Technology, new schedules drive changes at Gunn, Paly | February 3, 2012 | Palo Alto Weekly | Palo Alto Online |

Palo Alto Weekly

News - February 3, 2012

Technology, new schedules drive changes at Gunn, Paly

Principals share state-required 'continuous improvement' plans

by Chris Kenrick

A "seismic shift" at Palo Alto High School — the switch to the block schedule that began last year — has rippled across the campus in areas as diverse as student mental health, homework loads and teacher collaboration, according to principal Phil Winston.

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Staff Writer Chris Kenrick can be emailed at


Like this comment
Posted by paloaltotreewatch
a resident of Palo Alto Orchards
on Feb 4, 2012 at 3:39 pm

I applaud the use 65 minutes/week for catching for D and F students and rewarding for those doing well.

The measured rewards of increased number of students meeting State standards is great news.

It reminds me of Demming model of the assembly plant, anyone call pull the lever to stop the assembly line in order to repair problems with production.

Here it is being applied to our very most important product the young citizens of today and the leaders of tomorrow.

And for those students to whom it is easy to get As and Bs - -challenge yourself to teach someone who does not yet "get" it -
for knowing a subject is far different from being able to teach the subject - and will cause greater appreciation for those working to achieve knowledge understanding.

Like this comment
Posted by skeptical
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Feb 4, 2012 at 4:45 pm

This article reads like a PR piece in support of this "shift" in the running of our schools. Journalists should learn to be critical, and ask probing questions, and not just to repeat the talking points of school officials.

For example, the article says that:

The weekly tutorial time has led to "increased connectedness and deepening relationships between students and staff," he said.

with apparently no follow up as to what evidence they have that "connectedness" and "deepening relationships" have occurred (and the article contains many such examples). I think most people reading the article would be skeptical of the great benefits being stated, but the journalist writing this article apparently was not...and therefore does a disservice to his audience.

I know news budgets are tight these days, but a little critical thinking and skepticism should be enforced by editors...or readers may lose interest altogether.

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Posted by Howard
a resident of Crescent Park
on Feb 4, 2012 at 10:29 pm

Re: "She's reconfigured, literally and symbolically, the concept of the library itself," Villalobos said, with ceiling-to-floor whiteboards and the availability of iPads for entire classes."

In other words, she has destroyed the library.

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Posted by Walter_E_Wallis
a resident of Midtown
on Feb 5, 2012 at 6:14 am

Walter_E_Wallis is a registered user.

With the iPod and other [cheaper] tablets, and computers, no 100 buildings could hold all the available books. We still need librarians, but not physical books. Think of a classroom assignment of "1984" and how many libraries could supply the demand? Think of all those backpacks replaced by a tablet, two sandwiches and an apple. Books are handy for shoring up the short leg of a table, nothing more.

Like this comment
Posted by Megan
a resident of Downtown North
on Feb 5, 2012 at 8:31 am

Books are also handy for reading and relaxing, I might add. Flipping through the pages.....ahhhhh
Sometimes being "unplugged" is a relief.

Like this comment
Posted by Modern-Libraries-Have-No-Walls
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 5, 2012 at 10:00 am

> Gunn's technology-filled library has become "symbolically
> the center of campus," she said.

On the one hand, it’s great that people at the PAUSD are recognizing that information technology exists, and it can be used to further the mission of “education”. On the other, this librarian seems to be “empire building”, trying to centralize information distribution in her domain, rather than recognizing that digital information “flows” wherever the Internet (or distribution channels) exist. The current Internet offers more-or-less worldwide distribution. Wireless networks (local, regional and national) offer people/students to ability to obtain anything that is available in the library on their personal computing devices-cell phones, laptops, iPads, PDAs and one of these days, wearable computing devices.

This whole approach of bulking up technology in a library is completely oblivious to the capabilities of this technology, and is little more than a desperate attempt to use this technology for job security.

Like this comment
Posted by paly parent
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Feb 5, 2012 at 10:26 am

Lots of snide comments!

Increased connectedness because of Tutorial time at Paly - absolutely true. In addition to getting additional help with classes, students have time to just "hang out" with the staff members they feel most comfortable with. (To "Skeptical" research was done by talking to current and past Paly students)

"Howard" the Gunn library is a welcoming, energetic place (not destroyed).

"Modern-Libraries-Have-No-Walls" The library is a perfect place to centralize technology in a school. Students like to be together AND students require supervision. High schools are not the place to bring your own iPad or computer at this point (theft, vandalism, etc.)

Putting technology in the school library makes absolute sense.

BTW - the Paly library is a terrific, warm and welcoming place. Usually filled with students!

Like this comment
Posted by Paly parent 2
a resident of Midtown
on Feb 5, 2012 at 10:50 am

Kudos to the Paly and Gunn principals, and the school district.

This is not a PR fluff piece, it is an article that reports actual, meaningful change implemented in our high schools.

I've had students at Paly under both the old schedule and the new block schedule. The new block schedule is wonderful. It gives teachers more time for their lesson or lab. It has organized classes so that , for the most part, students have 2 days to do their homework for a given class. It does increase flexibility and reduce stress.

Tutorial is a great period. I know my son has made full use of it to "hang out", socialize and do extra work in his favorite class.

I can confirm what paly parent says above. The Paly library is a very popular place. I am there volunteering once a week at lunch time and it is packed with students. So is the Academic Resource Center.

I appreciate how hard our school principals and staff work, and how creative they are, out of dedication for their students.

Like this comment
Posted by Modern-Libraries-Have-No-Walls
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 5, 2012 at 11:19 am

> The library is a perfect place to centralize technology
> in a school.

No, it is not!

Students are generally in the class room most of the day, and only in the school library little more than a few minutes a day. Therefore, the appropriate place to locate “technology” is in the classroom, the home—available via the Internet/web.

Most personal computing devices (iPad/Netbooks/PCs and even some smart phones) have more than enough computing power to offer students access to a full range of educational/reading/viewing materials that might be offered in a library. The goal of the Internet, and digital technologies, is to reduce the costs so that these technologies can be afforded by everyone in the world, and can be delivered to every square inch of the world—whether by wireline, or wireless, means.

Software, and digitized information, is going to be the future of education technology. People will be able to get access to both of these items wherever, whenever, they are inclined to “go to the well”. Modern libraries need to move towards spending money not on facilities, but on digitizing, and creating better human interfaces to allow easier access to the vast stores of information that will become available in the coming years.

People who do not understand the capabilities of distributed information systems will simply keep their children from having access to state-of-the-art technology, and will contribute to the stunting of their children’s intellectual growth.

> This is not a fluff, PR piece.

Oh yes it is!

Like this comment
Posted by JA3+
a resident of Crescent Park
on Feb 5, 2012 at 11:35 am

While I'm a strong supporter of Principal Winston, I believe fundamental -- meaningful -- reform is needed to Paly's 'Dead Week', traditionally the week just prior to final exams each semester.

Too often quizzes and meaningful homework are due; too often, large projects are due. It's far from 'dead'; instead, it's very, very active.

With the rigor in the high lanes at Paly, students need substantive time to prepare and study for finals.

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Posted by paly parent
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Feb 5, 2012 at 12:03 pm

Modern-Libraries-Have-No-Walls -

Let me simplify for you:

Not everyone can afford a iPad, laptop or smartphone.
Schools are not a safe place to bring any of those items (in 4 years, my son had 3 phones stolen out of his backpack while in a classroom, I can only imagine what would happen if he brought a computer or iPad).
Students do not spend all their time in class. As Paly Parent 2 said - the library at Paly (and I'm sure at Gunn) is packed at lunchtime. Our schools do not have cafeterias, making the libraries even more important as safe, warm, indoor space.
Many kids have a prep period that they spend in the library.
Our libraries come with wonderful, credentialed librarians who are also teachers. They are a great help to kids in doing research, picking topics for essays, and even finding "leisure" reading!

I agree that with the current technology, information can be accessed in many places. We should not handicap our students that do not have personally have access to such technology at home by eliminating it from school.

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Posted by ag
a resident of Fairmeadow
on Feb 5, 2012 at 1:58 pm

As someone who went to Gunn a few years ago, I applaud the 65 min tutorial time every week. It also models -- in some senses -- office hours when you get to college (which too many students don't take advantage of).

I wonder though: are often the forces of increased technology, that is to say "screens", and increased welfare of students academically and otherwise more often than not opposing forces?

While technology is often very tempting, I do not think it fundamentally increases learning, for that you need to turn them (yes, even the ones we think are good) off. It's a specious gain in which 20% is good and the other 80% not so much.

Less technology in schools. Better academic and welfare. Don't listen to the hype.

Like this comment
Posted by chaz
a resident of Barron Park
on Feb 5, 2012 at 5:01 pm

Yeah. You know what we do in there? We surf, play games online and do fbook.

Like this comment
Posted by Modern-Libraries-Have-No-Walls
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 6, 2012 at 9:16 am

> Let me simplify for you:
> Not everyone can afford a iPad, laptop or smartphone.


Are there really people who are this unaware of what is going on in the real world, outside the “bubble that is Palo Alto?”

Let’s look at the following dialog, that came out in today’s ZDNET (online):

Web Link

While the two people discussing this issue of e-text books (and e-books in general), both are taking the position that this will happen—the only question on the table for these two, and the moment, is what will Apple’s role be?

How can anyone living here in Palo Alto be so unaware of what is going on all around them?

As to cost of these bits of personal electronics, the prices for many of these things is now sub-$100:

Web Link

While this particular device may not be exactly compatible with an iPad, the point that the hardware and software can be put in the hands of every person for less than $100 is clearly established. What is the cost of books for each student, per year? It’s not hard to see that all of the books, and reading materials, needed to educate each student is less in e-form, than p-form.

And prices will always come down—they always do:

Web Link

The PAUSD is spending $3-$5M a year for libraries, and with the infusion of cash from Measure A, millions more will be wasted on facilities that sit idle most of the time. Using that money to buy e-readers/iPads,etc. for students would be a much better use of far less money. Moreover, it would put an end to silly comments that people living in $1M-$5M homes can not afford $100 personal electronics devices. And clearly, at these low prices, the district could shut replace the brick-n-mortar libraries with free devices for all of its students.

[Portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]

Like this comment
Posted by Slowdown
a resident of Downtown North
on Feb 6, 2012 at 10:17 am

Look, computers make you stupid in a certain fundamental way. Why the rush to make our kids dumber? Eliminate all technology from our schools and you will have better educational outcomes. If you must introduce computers it should be for programming them in assembly language. That way the kids actually learn something.

Like this comment
Posted by KA
a resident of Gunn High School
on Feb 6, 2012 at 10:45 am

What is incredible to me is the total lack of civility or moderation in the comments here and generally at PA online. Emotional Intelligence is a strong predictor for success later in life, and from these comments, I wonder if the Palo Alto population has any.

A couple of notes:
Just because you paid a million dollars for your home and believe that $100 is not big deal, does not mean that is true of everyone. There actually is a lot of economic diversity in this city. People rent, people inherited homes, people bought a long time ago, and are living on less than 70k a year (shocking, I know!)
Just because you love books, it does not mean technology is bad. Just because you love technology, it does not mean books are archaic. Are we really so simple in thought that we have to paint issues in black and white?
Palo Alto schools are excellent, and the reason is that almost every employee- from the leadership to the classroom aide, is well qualified and is working their tail off because they care so much about our kids. Without losing our focus on excellence we should take a moment to express our gratitude for all they do for our kids (most of them for less than 70k a year, shocking I know)

Children and young adults benefit from caring teachers and other role models that connect with them and show interest in their progress. Very few of the comments above show any empathy, balanced view, or interest in learning from the diversity of others opinions. If my students spoke to their peers in this way, I would be very disappointed in them. If my children's teachers or counselors spoke to them in that way, I would have them investigated by the school. And yet we feel that we have free license to speak to each other without respect, sympathy, kindness, or nuance.

It is actually kind of horrifying and sad.

I will attempt to stay away from the comments section in future, in order to try and retain my faith in my fellow citizens.

Like this comment
Posted by Wynn Hausser
a resident of Barron Park
on Feb 6, 2012 at 10:46 am

The steps described in the article are very positive. It takes time to change culture but both principals seem dedicated to doing so. Much more needs to be done but we should celebrate progress when it is made. So kudos to Phil Winston and Katya Villalobos!

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Posted by Barron Park
a resident of Barron Park
on Feb 6, 2012 at 11:04 am

KA, thank you for your thoughtful comments!!

I suspect those comments reflect the feelings of a great many of us who don't speak up . . . folks who do appreciate the hard work and extraordinary capabilities of PAUSD staff, recognize the import of and difficulty in addressing diverse student needs . . . and continue to hope, sometimes without reason, that some of the posters here will discover the value of a nuanced and civil discussion.

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Posted by Crescent Park Dad
a resident of Crescent Park
on Feb 6, 2012 at 11:50 am

Yes KA - spot on.

Lots of zingers by people who I would guess have not step one foot on either campus.

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Posted by skeptical
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Feb 6, 2012 at 12:47 pm

There is indeed alot of spirited discussion here!

But @KA -- you criticize the people posting on this board, then ironically proceed to do essentially what you accuse them of.

"Just because you paid a million dollars for your home" -- you don't know what people on this board paid for their homes. And many people who pay a tiny fraction of that on their home or rent (in Palo Alto or elsewhere) will happily pull together $100 for a great educational tool for their kid.

And your repeated references to a $70K income being "shocking" to us Palo Alto residents -- this is condescending, to say the least.

And why do families (such as mine) who can not really afford to live here in Palo Alto make the sacrifices to come here? Because it is great for our kids. The teachers and administrators are great, and we love them. But I believe that the parents here are so much more focused on their kids' education than I have seen in most other towns (where the teachers and administrators are also very good), and that makes a huge difference. I have been so impressed by what the other parents do, and that has inspired me to do the same for my kids.

We spend alot and sacrifice alot to be here, and have our kids go to school here. I think it reasonable that we pay attention to the changes being proposed for our schools, and be engage in spirited debate about them.

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Posted by 8PA
a resident of Midtown
on Feb 6, 2012 at 2:03 pm

The Principals/Administatin/parents should also focus on the Alcohol and Weed use in the is out of control and something needs to be done about it, instead of sweeping it under the rug, which is what they like to do with any issues they don't want to deal with!

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Posted by Walter_E_Wallis
a resident of Midtown
on Feb 6, 2012 at 6:23 pm

Walter_E_Wallis is a registered user.

I advocate the tablet as the cheapest by far mechanism for delivery of material to the student. Imagine, a $79 machine that makes ten times the library of congress available to anybody. Books today are a waste of money. One tablet can accompany a student through 4 years of school. Show me a book that does that!

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Posted by Hope
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 7, 2012 at 6:44 am

Thank you KA. I agree with your comments about the negative, disrespectful tone of some of the comments posted here. Lets model good communication for each other and our children including manners, respect, compassion, caring and listening. When I was growing up, the library was a place where I learned and practiced these things. Libraries are a place for books (yummy) and information, yes. But they are also (and so importantly) about community, connection, possibility, and fun! And these are essential for learning and creativity. My sincerest thanks to Gunn teachers and staff for their dedication and caring!

Like this comment
Posted by Gary Gechlik
a resident of Palo Alto Hills
on Feb 11, 2012 at 7:32 pm

I live on Skyline. Our children are 3 and 4. They will attend Saratoga Schools. Palo Alto did not consider children in our area, and Saratoga was gracious enough to accept them.

If you can do math, you probably can figure out that a curricular change does not matter. In public school, Kitty will have 30 children in a class. Do the math. 6 hours of instruction at 60 minutes per hour. That is 360 minutes. Divided by 30 students, that is 12 minutes of individualized attention the whole day. Kitty attends the Russian School of Math for 1 hour on Fridays. She has three students in her class. So in her math day, she gets 33 minutes of directed teacher instruction.

What happens when these children get to high school? At 12 minutes per day, 180 days in a year? By the time of the 9th grade, they will have received about 360 hours of individualized instruction.

The most important issue is the ratio of teachers to students. Imagine teaching surgery or how to place a central line with thirty other people. It does not work. Education is about students and teachers. This is why we have to support teachers 100% and mothers of the students even more. They are doing the hard work.

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Posted by apparent
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 12, 2012 at 3:33 pm


"The Principals/Administatin/parents should also focus on the Alcohol and Weed use in the is out of control and something needs to be done about it, instead of sweeping it under the rug, which is what they like to do with any issues they don't want to deal with!"

I've heard it's "not a problem" according to bunch of surveys the schools do.

But I suspect you're right. It's hard to tell what's experimentation, from hard use, but the combination of high stakes academics, high stakes sports, and the pressure cooker both high schools are known, could make alcohol and drugs just more dangerous.

Maybe the Weekly could take a look user the rug on this matter.

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.