Accreditation teams evaluate Palo Alto's high schools

WASC visiting committees identify Paly, Gunn's top strengths and weaknesses

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)

View Gunn's full visiting committee report here and Paly's, here.

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: and

Related content:

Palo Alto high schools prioritize culture change, achievement

High school self studies yield data on counseling, school climate

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10 people like this
Posted by parent
a resident of Gunn High School
on Apr 23, 2015 at 7:49 pm

Palo Alto Weekly,

Are you expecting a flurry of comments or clicks here?

Tactic you are using is; ignite a fuse, then wait-and-see the number of clicks. This is becoming harmful to the community. It is provocative, and distancing the community members from each other. Teachers, parents, students are part of an eco system. There are things that are working well, and there are things that are for sure broken. But, this type of journalism, is for sure creating long-lasting wounds in the community.

11 people like this
Posted by Another dad
a resident of Barron Park
on Apr 23, 2015 at 8:41 pm

I think it's great that the Palo Alto online is allowing parents like me to have a voice about our schools. Yes I comment, and many others should. This is called "Democracy".

Thank you PA Online!

7 people like this
Posted by OPar
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Apr 23, 2015 at 9:36 pm


I believe this is called journalism--I really don't see your problem with this article, which seems quite straightforward and unbiased to me.

3 people like this
Posted by parent2
a resident of Gunn High School
on Apr 23, 2015 at 11:52 pm

Apparently no one on the committee had mold allergies. The new buildings are nice, but even the counselor area. Ack.

parent at Gunn -- the Weekly isn't causing problems anything like the horrible things done to us by horrible people at 35 Churchill. I feel like I truly understand what motivated Hieronymous Bosch....

1 person likes this
Posted by musical
a resident of Palo Verde
on Apr 24, 2015 at 12:31 am

Ah yes, The Garden of Earthly Delights. Edvard Munch also comes to mind.

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

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