High school self-studies yield data on counseling, school climate

Paly, Gunn principals to present 2014-15 WASC reports to board Tuesday

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.

View Gunn's full WASC report here and Paly's, here.

CORRECTION: The article has been corrected to reflect the accurate percentage of Gunn students who reported being very satisfied or somewhat satisfied with their social and emotional experience at school. The article initially listed only the figure for those who are very satisfied.

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Like this comment
Posted by It's all in your child's head
a resident of Gunn High School
on Feb 9, 2015 at 9:04 pm

[Post removed due to correction of incorrectly cited data in original story.]

1 person likes this
Posted by ...or it's in the report
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Feb 9, 2015 at 10:08 pm

Really, you should always question the Weekly's reporting.

The actual headline number the Weekly gives is correct, but only includes 1/2 of the data.

The actual line in the report is:

"37% of students report being very satisfied and 37% are somewhat satisfied with the social emotional experience they have had this year."

Who knows why the Weekly is trying to misrepresent what is described as a Strength in the WASC report. One could assume it was just poor reporting but given their recent reporting, the actual reason may be far more insidious

[Editor's note: Thanks for spotting this error. It's been corrected.]

2 people like this
Posted by Gunn Father
a resident of Gunn High School
on Feb 10, 2015 at 10:32 am

Interesting that the Seniors werent mentioned in the reports ? Dont they matter? Gunn seniors seem far less 'satisfied' than the underclassman appear to be...but what does that matter? PAUSD will be done with them and all their 'unfortunate circumstances' , like suicide, in the next few months. This report seems disconnected from the facts that have , and continue to, occur at Gunn in particular

5 people like this
Posted by Paly Parent
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Feb 10, 2015 at 10:56 am

We are unsatisfied with the Advisors but very satisfied with the counselors and college counselors. The Advisors are teachers and not all are approachable or helpful (they are teachers, not counselors, and are full of misinformation regarding schedules and colleges), while the counseling staff is caring and welcoming. In addition, Kim Diorio, Principal, is caring and approachable since she was a counselor.

1 person likes this
Posted by Observer
a resident of Palo Alto Hills
on Feb 10, 2015 at 11:06 am

Gunn Father: Interesting observation about not mentioning the seniors. I think that the reference to "unfortunate circumstances:, like suicide, is a rather cruel remark to make. Just saying.

Thanks for this article. It reveals quite a bit. Hopefully all of our students will begin to receive ALL the services they so richly deserve. It looks like Paly's counseling is so much better. I don't know why Gunn doesnt' have this system as well. Now that a new Superintendent and Principal is on board it would seem like an ideal time to upgrade the counseling. It's only fair. My children went to Paly and they got great support from their TAs.

Max, please move toward implementing TA at Gunn as they need all the help they can get. I know that they are very defensive about any criticisms levied at them but get a grip! It's time..............

Like this comment
Posted by Gunn parent
a resident of Barron Park
on Feb 10, 2015 at 11:11 am

Where do the numbers come from?
Last WASC meeting I attended in December, there were only 3 students from lower classement for 50 parents and none of them had the decency to listen to the students who felt very uncomfortable and discouraged by the cacophony. If all WASC meetings were similar, the students had no voice at all.

Like this comment
Posted by wondering
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Feb 10, 2015 at 12:31 pm

Just out of interest, where does it looks like Paly's counseling is so much better?

It's not shown in the above article and numbers don't add up to a discernable difference. For example, Paly says 83% reported that they felt they could find a trusted adult on campus. This is in-line with Gunn, without TA, at 74-89% of 9-12 graders report that there is an adult at school they trust.

So what are you looking at that makes you draw your conclusion.

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

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