After spending a day looking inward, the Palo Alto school board shifted its gaze forward at the second day of an annual retreat, drafting a list of new goals for the upcoming school year.
By the end of the retreat on Wednesday, the board and Superintendent Max McGee narrowed down their list to 10 wide-ranging districtwide goals, which will be further pared down before further board discussion. Goals ranged from helping teachers to increase differentiated teaching and consistency and aligning courses to better use of data and supporting students' social-emotional well-being.
Six of those 10 goals emerged as the group's top priorities after a facilitator helping to lead the two-day retreat asked the board and McGee to rank them from one to 10. Those six are: raising the achievement of historically underrepresented students; consistency and alignment; enrollment-growth management; differentiated learning and student social-emotional well-being.
These goals have yet to be finalized and will be further vetted by both staff and the public before being officially approved, but the board's discussion on Wednesday signaled where the biggest priorities for the 2015-16 school year lie.
One of these will surely be to begin following through on an ambitious set of recommendations made by a committee that spent several months studying the root causes for and how to close the district's longstanding achievement gap.
The minority achievement and talent development committee last month presented a report to the board with 12 high-priority recommendations, including hiring a new "equity coordinator" with a $130,000 salary to oversee the district's efforts, providing additional extended or full-day kindergarten and administering a diagnostic literacy and mathematics assessment starting in pre-kindergarten and through second grade.
McGee said Wednesday that he's confident these top 12 recommendations have been thoroughly researched, analyzed and are ready to be implemented in the coming school year.
This is not the district's first attempt at closing the achievement gap. McGee said Wednesday, "we don't want to start something and not finish it. Somehow, this needs to be front and center."
Another committee that McGee created this year to look at how to manage the district's enrollment growth, which will likely mean the opening of a new school, has begun its work and is expected to report back to the board this October, he said.
The board agreed that finding "inspired" and "creative" ways to deal with rising enrollment will be key both in the short and long term. Short term, the district is facing an influx of students from families expected to move into new Stanford University housing by the 2017-18 school year a new group of students that cannot be accommodated by the three elementary schools in the area, according to McGee.
Long term, the committee has been charged with thinking outside the box when it comes to using current district facilities, including working with the city on future uses for the Cubberley Community Center, and/or opening new schools.
Consistency and alignment in instruction, curriculum and grading -- mostly at the high school level -- has been repeatedly raised by students, parents and board members as an issue this year. Results from this year's strategic plan survey, which the board also heard Wednesday, reaffirms that: only 33.4 percent of students who responded to the strategic plan survey administered in May ranked "curriculum and instruction is consistent across my teachers and courses" as positive, compared to 37.8 percent who were neutral and 28.8 percent who were negative. On the same topic, 37.9 percent of parent respondents ranked it as positive, 36.1 percent were neutral and 26 percent were negative. Both students and parents felt slightly more positive about grading across teachers and courses.
The board and McGee said that related efforts like reducing test and project stacking and enforcing the district's homework policy should be nested under this broader goal.
The goal will also be informed by the soon-to-be-released results from a study the district commissioned earlier this year to evaluate consistency at Palo Alto's two high schools.
Board members Heidi Emberling and Ken Dauber urged the board to adopt an official focused goal around communication and transparency. Emberling suggested during the meeting the previous day that the district look for concrete ways to be more proactive in this area, such as regularly posting online all email communication with the board as the City of Palo Alto does.
McGee also came to the retreat on Wednesday with his own set of proposed goals, one of which he said he developed after they met the previous day, during which they talked about how the board can better operate: "Conduct board business in a manner that engenders community trust and promotes a culture that supports innovation," he said.
Though 65.6 percent of parents on the strategic plan survey rated as positive "how well the district and the school board communicate with you," 41.7 percent felt positive about how "PAUSD follows fair and transparent decision-making processes." Student ratings were far lower: 22.1 percent felt positive about how well the district and board communicates with them (students did not have the "fair and transparent question" on their survey).
The goals will now return to McGee and staff for further refinement and fleshing out before a study session the board said it wants to hold in August for further discussion.
"This is a first draft," Dauber said. "We have not yet heard from the community on these goals. There's a ways to go."
To watch a video of the second day of the retreat, visit the Weekly's YouTube channel.