Editorial: A 'moon shot' denied

Palo Alto school board majority wisely rejects the allure of a new 'innovative' high school

Three of Palo Alto's five school board members courageously and emphatically said 'no' Tuesday night to initiating a months-long intensive study into the possible creation of an expensive new third high school at the old Cubberley High School site in south Palo Alto.

It would have been far easier to acquiesce and give Superintendent Max McGee the green light he wanted for at least a study of a project he has been promoting in various ways for months, one described by supporters as a bold educational 'moon shot' for Palo Alto.

But instead of placating the community members with whom McGee has aligned himself over the last nine months, trustees Melissa Baten Caswell, Ken Dauber and Terry Godfrey made clear McGee's dream of creating a unique small high school that would showcase and incubate "project-based learning" was dead for now.

While McGee and proponents of the new high school certainly didn't help their cause by their submission last November of an application for funding to the national XQ Super School competition, done without informing the school board or the public, their biggest misstep was in thinking something of this magnitude could be quickly pushed forward purely through political pressure and without regard for the many inequities that it would create in our public school system.

They and McGee seemed to think that if they could just get the ball rolling among a few influential parents it would gain irreversible momentum. Fortunately, a majority on the school board recognized the many ways in which McGee's recommendation were flawed and were willing to assert their proper role as elected policymakers.

It was a bitter setback for McGee, who had invested enormous time and effort into advancing the new school concept. He even boldly refused at the Jan. 12 school board meeting to rule out using private fundraising to boost per-student spending at the new school if it was established, even though doing so would violate district policy.

Then, just a week later at a "town hall" meeting McGee reversed himself and told the audience he would "guarantee" that no private funds would be used for operating his hoped-for new high school, funding that supporters considered a necessity in order to create the desired "radically innovative" high school program that would feature smaller classes and more individualized instruction.

But McGee's quick turnaround appeared more a concession made to garner support and an attempt to keep his plan alive than a commitment grounded in the principle of equity for all students.

The premise of the effort to start a new high school was a belief among some community members that it was virtually impossible to successfully reform and innovate within our current high schools and that a new high school was the only path to achieving a new paradigm for the education of teens.

Only a new school, supporters reasoned, could attract a faculty and students that shared a common interest in bringing about more fundamental change focused around new learning models and an environment and culture that embraced innovation and experimentation rather than test scores and AP classes.

Among the many problems with the proposal, however, is that by the time a new school could be built and opened in several years the expected enrollment bubble at our high schools being used to justify a third high school will have passed. McGee's proposal also chose to ignore survey results that showed parents and students alike prefer that improvements be made to the current high schools, not at a new school available to a limited number of students.

We absolutely do need a moon shot in this district. We agree with those advocating for the new high school about the need for a radical reinvention of secondary education. But we cannot morally, ethically or financially reinvent education for a lucky few. All our students deserve an exciting and innovative education that fuels a love of learning and discovery of personal passions.

To achieve this, we must let go of our delusion that grades, excessive homework, AP classes, rankings and college-application-padding with excessive extra-curriculars are what our kids need to succeed and be happy. And we must have faith that most of our teachers are just as frustrated with today's education system.

Public high schools all over the country with far fewer resources than Palo Alto are undertaking profound changes to their teaching and curricula in many of the ways sought by the parents advocating a brand new high school. Pockets of such innovation already exist at Paly and Gunn, and with the district's financial surpluses and resources, almost anything is possible.

With the board rejecting McGee's new high school proposal, let's now challenge him to marshal his abundant energy and enthusiasm and lead a broad-based planning process for the same "radical" reinvention of our existing secondary schools that he promised for his desired new school.

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16 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 29, 2016 at 7:57 am

This is akin to the BoE that closed and sold school sites that allowed more housing to be built.

Lack of foresight. Lack of compassion and empathy. Lack of understanding what it is like to be a lost student amongst 2000.

21 people like this
Posted by Paly dad
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jan 29, 2016 at 7:58 am

Great editorial. I watched the meeting. The moonshot quote came from Townsend. I frankly couldn't figure out what Emberling was saying. Seemed liked she just didn't want to oppose McGee. Not the right role for a school board trustee.

Like this comment
Posted by Heidi
a resident of College Terrace
on Jan 29, 2016 at 8:03 am

[Post removed.]

34 people like this
Posted by Bethany
a resident of Crescent Park
on Jan 29, 2016 at 9:04 am

I can guarantee you two things (and you read it first here):

(a) doing broad scale innovation within our existing high schools is a complete and utter fantasy . . . our community will see little noticeable change in Paly or Gunn in 5 years, the resistance to change within so-called already successful schools is too strong.

(b) our two high schools will be super-crowded by 2020 and there will be a mad scramble to deal with the issue, just like we are scrambling with our middle schools now.

As they stated repeatedly, the EMAC recommendations were never ONLY about opening a school to benefit a small minority in our District. This is an example of the politicized Fear Uncertainty and Doubt that has been put forth by opponents of even INVESTIGATING a new high school.

I already hear talk from many in my circle that this insensitive decision by the Board to prevent even an INVESTIGATION has created a huge rift in our community. People are agitating now for a Charter School. And I'm starting to think that is maybe the right answer (as well as putting forth a slate of new Board candidates).

It would have been FAR less divisive to allow the community a look-see investigation and maybe the financing concerns would have led it to a natural death.

15 people like this
Posted by Michael O.
a resident of Gunn High School
on Jan 29, 2016 at 9:47 am

The lucky few? Is this a joke editorial? Anyone with any knowledge of the high schools knows that there will NEVER be change in them. This is driven by the ambitious parents and their children who view success only through the eyes of grades and college acceptances. Anyone who thinks that the District or the Schools is capable of changing the culture within Palo Alto is DELUSIONAL. Plenty of people will consider themselves lucky to stay at Gunn and Paly and those people would certainly consider themselves UNLUCKY to have to go to a school that "embraced innovation and experimentation rather than test scores and AP classes." They like it the way it is, they moved here because of the way it is, they've been training their children to do things the way it is, they judge success based on the way it is, and they go to lengths to make sure that the district keeps it the way it is.

10 people like this
Posted by Paly dad
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jan 29, 2016 at 9:56 am

The threat to open a charter school was the predictable next step. If a charter school actually comes forth from this group, the community should remember the students pleas to better our existing schools. And if that happens, the board should immediately fire McGee for encouraging the idea that our current schools cannot be improved. That's not true.

8 people like this
Posted by Mr.Recycle
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jan 29, 2016 at 10:42 am

I wouldn't want to see this progressive/child directed nonsense infecting our high schools. Isolating it at a new school would have been more convenient than fighting it off at Paly and Gunn.

32 people like this
Posted by Gunn Parent
a resident of Gunn High School
on Jan 29, 2016 at 11:27 am

I applaud the three board members for denying a new high school at this moment in time. They seem to have invested a great deal of time to research, to listen to all parts of the community and to make a thoughtful decision.

I have two kids at Gunn and have personally experienced huge improvement over the last school year and the current one. It's not that the school doesn't have a ways to go, but we have a principal who has demonstrated that meaningful and innovative improvements are possible. I am glad that the focus will continue to be on our two schools for now.

16 people like this
Posted by Chip
a resident of Professorville
on Jan 29, 2016 at 11:45 am

Further compartmentalization isn't the answer & a charter school probably isn't either. There are so many different desires among parents that they'd need more than one to satisfy every special snowflake's dream.

By the way, what's bad about a large-population high school? I loved mine, with 2000 kids in grades 10-12. M-A has no difficulty with that size.

16 people like this
Posted by Great Editorial
a resident of Midtown
on Jan 29, 2016 at 12:36 pm

Nicely said PA Online! Love this quote:

"But we cannot morally, ethically or financially reinvent education for a lucky few. All our students deserve an exciting and innovative education that fuels a love of learning and discovery of personal passions."

17 people like this
Posted by Barron Park dad
a resident of Barron Park
on Jan 29, 2016 at 1:06 pm

This was NEVER about serving just the lucky few. This is the blatant deception foisted upon our community in a naked political attempt to kill the follow-on investigation.

28 people like this
Posted by Trickle Down Education
a resident of College Terrace
on Jan 29, 2016 at 2:04 pm

@Barron Park Dad. You're right, there was supposed to be the "trickle down education" benefit. We do amazing innovative things at one school, and that somehow magically carries over the others. The example of IBM's PC skunk works in Boca Raton was used again and again; but how exactly did that help the IBM mainframe division be nimble?

This was a bad idea, dead for now, but probably likely to come back in some fashion. I doubt Max gives up that easily.

21 people like this
Posted by Paly dad
a resident of Barron Park
on Jan 29, 2016 at 2:40 pm

A 600 student lottery high school? What about the other 4000 high school students? Sounds like the lucky few to me. Thanks to the board for standing up for equity for ALL our students. I'm not surprised that this crowd is now threatening an exclusive charter school.

13 people like this
Posted by OPar
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jan 29, 2016 at 3:07 pm

Paly Dad,

How would it have been the "lucky few" given that a large segment of families don't *want* project-based learning? If the majority wanted it, then we wouldn't have this conflict. What we have is a large minority in Palo Alto that favors project-based learning.

I agree with Bethany that the situation at the high schools won't change--yes, there are little things like the "Social Justice" pathway and TEAM at Paly that are little head nods, but the curriculum and bureaucracy at both Paly and Gunn are far too rigid and test-oriented to come even close to any form of differentiated instruction or project-based learning.

Also, most of the high schools in the area (not just Palo Alto's) suffer from a serious inbalance between STEM and the humanities. You have 5/6 lanes of math and honors/AP classes for every year of science, while kids with very, very different skill levels are pretty much shoved together in English and history classes 'til AP. Heaven help the kid who has an interest in creative writing or poetry. They won't be taught these subjects in school, while the homework/extracurricular load will make sure they don't have time to learn on their own.

We're in desperate need of innovation, but I don't see it happening at Gunn or Paly, which are both trying to keep kids afloat and get them through the requirements. Ironically, I think gifted kids are among those who are most thwarted by the current system. It's pretty much designed to kill any curiosity or intrinsic love of learning.

11 people like this
Posted by No Moon Shot needed
a resident of Greenmeadow
on Jan 29, 2016 at 3:32 pm

They can pilot a project based learning program, either at the existing schools or at 25 Churchill, at Garland, you name it. The "moon shot" was the K-12 super campus at Cubberley, which they got locked into because for some reason McGee used an enrollment task force to drive this idea. As someone said, this is probably because his time is limited and he wants something BIG to talk about. Oh well.

I actually hope they come back with a pilot PBL program that can grow into something like 25 Churchill, when we actually see if we can do this and what the demand is like.

4 people like this
Posted by Anonymous
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 29, 2016 at 4:57 pm

The Palo Alto Way strikes again. I hope Ms. Jobs funds a charter school to test project-based learning.

19 people like this
Posted by Been there parent
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Jan 29, 2016 at 4:59 pm

Parents who have not yet been through the college application process do not yet understand how the high school course load is predetermined. Without a specific set of courses, and yes there is room for electives, you will not be able to apply to the UCs. These courses must be pre approved by the state system or they are considered electives and may not count on your transcript.

Yes the parents at the current high schools are resistant to significant changes because they already understand the expectations placed on their children to apply to college. Until the admission process changes, there will be very little we can change at the high school level with regards to actual courses offered.

I'm all for innovation and creative learning, but bring it to our current classrooms. We don't need new ones.

16 people like this
Posted by Paly dad
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jan 29, 2016 at 7:07 pm

Opar, the point of a high school is choice. Not everyone has to do the same thing. If a substantial number of students and parents want PBL, it can be done in the current buildings. For example the social justice pathway, etc.

That a majority of the school board is calling for reform of the high schools is the big story here. I bet that means a majority of the community agrees. Certainly Dauber's election with the highest vote count indicates that is so. Townsend appears to be the last holdout and her days are numbered.

4 people like this
Posted by XQ
a resident of Downtown North
on Jan 29, 2016 at 7:27 pm

[Post removed.]

16 people like this
Posted by Charter
a resident of Community Center
on Jan 29, 2016 at 8:59 pm

Charter wasn't anyone's first choice, but it makes complete sense now given the way the Board foolishly ignored the drumbeat of the many Palo Alto parents who feel their children would be harmed by attending Paly or Gunn.

It is an entirely reasonable next step given that the voices of these parents were muzzled. I don't understand the false shock and surprise.

At least you can't claim these parents didn't try hard to work with the District first.

Not every kid wants the Gunn and Paly pressure cooker. The fact that many parents are reluctant to change the status quo means either a private school (too expensive for many), a choice school (denied by the Board), or a charter (which is where we stand now).

What other option do these parents really have now? Gunn and Paly will never change, except at the margins.

13 people like this
Posted by time for change
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Jan 29, 2016 at 9:29 pm

Certainly does. That the board completely ignored the overcrowding and didn't consider it an issue is a disgrace.

Ken [portion removed] Dauber offered zero suggestions on how overcrowding and just blocked even an effort to look at how we can alleviate the problems in our high-schools.

11 people like this
Posted by Reality check
a resident of Barron Park
on Jan 29, 2016 at 9:37 pm

It's one thing to fulminate about a charter anonymously. Let's see who's going to be willing to go public about draining money out of Paly and Gunn. The EMAC members disavowed a charter. Now we'll find out if they were telling the truth.

9 people like this
Posted by Marc Vincenti
a resident of Gunn High School
on Jan 29, 2016 at 9:59 pm

Dear Fellow Onliners,

So many hopes had been built around this new school, and so much effort put into the planning, that I can empathize with the frustration of those stung by this defeat.

But let me offer a newer, better hope. It isn't true that fresh ideas aren't available, and that nothing can be done to change our existing high schools; and for those who want that change, there's already a cause you can sign on to: Save the 2,008.

It's a six-step, community initiative that would undo the stress, depression, and alienation of our current campuses, freeing up teachers and students for working relationships that are more multifaceted, more creative, rich in projects and inquiry and new experiences.

My thanks to the three board members, and the Weekly, for calmly and courageously ending the countdown to this moon shot. Now that we've got our feet on the ground again, let's help the high-shoolers who are here, now, and need not a Tomorrowland but a healthier, happier present.

Come see why 424 citizens concerned about our schools have already signed up at:


Marc Vincenti
Gunn English Dept. (1995-2010)
Campaign Coordinator
Save the 2,008

16 people like this
Posted by Charter
a resident of Community Center
on Jan 29, 2016 at 10:41 pm

@Reality check -

You say the word charter as if it should be a shameful, secretive thing. It's not. Instead, it is the only path forward if you believe that Gunn and Paly won't truly ever change (except at the margins).

And if you don't have money to send your kids to a private school.

And if you're faced with a politically tone-deaf Board who wants to muzzle any and all community exploration of a new school despite good faith efforts to work within the system to provide alternatives to Palo Alto parents who are scared to death of our current high school system.

10 people like this
Posted by Innovator
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 29, 2016 at 10:56 pm

The district could look at hybrid education models for kids who want something less stressful but more excellent. That would lower the number of students on campus at any given time, allow for innovation and customization of education across the board. That option is available immediately, now, but it involves a) loosening the death grip of control 25 Churchill feels is necessary, and b) learning to work with all families willing to innovate. It's sort of a large-scale implementation of what Woj did with her journalism class. To the person above who thinks child led is so bad, what is your child going to do when they leave, having learned to be utterly dependent on external direction?

Innovation will only happen if the students and families, rather than buildings, come first. Letting those who are ready to innovate lead is usually the fastest way to change a stuck system. (That means everyone willing to, meaning opt in, not lottery.) As soon as everyone else sees there is a better way, things change. The trouble is that this district office culture cherishes status quo entrenching behavior and outright viciously punishes independent innovative behavior. Although I personally feel Cubberly should have been razed and rebuilt in concert with Foothill, it's not necessary to create a school building to innovate. The innovation should come first. (For a district that doesn't think kids need cafeterias or places to sit for eating, it's a wonder they don't see how to school beyond the walls.)

17 people like this
Posted by Concerned Parent
a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Jan 30, 2016 at 2:18 am

The headline of the story is misleading. It's not the "moon shot" of a new PBL high school that was denied - it was the opportunity to even investigate whether such a high school would be a good idea. But in another sense the headline is on point. That's because the one "moon shot" we are all familiar with stands as possibly the nation's greatest technological achievement of the 20th century, a "bold" step that still resonates as a shining example of the greatness we can accomplish as a nation when we work together and yes, even take a great risk.

Yet here the Weekly is using the same "moon shot" metaphor as a means of congratulating the board for failing to take a risk, or even look into whether taking a risk on a bold new idea would be feasible. One can only wonder how the Weekly editorial writers would have fulminated back in 1962 against the "allure" of President Kennedy's radical idea that the United States should literally send a man to the moon.

Whether we like to admit it or not, Palo Alto high schools are in a crisis. Anyone familiar with how Paly and Gunn operate, and what is necessary to implement true project-based learning, is deluding themselves to believe that the fundamental structural changes necessary could ever happen at Paly and Gunn, much less whether most parents would even be interested in such changes.

With this vote behind us, however, it appears that this community will not be taking any real risks when it comes to high school education. Yet I can't help but wonder: if we can put a man on the moon, why can't we in Palo Alto take a chance on doing right by our kids?

18 people like this
Posted by Paly dad
a resident of Duveneck School
on Jan 30, 2016 at 5:44 am

That's the argument in a nutshell: our high schools are in crisis, but they can't be fixed, so let's abandon then and their students and build an alternative for a lucky few. If the school board doesn't agree, force them with a charter.

Here's an idea: there's a school board election coming up. Run a slate for investigating a new school. See if the community really buys your argument, or if they want to invest in the schools we have.

25 people like this
Posted by Buzz Lightyear
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jan 30, 2016 at 6:56 am

I'll see your bet concerned parent. Accepting the metaphor of "moonshot" requires suspending quite a bit of disbelief since high tech high is not the moon and Camille Townsend isn't JFK. She isn't even William Kennedy Smith. But ok.

The Apollo program was begun in a pointless race to beat communism. It spent hundreds of millions of dollars and cost many lives and it served primarily as a distraction from the exploding civil rights catastrophe at home. At a time when young freedom riders and luncounter protestors were being beaten burned shot and killed the Apollo program distracted people from these problems and created the sense that this was the greatest country rather than, in the words of Dr. King "the greatest purveyor of violence the world has ever known."

So I think the metaphor is completely apt but you don't take the correct meaning.

Let's focus on what is really happening which is at least a dozen children in the past 10 years have taken their own lives. Let's focus on sleep deprivation and also on mental health supports.

I understand that you and your friends have seized on opening a new school as the solution. its not. No one with experience in our schools (which does not include max McGee) thinks so. Your group is composed of elementary and middle school parents. While you think you know the answer you don't. Just as the answer to racism and Viet Nam was not on the moon, you can't fix the schools on the moon either. [Portion removed.]

5 people like this
Posted by musical
a resident of Palo Verde
on Jan 30, 2016 at 7:35 am

I went to Cubberley while men were on the moon. Now we can't get a person into orbit.

13 people like this
Posted by Nixon next
a resident of College Terrace
on Jan 30, 2016 at 7:38 am

What's the point of these committees? The board just ignored their recommendations and consider crowded but tolerable is an acceptable state for all our schools!

7 people like this
Posted by Innovator
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 30, 2016 at 9:44 am

You are right, "charter" is not a shameful thing, it's only a problem where administrative, centralized power and control are more important than student wellbeing.

Our state education regulations are highly flexible, to provide local control. But because the governmental structure of school districts is so uniquely insular, with no actual power of locals for checks and balances equivalent even to referendum and initiative, much less even the acknowledged checks and balances in PTA rules, escalating abuses and frustrations are inevitable. The board has the power to create those checks and balances for our district - your best chance is during the next election cycle. If that doesn't work, see what power there is to effect some changes through the City charter. It's not an effort for the faint if heart, but in doing so, you will be fixing the system going forward, so the desired local control is real. Instead of arguing about the iceberg dead ahead, we could be tempering the hubris at every point from designing the boat to planning the voyage.

That said, you are wrong. Charter is not the only option. Every person in the district is capable of forming a private school, on their own, or together. It's easier than a charter, and simply involves filling out a private school affadavit. In fact, you can do this with a younger child and place them yourself in the 11th grade temporarily to pass the CHSPE. At that point, you don't have to do anything anyone tells you, and the school district cannot exclude your child if you decide to come back. You can enroll your child in community college courses, hire a tutor or two to teach some classes, or take advantage of many ala carte educational resources today. If enough people do this, it creates immediate competition, and doesn't hurt district funding, though at some point hopefully it would spark the innovation at schools or legislation to give something like equity in funding for those who leave.

Kids should come first. Then teachers and parents. Then buildings and administrators, who are there only to serve the interests of the former, not for the sake of themselves. In all this discussion of moonshots, I remember the concept of public service hadn't been decimated by supply side economics (which has turned into a destructive religion despite Reagan's own budget director resigning in disgust because it had been designed as a Trojan horse to cut top tax rates.) For lack of any abiding sense of public service and checks and balances, administrators serve themselves first and parents become punching bags/mushrooms, and children end up last.

9 people like this
Posted by Innovator
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 30, 2016 at 10:03 am

@Nixon Next,
[Portion removed.] The time to change this was years ago when the board was deciding to approve how to spend the facilities bond. Back then, it was actually possible to both improve Gunn and Paly, and reopen Cubberly, rebuilt, at the same time, for no more money than was spent on the expansion. We could have a brand new Cubberly right now as we speak. Even if no one wanted to reopen the school there, it would be a more robust community resource and command far greater rents. It's currently so dilapidated, the City is going to vacate if it hasn't already.

I seem to recall the parent community could not be stirred into action then, because the go-along-getalong forces, including Camille, were so dismissive of any dissent. That die is cast. Those who want innovation might consider learning how to recognize where real innovation comes from and fostering rather than actively squashing it. (Which sort of goes hand in hand with the All that is necessary for evil to flourish is that good men do nothing.)

The time to lay the groundwork with new buildings is past. The ship sailed. Focus on what's important, and maybe even learn to listen to rather than ostracize innovators. Look at Khan Lab School. The kids and educational ideas came first, then the buildings.

6 people like this
Posted by lord of the flies
a resident of Crescent Park
on Jan 30, 2016 at 11:00 am

@Innovator [portion removed],

You're as bad as the board. Oh, we can't do anything now, we just need to live with it! What sort of attitude is "crowded but tolerable" and what sort of solution is "we'll add some more portables and change teacher areas into classrooms". That should all be sounding alarms and instead what we get is "crowded but tolerable". Where is this innovation you talk of? 3 high schools of 1300 students is far better than 2 high schools of over 2000 students.

[Portion removed.]

7 people like this
Posted by White flight
a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Jan 30, 2016 at 12:48 pm

The new "third high school" is an effort at white flight out of increasingly Asian Gunn and Paly. All this talk about "crowding" which makes no sense to those of us actually in the schools is about the yellow horde. The reason they don't think you can reduce stress at Paly and Gunn is because of what they call the "pushy parents" by which they mean Chinese parents. Look at how few Asians are at Ohlone. This is white flight. There. I decided it for you.

Like this comment
Posted by White flight
a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Jan 30, 2016 at 12:51 pm

Decoded not decided.

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Posted by Taxpayer
a resident of Crescent Park
on Jan 30, 2016 at 12:53 pm

[Post removed due to same poster using multiple names.]

4 people like this
Posted by Innovator
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 30, 2016 at 2:11 pm

I in no way said we can't do anything now nor that we have to live with it. I suggested other ways of innovating. I suggest you first read what I wrote and get unstuck from the idea that the only way to innovate is to build [portion removed] at Cubberley. I took a great deal of flak from all sides for trying to get the board and parents to at least put Cubberly sincerely on the table when the decisions were actually being made. I even pointed out the discord that would result as some people began to realize the impacts before others.

I have said exactly ZERO things from your second paragraph. Go back and read what I wrote. You are the one wallowing in negativity.

I don't think going over 2000 students is a good thing, and I believe I have pointed out the ludicrousness of using surveys of people who are in schools under 2100 students for judging whether going over 2100 is too much, especially when the research shows that more than anything as the "too big" mark. I think schools within schools is a dumb idea for us, because the research shows that schools within schools work unequivocally only when they really are two separate schools, with separate administrations and separate entryways. Two school sites and four administrations does not save money over opening a third school, the optimal situation, per research, is if districts have a third school site to reopen. I am also a big proponent of true project-based learning (as opposed to mostly just labeling it as that as we too often do, since it's hard to satisfy the system's addiction to constantly measuring and sorting kids in a true project-based system).

But opening Cubberly as part of the bond decision is different than taking focus from the rest of the district to "innovate" now. That ship has sailed. I point it out in part to help people like you recognize that it is indeed time to move on, and that it is important to recognize that truly innovating means blazing trails, and that can be uncomfortable. You failed to get involved when other people who cared deeply about this same issue could have used the help, and if you had, we would have a spanking new building at Cubberly now (and many other parts of the district).

I didn't say you couldn't do anything - I made many suggestions - I said stop essentially living in the past. The starting conditions to solve the problem have changed in the last ten years. Innovate with the kids in mind, not with old ideas about school buildings. Luckily, the resources available to make custom schooling possible for students who want it have ballooned in the years since. If a larger percentage of students are off campus making a television program at the community access station or participating in Reikis or doing research in an expanded version of McGee's program, participating in a civil war reenactment or the San Francisco film festival, or even just taking math online in a more individualized program, it would be possible to innovate, improve the program and reduce stress for those who need it, without separating the kids, having to recreate the physical facilities (because they would still have access) or spending more money. Teachers become mentors. Maybe a few more would have to be hired, but it's far fewer in any conceivable circumstance than would be necessary opening a third school.

The third school idea takes time. Supporting a hybrid independent learning/custom schooling model could help kids by this summer. It probably requires smarter administrators than we have now, or at least those not so wedded to absolute control and insularity that they are unable to work openly with the whole community.

3 people like this
Posted by Innovator
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 30, 2016 at 2:22 pm

The best tging about a hybrid custom schooling model is that those who need it can choose it, and those who don't can keep what they have. No new buildings necessary unless the community realizes something more innovative than just a bunch of new classes would be the right support.

I hope the parents who wanted to see at least a commission to investigate the idea, see the former math textbook debate here. So many parents just wanted the district to delay the decision, at no cost, to consider a program that had been missed by accident. Parents were helpless to change a decision made above them. Checks and balances exist in democracies so that leaders can't ignore the people. It's especially needed in school districts but there are none. If you don't like this decision, put the work into creating those mechanisms for checks and balances so that next time you have recourse. I may think it's time to move on to better ideas, but if enough people have another opinion, then there should be a way to achieve it. It shouldn't be easy, but it should be possibke for parents and/or the community to overturn a board decision, just like they can a city council decision.

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Posted by Jerry Underdal
a resident of Barron Park
on Jan 30, 2016 at 2:30 pm

Jerry Underdal is a registered user.

Last week the Harvard Graduate School of Education-led Making Caring Common project released an important report, "Turning the Tide," that examines changes to the college admissions process that make sense to admissions officers at many top universities. People who favor reforms in Palo Alto schools should take a look. (Google to find)

One section is "Recommendations for reducing undue achievement pressure, redefining achievement, and leveling the playing field for economically diverse students." I expect there would be a lot of support here for two of these three goals. I can hope for appreciation of the last one, but I don't expect much active support for reducing the admissions edge of students from communities like Palo Alto, no matter how good it might be for the country overall.

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Posted by Innovator
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 30, 2016 at 4:39 pm

@Jerry Underdal,
Do communities like Palo Alto have an admissions edge at Harvard? I'm not sure it's true. I agree with the push to redefine success because what counts for success in school is not the real world.

In some ways, we are still suffering from the Virtuoso Model of education, the idea that everyone in the orchestra is second fiddle and would be the soloist if only they could, and that education should sort them for the good of society. I don't think anyone thinks that consciously anymore, but it's what happens. In a district in which everyone could be the soloist but might not wish to and most suffer a huge opportunity cost for being forced into the sorting system, I'm not sure you can say there is an asvantage. Maybe for some. Not for many others.

I think one of the teachers put it best, that getting to work with the kids here is the greatest thing. That's the main asvantage - getting to be with true peers and not bullied for being smart. I don't think that has anything to do with college admissions.

Thanks for bringing up the report.

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Posted by outsider
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Feb 1, 2016 at 8:26 am

Maybe it can be opened up as a psych ward or "ranch" for the kids from both high schools?

Actually, the best use would be to partner with foothill college and allow every kid to take more community college units as that is the game now . CC classes are easier than the AP classes because the CC teachers follow standards and there is no guesswork in the curriculum. It gives them college credit and beefs up their GPA without the bizarre workload from AP teachers. ( they still have to get a high score on the ap test to get college credit and now many colleges are not accepting this path) UC approved CC units are accepted.

On campus community college classes would be.---English 1a, college algebra, government, Us history, programming, art history, government, physics. These would count for a-g credit too. Probably would take money out of the school system as parents figured out how easy and cheap CC is though so will never happen. They do this at Milpitas High with Evergreen and in Cupertino, kids have College Now classes they can all attend. ( not on campus though)

As a parent, you can file for your own private school affidavit and graduate them with whatever classes you like and skip all the nonsense. For some kids, the palo alto label is not worth a childhood or the stress of having teachers grade on curves and stack tests. Foothill is pretty normal and straightforward and having all your general ed for college done by 18 is maybe better than a label. There are charter schools and private individuals that will publish transcripts if you do not want to. Lydian academy has mastery learning and is UC approved in many if you money to burn.

So many parents want the label so badly that they are blinded by their own kids needs and success beyond high school. This board and admin has no connection to its families and is really , really resisting making real connections.

ps. if there is a new school, I hope they all know that the staff are mandatory reporters of any child abuse they see or suspect or they will lose their credentials. Administrators that do not report suspected teachers to child protective services are also mandatory reporters. At our schools now, they seem to think it is their choice based on their own emotiions. Go to a Catholic school if this is the situation you want for your kids.

I think a totally separate,normal school with teachers not hired by the same HR guy and one that follows at least the normal state best practices would be a really great school with a very mixed population.

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Posted by Innovator
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 1, 2016 at 10:22 am

Well, sadly, that ship has sailed, too. Foothill had $40M it had to spend and PAUSD wanted to continue dithering at Cubberley, so Foothill took its money and focus elsewhere. Perhaps there are other opportunities in that regard, but the trouble is that the very same people creating such anguish for special ed families, and others outside the favored ones, also do a really good job alienating potential partners and resources in the community. I wish I could introduce all the experts who will quietly tell you to head for the hills because of what they have personally dealt with. Approaching Foothill would be a lot harder now, even if the district had the inclination, and they don't. I think it's a great idea, but it's not going to happen under current conditions.

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Posted by Crescent Park Dad
a resident of Crescent Park
on Feb 1, 2016 at 4:23 pm

" It's currently so dilapidated, the City is going to vacate if it hasn't already."

Is this an opinion or do you have actual proof for this statement?

2 people like this
Posted by Innovator
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 1, 2016 at 11:54 pm


Based on all coverage prior to the 2014 renegotiated lease, the city was looking to get out. The renegotiation ended the district's gravy train and made it clear the city's interest was in updating the infrastructure at Cubberley. I didn't realize the city managed to end that payment and get it redirected to updating the campus. (They were threatening to vacate prior.) So nearly $2 M is going into a fund every year to update the campus. Interesting. That puts McGee's position in a whole new light.

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