Reports from two accreditation teams that visited Gunn and Palo Alto high schools at the end of last month offer further insight into the schools' strongest qualities and most critical areas for improvement.
The accreditation committees' visits and subsequent reports capped off Paly and Gunn's Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC) processes, intensive self-studies that occur every six years. Both schools produced final, comprehensive reports this spring that serve as guiding documents for the next six years. Top goals at both schools revolve around increasing alignment between classes and within departments; working to close the achievement gap and better support underrepresented students; developing more comprehensive data systems; and shifting school culture to one that values creativity, empathy and alternative definitions of success.
The WASC visiting committees, which were made up of educators throughout the state, spent several days at both high schools meeting with students, teachers, parents and administrators, as well as observing classrooms and school events. Each committee has identified several schoolwide areas of strength and critical areas for follow-up. (See list below)
Gunn High School
Areas of strength:
1. Student exposure to a wide array of course offerings allowing students to explore options for success.
2. Gunn High School's ability to come together as a community in times of crisis.
3. High student academic achievement and school pride
4. A high level of financial support from the greater Palo Alto community.
5. The students at Gunn High School feel a strong connection to staff and are thankful for their caring demeanor.
6. Well maintained and modern facilities
Critical areas for follow-up (which are the same as the top goals Gunn itself identified through the WASC process):
1. Develop a culture that broadly defines and promotes multiple paths to success, embraces self-discovery and social emotional well-being, and values the love of learning beyond traditional metrics of achievement.
2. Increase achievement for all learners at Gunn High School, especially African American, Latino, socio-economically disadvantaged, English Language Learners, and special education students.
3. Create a comprehensive and systematic collection of data by Gunn High School to regularly assess student progress, inform improvement, and aid communication at the classroom, department and school levels.
The visiting committee identified additional areas that need to be strengthened:
1. Ensure that Schoolwide Learner Outcomes are clearly articulated to students and utilized to gauge student learning.
2. Ensure inclusion of a strong student voice on schoolwide decisions, including zero period, Advanced Placement (AP) course offerings, block scheduling and other initiatives.
3. Create a stronger coordinated effort in the delivery of schoolwide student services and interventions.
4. In order to strengthen the implementation of summative assessments, Common Core State Standards, and structured collaboration time it is highly recommended that the site establish Professional Learning Communities (PLCs).
5. Create a more consistent and systematic method for providing in-school support for all learners and utilize a Response To Intervention (RTI) model to recommend students for additional educational and socio-emotional interventions.
6. Explore and implement consistent schoolwide research based instructional practices focused on best practices and plan for monitoring by the school administration.
Palo Alto High School
Areas of strength:
1. The Palo Alto High School stakeholders have created an environment of commitment and support for the success of all students.
2. The rigor of the curriculum promotes a college-bound mentality.
3. The faculty demonstrates an awareness of and the desire to improve their knowledge of curriculum and assessment to support student-learning objectives.
4. Palo Alto High School demonstrates a strong commitment to the use of technology within their curriculum.
5. Palo Alto High School offers a variety of curricular and extracurricular choices in and outside of the school day, allowing students to create an experience that is specific to their passions and interests.
Critical areas for follow-up:
1. Increase the opportunities for under-represented sub-groups to access the rigorous curriculum and provide academic support to assure success.
2. Develop a professional development plan that outlines specific training needs that would increase knowledge and implementation of anchor standards across content areas.
3. Strategies and programs need to be developed to address the academic achievement gap that persists for underrepresented minorities and at-risk students in all classes.
4. Develop a consistent schoolwide philosophy around assessment and a consistent use of both formative and summative assessments within all departments.
More information about both schools' WASC processes and their full reports can be found on their WASC webpages: http://www.gunn.pausd.org/wasc/home Gunn.pausd.org/wasc and paly.net/wasc.