The Palo Alto school board unanimously approved on Tuesday night Superintendent Don Austin's "PAUSD Promise" plan — an overarching vision to guide the district forward under his new leadership — while noting that "the rubber will meet the road next year" with its actual implementation.
The districtwide plan has historically been an unwieldy document that touches so many areas that it is challenging to execute systematically. The board has urged Austin to narrow its focus rather than spread the district too thin.
Austin, who is nearing the end of his first year as superintendent, said Tuesday that the plan is "a start, not an end.
"It's not a box to check; it's a checkpoint. It's one of the key parts of a bigger plan moving forward," he told the board.
The "Promise" plan contains five main sections, each with its own detailed goals and data points for measuring progress: high-quality teaching and learning; equity and excellence; wellness and safety; special education and inclusion; and district office operations. There is also a schedule for when staff will report back to the board and community on "key performance indicators," for each section, such as test scores and survey results. Another section contains Palo Alto Unified's results from the California School Dashboard to raise the visibility of the district's performance in certain areas and for certain subgroups of students.
District staff are already working drafting a one-year road map for next year, Austin said, with focused, realistic "power" goals that will have a high impact on student performance and experience at school. Staff will present these more specific goals when the board resumes meeting in August. Metrics for these goals will be tied to staff evaluations and be presented to the board regularly for review, Austin said.
"I'm very interested in what metrics you're going to bring back to us for year-one goals," said board member Melissa Baten Caswell. "I think that is going to be telling on whether this is a plan that is a workable plan or a plan that we just enjoy up on the ledge."
Austin also said he's emphasized with his team that reporting accurate data will be more important than reporting positive data — "just like a dissertation, you don't go in trying to prove a point," he said.
Baten Caswell and board member Shounak Dharap also asked that Austin find a way to keep a record of the different iterations of the plan, which is for the first time in website form.
Board members largely lauded the work that went into the plan over the course of the year, including at nine school board meetings.
"This is good but words on a website don't change any students' experience," said Vice President Todd Collins. "The trick is converting these good intentions into actual initiatives with budgets that convert into classroom experience and life experience for our students. That's the whole game."
In other business at the board's final meeting of the school year, board members unanimously adopted the district's 2019-20 budget. They also approved a 2% bonus and extended contract for Austin, who has received a positive performance evaluation. They voted 5-0 to give teachers at the Palo Alto Adult School a 16% increase for their hourly rates and a 5% one-time bonus for this year.
Board members also unanimously backed a resolution advocating for restrictions on placing cell towers near district schools in response to concerns from some parents and community members about the city's plans to do so and the potential negative health consequences for children. The resolution asks cell towers to be set back by 1,500 feet from schools and for the city to notify the district of future proposed projects near existing school sites.
The board discussed the resolution last week, agreeing that it's a worthwhile precautionary measure to take despite the fact that the science is not clear on the health risks of wireless cell towers.
The City Council approved on Monday night a temporary standard establishing a 300-foot setback from public schools.