News

Undisclosed new-school proposal sparks dissent in Palo Alto

Role of superintendent, enrollment subcommittee criticized, defended

On Tuesday, Nov. 10, early in a presentation of the Palo Alto school district's Enrollment Management Advisory Committee (EMAC) to the school board, a PowerPoint slide appeared with the colorful logo of the XQ Super School Project, a new, $50 million education initiative launched by Laurene Powell Jobs. The project's tagline: "Rethink high school."

The slide followed another that listed two preliminary recommendations of a subcommittee tasked with looking at enrollment at the middle and high school levels: The first was to open a new, innovative secondary school or schools at Cubberley Community Center and the second to "form small learning communities within our existing middle and high schools by extending the pathways that are nascent today and rolling out 'core teams' or 'house systems' systemically."

"Currently, there is a competition going to re-think high schools that's been staged by a nationally, internationally known, locally based large philanthropic organization promoting the use of student voice to innovate within high schools," said Mark Romer, a member of the EMAC secondary subcommittee and parent in the district, referring to the XQ Super School Project.

"This is just one of many examples of rethinking high school that's on the stage nationally," he continued, also pointing to a White House Summit on Next Generation High Schools that had been announced that very day. "We're seeing that this is where the energy in the community is. High school is where the national conversation is."

Absent from the rest of the presentation and subsequent board discussion on Nov. 10 was any mention of the fact that the EMAC secondary subcommittee's five members, plus Superintendent Max McGee, were part of a larger community group developing a detailed proposal for a Palo Alto Unified middle and high school to submit to the XQ competition. (Read: Who worked on the XQ application)

The chair of the secondary subcommittee, Joe Lee, later told the Weekly that this omission was not intentional, and Romer said that the group assumed McGee would inform the school board.

"We did not feel it was our role or responsibility to do so," Romer said.

However, the lack of public disclosure about the XQ application has created concern in the community over the past few weeks that there has been an inappropriate drive by a small cadre of community members toward opening a new school before the idea has even gone through the proper, democratic channels necessitated in a public school district. What's more, the involvement of the district superintendent in these efforts, and the lack of transparency over the exact nature of his actions, has raised questions as to whether he's been acting as a helpful facilitator to interested community members or an advocate for a radical new idea in a way that oversteps his role.

The XQ application, submitted on Nov. 14, only became public five days later when posted to a recently created Facebook page, "Palo Alto Supports a New 6-12 Public School." Screenshots of the application were posted in an album with the message, "We intend the new Palo Alto School to be part of the national movement to innovate secondary education."

"Our goal is to start a radically innovative school within a high-performing district and develop a blueprint for how we might bring innovation to Palo Alto Unified's more than 12,000 students and beyond," the "Wayfinder School" concept submission begins. "Our opportunity and challenge is to bring a purpose-based, personalized high school experience to a conventionally 'high achieving' district, and to do it as part of the district (not a charter) to benefit both marginalized students in the district as well as so called 'high achievers.'"

Later the application states, "With the unbelievable collection of resources in Palo Alto and Silicon Valley, we see founding this school as more than a 'the next cool thing' in Silicon Valley, but as a moral obligation."

How the XQ application came to be -- and whether it overlapped with the work of the district's enrollment committee -- has been at the center of speculation and debate.

After word of the XQ application began to spread in late November, some school board members expressed concern about the timing of the application -- before EMAC had presented its final recommendations to the board or gained board approval. Several board members said they heard about it first from community members, then in a Nov. 20 memo from McGee.

Trustee Terry Godfrey called the application "premature and a distraction."

"It's really outside our process," she told the Weekly. "We're discussing process of enrollment management, not the process of creating a whole different school. That might come out of enrollment management but that's a little bit of the cart before the horse."

To board President Melissa Baten Caswell, typical district processes went awry.

"If we had followed the process, I would have expected it to be handled differently," she said. "The board would have been aware of this. If they wanted to do this, we would have been able to give some guidance on whether it was appropriate or not appropriate."

The application's airing also fanned the flames of some internal conflict within the enrollment committee. Todd Collins, chair of the elementary subcommittee, who publicly challenged the secondary group's analysis and findings at a Nov. 10 board meeting, posted online this week an open letter to the board to express concern about the integrity of proposals from a group associated with the Wayfinder School concept and XQ application. Collins' letter is from about a dozen "community leaders, teachers, administrators, parents, and students coming together for a single purpose -- to urge the PAUSD Board to create an inclusive and impartial citizens advisory committee for improving our secondary schools." The group behind the letter is seeking signatures of support to be included in the board's packet for its Dec. 8 meeting.

"We are concerned about issues that have come to light about the EMAC's composition, analysis, and impartiality," the letter reads.

"With a majority of the secondary subcommittee identified as 'Team Members' promoting a specific new school proposal, it is impossible for the Board to rely on the group's objectivity and impartiality."

The idea for a new school has actually been gathering steam for most of this year -- with the full knowledge of McGee, who's lent his support to enthusiasts of the concept.

Romer said he first heard mention of this potential school from the superintendent in late April following a screening of the documentary "Most Likely to Succeed" at Gunn High School. (The film focuses on High Tech High, a public charter high school in San Diego.)

This film showing had been organized by members of a PAUSD parent-education committee, also with the help of Kevin Efrusy, a Palo Alto resident and partner at Accel, and his wife, Molly Efrusy, president and co-founder of the Efrusy Family Foundation. Molly is also a national advisory board member for the Haas Center for Public Service at Stanford University.

An overflow audience polled afterwards indicated overwhelming support for opening a new school in Palo Alto. Eighty-three percent of respondents said they would "probably or definitely" attend (either as a teacher, student or a parent sending their child) a new school in the district modeled after High Tech High.

McGee took notice. The next night, he sent an email to several people who organized the screening (including Romer and his wife as well as the Efrusys) and others who participated in a panel afterwards stating that he wanted to show the film to his Minority Achievement Talent Development committee, members of his leadership team and "all members of my Enrollment Management Advisory Committee, who I hope will be recommending opening of a new school."

The EMAC's first meeting, in fact, was only the week prior, on April 20. It had begun with the charge "to prepare multiple, strategic, evidence-based, actionable recommendations that will enable the district to design, develop, and implement short- and long-term plans for accommodating projected PAUSD enrollment consistent with PAUSD educational standards."

In late May and early June, Romer said he participated in brainstorming sessions at the Stanford University d.school to create a set of cards promoting the Wayfinder School concept. (One of the cards reads: "What if ... Palo Alto harnessed the creative horsepower of our community and crafted a radically new school that became an innovation hub for public education?")

Romer said McGee was aware of these sessions, but did not attend any that Romer did. Romer said he and the Efrusys eventually showed McGee the cards on June 11.

McGee told the Weekly he "thought they were terrific." He then shared copies of the cards with the school board at a June 17 retreat, briefly mentioning the Wayfinder concept and a desire to take advantage of Cubberley as part of a discussion of board goals for the 2015-16 year. He also shared the cards with the Palo Alto Council of PTAs, administrators and others throughout the summer, he said.

That June, McGee also asked Romer and the Efrusys to present the Wayfinder concept to the entire enrollment management committee, along with district leadership. Several secondary-school principals attended. The goal, the presenters said, was to open a 6-12 school at Cubberley by the fall of 2017, according to district minutes from the June 15 meeting.

Romer, who was not initially a member of the EMAC, attended the group's next meeting on June 29 to talk further about the Wayfinder concept -- at McGee's request, he said. McGee opened the meeting by explaining the "confluence of events" that had led to the creation of EMAC in April: rising enrollment, particularly at the middle schools; a "renewed emphasis" on student mental health and wellness; the groundswell of support for a progressive school indicated at the "Most Likely to Succeed" screening; "competition from other innovative programs" and an "appetite for innovative schools."

"All these events kind of came together and intrigued me enough to meet with Mark, some folks from the d.school, Carol Dweck at Stanford, some potential funders ... to think of a big vision for what a new school would look like," McGee said. He and Romer both said the d.school would provide a fellow to work with the district to design a new school.

The enthusiasm for an innovative new school was not universally embraced, however. At that June 29 meeting, other EMAC members questioned whether this was the charge of their group of 11 parent volunteers. They also cautioned against opening a new, small school that would benefit only a few families in the district and leave the majority of students in schools still too large.

EMAC member Todd Collins suggested that the topic of a new, innovative school is "in some ways too important for this committee" and would require an entirely separate committee's attention.

"It would be presumptive in some ways to say, 'Let's create a new school and the new school should look like this,'" Collins said.

Diane Reklis, EMAC co-chair and former school board member, said, "It's important to discuss if we're the right committee to do this work."

But, she added later, whatever they recommend, "It has to be big. ... We're tired of Band-Aids. We aren't a great district when we just have Band-Aids that are obscuring the light of the lighthouse. We've been doing Band-Aids since I can remember."

Others agreed. Wendy Ho told the group: "One of the reasons I applied to the committee was because I thought we'd be doing something different, big, creative."

The idea that the EMAC might explore the possibility of a new school didn't sit well with at least one school board member. On June 30, Caswell, in response to an email from McGee recapping the June 29 meeting, expressed disagreement with looking at what she called a long-term solution instead of focusing on problem identification and more immediate solutions.

"I have heard concerns from the community about the role of this committee," she wrote. "There are basic problems in the short to medium term that we need solved quickly around basic capacity issues, availability of classrooms/buildings, how to deal with the new kids coming in from Stanford new construction, what to do about our large and growing middle school population, the large waiting lists for some of our choice programs and how much annual operating budget we feasibly have to solve these issues. Do you feel the committee has a clear enough charter and capacity to make recommendations on this?"

"It is really important that we solve the short term looming problems," she wrote, "before we move those problem-solving resources to long-term visionary planning."

The EMAC's secondary subcommittee members today worry that the subtlety and evolution of their recommendations have been lost in the brouhaha over the potential of a new school in Palo Alto and McGee's role.

Subcommittee chair Lee wrote in an email to the Weekly that his team saw -- and still sees -- the XQ application as "a completely separate and orthogonal process to the mainline EMAC workstream -- that is, a quick submission due by Nov. 15 to preserve our option value for non-taxpayer money if the Board chose to go down that road."

Committee members have repeatedly emphasized that they are not asking the board to approve the opening of a new school, but instead the creation of a design task force. This group, made up of a more diverse set of stakeholders (including students and educators) than the 11 parents on the current enrollment committee, would be better suited to the task of delving deeper into the details, such as curriculum and pedagogy, of a potential new secondary school, they said.

They are also recommending what they repeatedly describe as a "both, and" approach so as to not leave the current secondary schools behind. If approved, the design task force would also be tasked with investigating and recommending what reforms are most needed at the district's existing middle and high schools.

Yet community members, and even a fellow EMAC member, have questioned the efficacy of the secondary subcommittee's "both, and" approach. If the process to open an exciting -- and costly -- new school is approved, will the existing schools really get the attention they deserve?

Collins spoke during open forum at the Nov. 10 board meeting to challenge the secondary group's data analysis -- particularly that the district's secondary schools are too large -- and recommendations.

"But so what, right? There's a school of thought that even if their recommendation is completely wrong, what's the worst thing that can happen?" Collins said. "We build a new school. Capital costs are viewed by many people as practically free. We're told that there are donors waiting in the wings to fund part or all of a new school. So why would anybody be against building a new, innovative school?

"I actually think a lot is at stake," he continued. "We are not a district that's light on its feet. We spent three years debating the school calendar. The decision to open a new secondary school, the bond to fund it, the design of the building, choice versus neighborhood enrollment, the impact of traffic -- not to mention, that's even before you get to the new educational program that would be there. This program would consume our complete attention for the entire next five to seven years, plus in turn, our entire current budget surplus for every year thereafter."

Collins later sent the board a 16-page report detailing his critiques of the secondary group's analysis and findings. He followed that with the open letter to the school board -- for which Collins is currently collecting signatures -- in which he writes that the secondary group's involvement in the XQ proposal makes it "impossible for the Board to rely on the group's objectivity and impartiality."

Lee rebuffs assumptions that his subcommittee had "some pre-ordained nefarious motive" in submitting the XQ application as "absurd and simply is not true," he said.

"It seems that some folks are so keen to derail even the POSSIBILITY of investing in new PAUSD secondary schools that they are claiming to see shadows where there are exactly none," Lee wrote in an email. "I see a lot of rushing to judgment and prematurely girding for battle when the only 'ask' from the EMAC secondary team is for the board to kick off a design task force, who should be commissioned to continue the work EMAC-SSS (secondary schools subcommittee) has started on the 'why' by investigating the 'what' and the 'how' ... so that the Board can be ready to make a set of go/no-go decisions by summer 2016."

Last week, McGee decided to cancel a town hall meeting on the entire enrollment committee's recommendations scheduled for Nov. 30, citing new survey data that needed to be analyzed. He also postponed the delivery of the EMAC's final report to the board, originally scheduled for Dec. 8, to Jan. 12.

He wrote in a Nov. 23 message to the board that "EMAC still has much work to do prior to issuing their final report, and they have not yet finalized either the scenarios or recommendations in this report." The committee will meet twice before making these final recommendations, on Monday, Dec. 14, and Monday, Jan. 4, at the district office.

"Please note," McGee continued, "that I have not finalized my recommendations and will not do so until I have had the opportunity to evaluate pros and cons, fully understand costs and benefits, listen to community members, and ultimately recommend what I believe will be in the best short and long term interest of our current and future students, families, faculty and staff, and taxpayers."

McGee said he was "without a doubt" an objective, neutral participant in the EMAC process.

Romer -- whose involvement in the schools had previously been minimal beyond his own children -- told the Weekly said McGee's willingness to connect outside efforts with district processes is something to be lauded, not questioned.

"The overriding theme that connects Wayfinder, EMAC and XQ is that Max wanted to have the debate inside the proper channels of the district, rather than outside the process. Personally, I view that as a very positive sign of Max's leadership," he said. "He has at every turn welcomed outside ideas and connected them with in-district processes and people. My sense is that he has always been neutral on the outcome, not championing the idea of a new school, but he has been inclusive in the process and guided the conversation within the district's processes."

Related content:

Who worked on the XQ application?

Guest Opinion: Task force needed to analyze school ideas

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

Editorial: It's the secrecy, stupid

Behind the Headlines: New school proposed for Palo Alto

Comments

82 people like this
Posted by Barron Park parent
a resident of Barron Park
on Dec 4, 2015 at 8:41 am

Boy, this really seems like a big ado about nothing. The XQ application is for free, private money, and there was a near-term deadline that had to be met - November 15.

Getting parents, community members and Stanford parties quickly together to apply for the XQ money -- on their own time I must add -- seems like a smart thing to do, not a bad thing. If Palo Alto missed the Nov 15 deadline for initial concept submission, we would have lost our chance for this free XQ money forever.

Does everyone realize the application doesn't place any obligations on the District to continue with XQ when the actual application is due next March? This is just a placeholder, holding our place in line. We can always walk off the line if we don't want to proceed.

And the XQ application doesn't say it is for a charter school. It is for a public secondary school. People need to read it before jumping to conclusions.

Finally the XQ concept submission seems like a completely different animal than the EMAC work. Just because EMAC parents were invited to participate in the XQ work -- after the Oct 26 presentation to the Board -- doesn't mean they shouldn't have do so. Nor should it say -- as Todd Collins does -- that it taints all of the EMAC work.

BTW, if Todd Collins had so many concerns about EMAC and its composition, he should have said so far earlier.... wasn't he the leader of one of the EMAC teams? It makes no sense to me that Todd would not say anything until 7 months after the EMAC started meeting, at the 11th hour.

Kicking off a Design Task Force to go deeper in the five areas of concern that the EMAC found seems like a great idea to me. Why not do that? It is time for the Board members to lead our community, and not fan flames or dissent. Otherwise we need a new Board.

There is a lot more here: Web Link


52 people like this
Posted by Another Skelly???
a resident of JLS Middle School
on Dec 4, 2015 at 8:59 am

If this is such a great thing, why all the secrecy? What was there to hide??

Did we mistakenly hire a Skelly-clone???


34 people like this
Posted by Real American
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Dec 4, 2015 at 10:38 am

the idea that there's no harm in just building a new school is laughable. Even if the construction costs were donated by private parties, there would still be a long term financial commitment to operate it.


36 people like this
Posted by tired of the same
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 4, 2015 at 10:50 am

I would argue there IS harm in NOT building a new school. Educational research is thorough. Our schools do not look the way they should. The fact is, Paly and Gunn cannot completely reform how they function - not all parents want what is needed, not all teachers are committed to teaching these ways. Choice is the only way to provide the opportunities we should be while not completely crashing the system.
Of course there is a financial cost. What is the cost of not considering it?


39 people like this
Posted by Free Beer
a resident of Green Acres
on Dec 4, 2015 at 11:11 am

There is no such thing as free. Your free school building is not free in order to staff and maintain. Are we to suppose there are no strings attached to donations of large sums of money?


21 people like this
Posted by Play It Again Sam
a resident of Community Center
on Dec 4, 2015 at 11:25 am

Usual Palo Alto Process. Too many argumentative smart people obstructing progress.


40 people like this
Posted by Community Center Parent
a resident of Community Center
on Dec 4, 2015 at 11:37 am

I think it is this article sparking dissent. Which is a disservice to our community.

I like to hear that there are efforts afoot exploring options for PAUSD. I don't see anything wrong with opening doors. I do see something wrong with shutting down real discussion about how to move PAUSD forward just to create a news-worthy story and get readers heckles up.

No money has been committed to date. No decisions have been made. Let's keep talking and see where we can go!


8 people like this
Posted by outsider
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Dec 4, 2015 at 11:42 am

glad to see they just did it. At least they are trying to go outside of the outdated bubble people that like to stay detached. These kids HAVE to be able to compete with other districts that are willing to update their schools.


39 people like this
Posted by Leigh Metzler
a resident of Leland Manor/Garland Drive
on Dec 4, 2015 at 11:54 am

This article is misleading about the facts. Dr. McGee spoke at a PTA meeting before heading off to a summit for school officials in San Diego.He explained the submission was for the most preliminary stage: an option to submit a later proposal for a grant. In other words, an ability to enter a proposal that would be a collaboration of many groups and interested parties in Palo Alto. There is NO commitment to proceed. However, if we didn't have our hat in the ring, there was a lost opportunity. The submission has created an option for a public school to create the school of tomorrow instead of a magnet or private school. If we want to lead instead of follow, we can take our place as a leader in education preparing students for future jobs that haven't even been created yet. Let the discourse begin.


48 people like this
Posted by Jonathan Brown
a resident of Ventura
on Dec 4, 2015 at 12:04 pm

Making extraordinary efforts to improve our schools ought to be commended, not criticized. There's no cover-up, at least in what's been reported here. We're all talking about this out in the open, so let's focus on the ideas and real work of making the schools better for the best performers, the worst performers, and everyone in between. Spinning this as some sort of scandal seems wrong and destructive.


20 people like this
Posted by OPar
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Dec 4, 2015 at 12:08 pm

I don't think McGee is like Skelley, who pretty much took the path of least resistance, hid from problems (until he couldn't) and helped create the mega-elementary situation begun Mary Frances Callan.

Of course, some of the members of our do-nothing ineffective board are complaining.

There's such a fear of innovation and change here--funny in the middle of Silicon Valley. So much so that even the attempt to make change possible by filing the application meets with howls of suspicion.

Our high schools turn out very good test-takers, but the push to achieve in a limited way hinders exploration and love of learning. We have an opportunity to change this.


39 people like this
Posted by another teacher
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 4, 2015 at 12:31 pm

I used to live in a very poor neighborhood and if you have ever lived in an old apartment building then you know what happens when you flip on the light switch in the kitchen at night. That's what one would have expected to happen here. But it didn't. Instead the cockroaches seem to be fighting back.

A new development is the posting of the secondary committee's "Letter" and final recommendation, that were posted to the district website conveniently late Thursday night, obviously after this story went to the printer and it was too late to fact check or report on this startling document.

The most charitable description of this document one can possibly make is "self-aggrandizing." These individuals, their egos, their grandiosity -- it is hard to understand where the directive, condescending, and massively deluded tone that this group of 5 random parents is taking with the elected Board of Trustees -- is coming from. I believe that the best bet, having read everything, is that it is coming from Max McGee.

I feel profoundly unsettled and disturbed after reading it, and I invite you to read it and think about the massive failures of management, leadership, and transparency that Max McGee has generated in order to lead up to a moment when a document like this one has been created and placed on the district website.

First of all, this document flatly and on its face violates the Brown Act. It is a district-generated document, written, produced, promulgated, and given to the Board by an "official" of the district, that is, by the chairs of the EMAC committee, who are acting in their official capacity as the chairs of a district committee and all the members of that committee (though Max appears now to have wiped away his own membership on that committee and is not listed, he is of course still a member of it, itself an irregularity that he is a member of a committee that is advising himself. This ham-fisted effort to wipe away his fingerprints is a fail.)

This document its face summarizes conversations had with each board member privately and then communicates the views of board members collectively to the entire board.

Max McGee either did know or should have known that this document was being placed on the district website, and what it said. Max McGee is responsible for the conduct of this committee, which he personally sits on and chairs. Max McGee is responsible for this violation of the Brown Act [portion removed.]

Cal. Gov. Code 54952.2 provides that "(2) Paragraph (1) shall not be construed as preventing an employee or official of a local agency, from engaging in separate conversations or communications outside of a meeting authorized by this chapter with members of a legislative body in order to answer questions or provide information regarding a matter that is within the subject matter jurisdiction of the local agency, if that person does not communicate to members of the legislative body the comments or position of any other member or members of the legislative body."

Please note the last section "if that person does not communicate to members of the legislative body the comments or position of any other member or members of the legislative body." That is the entire purpose of the EMAC committee, writing in its official capacity (as "officials" of the district on the district's own website) to the board -- to communicate the views of the individual board members to the group as a whole.

Please turn to page 1 of the EMAC's letter to the board:

"Thank you for the opportunity to discuss the findings and recommendations of the Enrollment Management Advisory Committee, Secondary Schools Subcommittee (henceforth “EMAC-SSS”) at the School Board meetings on October 26 and November 10 AND IN OUR SUBSEQUENT MEETINGS WITH EACH OF YOU INDIVIDUALLY."

The EMAC-SSS would like to more fully address a set of questions and ASSERTIONS THAT EMERGED IN THOSE MEETINGS.
. . .

D. Rumors of a charter school initiative A narrative HAS SURFACED IN OUR CONVERSATIONS WITH SEVERAL SCHOOL BOARD MEMBERS THAT AN INITIATIVE TO ESTABLISH A CHARTER SCHOOL IS EITHER UNDERWAY OR THAT THE CURRENT DIALOGUE TO IMPROVE OUR SECONDARY SCHOOLS IS REMINISCENT OF PRIOR CHARTER SCHOOL DISCUSSIONS." . . . We urge the School Board to monitor its own rhetoric about charter schools. Please do not incite the community to retreat to entrenched positions, to rush to judgment, to prematurely gird for battle, or succumb to fear that is perpetuated solely by speculation and rumor." (see page 3)

page 6
"The EMAC-SSS team urges the Board to empower a properly constituted Design Task Force to propose creative solutions to manage the costs associated with fulfilling the recommendations. Clearly, the Board cannot make a fair, data-based decision about building a new school until it has empowered a team to delve deeper. AS ONE BOARD MEMBER PUT IT, EXPLORE CREATIVE SOLUTIONS WITH THE CITY OF PALO ALTO."

There are many other examples of the sharing of board member views, and the expression of belief that there is a concurrence among board members for many goals and statements in the letter. This letter is not merely misguided and deluded, it is illegal and it should be taken off the district's website immediately. It is totally improper for the district to place on its website a document that purports to summarize for all board members the views of board members collected in private one on one meetings to all board members on a subject that is not only before the board but one on which the letter (and the superintendent) are asking that action be taken at an upcoming meeting.

Ok. Wow.

Now, to matters of veracity.

In this letter there are many statements that are demonstrably false, self-aggrandizing, and grandiose. To select just one of these, almost at random the letter states that: a member of the committee "helped build and deliver a presentation to the School Board last June to envision what a new school might achieve."

This refers to Mark Romer, [portion removed], and echoes a claim made by both Romer and McGee about a set of "cards" that McGee handed out to the board on June 17 at its retreat. You can watch a video of this meeting here: Web Link, and you can see the entire discussion of this topic at 1:47. Significantly as regards this letter, Romer does not help to "deliver" this presentation. That is just flatly false. He is not in the video, he does not speak, he does not speak during public comment, he is not there. He did not help deliver the presentation. That is false. There was one public speaker at this meeting, at the beginning of the meeting, a woman from the CAC. Did. not. happen.

OK. But what did happen is very interesting, given how it diverges from McGee's claim in the Weekly story that he "mentioned the Wayfinder concept." Actually, also not true. What McGee actually said was:

"what if we had a K-12 Cubberley, what if we had a 6-12, and what if had a 6-12, what if he had a k-8 I’ll pass these out at the end, so we had the d-school, we had a couple of venture capitalists, and they said you just be bold enough, you don't need to worry worry about the funding for this, laughter, there are people in this community who will make this happen, and they actually developed these cards, and these are people working on the Stanford 2025 as well, um, so this is their presentation, I’ll pass it out, this was their idea . . the committee ended up doing a little activity as well and I invited administrators to attend and some other parents that have expressed an interest in supporting a new school but a different kind of new school. . ." Then when he passed out his draft goals for the year, he included the stack of cards, and said "these too, these are from the design school folks."

These highly nonspecific, rambling, and confused sentences seeming to be talking about something other people were doing at Stanford or something, who knows, along with some cards printed up with inspirational slogans or whatever were dropped into a five hour discussion of district focused goals. None of the board comments following this indicated any understanding of any kind that there was a full-on effort then underway to propose and plan a new 6-12 school along the lines of specific curriculum. The actual comments from Caswell, Dauber, and Godfrey were pretty muted and urged McGee to do the bread and butter work of the district particularly concerning enrollment.

Nor did the focused goal adopted by the board show any indication of what McGee was really doing: "Based on the recommendations from the Enrollment Management Advisory Committee (EMAC) to design, develop, and begin implementing a strategic enrollment management plan which includes expanding or enhancing choice programming, reorganizing schools and spaces within them aligned with community values (in BP 7110), and developing Cubberley and/or other District-owned facilities in an innovative manner aligned with the District's vision and Strategic Plan goals. (A, B, D1, and D2).

How did I find this stuff in the 15 hours of video? The agenda item was "Visioning" (and that is all it said) and the only reason I figured out to look there is that is exactly the kind of nonsense word Romer and the EMAC and their Field of Dreams school seem to associate themselves with. The very idea that the word "Visioning" on the agenda could be enough to put any member of the public on notice that the Superintendent had allied himself with a group of wealthy private individuals and was planning to build this new school basically behind the backs of the board (the Weekly's terms not mine, moderator) is delusional.

In sum, these guys had a plan back in June, they threw some slogan cards at the board, [portion removed], and now we have a fully formed proposal for a new school. Now the board is literally being bullied by this group in writing on the district website -- being told what the other board member views are, the law is being broken, and they are harranging the board members to "lead" and to "just do it," and to "watch their own communications."

The incredible chutzpah of this group --including McGee -- to tell the board that it should respect democracy and learn to lead and watch how it communicates is boggling. [Portion removed.]

I do not personally see how McGee can be retained unless he immediately terminates all connection to this group, throws their work in the trash, and starts from scratch. We should not have any further "citizen advisory committees" and he needs badly to either rebuild trust with the board and community or [portion removed] head back to Palatine.


17 people like this
Posted by Marc Vincenti
a resident of Gunn High School
on Dec 4, 2015 at 12:34 pm

Dear Fellow Onliners,

I wish that the planning process behind this proposed "radical" project had been put on the table for all to see. I agree with the Weekly's editorial. Superintendent McGee owes us a great deal more clarity.

Even then, though, we'd be wise to "wait and see." During his tenure so far, Mr. McGee's foundational convictions have often been obscure and it's been hard to know which of his statements to take to the bank.

In October, Mr. McGee stalled his own momentum on hiring in-house counsel. In September, he proclaimed cheating in our high schools a problem of premier importance, but at the next board meeting brushed it aside, saying he's learned of no "outright cheating," only minor infractions.

Last April he went back on a promise to Gunn students to hear them out on zero period. At a March board meeting, after a reference to the "dark hour" of the previous day's suicide, his Superintendent's Report was given over to awards and tributes, joking and banter.

For months, Mr. McGee failed to initiate a legally-required Uniform Complaint Procedure in a case of possible sexual harassment. In February, he staged a public forum with a panel of experts billed as "Let's Talk: A Community Conversation," but the audience arrived -- after the school year's third death -- to find an event structured to prevent them from uttering a word.

And regularly last school year he called for "an expanded definition of success" for our students (one less focused on high achievement) even as, in front of the Board room cameras, he celebrated high-schoolers who had excelled nationally and internationally.

The Weekly and Ms. Kadvany are to be celebrated for shining a spotlight into the behind-the-scenes dark. We need vigorous scrutiny of this project, and of the beliefs and convictions of those who are advancing it, before any expensive blueprints are drawn up or the "Building for the Future" construction signs are in place.

Sincerely,
Marc Vincenti
Gunn English Dept. (1995-2010)
Campaign Coordinator
Save the 2,008
-- creating hope for Palo Alto's high-schoolers


13 people like this
Posted by Jerry Underdal
a resident of Barron Park
on Dec 4, 2015 at 1:27 pm

Jerry Underdal is a registered user.

Contests and competitions to stimulate projects that would otherwise not be seriously entertained has its place. But not as a factor in possibly rushing a decision for PAUSD. I hope Palo Alto will take its time to decide how to spend our money on the best education for our kids and back away from the contest deadline talk. There are many school districts where innovators may need that kind of external enticement to get support for change, but Palo Alto isn't one of them. I like the idea of a Design Task Force to get clarification on what is being proposed, without any presupposition that this plan is being advantaged over other ideas for addressing schools' needs.

Then we can have the debate we need.


24 people like this
Posted by PAUSD Parent
a resident of Midtown
on Dec 4, 2015 at 2:19 pm

I support exploring new ideas for PAUSD - especially if it means rethinking our current teaching process.

I don't support starting a new school without going through the democratic process.

This does seem to be much-a-do about nothing and I encourage PAUSD to spend money to investigate better teaching methods and best practices. The results from this preliminary work will only contribute to improvement in our schools.

As long as the information is available to the public and there is an open dialog vs. cloaked in secrecy then it will ultimately be good for the district.


35 people like this
Posted by Barron Park dad
a resident of Barron Park
on Dec 4, 2015 at 4:10 pm

This controversy is so over-the-top Palo Alto silly. Would it have been better if Dr. McGee has told the community in advance? Yes. But so what? Exactly no one is saying that this XQ thing is anything but a placeholder to potentially get free private money. It doesn't commit the District to anything down the road, or prevents it from pulling out. Just imagine what the local newspaper headlines would have been if Dr. McGee had completely missed the deadline! Shoot, if the PAUSD Board feels so strongly about it, then simply pull out of XQ now. But I don't hear anyone asking for that.

Here is the far bigger strategic issue: Todd Collins and other clever citizens are claiming 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.... partially because the District has recently spent $50M on the middle schools and $200M on the high schools toward that end.

The community really needs to urge the PAUSD Board to authorize a blue-chip task force if only to inspect this claim. If what the EMAC team says below is true, the 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."


13 people like this
Posted by Marc Vincenti
a resident of Gunn High School
on Dec 4, 2015 at 4:51 pm

P.S. For anyone interested, here is the address for Todd Collins' open letter to school officials (mentioned in the article):

Web Link


17 people like this
Posted by GraceBrown
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Dec 4, 2015 at 8:41 pm

GraceBrown is a registered user.

Mixing public funds with private gain is always problematic. As I understand it, Dr. McGee is a veteran of the educational wars in the midwest. No doubt, we do things differently out here on the left coast.


23 people like this
Posted by Another teacher
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 4, 2015 at 8:55 pm

The letter to the Board that violates the Brown Act is gone. Given the ridiculous offensive tone and content I hope that they do not simply delete the illegal sentences but just think the better of the whole thing.

Stick a fork in the EMAC. It's done.


19 people like this
Posted by parent
a resident of Evergreen Park
on Dec 4, 2015 at 10:12 pm

maybe the school district will do it right and take back the middle school athletics. under the current system--run by government- it is too cumbersome and not beneficial for the students. it is presently a money maker for the City. uniforms are a disgrace. there is no equipment -or very little--some teams get at the most one or two balls for the entire team. coaching is a joke. most of the teams in the present league alignment are atrocious and not worth the time of going to the games. time for the school district to take control of its own student activities.


8 people like this
Posted by time tells
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 5, 2015 at 8:49 am

Parents

By last April parents had already begun building support for a progressive secondary charter school, posting about it immediately after the Efrusy's brought the movie "Most Likely to Succeed" to a parent education event that month. Dr. McGee was on the panel speaking at the showing, along with folks mentioned in the XQ Wayfinder application like Sal Khan, Lazlo Bock, and Esther Wojcicki.

Palo Alto Online posts from "Parent from JLS" in April:

"We've been talking to McGee all year about innovating ...his wonderful openness about it comes across as window dressing as he is then undermined by his staff and every lead is blocked."

"McGee cannot do everything himself. Perhaps a secondary charter school cannot be launched by 2015-16. Perhaps it can. Many hands make light work ...It really comes down to commitment at this point"

Web Link


12 people like this
Posted by time tells
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 5, 2015 at 8:59 am

Superintendent McGee

The Weekly reports that Dr. McGee said he was "'without a doubt' an objective, neutral participant in the EMAC process."

If that means he had no involvement in what showed up in the committee's recommendation, that does not seem to jive with what the Weekly uncovered which is basically that Efrusy's movie moved him to action.

The day after the film was shown Dr. McGee reached out to the Efrusys and Mark Romer saying that he, McGee, wants to show the movie to the PAUSD Enrollment Committee (EMAC) and expressed his hope that EMAC "will be recommending opening of a new school."

The process started a few weeks later:

1. Stanford d. school was engaged to design a new PAUSD progressive secondary school, with Dr. McGee's knowledge. (Romer lectures there Web Link).

The d.school provided a fellow to design the new school; presumably this was the d. school chap who lobbied the school board for a new school at its October 26 meeting, a meeting he said someone told him to speak at.

2. Dr. McGee, brainstorming about "a big vision [about what] a new school would look like" with Mark Romer, Stanford Ed School faculty, and folks who might be able to fund it, invited Romer and the Efrusys to EMAC's June meeting to present the new PAUSD progressive secondary Wayfinder school concept to it.

Dr. McGee instructed the committee that day that its charge included addressing "the groundswell of support for a progressive school indicated at the 'Most Likely to Succeed' screening [and our community's] 'appetite for innovative schools.'" - a 6-12 school at Cubberley that could be opened as early as 2017.

3. By June concerns about this pivot were presented to Dr. McGee and the committee - was this new school within the charge of the committee? what about equity issues if the district opens a new school just for a few? what about focusing on solving the immediate issues students in our schools are facing before working on a long term vision?

4. Those concerns did not alter their course.

In October, EMAC's preliminary report to the board recommended that the board approve a new, small progressive 6-12 school at Cubberley.

In early November, over half of the EMAC secondary committee members - Joe Lee, Diane Reklis, and Mark Romer, with the help of Dr. McGee, the Efrusys, Stanford d. school's Susie Wise and lecturer Patrick Cook-Deegan - prepared an 8 page XQ grant application for this new school.

In the meantime, EMAC's final report to the board, initially scheduled to be presented to the community and board next Tuesday, was postponed since EMAC wasn't able to finish its work for PAUSD that month.


12 people like this
Posted by time tells
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 5, 2015 at 9:07 am

PAUSD Secondary EMAC Committee

All of the above was happening while the EMAC secondary school committee, which Romer and McGee sat on, was formulating its recommendations.

The committee's October recommendation included building this new school, which is at odds with the Weekly's reporting that "committee members have repeatedly emphasized that they are not asking the board to approve the opening of a new school, but instead the creation of a design task force."

and

EMAC Committee Chair Lee's comments that "the only 'ask' from the EMAC secondary team is for the board to kick off a design task force" denying that his committee suggested the 'what' or the 'how'" of the new school.

Take a look at Lee's EMAC report's October recommendations in slides the committee entitled "WHAT" and "HOW":

"what" and "how" - open new secondary school(s) at Cubberley grades 6-12 with 700-1,000 students that will "provide an innovative academic curriculum, emphasizing experience-based, inquiry-oriented, team, and cross-disciplinary learning" and will "double as 'incubator' or 'innovation hub' for the rest of the district"

and even the "when" - suggests that the new school could be opened as early as Fall 2018.

Web Link

Web Link


16 people like this
Posted by Yet another parent
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 5, 2015 at 9:08 am

@parent Ecpvergreen,
You make a really good point, but I wouldn't blame the City for stepping up where the school district has failed. Our school district is as major an economic concern as our entire City. Yet, despite a more than a third if a billion dollar facilities bond, still operates mostly in aging, ugly facilities with a nice coat of very expensive lipstick. If you look at state estimates for the cost to build new facilities even in expensive places, why didn't we mostly get new schools? (I'm not suggesting malfeasance, but Zi am suggesting poor management of resources characteristic of this district that feels it can always get more money from the public.)

We have one of the biggest operating budgets in the state, but no afterschool programs for elementary (save for a few private ones, if allowed), and practically none at middle school. The City rec dept has to run the athletic program, for a high fee, and spots are limited. There are no intramural sports at the high school level to help kids make sport a more regular part of their lives. Where is all this money really going? Where is the resolve or even the mechanisms to allow the public to demand better stewardship of resources? The reality us that the favilities bond could already have rebuilt Cubberly, but they didn't because they knew the public was always good for more. But the result of the public never demanding accountability is that for all thatmoney, we get worse and worse, as you highlighted in your post, parent.


18 people like this
Posted by Outsider
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Dec 5, 2015 at 10:05 am

I am seeing this move as a way to take all the low kids, kids of color and gifted kids who can not stand to follow the ridiculous rubrics at the other 2 high schools. Taking these students and families aside will allow the other 2 schools to still work the poop out or their students and tell them to go to the Wayfare school if they can not handle it.

Kim Diorio has hopped onto the new key words, "vision and voice" She even googled the translation for "voice of the student" for the school meetings and poll. It is a new group called Vox studentium.. she did not realize that google translate for Latin does not work. (Any Latin student knows this) I hope she will not be in charge of any curriculum at any new school. [Portion removed.]

Why are they using an old language to promote innovation. I would totally go to any school with a Latin curriculum. I would have proposed a school that you could send kids to and the teachers would know their subject and the craft of teaching so the kids did not have to design curriculum and parents could just trust that kids were getting educated. Where is that school?

Why are they making teaching such an elusive mystery and why should kids have to now, along with all their other duties, design a school? I changed my mind after reading posts and thought about how this affects the other static, problematic schools will stay that way and more kids will have the same experiences that others have suffered. I think there has already been a very clear, loud, tragic, screaming, disturbing voice of children suffering that has been put into the "resiliency" box and ignored. All the schools need to change even if they all become new charters.


21 people like this
Posted by Another teacher
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 5, 2015 at 10:14 am

Laughably, the EMAC put the letter back up. The denigratory, hectoring tone is the same, but now they deleted the language that violates the Brown Act, changing it to "in open session" or simply to passive voice things that were heard without saying "from board members in private meetings."

This is an amateur job that is unsuccessful in covering their tracks completely, and still violates the Brown Act. [Portion removed.]

The letter now says that:

1. (Page 1)"We heard positive feedback from the Board in open public session on the following aspects of our recommendations, and specifically, Board members said that our recommendations:

Presented concrete options to actively reduce the aggregate enrollment in each of our middle and high schools."

The problem of course is that no board member said that. Not a single board member said this in open session. What they said was actually the opposite of this -- that the envisioned size of this school was so small that it would not in fact reduce the size of the school sufficiently to reduce any crowding in the middle schools or high schools (if any exists). The most supportive board member, Camille Townsend, said that she would need to in fact see where the students would come from and what the ultimate impact of the enrollment of a choice program would be before she could say whether or not she would think it would work as an enrollment tool, and that she wanted answers to those questions. If they were provided in the one-on-one meeting and she expressed this view privately, then of course this still violates the Brown Act.

You can't solve a problem of revealing board member views expressed privately to other board members by simply lying about where the views were expressed. Unless you are the EMAC committee and Max McGee, a group whose hold on the truth is tenuous as best (see above for Romer's claim to have "helped to deliver" a presentation to the board in June, by which I guess he means he drove the cards from the printer over to 25 Churchill Street and "delivered" them).

2. (Page 2) "After hearing the EMAC-SSS draft recommendations, several Board members questioned in open public session whether we went beyond the scope of our charter, given our committee contains the label
"œenrollment".

Ken Dauber is the only board member who questioned this in open public session. Others probably did privately after having a chance to think about his comments and learn about the XQ proposal. So, again, this is [portion removed] intended to cover up a legal violation of the Brown Act.

3. (page 6)"[Board member comments removed pending Brown Act review] We heard divergent points of view on the ability to innovate within existing schools, and the pace at which innovations could be driven in our District. The EMAC-SSS agrees, this point is debatable."

Page 6-7 has a number of these "Board member comments removed pending Brown Act review" parentheticals that are weirdly followed by the exact comments that they should have removed. The comments that were "removed" and the comments that are left in place are all board member comments, many of which were never expressed in open session. For example this one:

"[Board member comments removed pending Brown Act review] We heard some questions regarding the ability of our District to manage change, and that even the exploration of opening new secondary schools will divert attention away from improving our existing schools."

The above comment was expressed by zero board members in open session. EMAC members doubtless know which board member said it and where and when and so does that board member. It was not in open public session.

This is a pile of arrogant, self-serving, illegal, garbage. Board members are strongly advised not to read this letter, or to consider its comments and it is an absolute travesty that Dr. McGee would post this semi-abusive rant to the district website, slamming board members for having the temerity to question their recommendations or to talk with community members. This letter is both illegal and obnoxious.

The worst part of it (apart from the Brown Act violations [portion removed) is this:

(page 4):

"The point is this: the EMAC, the School Board and other community members may have different points of view, but we believe we all have the best of intentions. This is democracy at work. Again, we urge
the School Board to monitor its own rhetoric on these matters, and as community leaders, model productive dialogue for all."

This is not "democracy at work." Democracy at work is when you run for election. Mark Romer, run for school board and win an election. If a majority of the 40,000 voters of PAUSD want to build a choice school [portion removed], then you will win. [Portion removed.]




65 people like this
Posted by Facts, not claims
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Dec 5, 2015 at 10:56 am

I feel the EMAC team did a really wonderful job so far, but clearly there is a lot more to do before the Board can make a decision. By all means, let's kick off a Design Task Force.

But this name calling, negativity, premature judgment and entrenched battle positions has SIMPLY. GOT. TO. STOP. for the sake of our kids. Think beyond your own interests. Allow the follow-on task force to do their job.

The EMAC's full letter to the Board is worth reading at the URL below. There is a lot of nuance and thoughtful suggestions there worth investigating. Most troubling is the Section G about the potential bond expenditures that Todd Collins looked over. The task force, if they do nothing else, should dig into that.

Web Link


10 people like this
Posted by Been there parent
a resident of Community Center
on Dec 5, 2015 at 2:13 pm

Where is all the money going?

Teacher raises.


10 people like this
Posted by Anonymous
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 5, 2015 at 2:28 pm

With three weeks to complete a proposal, the last people that you'd want involved is the PAUSD board.


16 people like this
Posted by PA Grandma
a resident of College Terrace
on Dec 5, 2015 at 3:38 pm

If you read all the comments, which I did, including the ones from folks like Time Tells, it's extremely clear that there were a LOT of people involved in the various activities around the proposal. I am hard put to believe, having lived in Palo Alto for a long time and knowing how people talk, that the school board was in ignorance of what was going on. So the assumption that this was a "secret" effort is patently ridiculous. And once again the Weekly Editorial Staff is doing their best to stir up trouble.

Come on, everyone! We need to work together to solve the various problems facing our schools. Name calling and bashing our new superintendent who is trying very hard to make some positive progress is not going to get us anywhere. Put your egos back in your pocket, make a point of listening, not shouting, and resolve to be part of the solution, not part of the problem.


20 people like this
Posted by Yet another parent
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 6, 2015 at 1:15 am

@Grandma,
Very nice words to live by but unfortunately does not work well in our district. For all the talk of wanting people to bring their complaints in the family, unless you are a bigshot or you make a big stink, you will be ignored or even stepped on if you are on opposite sides of an issue (and they are more aggressive in seeming direct proportion to how wrong they are on an issue).

@Jerry Underdal and GraceBrown,
Weren't you both among the true believers telling us about the dire need for Measure a supplemental tax? You do realize we have a surplus just now almost equal to that tax, if you factor in the cost of the election. Surprise surprise. And now they are ruminating about how to spend it. (Look up the way basic aid districts are funded and salary payment timing and you will understand the real reason). The passage of that measure also sent a msg that this district is a light touch for money no matter how lame the ask. Which of you who shilled for that tax passage is going to make sure our district becomes more careful with funding? I thought not. (@jerry Underdal, i liked your post, though, hope it's more than words.)


14 people like this
Posted by PAEA payback
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 6, 2015 at 8:22 am

If you pay attention, you can detect payback time from Teri Baldwin and her gang of the few from PAEA. They still grumble about Glenn McGee's strategic defense of Principal Denise Hermann and her appalling insistence that teachers use a district-funded web site. Go get 'em, PAEA, you already have a raise made possible by the latest parcel tax increase, this is a nice almost-scandal you may be able to take advantage of.


1 person likes this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 6, 2015 at 9:15 am

I am using this thread to say my piece about the timewasting/money wasting idea of changing the name of Jordan.

We have so many issues in PAUSD that have to be sorted out. Introducing something so out of it as changing Jordan's name for PC reasons is just crazy. I don't want to see this taking up BoE time or District's time. It is a red herring and seems like trolling to me.


21 people like this
Posted by another teacher
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 6, 2015 at 9:16 am

The school board has sufficient evidence to support opening a new full-size middle school. If there is sufficient support among administrators, teachers, and board members for opening it along the lines of Connections/Project Based Learning, then that seems do-able. After all, connections is oversubscribed so there is some unmet demand out there for that. I am not sure how much, so there should probably be some neighborhood component to the enrollment.

Maybe it should be at Garland not Cubberley since there has to be some way to get students out of Jordan without causing cross-town traffic. Maybe some of JLS can be redistricted into Cubberley and some of Jordan can be redistricted into JLS. If middle schoolers cross Oregon that doesn't strike me as being as bad as if cross town traffic is created twice a day by a choice school.

But in any event, middle school seems like a better time to create a progressive school, since the opportunities and needs for differentiation in curriculum are far lower in middle school (as are the college stakes). 75% of district parents do NOT want a new choice program, and this is particularly acute at the high school level.

It is true that the school being proposed is only 15% of HS enrollment but then we have cost and efficacy questions about spending that much money for only 15% of the district population.

For many reasons, this should be a middle school, it should be the same size as the other middle schools, and it should be a neighborhood/choice combination probably.

Why wasn't that initially proposed? I think because Max and the EMAC committee are excited by high school not by middle school, and because the goal is to ram through a new "innovative" high school (by the way, these are just John Dewey's ideas from the early 20th century, there is nothing particularly 21st century about progressive education -- this is just a buzzword) This is the au courant moment we are in, and Max is particularly excited by high school. The peak of his career was at IMSA, and he wants to recreate that situation here.

The problem is that we have 4000 students in our current high schools and opening a new exciting school will drain every progressive educator out of those current schools and make the system of education at Paly and Gunn even more traditional and outmoded than it already is. It will make our schools actually worse across the board to open this new school, and that is before even considering the drain of money and attention that it will create. The solution for our high schools has to lie within our high schools not in a new school.

But at the middle school level there seems to be a possible opportunity that could present an area of compromise and I hope Max is able to find that common ground with the board and go forward with that kind of a proposal. The first step has to be terminating the EMAC [portion removed.] McGee will have to decide whether or not this is the right job for him -- is he willing to submit to the authority of the board and is he willing to work within the confines of democratic control. Is he willing to work to improve our current high schools in a serious way? Is he even interested in that job? If not, perhaps this was not a good fit. If so, he needs to turn this around quickly by apologizing publicly.

The board has to be able to trust him as an honest broker of information which he currently is not [portion removed.] They should put him on a performance plan and give him until March to turn it around and if he does not, then they should launch a search for fall. Although it is regrettable sometimes you find that you have hired the wrong person. When that person serves you lattes it is not a catastrophe. When it is your CEO, it is. Ask anyone who got laid off from HP whether the CEO matters.

[Portion removed.]

What they probably will do is compliment and praise him for his initiative and ambition, and give him his task force. That is the worst possible outcome since they won't want to open the high school, because it will continue to fan the flames in the community of this desire and will ultimately probably take us to a charter.

The board should agree to Wayfinder middle school, provided it is large enough to relieve crowding in the middle schools. This is basically a harmless proposal that will do some good. Smaller middle schools are probably better for social-emotional reasons and if the school is big enough it will make Jordan and JLS smaller --the size of Terman, and we can have 4 middle schools each about 700 students with 2 feeding each high school. That's a good thing. If they want it to be "project-based" then Connections can move to the new school and it can be "Connections" middle school.


11 people like this
Posted by Yet another parent
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 6, 2015 at 10:00 am

Good post, teacher, but the trouble is that currently Connections usn't really a project-based program after 6th grade, and it isn't as originally conceived. They try to acclimate the kids to what they will face in high school, which us the opposite. So, just making a project-based middle school is not enough, there will be continual pressure to adjust the program for lack of a project-based program to move into for high school.


14 people like this
Posted by Steve Flanders
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Dec 6, 2015 at 11:20 am

This seems like a positive idea, but, as evidenced by the many comments in Town Square, its as if McGee has learned nothing in his time here about this community's (legitimate) concerns about transparency, particularly when it comes to school issues.


6 people like this
Posted by Jerry Underdal
a resident of Barron Park
on Dec 6, 2015 at 12:24 pm

Jerry Underdal is a registered user.

@Yet another parent
"i liked your post, though, hope it's more than words."

Glad you liked it. Words are all I've got, I'm afraid. Current stakeholders--parents, teachers, kids, administrators--are the one who must hash this out and win the support of taxpayers to implement what is decided on to provide the best public education possible in a district that seems to have more cash than confidence at the moment.

During the Maybell debate, an argument was made (not by me) that it would be wrong for Palo Alto to make a claim on limited state and federal resources for affordable housing here when other places were more deserving of the limited funds.

I feel that way about the XQ Super School Project. If this is what an open, thorough and transparent process comes up with as the best way to have yet another excellent secondary school option, we should be ready to pay for it. Let other school districts without access to Palo Alto scale resources have a better chance.

In the debate that's getting underway, I hope that the cost/benefit calculations won't be skewed by enthusiasm over change toward seeing the benefits while missing some of the possible costs. For example, are parents and students willing to take the chance that this new school, excellent as it may be in what it provides, will not lead to college admission offers of the sort and quantity that they expect? People have to be clear-eyed in recognizing that this would be a work in progress with success expected but not guaranteed.


12 people like this
Posted by another teacher
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 6, 2015 at 12:39 pm

For anyone interested, here is a link to Dewey's "Pedagogical Creed" from 1897, which essentially is the "progressive" method being promoted now for the 21st century (then for the 20th).

"Web Link

Some excerpts:

"With the advent of democracy and modern industrial conditions, it is impossible to foretell definitely just what civilization will be twenty years from now. Hence it is impossible to prepare the child for any precise set of conditions. To prepare him for the future life means to give him command of himself; it means so to train him that he will have the full and ready use of all his capacities; that his eye and ear and hand may be tools ready to command, that his judgment may be capable of grasping the conditions under which it has to work, and the executive forces be trained to act economically and efficiently. It is impossible to reach this sort of adjustment save as constant regard is had to the individual’s own powers, tastes, and interests-say, that is, as education is continually converted into psychological terms."

"In sum, I believe that the individual who is to be educated is a social individual and that society is an organic union of individuals. If we eliminate the social factor from the child we are left only with an abstraction; if we eliminate the individual factor from society, we are left only with an inert and lifeless mass. Education, therefore, must begin with a psychological insight into the child’s capacities, interests, and habits. It must be controlled at every point by reference to these same considerations. These powers, interests, and habits must be continually interpreted–we must know what they mean. They must be translated into terms of their social equivalents–into terms of what they are capable of in the way of social service."

"I believe that much of present education fails because it neglects this fundamental principle of the school as a form of community life. It conceives the school as a place where certain information is to be given, where certain lessons are to be ]earned, or where certain habits are to be formed. The value of these is conceived as lying largely in the remote future; the child must do these things for the sake of something else he is to do; they are mere preparation. As a result they do not become a part of the life experience of the child and so are not truly educative."

"I believe that the teacher’s place and work in the school is to be interpreted from this same basis. The teacher is not in the school to impose certain ideas or to form certain habits in the child, but is there as a member of the community to select the influences which shall affect the child and to assist him in properly responding to these influences."

"I believe, therefore, that the true center of correlation on the school subjects is not science, nor literature, nor history, nor geography, but the child’s own social activities."

"I believe that there is, therefore, no succession of studies in the ideal school curriculum. If education is life, all life has, from the outset, a scientific aspect, an aspect of art and culture, and an aspect of communication. It cannot, therefore, be true that the proper studies for one grade are mere reading and writing, and that at a later grade, reading, or literature, or science, may be introduced. The progress is not in the succession of studies but in the development of new attitudes towards, and new interests in, experience."

"I believe that it is the business of every one interested in education to insist upon the school as the primary and most effective interest of social progress and reform in order that society may be awakened to realize what the school stands for, and aroused to the necessity of endowing the educator with sufficient equipment properly to perform his task."





9 people like this
Posted by Yet another parent
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 6, 2015 at 4:38 pm

@Jerry Underdal,
I'm not sure I get your point. Our school district is what's called a "basic aid" district so that we can use our pretty unlimited property tax receipts to pay for our schools. The budget of the schools rivals the entire City budget. There's always money to do pet administrator projects. We had $13 million to throw on top of a perfectly good $24 million to build the Paly athletic center (when $12 million sufficed for the athletic center at Gunn), and the district decided to enter into a non-competitive bid situation because of the donation - even though that's explicitly illegal for district funds. I think the district situation is completely different, because local funds mostly pay for our schools and no one is asking for a state pot of money that could otherwise go to other districts around the state, funded differently, that desperately need it, as in your example.


9 people like this
Posted by outsider
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Dec 7, 2015 at 7:31 am

another teacher, you won the postings. The notion that coming up with an"innovative program" meant to educate kids in a changing world is an old idea. It might be new to this district though, they seem to be stuck in the seventies. There are constants in education. two big ones are a strong relationship between teacher and student and checking for understanding.

This has not changed for centuries and with all the committees and discussions, this group has missed these two very obvious points. In all the years we have been there, there have only been 2 teachers who step out our their egos and are really only focused on student learning. Otherwise, the Paly teachers act like they are teaching at an Ivy school and use the work "busy" to make themselves seem like they are not just teaching a_g credits. Everyone is making it seem so difficult when it should be so easy. This is just high school. I think there needs to be another human resource person who will stop hiring all these snotty, elitist types who think they are the first teachers in history to come up with "innovation"


8 people like this
Posted by Jerry Underdal
a resident of Barron Park
on Dec 7, 2015 at 11:43 am

Jerry Underdal is a registered user.

@Yet another parent
We have the same understanding of what being a basic aid district means. Palo Alto Unified is relatively flush with cash and the options it provides. Many districts can only dream of what it would be like to have that flexibility, including some that would like to make changes in line with the XQ Super School project's goals but need the stimulus of the contest to develop and present a credible plan that could only go forward if it was a winner.

The pot of money available is limited. What Palo Alto drew down would not be available for other candidates. If all worthy applicants, including Palo Alto, were funded I'd be pleased to have the additional resources available to PAUSD. If not, it wouldn't' seem fair for a well-off district like ours, with so many connections to the XQ Super School Project, to emerge a winner.


4 people like this
Posted by Yet another parent
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 7, 2015 at 12:24 pm

@Jerry Underdal,
Good point. I agree with you that funding a project for Palo Alto from a limited prize seems unlikely and unfair. If I were a judge, I would be asking, why can't these people do this themselves? (If money were the answer in our case, we wouldn't have these problems.) But, I don't think this is a competition for individual districts to get money for wish lists. The background is pretty clear about that. They want really well developed ideas, but they also are after something new and scalable.

I personally wouldn't have gone that route if I were them. Kind of doubt they'll win. But I am glad for the involvement it represents.


2 people like this
Posted by Yet another parent
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 8, 2015 at 8:49 pm

I should probably clarify
I didnt read all the rules, but I seem to recall the XQ making the point that they are tired of seeing great one-of demo schools that only help the kids that go there and never scale. So even if the Wayfinder group presents a great proposal for a Palo Alto Charter, it's unlikely to do well if it isn't a great proposal for national benefit. If it is, it seems like they should win. So I guess from that standpoint, it's different than your example, @Jerry Underdal. This isn't a beauty contest for money for specific projects, this is a contest to come up with a scalable design that could change public education. So, if the proposal wins, it will benefit more than our district.


6 people like this
Posted by HotAir
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Dec 8, 2015 at 10:50 pm

I read the XQ proposal for wayfinder - it seems mostly hot air and name dropping. Very thin on actual educational proposals. Lots of enthusiasm for d.school approach.

If I were the judges forXQ, this proposal wouldn't fly. Maybe they are hoping there won't be many submissions. Or that proven delivery models combined with sound management aren't needed in a proposal.

Anyhow, it seems a bit slapdash, I wouldn't worry about that aspect of EMAC.

What is worrisome is opening a new middle school using existing staff. The only path for success is to inoculate the new school from Jordan. There should be no use of staff, admin, methods, concepts or materials from Jordan while forming a new school. Not even a number 2 pencil. The goal should be to endeavor to make it so opposite the culture of Jordan that the mere mention should make people shudder.

It should be engaging. Not intimidating.Supportive, not destructive.

Otherwise, why bother?


9 people like this
Posted by Tempest in a Teapot
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Dec 9, 2015 at 5:43 am

Methinks the Weekly doth protest too much.

A better headline for this article would have been "PA Weekly Editorial Stirs Dissent". Because that's what's going on here. [Portion removed.]


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

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