Board to discuss high school mental health services

Counseling services, suicide-prevention programs may be added to Palo Alto schools

The Palo Alto school board will have an opportunity to continue community discussions about teen well-being Tuesday night as part of a report on the spectrum of mental health and wellness services available at both of the district's high schools.

Tuesday's report, requested as an extension of board review of the Palo Alto and Gunn high schools' Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC) reports, touches on the schools' counseling programs, suicide prevention strategies and programs, bullying prevention training for teachers and an update on youth well-being coalition Project Safety Net.

According to a staff report, work is "underway" to make improvements to both Paly and Gunn's counseling programs, including planning sessions centered on creating systems to more effectively provide services, collect data, and evaluate program effectiveness.

In the district's most recent Strategic Plan survey (2014), 68 percent of Gunn students reported satisfaction with the academic, college and career counseling compared to 72 percent at Paly (of 1,553 Gunn students who responded and 794 Paly). Sixty-nine percent of Gunn students and 68 percent of Paly students said they were satisfied with the non-academic counseling and guidance they received. Students from both schools reported higher percentages of satisfaction when it came to their own counselors: 75 percent at Gunn and 86 percent at Paly.

Seventy-six percent of Gunn students said they were satisfied with their social-emotional experience in 2014 and 78 percent of Paly students.

Paly's counseling program uses the Teacher Advisory (TA) model, under which dedicated staff members connect with students on a regular basis and serve as their primary contact person. Guidance counselors then work with the teacher advisors to identify students who need extra academic and/or social-emotional support and also support teachers and parents.

Gunn's program operates with nine counselors who provide direct services to students.

Both schools have credentialed Spanish-speaking counselors and the district recently hired a Spanish-speaking social worker to provide support services to various school communities. The district is looking at ways to further "improve access to culturally relevant services, including contracting for mental health and outreach services to better serve the Asian community," the staff report reads.

Brenda Carrillo, the district's student services coordinator, has met with nonprofit organization Asian Americans for Community Involvement (AACI) and representatives from a Chinese parents group to begin a needs assessment and exploration of services for next year, staff said.

Parents and students will also receive an updated Strategic Plan survey this spring with additional questions, such as "Is there a caring adult at my school who I could go to with a problem?," according to the staff report.

Other health and well-being programs on Paly and Gunn's campuses mentioned in the staff report, include Living Skills, a course that covers mental and physical health, suicide, identity and other topics and is a graduation requirement for all students; partnerships with Stanford University youth well-being organization Challenge Success; Adolescent Counseling Services (ACS); peer leadership program Sources of Strength; Gunn's student-led support group Reach Out, Care, now (ROCK); and Camp Everytown, a four-day retreat that teaches empathy through talking about prejudice, stereotypes, mental health and other related issues.

Project Safety Net, a broad-reaching coalition formed in response to student suicides five years ago, has continued its work, but is at a leadership crossroads after losing its second director in two years last fall.

In October, city staff involved with the collaborative suggested that they not rehire a director, which is an hourly position with no benefits or job security, yet expects a high level of work and leadership that reaches across more than 40 organizations, from the schools to faith groups to nonprofits.

Project Safety Net is set to present an update to the city/school liaison committee, including on proposed changes for its structure, on April 2.

In other business Tuesday, the board will discuss program additions and resource allocations for the 2015-16 school year; a schematic design for the renovation of Paly's library and increased budget for the project; extension of two district Garland Elementary School and 525 San Antonio Road; and a $175,125 purchase of a new school bus for high school Voluntary Transfer Program (VTP) students.

The Tuesday, March 24, board meeting begins at 6:30 p.m. at district headquarters, 25 Churchill Ave. View the full agenda here.

What is democracy worth to you?
Support local journalism.


22 people like this
Posted by Gunn Father
a resident of Gunn High School
on Mar 24, 2015 at 10:39 am

Ah more study... great. How about listening to the dozens of medical professionals on sleep, the undisputed #1 issue for mental health, and attack the real issues like no zero period, inconsistent grading and homework policies ( never implemented from 2010 )? How about acting and putting the block schdl in starting in August? No, lets study this some more...lets not act! Lets wait for another tragedy to get serious. Lets stay in denial that something is different at Gunn, and even Paly, that pushes those 3% of high risk kids to proceed fatally.'This is a national problem' , well not too many ( any? )other High Schools have our 'issue' to our extent. Keep up the studies ... and then resign , get out of the way and allow leaders to lead.

13 people like this
Posted by Jim H
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Mar 24, 2015 at 11:05 am

Not mentioned in this story, but can be found in the School Board Agenda is a student trip to Singapore. Does anyone know the reason why the district feels the need to take 11 students to Singapore to study science? Application says school funds will be used.

2 people like this
Posted by outsider
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Mar 24, 2015 at 2:22 pm

75percent and 85 percent satisfied? so 40 percent not? these grades would not get into a UC.

I think a CA state dept. of education professional needs to come in and clean up the strange climate of adding rigor to simple a-g requirements and then bragging about low performance rates . Holding up the few high scores as normal and the top of the curve hurts those high performing kids and sets an unreasonable level for grading. Palo alto schools have enough information now. The quiet, suffering, most bright and promising have already spoken. Time to throw out the word "Rigor" and put in the word "standards". Acceleration can be included in daily teaching and project work, but has no place in evaluations. Another study to accelerate teaching is to evaluate teacher/student contact time in class- the teachers that sit at their computer while the kids sit and work seems to limit forward motion. This is no better than a free online class and often has less feedback than an online class. Let's study the amount of time teachers are engaged with their students and not their own technology or own work. One of my kids teachers sits through the class, types directions for the white board, then has them do their work on their own while she does "whatever" on the computer. I think this should be addressed.. Block scheduling lends itself to this type of behavior. The longer blocks make it very draining .

Also, the sci labs are extrememly limited and far behind other school districts, even in very poor neighborhoods. it is difficult to do labs though while sitting at the computer....

3 people like this
Posted by Mr.Recycle
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Mar 24, 2015 at 2:42 pm

@Gunn Father - the #1 undisputed issue for mental health is, undisputably, genetics, not sleep.

7 people like this
Posted by Dilbert
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 24, 2015 at 2:50 pm

Not mixing the IEP and 504 "hitmen" with mental health services would help a lot. No child or family that is lied to repeatedly to the detriment of their student and lives with it every day is going to turn to the same people when they are in crisis. Replacing people who have been promoting such a system at the district level would probably improve a lot of people's mental health.

Like this comment
Posted by Buck Bell
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Mar 24, 2015 at 2:50 pm

First, there is no evidence for that. But even if it were true, what are you suggesting? Eugenics? Darwinsm?

Like this comment
Posted by Math counts
a resident of Mayfield
on Mar 24, 2015 at 2:59 pm

Ah, Outsider you might want to check your math.

(1/2)*,75 + (1/2)*.85 = 80%

1 person likes this
Posted by Carin Winter
a resident of Gunn High School
on Mar 24, 2015 at 4:33 pm

Hello New Friends and Neighbors,

My name is Carin Winter. I am new to Palo Alto and just moved here from New York this year. I was a high school social worker in NY for 10 years and worked with teens for 14. I feel that the key to Social Emotional Learning is teaching children the skill set to self-regulate, manage stress and their emotions through the practices of mindfulness.

I started a not for profit called Mission Be, Mindful Education in NY and we have reached thousands of students. You can learn more at We just trained 48 teachers in San Mateo last month and implemented at San Mateo High School. We trained teachers, nurses and adminstrators in Daly City. We also are going to Oakland and are completing a program at Big Sur Charter School. To date we have effectively trained over 288 teachers and impacted many children's lives from Harlem to the prestigious Green School Bali.

I am going to speak about my program tonight for three minutes.

One of the root cause of healing or managing mental health is teaching children self-regulation, which can help foster balance by supporting neurological functions and teaching children self-management skills when they experience acute stress or sadness.

Thank you for the care and effort you put into mental health and may we all work together in harmony for the well-being of the children in our community.

With gratitude and care,
Carin Winter
631 513 6151 cell

5 people like this
Posted by Paly Parent
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Mar 24, 2015 at 4:37 pm

There was a mental health outreach for Asian parents last night with Mandarin translation according to emails I received.

Is there going to be a report on this? When they discuss mental health issues are they going to be breaking down the issues within different groups?

6 people like this
Posted by sfried
a resident of another community
on Mar 24, 2015 at 6:57 pm

I live in Pleasanton and we share the same concerns and struggle with these same challenges. The money and entitlement has made people forget what is most important and that is, the kind of person you are and what you can give back. Childhood is a journey not a competition to get into the best college. We need to focus on raising happy, healthy, well-balanced kids.

Like this comment
Posted by Jim H.
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Mar 24, 2015 at 8:08 pm

[Post removed.]

8 people like this
Posted by Skelly Part II
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 24, 2015 at 10:29 pm

Tonight's board meeting: seems like 2009 all over again, so much talk, such little action, and five board members that cannot demonstrate that they have any idea what to do. Even Ken Dauber looks bad tonight.

4 people like this
Posted by Dilbert
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 24, 2015 at 10:56 pm

Skelly PartII,

Actually, it's the Young/Carrillo/Lenoir show all over again, I believe. Why are they still working here?

10 people like this
Posted by affordable therapy needed
a resident of Community Center
on Mar 24, 2015 at 11:03 pm

There is no adolescent psychiatrist in Palo Alto who accepts insurance besides those at Stanford–and only the fellows (trainees in a 1-year program) will accept new patients. Few if any other therapists experienced with adolescent issues in Palo Alto accept insurance. There is a huge need in the city for affordable psychotherapy with therapists who have experience with adolescents and their issues. Is this something the city could subsidize?

3 people like this
Posted by YIKES
a resident of Esther Clark Park
on Mar 25, 2015 at 12:51 am

SKELLY PART 2: You certainly bring up an interesting question. Max, you better get on board to listen to the experts and make the necessary changes before the number of tragedies increases. Anything you can do based on all the evidence presente3d by the doctors would be most appreciated. We can't afford to turn our backs on these students who are crying out for help.

By the way, to the person who said we don't have enough affordable counselors who sepcialize in adolescents, why can't Project Safely Net pony up some of that cash that is lying around in their account not being used to do what it was intended to do? Paying for specialist counselors would seem to be a great use of some of this "collaborative's" money.

2 people like this
Posted by Mr.Recycle
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Mar 25, 2015 at 1:00 am

@Buck Bell - Yes, there is evidence that mental illness, including depression, is linked to genetics. And just because it can be genetic doesn't mean you can't do anything about it.

Web Link

Like this comment
Posted by Buck Bell
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Mar 25, 2015 at 7:51 am

From your own link:

"However, reports that genetic testing could be used to predict or diagnose mental illnesses are probably wide of the mark. The researchers have stated that the effects of the genetic variations are small, and that on their own the variations would not be useful for predicting or diagnosing these conditions.

It is also simplistic to regard mental health conditions or behavioural problems as being purely genetic. There is a wide range of rigorous evidence that shows that environmental factors are also involved."

7 people like this
Posted by Buck Bell
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Mar 25, 2015 at 8:17 am

I think that board meeting was a travesty. The lengths to which Melissa Caswell is willing to go to be rude to, cut off, silence, and otherwise stop Ken Dauber from even asking polite questions is astonishing. Last night was truly unbelievable. She and Max [portion removed] McGee now have created a system that made the board even more irrelevant and worthless than it already was and that is saying something.

The topic could not have been more important -- student mental health.

They received no real report on the state of student mental health, by the way. No numbers from ACS, who Brenda seems about to fire. No numbers on the number of 3 and 6 session referrals. No explanation of the role of HEARD alliance and no representative of HEARD alliance present to explain. No Dr. Joshi, though he seems to be important. No explanation of his role or contract. No plan to address the cluster. No facts about the number of sucicides, the number of attempts.

The highlight was when Max McGee started giving out information on where there are gaps in the Caltrain fence, in contravention to AFSP guidelines and common sense.

All of this got underway an hour late -- we needed a lot of awards. Max McGee is turning the board meeting in the Oscars. That took an hour, but since Caswell and Emberling have no idea how to make an agenda, that was budgeted for zero.

Then, in a panicked and desperate effort to stop Dauber from doing what he was elected to do, which is get information and ask questions to aid policy, they all decided that everyone would blurt out all their questions but get no answers at all for 50 solid minutes and then staff could (and I am not making this up) answer all the questions in the order received. Dauber was the only one with any brains at all and he refused to play the game, just using his 10 minutes to try to get answers to questions about counseling and support programs and how they differ at the 2 schools.

This led to surreal babbling, capped off my Caswell finally just interrupting Dauber (for the 50th time since the election) to tell him to shut up and he was done when he tried to propose an expansion of Camp Everytown.

She was then outdone by Heidi who was (again, not making this up) angry because of the agenda that she herself made as a member of the agenda committee. Heidi: This has too many things on it! I want to go home! Agenda setting should do a better job! Caswell" You are on the agenda setting committee." What a cluster.

Dauber finally rescued them by showing how to make a motion to waive the 2 meeting rule and take action, at which Heidi exclaimed "I love you!"

If you want to know why we have an out of control contagion, look no further than this clown car of incompetence. Max [portion removed] McGee obviously wants to run things, doctors be damned, and doesn't want any stinking questions about it.

6 people like this
Posted by Corey Marquett
a resident of another community
on Mar 25, 2015 at 9:44 am

SUICIDE - Mental health problems - cheating, anxiety, depression, binge drinking - -all the issue faced by our kids in our affluent communities are NOT school issues. Nor is this solely a genetic issue (we now know that most mental illnesses are a toggle switch that gets turned on with the occurrence of certain environmental stressors).

This is a community, particularly a parenting issue. There are enough studies on this topic - -

To actually address these issues we need to follow the clear recommendations to develop social norms and parenting behaviors that:

1 -redefine success so that grades and external validation are not the most important aspect of our how we value our youth - (good grades and good SAT scores are a VERY minor indicator of later success). And remember -most importantly, gifted kids are NOT gifted adults.

2 -monitor our kids and their growth -keep parenting and holding limits appropriately until they are out of high school. So many parents and adults let good students get by with drinking, MJ use, cheating academically (this is rampant in our affluent communities)and bullying. It's our excellent and outstanding students who are binge drinking and experiencing depression and anxiety at record levels. This is the case in affluent communities in the US and Europe - and European youth do NOT drink more responsibly with the lower drinking age. Drinking and other habits and behaviors will effect them internally for the rest of their lives. Youth who drink in high school, increase their drinking in collage.

3 - Provide opportunities where kids feel valued for their character and who they are as young people- not how well they perform. (So many of our kids can impress - but when older they talk about being empty because of all the empty performance).

- PARENTS - - stop modeling drinking and unacceptable business world behavior. Too many parents drink to relieve/avoid stress - and their relations with those around them are NOT civil.

Again - -THE PROBLEMS IN THIS ARTICLE ARE NOT A SCHOOL PROBLEM -These problems start at home. Any smart person or, treatment provider or school person can tell you this. They can see what kids come to school with what behaviors and stressors. Kids problems show up at school and they can be taught of treated at school - this does not mean that schools will have the most impact on changing this situation. r

PARENTS and all of us in the COMMUNITY play the biggest role in changing the rate of suicide and other youth risk behaviors.

4 people like this
Posted by Buck Bell
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Mar 25, 2015 at 10:08 am

I would be remiss if I did not acknowledge that Camille Townsend asked an excellent and important question about the statistics on suicide in the district. Her motive appeared to be to argue that somehow there is no problem which was BS. But her general fact inquiry -- how many suicides, how many attempts, where are we with this, was excellent. What came out was that no one there actually had any idea, which was mindblowing.

I was blown away by Camille's question because I hoped that they actually did know these things but just aren't telling the public. She was like: I have no idea! I am as in the dark as everyone else! When can we get this information? Who can tell me how many dead students there actually are? The hair on the back of my neck went up. Can they really not know? Holy cow.

It seems that there really is just a funny little man pulling the levers behind the curtain.

Like this comment
Posted by upgrade ACS
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Mar 25, 2015 at 12:53 pm

ACS is a good start. However they need sufficient permanent, EXPERIENCED (not trainee) psychiatrists and therapists. The location of ACS at Paly (next-door to the library) also discourages students from visiting.

7 people like this
Posted by Another dad
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Mar 25, 2015 at 6:01 pm

This action by the schools is laughable. Experts and students from every direction are screaming at them to STOP THE STRESS and they talk about "mental health CLASSES".

Excuse me, it is too rich. Hahahaha.

The PAUSD is in such deep denial that it defies imagination.

And no, it's not the parents. It's the school, has been for years.

Like this comment
Posted by Marc Vincenti
a resident of Gunn High School
on Mar 28, 2015 at 9:20 pm

You're invited to sign:


It concerns the lives of our teenagers, and will occupy a full page in next Friday's "Weekly."

To read it and decide whether you'd like to sign, visit:

HURRY! The window to sign closes at noon, the day after tomorrow (Monday).

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

All your news. All in one place. Every day.

Contemporary Indian restaurant, Ettan, headed to Palo Alto
By Elena Kadvany | 5 comments | 6,299 views

Premarital and Couples: Tips for Hearing (Listening) and Being Known
By Chandrama Anderson | 0 comments | 1,535 views

Two degrees can do all that?
By Sherry Listgarten | 17 comments | 1,303 views

Is racism also a local problem?
By Diana Diamond | 41 comments | 1,234 views

Tame, Maim and Claim the Wild Sea Vegetable
By Laura Stec | 9 comments | 770 views


Register today!

​On Friday, October 11, join us at the Palo Alto Baylands for a 5K walk, 5K run, 10K run or half marathon! All proceeds benefit local nonprofits serving children and families.

Learn More