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Superintendent's tenure filled with accomplishments, difficulties

McGee: 'I hope I've exemplified what leadership is about'

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Max McGee's years as superintendent of the Palo Alto school district have been marked by some advances in innovation and equity but also by the same kinds of miscommunication as well as failures to uphold federal civil-rights law Title IX that plagued his predecessor, Kevin Skelly.

McGee announced on Thursday that he plans to retire in 2018, bringing an end to a 45-year career in education.

His retirement comes after a series of closed-session performance evaluations of McGee conducted by the Board of Education in recent weeks in the wake of community uproar over the district's response to reports of sexual violence at Palo Alto High School.

When McGee was hired, board members hailed him as an ambitious people-person who had a demonstrated commitment to educational innovation and supporting struggling students. Godfrey echoed that on Thursday, describing his energy and enthusiasm as "refreshing and invigorating."

Top issues for the district to tackle in the 2017-18 school year, Godfrey said, include making progress on special-education reform, closing the achievement gap for minority and disadvantaged students and helping high school students to feel more connected at school.

Board Vice President Ken Dauber said the district has also yet to make the progress he would like to see on legal compliance, particularly protecting students from discrimination, and issues with a tangible impact on students like homework load and test and project stacking.

Godfrey and Dauber said the board is looking for a new superintendent with experience in and commitment to innovation, student well-being and management.

Dauber said he has appreciated the district's "renewed focus" on student mental health and the achievement gap during McGee's tenure. He hopes the next superintendent will have strong management skills -- a person who can "effectively produce accountability and drive change," he said -- as well as a strong understanding of emerging shifts in education.

McGee hit the ground with purpose when he arrived in Palo Alto. After less than two months on the job, he announced during a live call-in show that he would launch a Minority Achievement Talent Development (MATD) committee to tackle the district's persistent achievement gap. He later oversaw the implementation of several significant recommendations from the group, including the launch of full-day kindergarten at all elementary schools this fall and the hiring of the district's first-ever equity coordinator, who helped the district draft but did not finish a comprehensive action plan for how to better support low-income and minority students. (The coordinator left the district after a year, and McGee plans to replace her position with a new "coordinator of academic supports.")

McGee said Thursday that he felt he laid the groundwork for continued progress on narrowing the achievement gap, a sentiment echoed by at least one district employee who works closely with low-income and minority families.

Judy Argumedo, who oversees the district's Voluntary Transfer Program and English language learner program and served on the minority-achievement committee, said in an interview that McGee's leadership sparked tangible shifts she hadn't seen before in her decade of working in the district. More low-income and minority parents, many Spanish-speaking and from East Palo Alto, came to school board meetings this year to speak out, she said. District staff also received specific training on unconscious bias and read equity case studies as part of their training.

"It's been a real focus," Argumedo said Thursday. "I hope our next superintendent has the same focus and passion for equity."

McGee, who pledged openness and transparency before his hiring, is a frequent presence at school campuses. Argumedo described him as unusually "available" for a superintendent, giving his cell phone number out to families, and said she often runs into him at the schools. He also provided updates in monthly videos produced by students and started hosting online webinars about pressing issues to increase access and transparency beyond in-person school board meetings.

One year in as superintendent, McGee launched a passion project -- the growing Advanced Authentic Research (AAR) program, which connects high school students with mentors to conduct in-depth research projects on everything from computational chemistry to psychological and sociological inquiries. (He served as a mentor himself for groups of students the last two years.) The program was recently honored by the Stanford University Peace Innovation Lab, which has created a scholarship in his name to provide funding to AAR graduates who go on to pursue their research as college students.

But at times, McGee's ambition and eagerness to make change happen was sharply at odds with the community and school board.

In 2015, he failed to disclose to the board the progression of a serious proposal to open an alternative secondary school in the district, which got as far as an application for funding through a national education initiative launched by Laurene Powell Jobs. Described by proponents as a "radically innovative school," the new concept was to be the answer to a growing call in the community for an education distinctly different from what the current middle and high schools offer. But McGee's lack of communication beyond a small group of advocates sparked dissent and ultimately led to the fizzling of the possibility of any new school.

McGee said he was "disappointed" about this outcome but is heartened that the push to innovate has persisted. He later convened a group of teachers committed to bringing innovation to the district; they recently proposed opening a school-within-a-school pilot program at Paly.

McGee also did not promptly inform the board about a private donor's offer to fund a multimillion dollar remodel of Addison Elementary School. The project first came before the board almost a year into the planning process at the campus.

In 2015, students skewered him for making a hasty decision, announced during spring break and without their input, to eliminate academic classes during the high schools' early morning "zero" period.

On some key initiatives, progress has stalled under McGee's leadership. Perhaps most significantly, a promised review of the district's special-education department conducted last year came with esteemed pedigree -- led by a Harvard University professor and longtime special-education advocate -- but fell short in substance. At a retreat last week, several school board members decried the district's continued failure to make much-needed progress on special-education reform, from improving delivery of services to building trust with families.

McGee said he would have liked to have made "more tangible progress" on special education, which he said was hindered by the district's culture of school-based autonomy.

"Some things are too autonomous; some things are too centralized," he said. "The special-education system here has been a success for some students, certainly, but it needs to be successful for all students."

McGee's tenure has also been shaped by unexpected controversies that have bubbled up from the community and often consumed district staff's and the board's attention for months at a time, from a grassroots proposal to rename two middle schools named after eugenicists and a divisive debate over how the high schools should report weighted grade point averages. Much of this year was devoted to making difficult budget cuts after the district discovered staff had miscalculated property-tax revenue projections, resulting in a multimillion-dollar shortfall.

"This is not an easy place to work, but whether it was the budget crisis, weighted grading (or) the most recent issues with sexual harassment and sexual assault, I hope I've exemplified what leadership is about -- making good decisions, standing tall, admitting mistakes (and) finding ways to do things better," McGee said.

After several current and former Palo Alto Unified students died by suicide in 2014, 2015 and 2016, he became the leader of a school district under a national microscope for its high-pressure culture of achievement. Student mental health and well-being have become a central focus of the district over the last several years, with increased funding from the school board for counseling services, the opening of wellness centers at both high schools, a more forgiving bell schedule and new teacher-advisory program at Gunn High School and numerous student initiatives to combat the stigma around mental illness.

"I'm very proud, though it was born out of tragedy, of what we've done for social-emotional wellness and balancing academics with social-emotional health," McGee said.

This spring's outrage over the district's handling of sexual violence at Paly came on the heels of a yearslong federal investigation that found the district repeatedly violated Title IX in multiple cases of sexual violence, harassment and misconduct at both high schools. Just months before news about the Paly case broke, the school board entered into a resolution agreement with the U.S. Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights that commits the district to a series of corrective actions and a monitoring period, among other requirements.

McGee said a forthcoming public report from the law firm investigating the district's handling of the Paly sexual assault reports, expected in July, will provide "indicators of how we need to improve systems and processes."

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Comments

20 people like this
Posted by A Year to Do the Right Thing
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 30, 2017 at 10:16 am

If this is a balanced view of McGee's accomplishments and mistakes, there is a glaring omission of McGee's persistent unwillingness to provide information and comply with records requests.

While I think Dr. McGee was better than his predecessor, and I had high hopes for him, too, because I do think he could have been a far better super with a clean house to start and it's almost not even fair to judge him because of the snake pit (emphasis on snake) that was 25 Churchill when he got there, his tendency to make nice but thwart legally required information requests was a pretty grave failure. Technically, he didn't do this himself, he let a few of the worst bad apples continue to engage in CYA at the expense of children, and did nothing about calling them to account or changing that except (on purpose or not) let those people go nicely on to other districts who won't know their mistake until it's too late. (To clarify, I do not mean Dr Hermann who was a good one.) The best thing McGee did for us was get rid of a few of the worst bad apples, but the lack of accountability for employees for their behavior - and the avoidance of getting to the truth - is a serious, serious flaw in his leadership.

I witnessed him repeatedly thwart progress by trying to sweep things under the rug (beyond the Title IX), by actively engaging in secrecy instead of openess (even when it involved thwarting the law by not filling requests for public and educational records and information). I never saw him create the kind of accountability among staff that we desperately need to avoid these problems repeating.

Lastly, and most importantly, no Dr. McGee, you did not admit or even try to investigate huge mistakes that still affect my family and many others, you chose to take the easy way out from behind the circled wagons at Churchill. I feel betrayed, because we decided not to complain to OCR to give you a chance, and also because we were exhausted by the inevitable retaliation that you presided over in part and did nothing to stop. You somehow seem to believe we needed the records requests your staff played games with and never filled to do demonstrate what they did wrong. Be willing to spend an afternoon with us and the evidence, and you will appreciate how wrong you have been. You want to be known for admitting mistakes? Then be willing to look at the mistakes that we know you didn't start, but you did nothing to stop.

Our child and family would still find a hostile environment if we tried to return because you did nothing to admit mistakes or look at what happened. If you want a clean conscience about admitting mistakes, then lift up the rug and apologize to my family and others like us. You know who I am, you let an employee turn a simple question about district policy (where we had already informed you of the employee's vengefulness over something she was even mistaken about our having done, and we wanted protection from that person's retaliation), a simple information request that was not filled in a timely way, into a long, unrelated, and factually indefensible diatribe against our family.

If you make the time, we will give you a sample of the stack of evidence about the unlawful and retaliatory actions we have endured, and discuss the negative consequences today. (Do not make the mistake of thinking others do not already have some of this evidence, just because the other shoe hasn't dropped.) You know the employee, you've heard from other families tired of being served up letters that are nothing but bold nasty lies and inaccuracies. (Or, from that description, you could at least narrow it to a few.) When you understand the facts and evidence, then you can admit the mistakes. No, you did not really admit mistakes, you admitted the mistakes you found convenient or politically easy or unavoidable. You did not admit mistakes that meant soul searching, really coming to terms with the most serious mistakes that keep repeating here for lack of that kind of accountability, mistakes requiring efforts to restore trust and heal deep wounds inflicted by people who should be above that. I am not interested in an inquisition; I want justice and accountability, and an apology for my family.

You have one year left to make your tenure fit your own expressed belief of it. I have no interest in making life harder for you, so I will expect a meeting in the fall and a letter admitting the worst errors and an apology. A real admission of mistakes starts with being willing to hear all sides, look at the actual evidence (as opposed to listening to the CYA crowd and nothing else), and be accountable for mistakes. [Portion removed.]


22 people like this
Posted by Skelly is laughing
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 30, 2017 at 11:41 am

Max McGee was basically Kevin Skelly 2.0, but he had far more experience. He frittered that away with shiny things like Max Mail, tales of cycling, and over the top guffaws and faux interest in his board meeting performances. His pension is going to be huge, though, and I wonder when he has to pay back that $1.5 million, interest-free loan. To the board: use a different search firm than Leadership Associates, their good old boys club has simply not performed. As for McGee's accomplishments, he had three years to fix Title IX, rape culture, and more, but he chose his shiny special-interest programs and pals from Illinois. In short, he managed the district like Skelly did for three years, and his performance was mediocre, not exemplary leadership in any way.


22 people like this
Posted by Cecilia Willer
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Jun 30, 2017 at 11:47 am

I am sad that Max will be leaving. There has been so much that has been unearthed in the past 3 years that is being addressed. It is unfortunate that many feel that problems are due to Max. If anyone has been in corporate, you realize that there is so much ugly baggage that comes with taking on leadership jobs and it appears that the new leader is at fault. I hope some realize that Max really has been addressing long term issues that really need to be resolved. He did not create the issues and challenges, he is just peeling back the onion layers and working on solving the underlying cause and developing solutions.

I hope those that complain about Max would walk in his shoes for a few days and see that he has been walking on unstable ground and trying to make PAUSD a stable and upstanding place. There have just been so many years of mismanagement and it cannot be solved overnight.

Remember whenever you point, 3 fingers are pointing back at you. If you have comments, please make sure to use your name, not some obscure title. It is what we want our children to be doing, taking ownership for what we say.


25 people like this
Posted by Barron Park dad
a resident of Barron Park
on Jun 30, 2017 at 11:48 am

Max McGee has been far better and more open/transparent than his predecessors, and that is prevailing sentiment from many families in the District. No one is perfect, perhaps our expectations were too high, and PAUSD will always be a challenging environment to work with, but Max has clearly advanced the ball forward and made things better in many ways, and for that he deserves our thanks.

I hope that our elected 5-member Board takes extra effort and care to select the next Superintendent, and this should be their primary focus over the next 6-9 months.


5 people like this
Posted by A Year to do the Right Thing
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 30, 2017 at 11:49 am

Reworded (though not entirely sure why deleted the first time):

Retaliation against families who complain is unlawful, and is, ffrom what I have observed, one of the worst of potential scandals this district still faces. Just because employees may leave, and even those families who were hurt may leave, does not mean the district is off the hook for fixing this, anymore than it is when sexual assault victims or perpetrators leave. Figure it out (the retaliation history and problem) and head it off this time instead of hoping it will stay under the rug, by doing the right thing, and then I will be the first to defend you and remember you well to everyone after you retire.


14 people like this
Posted by Rajiv Bhateja
a resident of Gunn High School
on Jun 30, 2017 at 12:05 pm

Saying someone is better than Skelly is akin to saying he's better than an untrustworthy, busted doorknob.
Pretty low bar IMHO.


8 people like this
Posted by A Year to do the Right Thing
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 30, 2017 at 12:10 pm

@Barron Park Dad,
I agree with you that McGee has been better in many ways than his predecessor. I strongly disagree with you about that particular aspect - the one way that he has been worse than his predecessor - is in transparency and openness. I don't think his administration filled a single records request for us during his tenure, we were treated to monumental runarounds and retaliation if we pushed. This includes essential personal educational records, even requested through an attorney to reference the applicable statutes and duties of the district. We even got a letter after numerous requests for educational records in which the employee said, you mean X records? Just ask and we'll send them. But if course, asking again for the umpteenth time netted nothing. We are not the only ones. More serious than that was his glossing over and ignoring the retaliation because we did not make a stink (partly out of exhaustion from the retaliations and his apparent disincination to deal with it) This district office likes to claim that they would work better if people didn't make a stink, but of course that sound you hear is just the noise of giant brooms sweeping things under a rug rather than dealing with them as they claim. McGee inherited those things, but he didn't deal with them well, and certainly not with openness.

McGee has been far more politically savvy; do not confuse that with transparency and openness, he would never have had a Title IX scandal if he had been. Are the reports of his repeated failures to bring things to the board that they asked on him true? That's a pretty serious leadership flaw in a public school administrator, since we know it's not the result if incompetence.

Again, if he wants to be known for admitting mistakes, he should take stock and do so this year.


3 people like this
Posted by Turnover
a resident of Fairmeadow
on Jun 30, 2017 at 12:10 pm

Palo Alto's City Manager publicly said he wanted to retire after 10 years, which is also 2018. So new city manager and superintendent in the same year should be interesting!


4 people like this
Posted by A Year to do the Right Thing
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 30, 2017 at 12:30 pm

@Cecelia Willer,
You make some good points, and yet you would do well to walk a mile in some of our shoes. I agree, it was an impossible office mire he was plopped into - the board should never have hired him without cleaning house first - and yet, he still had a duty to follow laws, protect the vulnerable, and hold employees to account. What was the point of not filling our educational records requests and of ignoring our concerns about retaliation? When someone tells you that they wish they could take a reatraining order out on an employee because of the retaliation and how it is hurting your child and family, you do not respond by failing to ever look at the facts and giving that same employee more power and discretion to do it again. Our students are not the center of an onion, and following the law and his duties to protect them did not require three years of getting around to it.

We all know we could do worse, but this is not good enough, especially if you had any sense of walking in the shoes of families he let down. The first year, okay, but after all this time of protecting instead of holding some pretty seriously bad admins to account, they are his problems and his mistakes to admit. He hasn't done this, and you are only encoraging his inclination of being good at the politics rather than getting down to brass tacks.


2 people like this
Posted by musical
a resident of Palo Verde
on Jun 30, 2017 at 1:59 pm

@ Turnover, don't forget new Police Chief.


7 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 30, 2017 at 2:11 pm

My thoughts on McGee are very much the same as they were when he started.

I felt then and still feel, that he came here completely unprepared for what the job entailed. He appeared to come with his own idea of how a school district should be run in theory but had absolutely no idea of what PAUSD was. We are not the most "ordinary" district similar to those in other parts of the country. He was not prepared for such diversity, meaning international diversity, such diverse parents and such a diverse community that was outside the PAUSD families. I don't think he even prepared himself well for living in Silicon Valley when it came to how much it would cost for him to live here as well as the fast nature of the Valley. Even such things as traffic and school commutes seemed to take him by surprise.

So as he leaves I think he is probably wiping his brow with a big phew and is pleased to see the end of us.

I just hope his replacement comes with a better perspective on Silicon Valley, international lifestyles and Palo Alto in particular. Otherwise, I can't see any improvement or stability.


4 people like this
Posted by Parent
a resident of Community Center
on Jun 30, 2017 at 2:55 pm

I think that McGee did make some valuable changes toward improving the social/emotional environment for our kids. However, he has seemed to not have strong management or hiring skills and has demonstrated a pattern of trying to paper over shortcomings. The recent Title IX debacle is the latest and decisive example.
Regarding district obligation for his pension, I doubt that we have any obligations. He came from out of state and will have only been in CalSTRS for four years so that should not make him eligible or vested. If others know CalSTRS rules or McGee contract better, please wade in.


10 people like this
Posted by Parent Volunteer
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 30, 2017 at 3:03 pm

Kevin Skelly was just a figurehead and when he visited our PTA meeting, we all politely smiled and cordially laughed at his jokes. He was a really nice guy, but not a leader. I saw him bullied by teachers, admins, you-name-it.

I was excited to meet McGee, a triathlete with a go-to attitude, but my balloon was deflated when he blamed school stress on the parents and questioned why college was so important when his son is a happy plumber with a family and no college degree. This demonstrates just how clued-out he was about this community and the cost of living here. Usually, people prefer to return to the general area where they were raised. I was saddened to see that McGee chose to follow his ego and increase the reputations of our high schools rather than address student stress which has been rampant for decades.

I heard that some 200+ students at Paly are considered at-risk. How many are actually very stressed without administration knowing about it? How many are so close to suicide but just don't do it? The next superintendent needs to care about our children; in middle school and high school is where there are more issues to address. The BoE approved Homework Guidelines but they aren't followed. And there is a loophole—AP classes are excluded from the guidelines. AP classes are necessary for admittance into UC colleges. Is it too much to ask that our children attend UC schools? My child was accepted into UC Davis and received much congratulations, as many were declined. Back in the day, UC Davis was easy access, while today, the average freshman GPA is 3.95 - 4.25.

We need a strong superintendent who will prioritize our students. More questionnaires without leading the answers. More feedback from students to understand the real lives of PAUSD students. Maybe someone from California public schools so they understand California and the sub-culture.


18 people like this
Posted by Community member
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jun 30, 2017 at 3:24 pm

I was not in favor of the hiring of Dr. McGee originally and stated my reservations about his qualifications to the board in 2014. I did not expect that he would stay long because of the point in his career in which he accepted this job, and the intensity of the responsibilities, Now he is leaving after being hired just 3-4 years ago. Just wondering what this will cost our community in retirement benefits etc. This continues the recent parade of administratirs who have been leaving our district. The current board now has an opportunity to hire our next leader. Please be diligent and do not squander this chance to find an outstanding superintendent.


22 people like this
Posted by Best Move On
a resident of Fairmeadow
on Jun 30, 2017 at 3:35 pm

McGee went for the feather in his cap - all day kinder!!!!, new names!!!!!, raises!!!!!

He didn't follow the law - no need to praise him. Please read every post that Kathy Jordan has made, that's reality


8 people like this
Posted by No excuses necessary
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 30, 2017 at 10:04 pm

Max McGee was an experienced superintendent/school admnistrator when he took the PAUSD job, no excuses should be accepted, no tears need to be shed, he will stay warm with a bunch of annual money from two states. McGee had the opportunity to bravely put his experience to use by making important personnel changes in his first two years, but he bizarrely focused on superficial leadership instead of substantive leadership. If you want the latter for PAUSD, you have to ask for it directly from the superintendent search firm, and you have to be prepared to deal with it once it comes. Normally, it does not involve the feel-good initiatives like renaming schools or creating task-forces that have no teeth. It involves supporting principals and teachers alike, then holding them accountable, especially when small groups of parents start poking you with virtual pitchforks. It's a tough job, but PAUSD will start the next guy or gal at $300K per year with a $1.5 million interest-free loan, not to mention another &700 per month for your car. Max McGee will be fine, I just wish he would have realized when he arrived that his job was likely to go down in flames anyway, so he should have focused on doing the right thing.


7 people like this
Posted by Ask a Simple Question
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Jun 30, 2017 at 10:49 pm

@ A Year To Do The Right Thing
"...you let an employee turn a simple question about district policy... a simple information request that was not filled in a timely way, into a long, unrelated, and factually indefensible diatribe against our family."

Good Lord! We had the exact same experience with current "Co-Director of Special Education." Asked a question, and rather than just answering it, after several weeks she sent a legalistic attack e-mail, complete with a dismissive, threatening tone about what they will not do. It contained the strong implication of 'you are just a bad parent who wants something for nothing.' It was very important to them not the answer a parent's question, I guess.

Since the current "Co-Directors" of Special Education took over, our family had the EXACT same experience. It is part of the process Special Education staff uses to "groom" parents to feel bad and expect abuse about even asking a question.

Sure signs of Abusers: failing to answer questions, long delays, and responding with dismissive, legalistic tone. This is abusive in any environment, school district or not. Families, stay away from such people in your personal and professional life.

Parents, PLEASE do not write Special Education a question. They will send an attack. If you ask them to be more polite, they will say they 'do not understand,' or ' they only want to work with your family.' This is another sign of an abusiver - blaming the victim for their own bad behavior to groom the victim feels bad and guilty.

Be cautious when they suddenly make a "friendly phone call", won't finish anything or answer a question except in a phone call - these are things abusers do to ensure there is no written record of their behavior. They call hoping to catch you by surprise, planning to charm you with their style over substance.

Most of the time when abusive Special Education employees call you, they do not tell you they are on speaker phone and there is another employee in their office, often a lawyer who told them to make the call, taking notes. They will tell you what you think and feel and how much agree with them, then do what is called "creating the record" taking notes saying you agreed with them. Even though you never say any of these things, abusers depend on use of social control, guilting you into not correcting them in order to 'get along' with them. They know you are desperate to make progress and will let it go, or that they will just exhaust you in correcting them, and then they can create a record you agree.



5 people like this
Posted by A Year to do the Right Thing
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 1, 2017 at 12:04 am

@Ask a Simple Question,
In the case of that letter, the employee never answered the question, even though the letter began, This is to answer your question about X policy, and then the letter never brought up the policy or anything related to it. It made no attempt whatsoever to even address the question. The letter then went on a personal attack for three pages. I think it was probably done because I made the mistake of mentioning that despite the district's insistence on excessive medical documentation (during a long stretch when they withdrew accommodations suddenly because an employee took offense for something they assumed we had done that they didn't like) and despite our having to spend thousands of dollars to satisfy their demands, we had never been offered reimbursement and had never asked. I think the employee needed to provide some context to claim in writing that they had offered to reimburse us. But of course, she never did subsequently answer a request to provide records to prove it or to explain the process by which we would be reimbursed. She also used it as a chance to claim we sent them excessive emails, when I had sent her a sum total of like five for the past 18 months, and they were all a repeat of the same records requests that were never answered. (She apparently didn't remember that, after realizing they were immune to reason, laws, and common decency, we had basically stopped bothering.). I think they have boilerplate accusations - either claim you write too much or not enough, so that it's your fault either way for their not following the law. The other thing they would do is send those nasty letters to arrive just before weekends and holidays, so you could stew on the false accusations and harm to your child's education to create maximum stress. It's an old legal tactic that has no place in a school district.

What I would say to you as another parent is that for all this effort, you should be able to change things. You can do that once and for all by getting together with other parents and create a position in the City government that is independent from the school district but has authority, someone who does not work for the district and answers only to parents, and has significant authority to act on complaints. Some cities have done this by putting the district under the authority of the mayor's office but I don't think that's a good answer here with a nonprofessional Council. I have heard other districts have ombudsmen but have not found good examples. Perhaps that's under mayors. You can adopt such a position in a process that is almost identical to referendum. It is possible to fix this. I shudder to think of all the legal money parents have spent here accomplishing nothing. That itself should be the subject if a discrimination complaint, that it's impossible to get the same accommodations if you aren't rich enough to pay a lawyer here.


14 people like this
Posted by What's It Going To Take?
a resident of Evergreen Park
on Jul 1, 2017 at 12:39 pm

There never seems to be a Superintendent good enough for Palo Alto. Ever since I have lived here (30 years) they have all been run out of town!


10 people like this
Posted by Use the Police
a resident of Community Center
on Jul 1, 2017 at 1:16 pm

If your kid is sexually harassed, call the police, not the district if you want action taken or your kid protected.


1 person likes this
Posted by A Year to do the Right Thing
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 1, 2017 at 2:44 pm

@Take,
Skelley hung around for a pretty long time despite serious dissatisfaction.

The answer to your question is quite simple: Those who do not remember (or fix serious problems from) the past are condemned to repeat it. One bad apple can spoil the whole bunch, I.e., getting rid of a few bad apples doesn't bode well for the new fruits that get thrown in the old bin with the remaining rotten apples. Putting lipstick on a pig is dirty business and fools no one (except the next district that gets our oinkers.) Oh, and, absolute power corrupts absolutely. Parents have no real power in this district, and administrators have far too much.

McGee is already in deep doodoo, much that he won't realize until it hits the fan. He has a choice this year to do what he should have and retire with a clean soul, or continue playing politics and hope the next guy gets to deal with the mess under the rug like he did.


6 people like this
Posted by Old Timer
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jul 1, 2017 at 2:46 pm

@What's It Going To Take? - Actually, Don Phillips, superintendent from 1997-2001, was well regarded, and moved on to take the same job in the much larger Poway district outside San Diego. Interestingly, he was a local product, having attended Gunn and been superintendent at MVLA prior to coming to PAUSD. As former board member Mandy Lowell commented at the time of Mr. Phillips' passing several years ago, "He was very local, and understood Palo Alto better than most superintendents who come into it new." Perhaps a lesson there for the current board.


1 person likes this
Posted by A Year to do the Right Thing
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 2, 2017 at 9:30 am

@Old Timer,
Do you have any history on the situation described at the start of Esther Wojcicki's book, in which a Paly student (?) journalist gave some info to Bill Hewlett, related to some major graft in the district? Who was superintendent then? A lot of my old Timer friends remember with respect the board that Bill Hewlett was on, especially because of the honesty and humility. Please share any memories of any aspects we might aspire to.


5 people like this
Posted by Who Heads Special Ed?
a resident of Downtown North
on Jul 2, 2017 at 4:37 pm

@Misplaced Blame
- Right On! Exactly the same experiences you describe - Nasty E-mails and letters coming 5pm on Friday before a holiday, even if the school district has ignored a question or request for several months.

Add to that
- intense pressure to come into the District office alone and sign a document that very day, even if the document says a parent's lawyer must review it first (to make sure a parent is alone and with no representation)
- high pressure e-mails to parents that if they do not sign a document right before a holiday, their child will receive no education. (Implication only the parents are preventing a child from receiving help.)
- Or saying, "It is your last chance. We will be closed for the summer. We will not respond until 3 weeks into September."
- voicemails and e-mails telling parents an appointment time has been set, usually the next day, when they must come in and sign documents (alone). If they do not appear, they will be accused of "cancelling" an appointment they did not make nor agree to.
- appointments only communicated by a secretary, so parents cannot respond to Administrator. Parents can only appear or not appear. Then District can say "we tried multiple times to communicate with parent. Parent choose to decline."
- generating e-mails parents must respond to, such as setting an appointment they know parents cannot attend, as a way to say "parent communicates too much. we can't keep it straight."
- setting appointments at times of extreme hardship for parents - parent must leave child alone at home to attend appointment, such as when school is out, when a parent must get a disabled child to school on their own, when a single parent must stay home with child when they can't go to school after being attacked multiple times
- pressuring parents to leave a child to come to an appointment District set, in order for District to say the child really does not need supervision. Pressuring parents to 'choose between us ever giving you an answer and your child's life.'
-begin a letter or e-mail saying 'we received your request of", but not actually responding to the request. Making a statement 'we received' a request is not responding to the request. The two goals here are to make the parent write the request again and give up in exhaustion, and make it appear the parent generates too many unreasonable requests. The hope is when it is shown to the Superintendent or a judge, they will be so dumb they will see "we received your request" and think 'oh, that must mean my staff responded appropriately to the request.' Special Education employees know Superintendents, Boards of Education, Senior Administrators do not read materials carefully, and will always have a bias toward their own employees, who control what the Superintendent, Board, or Admin knows.
-record requests - not filling them for months, then making parent sign, on the spot, a statement they have received all records requests when District knows they cannot possibly check them all while standing in the District office. If parents do not sign on the spot, they will not get what few records the District may release.
- top it all off with constant smiling, saying how much they care about the child and how wonderful they are, and that you agree to everything we say. It is called Gaslighting. The goal is to guilt you, shame you into feeling you are absurd, that they are in authority and their bad behavior is really just your mental infirmity.

Go look up the term Gaslighting on Web, or watch U Tube Videos on it.

AALRR can't get their way with respectable practices. All strategies of abusers. And bad lawyers who can't accomplish anything through good, quality legal work. It is the same with current and past SPED employees, whom they represent and instruct.

Do they teacher them this in Law School?


1 person likes this
Posted by A Year to do the Right Thing
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 3, 2017 at 10:18 am

"voicemails and e-mails telling parents an appointment time has been set, usually the next day, when they must come in and sign documents (alone). If they do not appear, they will be accused of "cancelling" an appointment they did not make nor agree to. "

Sounds so familiar! Everything you wrote, yes! we had that happen, too! And yes, many are boilerplate things an unethical lawyer will coach their clients to do. Induce stress, create a misleading or false record. You forgot the one about where they put multiple copies of something misleading in the record but the response parents slaved over or required thousands of dollars in legal time to answer is oddly missing, in fact, all of parents corrections are missing.

A variation on the extreme short-term notice of meetings then saying parent declined to attend is sending parent a reply email that copies back a long message, making it look like it was one of those mobile device premature sends, but they put a single small notice of a meeting at the end, then launch a separate discussion with parent with the subject line "arranging a meeting" which admin continues planning the meeting date with parent even during and after the meeting takes place without parent knowing. When parent is given the written notice of what took place at the meeting, and complains of admins not giving notice, they send a copy of the deceptive email and say, See, parent got noticed, and put Parent Declined to Attend in the record. A whole written record exists of the admin deception, including the "Attend the meeting" thread but they re-document the deception by repeating about their scheduling email many times so that the only person who would understand the deception is someone who would take the time to look at the trail of documents, i.e., no one. The state would never catch anything wrong in an audit of records, in which the part about the parents declining to go is copied many times.

And then there's,
-Parent citing chapter and verse of a law that district is supposed to follow and being sent legalistic letterhead saying they don't do that, without actually addressing the law parent cited and the ongoing violation of it

- Parent asking for a quick discussion with teachers but ends up in a full blown inquisition with admins they never asked to see (but parent is unprepared to record because it was supposed to be an ordinary teacher meeting). Then when parent later asks when admins are going to answer a certain (unrelated) question parent has been asking for weeks (about a serious bullying or safety matter), admins say, We told you at the (unrelated) teacher meeting. So parent asks admins to repeat the answer in writing, but admins just insist parent was already told so they never ever answer.

-Admins put student in unsafe situations, or situations that make them stand out for ridicule from peers and make their disability the object of ridicule or intense questioning from peers because student was essentially put in a dunce cap and set in front of the room as an accommodation, in order to pressure parent not to seek necessary accommodations. An example might be repeatedly putting unsupervised student who sunburns easily and is emotionally sensitive in a desk outside the entrance of the school for all to see including all traffic coming and going to the school office, in front of the school unsupervised for a long time, after a recent school shooting in the news no less, to pressure parents that admins can't possibly make simple accommodations for the child because there is no place anywhere for the child to go - even while admins are claiming in court in some other case that they won't do in-home accommodation because they can put that other student all by themselves in an Uber safe room environment at school because they are swimming in extra space to put kids who need it at school. Then they imply parent is at fault for student feeling violated or being badly sunburned because parent asked for the child to be accommodated.

-Telling parent they have to sign a document because admins have to show that parents received the document then later claiming parents signed their agreement (even if parents put a note next to their signature that it was for receiving the document only).

-Taking weeks to write up notes from a meeting then sending something that is so false and libelous (but cleverly crafted), it would take twenty pages to answer. So parent is faced with either leaving it unanswered or slaving over a response that will go unread but give them fodder for saying parent inundates with communications.

-Parent presents evidence-based strong documentation that admins counter with an easily refutable but vaguely libelous opinion from someone without a medical credential but in the SPED dept, and if parent keeps pointing to the facts, nasty things start happening until parent has more important wounds to attend to.

-Admins ask student leading questions to get the response they want to document, such as greeting the child How are you? when they walk up and when child says Okay or Fine as a greeting response, admins document that child reported nothing wrong as if it were a medical exam.

-Sending parents a legalistic letter insisting that it's time to re-review the child's eligibility for accommodations then when parent consults a lawyer who says updating is in order not re-assessing eligibility, admins say it was only semantics, just ignore it, but they won't put the change in writing and still pressure parents for a meeting to review eligibility, er, whatever.

-Admin claims to have had to review hundreds of emails from parent to answer a policy question, that doesn't even get answered, even when parents hadn't sent a fraction of that number of emails in total to eveyone in the district for all readons in the previous two years, including Thank you I got that replies, after realizing communication was useless, but admin oddly can't send a single email copy to answer a concurrent and repeated comprehensive records request.

-Parent is not allowed to sit quietly and wait for a chance to read a note from distressed and sad student during suicide crisis to principal but is instead physically removed from site and gaslighted as you described. Parent is told to send an email to make an appointment despite admin history of never answering, Office admin who has nothing to do with student accommodations pressures parent by repeating some of the false accusations admin from above clearly told everyone at site to set site-level admin and teachers against parents and even student.

-Admins gossip about family and child, revealing private information (inaccurately wielded to mislead), beyond school district to expand the backbiting reach and make it harder for family to seek help in the community beyond school. Backbiting and negative gossip extends to other parents from admins.

-Admins create an opporessive environment in which parents are made to feel they are constantly watched and judged even as the students accommodations are mostly ignored,

-District-recommended accommodations from the past are ignored or documented falsely as having been handled privately, even as teachers complain student has same unadressed problems (only now they are seemingly regarded as character or intelligence flaws in child, such as difficulty writing by hand looked upon as stupidity or willfulness).

And yes, despite their holding the student at arm's length and student being unable to trust many adults at school, the admins try to speak to parents as if they know the child and parents know nothing and should ignore the child's daily breakdowns after school because they know the child is Fine (they asked).


6 people like this
Posted by Same playbook/dirty tactics
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 3, 2017 at 11:56 am

Another tactic is for the district to repeatedly cancel the IEP or 504 meeting time and time again. What especially occurs is that the IEP or 504 meeting is scheduled, and if the district finds out the parents will bring an advocate, then while the advocate is in transit to the actual meeting, the district will cancel the IEP or 504 meeting.

Also, another tactic is that the IEP or 504 meeting will be held, and the parents, advocate, and administrator show up but the teacher is nowhere to be found. The teacher has called in 'sick' or is unavailable. Another variant of this is that the parents, advocate, and teachers show up, but the administrator is nowhere to be found.

Another tactic is that the district insists that for an IEP or 504 meeting to occur, the parents must agree to bring the actual child to the IEP or 504 meeting, thus humiliating the child by forcing the child to sit through the district reading the so-called progress reports line by line, while the child sits there hearing all of this. If the parents have not agreed to this (and who would?), sometimes the parents appear at the IEP or 504 meeting only to find that the school district has taken it upon themselves to bring the student to the meeting.

Another tactic is when an advocate is on the case, the district calls a number of useless IEP or 504 meetings for no reason to 'go over progress' or 're-assess accommodations' or some other nonsense that is not really needed.

Another tactic to humiliate the child is to intentionally distress the child by having him or her repeatedly summoned to be out of class for some sort of 'test' usually an ad-hoc vision or hearing test. This happens multiple times a year.

Another tactic is to present the parents with an 'assessment plan' to pull out a child repeatedly from academic classes in the general education class schedule for literally dozens of hours of 'testing' at the triennial assessment. When the parents refuse to have their child pulled out for 'testing' and explains that the child will fail the class or classes that the district plans to pull the child out of, the district then files for due process with the Office of Administrative Hearings (OAH).

Another tactic is when an 'assessment plan' is signed and the parents write on the assessment plan that the district will provide a copy of the assessments and results 24 to 48 hours prior to the IEP or 504 meeting, the district will ignore this and just bring it to the IEP meeting.

Another tactic is that if the parents request a copy of the completed protocols for certain assessments used by district staff to assess the child, and the parents learn that their child was never given the assessment(s) in the first place, the district will engage in all-war. The reason is that the parents have discovered that in some cases, the 'results' of these so-called assessments presented on their reports are fake. The district will then insist the assessments were given, but they lost the protocols. When the parents demand an independent assessment, the district will file for due process with OAH.

And that is the tip of the iceberg.....


1 person likes this
Posted by R. Winslow
a resident of Crescent Park
on Jul 3, 2017 at 1:04 pm

For those old enough to remember, Dr. Harry M. Gunn raised the bar for PA School superintendents and his work/commitment on behalf of the district and its students will never be equaled.

Most of his successors were imitation pearls.


2 people like this
Posted by caroline V
a resident of Portola Valley
on Jul 4, 2017 at 10:30 am

Thank you Elena and Palo Alto Weekly to provide us with an update.
Superintendent McGee might have had good intentions but failed because he did not listen to our concerns. We (parents, students, teachers and community advocates like SAVETHE2008...) have repeatedly informed him and shared concerns, ideas, and solutions, but time and time over again he ignored our input.
It is time to find a leader who has lived in our community, who is concerned about our students, who acts, and who truly abides by the rules, respects our laws, enforces quality educations, removes bad influences like drugs, social media....and who delivers.






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Posted by Special Ed Robo - Delay E-mails?
a resident of Jordan Middle School
on Jul 4, 2017 at 7:20 pm

Has anyone else received PAUSD's robo-emails from Special Education employees or an Administrator? It works like this. An employee in Special Education sends a parent an e-mail. When parent tries to reply they receive a robo-an e-mail that person is away. (Even though that person just typed up and sent you an e-mail, which may have required them being in their office to access to the information they sent.)

When parent tries to reach the Special Education employee after they return per their robo- e-mail, the Special Education employee says they already answered your question weeks ago. (Although they did not, they only sent a robo-e-mail they are away). This may be accompanied by threatening legal action against a special needs child if parents says they do not understand or questions the original e-mail, or if the parent won't do what the original e-mail says. Special Education may say they will take parents to "mediation" (but this really means they are suing parent and child, since family has to pay a lawyer).

Which seems a pretty expensive way for a Special Education department to avoid answering a question.

It opens the question - what were they hiding?

This has happened both with Stephanie Sheridan, with Holly Wade, and with Principals. It happened under both law firms FFF and AALRR.

It happened so many times, it doesn't seem like a coincidence. Sometimes Special Education or their lawyer writes a mean letter saying the employee was working with a parent up to a particular time, when the employee was really out of town and sent robo-e-mails they would not respond. Sometimes, they even put these statement s in legal documents. It raises the question if their lawyer tells them to do this as a tactic, to delay, don't answer, then pretend they were helpful when they were the opposite.


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Posted by A Year to do the Right Thing
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 4, 2017 at 9:13 pm

@Special Ed
It's hard to even imagine that something like this can come out if a svhool district, until it hapoens to you.

It occurs to me that the district is being played for chumps at the expense of our children. This happened in other areas like mecical malpractice, lawyers woukd encourage clients never to apologize or admit fault. Until Harvard did a study that found most of the time even when there is malpractice, people don't sue, and most if the time when they do, it is because of a chikd who will have futue expenses, or for fixing a problem. Studies also found that a real apology and sincere efforts to set things right resulted in significantly lower liability. The district legal has been giving employees advice that makes them behave like a bad insurance company, at maximum benefit to legal fees. It is a travesty, and the damage is immeasurable, especially since the employees have gone along with the bad faith with such gusto.

It seems to me the legal profession has found some deep pockets and vulnerable chumps, and the board should be actively avoiding this. Ken Dauber tried to get us to use county legal. I think the only way that will ever be taken seriously is if someone makes a serious civil rights complaint related to how rights in this district are so closely linked yo the funds to enforce them. Or someone with deep pockets sues for something that allows significant discovery and depositions of employees regarding instructions they are given for how yo treat families. The newspaper could help by simply making an open call to interview families off the record and summarize what they find. Families could get together and propose an amendment to the City charter that creates an accountability connection to the city, such as an ombudsman through the city who works just for families and hears all complaints, and helps resolve them or helps families with their rights.

We've been hearing these things for too long. Families need to just put a stop to it.


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Posted by Special Ed Robo - Delay E-mails?
a resident of Jordan Middle School
on Jul 4, 2017 at 11:39 pm

Three times we received e-mails from Special Education employees who NO longer worked for PAUSD. It happened twice this year, and also in previous years.

In two most recent cases, the ex-employee sent legal documents PAUSD changed with no warning. When we tried to reply, we instantly received robo-e-mails stating the employee no longer worked for the District. But the e-mails with the changed legal documents were sent from e-mail addresses inside PAUSD.

What are parents supposed to do?

Does AALRR tell PAUSD employees and ex-employees to do this? Do AALRR and PAUSD draft legal documents, then realize they are so badly written they change them surreptitiously? Do PAUSD managers pressure former employees to send these e-mails if they want good references?


4 people like this
Posted by More SPED Tactics Against Disabled
a resident of Jordan Middle School
on Jul 7, 2017 at 11:54 pm

@ A Year to Do the Right Thing - Please, write a book on these tactics for us. Parents will thank you. Disabled children will thank you. Could start a blog of tactics? Maybe a place parents could post their experiences or documents. Parents will know they are not alone.

It's best not to reply to a District e-mail thread. Instead, start a new e-mail. Type out the full date on the top, address it formally (Dear Mr./Ms. PAUSD Bigshot: this is in reply to your e-mail of....). You can past in any references to another e-mail ("in which you say, "xyz"). Then continue with your response.

You should also type an e-mail response to any voicemails. We found current Director of SPED Sheridan, presumably under the advice of her attorney at AALRR, tries to leave trick voicemails. They may pretend they don't understand, try to rephrase a problem they created to make it seem like your fault ("I want to help. I am just getting to your e-mail now (or I wish to pretend that). I am not sure I understand the epic documentation I made you write. Did you say (50 times in your written e-mail) that we did not enroll your child in xyz, oh you mean you did not bring child, or it is not working for your child. Anyway, call me (without an attorney present), so I can try to trick you on the phone, like I just did with this call. Come into my office (alone, with no attorney, no other parent) at 4pm today. Otherwise, I cannot be available to you for a month, because my lawyer told me so."

One of the biggest tip offs her threatening e-mails are from a lawyer will be that she writes your words in quotes. ("Dear Dumb Parent, The District will not fulfill it's written commitment to "hold an IEP meeting." The District knows of no commitment to "hold an IEP meeting", as you call it. Please call if you have any questions about my dismissive and rude response to you. I am eager to help, and do not think you are bright enough to see I cut and pasted it from text from my rude attorney at AALRR. I want to help. I want to collaborate with with your family.")

Many District employees have no idea it is bad form, and just a bad idea, to forward e-mails with complaints or problems about employees. But they do. Who knows why - laziness, bad management, thinking you have tripped up a parent. Result is embarrassing their lower level staff.

Testing and Assessments - It is very true, the District almost never has copies of tests available prior to meetings. They want to surprise you and make sure you do not have a copy, so you cannot question in a meeting. Although you want to give them a break, after the 10th time it happens, you gotta think it is planned.

You need to document it all. "This is to document you did not provide a copy of the IEP in the IEP meeting. This is to document you failed to provide a copy of the testing or assessments prior to the meeting. This is to record when given outside assessment which you did not like, you threw it on the floor."

Sometimes we receive e-mails so rude, both from the Speech Therapist and Principal, we wonder if they really do believe they have good manners. When we asked for the copy of the test, they wrote, "Tests will be provided at a time in the future. When that time is available, parents will be informed." "You will get it when the time is appropriate." "No results will be given. It is time to sign the IEP document." Say What? Or, "The District will determine access to the test at a later time." Huh? Write back and say that any test you are not provided a copy of must be stricken from the IEP record, because they are telling you they do not exist, or they want to hide it. If they say no, get your own lawyer. Playing games with testing, secret test results, rude and dismissive e-mails from AALRR lawyers which staff pretend come from them (get some guts, AALRR - put your name on it or stop taking the public's money.)

Also, it is a major AALRR lawyer tactic and Special Ed staff tactic in PAUSD to pretend to respond to a question but then fail to do so. So you must document that failure. "This is to document your e-mail said it was in response to what the math score is, but only gave information about sunscreen, which I did not ask. Please respond to question X by legally required date of Y." There are legal time limits when they must respond to a question, so invoke them.

The reason they do not answer questions in an IEP meeting is because they want to avoid it. Notice how they will neglect to write your question in the IEP Notes page, which they control. You must insist they answer the question, such as, "What grade level is child reading at?" "How many times did she hit a kid on the playground this month?") To avoid answering, they will suddenly want to talk a lot. A lot. They will interrupt, pretend not to understand, all talk at once, say you can't possibly understand what you are asking, that it depends what you mean by "hit" or your definition of "another kid", you could talking about a student, a teacher, an aide, an Administrator, the 6 boys who kicked her at one time, the boy who touched her body in line everyday for a year." They will end breathlessly, making sure not to answer. You must respond with, "Please give me in writing all incidents my child hit anyone at your school. All of them." Then go home and write a confirmation, "this is to confirm we asked how many times child hit, and you did not answer. This is to confirm we asked you to provide the answer within x days, as required by law."

It is highly unlikely they will obey the law, that only exists for little people, for families of disabled children in order to protect them against school districts and their lawyers. They are expensive $300 an hour lawyers and Administrators earning $900 a day. Laws do not apply to them. At least you will know the morality of the people you are dealing with at PAUSD.


4 people like this
Posted by A Year to do the Right Thing
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 8, 2017 at 1:14 am

@SPED Tactics,

And don't forget preparing for a hearing is $6,000 at a minimum. That's why the district admins cancel on you so much, they know you will get hit with a whopping bill and have to pay extra if you need the help. More stress on your family = district brownie points for them, whoohoo!

Completely in agreement with you about Sheridan. She says things like, We want to work with you in good faith, right before she proceeds to act in bad faith. [Portion removed.]

"There are legal time limits when they must respond to a question, so invoke them."
I know. They still don't answer. There have been many instances when they say they won't answer unless parent files a new request, because they don't want to be to be responsible for old unfilled requests, and of course anything to give parents extra work and wear them down (again, old insurance legal tactic), but of course they still don't answer.

Different people get put on the job, and they don't answer either. And then there are the numerous letters in which they claim to have answered even though they never did. Or when you make a comprehensive request and at the end of the wild goose chase, they say, tell us exactly the dates and what documents you want so we can find them. Hello! A comprehensive records request giving an exhaustive list of the types of records was just made, numerous times, with all the relevant statutes cited and a time limit to provide them. One of the district's perfunctory duties is to provide these kinds of records, it's nothing new to them, and they are supposed to, by law, have procedures to provide them within the legal time limits and not whine that it's too hard as an excuse (which they do, too). They don't get to say, which is what they do say: tell me the dates and topics of every email or X you want a copy of and I will see what I can do, maybe. And they still won't provide the records. And then they send you a letter saying they answered the request even though they provided squat. (Hey district, you do realize that could be grounds for the OCR to extend the time limits for complaints? But wait, McGee quietly changed all the district regulations so they can purge their records faster, do you think they will use that as an excuse? Do sped families realize this?)

It's the law, but who is going to enforce it if you don't have endless money and legal help? Look into that. The trail leads through the DOE to the DA (if I'm remembering right) , can't remember now, because whomever it was had no idea they were responsible. Since no other school district would ever dream of flaunting records laws like this, whoever is legally responsible for making districts follow the law just doesn't even have a way to process the request. There's FERPA, too, but it turns out that districts have all kinds of weasely things they can do to thwart FERPA. Unless of course a KTVU reporter is asking them questions, and then of course, it's FERPA FERPA FERPA sorry can't say anything. [Portion removed.]


7 people like this
Posted by Tanya Gallagher
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jul 8, 2017 at 7:38 pm

The red flags were there when we hired him. Just a year earlier he had taken early retirement to abandon a school, IMSA, leaving his obligations in Illinois and pledging himself to the faculty and families of a brand new school in Princeton. He persuaded people to drop everything to join him in New Jersey based on his word and his vision. Then, 8 months after it began in fire and poor planning, he left without warning and created a vacuum of debt, tears, ruined lives, and broken careers.


10 people like this
Posted by Paly Dad
a resident of Community Center
on Jul 8, 2017 at 8:35 pm

Wait, what were the "accomplishments" exactly? Talk talk about minority achievement, but nothing concrete. Full day kindergarten instead of perfectly fine "extended day" version. The AAR program - really that's it? He wanted to build a new high school, but got shut down by the board. Aside from that - special ed in disarray, budget shortfall, "equity plan" that amounts to nothing, renaming nonsense, GPA reporting nonsense, more Title IX messes (including a teacher now in jail for sexual assault of a student).

Long on talk, short on delivering the goods.


3 people like this
Posted by A Year to Do the Right Thing
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 9, 2017 at 12:25 am

[Post removed.]


8 people like this
Posted by Fact checker
a resident of Crescent Park
on Jul 9, 2017 at 12:31 am

Dr. McGee had no large public high school experience when he came to PAUSD. His experience prior to PAUSD was almost entirely in elementary. His only high school experience was the elite public math and science boarding school in Illinois, which has very high admission standards and he was only there a few years.

We can start by hiring someone with meaningful large public high school experience, preferably in California, who wants to make a long career in Palo Alto.


3 people like this
Posted by Bad Faith
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Jul 9, 2017 at 1:45 am

I agree Stephanie Sheridan is needlessly adversarial to parents of disabled. She writes threatening legalese instead of answering the simplest of questions, sends automated emails she is away when she does not want to answer questions, then never seems to b able to answer when she returns. I am sorry to hear she is using the "good faith" tactic. That is so insulting to parents, it is hard to even respond. Any parent who receives a message with such a statement needs to get a lawyer, and to be aware she is targeting your child for legal action.

Agree she and Max and AALRR use the threat of "mediation" to stress and terrorize parents. Mediation is a legal act, requiring parents to hire lawyers.

She and AALRR play the "dumb card" a bit too much. She has been on the job 6 months but still does not "understand".

The transition to new Director has been a mess and sadly when confused she wastes lots of public money running to a lawyer.

After to speaking to lawyers who deal with AALRR, it is most often described as confused and sloppy. Having spoken to PAUSD families, the AALRR lawyer on most special ed cases in PAUSD is loathed by parents for breaking deals, tricks, not getting her work done, being confused, and generally delaying by not knowing her job. She can be unnecessarily adversarial and does not know her cases well. Taxpayers want results,!not waste. This is not her personal playground.

When a Special ED Director write "good faith", You can be sure she is working with a lawyer against a child, and the lawyer told her to cut and paste the language. Normal people simply do not converse in such a manner. Pretty sad for a Director level with a Ph.D. She gives out too much of the same old nasty vibe to families we all survived through the past 5 years. She is not acting to heal he hurt, and that is sad. She may be a great person, but makrs a tragic error in hitching herself to her AALRR lawyer. Will PAUSD not see that strategy failed, leading us to OCR, bullying, sexual assault, and disabled children who are not being educated despite incredible expense? Pausd would do best to take a breath, ask for a different lawyer with fresh eyes, settle cases, and get back to the matter at hand, education, not legal cases.


7 people like this
Posted by kids
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jul 10, 2017 at 3:46 pm

I have appreciated this guys candor and dignity. I think he had a suicide very early into his first year and inherited a pretty complex staff, parent group and challenging student population. I would like to give him more time, but can also see he may be tired. No one can do much in 3-4 years. Things are not really worse and now he knows more about who the staff is an what he can accomplish. seems a shame to see the parents blaming staff for problems that belong to a whole group. I think special ed has so many legal constraints and each case is so different that it would warrant an ombudsman to streamline plans and monitor progress. Sometimes parents of all kids really do not know what to ask for or how to ask and and a middle man may help parents and teacher communicate better without being at such odds.
I have never seen Max Magee lose his cool under some extreme pressurized situations and that is what I am telling my kids to notice. I have never seen trumpesque out of line posts and I really, really appreciate that as a good role model for kids. His letters to parents were very kind and direct. Whatever happened happened. I hate to see the poor next person go through the same very hard learning curve this district requires. I do not think anyone can prevent every single problem in every single program at these very diverse schools.


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Posted by kids
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jul 10, 2017 at 4:31 pm

@cecilla

I agree with you and I think there needs to be a much better way to communicate how to communicate. I don't think overlaying decades of problems onto one person is ok. Running programs that are just normal and smooth take up most of the day and problems take time no one has.

There seems to be too many limitations with time for sure. No one can schedule in time for problems. I would love to see a workshop that gave kids a list of their rights and how they should advocate for themselves. They will if they know it is private and no one will be mad at them for asking for help. Parents should have the ed code and board policy on hand before they ask for anything so they will not waste time and not ask for things they should not.


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Posted by Legal firm
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Jul 11, 2017 at 12:11 am

We asked families about the law firm AALRR. No one had a positive experience. All felt Ms. Rho-Ngo made things needlessly complex and slowed progress to a near halt. Everyone said documents were so confusing and unclear they had to get another district staffer to intercede and fix them. Some felt attacked and accused, but also felt the special education co-directors do that in general. Everyone said mediation was a bad experience, and the district did not meet their goal of improving relations with a family. Instead families realized who was lying, who didn't know what they were taking about, and came away believing the attorneys for the school district would make any claim against families unfairly. Everyone said it made dealing with the District more negative for them for the rest of their time in PAUSD.


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Posted by A Year
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 11, 2017 at 12:51 am

@kids,
I am glad to hear that you don't have direct experience with the problems, neither did I until my kid needed accommodations, then it was unbelievable, this is not some he said she said too complicated to understand situation. The district people would systematically lie, engage in scheming, retaliatory acts (that could be proven), illegal behavior, not follow their processes and I don't mean in a subtle way, and not provide records under the law, just to name a few. Unbelievable in a school district and should have been stopped. If you make a record request and then someone sends you a nasty multi-page letter that reiterates the question then is full of false accusations to retaliate for something they only thought you did, accusations that have nothing to do with your question and never answers the question, first of all, that cost the district lots of money for no good purpose, and is not "dignified". Such unethical and unprofessional practices were not uncommon and were never investigated or dealt with by McGee. Had he done so, he would be a lot less tired because parents like me would be busy helping and volunteering and raising money like we did before we ended up in that awful quagmire.

This simply would not have been difficult for someone with a compass for the truth and doing right, and employees would have been fired and gone on to professions where lying and having no compunctions about abusing families does less emotional damage. McGee let the worst offenders choose the new lawfirm, for example, rather than considering county legal, and he simply dropped a special ed review.

I blame the former board who hired McGee while pretending this was an ordinary situation, but McGee is the one who chose the secrecy and yet more sweeping things under a rug, so he owns all of it now, no excuses. A year would be enough for someone not trying to coverup.

The nature of a school district is serving the public, warts and all, and you are in some kind of rare bubble if you think the warts are especially challenging here. What made this bad was a specific unethical unprofessional clatch, spurred by a greedy lawfirm, and could have been fixed by a decent leader. Anyone who whines about the situation not being perfect, especially someone unwilling to listen to the experiences that would help ferret out the bad admin behavior, does not deserve such whitewashing. I have protected McGee from the consequences of his own inaction and poor performance by giving him the benefit of the doubt; he did not give us families who needed him to fix this the same courtesy.


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Posted by kids
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jul 11, 2017 at 8:14 am

@a year.

I am really sorry and glad you posted this. It seems so weird that so many people have had the same experience and it does not seem possible in this day an age for families to have to deal with their normal stress and then have it made more difficult and more time consuming. It is difficult to figure out what is going on. What do you think needs to be done? Do you think there is hope? I hate to see parents and staff at odds while the kids watch. If the school has "representation" then the kids should have the same exact budget and with outside party. That seems fair but is silly I guess. I would like to see the new staff try hard to use the ed code and all that in a more clever way and in a way that does not take so much time. They need to hire an ed code delivery person and their lawyers need to be used of application of laws that will benefit students instead of limiting liability. When parents see them acting in good faith, there will be less liability? Maybe? Am I wrong about this too? I still have sympathy for staff trying to fit al the legalities onto all the different situations. Parents should not look to punish or sue though, they should be pushing for any protocol that was used that made their kids' lives better. Are there any? I feel like the time kids in the posted conversations here have had to wait for parents and staff to come together to help them is probably very difficult and if adults are talking to lawyers and not to the children directly only about how they can help, that is where kids are taken off center. Kids need to see that staff and parents and students are a team with one goal. I do not think that can happen with a lawyer in the room on either side. I still like the idea of an educational legal expert that can be used to bypass, or expedite service to any child that works for both sides.


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Posted by A Year
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 11, 2017 at 9:46 am

@kids,
Thanks for opening the conversation with this post. I am going to spend some time writing what .i think woukd be specific steps the district could take to fix things. We do have an opportunity now, with a number of people leaving.


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Posted by daunting
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 11, 2017 at 5:05 pm

a year,

reading through your posts and others, seems almost daunting (for any organization) to have ongoing situations without a better way to manage communications to serve students better. Inexcusable for a district this size. Terrible for the parents/students who have to experience the same systematic flaws. Given that a person has been hired to do Title IX,wonder if that same person could also review options for an Ombuds (or similar role you suggest) for special-ed.



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Posted by A Year
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 12, 2017 at 9:48 am

@daunting,
I agree about the need for a framework for constant communication and improvement. The situation is different after the train wrecks than when the rail line is being built and operated. But you are right, hearing and incorporating the truth is really important. There are a few aspects of hearing the truth at this point that are necessarily different than if we had not suffered such pernicious practices from administration:
1) the entity listening has to be independent, not under the control of district leadership
2) the ombuds entity would have to be considered trustworthy by all
3) the entity would need to have power to act, to investigate, not just listen - families who have spoken up but faced retaliation would not participate otherwise
4) the entity would have to be willing to proactively reach out to families who have left, complained in the past, and consider the difference between the record and what the families experienced
5) the entity would have to have expertise, help, and/or power to propose policy changes to prevent things from going off the rails again, and specific ways to resolve individual complaints (accidents, using the rail analogy). In our case, for example, a correction of the record, an acknowlefgment and official apology, and some concern about solving the larger issues that prevented us from keeping things from going off the rails and hurting us, would go a long way.

This is not my reply to @kids invitation to discuss solutions, but it does bring up sone of the issues. It might have once been possible to have an ombudsman within the district, but not now. I think that's why the district had so many OCR complaints, parents get fed up with the district using alternate facts and having no trustworthy entity to just look at the facts and make the right things happen. Ideally, the board would serve that function, but they have not.


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