Palo Alto and Gunn high schools' latest Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC) reports intensive, year-plus self-studies that are produced every six years -- provide a rare, detailed look at the state of the schools' counseling programs and student perception of school climate and culture at a time when both are being hotly debated.
Released last week, the WASC reports show similar levels of student satisfaction with social and emotional experience at school at the two high schools. Almost 80 percent of Paly students surveyed in 2014 said they were very or somewhat satisfied with their social and emotional experience that year, compared to 75 percent at Gunn.
Both Gunn and Paly students, as well as parents, reported dissatisfaction with consistency in curriculum, instruction and grading practices across teachers and courses, as well as usefulness of homework and level of enjoyment they have while learning.
The majority of Paly students (83 percent) reported that they felt they could find a trusted adult on campus to go to if they need academic, social or emotional help. The WASC report describes the success of Paly's counseling model, which includes three tiers of support for students: a teacher advisor who serves as the primary contact person for students, parents and staff; guidance counselors and college and career advisors for juniors and seniors. Paly also recently added weekly "brown bag lunches" a time for teachers to drop in and talk to grade-level counselors if they're concerned about a student's academic or social-emotional well-being.
About half of Paly students (53 percent) and 43 percent of parents reported that they were very or somewhat satisfied with non-academic counseling students received that year.
Gunn students are reporting higher satisfaction with counselors' emotional support, according to a counseling survey included in the school's WASC report that was administered to more than 1,200 students in 2012, 2013 and 2014.
In 2014, 81 percent of freshmen, 75 percent of sophomores and 73 percent of juniors strongly agreed/agreed that their counselor can provide support if they're struggling emotionally. Those percentages are significantly higher at all grade levels than in 2012 and 2013.
Numbers have also gone up for students who feel they can approach adults with personal issues: 64 percent of freshmen, 60 percent of sophomores and 56 percent of juniors strongly agree/agree they feel comfortable doing so compared to 56 percent, 52 percent and 49 percent, respectively, in 2013.
Eighty percent of Gunn sophomores and juniors and 84 percent of freshmen reported that their counselor can help support them if they're feeling "generally stressed."
Through the lengthy WASC process -- which included regular meetings with a leadership team of school staff, students, parents and others, as well as focus groups and surveys -- Paly and Gunn's WASC teams also identified three overarching goals, dubbed "critical learner needs," for their schools. Both schools marked school culture and the achievement gap as critical needs. Gunn also identified data collection as a goal and Paly, greater consistency in curriculum, instruction and learning outcomes "to reduce undue stress."
Though Paly's WASC process began as slated in August 2013, Gunn fell off schedule when "previous leadership did not follow through with the appropriate discussions, meetings, and fact-finding procedures," Gunn's report reads.
Gunn "began the process afresh" at the beginning of the 2014-15 school year with principal Denise Herrmann replacing Katya Villalobos at the helm.
Herrmann and Paly principal Kim Diorio will present their respective reports to the board on Tuesday at 10 a.m. at district headquarters, 25 Churchill Ave.