Palo Alto school district staff have pivoted on an idea for a committee that would have identified a new, unified counseling model for both high schools to a new group that will recommend a social-emotional curriculum for pre-kindergarten through 12th grade.
What started as the "Student Support Systems" in February has since shifted to the "Distributed Counseling Committee" and, now, to the "Social Emotional Learning Curriculum Committee." The school board will discuss the latest iteration at its meeting Tuesday night.
The first committee proposal, which grew out of conversations around the efficacy of counseling models at Palo Alto and Gunn high schools, charged the group with investigating, analyzing and recommending "a comprehensive, effective, and innovative system of high school student support" by December 2016, according to a staff report.
One of the group's recommendations could have been to roll out a single student-support model at Paly and Gunn, which currently operate different systems. (Paly has long had in place a teacher-advisory model, which connects students with a teacher-advisor throughout their four years, whereas Gunn's traditional model has a group of staff members providing guidance counseling, college and career advice and social-emotional support.)
Members of both the district and high-school leadership teams collaborated to write the charge for this new committee.
The board discussed staff's proposal at its Feb. 9 meeting, with most asking for a more refined focus. Not all supported the idea of recommending a unified counseling model for both high schools.
Staff digested the board's feedback and came back with a proposal for the "Distributed Counseling Committee," a reference to a model through which teachers and counselors work together as a team to support students' academic and social-emotional health.
"A distributed counseling model is based in the belief that it is the responsibility of all of the adults in a school to provide a caring, safe, and supportive environment for students," Associate Superintendent for Educational Services Markus Autrey wrote in a Feb. 26 update to the board. "The principle envisions a counselor working with a cohort of students and supporting their teachers to share responsibilities for both the academic and social-emotional development of the students."
Among other criteria, the new group's recommendation would have included "an aligned distributed counseling model to be implemented on both high school campuses," Autrey wrote.
But now, staff is proposing that the district form a committee dedicated to choosing a new preK-12 social-emotional curriculum rather than counseling models for the high schools.
While "staff strongly endorses the concepts and plan presented, as it would ideally lead to identical, or at least closely similar, models at each school," doing this without "first clarifying the social-emotional competencies needed to fully implement" a new model "may be putting the proverbial cart before the horse," Superintendent Max McGee wrote in his executive summary for Tuesday's board meeting.
"Social-emotional learning (SEL) provides the foundation for maintaining a healthy balance between the many physical and psychological pursuits a person will encounter over the course of their life," he continued. "Therefore, a unified approach to addressing the social-emotional learning needs of students to ensure the development of a common language, learning targets, and grade level competencies is proposed."
There is no "coherent curriculum" for social-emotional learning K-12 in Palo Alto, McGee wrote, and the district should develop a model "to assure the curriculum is taught using a unified approach."
McGee told the Weekly Monday that with several overlapping, mental health related efforts currently being considered the counseling committee, a proposal to hire a district-level mental health and wellness coordinator, new funding requests to support counseling services, a staff proposal to consider a consolidated wellness center model it was time to "step back and take a systems approach."
"Let's start with the foundation, which is social-emotional health and well-being curriculum and what we want our students to know and be able to do to experience, to learn and then from that, create a counseling model to deliver that," he said.
The goal is to identify a curriculum between now and Nov. 1 and then, next, look to put a counseling model in place by the 2017-18 school year, McGee said.
Some social-emotional skills are best taught through classes like Living Skills (a required class at Paly and Gunn that covers topics like drugs and alcohol, sex education and some mental health), McGee said, some through the teacher-advisory system and others, through guidance counselors.
In other business Tuesday, the board will discuss a $1 million proposal to repaint Gunn High School this summer; vote on a $1.33 million anonymous donation to fund significant facilities improvements at Addison Elementary School; discuss a new gifts, grants and bequests policy that would require the superintendent seek board direction on donations anticipated to be in excess of $1 million; and vote to approve the district's second interim financial report, among other items.
McGee will also provide an update on the application process for a new committee charged with reviewing all school names in the district and the district's work with the city to develop a master plan for Cubberley Community Center.
The board meeting begins at 6:30 p.m. on Tuesday, March 8, at the district office, 25 Churchill Ave. View the full agenda here.