It is inevitable that some parents, especially those whose lives have been directly impacted by the teen suicides of the last two years, will never be satisfied that the district is moving fast enough.
But what the school board and Skelly do not seem to acknowledge is that a large and growing number of parents, including those of academically high-achieving kids, are questioning the competitive and stressful culture we are all responsible for having created in our community.
Challenging this culture is very threatening to all those who embrace it and whose policies contribute to it. It leads to the uncomfortable posturing witnessed at Tuesday's meeting, where school board members and Skelly come across as unresponsive and bogged down in their bureaucratic policies, procedures and jargon.
We don't for a second believe that our school officials are as insensitive as they appear. They correctly point to a number of initiatives, including the just-completed student survey aimed at assessing how well 5th graders, 7th graders and high school students are doing by measuring their development of 40 "assets" that have been shown to foster emotional health.
They deserve credit for embracing the Project Safety Net program, which issued an outstanding report and recommendations last summer and is the focal point for community collaboration on addressing concerns over teen stress and health.
But the school board and Superintendent Skelly keep missing opportunities to demonstrate they aren't as tone-deaf as they appear, and to truly lead our community.
At both board and community meetings, they find themselves trying to convince concerned parents that much is being done rather than clearly articulate how we as a school community will discuss and reconcile the desire of some parents for the most rigorous and competitive academic environment possible and the belief of others that we need to redefine success and implement policies to impose limits on things like AP classes, homework and school projects..
In compelling remarks at Tuesday's meeting, former Paly parent Karen Kang called on district officials to make PAUSD a national model for reinventing the school culture in an achievement-oriented community.
She quoted her 24-year old daughter, who wrote "Getting A's, being in AP classes, doing extracurricular activities and attending a prestigious college was all part of the religion of achievement."
"The five years I spent under the spell of this religion of achievement were a complete waste — I spent my time working hard at what I didn't care about, got physical and mental problems, and was extremely miserable. I've had to put every ounce of my energy for the past few years unlearning those backward lessons I learned as a student in Palo Alto."
Such stories abound, and Palo Alto parents are bravely starting to share them, only to discover that many others have had similar experiences.
To be sure, the problem is much bigger than the school system and it's not fair to expect the school board or administration to unilaterally "fix" it. The entire community must take responsibility, including parents, students and teachers, as well as the college application imbroglio.
It will take bolder and more courageous leadership if we are to succeed in redefining our school culture.
But as one of the most respected school districts in the nation, we can have an enormous national impact if we really commit ourselves. It is especially important that admissions deans from elite colleges hear our voices and be engaged in seeking change.
Could there be a more perfect district — the one that educates the kids of Stanford faculty — to lead this movement?
This story contains 657 words.
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