News

Guest Opinion: Hitting 're-set' with school enrollment committee

EMAC's recommendation for new, innovative high school difficult to rely on

The Palo Alto school district's Enrollment Management Advisory Committee (EMAC) started out as a good, even necessary, idea: With a new superintendent in place, take a fresh look at enrollment trends, facilities and staffing, from kindergarten to high school, and assess whether the district has what it needs to educate current and anticipated students.

Some good work has been done. Reams of analyses on school size and enrollment trends were compiled. But a good idea has run aground of a flawed process, over-expanded scope and compromised credibility, making the EMAC's recommendation for a new, innovative third high school difficult to rely on.

At this point, the Board's path forward is clear: thank the EMAC for its work, conclude its efforts and establish a new task force -- one that includes teachers, principals, students and a representative group of parents and other stakeholders -- to consider all the options for investing in innovation and improvement in our secondary schools.

The EMAC's problems started with its composition -- no teachers, principals, or other educators were included, except for Dr. McGee. Yet we were encouraged to look not just at capacity but also at potential innovative programs. A small group of parents (myself included) might be fine to count up kids and classrooms and review enrollment forecasts, but we are not well-equipped to judge how best to improve academic results or school connectedness, at least not without significant support from the experts: our teachers, principals and educational staff.

By contrast, the 2007 Attendance Area Advisory Group (AAAG), a predecessor to the EMAC, had over 40 members, including seven principals, staff or parents from every school (two from many), senior district administrators, and stakeholder representatives from the employee associations, the CAC, and PTAC. The AAAG maybe have been over-large and unwieldy, but broad involvement is necessary if we want to get analysis and recommendations that will earn support across the District.

With such a small group, it is not surprising that the EMAC report has significant shortcomings. Some are simple, though at times quite substantial, errors that could be corrected; but others are troubling misstatements and omissions that may reflect a less diverse set of views and a desire to persuade the community of a particular conclusion. It is noteworthy that the EMAC contains no parents of under-represented minority or low-income students.

For example, the report holds out Hillsdale High School in San Mateo as a model for PAUSD: With smaller enrollment and a high-profile "house" system, Hillsdale had attained "99th percentile" school connectedness scores on the statewide California Healthy Kids Survey, a benchmark of school environments, the committee reported. But on review, the actual results are quite different -- Hillsdale's connectedness scores are actually below those of both Paly and Gunn. It turns out that committee members hadn't actually seen the Hillsdale results and relied on an (incorrect) anecdotal report that fit their chosen narrative.

Many shortcomings are laid out in a review of the EMAC report that I delivered to the Board last week. The surprise should not be that the report falls short; it is more surprising that we would send a small group of community volunteers to analyze such a complex and important topic without professional support and a wider set of reviewers.

Finally, the superintendent and a large subset of EMAC secondary subcommittee members have associated themselves with an application for funding for the "Wayfinder School," a project to create a new innovative school in Palo Alto started by a small group of local parents and wealthy funders. This could create a serious concern if the Wayfinder application later morphs into a charter school proposal (the application contains praise for charter schools and some strong criticism of PAUSD).

But even more troubling is that no one -- not the board, the public or even the other EMAC members -- was informed that this group was working to develop and promote the Wayfinder proposal in early November when the board heard the subcommittee's report for the second time. It is hard to accept the EMAC's report as objective and impartial when a majority of the group is actually listed as "team members" promoting a specific proposed new school. (Read: Undisclosed new-school proposal sparks dissent)

So how do we move forward? First, the board should recognize that continuing the EMAC process is unlikely to yield additional value. It is hard to see how additional data, analysis or discussion will remedy the underlying issues with the committee's composition and potential conflicts.

Second, the board should establish a new task force on improving the secondary school experience. This group can both draw on a more complete set of stakeholders -- especially teachers, principals, students, and a wider range of community members -- and take on a fuller set of options. Of particular interest are proposals to increase staffing, reduce class size and foster innovative programs at our existing schools -- options not considered by the EMAC.

Finally, the board needs to be diligent in setting expectations and Dr. McGee in communicating new initiatives. Dr. McGee has shown he wants to think big in bringing the new school concept to the EMAC and connecting with Project Wayfinder. But it appears that he did so without keeping the board and the community up to speed. Big change and innovation in Palo Alto requires a high degree of community and board involvement. It is the only way to earn the level of support needed to make it happen.

Todd Collins chairs the PAUSD Elementary Subcommittee of the Enrollment Management Advisory Committee and formerly chaired the Bond Citizens Oversight Committee, but the views expressed here are entirely his own. He is a resident of Barron Park and has two children who went through Palo Alto schools.

• For the counterpoint opinion, read Guest Opinion: Task force needed to analyze school ideas

Comments

28 people like this
Posted by Barron Park parent
a resident of Barron Park
on Dec 4, 2015 at 7:45 am

Having read this and the full rebuttal here Web Link it seems to me that Todd Collins's idea for a new task force is EXACTLY the same as the final recommendation made by the EMAC folks.

What am I missing here?

Also I sense some selective use of facts and data by Todd to make his case, and I think the Palo Alto Weekly is being played on this contentious issue. On any given issue, say global warming, you can always find some fact, quote or data point that will support an argument that says global warming is false.


28 people like this
Posted by Barron Park parent
a resident of Barron Park
on Dec 4, 2015 at 8:06 am

PS - I read the XQ initial concept submission just now and it doesn't say at all that the free money is to be used for a charter school. Man, people are desperate to read things that are not in evidence.

Talk about rushing to judgment and setting up battle lines way too early! Why do folks in Palo Alto do this? And spreading fear, uncertainty and doubt.


14 people like this
Posted by Next steps
a resident of Community Center
on Dec 4, 2015 at 8:37 am

The EMAC did an incredible job on their report. I think there is confusion here about the difference between making a recommendation and making a decision. The EMAC certainly isn't making any decisions for PAUSD. But the suggestions in the report do make sense, and should be considered with further investigation (dare I say committees?). So yes, conclude the EMAC's efforts, and convene BOTH a committee to to look into an improvement plan for the current middle and high schools, and a design task force to come up with a real concept for a new school, should we, as a district, decide that is an appropriate path.

Why would we not pursue all available avenues for improving educational options for all of our students?


51 people like this
Posted by Not Again
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Dec 4, 2015 at 9:03 am

EMAC needs an independent third party to mediate between them, McGee, and the public!

There is waaaaay too much secrecy in the PAUSD-- what are they afraid of? Or, more importantly, what are they all afraid of the public finding out?


42 people like this
Posted by Barron Park parent
a resident of Barron Park
on Dec 4, 2015 at 9:12 am

To the previous poster, I ompletely agree transparency is best. I think the idea for a new task force is great and should be put forward by the Board.

And if you read both op-eds, they say EXACTLY the same thing: desire for a new task force to continue the work started by the EMAC. One that will craft a strategic, shared vision for our secondary schools not just for the near-term but 10-15 years from now.

Take a look at the materials here and the 15 page open letter to the Board and the broader community. Web Link


30 people like this
Posted by Long time volunteer
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Dec 4, 2015 at 12:54 pm

Thanks to Todd Collins for an exceptional job in writing this and in writing his response to the secondary committee. I don't agree that we should have a committee or task force to look at any aspect of this though. Unfortunately I no longer trust Max McGee after reading this, and feel that we should postpone that step until after he is replaced, which I think unfortunately has to be soon.

I really liked him and I hate saying this, but he does not respect the law, does not respect the board, and does not have any interest in staying in his role. He regrettably tried to mau-mau the board and he has to go. It's too bad because he has some good qualities but following the law is a minimum requirement and he's just not interested.

We can find someone who actually wants to lead the district, comply with the law, and ensure that our students learn. I don't know if its a character issue or what, but there is something deeply wrong here.


24 people like this
Posted by Ditto
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Dec 4, 2015 at 3:54 pm

I had the same reaction as Long Time Volunteer above, it seems that McGee thinks he can do exactly as he pleases and then feign ignorance of his job and do a mea culpa after the fact. In my view he knows exactly what he's doing, and so I think there is an integrity issue. I think he dissembles and insults people's intelligence. To go off with private citizens and work on their designer school proposal, regardless of its merit, is to circumvent the process that the rest of Palo Alto relies upon in a public school district. It seems McGee picks and chooses sexy projects that his new rich friends want (I think frankly he is star-struck by the wealth here), like the advanced research project that who knows who got to go to Singapore and why, and to hell with everyone else, let them eat cake.


95 people like this
Posted by Barron Park dad
a resident of Barron Park
on Dec 4, 2015 at 6:16 pm

So I read here in his signature line that Todd Collins used to be chairman of the Bond Citizens Oversight Committee. So presumably that means he is an expert on how that money was used.

OK good. Because he is making the claim that the District's current middle schools and high schools can easily accommodate the number of students we have, now and into the foreseeable future. Precisely because the District has recently spent $50M on the middle schools and $200M on the high schools toward increasing capacity.

The citizens of Palo Alto + Los Altos Hills + Stanford really need to step up and urge the PAUSD Board to authorize a blue-chip task force (if only) to inspect this claim that our high schools, after spending $200 million of our hard-earned bond money, can actually accommodate 2300 kids.

Because if what the EMAC folks say below is true, then our kids will be in deep trouble a few years from now. Read what they wrote in their open letter to the Board:

"EMAC-SSS believes these capital improvements were necessary simply because our secondary schools were so under-capitalized over the past 30 years, due in part of the effects of Prop 13. By no means do we regard these investments as 'wasted' even if we chose to open another secondary school or schools. A careful analysis of the $200M bond money spent shows that only a minority fraction was spent on expanding the number of classrooms we have in our middle and high schools."

"The true enrollment capacity of Paly and Gunn is an area of concern because our high school enrollment is expected to increase by an additional 700 students by 2020 compared to 2015, from 3900 to 4600 students. EMAC-SSS has made repeated efforts to vet the District's 'stated capacity' numbers for Paly and Gunn (i.e., each can supposedly accommodate ~2300 students when construction is done). Three members of the EMAC-SSS have engineering degrees and possess an analytical mindset, and yet we could NOT confirm that assertion unless we made some arduous assumptions. We recommend pursuing this line of inquiry harder, as EMAC-SSS has doubts as to whether the District's stated capacity numbers are rooted in reality, in the schools."

"For example, Paly and Gunn are able to hold just over 2300 students each (i.e., the District's stated capacity) if and only if you accept 3 assumptions: (1) run capacity at 100%, (2) average classroom size of 28.5 students, and (3) many classrooms are used 6 out of 7 periods. If the Board wanted to go to 27.5 instead, you lose space for 70 students, or equivalently you will need 3 more classrooms at each school. Or if the Board wanted to run at a more reasonable 95% of capacity and a 27.5 ratio, now Paly and Gunn can enroll ~200 fewer students than the Stated Capacity. And all of this still assumes many classrooms being occupied 6 out of 7 periods -- which means some teachers will not have their own classroom for prep and collaboration space, and also likely limiting space for teacher-student office hours."

"Said another way, there seems to be a fundamental disconnect between the perceived capacity of the school and the actual situation on the ground at each school. The potential result is a false sense of precision and a false confidence in the District's stated capacity figures for each school."

Note that full time teachers in our District teach 5 out of 7 periods. So if the ONLY way to get to 2300 students at Paly and Gunn is to use many of our classrooms 6 out of 7 periods, then does that mean our teachers are being kicked out of their own classrooms at least one period per day?

I’m not a math guy but presumably Todd looked into this in his former role as chairman of the Bond Citizens Oversight Committee, to ensure our money was used wisely?


25 people like this
Posted by Gunn mom
a resident of Barron Park
on Dec 4, 2015 at 6:50 pm

Max McGee should enforce the damn homework policy and stop chasing fame and fortune. This makes me so angry.

Thanks to Todd Collins for blowing the whistle on this.


10 people like this
Posted by Smart smarting
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 4, 2015 at 7:13 pm

@Barron Park Dad,
The statement that enlarging didn't cost much is simply not true. Go back to the old meetings. Enlarging capacity was a primary if not the primary criterion in expenditure. It justified all the multistory construction, when the state says multistory construction is far more expensive PER SQUARE FOOT than single story for school construction, so much so it's not even worth doing to save land cost. The DLM architect probably lowballed it but guessed the premium was at least 15%. How much did we spend on multistory buildings? The premium likely runs into the tens of millions, and the sole justification was capacity to avoid opening new schools at elementary, middle, and high school levels. So, you have made really good points, but you know in this district their is no stomach for getting to the bottom of things, the go along get along contingent will have your hide.


9 people like this
Posted by Facts, not claims
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Dec 5, 2015 at 11:38 am

Someone should look into what 'Barron Park dad' wrote above. Is any that stuff possibly true? Are Gunn and Paly only able to hold 2300 kids if and only if you make some tortuous assumptions? The EMAC guys say there will be 4600 high school kids in a few years.

Did we misspend our $200 million in bond money? I wish Todd Collins would respond. I'm sure he or his friends are reading this thread.


7 people like this
Posted by Long time volunteer
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Dec 5, 2015 at 1:57 pm

What's interesting is that the EMAC committee [portion removed] who want this new choice school for a few lucky lottery winners have produced no evidence that our current schools are not built for the 2300 they are rated for. The evidence in their report is that they talked to 2 teachers at Gunn (literally, I am not making this up) who said it "feels crowded." That's the evidence.

On that basis, of 2 teachers who said it "feels crowded" they want the taxpayers to cough up $100M for a choice school, which will take 300 students from Paly and 300 from Gunn. That would mean that there would still be 2000 in each school -- which is more than is there today, and would mean that if it is "crowded" today (based on their own analysis) then their $100M choice school would still leave it just as crowded at the end of the $100M.

[Portion removed.]

They don't have any evidence one way or the other as to whether or not Bob Golton messed up when he said that the new construction would increase capacity to 2300 each.

Once the construction is finished, the "feels crowded" would be gone.

There is plenty of space at Paly and Gunn after construction to put in portables if that is needed to reduce class sizes or to handle slightly more than the 2300 students. All the current portables will be gone after the end of construction so if extra classrooms are eventually needed, that's a very very good use of portables, to deal with the temporary bubble moving through until 2025.

[Portion removed.]



2 people like this
Posted by data digging
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 5, 2015 at 2:17 pm

Barron Park Dad,

It looks as if the data for EMAC's space analysis came from EMAC's assumptions that it said it could not verify, so may or may not hold up.

But assuming that its assumptions are sound:

1. EMAC: "The enrollment capacity of Paly and Gunn is an area of concern because our high school enrollment is expected to increase" to 4600 in 2020.

Since that's 2,300 each school, which both high schools have been built to accommodate, I don't see the cause for concern.

2. EMAC: "For example, Paly and Gunn are able to hold just over 2300 students each ...if and only if you accept 3 assumptions:

(1) run capacity at 100%,
(2) average classroom size of 28.5 students, and
(3) many classrooms are used 6 out of 7 periods.

If the Board wanted to go to 27.5 instead, you lose space for 70 students, or equivalently you will need 3 more classrooms at each school."

OK, so the first question to answer is how large classes should be to see if space is a problem. That hasn't been asked or answered yet.

If class sizes are to decrease, the second thing is to check all of EMAC's assumptions to see if they are sound. For instance, one of the classes each freshman and sophomore take is gym which doesn't meet in a classroom, etc. Were things like that factored in?

3. If after all of that there will not be enough classrooms, that does not lead one to conclude that PAUSD needs to open an entire new small progressive choice school for grades 6-12.

First, the middle school reaches peak enrollment next year, so too soon to get a new school up and running. After that, enrollment drops steadily over 15 years, with projected enrollments on those campuses LOWER than we have right now just 3 or 4 years from now.

For the high schools, a less expensive option could be, as long time volunteer says, to put in portables or rent space during their short-term enrollment bubble. That's because the 4,600 students you mention is the projected enrollment PEAK per the EMAC committee, with high school enrollment dropping each year after that down to about 2,000 students/campus ten years later (the last year projected).

Then, if after all of that a new school is still being called for (unlikely since 75% of parents want enhancements to the current high school campuses, NOT a whole new school), would that new school be the flavor the EMAC committee and Dr. McGee are calling for?

It doesn't look like it. Only 150 or so PAUSD parents went to the trouble to say that they would send their child to a choice high school. Only 30% of them - so about 45 parents - would do so if the "choice" offered was a project based learning high school.

That's hardly a community endorsement of the new school that EMAC and others are envisioning.

What all of this suggests is that, if the board wants to accommodate choice and expand capacity in the way a majority of parents support, PAUSD would build two temporary classrooms for progressive Wayfinder and another classroom or two for students opting for vocational education, ect., on PAUSD's current high school campuses, until the enrollment bubble passes through.




Like this comment
Posted by Slow Down
a resident of Community Center
on Dec 5, 2015 at 2:42 pm

Slow Down is a registered user.

@Long time volunteer - So if I can summarize your post, you want them to do charter school?


8 people like this
Posted by Long time volunteer
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Dec 5, 2015 at 3:25 pm

These people have stopped being an "advisory committee" a long time ago. They are an advocacy group. There is nothing wrong with that, but an advocacy group does not get to have space on the district website to write long diatribes filled with false statements and Brown Act violations.

If you want to be an advocacy group, you get your 3 minutes at the microphone. Look at Marc Vincente -- That's what you get. You get to be in line with all the other people who want something. If you don't get what you want and you are unsatisfied, run for election. That's Ken Dauber. Let the democratic process decide whether to build your superschool or not. If you run a slate of candidates and you win, then you will get your school.

Run for school board and let the electorate decide if they want a superschool or if they want to improve our existing high schools. I think your own straw poll already told you that 75% of people do NOT want a new school, they want to improve our existing schools. I think that you will lose the election. But maybe not -- and that's how to do it. Run for the board, and run on opening your choice school.

I would not expect to get the union endorsement, but you probably don't care about our teachers, since you want to have a new school based on the fact that they are all horrible.

They claim that they are not a charter movement and not interested in one. The worst thing that could happen would be if PAUSD were held hostage to a charter threat.


2 people like this
Posted by Slow Down
a resident of Community Center
on Dec 5, 2015 at 5:25 pm

Slow Down is a registered user.

@Long time volunteer - I'm just saying, given the level of hysteria in the rhetoric over a grant application, that there is no room for reason or cooperation moving forward, so might as well cut to the chase and file a charter application. I don't support a choice school, I think we need an additional neighborhood middle and high school. But I think the best way to get there is to co opt the process, not by freaking out and slandering the participants and calling for the firing of McGee.


4 people like this
Posted by Rita
a resident of Leland Manor/Garland Drive
on Dec 5, 2015 at 6:50 pm

To Barron Park Parent:

To your question about what is different between Todd Collins's idea for a new task force and the final recommendation made by the EMAC folks, the difference is large. Mr. Collins is suggesting a task force that will evaluate improvements for ALL our current 5 secondary schools. He suggests the task force look at staffing levels, class sizes, and program innovation in our EXISTING schools. Plus he also suggests looking at the total school size, to improve the experience for ALL secondary students. On the other hand, the EMAC-SSS originally recommended a “design” task force to create the design element details for a new 700 student innovative school at the Cubberley site. The EMAC-SSS asked the board to initiate the design of a new innovative, secondary school at the Oct 26th board meeting (slides 39 & 40 of board presentation). The task force that Todd suggests would address the issues facing all 7000 secondary students in our district whereas the other task force would be tasked with designing a new school for 700 students. Only as a 2nd option did the EMAC-SSS recommend looking into schools within schools or house systems at our current schools, but there were no recommendations on how to help with problems associated with large schools, such as, large class sizes, staffing levels and elective classes not keeping pace with enrollment, insufficient open space, etc.

What we see now is this subcommittee reinventing their recommendations, which I imagine is so they no longer appear biased. Any rational person could see the bias in their initial recommendations and now that we know all 5 members of this subcommittee are also authors of the XQ grant application, where they state they have a “moral obligation” to create a new project based learning school, it’s easy to understand why the bias. I’m not assigning fault or malice to this committee, but just recognizing that anyone that feels they have a moral obligation to a certain path will be hard pressed to see any other path. This explains why this group ignored their own research which showed 75% of 700 respondents prefer a project based learning program be delivered as a school within an existing school (see slide 65 of the Oct 26 Board presentation) rather than a new expansion campus. This committee dismissed this idea by stating existing schools are not capable of implementing this kind of program. And indeed they are not, if they are not given the support, resources and funding that would be required, just as a new school would also not be successful without these same things.

Although the EMAC-SSS seems to be back pedaling substantially from their heavy push for an innovative small school, it’s still not enough, as they are still asking the Board to commission a “design” task force. Specifically they are asking this design task force to come up with “the what and “the how.” Implied behind “the what” is what type of school should be built and “the how” is how should it be designed. This is essentially the same recommendation, but they are just leaving off their original words of “new innovative school at Cubberley.” Any design for the Cubberley space is premature, as no decision can be made yet about whether or not a new school is needed and/or where this school is needed. For example the Board has asked this committee to provide a recommendation that solely addresses the over-enrollment of our middle schools and they have suggested that building out Cubberley, due to it's location in the south of Palo Alto, might not help with the over-enrollment at Jordan, the school most impacted by over-enrollment and in the north of Palo Alto. An evaluation of incorporating Garland into Jordan should have been fully evaluated, yet this has not happened.

There is still much to be evaluated on a school-by-school basis in order to provide tangible recommendations to address the over-enrollment in our middle schools and the issues associated with large campuses in both our middle and high schools. I’m still hopeful that the EMAC-SSS will do the right thing and recommend the task force that Todd Collins is suggesting.


6 people like this
Posted by Barron Park parent
a resident of Barron Park
on Dec 5, 2015 at 7:37 pm

Rita - I don't see a lot of EMAC 'back-pedaling' as you call it. Are you reading the same materials as I am? On this web site Web Link the November 10 presentation shows 7 different ideas for improving our secondary schools from an enrollment perspective. One of them - on page 30 - says 'let's double down on our current secondary schools' and they mention certain high schools that are huge and which seem to work.

And in both board presentations that I see on this web site, I see the EMAC trustees being pretty careful to say they are presenting 'both-and' options. Nowhere does it say -- unless you have access to some materials I don't see -- that opening a new school is the ONLY option and the other one is the step-child recommendation. If you do, please share it.

And their final recommendation slide here Web Link says the EMAC trustees have surfaced 5 areas of concern that the task force should examine.

I feel too many folks here are prematurely forming conclusions and judgments that are not backed up by facts in evidence. Or they are selectively picking out this sentence or that comment and willfully ignoring the full set of recommendations. Why do we feel so keen to do this?

Let's form a task force -- as BOTH op-eds have suggested exactly suggested -- to look into the FULL range of secondary school options deeper, including a new middle and new high school. Don't allow naysayers and critics to prematurely abort the process. And let's hold our egos in check and be more civil -- wow, the name-calling in these threads are astonishing -- for the sake of our kids.


2 people like this
Posted by Long time volunteer
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Dec 5, 2015 at 8:40 pm

[Post removed.]


9 people like this
Posted by Long time volunteer
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Dec 5, 2015 at 8:46 pm

And by the way, though I have a lot of respect for Todd, I think the absolute worst possible decision that could be made at this point would be the creation of any kind of citizen task force or advisory committee so long as Max McGee is superintendent. He cannot be trusted with that kind of situation again. Certainly not.

No more citizen advisory committees. This has been an unmitigated disaster and the board would have to be insane to give McGee another bite at that apple so soon after he destroyed all sense of trust. No.

The board should just open the 13th elementary and hire an independent consultant to make enrollment projections and to make boundary adjustment recommendations to the board directly. The consultant should study Gunn and Paly and the middle schools and put together a recommendation as to what to do about the middle schools and whether or not the high schools will be able to handle projected enrollment increases and if not what some possible solutions could be to that. The board does not need a recommendation, it can just look at the options and pick one. [Portion removed.]


2 people like this
Posted by C
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Dec 5, 2015 at 9:03 pm

RE: True capacity of Paly/Gunn from here:
Web Link

Could anyone find the district's report on stated capacity? I'm a little curious as to how the capacity is capped ~2300 (at least for Paly - I don't know that much about Gunn). Is it due to lack of science labs? I doubt history/math classrooms would be the issue, given the fact that their old buildings are now in little use and the fact that those classes can be rotated more easily.


2 people like this
Posted by data digging
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 6, 2015 at 10:05 am

Barron Park Parent,

"Let's form a task force ...to look into the FULL range of secondary school options deeper, including a new middle and new high school."

That "task force" is what the EMAC committee was charged with doing back in April. Instead of staying within the lines, it went well beyond them proposing in October the why, what, how and when of a $65 million + new, small progressive 6-12 school for 700-1000 students at Cubberley (perhaps because it was urged by the Superintendent to do so) AND (this is the "both-and" you mention), for the remaining 6,000 students, suggesting rearranging chairs.

October 26 report:

EMAC recommends a $65 million + new school at Cubberley for grades 6-12 with 700-1,000 students to "provide an innovative academic curriculum, emphasizing experience-based, inquiry-oriented, team, and cross-disciplinary learning" that will "double as 'incubator' or 'innovation hub' for the rest of the district," maybe opening early as 2018.

For the rest, rather than smaller class sizes, restructure the schools into a Harry Potter like "house" system to make them feel smaller which won't cost the district a dime.

Nothing much really changed in EMAC's November report that you shared.

Read it carefully. EMAC still calls for the $65 million + progressive, small secondary school at Cubberley and chair moving for the rest because PAUSD doesn't have the money to do 'both-and' if the "and" involves reducing class size for the 6,000 students who don't go to the new school.

EMAC's tone is clear and IMHO off-putting. Instead of a call to build on excellence, EMAC paints a picture of fixing all of our broken secondary schools saying that:

- Our schools are not innovative enough, so EMAC - unquestionably going well beyond its charge here - calls for changes in how PAUSD teachers are to be hired (filtering resumes so PAUSD hires those pre-disposed toward project based learning) and seeks to eliminate pre-approvals currently needed from the "stifling innovation" board and high school instructional supervisors for innovative classroom content, practices, approaches, and

- Noting that PAUSD student connectedness rates match those at other schools in our area, says that is just not good enough for Palo Alto ("our students feel connected with their schools at about the same level as students in other nearby districts. We are not satisfied").

EMAC's November report also is evasive and, in many spots, biased.

For instance, it was asked to answer: "Is there truly demand for a choice program at the high school level among our community, which is fairly conservative and where the stakes become higher with college admissions?"

EMAC reps Mark Romer and Diane Recklis' answer: Here is what the choice school will look like and who we think will attend it.

They know the answer to the question asked of them. They have the data from their own parent survey. The answer is "no," there is not demand for this school. Only 45 or so parents said they would enroll their child in a project based learning program at the secondary school level. 75% said programs should be offered on our current campuses, not at a brand new, separate school.

The 7 paths you and EMAC say PAUSD should consider are variations of the same two ideas EMAC presented in October: One (1 below) EMAC gives tons of ink to and the other (2 below) it writes off as unsupported by EMAC's research which, based on Town Square reader comments, don't say what EMAC says they say.

In EMAC's November report:

1. "Ideas #1, 3, 4 and seemingly 7" call for the same new choice school that EMAC recommended in October: "An innovative academic curriculum, emphasizing experience-based, inquiry-oriented, team, and cross-disciplinary learning."

2. "Ideas 2, 5, and 6" are for the 6,000 other students who don't attend the new school. They say keep the same footprint (no new school). Two call for chair rearranging but no reduction in class size. One, which is new this round, says spend money on class size reduction but carries this disclaimer: it won't work because, enter selection bias again, it ignores "EMAC findings that our secondary schools are already 'too big'."

EMAC continues with its "both-and" recommendation, meaning that opening a progressive secondary school at Cubberley is, to it, non-negotiable.

----

Where does that leave the board?

Be happy that there is a lot of objective content in the EMAC report that can guide you (enrollment trends, capacity, survey results), acknowledge that some in our community want Cubberley for a progressive Wayfinder choice school, and ignore the parts of EMAC's report that are recommendations, judgmental, evasive, and biased.

If it does all of that, perhaps a new task force is not needed. The board may have all that it needs to move forward.


7 people like this
Posted by Long time volunteer
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Dec 6, 2015 at 10:19 am

Agree completely with the above post and think that the "EMAC trustees" as the "Barron Park parent" called the EMAC members (a highly revealing choice of words) should be thanked and the committee terminated.

There should be no further task force. Max McGee is not trustworthy to manage another task force as this experience shows.

Perhaps the board can decide to open a new middle school combination choice and neighborhood attendance along these lines if the middle schools are indeed overcrowded. No task force needed.

Much as I would like to see a task force addressing issues at Paly and Gunn I think the money would be better spent just reducing class sizes and not having another opportunity for a task force to be taken off the rails. the fact that McGee used this task force to try to avoid and subvert the authority of the board and create for himself an alternative power base and lobbying platform is reason enough to hold off on any new task forces or advisory committees. Trust has been too damaged for that right now.


10 people like this
Posted by Barron Park parent
a resident of Barron Park
on Dec 6, 2015 at 2:31 pm

To 'data digging' above -

I am concerned that you and others -- unlike Todd's op-ed and EMAC's op-ed -- are essentially just proposing we shut down all efforts to form task forces to improve our schools, and leave it to the District. Really? No community involvement at all in the future of our secondary schools? Shut down this whole thing now halfway through? Really?

I actually think the EMAC team did a great job in surfacing issues related to enrollment and enrollment-related issues (such as size, structure and efficacy of learning communities). These issues should be pursued harder, not just left to the District to bury and take zero action on. Including the stuff I mentioned previously upthread in their 'Section H', which I frankly find highly disturbing. See their letter.

As for what EMAC's final recommendations really are (as opposed to their October preliminary recommendations), their 'open letter' Section A and their Appendix A lays it out pretty clearly.

Web Link

Maybe we should find an opportunity (like a really exhaustive Town Hall) to ask them what they really think, as opposed to repeating outdated statements from them that seemed to represent early thinking. Even they said so at the time (i.e., Oct 26 and Nov 10).

However, I do appreciate your civil tone in this discussion. Our kids are far too important to get all emotional, rude and set hastily drawn battle-lines over. I'm just saying let's get all the facts out in the open, and forming a blue-chip task force or task forces seem to be a wonderful idea.

A dozen parents kicked off the process as EMAC trustees, but they didn't finish it. Not surprising, it's a huge job. Let's finish the job so that the Board can make some concrete decisions. No way is the Board able to make a decision immediately.


7 people like this
Posted by another teacher
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 6, 2015 at 2:44 pm

Hey, Barron Park parent. They are not EMAC "Trustees." You know this and you are purposefully using misleading language about these parent volunteers in order to increase the mantle of legitimacy you are claiming for their work. I pointed this out the first time you did it and the Moderator deleted it, probably thinking I was overreacting to your mistake. Obviously though it is not a mistake and you know it.

The reason to shut down the "citizen advisory" on this subject is exactly what is exemplified by your misleading use of the word "Trustee" which is that you are claiming for this committee a level of democratic legitimacy it does not have. They were neither elected nor appointed by anyone who was elected. The committee was volunteers and it is advising the appointed Superintendent. No one elected and no one a trustee in that entire chain.

The citizen group was intended to help the Superintendent to make a recommendation to the board regarding where attendance boundaries should be drawn and who should go where.

Instead, the superintendent for his own purposes drove the committee to a conclusion that was far far from the board charter, abused the process, abused the board, and left us in a governance crisis. There should be no further citizen committee until we have cleaned up the mess left behind by this one.

The board has to be able to trust McGee and right now it doesn't.


11 people like this
Posted by Barron Park parent
a resident of Barron Park
on Dec 6, 2015 at 3:22 pm

To 'another teacher' -

[Portion removed.] My mistake. Let's call them simply EMAC parents. I hope you realize that they have zero power to decide anything. Just that they volunteered their own time to make some recommendations here -- which you don't obviously approve of.

But that is no reason to shut down further citizens advisory committees. Just because EMAC surfaced findings, issues and recommendations you don't personally agree with. I'm personally very bothered by their Section H.

Even Todd here and the other op-ed BOTH believe we should continue with a more inclusive task force to continue to good work EMAC started. That's all.

And my other point stands: let's read what their final recommendations are before jumping to battle stations. And find a Town Hall or something to really understand what they are saying. Read them here: Web Link


10 people like this
Posted by another teacher
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 6, 2015 at 4:26 pm

I don't know if I agree or disagree with their recommendations. I haven't gotten past the fact that the process was wholly illegitimate and the recommendations should never have been made. It was improper for them to make those recommendations. So it is neither here nor there whether I or you like them or agree with them.

The problem with the citizen committee is that the superintendent abused it. That's why we can't have more. If it was up to me I would fire him tomorrow, because you can't have a CEO you don't trust. It's a fatal flaw. But I am confident that this board will not do that. So we will limp along with an untrustworthy glory hound running the district not for the benefit of the students but for the greater glory of Max. At the recent School Board conference, See: Web Link gave a panel talk about the Minority citizen committee. Has anything actually been done for minority students as yet? Has the board voted a dollar for these recommendations yet? Has any student had a learning outcome that improved yet? No. Yet there struts the peacock, using our citizens committee and our minority students for his own greater glorification. I am shocked that the board went along, they should be ashamed since they know nothing is yet even a little bit better.

Max thinks he's in a lighthouse but he should be in the dog house.

no more of these committees.


1 person likes this
Posted by Slow Down
a resident of Community Center
on Dec 6, 2015 at 5:12 pm

Slow Down is a registered user.

@another teacher - and how do you feel about having to use schoology?

It is pretty clear that progress in Palo Alto schools is crippled by obstructionist forces on all sides - scorned parents, angry teachers, petty bureaucrats. We'd be better off breaking up the district into 20 charter schools.


6 people like this
Posted by another teacher
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 6, 2015 at 5:50 pm

I love Schoology. Thank goodness for Ken Dauber and Denise Hermann.


1 person likes this
Posted by Smart smarting
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 7, 2015 at 12:39 pm

@Slow Down,
The tension of people who disagree is what makes democracy great, so long as there are mechanisms to keep the playing field fair. You have mixed cause and effect there - scorned parents and angy teachers are usually the result of petty bureaucrats. Petty bureaucrats should be fired or reformed - Public school districts are supposed to serve children and families. The conflict escalates rather than improves the situation where the mechanisms for checks and balances don't exist, as we see here. The trouble is, as is often said, absolute power makes absolute @$$holes out of otherwise good people, er, bureaucrats. We're crippled when opposing forces that normally help keep democratic organizations running optimally have little to no real balancing power. The problem is not the conflict, but the lack of mechanisms for the conflict to create efficiency and course correction.


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

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