Community Notebook: Palo Alto school district seeks members for social-emotional learning committee

Applications due by Monday, May 2

The Palo Alto school district is looking for parents, students, faculty, staff and community members to serve on a new committee that is expected to recommend a unified, districtwide social-emotional learning curriculum.

With an eye toward supporting the "whole child," the committee will be tasked with researching and identifying curricula that will provide students, from pre-kindergarten through high school, with the "necessary social and emotional learning competencies to successfully navigate in school and beyond," the committee application reads.

The school board has backed a staff proposal for such a committee, though some expressed concern about setting aside a previous intent to create a group that would address the district's counseling models, particularly at the high-school level. Staff brought forward the "Social Emotional Learning Curriculum Committee" in March after two previous iterations, which were more focused on recommending a direct service model for both high schools.

The new committee will be comprised of four parents, four students, four members of the community at large, four administrators and four faculty and staff members. (Applicants must have a child who currently attends a school in the district or represent an organization that serves as a school partner.) Brenda Carrillo, the district's student services director, will run the meetings and help the group develop recommendations.

The committee will generally meet Wednesday evenings, once or twice a month through December, according to the application.

Any recommended curricula must be reviewed against current research, reflect evidence-based practices and include evaluation metrics, according to the committee's charge. It must also "support a unified Pre K-12 approach to social emotional learning and well-being."

The group's recommendations will be subject to board approval.

Applications must be received by the end of the day on Monday, May 2. Committee members will be selected on or before May 13. The committee's first meeting is tentatively scheduled for May 25.

Application forms can be accessed online or the Student Services Office in Portable A at the district office, 25 Churchill Ave.

Completed applications should be sent to Brenda Carrillo, student services director, Palo Alto Unified School District, 25 Churchill Avenue, Palo Alto, CA 94306, or emailed to


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27 people like this
Posted by Marc Vincenti
a resident of Barron Park
on Apr 21, 2016 at 3:49 pm

Marc Vincenti is a registered user.

Thursday, April 21

Dear Fellow Onliners,

This is very discouraging news.

We must stop blaming our kids, and trying to fix our kids—through "social-emotional" curriculum, lessons on suicide and depression, wellness teams, newly required courses, and referrals to therapists.

When we do these things, we add to our children's burdens and stresses-- putting them at higher risk, not lower risk.

Our high schools daily have toxic conditions, and rather than undo these stressors, we diagnose the kids as having breathing issues! We require them to put on gas masks!

And these requirements are dreamed up and effected by people who have never spent significant time in classrooms with children, and who are untrained and unexperienced in schooling.

Our officials, unable to take responsibility for the everyday, misery-inducing conditions in our high schools--conditions surely of no comfort to children who may be experiencing adolescent despair--allow the poisonous realities to continue to exist there.

It's as if our classrooms are filled with the fumes of asbestos--and rather than banish the fumes, our school officials require gas masks.

Dangerously large, impersonal class-sizes prevail and will not be undone by the half-hearted measures put forth in the last few days.

When it comes to mental health and individuality of treatment, our overcrowded classes--hundreds of them with more than 300 students--resemble our county jails.

This inflicts stress on kids who can't get their homework back soon enough, can't get a conference with a teacher, can't get a hand called on in class, can't get a look all week from a teacher that says, "Gee, I can see you're having a bad day."

And what do we do?--even as we cause our young people such stress? We require them to take curriculum in "stress management." It is insane.

And it isn't only class sizes that our Board an Superintendent are not addressing adequately and with urgency.

Our kids are helpless in the face of homework loads because the District refuses to give them a practical, useful, online tool to anonymously and regularly inform their teachers of their nightly minutes spent.

Our kids lose massive amount of sleep and become over-anxious because the District refuses to require a simple guidance-counseling session when kids and families are about to sign on for multiple APs.

Our kids lose focus all day because they inevitably seek the social comfort of social media and texting, in class and out, to make up for the sterility of school. Our School Board and Superintendent turn a blind eye to this and let it happen.

Our officials countenance through-the-roof levels of cheating in our high schools, inflicting further anguish on the small percentage of students who still live their academic lives with integrity.

These toxic conditions are mentally unhealthy and infect our kids' lives every single day for four years.

We inflict sleeplessness by the way we run out schools, then have the kids sit and listen to lectures on how to get more sleep.

We do nothing to gently separate them from frantic dependence on social media, even as we offer them workshops on mindfulness.

We ask them to observe and report on each others' emotional condition.

We have invented helicopter schooling.

Marc Vincenti
Gunn High English Dept. (1995-2010)
Campaign Coordinator
Save the 2,008 -- creating hope for our high-schoolers
Visit and join hundreds of Palo Altans, at:

28 people like this
Posted by Results
a resident of Gunn High School
on Apr 21, 2016 at 7:15 pm

@Marc Vincenti,
You make many very, very good points. Thank you for being willing to speak up.

The trouble is that the person in charge above, Brenda Carrillo, has made a career out of meetings and committees that are all about meeting and being official, but accomplish very little in the end. She was in charge of Project Safety Net the first time -- which did a lot, I'm not dismissing the effort, but it didn't exactly change the depression problem or prevent the next suicide cluster under her watch. She had the so-called Safe and Welcoming Schools Committee, which I've heard from others on it was another model of meeting for meetings' sake without the real commitment to the kids. Worst of all she had a major hand in the OCR and special ed problems, and hurting trust among many families in the district. She's very personable and I'm sure very good at protecting her job. But having her in charge of something like this will mean the district won't hear from ANYONE they most need to hear from and volunteer for this. Maybe that's the point, there's always subtext with this district's administration.

After all these years, and all the effort, and all the employees and consultants this district pays for, we don't need another committee for show (or Brenda Carrillo's resume). If getting feedback and having lots of nicey-nice meetings with people who aren't really willing to say the hard things, or DO what needs to be done as if children's lives are at stake were enough, this committee wouldn't be necessary now. Having another committee led by a person whose history in the district means they CAN'T act as an honest broker the whole community trusts means it will be no more effective than the many past efforts. Carrillo is a great curry-er of favor with people of use to her, but a nightmare for the people this committee's work most needs to serve.

Do people just have amnesia? There is no area of life where anyone in this town would accept such expensive, lousy results, especially when children's lives are at stake.

29 people like this
Posted by Agreed!
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 21, 2016 at 7:24 pm

I agree with Mark: most kids in the PAUSD don't have " social-emotional issues" . This is clearly a case of blaming the students, or blaming the victims, if you will

Granted, there are a small number of kids whose PARENTS make them keep their noses to the grindstone, don't allow after school activities, or friends, or sports, or hobbies--just study and visit a myriad of tutors. Even then, that is not the kids' fault, but that of the PARENTS!

This is just another case of money being thrown at a problem-- which doesn't exist for most kids!

28 people like this
Posted by Curriculum for whom?
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Apr 21, 2016 at 11:24 pm

If this is developing a curriculum to teach the teachers all the myriad ways their classroom management, grading policy, homework load, intimidation and bullying of students leads to social-emotional problems for our kids, THEN GREAT!

Otherwise it's just more victim blaming. Reminds me when Gunn brought in a sleep specialist to tell the kids they needed more sleep; then proceeded with mountains of homework business-as-usual.

It is obscene to mistreat our children, then tell them in a social-emotional class that they should feel better, or buck-up or whatever. Far better to be honest and tell the kids: "your school district is deeply dysfunctional and for a lack of competence, caring, and organizational management we just cannot seem to stop abusing you. But don't worry, getting a therapist will carry you through to graduation, where you'll find almost anywhere you go is better run."

Then at least they'll know it's not their fault.

25 people like this
Posted by the truth!
a resident of Barron Park
on Apr 22, 2016 at 10:24 am

I don't know why we need a committe to help kids hear the truth. If a kid is acting like a DING DONG what is wrong with telling hi or her to stop acting like a DING DONG! IF a kid is acting like a MEAT HEAD what is wrong with telling them so! Archi Bunker did and it worked great with his family and marriage.

All about being honest with the little 14 and 15 year old and sometime 18 year old kiddies.

It's always going to come down to GETTING ON THE FLOOR, GETTING IN HIM, AND WINNING AT ALL COST!! That is how we get emotional well being! Nice guys finish last! Everyone gloats over Steve Jobs and from what I hear he was not the nicest guy in the world and really not concerned with social emotional growth. Palo Alto wants academic animals but lets be careful with their feelings, kinda confusing!

7 people like this
Posted by isis
a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Apr 22, 2016 at 10:48 am

[Post removed.]

12 people like this
Posted by parent
a resident of Gunn High School
on Apr 22, 2016 at 12:06 pm

We want to be careful about those consultants. They are the kings and queens of meeting for meeting's sake.

10 people like this
Posted by elementaryparent
a resident of Palo Verde
on Apr 22, 2016 at 5:44 pm


I am an elementary school parent with ways to go till high school. I am unclear on what exactly the district has in mind and I respectfully defer to everyone's experiences here. I however think social-emotional learning district wide is a good thing. We have project cornerstone in our school and at the elementary level, it is all about how to reach out to caring adults- parents who are trained by project cornerstone readers every month and read selected books in the classroom- if you have a problem, how to stand up to 'bucket dippers', how to look out for your friends who are getting picked on, what to do if you your best friend is a bully, how rumors spread. I have been reading in my kids' classrooms for the last six years along with about 40 other parents. I think it has been successful at our school with all the teachers on board with it.

I understand that when kids get to high school, the romanticism of elementary school is replaced by pressures, stresses and tons of academic work. But I think based on my experience at Palo Verde, most of our kids have learnt early on how to reach out for help for themselves or their friends when they need it and I hope they will take those skills with them as they grow older. This year the teachers are recording social emotional scores on the progress reports.

While I understand that they may not be the solution for existing high school students for the next few years and it may as pointed out here contradict what is being expected in terms of pressure and stress academically, I think it is an important step if it is taken correctly and I am glad that the conversation has begun on this.

13 people like this
Posted by Vicki
a resident of Community Center
on Apr 23, 2016 at 5:49 pm

Vicki is a registered user.

You have to acknowledge a problem before you can engage in solutions.

Compare and contrast what Los Altos High leadership said versus PAUSD leadership when interviewed by the Mercury News for the story, “Teen health: Depression, anxiety and social phobias rising in kids, educators say” February 2, 2014 See:
Web Link

"They're not expected to be great; they're expected to be stupendous," said Cristy Dawson, assistant principal at Los Altos High, about the ultracompetitive college-going culture. "This valley is all about getting ahead."

But Brenda Carrillo, student services coordinator in Palo Alto Unified, said it's important not to blame academic pressure for depression.
"A mental health condition doesn't necessarily come from high expectations," she said.

To echo Marc Vicente’s comments above, how do we expect to improve our schools and the lives of our children if we blame their health problems on nature without regard to nurture.

5 people like this
Posted by Sadie
a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Apr 23, 2016 at 9:04 pm

At face value opening this committee up to community members at large sounded good as they would be the one sub group among parents, teachers and principals who could speak freely without fear of retribution. Then I opened the application and discovered that community at large is limited to only those who are already in partnership with PAUSD. In other words you must already be vetted by the district and you will have to mind what you say if you want to continue that partnership.

Brenda Carillo's community collaboration in a nutshell.

5 people like this
Posted by Observer
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Apr 24, 2016 at 11:04 am

The reaction of 'Lets form a committee to study the problem, then form a committee to study how the original committee tackled the problem' is a reaction of those who don't want to deal with the problem.

Isn't the CDC looking at the situation in Palo Alto. Shouldn't we be talking to them to see what their (hopefully) objective observations are, as a way to aid the district in informing their next moves. Quite frankly their track record is dismal. And from an outsider's perspective (for what it's worth), there is a real problem in PA.

Real solutions are needed.

5 people like this
Posted by Results
a resident of Gunn High School
on Apr 30, 2016 at 8:58 pm

The CDC was supposed to take public input but McGee et al made sure they had no real contact with anyone who might blow the Stepford administrators' veneer. You couldn't even find out who was coming here or how to contact them with data they supposedly were going to accept. I woukdn't put any hopes on that being any help.

5 people like this
Posted by Addison resident
a resident of Professorville
on May 2, 2016 at 11:33 am

I think people are misunderstanding this. This committee says it is to create a Social Emotional Learning curriculum to help prepare students for successful personal lives and careers in the 21st century. Is isn't about suicide prevention per se. A result of teaching kids SEL skills such as collaboration, altruism, empathy, managing emotions, goal-setting and attainment, etc may help our children to be more aware of depression and their friends' depression and help them to become less stressed as a result of this but there is a bigger picture than just that. Many states and school districts have adopted this and it seems to be helpful in creating well-rounded and balanced children. From what I have read best practices is integrating teaching these skills from pre-K to 12th grade into regular academic lessons, for example by making projects collaborative and giving peer feedback. It is not really something new, but I have seen that teachers vary greatly in how much they encourage these skills. Some just lecture and give tests, which is not very transferrable to the real world.

2 people like this
Posted by Observer
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on May 2, 2016 at 6:34 pm

And the parent's role in this is ?

1 person likes this
Posted by Results
a resident of Gunn High School
on May 2, 2016 at 8:05 pm

Like happiness, altruism is something you get from living and doing certain things in certain ways in life, not from a lecture or class. They can't be bought or extrinsically forced. Empathy, collaboration, these things have to be modeled and integrated into life, just like honesty, or we would be teaching honesty in jails and there would be no recidivism.

Modeling honesty. Now there's a novel idea. The district should first look inward, model what they want for students, and integrate principles into a code of conduct and culture among staff and administrators. Show the kids, stop just telling them and doing something else. Hypocrisy has a way of destroying any if the goid stuff.. You can't model honesty when trust has already been compromised by past behavior, so there must first be truth and reconciliation, and a steadfast and unflinching commitment to the aspired values.

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

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