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Where the Palo Alto school board candidates stand on COVID learning loss

Recovery proposals include differentiated instruction, accelerated socialization, social-emotional support

AP English teacher Mark Hernandez speaks to students at Gunn High School in Palo Alto on March 16, 2022. Photo by Magali Gauthier.

In preparation for the Palo Alto Weekly's coverage of the campaigns for Palo Alto Unified Board of Education, we solicited questions from our readers that speak to their topmost concerns about the school district.

From their many excellent responses, we crafted a short questionnaire for the candidates to complete. In response, they discussed their primary concerns and experience in education. They also offer their opinions on student achievement, COVID-19 learning loss, diversity and inclusion, the superintendent and innovations.

The candidates' answers on all these topics will be published as separate articles, one per day, through Sept. 26. Here's what they had to say to the following question: What impacts from the pandemic do you believe students are still experiencing and what further steps does the school district need to take to address these repercussions?

Shana Segal. Photo by Magali Gauthier.

Shana Segal

The pandemic impacted our students and community deeply — academically, emotionally and socially. Math and reading scores fell across the nation, loved ones died and social connections became fractured after many months of isolation.

These losses were especially profound in certain groups, such as economically disadvantaged students and students with special needs.

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I personally witnessed these impacts as a substitute teacher, through my school consulting business, and when my own children returned to their PAUSD classrooms in October 2020. Addressing the lasting impact requires both short and long term strategies:

• Differentiated instruction. The covid-related learning losses means a greater span of abilities within the classroom, making it even more critical to target instruction at a child's learning level.

• Interventions that provide teachers with carefully structured, evidence-based pedagogy programs combined with accountability, feedback, and monitoring mechanisms to help all children.

• Free after-school and summer programs for students identified as below grade-level in reading, writing, or math. Summertime and after-school program availability for under-resourced students.

• Allowing students flexibility to recover from illness with consistent and empathetic grading policies.

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• Advocating for policies that promote student mental health and wellness, as well as assessing our current social-emotional learning (SEL) programs. This includes assessments of our 13 newly hired mental health therapists, and aligning the SEL programs at Gunn and Paly by leveraging the best practices from each.

Ingrid Campos. Photo by Magali Gauthier.

Ingrid Campos

In my opinion, learning loss and loss of socialization can only be improved with the amelioration of the present and looking to the future to never allow this kind of "experiment" again.

I am not an educator, so I cannot make professional assessments; however, from a parental point of view, I would accelerate learning and socialization; I expect that children are resilient and able to keep up with accelerations into the right direction — forward, not backward because the past is dead and gone.

Nicole Chiu-Wang

Nicole Chiu-Wang. Photo by Magali Gauthier.

Students are still experiencing impacts from the pandemic — psychologically, socially, and intellectually. The achievement and opportunity gap has widened as a result of the pandemic because not all students were set up for success with remote and hybrid learning. It is our job as a district to take on projects to address the widening achievement and opportunity gap.

We need to continue to address learning loss and inequity in student resources at all grade levels by ensuring that the district provides all students with the support and resources they need to get back on track. And, we need to try to do this in a way that does not make the student feel any additional pressure as a result — because we need less pressure, not more, in our district.

The California Assessment of Student Performance and Progress (CAASPP) data shows that PAUSD teachers and staff have made encouraging gains with some of our targeted students, in spite of the pandemic. There is still a lot of work to be done, but our progress makes me believe that we can move the needle.

Shounak Dharap

Shounak Dharap. Photo by Magali Gauthier.

The negative effects of the pandemic on students' social and emotional well-being seem to be far greater than on their academics (for example, reading scores have generally increased across the board). It is critical for the district to continue the heavy focus on mental health and wellness, through access to on-site therapists, fully staffed wellness centers, and social-emotional learning. To that end, it is also important to re-assess SELF/Advisory — the period during which students are supposed to be provided foundational tools for social-emotional support and regulation — to ensure the time is effectively spent providing students with resources they can and will use. I am a member of the SELF/Advisory ad hoc committee this academic year and intend to be heavily involved in that process.

At the same time, it's also important for the district to offer specific student-centered supports like tutoring, credit recovery, and expanded summer school to remediate any learning loss that has occurred.

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Where the Palo Alto school board candidates stand on COVID learning loss

Recovery proposals include differentiated instruction, accelerated socialization, social-emotional support

by Palo Alto Weekly staff / Palo Alto Weekly

Uploaded: Sat, Sep 24, 2022, 9:24 am
Updated: Sun, Sep 25, 2022, 9:07 pm

In preparation for the Palo Alto Weekly's coverage of the campaigns for Palo Alto Unified Board of Education, we solicited questions from our readers that speak to their topmost concerns about the school district.

From their many excellent responses, we crafted a short questionnaire for the candidates to complete. In response, they discussed their primary concerns and experience in education. They also offer their opinions on student achievement, COVID-19 learning loss, diversity and inclusion, the superintendent and innovations.

The candidates' answers on all these topics will be published as separate articles, one per day, through Sept. 26. Here's what they had to say to the following question: What impacts from the pandemic do you believe students are still experiencing and what further steps does the school district need to take to address these repercussions?

Shana Segal

The pandemic impacted our students and community deeply — academically, emotionally and socially. Math and reading scores fell across the nation, loved ones died and social connections became fractured after many months of isolation.

These losses were especially profound in certain groups, such as economically disadvantaged students and students with special needs.

I personally witnessed these impacts as a substitute teacher, through my school consulting business, and when my own children returned to their PAUSD classrooms in October 2020. Addressing the lasting impact requires both short and long term strategies:

• Differentiated instruction. The covid-related learning losses means a greater span of abilities within the classroom, making it even more critical to target instruction at a child's learning level.

• Interventions that provide teachers with carefully structured, evidence-based pedagogy programs combined with accountability, feedback, and monitoring mechanisms to help all children.

• Free after-school and summer programs for students identified as below grade-level in reading, writing, or math. Summertime and after-school program availability for under-resourced students.

• Allowing students flexibility to recover from illness with consistent and empathetic grading policies.

• Advocating for policies that promote student mental health and wellness, as well as assessing our current social-emotional learning (SEL) programs. This includes assessments of our 13 newly hired mental health therapists, and aligning the SEL programs at Gunn and Paly by leveraging the best practices from each.

Ingrid Campos

In my opinion, learning loss and loss of socialization can only be improved with the amelioration of the present and looking to the future to never allow this kind of "experiment" again.

I am not an educator, so I cannot make professional assessments; however, from a parental point of view, I would accelerate learning and socialization; I expect that children are resilient and able to keep up with accelerations into the right direction — forward, not backward because the past is dead and gone.

Nicole Chiu-Wang

Students are still experiencing impacts from the pandemic — psychologically, socially, and intellectually. The achievement and opportunity gap has widened as a result of the pandemic because not all students were set up for success with remote and hybrid learning. It is our job as a district to take on projects to address the widening achievement and opportunity gap.

We need to continue to address learning loss and inequity in student resources at all grade levels by ensuring that the district provides all students with the support and resources they need to get back on track. And, we need to try to do this in a way that does not make the student feel any additional pressure as a result — because we need less pressure, not more, in our district.

The California Assessment of Student Performance and Progress (CAASPP) data shows that PAUSD teachers and staff have made encouraging gains with some of our targeted students, in spite of the pandemic. There is still a lot of work to be done, but our progress makes me believe that we can move the needle.

Shounak Dharap

The negative effects of the pandemic on students' social and emotional well-being seem to be far greater than on their academics (for example, reading scores have generally increased across the board). It is critical for the district to continue the heavy focus on mental health and wellness, through access to on-site therapists, fully staffed wellness centers, and social-emotional learning. To that end, it is also important to re-assess SELF/Advisory — the period during which students are supposed to be provided foundational tools for social-emotional support and regulation — to ensure the time is effectively spent providing students with resources they can and will use. I am a member of the SELF/Advisory ad hoc committee this academic year and intend to be heavily involved in that process.

At the same time, it's also important for the district to offer specific student-centered supports like tutoring, credit recovery, and expanded summer school to remediate any learning loss that has occurred.

Comments

Bystander
Registered user
Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 24, 2022 at 9:38 am
Bystander, Another Palo Alto neighborhood
Registered user
on Sep 24, 2022 at 9:38 am

I definitely think this is one of the biggest issues of our times for our children. At each age group, the percentage of their lives living in lockdown means that they have lost social development skills which will affect them for the rest of their lives. It can be said that the problems at the Paly/Gunn game could be blamed on the fact that they have had so little opportunity to participate as an audience over the past 2 1/2 years that those skills are not there. The social skills may be a lot harder to overcome than the academic skills and I think our schools have to be ready for that. The PAUSD board have to be prepared to be leaders in helping the different schools help children catch up on that too.

The other aspect, and I don't hear it mentioned anywhere, is that what has it taught PAUSD about disaster preparedness. They can have all the drills they like, but the realisation that say a major incident that happens at a weekend could prevent one or more of our school campuses to be out of action for weeks should be a learning and preparedness lesson for our board. If say Paly had to close due to an incident, what would be the next step? If it was an elementary school that suddenly had to close for weeks, would that look the same? We have had a major disaster in that all our schools had to operate in lockdown. What lessons have been learned? What would be different next time? If this happened again, would PAUSD be any better prepared? It could happen, there should be disaster preparedness protocols in place.


Greene and Paly Parent
Registered user
Professorville
on Sep 24, 2022 at 10:20 am
Greene and Paly Parent, Professorville
Registered user
on Sep 24, 2022 at 10:20 am

In my opinion as a parent, Shana's response is the most in-touch, and convincing. That is not surprising given her expertise. Shana recognizes the issue that while nearly all students were impacted socially and emotionally, and of course we should address and understant that, the academic impact had very high variance based on socioeconomics: Many PAUSD students, with access to resources and parent time, learned well above their grade level and in deeper way that what is available to them in the PAUSD classrooms. I heared from many parents that they were just amazed to see how quickly the kids progressed. On the other hand, the less resourced students fell much further behind. This in particular makes the one-size-fits-all approaches even less appropriate.

Nicole's response seem not to reflect experience or knowledge (even not that of a parent, her own children were not school age during pandemic). She parrots the narrative on student stress versus academics. Particularly surprising is her comment on "CAASPP results data show." Facts: CAASPP results were provided to parents (for their students) but aggregate results are being held at state level. Therefore, our district aggregate results are not yet available to the public. How did she access them???
Web Link

Dharap response speaks for his political resume, with his usual anti-academic stance. What is surprising that without actual expertise in that either (he has none in education and none as a school-age parent) he is stepping into the wellness domain (or posing as such).


KEN HOROWITZ
Registered user
University South
on Sep 24, 2022 at 12:15 pm
KEN HOROWITZ, University South
Registered user
on Sep 24, 2022 at 12:15 pm

As a professor at Foothill College, I believe that both Nicole and Shounak are the best candidates for the School Board to insure that all students in PAUSD succeed in the classroom and in life. They have the vision and the energy to address the achievement gap that we see at Foothill College. It is so important that we address this gap at the earliest age rather than our Foothill College students having to take remedial classes before they qualify for higher level classes.
Please vote for both Nicole and Shounak!


Resident10
Registered user
Leland Manor/Garland Drive
on Sep 25, 2022 at 7:32 am
Resident10, Leland Manor/Garland Drive
Registered user
on Sep 25, 2022 at 7:32 am

@Grenne and Paly Parent - Interesting information you posted
If aggregated district CAASPP data is not available to the public, how did a school board candidate get it?
Who could have provided this non-public data?
Did all the candidates get the same access to this non-public data that could be used to answer questions posed to them?

Integrity still matters to many voters in the community. I hope the candidate would like to provide answers to these questions so we get this cleared up.


Sandra Cox
Registered user
Mountain View
on Sep 25, 2022 at 7:56 am
Sandra Cox, Mountain View
Registered user
on Sep 25, 2022 at 7:56 am

"It is so important that we address this gap at the earliest age rather than our Foothill College students having to take remedial classes before they qualify for higher level classes."

There is no shame in having to take a remedial course as a prerequisite to enrollment in a standard college class.

I had to take remedial English composition prior to enrolling in English IA and middle school level Algebra before I could register for Calculus.

Education is not a race as to who gets there first as some students take years to complete a degree.

High school should be no different.


Allison
Registered user
Midtown
on Sep 25, 2022 at 9:04 am
Allison, Midtown
Registered user
on Sep 25, 2022 at 9:04 am

I would like to understand why anyone would think that Nicole Chiu-Wang is more qualified to be on the board vs. Shana Segal? That makes zero sense to me. Nicole strikes me as a well-put together articulate professional who is trying to dip her hands into too many jars in her life. She has been "groomed" by a bunch of well heeled parents in our community and lauded as "well qualified" to be on the board, yet she has no experience as a professional in education, her kids are not even in the school system yet and she has lived here for 6 months.

Shana has all the professional EDUCATIONAL experience we could ask for her and had the smarts to put her educational consulting business ON HOLD while she runs for the board. That same level of commitment will continue if Shana is elected. Thank you Shana, for prioritizing running for the board by dedicating your full self to running.
Did Nicole? Or Shounak for that matter?

We should want board members who have been in the weeds in our school district and community, not just articulate speakers.


Observer
Registered user
Midtown
on Sep 25, 2022 at 9:06 am
Observer, Midtown
Registered user
on Sep 25, 2022 at 9:06 am

My understanding is that Ms. Chiu-Wang is being introduced via house parties by the current school board vice president. This started after she moved her this the spring and the school board vp continues to host many of her fundraisers. She's half way to her fundraising goal of $50k.

While Ms. Chiu-Wang probably cannot access non-public info, she most certainly can appear far more informed by receiving guidance, pointers, and board-level background on request from her board mentors.

Ms. Chiu-Wang stated in debates this week that the district has indeed hired a communications officer. Dr. Austin’s letter this week stated that an offer has been made. Who knows which is true, but she seems to have a very high level of access to the latest info.

Optics matter and a relationship with the board which might provide an advantage to her campaign can, in my book, undermine her credibility should she become a board member.

As a voter, I personally see the board involvement in this campaign as a misuse of power. I’m also not interested in a candidate who isn't doing their own research and forming their own opinions.


Resident10
Registered user
Professorville
on Sep 25, 2022 at 12:16 pm
Resident10, Professorville
Registered user
on Sep 25, 2022 at 12:16 pm
GreatPumpkin
Registered user
Downtown North
on Sep 26, 2022 at 11:48 pm
GreatPumpkin, Downtown North
Registered user
on Sep 26, 2022 at 11:48 pm
Jennifer DiBrienza
Registered user
Evergreen Park
on Sep 27, 2022 at 10:52 am
Jennifer DiBrienza, Evergreen Park
Registered user
on Sep 27, 2022 at 10:52 am

A community member pointed me to comments in this article where I am accused of giving "insider" information improperly and hosting a meet and greet for a local candidate.
Anyone who knows me knows that I host meet and greets for local, regional, state, and federal candidates every election season. I think voting in our elections is the single most important thing we do as citizens and it is important that voters know about the candidates for whom they may vote.
Hosting for local candidates means also hosting one for a school board candidate I support. It's perhaps not surprising that I have an opinion on the race, given I will serve for 2 years with whoever is elected. I came on the board with priorities and goals and I have supported candidates in every election I've served so that I am more likely to move the district towards those priorities and goals.
As to the implication that I passed "secret" info onto a candidate, that is quite an accusation to put out there. Unless the board discusses something in closed session (which we are forbidden to discuss outside of closed session), anything else is public information. Our Superintendent made it clear to all candidates early on that if they had any questions or wanted to discuss anything to reach out to him directly. Perhaps Ms. Chiu-Wang did just that?

The tone of this race has disappointed so many of us. Numerous negative comments on each article (and there have been a lot, Palo Alto online!) about Ms. Chiu-Wang, I suppose in the name of lifting up another candidate? Campaigns are hard. I've been through two of them. People don't always stay focused on the positives of their candidate. But the personal attacks got so bad that the moderator of this paper stepped in and noted it. I hope this community can do better.


Greene and Paly Parent
Registered user
Professorville
on Sep 27, 2022 at 7:49 pm
Greene and Paly Parent, Professorville
Registered user
on Sep 27, 2022 at 7:49 pm

@Jennifer

There are questions of substance on candidate Chiu-Wang that are relevant to voters:

(1) Qualifications: Ms. Chiu-Wang has no experience as a school-age parent, no experience in education, no experience in data-driven decision making, never lived in Palo Alto (!) She moved here from SF few months ago, just before becoming a board candidate (!). She has an unpracticed law degree, a non-technical job at a tech company, was in The Apprentice. [Portion removed.]

(2) Her motivation: School board is a very local entity. Candidates run to serve their community, neighbors and friends. Often driven by a desire to make improvements on particular issues, and this comes from their local experience. Candidates typically have prior experience with PAUSD as parents, teachers, volunteers, and participated in board meetings. Why did someone that just moved here (not connected to the community, no experience in our schools) decide to run?

[Portion removed]

Also, Jennifer, can you please explain why are you endorsing this candidate? This is truly puzzling to me. Can you specifically address the points above? Won't you be more comfortable if Ms. Chiu-Wang first gets some experience in Palo Alto and PAUSD schools, say at least a year or two, before running for the board?


Jennifer DiBrienza
Registered user
Evergreen Park
on Sep 27, 2022 at 8:00 pm
Jennifer DiBrienza, Evergreen Park
Registered user
on Sep 27, 2022 at 8:00 pm

Feel free to reach out to me directly to discuss. I'm not having a back and forth with anonymous posters who continue to make accusations that aren't grounded in anything. I continue to be disappointed in anonymous posters who seem to support another candidate but rather than talking about that candidate, spend their time personally attacking another one and making assumptions based on... I don't know what.
Anyone who wants to talk, my email and cell are public and I'm happy to discuss. It's easy to throw shots, make accusations, and push conspiracy theories anonymously on Palo Alto online. According to you, I haven't been shy about the reasons I support Nicole. Reach out to me, I'm happy to share.


Greene and Paly Parent
Registered user
Professorville
on Sep 27, 2022 at 8:22 pm
Greene and Paly Parent, Professorville
Registered user
on Sep 27, 2022 at 8:22 pm

[Post removed; repetitive of prior posts]


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