Yet Skelly and Assistant Superintendent Scott Laurence presented the decision as unanimous at a Sept. 11 board meeting — a pretense that riled some group members.
"My objection is that they changed the charge without telling the group as a whole and then made a representation that the group as a whole agreed to it," said task-force member Corey Levens, who had not been contacted about the changes before the board meeting. Levens is a parent on Gunn High School's Site Council.
The High School Task Force was created by the school district last spring to address the issue of growing enrollment at area high schools. Then led by former Superintendent Mary Frances Callan, the district asked the group to consider three different options: a third comprehensive high school, a smaller specialized school or program or expanding the existing schools.
But when Skelly arrived at the end of the school year to replace Callan, he decided that examining a third high school was impractical for the group, he said last week.
Despite growing enrollment, the concrete need for a third high school was unlikely in the immediate future, he said. The group already had a lot of information to work with and examining a third high school would add consideration of facilities and financial discussions, he said.
"The planning and consideration of a third high school is a ton of work and if it's not likely, it's just a distracter," he said.
Skelly met with two task-force members to suggest the change — Gunn Principal Noreen Likins and Palo Alto High School Principal Jackie McEvoy — and the group's facilitators, former Paly Principal Sandra Pearson and Director of Secondary Education Burton Cohen and Laurence, a former Paly principal, he said.
All agreed to the proposed narrowing of the group's focus, Laurence said.
But the group's membership also included teachers, parents from the site council or PTSA, and students, who were not contacted about changes.
At the Sept. 11 board meeting, Laurence asked the board and Skelly for approval to change the group's focus. As though speaking on behalf of all members, Laurence said the group did not feel qualified to look at a third high school.
"With a third high school, you're looking at leases, property deals with Foothill and De Anza, and all of a sudden you had a bunch of educators looking at a number of factors that were out of our area of expertise," Laurence said at the meeting.
The board approved the change in focus, but the matter did not end there.
Levens contacted the Weekly after reading coverage about the meeting that did not ring true.
"They made a change and then represented that change as being the decision of the group as a whole, and that's simply not the case," he said.
Others involved with the group were similarly unaware of any proposed shift in their purpose until after the board meeting.
District Office Director Carol Zepecki, a staff resource for the group, first learned of the change after the Sept. 11 board meeting and had not heard of any summertime discussions, she said.
Making the change without consulting all group members was a mistake, Laurence said.
"We should've sent out an e-mail to everybody and said, 'Hey, come and listen and give input,'" he said.
Skelly said he felt his executive recommendation not to look at a third high school made sense but should have nonetheless consulted others.
"It seemed to me not to make sense to use people's time that way, [but] in fact we should've asked them," he said.
It was inaccurate to represent the decision as unanimous, he said.
"It was my oversight to not inform all the members of that direction and then also imply that that was something the whole task force decided on," he said.
The oversight occurred as a result of settling into a new role, he said.
"Whenever somebody new comes in it's turbulent, and here's an example of that," he said.
The re-tooled task force has met three times so far this school year.
During meetings, some group members have complained about not being included in the decision to re-focus the group, but they have not criticized the decision itself, Skelly said.
"It's not a question of the decision; it's a question of the process," he said.
The decision itself is not necessarily problematic, Levens agreed.
"[It may] be the correct judgment on this matter, [but] it is an option I would have liked to have had the opportunity to consider," he said in a letter to the Weekly.
Yet it is the superintendent's job to envision the group's goals, not the group's job, said former Paly Principal Pearson.
"It's really the superintendent's call, just as the last superintendent Mary Frances Callan developed a proposal in terms of what the task force's charge was," she said.
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