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?
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.
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.
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.
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.