Staff recommends joint committee to review high school counseling | News | Palo Alto Online |


Staff recommends joint committee to review high school counseling

School board to discuss new counseling survey results

A new counseling survey administered at both Palo Alto and Gunn high schools again indicates low rates of student satisfaction with services and a need for the district to take a new approach to addressing a longstanding problem.

As such, staff is recommending that the district convene a joint committee of students, parents teachers and staff from both Paly and Gunn to analyze data, specify goals, create common metrics and assessments and develop an evidence-based model "for ensuring ready and regular access to effective social emotional, academic and college/career counseling," a staff report states. The school board will discuss the new counseling survey results and this proposal at its meeting on Tuesday night.

The 2015 counseling survey results echo past data on counseling services found in the district's most recent Strategic Plan survey, the high schools' latest Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC) accreditation surveys and a Gunn-focused counseling survey in 2013 and 2014. This survey was administered in May with 1,113 Paly students and 1,059 Gunn students participating.

While the majority of surveyed students (64 percent) said they know there is an adult on campus who cares about them, only 32 percent of students said that school counselors are a resource for them in "dealing with the demands at school." Twenty percent of students said counselors are not a resource for them in dealing with school demands.

Only 27 percent of students feel comfortable going to counselors about personal issues they're struggling with (and 27 percent don't).

Fifty-six percent of students agreed that their school is a welcoming place.

The new survey, again, showed differences in satisfaction between students at Paly and at Gunn, which have different counseling models in place. Paly has long had a teacher-advisory model, which connects students with a teacher-advisor (TA) throughout their four years (one teacher their freshman year, and then another for the next three years). Students meet regularly with their TA around academic planning and anything else they might need support with, though freshmen meet more frequently than the other grade levels -- weekly rather than monthly. Guidance counselors work with TAs to identify students who might need extra academic or social-emotional support, and college and career counselors provide juniors and seniors with post-graduation guidance.

Gunn, by contrast, has a traditional counseling model, with a group of staff members providing guidance counseling, college and career advice and social-emotional support.

In the survey, 39 percent of Paly students reported that the counseling staff has helped them develop problem-solving skills like balancing extracurricular activities and academics and resolving personal conflicts. At Gunn, that number is significantly lower: 28 percent of students said counselors have supported them in learning these skills, and 23 percent of students said they haven't.

More Paly than Gunn students also reported being aware of services available in their school's college and career center (51 percent at Paly compared to 43 percent at Gunn).

These results will now be used as baseline data, district staff said, and the counseling survey will be conducted yearly.

Staff next want to develop a comprehensive evaluation system based on not only perception data but also process and outcome data.

Director of Assessment and Data Chris Kolar told the Weekly that a new evaluation system could include efforts like tracking when and for what issues students see counselors and if they're directed to the right person.

Staff is proposing that the new committee, if approved, deliver a report by next December and use the spring of 2017 for training and staff as needed for implementation to begin the fall of 2017.

Tonight's school board meeting begins at 6:30 p.m. at the district office, 25 Churchill Ave. Other items of business include a discussion of potential resolution for two pending Office for Civil Rights cases; the district's 2015 SAT, ACT and Advanced Placement (AP) results; and proposed procedure changes for the board's policy review committee.

View the full agenda here.

Editor's note: This story was updated to correct inaccurate information about Palo Alto High School's counseling system, which stated that Paly had a weekly teacher-advisor (TA) model through which students were connected with one TA for all four years. Students have a different TA their freshman year compared to the higher grade levels and meet regularly with their TAs, but not weekly.

What is community worth to you?
Support local journalism.


7 people like this
Posted by Anonymous
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 27, 2015 at 9:37 am

Yet another study or survey... Parents if you want or need a counselor, hire a private one. It's not going to improve before you children graduate.

16 people like this
Posted by Gunn parent
a resident of Gunn High School
on Oct 27, 2015 at 10:25 am

Let's have a committee to implement advisory at Gunn and move past this continual delay. Enough already. I'm tired of my kids getting worse services that kids across town.

10 people like this
Posted by Rajiv Bhateja
a resident of Gunn High School
on Oct 27, 2015 at 10:57 am

Enough delay already. Enough tragedy. Enough debate and posturing.

Let's just make advisory happen at Gunn.

16 people like this
Posted by Gunn mom
a resident of Fairmeadow
on Oct 27, 2015 at 11:35 am

The last thing we need is another committee to study more stall and delay. I think last night shows that McGee doesn't care about Gunn or Paly -- he wants to create a new school. Improving these schools is boring.

9 people like this
Posted by Gunn parent
a resident of Gunn High School
on Oct 27, 2015 at 12:31 pm

I agree. Fix what is broken before starting something new. Are you kidding? Yet ANOTHER committee to study counseling at Gunn? What a joke.

2 people like this
Posted by Corrections to the Paly Advisory (TA) information
a resident of Crescent Park
on Oct 27, 2015 at 1:01 pm

Corrections to some of the info

"Paly has long had a teacher-advisory model, which connects each student with one teacher-adviser (TA) for all four years. " Students actually have one TA freshman year and one for 10-12th grade (if the teacher stays at the school).

Students meet weekly with their TA around academic planning"
The number of meetings vary, most TA's have 10th, 11th and 12th grade advisory classes so they only meet with one grade level per week

9th grade 3-4 times a month
10th grade 1-2 times a month
11th grade 2-3 times a month
12th grade 5 time TOTAL throughout the year

10th-12th advisory schedule:
Web Link

"and anything else they might need support with." Most TA time is geared towards career planning, choosing course, etc. Not too many students go to their TA for more socio-emotional support. And if I knew my TA was in charge of writing my college req letters, I wouldn't open up about my emotional issues either.

8 people like this
Posted by Stay-at-home Mom
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Oct 27, 2015 at 1:02 pm

Ditto, we need implementation now, not more research.

With the $10 million that PiE raises each year, can't we just pay for more counselors? The Advisors are only teachers, and teaching is their niche and top priority. We need more counselors, not teachers pretending to be counselors. We can't even trust the advice of the Advisors because they are not true counselors or college counselors and are prone to misinformation. We need dedicated counselors and college counselors.

This is like a Brady Bunch episode, where it takes the protagonist way too long to figure out the solution when the viewers can see the solution immediately.

6 people like this
Posted by Question
a resident of Gunn High School
on Oct 27, 2015 at 1:06 pm

Didn't we just vote in a bond Measure urgently in order to provide more resources for our kids around emotional health? You mean, there was no plan in place when they said we urgently needed to fork over the money?

2 people like this
Posted by Question
a resident of Gunn High School
on Oct 27, 2015 at 1:09 pm

The apology from adults in the district who destroyed my kid's trust in adults would be free...

5 people like this
Posted by Stay-at-home Mom
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Oct 27, 2015 at 1:24 pm

Thanks, "Corrections to the Paly Advisory (TA) information". The schedule is imbalanced - the kids in 12th need it the most while the 9th graders are adjusting to sleep deprivation and SEVEN classes so they should have it less.

Yes, this is SO true! "And if I knew my TA was in charge of writing my college req letters, I wouldn't open up about my emotional issues either."

Most student are not contacting their Advisors, and some downright dislike their Advisors. We need more counselors, not Advisors.

2 people like this
Posted by Kathy Sharp
a resident of Gunn High School
on Oct 27, 2015 at 4:14 pm

I agree - it is time to provide Gunn students with the same support that students at Palo Alto High School receives from their TAs and to close the gap expressed year after year in the level of satisfaction with the two counseling models. The Board has tasked themselves to address this and failed year after year dating back to 2010. Here is some history:

The school board decided to make improvement of counseling a focused goal for 2011-12, again (it had been a focus goal in 2008) and directed staff to employ a consultant, Kelun Zhang, to conduct a study of the counseling services at the two high schools. As part of this work, surveys were done at both Gunn and Paly.

At the school board meeting on Tuesday, March 27, 2012,  board members noted that the Zhang counseling survey, with high response rates at both schools, reported consistently higher levels of satisfaction with counseling at Paly. Board member Melissa Baten Caswell said, "We can't have different investments at the two schools in something as important as this. I'm OK with small differences, but this just seems like we have major differences and I don't understand it in a community with only two high schools. I'd like to know what's going to be different next year as a result of this.”
The Board instructed staff to produce a plan for comparable counseling services at the two high schools. Unfortunately, much of the activity at Gunn in the spring of 2012 was focused on resisting the board’s direction, and there was little progress on the question of improving guidance.
In June, The Board allocated Gunn more money to hire a counselor for the 2012-2013 school year.

2012- 2013:
On September 4, 2012, the school adopted yet another focused goal on counseling: “Create a plan to improve guidance programs at both high schools to assure comparable high quality services and outcomes for the 2013-14 school year, while implementing improvements this school year”
The board also approved a staff recommendation to create the Gunn Advisory Committee – the GAC- to develop a plan at Gunn for comparable services, in line with the focused goal.
October 2, 2012. Dr. Skelly attended the GAC meeting and reminded the GAC that its charge was to “achieve comparable outcomes in the level of guidance services provided to students in either high school, as indicated by spring survey data [the Zhang data].”
In February, The GAC committee members were able to agree on a list of 40 recommendations for guidance and related changes at Gunn that, taken as a whole, would clearly benefit Gunn students. In particular, the recommendations to expand Titan 101 to the other grades and to create a mandatory tutorial period when Titan coaches could meet their students. This plan was given to the Instructional Counsel (IC) to create a time table for implementation.


The plan for 2013-2014 called for yet another committee – the Creative Scheduling Committee – to determine how to implement the GAC recommendations.

....We are now in the 2015-2016 school year and still the gap persists. Another task force, another costly study, another committee? really? Melissa, you asked in 2010 what was going to be different next year. Under your leadership the answer has been clear - nothing.

Let's dust off the clear recommendations of the Gunn Advsiory Council from 2012 and move to implementation.

6 people like this
Posted by Gunn Mom
a resident of Fairmeadow
on Oct 27, 2015 at 5:42 pm

I agree with all that has been said here. Enough committees. This is completely just a stall and delay tactic designed to never implement TA at Gunn. They just do nothing and then every three years have a committee or a task force. They are just waiting for Dauber's 8 years on the board to be over and then we'll never even discuss it again.

2 people like this
Posted by Question
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 28, 2015 at 12:08 am

@Gunn Mom,

When you say "they", I hope people understand that it is specific people in the district office who are not up to the task, and who engage very nicely in the trappings of meetings and administration but effectively thwart movement and improvement. If you want to see change, parents have to be willing to press for ways to make administrators more accountable, period, or at least encourage some early retirements and outright investigations (dismissals).

Don't miss out on the discussion!
Sign up to be notified of new comments on this topic.


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

Stay informed

Get daily headlines sent straight to your inbox.

Los Altos's State of Mind opening NYC-inspired pizza shop in Palo Alto
By Elena Kadvany | 16 comments | 8,378 views

Flying: How much is enough? It's personal.
By Sherry Listgarten | 15 comments | 2,899 views

Wait, wait – we’re working on it
By Diana Diamond | 18 comments | 2,532 views

My Pet Peeves
By John Raftrey and Lori McCormick | 7 comments | 1,978 views

Goodbye toy stores
By Cheryl Bac | 8 comments | 1,284 views


Short story writers wanted!

The 34th Annual Palo Alto Weekly Short Story Contest is now accepting entries for Adult, Young Adult and Teen categories. Send us your short story (2,500 words or less) and entry form by March 27, 2020. First, Second and Third Place prizes awarded in each category. Sponsored by Kepler's Books, Linden Tree Books and Bell's Books.

Contest Details