School board to discuss Paly, Gunn self-studies

WASC reports return to board for approval, full discussion

Palo Alto's two high schools will be the main focus of Tuesday night's school board meeting, with the board set to approve their Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC) reports, exhaustive self-studies that examined areas of strength and weakness in academics, school climate, culture and more.

The 500-page reports, produced every six years by leadership teams of staff, students and parents at Palo Alto and Gunn high schools, are the schools' guiding planning documents. The principals from each high school presented their respective reports to the board last month, identifying the top challenges and goals they each want to tackle -- with much overlap -- and their plans for how to do so.

Both Paly and Gunn identified in their reports increased consistency in curriculum, instruction and assessment; better use of data to guide decision-making; closing the achievement gap and school culture as top priorities. (View Gunn's full WASC report here and Paly's, here.)

In Superintendent Max McGee's regular "executive summary" for tonight's board meeting, he wrote that the board's approval of the schools' WASC reports does not "imply implicit or explicit approval of every recommendation, every finding, or every conclusion.

"Accepting the report merely confirms the Board supports the accreditation of the high schools," McGee continued. "Over the course of the next six years, the Board will have ample opportunities to discuss and vote on policy recommendations, significant budget expenditures, and staffing additions that come out of the WASC reports."

At tonight's meeting, each school's WASC leadership team will recap their processes and present their goals to the board. The final step in the WASC process are multi-day visits from an accreditation team who evaluate their reports and then offer what they think are the school's major strengths and areas for improvement. The team visited Paly March 1-4 and will be at Gunn March 22-25.

School board member Ken Dauber requested at the board's last meeting on Feb. 24 that the WASC reports be return as an agenda item rather than on the consent calendar, which would mean an automatic approval rather than a full discussion.

Dauber also suggested that at a separate meeting in the near future, the board have an agenda item dedicated to mental health and wellness. Paly and Gunn's social-emotional wellness programs, services and initiatives will be placed on the March 24 agenda, according to a staff report. If questions or ideas related to these topics come up tonight, they will be noted with an understanding that a portion of the board's next meeting will be to having a "more detailed, 'follow on' discussion," staff wrote in this week's board packet.

In other business Tuesday, the board will consider approving a second interim budget report, hear a report from the superintendent on progress on board goals and consider authorizing staff to purchase up to $1,121,000 of Apple computers and up to $510,000 of Dell Chromebooks.

The Tuesday, March 10, meeting will begin at 6:30 p.m. at district headquarters, 25 Churchill Ave. View the full agenda here.

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7 people like this
Posted by JSnoo
a resident of College Terrace
on Mar 10, 2015 at 10:26 am

JSnoo is a registered user.

I know this isn't going to be the main focus of tonights meeting but I hope they discuss the somewhat toxic academic pressure and the possibility of capping the number of APs a student can take. I worry that kids are pushed so hard for academic success that they don't even have time to explore who they are. Students are so worried about what school they get into I wonder if they stop to pause about what they want to do in life and not just what their parents say are acceptable careers. [Portion removed.] I hope Paly and Gunn are remembering to raise creative, passionate and fulfilled students and not just focused on jumping kids through hoops. Besides I think [portion removed] passionate students who know themselves are going to have more successful and interesting careers than hoop jumpers in the long run, and given how college admissions are changing might even have a better chance of being admitted to a top university.

4 people like this
Posted by Parent
a resident of JLS Middle School
on Mar 10, 2015 at 4:22 pm


You have made many good points. I want to bring up some food for thought, though. As much as I agree with what you've said, and believe for the majority of kids, the current way we measure success is unhealthy and even unhelpful for their future success, I believe there is a segment of kids for whom the traditional intense academic challenge is a good fit, and who will be upset and even hurt by the loss of it (I was like that). Rather than pitting kids against each other, with no one really getting what they need, we should allow kids for whom that kind of program is their bliss to keep it. It's not stressful for them, it's actually stressful not to have that kind of challenge. The analogy is: why do some people climb mountains? Just because it's not for everyone, and dangerous for some, doesn't mean we should ban mountain climbing for everyone. In fact, keeping a watered down mountain climbing program for everyone will leave NO ONE happy.

But equally, if we keep the mountain climbing for some, we should not continue to offer only that kind of program to everyone else and tell them to just do some kind of watered down version. It's like the administration is telling them, just accept that you aren't a very good mountain climber, you'll never reach the heights of these others, just learn to be a couch potato, you'll be happier. Every child has their gifts, and if we are in any way going to claim to live by our district's vision of providing an optimal education for every child, we should be helping children find their gifts and letting them challenge themselves to learn and grow in that positive way.

Other children may not be mountain climbers, they may be skiers, farmers, artists, inventors, farmers, etc. They may not even figure out what works best for them at this age, but we do them no favors by telling them, as in the above analogy, climb mountains or accept you're no good. For most people, putting them in that situation, especially kids who are so interested in their educations and doing rewarding things in their lives, is a recipe for stress and a sense of personal failure - and completely destructive, not what an education should be.

People have this idea of the bell curve as immutable, the six-sigma idea of educational performance, but we've learned you can actually solve that problem, so that all kids can succeed and achieve their educational goals, by changing the resources available to kids. Not subjecting them to education as a sorting system, but education as a supportive system.

I see the administration still trying harder to fit kids into the same old educational model, by hook or by crook. This shouldn't be about what's best for administrators, but what's best for the kids. This is Palo Alto - we should be proud of our standards in individualizing education and doing our best for every child, not by how well we cling to outdated educational models.

7 people like this
Posted by Paly Parent
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Mar 10, 2015 at 5:07 pm

Our district could seriously start leading a nationwide effort to overhaul the college application process.

The colleges expect applicants to not only be the best academically, but to have other incredible qualities. Our students are jumping through hoops to get into college and that is what is causing the stress.

Palo Alto as a district could be able to get other high performing districts to join an effort to work with the college board to make a comprehensive and realistic application process for all colleges in the country.

Like this comment
Posted by Parent
a resident of JLS Middle School
on Mar 10, 2015 at 8:53 pm

Paly Parent,

On that sopic, have you seen this?

Kids need more of this and less homework hamster wheel:
Web Link

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

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