienced to know a great teacher when they meet one, Suicides are an individual issue; the school has nothing to do with it. Site based management works well because it prevents meddling from the district, who don't know local issues.

...

The disparity in narrative is stark, divisive and harmful. The staff feel they are in a bunker because they are trying to make narrative "B" fit their reality, while the press and quite a few of the community see narrative "A" as the reality we are living with.

There is little real discourse left - just shouting past one another. The district doesn't address their issues because they don't see or believe them. The community is loosing patience and civility with a district unable to care for our students.

Unless these narratives are changed, and unified we are on a collision course that ends in a complete deconstruction of the district - from within or from without.


2 people like this
Posted by SuggestionForMax
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Dec 13, 2014 at 8:29 am

The PR role should be modified to encompass dual mandates:

1- correct inaccuracies in the press articles, get the word out when key facts are missing.

2- correct internal narratives that are contrary to the external image of the school. Basically educate school officials when their own views ignore their shortcomings.



Both of these roles serve the community with truth and transparency flowing in an out of the school. Long term it benefits the school when the school and community narratives converge.

This is a very different role than spin-Meister, but probably wort the money.


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Posted by happen to be a FOIA fan
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 13, 2014 at 8:31 am

Hard to get my arms around board member Ken Dauber - who got voted in because he was a strong advocate for transparency, who knows the value of shedding sunlight on actions no matter how uncomfortable it may be for the district and board, and who used public records act requests to accomplish that - opposing the district’s aka now, as a board member, “his” doing the same for the same reasons.

Because looking at a whole bunch of documents might cost money? The Superintendent and staff are salaried, and the board works for free, so it costs taxpayers nothing for them to work extra hours reading documents that, for the benefit of our students, could ID areas for improvement. As I see it, these documents could SAVE the district money since the OCR did the work, sparing the district from having to hire expensive consultants to uncover the information.

Because the cases are closed? Timing is not the issue. Caswell said that rules bar the OCR from sharing the information until the case is closed.

Because we should look forward? Looking forward without understanding the past is not helpful.

Case in point: At this week’s board meeting, a mother shared that she is in the middle of writing up an OCR disability discrimination claim against one of our middle schools.

18 months ago the district made a FOIA request to better understand a PAUSD middle school disability discrimination case. Had the OCR shared that file when the district asked for it, the district could have spotted problems, fixed them, spared this child and family angst and frustration, AND saved money on legal fees that will be expended when she files.


1 person likes this
Posted by Not worth it
a resident of Juana Briones School
on Dec 13, 2014 at 10:49 am

We should not be paying $150,000 for a PR person and the body of work that Tabitha KH has put in certainly has not demonstrated that we should keep this position past June, 2015. The Associate Superintendent, Dr. Charles Young, appears to have fewer duties this year, and I would suggest that Dr. Young be put in charge of clipping out newspaper articles and rating them wins, losses, or other, and then bringing them to the board. The savings should be put into lowering our student to teacher ratios.


1 person likes this
Posted by parent
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 13, 2014 at 1:00 pm

"The Superintendent and staff are salaried, and the board works for free, so it costs taxpayers nothing for them to work extra hours reading documents that, for the benefit of our students, could ID areas for improvement."

Can you please express that publicly to Asst Superintendent Charles Young? Because when *families* in the district make public records requests to resolve problems their *schoolchildren* are having, he complains endlessly about what it costs to answer records requests and even creates documents outlining records requests to underscore his point about how he can't possibly comply with them. I know people who have years' old records requests for ordinary student educational documents. The excuse is always that records requests are too burdensome, even legal ones.

This is a *school district*. You could make an argument for every action anyone wanted to take under the sun, but the fact is, we can't do all of them as finite people with finite resources, and we must prioritize the education and wellbeing of our children -- something this ridiculous business does not do.

In my experience, certain people in our district office use the information primarily for their own political purposes, not for what's in the best interest of children. They vet everything first for whether it will make them look bad, regardless of what the truth is relative to the children. Families in this district do not WANT to be filing claims with the OCR, they go to the OCR because the district does not have a culture of working with families. This has actually been made worse in a way by McGee's arrival, as the worst offenders just under him are scrambling to cover up for past misdeeds they didn't have to work so hard to cover up under Skelly. Enabling this culture of allowing these people to use resources of any kind first and foremost for CYA should just stop. That's what we sent Ken Dauber to the board to do, and that's what he seemed to be trying to do I applaud that.

If there is a public document at issue here, and a person (former or current) believes they need it, let them make the request of the OCR on their own, they are perfectly capable of doing that, and leave the school district to FOCUS on the education of children.


2 people like this
Posted by parent
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 13, 2014 at 1:01 pm

@ Suggestion,

I have a novel idea. How about the communications person working on better communications with families so the district spends more time and focus doing the right thing, serving children and families?


4 people like this
Posted by Parent
a resident of Crescent Park
on Dec 13, 2014 at 2:54 pm

@parent another neighborhood.

Here here. I thought Mr. Dauber was exactly right. Furthermore:
- there is zero chance that these documents when returned will lead to transparency. The public will never read them unless the weekly pressed for them as it did the Phil Winston documents. The same board that announced that Phil had to spend more time with his family and actively covered up sexual harassment will now just slap personnel documents on the web? Can't wait.
- the districts lawyers will charge thousands to go through these docs and redact them, to fight requests from the public and the weekly to release them and to use them in a pointless tilt at the Federal windmill. If receiving those documents costs less than $10K it would be amazing.
- the old board should put their money where their mouths are and forswear spending even one dollar in legal fees or staff time to deal with these documents. Melissa caswell Heidi emberling, and terry Godfrey , evidently unaware that work costs money have both said that all the expenses are already incurred and from here out it's all free. Let's hold them to that. No more legal fees. No more staff time. No IT staff time (Caldwell says putting them on the web is free!!).

The old board needs to stop spending money on this OCR thing or people will question the parcel tax.


4 people like this
Posted by Jody Blum
a resident of Green Acres
on Dec 13, 2014 at 5:20 pm

The school district turned over a lot of documents about Terman to OCR, and also about the Paly sexual harassment case. I remember board members complaining about "thousands" of documents. Those are documents that the district already has, we don't need to get them from OCR. If Emberling and Caswell are actually interested in "transparency", how about putting those on the Web? They could do that Monday morning, no need to wait for OCR.

These board members won't do that because the real point of the FOIA requests isn't "transparency", it is refighting the Terman case. McGee said as much to Dauber: "Obtaining this information is of importance because it apparently it will either confirm or refute that some specific district employees (former and current) were falsely maligned. Again, I do not know all of the details, and my preference is move forward. That said, this request apparently matters a great deal to the three remaining board members." (Web Link).

If the point of this exercise is to prove that the district and particular employees didn't screw up, I doubt it will work. Any way you cut it though, the board should own up publicly to why they are willing to spend public money on it.


1 person likes this
Posted by Eileen 1
a resident of Midtown
on Dec 14, 2014 at 11:12 pm

@Parent

I recently participated in a phone survey regarding the school district's proposed increase of the parcel tax.
No matter how the question was phrased my answer remained the same, I am currently undecided as to whether or not I would vote for an increase. I am thrilled that we have new members on the board, but the majority of the board remains the same and I am unwilling to increase the amount of money that they have to spend on lawyer fees.

Their behavior has already caused me to be extremely skeptical of the parcel tax. The fact that they refused to withdraw the FOIA requests and that the district is now having the communications officer track and score articles that appear in the local media is doing absolutely nothing to convince me to support an increased parcel tax.


2 people like this
Posted by More nadirs to come
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 14, 2014 at 11:32 pm

I'm voting no on next parcel tax. PAUSD doesn't need it. They've got money to burn on lawyers and fights against the OCR that have nothing to do with kids. The parcel tax gives them cushion to pursue these wrongheaded endeavors without affecting the general fund.


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

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