News

Editorial: The perils of innovation

Visionary school proposal has delicate road to travel

'Innovation' is a word we all love to use to distinguish our region's culture and values from other places and to impress upon our children as important to their future in a rapidly changing world.

Innovation within a start-up or a large corporation is much easier, however, than in a public agency, where risk-taking is rarely rewarded and policy-makers can become balled up dealing with many diverse and competing interests. After all, government agencies aren't supposed to pick and choose whom they will serve, nor cater to those with wealth and influence in a community.

This tension is one of the reasons the preliminary recommendations of a school district task force on the state of our middle and high schools are simultaneously exciting and a bit worrisome.

The committee, dubbed the Enrollment Management Advisory Committee (EMAC) and convened in April by Palo Alto Superintendent Max McGee to address enrollment growth, has outlined a set of recommendations that could bring about the most significant change in the Palo Alto school system in decades, if not in history.

Seizing on a confluence of events, the committee has recommended the district open a new combined middle and high school at the former Cubberley High School site (now Cubberley Community Center). As proposed, it would offer an innovative project-based experiential learning model and serve as an incubator of new programs for the rest of the district. It is envisioned as a 'choice' program similar to Ohlone, Hoover and the Spanish and Mandarin immersion programs, with enrollment likely determined through a lottery.

The ambitious idea emerges at a time when almost everyone agrees the current middle and high schools are too big, the district is swimming in money and a new generation of highly affluent parents with strong (and divergent) opinions on education is financially able to consider sending their children to any one of dozens of local private schools. Palo Alto's public schools have more competition today than ever before.

Thus the committee's recommendations set the stage for a much-needed discussion about the future of Palo Alto's secondary schools.

The school board has a challenging process ahead of it. We share the excitement about the possibilities and are pleased to see McGee instigating the conversation. We are also happy that McGee preceded this initiative with a similar assessment of the needs of under-represented minority students, who consistently perform not only well below other district students but also less well than minority students at high-achieving districts comparable to Palo Alto.

Shrinking this achievement gap has been one of McGee's personal priorities since arriving more than a year ago and must be woven into contemplated new middle and high school models.

The committee tried hard to balance its enthusiasm for a design-from-scratch new school with recommendations for also improving the current middle and high schools, which it said should implement smaller learning groups, schools-within-a-school and other strategies for improving social-emotional connectedness and making the schools feel less overwhelming.

As further exploratory work takes place in the months ahead, we urge McGee and the school board to look carefully at the challenges of creating a special 'choice' secondary school, with distinctly different offerings from other secondary schools. While a third high school will almost certainly have to be a smaller magnet school with more limited and distinct offerings from Paly and Gunn, it is more difficult to see why innovations envisioned for the new middle school should not be equally applicable to Jordan, JLS and Terman. Why shouldn't it function as a simply a fourth neighborhood middle school, where all four schools move forward together in adopting new learning strategies so all students and families can benefit equally?

With a deeply entrenched, decentralized district culture in which each school is given broad authority to operate independently with programs of their choosing, we can think of no example of where a great innovation developed at one site has been replicated elsewhere. This is, for example, how we currently have two high schools with different bell schedules and counseling systems and three middle schools with different approaches for providing smaller learning environments and 13 elementary schools using different bullying-prevention programs. It's also why we haven't seen the enormously popular "Ohlone Way" philosophy implemented across the district.

The vision presented by the enrollment committee is exciting, but the district needs to demonstrate that it can create a great program and then effectively implement it across the schools. Otherwise, there is great risk of starting yet another innovative and exciting program that can only be enjoyed by a lucky group of families, an outcome that would only deepen feelings of there being "haves" and "have nots" within our district.

Comments

6 people like this
Posted by working as expected
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Oct 30, 2015 at 7:32 am

"It's also why we haven't seen the enormously popular "Ohlone Way" philosophy implemented across the district."

That, and the very minor fact that those in neighborhood schools don't want it.


9 people like this
Posted by Member Emeritus
a resident of Crescent Park
on Oct 30, 2015 at 8:54 am

Pro-tip:

When you hear celebration and fawning over "innovation," realize that the defining characteristic of an innovation is merely that it's new. It's a very low bar.

Innovation does not mean that the thing/process/idea is useful. It also doesn't mean that arriving at the innovation from what we knew already required non-obvious creativity.

Look around, see any banal innovations?

And of course, just because something is new doesn't mean it's desirable or good.


10 people like this
Posted by resident 1
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Oct 30, 2015 at 9:21 am

Someone forget the word "disruption". I guess that is not a good word right now for a school system but it seems like a good word for every other scheme going on out there.

When Greendell closed my son ended up at what was then Ohlone on Charleston. That was billed as an open school. Turns out that works better for girls than is does for athletic boys. Onward to Fairmeadow - a standard elementary school. Ohlone is now located in a different area of the city, presumably a standard elementary school.

That aside I am happy that Cubberley is being put to good use as a school. We desperately need more schools and that site has good fields. The facilities can use a touch-up but that is all to the good. Congratulations for a good use of the obvious location for the school.


31 people like this
Posted by parent
a resident of Greenmeadow
on Oct 30, 2015 at 9:53 am

I agree with the key points of this editorial, which are:

1. The middle school should be a neighborhood school not a choice school (high school should be choice);

2. We should make sure that we fix the reasons so many families are dissatisfied with middle and high school in PAUSD not just create a new school where all the good things will be hoarded;

3. We need to address the "site based control" issue so that successful "innovation" is deployed equally;

4. We should be very skeptical of choice programs that award good practices to a lucky few lotto winners and leave everyone else in the cold.

5. Let's not all gaze at the shiny penny and forget the 6000+ students in our secondary schools.

To this I would add:

-- the expense of the new high school may not be worth the trade-off if it means that we don't open a new elementary school. We need to relieve crowding in the elementary schools, particularly in the south cluster. That is happening now, not in a hypothetical future. If there is not enough money or bandwidth to do both, then the elementary school should obviously take precedence.

--parents of PAUSD are NOT going to pass a bond measure (I will actively work to defeat it) if it means voting for a choice school. I am not going to raise my own taxes for the opportunity to buy a lottery ticket and I suspect others will have no stomach for that either. My guess is that there is no way to pass a revenue bond for a small selective choice program for a group of affluent parents who have private school options but merely want the district to give them what they are already able to purchase.

I want to directly challenge the idea that something is wrong with people taking their children to private school. If you as a parent feel that your child is better served at Nueva (as Catherine Foster said her child attended for middle school at the board meeting) or at Castilleja where Melissa's daugher went or Priory, where Ken's son attends) then go with God. You have the money to do it and God bless you. You are paying taxes for our district but not using the resources. That works for you, and God bless.

But that does not mean that we need to build you a school so that you don't have to do that. You chose, and you had the wealth to do it. That's what was in your child's best interest. But PAUSD is a public school system and it serves all students, not merely the upper 1% of achievers or those looking for all girls school or those looking for religious education or those looking for niche things. Glad you can find and pay for them on the market (and those schools all have scholarship programs as well). But this is not a problem. If you go, you go and there are more resources to spread around. If you stay, that's fine, but we don't have to build a shrine to avarice to get you to come back. This is not a custom shop.


21 people like this
Posted by Crescent Park Dad
a resident of Crescent Park
on Oct 30, 2015 at 11:02 am

Resolving the overcrowding of the MS and HS campuses trumps anyone's need for a special program at it's own publicly private campus.

I'd love to see specialized programs - but not the "Oholone Way" as presented above.

The first priority is solving the problem that affects all students. Then develop a template where the possibility of tailored programs can be implemented at any of the three HS campuses. It may turn out that one campus specializes in journalism, another in performing arts, another in science/math... If so, allow transfers within the district --- but at the same time, integrate these students into the typical HS environment --- clubs, teams, events, etc. that every kid enjoys.


10 people like this
Posted by AllenE
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Oct 30, 2015 at 11:44 am

AllenE is a registered user.

Two happy days in my life regarding my child's education. 1) When Castilleja rejected her because of low test scores. I wanted her to attend public school but was out voted so I was pleased with the rejection. She attended Jordan where one particular teacher helped make her what she is today. Thank you Mr Tsureda 2) When Stanford accepted her.


29 people like this
Posted by Paly mom
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Oct 30, 2015 at 11:47 am

I watched the board meeting on Monday where this was discussed. I am also uneasy.

The room was stacked with parents complaining about the lack of stimulation and interest in our middle schools, and praising the idea of a choice middle school with Stanford D-school help as the solution. But it's not the solution, at least for most kids. Big disconnect for me.

The committee's response? "Harry Potter" like "house" system for middle schools (and high schools). That really seems like a throwaway line to me. It was like, "we have to toss some kind of a bone, otherwise everyone will realize it's gruel for the masses, cake for the few."

Board members Caswell and Dauber did raise the "why choice" question and it wasn't answered.

I would like to see McGee get excited about making our existing schools better, along with a new school that we need. As it is, it looks like he is bored by the problem of fixing and wants to start over with "clean piece of paper." He is not the superintendent of innovative new schools, though. He is the superintendent of PAUSD and needs to solve the problems our students have now.


24 people like this
Posted by Careful Please
a resident of Barron Park
on Oct 30, 2015 at 12:13 pm

Creating "McGee Academy" would be a nice capstone to Max's career (and a continuation of his last two jobs), but not clear it would be the best for PAUSD. This would be Ohlone Way, High School Edition, and while that would be great for those who want it, it does nothing for all the others.

If we want innovation, we need to do it in the existing schools. This "silver bullet solution" does not do that. If we spend the next 5 years conceiving, funding, building, and then staffing and programming a new school, we will have wasted another five years addressing the actual core issues at PAUSD secondary and really helped no-one.


27 people like this
Posted by Seriously?! ANOTHER lottery school in the southeast cluster?!
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 30, 2015 at 4:12 pm

Three of the four existing PAUSD "choice" programs (Ohlone, Mandarin Immersion, and Hoover) are in the southeast. They have had awful impacts on traffic and neighborhood school cohesiveness--largely because of the exclusive lottery system.

Example: Families who live near Ohlone are assigned to the Palo Verde (PV) Elementary school, but PV is oversubscribed. So if they are unlucky in the Ohlone lottery, then they very likely will be overflowed from their so-called "neighborhood school" which has a HUGE attendance boundary because it has to encompass the Ohlone area. Then they have to apply to get into another neighborhood school, hoping to at least stay in the southeast cluster...but those neighborhood schools are also over subscribed. The district report dismisses this as problem, saying most of them get into schools in the southeast cluster--but some do not and many of them now have to travel more than two miles to get to cluster school rather then a block or two to their former neighborhood school. similar problems occur around other lottery schools.

If PAUSD is going to put yet another new so-called "choice" program in this cluster for 700-1050 students, please draw an attendance boundary around it (at least a mile around the campus) and give the impacted residents of the neighborhood 100% priority placement if they want it. Also give those residents the option to go to their assigned comprehensive high school if the new "choice" is not palatable to them. In fact, this should be done with all choice schools. This would minimize the traffic impacts of schools that draw from the ENTIRE school district.

Cubberley is ONE block away from Hoover Elementary School, a "choice" program where the vast majority of students are driven to school (only 7% bike) and Challenger School, a private school that draws from Mountain View and Sunnyvale primarily--and is non-compliant with its CUP TDM agreement. These neighborhoods are already impacted by lottery school traffic. Seriously, the city should be concerned about impacts on school routes to Fairmeadow, JLS, and local neighborhood streets...so should Max and the school board. School routes in this area overlap a lot, so choice school car trips hit the same streets where local elementary school and middle school children walk and bike to school.

The staff report suggested two program options for Cubberley. Students would have to "apply" to get into this future PUBLIC school (an appalling prospect). One of the options was an International Baccalaureate program. (read: exclude all but the best and brightest). One was a project-based learning program that would be somehow guided by the Stanford d.school. (pandering to the Ohlone and private money crowd much?) How do these programs address our #1 problem, the achievement gap?

We need more high school space. We should open Cubberley. Large schools and large class sizes restrict creativity and promote bureaucratic rigidity. Smaller schools enable teachers to creatively adapt programs based on the shared passions of individual students and teachers. Administering "programs" from a central office is counter productive and will result in the hiring of more central office administrators. A wasted expense.


5 people like this
Posted by AllenE
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Oct 30, 2015 at 4:51 pm

AllenE is a registered user.

Seems to be a fair amount of agreement on just having nice local schools and not "innovation". My kids are long out of PAUSD and doing fine. Jordan was borderline dysfunctional when they went but PALY was great and it all worked out. They went to school with kids in the neighborhood and developed friendships, (except for the Castilleja kids who sort of form their own group). I am all for public school, parent involvement, local schools, etc, but my time has passed. So how are you going to get things to change?


3 people like this
Posted by Barron Park dad
a resident of Barron Park
on Oct 31, 2015 at 12:10 am

A choice program for the new school might be the way to go since it won't FORCE parents to attend a new school that has zero brand name recognition compared to Paly or Gunn. Imagine Cubberley was designed to re-open as a neighborhood school instead of a choice program: that would force certain addresses to go there even when the kids or parents don't want to. How fair is that?

I want to add that adults who immediately raise "traffic concerns" as an objection to change are NOT thinking about what's best for our students. It feels like they are thinking about themselves first.


6 people like this
Posted by OPar
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Oct 31, 2015 at 2:37 am

First, while I favor a project-based middle-school/high-school at Cubberley, I do think there should be a definite neighborhood preference component.

Second, as far as the achievement gap goes . . . while I was working my way through the McGee report, I noticed something that surprised me:

Guess which elementary school has the smallest achievement gap?

Ohlone.

Ohlone also has the highest percentage of socio-economically disadvantaged kids passing or exceeding CAHSEE state standards in math (75 percent--14 points ahead of no. 2) and second highest in language arts (58 percent--3 points behind no. 1). Test-mad Hoover is down at 50 percent in both these categories. Stellar Duveneck is below 50 percent in both categories.

The math achievement gap between the white kids at Ohlone and SED students is less than the gap between the Asian and white kids at Ohlone. The Ohlone SED math score actually matches the 75 percent score of white kids at Barron Park. (The SED math percent score at BP is 31 percent.)

Project-based learning isn't new--we've had Ohlone around for more than 35 years. And there's a strong demand for it in the district. Unlike the Baccalaureate program (which I'm open to hearing about), project-based learning isn't just for top students or students with a particular interest.

Oh, and as for the relatively small size of the school being proposed--I'm sure it could be expanded over time as needed. Also, having a school focused on project-based learning doesn't preclude project-based learning at the other schools. If anything, I think it should encourage it.




10 people like this
Posted by parent
a resident of Greendell/Walnut Grove
on Oct 31, 2015 at 7:28 am

You can't compare a self-selected population in a Choice school like Ohlone to a neighborhood population at a school like BP. There are unobserved variables that drove the selection of the choice that are affecting the outcomes. This is a well-understood and thoroughly studied phenomenon regarding magnet schools, charter schools, and other self-selection programs.

I just watched the video of the "Behind the Headlines."

The publisher asked Joe Lee why the middle school should be a choice school. He had no answer. That's because there is no answer. It should not be. McGee is building his dream and he wants a pseudo-private school. But that is not at all what the community wants, as the publisher noted in describing the survey results. There is no justification for creating a third middle school that is a choice school. it will snarl traffic across the city. People in that neighborhood will curse this school board for decades to come.

I will actively work to oppose any bond measure to fund increased traffic for a choice middle school. I would love for people to weigh in here on whether they want to raise their own taxes to pay for a choice program.


9 people like this
Posted by Therish Getrishet
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 31, 2015 at 9:03 am

First, I would like to point out that our high schools, now portrayed as bursting at the seams, are almost the same size as when we (meaning the district leadership, aided by utter disinterest on the part of the community and media) decided the focus of expenditures for the facilities bond that was supposed to renew all of our schools for the next century, would be to enlarge Paly and Gunn to have capacity for another 500-700 students EACH. The money we spent could have instead improved both campuses and built a new high school at Cubberly with some money left over for a middle school.

That didn't hapoen because the way things were built, rather than being what was best for our kids, was what was best for those making money from the construction. They led the planning, with no oversight of the checks-and-balances type at all. Public input was a sham, and not even a very good one. No person or body of oversight exists whose function was to ensure our district, i.e., our children, got the most of what they most needed, or even of what was promised, for the money. The oversight committee we have, such as it is (led by the district people they are supposed to oversee, and not a whole investigatory spine among them, nice as they are), doesn't actually ensure the bond funds are spent well, in any way shape or form. It's not even in their charter. There is no one minding the store - it doesn't take much imagination to understand potential problems when you have a $375 million dollar store.

People who think they can stop a school bond as above are delusional. The district has the winning formula of expensive special elections and across the board support for "the schools", with no checks and balances whatsoever. No public person or agency, no matter what they think in private, is going to go on record as being against "funding" for the schools. (No thanks to the Weekly for showing us where the 4th estate's spine or limitations in understanding about power dynamics ended in the last ask.)

If you want to work for something with teeth, work for a position of truly independent ombudsman, someone with power who works for families and is not in the echo chamber at 25 Churchill (physically or mentally). Work for creating a structure that allows parents to force the district to be more responsive to and collaborative with the community. Work to create mechanisms of checks and balances. The latter is most important of all. Because if they had existed ten years ago, we would have bought ourselves an almost entirely brand new school district with reasonably sized schools, rather than the horrendously expensive add-ons, hardscape, and paint we got instead. Most people really do not realize just how recent was the overt decision to spend all those millions of dollars on CAPACITY at Gunn and Paly, rather than opening a third high school (as recommended by parents and parent committees).

Then superintendent Skelly told the crowd at 25 Churchill, among them many building professionals and developers, that this community would be an easy deep pocket for more money later if Cubberly needed to be opened. And we will be. If you want to be more in this picture than deep pockets with a derisive shepherd in charge of you, then do the hard work to create the mechanisms for checks and balances. Otherwise, you are just blowing smoke.


9 people like this
Posted by parent
a resident of Greendell/Walnut Grove
on Oct 31, 2015 at 9:48 am

OK, I'm demoralized. You're right. I was also disappointed when the Weekly wrote that editorial that was like "everything is broken and there are bad signs about McGee but PAY UP!" on Measure A. Now here we are.

[Portion removed.]


13 people like this
Posted by AUDIT
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 31, 2015 at 11:09 am

I would like to see an independent Audit of PAUSD.

All of the labels and programs are tiring.

It serves some marketing purpose, and we have YET to deliver on some basics like English, writing, and Math and Science for non-Ivy bound. At what costs per student, where are financial resources going to - really.

Choice is a BAD concept in my view. It has been the cause of distraction, and insufficient data to back up the time and energy it takes from people's day jobs.

With No audit, no data, there should be no further choices.


7 people like this
Posted by OPar
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Oct 31, 2015 at 1:13 pm

Parent,

If you'll note, I compared Ohlone's SED scores to Hoover, the other choice school, and one that generally averages higher test scores than Ohlone. Most of our SED kids are Tinsley kids and, thus, all self-selected.

And if the self-selection bias is so important, why doesn't it apply to the non-SED kids? Ohlone doesn't lead the way in CAHSEE scores in the district--it's in its usual lower third/middle spot. Except for SED (and Hispanic) kids.

I grant that BP has some special circumstances that create issues--an unstable student population. So my intention was not to single out Barron Park, but show how different the achievement gap was at different schools.

Traffic is *already* snarled across the city. 90 out-of-area kids attend Barron Park--a third of the student body. Kids from the south cluster travel across town to get to Gunn along the Charleston corridor.

Therish is right about the spending on projects at Gunn and Paly--though the joke is that there's *so* much construction at Paly that the school is more crowded than it would be otherwise. Skelly was very much of the build-it-bigger school of thought--even though bigger-is-better is not ideal for education.

It's pretty clear to me that Cubberley won't be reopened as a neighborhood school--at least not any time soon. As I've pointed out, plenty of people in the South cluster bought because they want their kids at Gunn. Choice means voluntary instead of involuntary transfers.


23 people like this
Posted by Auditors, please
a resident of Jordan Middle School
on Oct 31, 2015 at 2:05 pm

I have seen so much questionable conduct by the administration over the years that I strongly believe an independent audit-- one made fully public-- is long overdue. The secretism in this district, along with favoritism, are so thick one can almost cut them with a knife.

Lottery schools, and with them, specialty schools, are deadly to a district. Look at other districts that have them---the nearest is San Jose Unified, though they call them magnet schools. SJUSD is one of the worst in the state.


3 people like this
Posted by Slow Down
a resident of Community Center
on Oct 31, 2015 at 3:49 pm

Slow Down is a registered user.

@opar - Some credit is due Ohlone for their scores, but does any school have fewer economically disadvantaged students? Ohlone's score is based on just 12 disadvantaged students. BP has 47, Escondido 39, even Duveneck has 21. If you have only 2 economically disadvantages students in all of 5th grade, not really surprising they are getting the whatever extra they need to meet standards.


2 people like this
Posted by OPar
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Oct 31, 2015 at 4:51 pm

Slow Down,

Where do you get 12 students? The percentage of SED learners is low at Ohlone, but it's also the largest school--3 percent of 607 isn't 12, it's 18, which is comparable to Hoover's 20 SED kids. Ohlone actually has more Ravenswood kids (26) than Barron Park (as makes sense as it's a larger school.)

So, yes, some of this is probably due to the small sample sizes, but the gap in math SED kids at Ohlone and the next runner-up is 14 points, while the achievement gap within the school is low.

So cutting BP some slack--because the school seems to get used as a sort of dumping ground--we're looking at a number of schools with small SED populations with large achievement gaps. At *most* of the schools there are only a couple of SED kids per grade--so why aren't those schools throwing everything at those kids to bring them up?

Auditors Please,

PAUSD has had choice/lottery schools for more than 30 years and somehow the district is still thriving. Lots of successful districts have choice programs. It's hardly something that makes or breaks a district.


5 people like this
Posted by Fred
a resident of Barron Park
on Oct 31, 2015 at 6:26 pm

Fred is a registered user.

@opar and @slow down - there were 12 Ohlone SED students who took the SBAC. That's only grades 3-5, so it makes sense there might be 18 at the school total (though not sure where that # comes from - just 3% * 600?).

Some comparisons (all SBAC tested 3-5 graders): Addison 32, Hoover 16, El Carmelo 23, Econdido 41, Fairmeadow 13, Duveneck 21, Briones 25, Palo Verde 9, Hays 27, Nixon 18, Barron Park 47.

I guess I wouldn't read a lot into anybody's SBAC scores based on these small numbers, positive or negative.

But it highlights why we need to do A LOT more at Barron Park - that is 47 kids out of 280 economically disadvantaged (actually more, since the 47 is just 3-5), vs. Ohlone with 13 out of 600+. Barron Park also has by far the highest % of kids with special needs (some from the attendance areas, others assigned from outside), English Learners, parents with less than college education, not to mention overflows from other schools. We are asking one school to do far more than any of the others; the burden should be lightened and the resources increased.


3 people like this
Posted by AUDIT
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 31, 2015 at 6:40 pm

Opar,

"It's (choice schools) hardly something that makes or breaks a district."

Investing time and resources without data and an independent AUDIT is a diversion. These decisions should not be driven by politics or committee!


4 people like this
Posted by Fred
a resident of Barron Park
on Oct 31, 2015 at 6:48 pm

Fred is a registered user.

For BP, that's 47 SED out of 196 who took the test, presumably all 3-5 graders - that's 24%. For Ohlone, by contrast, that's 12 out of 305, or 4%. So Barron Park has 6x has many economically disadvantaged kids as Ohlone. Put another way, there is about 1 disadvantaged kid per classroom at Ohlone; there are 6 at Barron Park.


4 people like this
Posted by Therish Getrisher
a resident of Barron Park
on Oct 31, 2015 at 7:24 pm

Audit and investigation are two different things. In the nonprofit sector, audits rarely catch even extreme malfeasance or fraud.

We need mechanisms for checks and balances. Course corrections. There are rules, but no one to enforce them when it might change things. If you hire som bad apples, they rot the barrel with no me hanism to get them out. If you clean the barrel once, that might help for awhile, but it's better to have ways of keeping things clean.


2 people like this
Posted by OPar
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Oct 31, 2015 at 7:33 pm

Audit,

All of the choice programs are required to be revenue-neutral. Maybe an audit is appropriate, but the existence of choice programs doesn't make it so. Having been an Ohlone volunteer, I know for a fact how much money we had to raise each year to keep the Farm going.

I do suspect the construction costs--but that money is pretty much bond money and the bond measures specify where the money goes.

Fred, Agree that Barron Park is not well treated by the district. Its neighborhood boundaries look to have been poorly drawn with the result a bunch of the kids in the area attend schools that don't require crossing El Camino. The district then uses Barron Park as the overflow depository, making for a transient student body.

My point is not to harsh on Barron Park, but to point out that project-based learning isn't some fad, but an effective form of education.

So, I'm curious--Barron Park was originally on the table as the location for MI. BP parents fought it and MI ended up at Ohlone. Given that BP has 90 out-of-area kids at it and the district's now nattering about a choice program there to make the school more attractive, would MI at BP have been a good thing or a bad thing? I think it was definitely a bad thing at Ohlone because of the overcrowding and waitlist issues and, given what was happening at Escondido (SI bumping neighborhood kids), it seemed like a bad idea at BP, but looking back, I wonder . . . not being a BP parent, though, I have no idea.

What do you think?




4 people like this
Posted by Fred
a resident of Barron Park
on Oct 31, 2015 at 8:10 pm

Fred is a registered user.

@opar - I'm not a BP parent either, so don't have that perspective. MI at BP would in my view have been yet another burden on the school, adding to the complexity without providing any benefit for most neighborhood students (unless learning Mandarin was a high priority for them). A magnet program at BP should be something attractive to many in the neighborhood. One of the most important reasons to put a magnet program at BP would be to induce families who _already live there_ to send their kids to BP, as well as to attract families who will contribute to the school as a whole.


4 people like this
Posted by parent
a resident of Greendell/Walnut Grove
on Oct 31, 2015 at 10:51 pm

The main concern at BP is that Kevin Skelly evaded the accountability rules of the federal government in order to conceal what was happening in terms of achievement and test scores there. In fact, under No Child Left Behind Rules, BP would have been a failing school. It would have been placed on an improvement plan long long ago. It never has made Annual Yearly Progress as required.

What Skelly did was remove the Title I funds from BP and shifted them to Terman and then shifted non-Title I money back to Barron Park in order to prevent the school from being placed on an Improvement Plan. [Portion removed.]

The school board at the time -- Barb Mitchell, Camille Townsend, Melissa Caswell, Dana Tom, and Mandy Lowell all thought that was just hunky dory. [Portion removed.]

Skelly then had a succession of ineffective principals who adopted an unproven and unevaluated program called "college bound." It was not available to disabled or very low performing students (I guess they were receving the memo that they are not college bound. Hmm could that low expectation have anything to do with the low performance?). No one knows if it works. Maybe it does and maybe not. Many teachers are skeptical. It was not a tested program based on research.

People care very much and there are some great teachers at Barron Park. But the methods they are using are not evidence based. Inclusion has strained their already overtaxed staff. They need more teachers, and they need evidence-based practices. They need money and resources. Some of the best teachers in the district teach at BPES but they have thus far not been supported by this school district.

Hiding the problem is the "Palo Alto Way" but it ended up hurting the school and we can blame Townsend and Caswell who let it happen along with Skelly and his ilk.

As for the Enrollment Committe report, I agree with what OPar said that all choice programs have to be revenue neutral. It needs to be said that there is no possible way that the McGee academy can possibly meet that charge with respect to the high school. How will this district create a high school using the same per pupil dollars but with only 600 students? It can't be done. The economy of scale that allows a rich curriculum at Paly and Gunn will be absent. They will get only the basics. It is just not possible. And if you want to see the community flip its lid, create a tiny choice high school where we spend twice as much per pupil as we do at Paly and Gunn. I would love to see that. Yet without that, no one would ever send a child there. I doubt very much that there would be demand for this high school at all. I suspect no one will want it unless their kid has already failed out of Paly or Gunn. That sounds like a tough situation.

We would do better to expand the Middle College program.

In terms of the high schools being too large, too late. That ship sailed when Caswell and Townsend decided to build out the high schools. One of Skelly's first decisions (not his worst but among them) was to kill the third high school and decree that we would build out Paly and Gunn. He did that due to the costs of running a high school and said we just couldn't create a small high school that would be sufficiently good if we had the same per pupil dollars (revenue neutral). You can't educate a student in a school of 600 for the same price as in a school of 2000.

We can't have the new high school, and you can blame Kevin Skelly for that. We could have had it but that is over now. We have to live with the terrible decisions that Caswell and Townsend made. [Portion removed.]

I also take strong exception to what I see happening which is that parents are saying "our high schools are horrible, creativity destroying homework machines." I guess if you are rich enough and connected enough you can just say anything. But usually that kind of harsh criticism of our schools brings some rebuke in its train along with impassioned defenses of staff. Yet in this case, the board applauded. I found that surreal and disorienting. [Portion removed.]

[Portion removed.]


2 people like this
Posted by parent
a resident of Greendell/Walnut Grove
on Oct 31, 2015 at 10:52 pm

Correction it wasn't Lowell it was Klausner. Pardon my error, they are all equally bad so the scorecard is often hard to keep straight.


1 person likes this
Posted by Slow Down
a resident of Community Center
on Oct 31, 2015 at 11:50 pm

Slow Down is a registered user.

@parent - "How will this district create a high school using the same per pupil dollars but with only 600 students? It can't be done. The economy of scale that allows a rich curriculum at Paly and Gunn will be absent."

I am skeptical of making Cubberly a choice/project based middle and high school, but there is absolutely no reason they shouldn't be able to execute it at an equal or smaller budget. To you point, you don't need the expense of a rich curriculum. No football team, no gym, no metal shop (or whatever Paly has these days). If it is really project based, you just need willing teachers and students and they should figure something out with the resources they have. Project one could be fixing up Cubberly, project two can be finding new housing for the displaced homeless that live there now.


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Posted by Therish Getrisher
a resident of Barron Park
on Nov 1, 2015 at 7:55 am

"You can't educate a student in a school of 600 for the same price as in a school of 2000. "

As much as I respect your post above, please do not make assumptions. The committee pointed out the u-shaped cost curve - above a certain size, it costs more and more per pupil to educate each child to the same quality outcome. The district already spent huge sums of money enlarging Gunn and Paly that was not well spent. It's hard to even have this discussion in a district that threw in $13 - 16 million on top of a $24 million donation in a lease leaseback situation the leadership and board openly admitted was for the purpose of avoiding a bidding process.

Which should be the priority, spending $40 milliion instead of $24 million to rebuild the Paly gym noncompetitively, or making Cubberley habitable? If you add to that $13 million just the overhead from building mulitiple story buildings and the cost of extra classrooms at Gunn and Paly that would not have been needed had Cubberly been planned alongside, the diatrict could have largely razed Cubberly and built it new.

Somewhere in the discussion is missing the fact that an additional school buys more opportunities for kids who are shut out now to participate. Bigger isn't always better. Not all children benefit from piling on yet more stuff they can't personally use in school. We know children who left the district with almost no resources and are able to read a lot of great literature that they simply had no time for in the frenetic pace of our high schools. One child in particular used to spend long nights on vocabulary and spelling homework, never improving, yet the problems righted themselves when that child simply had time to read. That cost no more than a free library card.

@Slow Down is right, parents and teachers just need rhe opportunity. If the district gave all families the discretion to take their per child cost, or even half of it, as a voucher tomorrow, you would probably see an exodus about equivalent to what is being proposed here at Cubberly. Maybe someone knows something we don't about vouchers on the horizon? It doesn't really make sense that the district is on the one hand worried about enrollment and on the other hand, competition from private programs.


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Posted by parent
a resident of Greendell/Walnut Grove
on Nov 1, 2015 at 8:01 am

@slow down That's not what project based learning means. It doesn't mean "go rake the leaves."
@Therish I will explain the economics that concern me:

It should be noted that the EMAC recommendation is for 100-150 per grade, meaning school size at the high school could be as small as 400.

On the subject of equality, the per student cost would have to be the same, and that means that the class sizes would also have to be the same, because per student cost is 95% based on class size.

The only way to make the math work is to severely restrict the choices in the curriculum. That means that it might be difficult to even meet a-g requirements, but certainly there would be no way to offer many advanced math electives or many foreign language electives. It would be very very stripped down. It would have to be in order to provide the same per student cost as Paly and Gunn.

We have a lot of wasted teaching cost in excessive laning. We need a proof of concept. It could be that if we eliminated laning, then you could have more choices of subjects at a single level.

I do not personally believe that there are 600 families in Palo Alto who want their high school student to attend a school without laning and with very limited course selection. There is proof of this in the district's own EMAC report, which says that 75% of parents surveyed do not want this option. They want "choice programs" not in a choice school but "expanded in our existing schools" (page 65).
Web Link (page 168). Parents do not want to drive their child to a choice program -- they want their own school to be better.

Furthermore, many families who might be interested in the benefits of a smaller school or project based learning can afford private school, which charge twice as much money and provide smaller classes along with more differentiation and more choice. You cannot reduce the class sizes of this smaller new proposed school. To do so would incite a parent/taxpayer rebellion that would make Measure D look small by comparison.

That is because school funding is zero sum. If dollars are flowing to McGee Academy then they are being subtracted from Gunn and Paly. There is no other way to do it. That's just a fact. So smaller classes and more choice at McGee Academy means larger classes and less choice at Paly and Gunn.

We should spend our high school dollars making our current schools better, and not with some rhetorical fig leaf of "Gryffindor" and "Syltherin." It is absurd and insulting to say that reforms are not possible within our schools, as the EMAC Committee says in its report on page 55 that our current schools are too hard to change because "our current system's ability to respond innovatively to new demands" is very low. There was an extended discussion on the Beyond the Headlines in which the head of this committee stated that they believed that our current schools were too hard to change.

This is belied by the Social Justice Pathway at Paly. It just happened, and it is enormously successful. Parents and students are thrilled with it and the survey results of the EMAC committee show that parents are clamoring for more of that -- not for a new school. I believe that it is McGee who doesn't want to change our current schools because he thinks it will be too hard.

This new high school will quickly become the choice of last resort for students who are bombing out at Paly and Gunn. It will be the choice of students who have been hospitalized and need a smaller place to go when they get out, or those who have been suspended or expelled from Paly or Gunn for truancy or other minor violations (or maybe major ones). We will literally be building a second chance school for our students who are broken by the grind and the excessive laning, rather than fixing our schools so that they don't break students. It's actually morally reprehensible when you think about it.




3 people like this
Posted by Therish Getrisher
a resident of Barron Park
on Nov 1, 2015 at 8:02 am

"Our high schools are horribkecreativity destroying homework machines"

That's a stretch since middle school usually does that quite well before thry ever get to high school.


9 people like this
Posted by parent
a resident of Greendell/Walnut Grove
on Nov 1, 2015 at 8:17 am

I also think if you read the EMAC survey and focus group data carefully you can see that what people really want is smaller class sizes. There is a ton of evidence in the report that what people want is higher connectedness through smaller classes and more counselors. Just read it. It's clear as a bell.

We should not chase after the chimera of "innovation" and "bold" whatever. These are buzzwords. Bringing a letter from Sal Khan was a cheap, almost laughable trick, particularly when it was clear from his letter that he had no idea what the proposal actually was. He said it would benefit "all the students of Palo Alto." Let's examine.

As McGee imagines this, it would be actually a K-12 McGee Academy. That means that every year there will be a lottery for 100 kinder slots. There will be sibling preference so that in future years, the number of slots for kinders will be substantially reduced. After that, there will only be attrition. If the high school is not very attractive, as I predict it must be, then there will be a resorting at that point, with students who succeeded at McGee heading off to Paly and Gunn where there are more friends and more choices, and those students who cracked under the pressure of Jordan or who had social difficulties opting in to their vacant seats. This will make the high school even less desirable. Very quickly students will know who goes there and why. That reputation will be established and stigma will form.

I don't need to finish this story. The ending is pretty clear.

I agree that our high schools should not have been turned into mega schools [portion removed.] Everyone is acting like that never happened. Well it did happen, and we have been doing construction at Paly and Gunn for the last 8 years to make them bigger. You cannot unring that bell. This is a dumb conversation that can only happen with a board that is so addled it doesn't even remember what it just did -- a massive building campaign costing taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars to enlarge our current 2 high schools.

Five years ago a different super had a different vision and this board made the choice to do what he said. Now they have a different guy with a different vision so they are literally pretending that they didn't do the thing that they already did. It's astonishing. It was more than a little disapointing that no one from the Weekly mentioned that in their Behind the Headlines discussion or their editorial: hey people we just built up our high schools. Remember?


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Posted by Therish Getrisher
a resident of Barron Park
on Nov 1, 2015 at 9:27 am

@parent,
All good points. One thing I take issue with is the view of innovation. Innovation gets used to describe a lot of things that are not innovation. Top down meddling is about as likely tp produce innovation as a roomful of monkeys are to hash out Macbeth on typewriters. All the research on innovation shows it is not a top down phenomenon in organizations. Add to that all the backbiting, pettyness, and anti-openness among leadership in the district office, and you have no path for innovation except somewhere else. Innovation comes from doing the hard work to solve problems with people who expect to benefit from solving them and are willing to stick their necks out early in the game. In innovation research, these are called lead users. I think we have much willingnss among the parent community, but it can't survive the district culture.

What we will get instead is massive favoritism maquerading as innovation. Favoritism is neither new nor innovative. Masquerading and putting a happy face over ugliness is also an old story in our district, one of the most serious stumbling blocks to true innovation, and one which McGee shows no evidence of changing.


3 people like this
Posted by parent
a resident of Greendell/Walnut Grove
on Nov 1, 2015 at 11:04 am

[Post removed.]


3 people like this
Posted by Love it!
a resident of Fairmeadow
on Nov 1, 2015 at 11:41 am

[Post removed.]


14 people like this
Posted by Barron Park parent
a resident of Barron Park
on Nov 1, 2015 at 12:24 pm

I feel that recent posters on this thread are jumping to imaginary conclusions not warranted.

The EMAC committee recommended looking at 1000 students but ALSO said Cubberley could be much bigger. They recommended a separate task force be formed to provide specific recommendations to the Board. The exact number of students at Cubberley, along with whether it should be "choice" or whether boundaries should be redrawn for Jordan / JLS / Terman / Paly / Gunn / Cubberley is a job for the task force, with community input, and rightly so.

Also a job for the task force is whether there might be a "neighborhood preference" for Cubberley -- even if it is a choice school -- or indeed whether all three high schools (Paly, Gunn, Cubberley) should be "choice".... i.e., students can attend whichever one they want. Again, there are a lot of implementation details that were not mentioned in the EMAC report that I saw. Did you read something different where the recommendation were already set in stone? I understand the details are important, but let's not get ahead of ourselves in shooting down options prematurely.

The main thing that I saw EMAC suggest is that the District's secondary schools are too big, and ought to be downsized by opening another middle school and high school. There is widespread community agreement on that. Full stop.

The EMAC folks also suggested that if there is to be a new secondary school or schools, then it ought to be a "choice" since you don't necessarily want to force the parents / kids who are perfectly happy with Paly or Gunn to attend a new, unknown, no-brand-name school. That makes sense to me too, although the follow-on task force will need to dive into that more deeply.

Remember, "choice" doesn't have to mean Ohlone-style learning. It could simply mean that you are not forcing parents to redistrict and attend the new Cubberley if they don't want to, for the reasons listed above. Maybe the right answer is for Cubberley to be a comprehensive school, just like 90% of our current middle and high school programs. Again, a great topic for the task force to vet other further with the community.

Then, the EMAC folks noted that, even with a new Cubberley, our remaining middle and high schools will still feel too big and so their suggestion was to make them feel more small by adopting small learning communities, i.e., a house system, much the same as what Hillsdale High School has done. Another decent idea, but needs to be vetted in greater detail by the forthcoming task force. Good to hear it works for Hillsdale, but not everything that Hillsdale does is applicable to our community.

At any rate, there are a lot of good ideas worth exploring in the preliminary EMAC presentation. But to form immediate conclusions and to shoot down well-intentioned brainstorming ideas without talking through pros and cons simply isn't right. This is like the 2nd inning of a 9-inning baseball game, and there is a lot more work remaining.

I say let's agree to keep an open mind and agree on the following: a) our secondary schools are too big and we should not continue the status quo, and b) we need more brains -- in the form of a dedicated task force chartered by the Board -- to look into these implementation options more deeply.

Let's get the PAUSD Board to agree on at least these 2 things, instead of just sitting on their hands and waiting a few more years. And let's pitch in, all of us, on the pros and cons of each other. We are no where near ready for final recommendations and conclusions.


8 people like this
Posted by parent
a resident of Greendell/Walnut Grove
on Nov 1, 2015 at 1:18 pm

"The main thing that I saw EMAC suggest is that the District's secondary schools are too big, and ought to be downsized by opening another middle school and high school. There is widespread community agreement on that. Full stop."

I don't think I am being unclear, but yet you keep repeating this. Folks, this ship sailed. This bus left the station. This decision is over. Kevin Skelly and the current continuing board members Melissa Caswell, Camille Townsend made this decision in 2008.

When Kevin Skelly arrived we had an advisory committee then already in progress -- almost exactly like this one. Some of you reading this were on it.

One of Kevin Skelly's first (and not his worst, unfortunately) acts was to decree and declare that the Commitee could not recommend a third high school, although it was already down the road to that. Skelly's reason was that it would be too hard to do, and instead the bond money was used to build out Paly and Gunn, to make them 2 stories, to create new classrooms -- to create "mega schools") that could accommodate 2500 students each.

The time to say that our high schools are too large has come and gone. Tens, if not hundreds of millions of dollars have been spent making them not only this big, but bigger! Much bigger! Bigger still than what they currently are! Ground has been broken, Bob Golton has been trooping around in a hard hat for more than 5 years. If you wanted smaller schools, you should have told Melissa and Camille not to agree and go along with this. But they did go along. The day has come and gone. [Portion removed.]

Want another bad decision made by Skelly, Caswell and Townsend? Here's one: telling Foothill College we didn't want to expand Middle College and put a new campus at Cubberley. If we had done that, we would have had a $40 million new middle college program. [Portion removed.]

Now the question before us is the middle schools.

We definitely need one of those. It should be full size, not 450 students. It should be neighborhood not choice. It should not be better than the current schools. It should cost the same, have the same program, and offer the same range of choices. What is good for the goose is good for the gander. Otherwise why would anyone agree to pay for it.

We could have a better decision process if everyone admitted to the reality we currently have. "Everyone" does not think these schools are too big. Guess who doesn't? Melissa and Camille who JUST VOTED TO MAKE THEM EVEN BIGGER. [Portion removed.]


1 person likes this
Posted by OPar
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Nov 1, 2015 at 1:42 pm

Parent,

First, "revenue-neutral" does not equal zero-sum. Revenue-neutral means that the district can't budget more for a school. As I mentioned, Ohlone's Farm costs thousands to maintain, but all of that is parent-funded. MI seems to have some mysterious pools of funding (where did that $60K come to fund that feasibility study? PACE never said.)

For that matter, the over-the-top gym, theatre and media center at Paly aren't the sole result of bond money, but of some hefty donations. And, of course, there's PiE, which at least means that parental donations at least get spread around.

Second, project-based learning allows for differentiated instruction. So, no, you don't need the same number of lanes. Instead of having everyone write the same one-page essay on To Kill a Mockingbird, you can have kids who write five page essays comparing Mockingbird to Native Son, while another kid works on vocabulary and writes a two-paragraph essay. In math, you have kids who work on advanced topics and kids who repeat some fundamentals--and you also have those kids work together on joint projects. Yes, sometimes the faster kids get frustrated by the slower kids, but not nearly as frustrated as they get with a curriculum that's far too slow and repetitive for them.

Also, most of the time, the difference is not nearly as big as people tend to think. Advanced readers won't have perfect grammar; kids who excel at understanding mathematical abstractions misread problems and add instead of subtract.

McGee isn't the mind behind the McGee Academy. He was approached by different people about it. I think one of the reasons he's backing it is because there *is* support for it in the community--I'd guess that mention of help from Stanford isn't just wishful thinking, but an indication of some interest from people at Stanford.

And, really, there's no reason the school couldn't expand later if the demand is there. But during the first few years there will be a wait-and-see approach as there have been with other experiments.


10 people like this
Posted by Reality check
a resident of Barron Park
on Nov 1, 2015 at 4:54 pm

There is no way that a new school can have an operating budget that is out of line with existing schools. That is the principle on which PiE was formed. If that's the idea, you can forget it. If there are big sources of outside funding, they need to be used to replace district funding. This is a public school district.


2 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 1, 2015 at 5:15 pm

I feel that once again the only way this can be done is to "grow" a school.

I can't see a fully functioning high school of any type suddenly coming into existence with four functioning grades and a full curriculum plus electives and extra curricula.

The only way it can be done is to grow from a small beginning. I suspect it will have to start with a 9th grade group who will be on board probably from 7th grade as to be the freshman class. However many the first 9th grade contains, the following year's 9th grade will be bigger and once again on board from 7th grade. As each year's freshman class gets bigger, more electives and more extra curricula will be added. For the first four or five years, sports if any will not be competitive and that's why the students will have to be happy with that type of arrangement. As the years progress and the school becomes more established, a fully functioning athletic department will also be established.

As for the academics end, colleges will definitely be watching from the get go. As the first freshman raise to senior status it will be interesting to see how the colleges perceive the new school. However, it won't be the first time a new high school is opened particularly in a growing school district.

Yes of course the first four or five grades will be to some extent an interesting group of cohorts to watch. I suspect with a dynamic principal and some backing from places like Stanford and perhaps a commendation from the UCs as to how the students will be treated for these first five grades to graduate and succeed beyond high school, a manageable progression will be made.

All in all, I suspect that with about 8 years, the new Cubberley could be just as comprehensive with some choices available as both Gunn and Paly and additionally could have extras such as an IB program. I believe it will take about that number of years to reach that stage, but afterwards it will be as though PAUSD had always had 3 high schools, which of course we did at one stage.

The big question of course is which year the new incoming freshmen will start. Will it be the present 5th graders, or 4th graders, or will we just have to wait a bit longer.


1 person likes this
Posted by alternative
a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Nov 1, 2015 at 6:00 pm

If the school offered IB, we'd be all over it. Get away from this AP mess that we have today, that has us looking at private schools.


8 people like this
Posted by InnovationInTheRealWorld
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Nov 1, 2015 at 10:58 pm

Innovation in the real world must be initiated with two key aspects that are notoriously absent from this committee:

1) a clear definition of the problem to be solved.

2) a full understanding of current best practices and why they don't solve the problem.


With regards (1) the committee clearly doesn't like something about our current schools, but seems too coy to clarify what that is. Innovating without a problem to solve is dangerous - it appears as random attempts with no guide, no goodness criteria, and essentially undirected education of children while spending good money. While I am no fan of current schools, I relish chaos even less. So, Max, what's the problem?
What are we solving?

With regards (2) if there are best practices that solve the problem, no innovation is needed - only execution of state-of-the-art. Adoption of current best practices is always the necessary precursor to innovation. Right? Why take an unknown risk with experimentation before one examines what is already known somewhere else?

So where are these best practices? Probably throughout our district in many cases. Perhaps outside as well. So this is the first litmus test for an "Innovative" school: do they identify best practices that already exist and publicly proclaim as such? Then will they incorporate the best practices of others?

You see, I don't believe they will spread the innovative ideas outward through the district just as much as I would not expect them to incorporate best practices into the new school. Education is too insular and treated as an individual act; not a system of many. It is only a systems view that allows(directs, dictates) an examination of best practices.

The lure of a fresh start and blank slate will be too intoxicating - I predict it will be grasped by existing entrenched ideals of what a few insiders believe is "right".

First evidence when this has gone wrong: no clear statement of the problem with existing methods.

Ready, set, ... stumble.


11 people like this
Posted by Fred
a resident of Barron Park
on Nov 1, 2015 at 11:54 pm

Fred is a registered user.

Important to note - this was an ENROLLMENT MANAGEMENT committee - not a committee on pedagogy, innovation, or anything else. The #1 task for the committee was to figure out if we had enough facilities, classrooms, etc, given expected enrollment trends, and then how to "manage" the enrollment into facilities (via neighborhood assignment, choice, etc.).

How this turned into "McGee Academy," project-based learning, innovation schools, etc., I honestly don't know or understand. The committee does not have educators on it (except for McGee) - they are parent volunteers. That guy who leads it (Lee) appears to be a marketing guy for VM Ware - no education experience whatsoever. That all seems fine for counting students and buildings, not so fine for recommending school programs, innovation strategies, etc.

Really this seems like McGee wanted a new school (like his prior two schools) and guided this committee to recommend what he wanted, even though it has nothing to do with what the Board asked them for. I'm not sure we even need a new building, but that question seems lost among this innovation mishigas.


11 people like this
Posted by Fred
a resident of Barron Park
on Nov 2, 2015 at 12:08 am

Fred is a registered user.

@parent/Greendell - ""Everyone" does not think these schools are too big" - that's true. I haven't seen anything that makes me think the schools are too big. They seem comparable in size to many of the other schools around. There are plenty of excellent high schools around the country our size or larger (many smaller too of course), so not clear why ours are "too big." This all seems part of being unwilling to look at how we do things; instead, we want to add buildings and "innovate." I'd rather look hard, and with the right people, at how we do things, and try to improve our current practices, not just build buildings.


1 person likes this
Posted by Slow Down
a resident of Community Center
on Nov 2, 2015 at 12:49 am

Slow Down is a registered user.

@ Fred - there were two committees, and two reports. One was the enrollment management committee and their report was released a couple weeks ago. The second committee was looking into project based learning, and their report was just released, but was appended to the end of the enrollment report. So one file, two reports.


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Posted by Reality check
a resident of Barron Park
on Nov 2, 2015 at 6:51 am

@slow down is wrong. The first report was from the elementary subcommittee and the second from the secondary subcommittee. The fact that it reads like an innovation committee report is because it's off the rails, like Fred says.


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Posted by parent
a resident of Greendell/Walnut Grove
on Nov 2, 2015 at 7:25 am

I understand that 2007-08 may seem like a long time ago. But I think that it is very surprising that no one seems to remember what happened then. What happened was we had a High School Task Force. It had parents, site council members, students, both high school principals, educators, and administrators. It was charged by the board with working through the summer and examining three options: large comprehensive third high school, smaller specialty high school, and just improving and expanding Paly and Gunn. Sandra Pearson, former Paly principal was the facilitator.

Enter Kevin Skelly, who immediately after hitting the ground, met with three members of the Task Force, told them a third high school was off the table because it would be "a ton of work" and that they were going to recommend making Paly and Gunn bigger. He announced that the decision was unanimous, which was a straight-up lie to the board (which at that time included Caswell and Townsend), which did not blink.

Then dissatisfied committee members said wait, he never asked us. It wasn't unanimous. We weren't even told. Here's an article about it: Web Link

In hindsight, this was Kevin Skelly's first public apology for doing something in secret and then lying about it. A harbinger.

The board said, sure fine, yes we will do whatever you want. Caswell and Townsend voted to enlarge Paly and Gunn.

A bond was floated, and funded. Tens of millions of dollars were spent on enlarging Paly and Gunn to accommodate 2500 students each.

During the beginning of each board meeting, Skelly presented pretty pictures of construction. Here's Kevin in a hardhat. Here's Golton in a hard hat. The board members sigh and giggle. They talk about the width of the seats in the new Paly performing arts center which has to be built because of the new 500 students. [Portion removed.]

A HUNDRED MILLION DOLLARS OF TAXPAYER MONEY was spent, the majority of it on enlarging Paly and Gunn.

Now it's like they have all fallen on their heads and lost their memories. At the board meeting when the McGee Academy was proposed not a single one of them said, wait, we just considered this before the prior construction bond and we decided not to do it. We made our high schools bigger. We voted. We taxed. We spent. We built. Bob, are you in the audience? Bob tell Max we already did this? Bob, how can you be on both committees and not say anything? [Portion removed.]

Now the new guy, the not-Kevin, the anti-Skelly has his own ideas. [Portion removed.] And he wants McGee academy. His committee, unlike the High School Task Force from 2007 isn't representative of anything or anyone. It didn't have a single teacher or principal on it. No member of site council. No one from PIE, or PTA. No one black or brown or poor. It was literally the least representative group you could find. Evidently they got a grad student from the d-school (stop snickering, Stanford Ed School, post-its has to move product too) to tell them that this was all awesome and they would be a lighthouse if they did it. They decided to remake education in PAUSD, and they would like you to pay for it even though you already did pay for it.

This was already done in 2007. Ship sailed. [Portion removed.] Unless you plan to knock down the giant two-story mega schools you just built this conversation is a waste of time. Do you plan to leave those classrooms empty? What will you do with them?

Who exactly will attend McGee high school anyway? This is going to end up being an "alternative school" for SpEd and struggling students whose parents cannot afford private school or whose kids IEPs prevent them from getting into private schools. There is no market for this, and no one will want it, and it will become a giant monument to the money that a fiscally irresponsible board threw down a rat hole because they have no independent judgment and just follow along like ducklings behind whatever Super they happen to have at the moment.

Mary Frances says: "third high school, we need an alternative school for kids who are bombing!" Board says: yay, show me the pretty pictures!
Kevin says "no third high school, build larger!" Board says: yay, show me the pretty pictures!
Max says "third high school these are too big" Board says: yay, show me the pretty pictures!

This board is so bad that even Fred agrees with me.


11 people like this
Posted by parent
a resident of Greendell/Walnut Grove
on Nov 2, 2015 at 8:21 am

When the 2007 High School Task Force met, it sounded oddly familiar! It considered exactly what the new committee has just recommended: Web Link

It thought this would be really exciting:

Another option is creating a "magnet" or a "biotech" specialty school situated on a new 6-acre site, according to Superintendent Mary Frances Callan. The district could build a 500-student facility, possibly on "Strawberry Hill" on the Gunn High School playing fields. The projected cost of about $20 million (not adjusted for inflation) does not include the cost of installing utilities, she said.

"We have time to be thoughtful about how we want to house students that we will be unable to hold," Associate Superintendent Marilyn Cook told the task force.

It is a "rare opportunity" to create a "forward-looking program," she said.

Was that written last week? No. It was written in May 2007.

Did Marty McGee ride his skateboard here from 2007?

No matter, because by October, they had decided not to do it and decisively rejected building a third smaller school in favor of (guess what) enlarging Paly and Gunn by 500 students each, and then putting in "schools within a school". In other words, Harry Potter Houses. Guess which of those two things did not happen?

Watch the video of the Blue Ribbon Task Force deciding not to build the third small high school:
Web Link

Folks. Folks. We need a school board that did not Rip Van Winkle the last $100M of what it did with your money.

Time for Melissa and Camille to ride off into the sunset and we need new management. Melissa Caswell as Board President should have told McGee this question has been asked and answered. You cannot build this because we enlarged Paly and Gunn. Your job is to make them better, so do that. [Portion removed.]


9 people like this
Posted by Fred
a resident of Barron Park
on Nov 2, 2015 at 8:23 am

Fred is a registered user.

@slow down - @reality check is right of course - there are elementary and secondary committees, though it is telling that you thought the secondary committee was charged with looking into project-based learning. An easy mistake to make given their report, and it underscores where it is hard to takes its recommendation seriously. It's literally like 5 random parents got together over coffee, said they all liked that Most Likely to Succeed movie, and issued a report recommending "let's do that!"

@parent - "This board is so bad that even Fred agrees with me." LOL - I'll take that in the humorous spirit intended. I don't know about the board, but I actually do agree with most of your analysis of what has happened and where we are. Skelly did drive building larger schools, and now Max is driving in a different direction. It's not clear to me that either had much more than their gut to go on, and each is using a committee to endorse their plan. I don't know what the right answer is, but I'd argue that they don't either, and we should actually work hard to figure it out.


13 people like this
Posted by Fred
a resident of Barron Park
on Nov 2, 2015 at 8:32 am

Fred is a registered user.

@parent / Greendell - btw, hats off for digging up the 2007/08 committee reports and reactions. That's excellent. They are in fact eerily like today's, including the board's response. What's the line about those who don't learn from history? ;-)


13 people like this
Posted by Fred
a resident of Barron Park
on Nov 2, 2015 at 8:56 am

Fred is a registered user.

@parent / Greendell - I must say, based on my understanding, every word you wrote below is correct.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~`````

Now the new guy, the not-Kevin, the anti-Skelly has his own ideas. And he wants McGee academy. His committee, unlike the High School Task Force from 2007 isn't representative of anything or anyone. It didn't have a single teacher or principal on it. No member of site council. No one from PIE, or PTA. No one black or brown or poor. It was literally the least representative group you could find. Evidently they got a grad student from the d-school (stop snickering, Stanford Ed School, post-its has to move product too) to tell them that this was all awesome and they would be a lighthouse if they did it. They decided to remake education in PAUSD, and they would like you to pay for it even though you already did pay for it.

This was already done in 2007. Ship sailed. Unless you plan to knock down the giant two-story mega schools you just built this conversation is a waste of time. Do you plan to leave those classrooms empty? What will you do with them?


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Posted by parent
a resident of Greendell/Walnut Grove
on Nov 2, 2015 at 11:10 am

The board approved making Paly and Gunn bigger, by using the lion's share of the $378M bond to do it. They voted to expand each school for 500 more students, to a total of 2500 each school.

Right now, we are still at roughly 4000 in both schools, so we have by the end of the construction, 1000 space excess capacity. The very idea that these schools are being called "too big" when we just spent well over $200M making them bigger than they currently need to be at the moment is asinine.

Just to drive this point home a bit harder, in 2009, the Board heard the proposed construction to the high schools and approved it. Dana Tom yelled "You have knocked it out of the park," and then said ""If you build it, the students will come. You've just addressed so many questions and uncertainties in our minds with these presentations," he said. This made me really miss Dana Tom said no one ever.

The board approved making these schools bigger in 2008-09, and in 2009 approved the building. Everyone was very excited and enjoyed all the pretty pictures.

Except one person (not me, I promise) who insisted on raining on Dana's parade with boring and irritating facts and research:

"Preschool parent A.J. Lumsdaine asked the board to reject the plans, arguing that the 2,300-plus enrollments projected for the campuses are simply too large.

She cited a litany of research concluding that enrollments of more than 2,100, even in high socio-economic areas, have poor effects on learning, leading to more discipline problems, lower morale, lower math performance and a bureaucratic, alienating environment.

Lumsdaine urged the board to consider re-opening Cubberley High School, which closed 30 years ago due to declining enrollment at that time."

Link: Web Link

This was asked. and. answered.

The School Board, including Camille Townsend, and Melissa Caswell, who was -- incredibly -- board president both times this has come up, voted to make the schools bigger. They voted to build the media center, the performing arts center, the gym, the two story classrooms, the Gunn central project -- all of it. They voted to make the schools bigger.

What needs to be done now is to figure out how to make them better.

It is the height of irresponsibility to take $200M from voters, enlarge the schools, then say "eh, not so much, let's start over with a blank sheet of paper." [Portion removed.]

We badly need a middle school. It would have been nice had the "enrollment mangament" comittee stuck to its charge and set attendance boundaries for a fourth middle school. "Choice" is not an option. We cannot have 700 students in cars twice a day. [Portion removed.]

We badly need elementary schools. Where will they be and who will go there? Stop talking about achievement at Barron Park School -- that, [portion removed] is not the charge of the Enrollment committee. One would think this does not need to be said yet here it does.

Really the mystery here is why none of the board members -- including Townsend and Caswell, who WERE THERE AND VOTED FOR THIS -- mentioned that it had happened. That is appalling.


3 people like this
Posted by Fred
a resident of Barron Park
on Nov 2, 2015 at 12:07 pm

Fred is a registered user.

@parent / greendell - Looking that the elementary EMAC slides, it looks like they said that elementary enrollment is going down, the schools are the right size anyway, and that parents are pretty happy with the size of elementary schools (6 to 1 favorable/unfavorable). It also looks like they spent 5 slides (out of 60) on Barron Park, and that the argument was that a choice program there would move kids from crowded schools in the south cluster to the most uncrowded school in the west (and, bonus, help Barron Park school). Do you disagree with all that?

On middle schools, if I am reading it right, they also start shrinking next year, and will shrink for a while. Why is it time to build?


2 people like this
Posted by OPar
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Nov 2, 2015 at 1:49 pm

Let's see, so Skelly and McGee made recommendations on the schools and those recommendations differ.

Well, why wouldn't they? A superintendent is supposed to oversee the general direction of the district and different supers can have different opinions.

I don't understand raging at McGee because his views of how to handle growth aren't the same as Skelley's. We wanted a change, yes? I'm not going to fault the current super for not falling in line with Skelley or Callan--both of whom were awful, secretive superintendents.

As for similar lingo--of course there'similar lingo. I don't doubt that McGee's every bit as capable of reading earler reports than Parent.

The board, as has long been the case, has been pretty weak and feckless.

Pretty new buildings don't automatically make a large high school a right-sized high school. We have highly competitive high schools, the size of which actually limits opportunities for kids--yes, there are some cool electives, but the competition for those spots (or on various sports teams) means many kids don't get the opportunity to take those classes.

When you have 500 kids in a class, you don't build the same sense of community as you do with 200-300. We have plenty of kids who get lost.


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Posted by Fred
a resident of Barron Park
on Nov 2, 2015 at 2:11 pm

Fred is a registered user.

@Opar - my read of @parent is not so much complaining that McGee has a different view, but that the Board, by going with Skelly's approach, has made it impractical to follow McGee's. Having spent ~$180M of the bond money expanding (and fixing up) Gunn & Paly, it is unrealistic (or maybe unfair) to look to spend another $50 - $100M fixing up Cubberly when we have the capacity. I think that is @parent's point.

I don't know if everyone would agree with that, but I think it is a good point. When we last addressed this decision, in 2007, we invested heavily in expanding our existing campuses. If we think it is compelling, I guess we would expand even more to build a third campus. But it does need to be compelling, since it seems like we just built the capacity we needed.


4 people like this
Posted by Reality check
a resident of Barron Park
on Nov 2, 2015 at 3:25 pm

@Fred, my read of the EMAC secondary report is that there is a compelling case for more middle school capacity that is based on the actual capacity of the schools, taking account of factors like wanting teachers to have classrooms they can meet students in during prep periods. There is a minority report to the elementary task force that makes a strong case that the south east quadrant, including Palo Verde, needs more capacity (plus elementary schools that are much larger than in the past, accomplished through portables and class size increases). And there is the problem of the new Stanford construction.

The case for more high school capacity is the weakest, and isn't really based on capacity. It's more like buyer's remorse. We built and paid for high schools that are big enough, but McGee and his committee don't like them that big. Plus they want a moonshot. Neither of those adds up to a good case for another $100 million of taxpayer money.


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Posted by Fred
a resident of Barron Park
on Nov 2, 2015 at 4:07 pm

Fred is a registered user.

@Reality Check - the main point I took away on middle schools is that the enrollment will be going down, starting next year (or maybe the year after). Given than it will take 4-5 years to build a new school, not sure why we are building. I heard talk about need for teachers to have dedicated classrooms, but didn't see any data on it, nor any discussion about whether that was an appropriate standard. Did I miss something? Seemed like thin data to make an big investment decision on.

On elementary, I really don't get that point. In the South, there are 4 empty classrooms at Fairmeadow according to the Enrollment Report (Table 5), 1 more than last year; there are 41 available seats (must not include the empty classrooms - that would be 80+) in the South Cluster (Table 6), up from 30 last year; there were 17 students overflowed to other clusters from the South (Table 8A), down from 45 last year. And total enrolled from the South went down by 78 students (4%!) between last year and this (Table 9). Based on that, it sounds like the situation is quickly resolving itself, and there will be no problem by the time we open anything new.

The new Stanford housing, my understanding from the last meeting is they decided they could stop sending overflows to Nixon, and then they might need a portable or two for a couple years. Everyone seemed to agree, including the principal. Didn't sound like any need for a new school.

So the North and West seem to have plenty of capacity, and the South is has 4 classrooms plus 41 seats = almost a full strand, and shrank by 4% this year. And enrollment overall is shrinking. Where's the problem then?


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Posted by Fred
a resident of Barron Park
on Nov 2, 2015 at 5:20 pm

Fred is a registered user.

@Reality Check - btw, I agree with your assessment of the high school situation.


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Posted by Reality check
a resident of Barron Park
on Nov 2, 2015 at 5:48 pm

@Fred, the elementary capacity numbers include many portables and increased class sizes over the past. If the district wanted to decrease class sizes, it would probably have a hard time finding classrooms to do it. Increasing school size as a way to deal with enrollment increase is a strategy, but it has resulted in much larger schools than has typically been wanted. In 2008, the board actually ditched its 450 student limit for elementary schools rather than reopen schools, and now most schools are past that point.

The capacity numbers also mask a lot of semi-voluntary enrollment in choice programs, particularly in the Palo Verde neighborhood. There are about 300 kids in that attendance area more than the number of seats at Palo Verde. Every neighborhood school has an imbalance, of course, but that is an extreme.

It really comes down to school size and neighborhood schools. If the current size (and probably bigger, as in putting portables at Nixon) is OK with you, then the case for more schools is less compelling.

On middle school, I'm persuaded that the schools are over capacity but that argues for another school, not for McGee Academy to use a phrase.


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Posted by Fred
a resident of Barron Park
on Nov 2, 2015 at 6:30 pm

Fred is a registered user.

@Reality Check - I haven't seen anyone calling for smaller class sizes, either in the EMAC report or otherwise. Did I miss it? I did note that the EMAC report said parents were satisfied with school size by 6 to 1; I'd guess if they are ok with school size, they are ok with class size. It sounds like you might be dis-satisfied with both ;-)

450 seems like an odd limit. A "strand" is about 130 kids (6 classes of 22 on average); 4 strands is 520. 3 strands is 390. Not sure why we would pick a number between 3-4 strands, since most principals like a "balanced" school if they can have it. The EMAC said 4 strands was the suggested limit - that makes more sense to me. That apparently lined up with the research they quoted, which said 500 was a good limit. Personally, I don't see much difference between a 3 and 4 strand school - I'm more concerned about the principal and teachers.

Palo Verde is an unusual case, of course, since many PV students actually live much closer to Ohlone than to PV (Ohlone is located at one end of the large PV attendance area). Wouldn't it make more sense to re-draw the lines to move some of PV attendance area to adjacent Fairmeadow, where they have 4 empty classrooms and 22 extra seats? They could also set aside seats at Ohlone for PV kids to reduce or eliminate out of cluster overflows.

To me, either of those options (or both) makes more sense than spending $25-40M to build a new school when the district has 20 empty classrooms and enrollment is declining.




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Posted by Clean house
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 2, 2015 at 11:28 pm

OPar,
Unfortunately, McGee is working out to be just as secretive. Look to the power manipulating the throne.


1 person likes this
Posted by Clean house
a resident of Barron Park
on Nov 3, 2015 at 1:43 pm

@parent,
If you read educational literature, schools within schools don't really work unless they are totally separate schools that function as distinct actual schools. Harry Potter houses is not it. The reason to do schools within schools is because you don't have anyplace to expand when it's time to break up a too-large school. SWS's can be costly. The best scenario is being able to open an old defunct school site. Hmmm.

Our district has a way of treating that kind of information like it's dispensible. They'll give the appearance of doing something, but really, they'll just be spending money without enough accountability. Speaking of Harry potter, too much magical thinking in the real world also hurts our kids.


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Posted by OPar
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Nov 3, 2015 at 5:52 pm

Clean House,

Sigh, I'm still crossing my fingers on McGee, but we've had a weak board who doesn't have a great history of picking supers--Callan was bad and then we got Skelley who was worse.

No question that there are a lot of entrenched interests in the district. Palo Alto's a small town with an old-boys network that shows up in various ways.

Fred,

Yep, there's a classroom surplus, but kids are still getting moved around. So, yes, the bigger/bigger/bigger mentality of Skelley and co. got us a bunch of mega-schools, but no one but the district management wants them. (And, yes, I was one of those people who had big issues with Measure A at the time because it was committing us to mega-elementaries and because the construction budgets were insanely huge.)

I think some of the thinking behind the "McGee Academy" is that it would create an alternative to the large schools in a district that has a deadly amount of stress within it without a huge initial expenditure.

So, yes, it's been too much money, but not changing our priorities strikes me as throwing good money after bad. Elementary schools with 600 kids are too big, no matter how many buildings there are. (And, honestly, we'd have been better off doing some construction at the middle schools instead of stuffing buildings at Ohlone and Duveneck. Three middle schools should be enough, but our middle-school campuses are fairly small.)


2 people like this
Posted by Fred
a resident of Barron Park
on Nov 3, 2015 at 6:12 pm

@Opar, a couple questions:

"kids are still getting moved around" - do you mean overflows? Note that overflows went down by 50% this year, and only 27 were out of cluster, also down by 50%. As enrollment shrinks, particularly at the kinder level, overflows are going way down. 27 out of cluster students doesn't seem like a lot.

"Elementary schools with 600 kids are too big" - there's only one, Ohlone, and of course no one is required to go there and there is a long waiting list to get in. So that's a choice families can make. All the others are 4 strands or less (Barron Park and Briones are 2.5 strands). Do you think we should make Ohlone smaller and just have 5-6 empty classrooms there?

"McGee academy would ... create an alternative to the large schools ... without a huge initial expenditure." - maybe I misunderstand the proposal. I thought McGee Academy involved renovating Cubberly to set up a 6-12 school, which would cost $75+ million to build and $5M to run (plus lost Cubberly revenue). What's the proposal to avoid the large initial expenditure? That sounds interesting to me.


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Posted by Fred
a resident of Barron Park
on Nov 3, 2015 at 6:12 pm

@Opar, a couple questions:

"kids are still getting moved around" - do you mean overflows? Note that overflows went down by 50% this year, and only 27 were out of cluster, also down by 50%. As enrollment shrinks, particularly at the kinder level, overflows are going way down. 27 out of cluster students doesn't seem like a lot.

"Elementary schools with 600 kids are too big" - there's only one, Ohlone, and of course no one is required to go there and there is a long waiting list to get in. So that's a choice families can make. All the others are 4 strands or less (Barron Park and Briones are 2.5 strands). Do you think we should make Ohlone smaller and just have 5-6 empty classrooms there?

"McGee academy would ... create an alternative to the large schools ... without a huge initial expenditure." - maybe I misunderstand the proposal. I thought McGee Academy involved renovating Cubberly to set up a 6-12 school, which would cost $75+ million to build and $5M to run (plus lost Cubberly revenue). What's the proposal to avoid the large initial expenditure? That sounds interesting to me.


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Posted by parent
a resident of Greendell/Walnut Grove
on Nov 4, 2015 at 8:22 am

Fred you are correct that there would be a large initial expenditure for McGee Academy.

I think we just disagree (hopefully a friendly disagreement) about the "how big is too big" question for the elementary schools. The answer there is really aesthetic. Over half of the elementary schools are currently more than the prior board policy of 450 students. The research says that smaller is better and that the ideal size of an elementary school is 300-400 students. You could disagree, but you would have to disagree with that research.

I think many people in Palo Alto love our small neighborhood feel and small neighborhood elementary schools. Back before our prior Boards started selling off the real estate we had more than 20 elementary schools, all small. Now we have 12. I think there is a big difference. You can disagree -- that's a judgment. I expect that there will be a diversity on the board about this, with Dauber and Godfrey supporting more and smaller schools while Townsend just wants everyone in a car driving to their personal "choice."

I do not personally like choice schools because they create inequalities, and also traffic. They are bad for neighborhood cohesion. They create winners and losers and hard feelings about lotteries. McGee Academy is that on steroids.


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