'Changing the tide' on youth mental health | News | Palo Alto Online |


'Changing the tide' on youth mental health

Panelists discuss how to combat stress, stigma at event in Menlo Park

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More than 300 local parents, educators, clinicians and community members gathered Tuesday morning to discuss ways to combat what one speaker called the "new norm" for teenagers in the area: alarmingly high rates of anxiety, stress, depression and death by suicide.

The Children's Health Council (CHC), a Palo Alto nonprofit that supports youth with anxiety, depression, ADHD and learning differences through services and school sites, devoted an annual breakfast panel to the topics. CHC billed the event as a "call to action" for a community continuing to cope and learn from two separate youth suicide clusters in the last several years.

"How can we change the tide away from teen anxiety, depression and suicide toward teen resiliency, happiness and a sense of well-being?" asked CHC Executive Director Rosalie Whitlock, whose children attended Palo Alto schools.

A panel of speakers spoke both personally and professionally to the ever-present issues of intense academic pressure, too-narrow definitions of success, the connection between sleep deprivation and depression, and finding ways to dispel the stigma around mental illness.

The panel featured Stacy Drazan, a Woodside resident whose 17-year-old daughter died by suicide in 2014; Jenny Jaffe, a local high-school graduate who went on to found Project UROK, a nonprofit that creates digital content for teenagers struggling with mental-health issues; Julie Lythcott-Haims, former dean of freshman at Stanford University, Palo Alto parent and author of "How to Raise an Adult: Break Free of the Overparenting Trap and Prepare your Kid for Success;" Denise Pope, co-founder of Stanford Graduate School of Education education-reform group Challenge Success; and Chris Harris, director of the CHC's Esther B. Clark School, which serves children with severe emotional and behavioral issues.

Jaffe, who spoke frankly about her own struggles with mental illness, from being diagnosed at 10 years old with anxiety, panic disorder and Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) to her own suicidal ideation, said that the "most pressing" issue facing teens is the stigma — both internal and external — that is attached to mental illness.

"No kid is born knowing what they should feel is stigmatized," she said. "They learn that from us. They learn that from the community at large and even if they're hearing positive messages from one person in their life, it's a community effort. It has to be a community effort.

"There has to be a sense at school that it's safe to talk about; there has to be a sense at home that it's safe to talk about; there has to be a sense that once it's talked about, there's a recourse for them," she said.

Jaffe stressed the importance of meeting teens where they are to send these kind of messages in a more relatable way, particularly through social media. Her nonprofit offers an example of that: Project UROK provides a platform for videos (both funny as well as meaningful and informational), testimonials, podcasts and other content "made by people who have been there before," its website reads.

Finding ways to bring together peer and professional support is also a critical new frontier, Jaffe said.

Parents are, as ever, a fundamental part of the equation. Lythcott-Haims urged parents in the audience to give their children permission to pursue alternate definitions of success. She described one late night in her own house when she realized she had to "walk the walk" of this message with her own visibly overwhelmed son. A Gunn High School sophomore at the time, stressed out over his Spanish homework, she asked if he needed to drop the class.

"And my son said, 'Can I?'" she said. He did.

"There are some colleges that will not want my child because he dropped that class and I'm here to tell you, 10 years ago, that would have kept me up at night but I can sit here today in front of my peers and say, those colleges don't want my kid; I don't care," she said.

Others, both on the panel and in the audience, spoke to the difficulty of accessing mental-health services, even in a region as resourced and aware of the need as the Palo Alto area. One in four parents find it difficult to obtain mental-health services for their children, a CHC board member said.

Whitlock said many parents have said to her "over and over again, even those with resources, even savvy parents who know how to work the system, who have tenacity, were often in a place where they could not find the right roadmap to care for their troubled teens in a fast way, which was necessary, and in a caring way."

"What if your kid is suffering and you get on the phone and the first appointment is in six months?" one mother in the audience asked. "I can't tell you the system I have been in."

Local mental-health services, both on school campuses and in the community, have been in high demand over the past year, particularly in the wake of several deaths by suicide in Palo Alto, with long waitlists and difficulty getting in to see quality mental-health professionals close to home. Mental-health professionals themselves have said the local network is unequipped to meet the current level of demand.

Ramsey Khasho, director of the CHC Center and director of clinical services at CHC's Sand Hill School who moderated the panel, said CHC is hoping to find ways to "help fill that gap."

"Could CHC be the go-to place, where you know that the teen and the parent will get connected with resources and until that connection happens, they are held safely and comfortably and very personally?" he said.

This is similar to a model Drazan and others in the community are currently working to bring to the community. headspace, a national youth mental-health initiative in Australia, provides early intervention services — from physical and mental health to alcohol and other drugs, work and study issues — to 12- to 25-year-olds at dozens of centers located throughout the country.

Services are either free or come at a low cost, and many centers offer drop-in services. headspace centers are also built and designed with input from people from the very age group they serve and have youth advisory boards. The CEO of Headspace, Chris Tanti, visited Palo Alto last week to meet with different groups and speak about his initiative at a meeting for youth well-being collaborative Project Safety Net.

Drazan said that for her daughter, who was struggling with her mental health since seventh grade but her parents only became aware of it when she was a junior in high school and at a crisis point, earlier intervention and a comfortable place to open up could have made a critical difference.

Stanford's new Center for Youth Mental Health and Wellbeing is hoping to open similar adolescent mental health clinics, possibly in the Bay Area and likely across the United States.

Drazan also stressed the need for more inpatient psychiatric care for local adolescents. Currently, there are no such services available in Santa Clara County, though county staff have indicated they hope to change that by this summer.

Drazan, too, urged more open and continued conversations about mental illness. Her older daughter, Mackenzie, also recently launched a website called Teaching Everyone About Mental Health (TEAM) that aims to reduce stigma and make navigating the local system easier with resources and information around mental health.

"We must lift the veil of stigma," Drazan said Tuesday morning. "We must start talking. Mental health affects all families, across all cultures and socioeconomic groups."

CHC is hoping to continue the discussion around teen mental health with a new "Teen Initiative." A series of upcoming events include a parents' workshop on March 7, a teen forum on March 17 and a community panel on April 25. For more information about those events, go to chconline.org.

Khasho also called on attendees Tuesday to start a 30-day challenge: For the next 30 days, talk to at least one person each day about teen anxiety, depression and suicide.

One-hundred percent of proceeds from the breakfast panel, for which the Palo Alto Weekly was a media sponsor, will go to support CHC's new Teen Initiative.

The Palo Alto Weekly has created a Storify to capture its coverage on youth mental health and well-being since 2014. To view it, go to storify.com.

We need your support now more than ever. Can we count on you?


3 people like this
Posted by Community Member
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Feb 2, 2016 at 8:20 pm

Great work CHC, this was a much needed event and we hope the conversation continues.

12 people like this
Posted by Ken Horowitz
a resident of University South
on Feb 2, 2016 at 9:25 pm

Kudos to the Children's Health Council for supporting youth mental health services. In December, PAUSD trustee Ken Dauber offered an amendment to the District budget for $200K for mental health services only to see it postponed by the other members of the Board. It is time for PAUSD leadership "step up to the plate" to make mental health of its students its #1 priority and provide the financial resources to change the tide from teen depression to teen well being.

40 people like this
Posted by Good
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 2, 2016 at 9:53 pm

Can someone please comment on the level of depression this academic year? There should be a significant drop, shouldn't there?

The one thing that still makes no sense is how much worse things have been in Palo Alto, given that the same factors are as bad or worse in surrounding communities. It really seemed like an effort was made to let up on academic pressure, too. Has it helped?

I'm also a little mystified about the college situation. My 9th grader doesn't have it on the radar yet. No one we know is stressing about things like that. When does that start?

55 people like this
Posted by Good
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 2, 2016 at 10:16 pm

Question for Dr. L-Haims: When I read your post, I still see an exclusive focus on college rather than your child's education. If your child took Spanish to learn Spanish, you have just told us that the homework in class was a barrier to your child learning Spanish. What about the concern that there is no middle ground for kids who just want to learn Spanish but don't feel the need to pass rigorous tests for college? Could you have equally thought you don't want your child in a high school where he can't learn Spanish unless it's in a course with so much homework he becomes stressed to the point of needing to quit for his wellbeing? Or that you might use your considerable clout as a community member to help create opportunities so kids like your son can take Spanish in high school for the sake of learning Spanish, of learning joyfully rather than just through loads of homework, not for his college transcript (for good or bad, according to your story)? Do you not see that you were still making all of your decisions with college in mind, and nowhere do you mention your child's learning interests and goals?

3 people like this
Posted by Micaelia
a resident of Downtown North
on Feb 3, 2016 at 8:36 am

Please use the hashtag #speakupCHC30 to keep the conversation going about this important topic.

46 people like this
Posted by A local residence
a resident of University South
on Feb 3, 2016 at 10:08 am

I want to comment on "One in four parents find it difficult to obtain mental-health services for their children". My understanding is that mostly families want the appointment to be the after school hours or after work hours, so they do not need to sacrifice the school/work. If they treat the mental health as important as physical health, dental health, they are willing to take school/work time to get treated, I know many therapists and mental health professionals will have space within work/school hours. Sometimes it is the choice. As I know Palo Alto is a mental health professionals/therapists saturated area.

13 people like this
Posted by fcservices
a resident of Evergreen Park
on Feb 3, 2016 at 12:47 pm

The County of Santa Clara released a Request for Information this week to find out which health and hospital systems are interested in expanding inpatient services for adolescents.

Thank you, Elena, for this detailed coverage.

LGBTQ youth and young adults are invited to free, weekly peer support and social activities in Palo Alto presented by Family & Children Services of Silicon Valley's LGBTQ Youth Space. The schedule is posted at www.youthspace.org

2 people like this
Posted by Ferdinand
a resident of Barron Park
on Feb 3, 2016 at 12:59 pm

Sorry I missed this. Was it taped and is it available online anywhere?

Like this comment
Posted by Good
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 3, 2016 at 8:45 pm

Sorry to be behind the times - please clarify how I continue the conversation...

82 people like this
Posted by scarcity
a resident of College Terrace
on Feb 3, 2016 at 9:01 pm

The Palo Alto area has many, many therapists. If money is no object, one can always get a timely appointment with an adolescent therapist. The real problem is that almost none of them accept insurance. Although I can understand that a therapist would want to maximize payment and avoid the hassle of dealing with insurance companies, I still consider it unconscionable.

61 people like this
Posted by AnxietyParent
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Feb 3, 2016 at 10:33 pm

From the article: "There has to be a sense at school that it's safe to talk about; there has to be a sense at home that it's safe to talk about;"

While I think this is a great goal, I wonder how exactly this happens? Our experience at Jordan was the teachers were bullying and intimidating the kids. How does one suggest that kids will approach such a teacher?

Really, the first best step is to get rid of the oppression happening in middle school. This is where kids disconnect from adults; where they disconnect from education.

It sets the tone for the pressures and isolation which follows in high school. Our middle schools are a source of anxiety for many kids, and this grows into full-fledged depression without the support of adults or mental Heath services.

Middle school teachers are untrained and unskilled in dealing with anxiety, depression, ADHD, and other learning disabilities. They don't know how to recognize these issues, diagnose or manage classrooms around them. Most of the middle school teachers actually make such issues worse as they apply pressure tactics to achieve curriculum goals over mental health goals.

Quality teaching could achieve higher learning outcomes with LESS stress. But instead we have poor outcomes achieved through high stress.

Our middle schools are killing our children. Wanna fix it? Start with the IS - and get new ones.

41 people like this
Posted by Good
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 4, 2016 at 4:50 am

We had the same experience, not at Jordan. I don't think it starts with the teachers, many of whom are otherwise good people and do fine if there are no special or emotional needs, I think it starts above them. They could probably use adult antibullying training, to remind them that bullying is a power phenomenon, and it can happen in a very uneven power situation even when they aren't going out of their way to hurt a young person in their charge (and that when they are for reasons they may justify to themselves, the damage can be far worse than they appreciate). I'm pretty sure such training would never happen given that sometimes admin pushes the behavior for their own reasons.

How are you helping your child recover trust in institutions and adults? I would love some ideas beyond just time. The hurt from middle school adults is still so raw.

57 people like this
Posted by Sarah1000
a resident of Los Altos
on Feb 4, 2016 at 5:37 am

Scarcity and a local residence: As a parent of a son who has been diagnosed with major depressive disorder for over ten years, I can tell you that finding a psychiatrist who is experienced and specializes in youth/young adult anxiety/depression in our community is extremely difficult. LPCH's focus is on research rather than on services. Without any youth inpatient services in our county, providers do not want to practice here. My 18 yr old son has a great, younger male psychiatrist- in San Francisco.

Even though the Board of Supervisors has approved a Request for Information for youth inpatient services, there is much that needs to happen before there will be any services. For any interested community member, the BOS meets ever other Tuesday in downtown San Jose. They take public comments right at 9 am. You can speak for two minutes and ask the Board to take the next step and issue the Request for Proposal. There's free parking right next to the building. Google "SCC BOS agendas" to find out all the details. Thanks.

61 people like this
Posted by AnxietyParent
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Feb 4, 2016 at 7:16 am

@Good - interesting question "How are you helping your child recover trust in institutions and adults? "

We never did.

We spent most of our time making sure failings were not internalized. Basically reteaching them the misunderstood material, showing them that they can learn, they are not dumb, and coaching them to avoid confrontation with the worst teachers. JLH calls this helicopter parenting; I call it triage.

The damage to self confidence and identity as a student is tough "I hate school" was an ongoing motto. Makes it much harder to learn the next year when:

A) they weren't taught the prior year content
B) they learn to hate school.

The damage done by a lemon can be severe; it follows a script that you need to watch out for:1) poor instruction 2) confused and disorganized assignments 3) outsized expectations relative to work 4) punitive response to misunderstandings. Repeat.

The giveaway is visible first day in class: the teachers first establish a punitive power structure. It's often a list of rules that requires a parent signature. It's usually 3-5 pages and filled with gotcha's. Zero points if you don't sign it! [Portion removed.] Other patters of failure show up throughout the term: name calling students, humiliations in front of class, hidden rubrics, secret instructions, testing beyond what is taught, zero points for any punitive reason, and mountains of homework.

Individually this is a problem, but in teams it is worse. Some teachers collaborate to ratchet pressure on the kids. Gold team told me so to my face. [Portion removed.]

So I wouldn't bother trying to help children to trust institutions - not until they are in a trustworthy institution. As for adults, we taught them that family friends, scouting, YMCA have people that are trustworthy. Basically move the locus of trust out of school and back into the community.

Paly overall was only somewhat better, but we got less bullying and intimidation by teachers. The professionalism is higher, even in cases where teaching skill is still low.

Number one issue remains: motivation is through pressure and stress, more than inspiration.

And it's a vicious cycle. When a kid checks out in middle school, it's much harder to inspire them in high school. Intimidation, however, always works - it's the lazy path, and many teachers take it.

92 people like this
Posted by Seriously?
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 4, 2016 at 7:52 am

While a lot of good was done by the CHC and this conference, I have to ask why anyone llistens to Julie Lythcott-Haims.

What she proposes, leaving your kids to the schools and not intervening, was already tried in the late 50s to mid 60s, with great failure and much harm done to the kids. It was quickly disproven by the mid-60s, and educators then began to INSIST on parent participation. By the 80s, they were insisting on a LOT of it.

Everything Ms Lythcott-Haims says is badly outdated and disproven, coupled with the fact that she has never dealt with kids in the high school age range. [Portion removed.]

1 person likes this
Posted by Good
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 4, 2016 at 10:04 am

[Post removed.]

21 people like this
Posted by Good
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 4, 2016 at 11:12 am

Since edits can sometimes make it seem like something nasty was removed, I just want to be clear that most of what I saud thefe was something nice about Haims's kids. I don't think that should be off limits since Haims herself talks about them publicly in this context.

53 people like this
Posted by Good
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 4, 2016 at 11:16 am

I also almost forgot to say that .i pretty much agreed with you, I was also not saying anything bad to you, either.

38 people like this
Posted by Marc Vincenti
a resident of Gunn High School
on Feb 4, 2016 at 11:46 am

Hi, Fellow Onliners,

To turn talk immediately into action, visit Save the 2,008 and see if you'd like to sign our Open Letter and join our chorus for change.

We're a community coalition, 424-strong, who are asking our school officials to make six commonsense changes to the way Palo Alto's high schools are run.

With Save the 2,008 up and running, kids will be calmer, less stressed, more enthusiastic about learning, and better connected to their teachers.

Founded in the fall of 2014 by a Gunn student and teacher, we're named for the number of faculty and students then at the school.

Ever since, we've grown steadily to draw interest from the New York Times, ABC News Nightline, the Wall St. Journal, Al Jazeera, Mother Jones, KQED radio, and Le Monde.

Our District has tolerated "student stress," at impossible levels, for at least 15 years.

Act now: savethe2008.com.


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

58 people like this
Posted by Parent
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 4, 2016 at 1:07 pm

The parents in our community and local professional and education leaders should take a hard look at the environment they have created, and how it results the mindset that pushes our kids to the limit, and beyond for some.

Opening new health centers for the youth can treat the effects, but what needs to be addressed in the cause, and addressing the cause is in the hands and the responsibility of the adults who have created that system in the first place.

61 people like this
Posted by Paly Alum
a resident of Crescent Park
on Feb 4, 2016 at 2:32 pm

As far as Lythcott-Haims' son dropping Spanish class, MOST colleges require at least two years of world language, even the colleges with the word "State" in their names. Other colleges want 3 years of college. Therefore, it's ridiculous that PAUSD's Spanish and French classes are so rigorous and don't allow English in class, unlike other schools.

Why are Paly academics more difficult than in the past? I graduated from Paly in the early 80s and academics were still basically easy. In regular lane classes, grades of Bs required little studying, while now, science and other extreme teachers demand extremely hard work just for grades of Bs. AP classes back then were not easy, but were much less rigorous than today's standards. Are colleges expecting more from students now?

If there wasn't so much homework and academic rigor in PAUSD, there would be no mental issues - we were happy and carefree back in the early 80s. Parents who expect their children to attend their alma maters must realize that the game has changed. Parental help and tutors are the only way to get to recognizable colleges nowadays. Has their been any student who has taken their life who had no concern for grades? It's the grades that are killing our students. Give everyone As and Bs and I can guarantee there will be no depression.

18 people like this
Posted by C
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Feb 4, 2016 at 2:48 pm

"If there wasn't so much homework and academic rigor in PAUSD, there would be no mental issues - we were happy and carefree back in the early 80s."

Actually, there was a suicide cluster in the 1980's at Paly. There aren't many news articles about it available on the internet (because it happened decades ago) but if you search around you'll find references to it. One such one can be found here:
Web Link

"invited her to look over the Family LifeSkills materials that a group of us developed in the early 1980s following a couple of teen suicides at Palo Alto High School, in response to a request from then Principal Jim Shroyer for help with an "anti-suicide" program. "

44 people like this
Posted by Sarah1000
a resident of Los Altos
on Feb 4, 2016 at 3:51 pm

Paly Alum- Major depressive disorder is a chronic illness. Like other chronic illnesses such as asthma, it can be managed through treatment (which often includes medication). Someone with major depressive disorder who is in treatment can still have depressive episodes just as someone who is being treated for asthma can have an asthma attack. During a depressive episode, a person requires increased care and, sometimes, hospitalization so that his/her illness can be stabilized. Someone who is untreated during such an episode is at increased risk of dying (by suicide) just as someone who is having a serious asthma attack is at increased risk of death. Changes in school policies can help prevent some suicides but will have no impact on deaths which are a result of major depressive disorder. Only available, appropriate medical care can prevent such deaths. I would encourage you to learn more about illnesses of the mind. Stanford puts on a Mood Disorders Day every year or there are good explanations of many such illnesses on helpguide.org . Thanks.

44 people like this
Posted by Been There
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 4, 2016 at 6:29 pm

[Portion removed.] Suicide can be caused by environmental factors such as dysfunctional family life, academics, lack of friends, stock market crash, bullying, romantic troubles, etc. And in this high stress environment which our children are experiencing, I would guess that academics and family life are to blame. There are many of the same themes involved in student suicides. Sarah1000 should not spread false hopes that students are safe just because they don't have mental illness.

I was suicidal in high school. Once out in the world, away from academics and parents, I never returned to that state of mind and I am in my 50s now. Change the scenery, and there won't be suicides. College admissions are much too insane these days and the schools should work in reducing stress for our students. Begin with allowing them more sleep in the mornings. Then, move to the excessive homework loads, and tenure next.

44 people like this
Posted by GraceBrown
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Feb 4, 2016 at 7:02 pm

GraceBrown is a registered user.

@Been There

I suspect we are coming from the same perspective with regards to start times - begin classes at 10 am. Teachers (adults) will have time to set their work day, deal with email, connect with teaching-colleagues / counselors / administrators, and then see students WHEN STUDENTS ARE AWAKE.

Regardless of background, my highest performing students are generally in classes right before lunch and immediately after - this should track with most folks' experiences. Think about the work hours when YOU are most productive.

Thanks for your post,


45 people like this
Posted by Good
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 5, 2016 at 5:40 am

@Been There,
Be kind. Sarah1000 is speaking of severe clinical depression and you are speaking of precipitating triggers. Both need sttention to. The kind of depression Sarah speaks of does need addressing, and we are seriously underresourced locally for teens. The environmental factors you speak of also need addressing.

I do want to say one thing. You said "change the scenery" and things can get better. There was actually a study awhile back of people who had been suicidal, but got better just from going to the hospital, without any treatment at all as of the study. Thry just got better from changing their environment....

The one hole in your theory is that depression and suicidality are not exactly the same although one is certainly a major risk factor for the other. Our district is having a major epidemic if both, even though the surrounding communities have all the same issues and more in some cases.

52 people like this
Posted by AnxietyParent
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Feb 5, 2016 at 6:41 am

@Good points out a distinction between clinical depression and precipitating triggers in the environment.

This is important to understand - the schools treat depression as a disease without triggers, when in fact, the schools have created a system that maximizes stress, isolation, sleep loss and hopelessness. They ignore this, not out of ignorance, but rather willful denial.

As anxiety is somewhat different from depression, its causes are even more strongly environmental: confusion and uncertainty in the classroom (see lemon posting above) in a high stakes game of judgment (grades) is toxic. Kids end up worried about grades, uncertain how to succeed in a system that overloads them. Usually when the adult in the room starts yelling or berating or intimidating the kids, anxiety skyrockets.

And it never turns off.

Once exposed to this style of teaching, anxiety will override any ability of the kid to work with that teacher. Fear is a poor tool in the classroom.

After seeing poor behavior in a few classrooms (re:Jordan) the student develops a fear of all teachers. School becomes a nightmarish hell surrounded by people you cannot trust, nervous about who is judging you and who is going to get you in trouble next. And these thoughts race through your head every day. For years.

No sleep once school has taught fear, intimidation bullying and anxiety. It is exactly the focus of problems for many of our students. And this anxiety over the long term drives depression and hopelessness.

So the environment matters. And the school must be brought to understand their culpable role in this. Only when poor teaching practices are taken out of the classroom, and every teacher is a trusted person who is approachable for help; then we will see progress.

1) stop causing the stress and anxiety
2) work to repair the fears and anxiety that has already been caused by school.

19 people like this
Posted by Question
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Feb 5, 2016 at 7:48 am

@AnxietyParent: what is Gold Team and how do avoid it?

51 people like this
Posted by AnxietyParent
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Feb 5, 2016 at 8:32 am

Gold team is an 8th grade team at Jordan.

Web Link

If your child draws the short straw, there is no getting out.

The school WILL NOT help you. (Consider that next time you vote measure A) they will blame the child for failings in the classroom. [Portion removed.]

Your best bet is to transfer to another school long before you have this risk. Bowman, Priory, Pinewood, Menlo...if you can afford it.

JLS if you cannot.

...and transferring mid year doesn't work. You need to do this in 6th grade.

54 people like this
Posted by outsider
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Feb 5, 2016 at 11:30 am

Caution is needed at all the schools and parents need to stop being told to "let their kids go" into a known dangerous situation. Parents need to be vigilant in supporting safety for their children. This is not helicoptering.

No symposium, news article, expert panel or discussions can ever regain the level of trust parents and students had before the suicides and recent sexual misconduct cases. Knowing that the principal at Ohlone did not report abuse to CPS or the DO should give her jail time and or lose her credential. Every educator in CA is a mandatory reporter. The fact that this did not happen should scare the hell out of everyone. Asking kids and parents to change and jump into a known dysfuntion blindly is asking too much. Parents not just giving schools our kids with full trust is not the core or the problem, it is a normal defense based on facts.

I see no change in the low skill set and elitism of many teachers and the principal at PALY does not enforce state standards. Kids have to have tutors so they get some instruction and still, teachers may surprise them. We have a math teacher that "forgets" to cover material and then sends home mismatched you tube videos the day before a test. That is stressfull and also the norm.

One change that is noticed is that the kids are fighting back by calling in sick for tests.. 50 percent for the "you tube" teacher and some are pulling fire alarms if they did not get test prep. Lots of cheating but, who would not cheat a "you tube teacher" she is a gold bricker and the kids know it. The principal knows it. The fact that nothing is done is the thing that is causing most of the stress. I hope the students causing adults to react is a trend becasue I would rather see the adults have to be resilient rather than the kids.

16 people like this
Posted by Good
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 5, 2016 at 12:04 pm

@Anxiety Parent,
Sorry to say, not JLS either, if you have a 504 or IEP or otherwise don't fall on line so they like you and feel your child deserves to be treated with dignity and kindness.

31 people like this
Posted by Good
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 5, 2016 at 12:11 pm

...can ever regain the level of trust..."

Try living through getting long letters full of lies and being attacked for trying to ensure your child's safety in school per the law, over and over again. How do you restore trust when such behavior merits nothing but promotions? There is no way to fix it until there are better and more direct checks and balances every time something goes wrong.

25 people like this
Posted by Good
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 5, 2016 at 12:16 pm

I almost forgot. A child with executive function problems, which could arguably apply to a large percentage of boys in middle school, is also not better off at JLS.

25 people like this
Posted by Paly Alum
a resident of Crescent Park
on Feb 5, 2016 at 2:42 pm

C, a suicide cluster is defined as many suicides in a short time. Whenever those two occured, it was not considered a cluster. There is seriously more stress on our students now than then. More rigorous academics, more "personalities" that aren't fit for teaching. Back then, the teachers were helpful, organized, approachable, but mostly, enjoyed teaching and wanted students to learn - they were our allies. Now, it seems that many just do it for the paycheck and have poor teaching skills.

AnxietyParent, on the Gold Team, the English and social studies teachers are very nice and decent teachers. The other two, yes, we experienced them too, and they do have tenure. But there are some female teachers who are no longer at Jordan, and good riddance.

Agree with outsider, Palo Alto parents must stay involved with their childrens' emotions. Authoritarian parenting in this school district is a disservice to the children. Our children need supportive parents.

16 people like this
Posted by AnxietyParent
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Feb 5, 2016 at 4:07 pm

@Paly Alum - we may disagree on the details of Gold team: who is professional, who is oppressor, who is a bystander.

But where we need to get agreement as a community is that there are SOME teachers and teams who are:

1) contributing to anxiety, depression environmental triggers, stress, etc

2) intentional, or unintentionally; or as a byproduct of poor skills combined with a priority on curriculum over mental health

3) this problem creates long term disengagement and mental health issues for students

4) it is unmanaged by the admin/district.

Once there is broad agreement, then solutions such as better training, committees to study the issue, innovations to reach out to impacted students; changes in admin policy to modify students class or environment...

There are probably a dozen things could be done to address problems. But first we need the schools to get over the willful denial of their role in this problem.

The schools need to wake up to the harm they are causing.

38 people like this
Posted by Carole
a resident of Walter Hays School
on Feb 5, 2016 at 5:13 pm

Yes, there are many teachers at Jordan and Paly who have personalities unfit for teaching. They just don't care. There are even P.E. Teachers who aren't nice. Really? How stressful is teaching P.E? District needs to clean house.

14 people like this
Posted by Good
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 6, 2016 at 9:01 am

I agree with you except for one thing - There should not and legally doesn't need to be broad agreement on anything if even one child or family is subjected to such behavior, much less many. It continues when families have no immediate and effective recourse to stop it every time it happens. That does not exist because there are no mechanisms for checks and balances at the administrative level. When such mechanisme exist, they don't often have to be enforced. Because they don't exist, and no immediate recourse exists, problems build to the breaking point and many children are hurt before there is even awareness much less agreement.

When there are no immediate corrective mechanisms when a person abuses their position, for example, then the last thing they will ever do is wake up and see their role. They lie to themselves and to others without even appreciating the harm precisely because they are never ever required to come to terms with it in the course of their work. That's why that DNA case escalated the way it did. The truism Absolute power corrupts absolutely applies to absolutely everyone.

No, I think what has to happen is that districts need checks and balances. Is there a way to amend the city charter, which establishes the school board and superintendent positions, with an ombudsman board of some kind? Maybe made up of local people who have no investment in the power structure of the district? Perhaps there are other charter cities in California who have done something already? The way you can make it happen is to find the best solution where it is working, adapt it to our charter, then begin an initiative at the local level. An initiative doesn't even necessarily have to go to vote. If you start by working with City Council, they may have constructive input, and can adopt an i itiative without an election, just as theycan a referendum.

9 people like this
Posted by Good
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 6, 2016 at 9:06 am

Oh, and if you start soon, the issue could be on the forefront during the school board election, and thus could not be ignored in the public discussion. I would strongly recommend finding partners in the community who care, are well-connected, but don't have kids in the district, because you will be retaliated against by the usual suspects unless and until you are successful.

5 people like this
Posted by AnxietyParent
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Feb 6, 2016 at 9:46 am

Can the city council reorganize the school district by change of charter?

That is baffling to me.

Any lawyers out there care to comment?

3 people like this
Posted by Parent
a resident of Crescent Park
on Feb 6, 2016 at 11:16 am

The school district structure and governance has no relationship to the city; they are separate throughout California. In fact, as you probably know, PAUSD does not have the same footprint as CPA - it includes Stanford, Los Altos Hills, and a couple other slivers.

School district governance and procedure are mostly set at the state level - here's the starting place - Web Link

Some other districts have a Parent Ombudsman role, so it could be done. My sense is that most are larger than PAUSD, where you can pretty easily connect with principals, staff, superintendent, and board members. The ultimate local control is that the five Board members, all directly elected, are members of the local community and all current or former district parents. They represent and work for the community, not the district.

5 people like this
Posted by AnxietyParent
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Feb 6, 2016 at 1:11 pm

The Board may nominally work for the community (ha just kidding!)

But the problem is that the teachers don't work for the district, and the district doesn't work for the Board.

We have a total breakdown in authority.

6 people like this
Posted by Parent
a resident of Crescent Park
on Feb 6, 2016 at 2:01 pm

While the superintendent serves at the pleasure of the board, most teachers and administrators have job protection in the form of tenure, which makes it difficult to fire them. It is also a unionized workforce, with some work rules written into the contract. If these are the root causes of the problems you see (not sure if they are or not), it is difficult for the board or anyone to change them, though teacher tenure is being challenged in the courts (Vergara v California - Web Link), having lost in the first round and now on appeal. If the court challenge wins, the laws will need to be re-written, and that could be a watershed event in how teachers are managed.

9 people like this
Posted by Good
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 7, 2016 at 12:16 am

The first rule of change is to know for sure where the power to change lies. With government, you have to know what level of government. The best way to learn -0about civics is not in school, but by trying to change something for the better. It's a great exercise for any of our students (not to mention would look great on a resume).

I'm not sure this is happening above, but don't confuse charter cities with charter schools. Palo Alto is what's called a charter city. It's why Maybell neighbors weren't able to simply have a judge throw out the Maybell rezoning (instead of the residents having to referend) because by state code, consistency with the comp plan is required, except in charter cities.

Read Section 5201
Web Link
In a charter city in California, the question of whether a school district shall be governed by the provisions of the (city) charter can be put to the voters, and appears to have been in Palo Alto.

Here is more info about charter cities:
Web Link
"Did you know that, under certain home rule provisions in California's state constitution, voters can exercise a greater degree of local control than that provided by the California Legislature? "

Read especially the quick summary. Charter cities are not subject to principles of state preemption the way general law cities are:
Web Link
"In other words, a charter city’s law concerning a municipal affair will trump a state law governing the same topic
Cities that have not adopted a charter are general law cities. General law cities are bound by the state’s general law, even with respect to municipal affairs. Of California’s 478 cities, 108 of them are charter cities."

Web Link

Read the section on Exception to Preemption: City Charter Powers

" Under California’s constitution, certain kinds of cities have an additional measure of protection 5 from state preemption. ... a charter city has power to act, even to the extent that the city’s action may be at odds with a state law. The chief restriction on local action under these circumstances is whether the action would be inconsistent with the city’s charter or the state and federal constitutions.

... This charter functions as a local constitution that provides for the organization and structure of the city. ... Some charters have a great deal of detail; others are quite brief. ..[the residents of a charter city have ] the option deviating from state law with respect to municipal affairs."

The Palo Alto City charter is not a long document and is easy to read:
Web Link
Article VIII-A appears to establish the board of education and superintendent position, and their powers and duties. Note that the city charter is what provides that the state ed code will apply to the board's duties (not the other way around).
"Sec. 3. Powers and duties.
The powers and duties of the board of education shall be those prescribed by the Constitution, Education Code, and general laws of the state of California, as they may now exist or may hereafter be amended."

Since Palo Alto is a charter, the charter may be amended by (please correct me if wrong) the city council and by initiative process. I am not clear whether amendments must be voted on or they can be accepted without a vote.

The upshot of this is, while it may not be easy, it is certainly doable to change the structure of the school district, to make it more accountable to the city government, to make it subject to another authority like an independent citizen ombudsman position, to create more board members, etc. Really, subject to non-municipal restrictions and constitutionality, citizens can do whatever they want if they can convince their fellow citizens. If the district is restructured, I think there are some huge advantages in terms if nullifying contracts, etc. I can't think of the right term for a search online offhand, though...

So, first of all, California ed code is extremely permissive, and secondly, our charter governs our local matters, not the state. As a practical matter, if you want a change, it's good to find a well established example, have a governmental law firm check your proposal, then have at it. The first order of business should be to provide for checks and balances far short of school board elections.

7 people like this
Posted by Good
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 7, 2016 at 12:36 am

Can anyone comment on whether a charter amendment is always subject to vote or can be made by the city council or through initiative (with or without a ballot)?

11 people like this
Posted by Therapists and insurance
a resident of Crescent Park
on Feb 7, 2016 at 8:22 am

There are a lot of decent therapists in the area, but the financial reality is that they charge 150 to 200 an hour. Very few take insurance because insurance pays them 50 to 60 an hour (that's based on what our insurance reimburses us). Huge difference! The wait time to see an actual child psychologist can easily be 3 months, and that's during school hours!

4 people like this
Posted by Like What?
a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Feb 7, 2016 at 10:00 am

"The first order of business should be to provide for checks and balances far short of school board elections."

@Good - So what do you have in mind? Elections seem like a pretty standard check - if we don't like what the district is doing, elect new board members. Elections for 2 or 3 seats out of 5 happen every two years. Aside from electing the board (which hires/fires the super), what kind of control do you think would be useful? Are there other districts you think we should model ourselves after?

9 people like this
Posted by Good
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 7, 2016 at 10:04 am

Please consider what I wrote above. Make it safe to try to fix problems in our district. Make it impossible for employees who retaliate or manipulate and lie to be retained. Make it possible for the district to run well rather than have to self destruct before it's possible to clean house. Have any other charter cities done what we can emulate? You can search for a list of the charter cities in California, then look at each one's charter. They can all be found online these days in those legal repositories. Or ask a high school student to it.

Maybe we would have to blaze trails, but I suspect not. Getting the first change or proposal through is the hardest. Remember the Maybell Referendum? Hardly anyone remembers that there were two referenda, not just one. The second one was all about preventing a subversion of the democratic process - and avoiding a public debate resulting from putting it to vote. Residents were able to put forward a referendum with enough signatures in just 10 or 15 days. The City Council voted quietly to adopt it and that was it. Fixing our schools could be as easy as that, if some parents are willing to put the effort into creating a framework for local control to actually happen.

Changing the city charter may require a vote, not just a city council action, but I'm not sure. If the latter, setting up an ombudsman position with teeth could be as easy as creating a good proposal and working with council and Mayor Burt, who I think understands we have a problem pretty well. If the former, a proposal should be made to amend the charter in a way that allows checks and balances without having to keep amending the charter (the way state initiatives keep changing the state cobstitution). If changing the charter is required to be put to vote, that would probably be because of a state initiative requiring it, and is probably not a bad hurdle if it exists, but that's the hardest one. The rest are easier.

Despite all the rhetoric about parents here, I personally feel like anyone complaining should go where I went to high school and deal with the ex-felons, drug dealers and addicts, and very loud opinionated ... mendicants... and others who truly don't care and don't respect or like teachers. The smart pussycat parents we have here who try to work with teachers to solve problems and shovel money at them will seem quite different.

9 people like this
Posted by Good
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 7, 2016 at 10:18 am

@Like what?
If you think the present system is enough, then we have little to talk about. That's why things like initiatives and referenda exist at the city and state level. Something equivalent to that for schools could be a start.

Another possibility is clarifying what it means that our district's own regulations are "binding" - make it easier for parents to enforce the district's own rules. Yet another possibility is to set up something similar to PTA rules. Local PTAs have to review their rules every few years, because the rules are structured to be flexible. Some things can't be changed, but others are geared to be changed to tailor the rules to every chapter.

The goal should be to create avenues for sunlight, enforcement of rules without things becoming literal federal cases, and meeting the needs if children far short of waiting years to change the school board composition/even then having no power to get them to take care of business. In a democracy, that kind of insularity should not stand, and fortunately, should not have to.

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Posted by Like What?
a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Feb 7, 2016 at 10:36 am

@Good, do we really need initiative/referendum at the school district level when we can simply change the school board? BTW, I'm not sure we can point to those tools as a positive feature of the California governance systems; some think they are the source of many troubles. I am not a fan of direct democracy for most things - I'd rather have elected representatives figuring things out for me.

I guess I do disagree with you on the general point that our school systems is not "democratic" - control by a locally elected group of five community members in a non-partisan election, with meetings governed by the Brown Act and local papers watching every move - that's about as democratic as it gets. And it is actually important that the school staff don't see themselves as working for the parents directly - that path leads to chaos, with the most overbearing parents getting their way.

But I do agree with you that the district should follow its own rules. Some districts do have ombudspersons, which might be useful here. Usually that's a staff person, who is simply charged with being helpful to parents. The school board could approve such a role - I'm not aware of it ever being suggested. You should come to a board meeting and bring it up!

8 people like this
Posted by Good
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 7, 2016 at 1:35 pm

@Like What?

The idea that simply having an election for a few people on a five person board every so many years as the only leverage to right things when they go off the rails is ludicrous. Imagine you had no power as a consumer if someone cheated you, no ability to go to small claims court, nothing except to trust that a board of five people who are too close to the manufacturers anyway, will ensure the system works so well that no one ever has problems. The reason we have school boards as governing bodies is in order to ensure local control, that means control by locals in actuality. What we have is not that. In my opinion, that kind of insularity us why public schools in general have been historically so hard to reform.

Why shouldn't the school staff see families as their customers? That is who they are serving and who pays their salary. The whole point if a system with checks and balances is so that the majority - teachers and families - have the power NOT to be subject to little napoleans (parents, teachers, or admin). The consequence of checks and balances may be uncomfortable for those who most benefit from insularity and absolute power now, but is not what you claim, so long as the rules ensure it, so that the few cannot abuse the system. (Checks and balances) Right now we have a situation in which employees like the school district nurse and special ed employees are more engaged in political battles against families and as witnesses for the prosecution, essentially, with unfettered power to do whatever they want. They should be advocates for kids, the rest should be someone else's job, or the conflicts are too great for them to do a good job for the kids. No one with conflicts of interest thinks they can't handle it, that's why we have laws.

Your views on direct democracy aside (I personally think Switzerland is pretty nice) just having referenda and initiatives isn't direct democracy, we still have a representative form if government, but with checks and balances. The incredible innovation of American democracy was not just inalienable rights of everyone, it was an understanding of how to balance power so that those rights could be protected.

Right now, in consumer law, if someone sends you something you did not order, it's yours. If a spam caller keeps calling you, you can easily get large judgments against them in small claims court. Neither rule caused commerce to collapse, quite the contrary. In the former case, in contrast to the claims of the mail order industry before the rules went into effect, providing every consumer the immediate power to leverage the right outcome every time a mail order company misbehaves with unsolicited merchandise they then try to collect for, the consumer can fix the problem - without having to do anything like going to court. Those rules stopped a serious chapter of abuse by mail order companies and paved the way for mail order to become a respected and important part if our economy. It was harder to abuse, not because of unenforceable rules in a remote place or board, but because every person could ensure the right outcome, without their time being burdened, whenever a mail order company tried to send unsolicited merchandise and leverage payment. For the sake of our children, we should have similar rules that work to allow every person involved with every child to ensure they have the best and safest education we can give them, per our district's own (now mostly just words) vision.

It does sound like you have an investment in protecting the status quo. I am providing the information above for those for whom the system is not working, in pretty serious and longstanding ways.

I have gone to meetings and made my little 3 minute statements to the hand at 25 Churchill. I no longer do, because I value my time and have an aversion to wasting it. That's why levers are necessary - when you hold all the power, you can say useless things like that to me, and I have no power to really change anything if I can't convince you with all the power otherwise. That's why absolute power corrupts absolutely. This is especially dangerous when situations of graft or malfeasance happen (the PTA rules specifically state when the powers granted to individual parents are to help prevent graft).

Checks and balances are an important part of public life. They need to be created at the school district level. It would be very unusual if those in power went along willingly, expect a fight and misinformation. The best place to start is, per my msg above, with a review of other charter cities that may now have a track record of something better. Referring to the original subject of this post, you may be content to continue something that hasn't fixed such a serious issue for our district, but others hopefully will be willing to do what it takes. (Paraphrasing: all that is necessary for evil to triumph is that goid men do nothing.)

9 people like this
Posted by Good
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 7, 2016 at 1:44 pm

By the way, small claims court is a good example. People always had the power to sue in superior court, but the enormous cost, stress, time, and trouble meant that effectively, there was no justice for a whole segment of citizen and comsumer issues. Sure, there were plenty of people who brought up the spectre of giving ordinary people such power. Small claims court works because it gives people who are wronged a way to set things right, easily, and quickly, and with the power of enforcement by the state. You may feel a few people abuse small claims, but that's something to deal with for itself, because nothing is perfect, and in no way changes the greater justice resulting from small claims court. one of my relatives who has a major law firm in SoCal told me if I ever wanted to see real justice in action and feel less cynical about the courts, go spend a day in small claims court. I actually did and agree. (So you see, giving us little people recourse can actually be good for justice and society.)

2 people like this
Posted by Like What?
a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Feb 7, 2016 at 2:16 pm

@Good - I'm still not sure what "checks and balances" you think will work; it sounds like you may not be sure either. I'm pretty sure initiative and referendum won't help much with the problems you are talking about (individual teachers or administrators).

It sounds like an ombudsperson role could help with the kind of things you are concerned about. They field complaints and try to help people resolve them. Some school districts have them; so does Stanford and many colleges. Do you think that would be helpful in this case?

I do think the "parent as customer" model of public schools is not healthy - the schools work for the community generally, not the parents or the students. If someone wants parent control, they can choose private or homeschooling, which provide it. Parents have a voice in public schools, of course, but it isn't the final or even most important, in my opinion. But it is important that the schools follow their own rules and strive to meet their own standards, which should be in everyone's interests.

You're right that one person speaking his/her piece at a board meeting doesn't accomplish much - nor should it generally, since it is easy to do. But if there are others who feel similar, you can all speak; you can create petitions (not hard in an online world); you can also contact and meet with staff, board members, and board candidates, and talk to them about your issues. Maybe you have done all this and it didn't work; but if you haven't, you could try it. It seems a lot easier than trying to change the governance structure of the district and then hold ballot initiatives (or whatever).

5 people like this
Posted by Be Positive
a resident of Leland Manor/Garland Drive
on Feb 7, 2016 at 2:50 pm

Be Positive is a registered user.

In a school district, the students are the "customers" and the "product" is their education. As a community, it iis reasonable to expect the staff NOT to bully their "customers" and to do their best to have a great "product" at the end of 13 years of school. The only way to have more of a checks and balance on the staff (teachers and administrators) is to be able to fire those who are not contributing to the end product, and who in too many cases, are making the product worse and simply a source of anxiety.

7 people like this
Posted by Good
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 7, 2016 at 3:05 pm

@Like What?
The parents and students, their friends, families, coworkers, ARE the community. The school district should never have gotten to a place where the personal interests of administrators are served by district legal over the interests of children. Read the district's own vision statement if you want to find a source that agrees that districts exist first and foremost to serve children and that parents are important partners. Currently, there are no checks and balances available to any member of the community, not just parents.

An ombudsman could be a great one, but only if the ombudsman was kind of a third branch of government and didn't work for the superintendent or board. Otherwise, it's just another expensive and untrustworthy addition to the admin power structure. The governor of California's salary is reviewed and sometimes even lowered by a citizen commission. PAUSDs admins didn't even see a drop during the recession, which is why McGee makes twice as much as Jerry Brown. The citizen commission didn't mean the salary got lowered to zero and we couldn't find good candidates. It meant that there were checks and balances to keep the salary from just going up and up. You might ask why the legislature couldn't do that, but that's why someone at some point got fed up and leveraged the citizen commission. Making things work better is a complex job, and the people most close to the problems are the ones who should have the power to solve them. That doesn't happen if the power imbalance is too great within any organization.

If the ombudsmen were a position created by the city charter and answerable to the city council or a citizen commission made up in a similar way to some of the impartial ballot commissions of other charter cities, that might work. The ombudsman would have to have real power, though, and perhaps a mandate to ensure laws are followed.

You're right, I don't know what form such checks and balances should best take, offhand. I think the best course is to look at other charter cities to see what might have a track record already, then look at other problems (like the unsolicited merchandise problem) or structures (like small claims court) that have solved problems from uneven power balances. The former issue, interestingly, was taken up by Congress because Congressional members were getting taken by unscrupilous mail order companies, too, and none of the usual approaches worked. (Absolute power corrupts...) The lack of effective recourse by citizens is why the companies did it. Congress came up with all kinds of rules, but the thing that worked, letting customers keep unsolicited merchandise sent, was an 11th hour addition. The solution came from debate in an open and democratic process that elevated the input of those affected. I think that will happen if the change comes through a city charter amendment, it's worked into our system.

But I think most people do not realize they do have the power to change our school district's governance and rules, to go beyond an ineffective school board. Most people don't appreciate the city charter and the power they could exercise because of it. The school board has the power to make those rules for themselves (good luck with that if you enjoy wasting time). The state board of education rules for school board duties only apply because our city charter says they do. That can be amended with our own rules, which is one of the fundamental reasons for being a charter city, that power and flexibility. You may not like that, either, but lucky for you there are many general law cities nearby, if you prefer state over local control.

4 people like this
Posted by Like What?
a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Feb 7, 2016 at 3:07 pm

I agree that the students' education is the product. But as they teach in business schools, the "customer" is the one who pays, and in this case it is the community as a whole in its role as taxpayers. Which makes sense - the community as a whole is the beneficiary through a well educated populace.

Ability to fire teachers more easily could be helpful - if Vergara comes through, we might find out.

6 people like this
Posted by Good
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 7, 2016 at 3:19 pm

@Like What?
And again, the parents, children, their families, former school parents, parents to be, coworkers, etc, ARE the community. Their interests do not conflict, as you seem to imply. (The school district itself should never have become so insular that district employees were pitted against families that way, either.) NONE of those community partners has checks and balances in our school district even equivalent to referendum or initiative. The community has no real recourse at the level of our district, and virtually none from above. None of those parties has any lever to set the train aright when it goes off the rails, in any way similar to referendum or initiative or small claims court, anything. The school district was set up for control by the community, if that's how you want to call it - and you may not like democracy, but most of us do and that is our form of government - but currently the district is completely insular. They simple do not have to do anything they don't wish to, and such insularity and absolute power is never good for human organizations.

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Posted by Like What?
a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Feb 7, 2016 at 3:29 pm

@Good - I guess what am having trouble seeing is why you that if the directly elected local school board is ineffective, some other local body will do better. Why do you think the City Council (elected by most of the same voters) or some citizen commission (appointed by ?) would behave better/differently from the school board, who is elected specifically to set education policy and hire and manage the superintendent? If the school board falls short, why would others do better? They aren't captured somehow by the district - they don't work for it, or consult to them afterward, or for the most part even have kids in the district (right now 3 do not, and 1 more is close to the end). Some have long association with the district as parents and volunteers (that's part of why they get elected), but others don't - Mr. Dauber was an outsider, but gained the support of the Weekly and ultimately the voters. For most, this will be their last school related role and their last political role; they have no interest other than the best interest of the community they all live in.

I do think an ombudsperson might be useful. Typically, these report to the board or the super or both, and they don't have legal enforcement power - they are advocates, mediators, and problem solvers. Not sure if it is a full-time position for our district or not (the districts I have found with the role are quite a bit larger), but it could be a part-time role or even a contractor.

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Posted by Like What?
a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Feb 7, 2016 at 3:38 pm

"The community has no real recourse at the level of our district"

@Good, I think we must just disagree on this. The community elects the school board, which sets policy and hires/fires the superintendent. That's what control looks like in my book. If we are unhappy about something systemic, we can avail ourselves of the levers that we have (as others do, look at Mr. Dauber).

When I say parents should not be in control or the customers, I mean that they cannot individually or in groups show up at a school and say "I'm the customer here, I should get what I want." That's just not right. They, along with other community members, get to elect the board they choose; the board takes it from there. The parents can certainly participate and should have their voices heard (and many do of course in a variety of ways), but in their role as parents, they aren't in charge and are not the "customer." That's my view.

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Posted by AnxietyParent
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Feb 7, 2016 at 4:07 pm

@Like What - your argument is theoretically correct, but in practice there is widespread noncompliance to board policy, and the super has not exercised the authority needed to get compliance.

Either he lacks the authority, or is afraid to use it, or both.

We can debate whether he, or the board, theoretically have power; but practically it doesn't matter - the staff are not following policy. I feel the unions should be held accountable: future contracts should have noncompliance clauses that include pay reductions for each infraction.

You also comment:"When I say parents should not be in control or the customers, I mean that they cannot individually or in groups show up at a school and say "I'm the customer here, I should get what I want." '

I simply don't buy this, and you provide no rational reason for this assertion.

In every professional encounter I have with my doctor or lawyer of plumber, the customer gets what they want. Even in commoditized service delivery such as fast good and hotels the customer can request and often receive customized support.

In fact, it is ONLY in government funded unionized professions where the customer is ignored. The mentality behind this attitude has been told to me clearly: 'we work for the state to deliver a public good. Not the students, not the parents, not the community'

This attitude is wrong, and heavily defended by law and lobby.

But that wall is coming down.

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Posted by Goid
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 7, 2016 at 5:16 pm

@like What,
"When I say parents should not be in control or the customers, I mean that they cannot individually or in groups show up at a school and say "I'm the customer here, I should get what I want."

I fundamentally disagree with your view. Parents absolutely should be able to enforce what they want if it's in the best interests of children. Right now, (hypothetical but very possible and similar things have happened elsewhere) if every last parent signed a petition asking the district to review a certain math text they liked along with the district picks, but the superintendant was taking payola from a publisher and wouldn't do it, the parents could correct the situation through some kind of lever - an ombudsmen with balancing power, a vote, etc. it's the way democracies work. If parents were asking for gold, they would be denied. If they were asking for the district to follow existing laws, take care of student health or safety, fulfill the promises of a tax measure or else, etc, then parents getting their way will ensure the district runs better. Not only that, but decisions will be considered with parent input in mind rather than completely ignoring anyone administrators don't like. There is no way to fire a poorly performing administrator, either. The whole governmental reason for school districts to exist instead of for states to tell us what to do, the whole reason for charter cities to exist, IS for control by the local residents. Parents happen to be a lot of the local residents in this town. It is not right that they have no say except for the insular way you suggest is enough. Again, you may be uncomfortable with that, but that's democracy. Many of us believe it's not enough. The opportunity exists to change that, though, because we do indeed have local control.

You have said your piece, and I doubt you will change your mind, those benefiting from uneven power rarely do. Thankfully, a democracy allows the less powerful to create balance short of revolution.

@Anxiety Parent,
You seem very motivated and smart - any inclination to change things?

And you probably will never see that point of view, since you seem to have a power dtake in the status quo. That's why checks and balances are so essential to a healthy democracy. The person in power is usually who gets what they want, and that corrupts absolutely if there are no effective checks and balances.

5 people like this
Posted by Good
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 7, 2016 at 5:22 pm

Oops, what I meant was that if the parents asked something and there was a motivation to deny it behind the scenes they weren't privvy to, like payola, they WOULDN'T have any power to fix it. Their kids are just screwed.

The idea thatparents shouldn't be involved in education and the state should be all powerful is so 19th century and didn't work out so well, which is why Governor Brown has a new initiative to promote and support more parent power and involvement. (If you don't like even the thinking caring pussycat parents in Palo Alto, maybe education isn't your calling.)

5 people like this
Posted by Good
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 7, 2016 at 5:27 pm

@Anxiety Parent,
Sorry, the perils of typing on a small screen. That ladt paragraph was meant for @Like What but I thought I deleted it

It really isn't that daunting to change the City Charter, and if you do, you will finally be helping everyone who comes after you. No one else will have to sugpffer with no recourse as you and your child did.

4 people like this
Posted by Good
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 8, 2016 at 9:33 am

@@Therapists and Insurance,
"There are a lot of decent therapists in the area, but the financial reality is that they charge 150 to 200 an hour. Very few take insurance because insurance pays them 50 to 60 an hour (that's based on what our insurance reimburses us). Huge difference! The wait time to see an actual child psychologist can easily be 3 months, and that's during school hours!"

This is the perennial problem. I think there are places locally to get counseling where they will just ask you to pay what you can, but I no longer remember where. The bigger question I would ask is if there are community structures that work just as well that kids can turn to immediately when they need help? I'm troubled by the idea that schools are more than just a resource to help, since school may often be a source of the problems, and in my experience, if they sense any kind of blame being documented in a child's record, even, woe to the unsuspecting child and their family.

Good child psychologists are worth their weight, though - did this seminar offer any other resources to help @Therapists?

8 people like this
Posted by Sarah1000
a resident of Los Altos
on Feb 8, 2016 at 10:42 am

Bay Area Children's Association in San Jose offers just the type of counseling of which you speak (and they take insurance and work with you if you don't have any). However, the wait list is usually so long that you can't even get on the wait list. Because there is no place to send youth with serious issues (I.e., inpatient mental health services), providers choose to practice in communities where those services are available. We need to require our County (through the Board of Supervisors) and our hospitals to provide these services.

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Posted by Good
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 8, 2016 at 5:56 pm

I thought there was also something in Palo Alto, like at the Ananda Ctr but not affiliated with them? I was really surprised when I learned about it, and can't seem to find it now....

1 person likes this
Posted by Sarah1000
a resident of Los Altos
on Feb 9, 2016 at 12:21 pm

I'm not familiar with anything similar in Palo Alto. I would think that Project Safety Net would be the most familiar with available Palo Alto services- and they just got a new director. Maybe try to contact them through their website? Web Link

1 person likes this
Posted by Children's Health Council
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 4, 2016 at 4:14 pm

Thank you everyone for the comments and for standing up for teens. Let's keep the conversation going! Please join us for three free workshops available to everyone in our community. www.chconline.org/teens for more info. Our first workshop is Monday 3/7 and all are welcome. Do spread the word.

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