School board members debate superintendent's authority | May 15, 2015 | Palo Alto Weekly | Palo Alto Online |

Palo Alto Weekly

News - May 15, 2015

School board members debate superintendent's authority

Decision about zero period prompts criticism of McGee

by Elena Kadvany

A flap erupted at the Palo Alto Board of Education meeting Tuesday over Superintendent Max McGee's recent decision to ban academic classes during zero period at the district's two high schools.

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Comments

31 people like this
Posted by Kirstin Sego
a resident of Community Center
on May 17, 2015 at 11:03 am

Change is hard, and there will always be resistance (in this case, substantial). I am encouraged to see Dr. McGee take action to make changes that he knows will not be welcomed with open arms. His action represents a big shift for Palo Alto away from consensus building that typically leads to inaction. I applaud his courage and look forward to seeing more changes to improve all of our beloved PAUSD schools.


27 people like this
Posted by Aoife Maynard
a resident of Midtown
on May 17, 2015 at 11:13 am

I stand in full support of Dr. Max McGee's decision.

I believe that the school board chose and hired a phenomenal leader for our children and our school district. They hired him for the fullness of his experience, direction, and ability to lead our specific district and all that comes with it.


7 people like this
Posted by Stop her
a resident of Charleston Gardens
on May 17, 2015 at 11:19 am

[Post removed.]


28 people like this
Posted by go max!
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on May 17, 2015 at 12:05 pm

It's great that Max is finally exercising his authority rather than wait for the board's interminable debates and delays.
This whole "management by committee" thing isn't working for this district. It's much simpler if he can just get on and do what's best than having people with know knowledge or experience second guess his decisions.


29 people like this
Posted by the barron
a resident of Barron Park
on May 17, 2015 at 12:26 pm

I support change. I support Supt. McGee. It's important to act when the evidence is clear. The doctors letter regarding zero period is dispositive. I support reasonable change. I will not excoriate the Board or Supt. If the policy is not "perfect". This is a process. We need to iterate until the desired outcome is achieved. Change is needed. Keep it up. Lives are at stake.


35 people like this
Posted by Rehash
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 17, 2015 at 12:49 pm

This is a rehash of the story already covered - nothing new here.

Dr. McGee did the right thing. I find it amusing that three years ago the Gunn principal was allowed to implement zero period with no approval from anyone, but now the superintendent gets lambasted for eliminating it. Was the board involved in starting zero period? If not, why should they assume they should have a say in eliminating it?


22 people like this
Posted by merry go round
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 17, 2015 at 1:00 pm

If Gunn is moving toward a block schedule then it seems to make sense that zero period classes do not work anymore. Block classes are longer and therefore anything in zero period would have to start even early than they do now.

Why hire a talented and well paid superintendent that can only make changes if the board, who can only meet once a week, has to approve all of his ideas. Block schedule was previously approved so it only makes sense that the superintendent takes measures to follow up with anything that makes the block schedule work. The biggest complaint from the last superintendent was that he did not make necessary changes; now the complaints are that this one is making changes. Maybe the board should decide who works for whom and who gets to make the changes.


19 people like this
Posted by Board fiasco
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 17, 2015 at 3:05 pm

Camille Townsend's comment that basically the board and the district don't do things in secrecy is rich. The few public records request has indicated otherwise. I wish she had not run for a third term, and I hope that Heidi Emberling does not seek re-election. I have been asking for one shred of evidence of any accomplishment she has made for our students or district as a board member.


3 people like this
Posted by Stop her!
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on May 17, 2015 at 3:17 pm

[Post removed.]


28 people like this
Posted by Say what?
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on May 17, 2015 at 3:29 pm

After hearing about Townsend raising a big stir about this issue during the Board meeting last Tuesday, I watched the video recording. She turned the the agenda item on Gunn block scheduling into a rant about zero period, which was not on the agenda. Caswell allowed Townsend to be off topic and let her attack McGee harshly.
It was pretty hard to follow what she was saying. Perhaps someone can transcribe her comments starting at 2:57,
Web Link. Her comments seemed amazingly disjointed for what I expect from an elected official who has served for 11 years. Does she always speak this way?
Her argument about lack of a board discussion on zero period seemed particularly disingenuous given that she had opposed such a discussion 2 months earlier. Then, despite strong testimony by medical experts, she rambled about rushing to quick conclusions and a lack of data about teen suicide clusters. The actions taken by the district in recent months are the most significant since 2009 when our crisis began, but they are long overdue and hardly "rushed". Townsend succeeded in not acknowledging our crisis or initiating positive changes for five years until a new superintendent and new board majority recently began to prevail.
It is clear that Townsend will continue her mantra of denial and will wage rearguard attacks against every reform effort.


27 people like this
Posted by Frequent Board Watcher
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 17, 2015 at 3:46 pm

@ say what?

YES, this is how Board Member Townsend normally behaves. As "stop her" commented, typically she uses up a lot of time and doesn't make much sense. This time she was much more emotional than usual, but still lacking in coherence, content, or intelligence.

I think if more people attended or watched the board meetings online she NEVER would have been elected to the third term. I promise you that people would be shocked to see her contribution to the meetings.


6 people like this
Posted by mauricio
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on May 17, 2015 at 4:22 pm

mauricio is a registered user.

[Post removed.]


1 person likes this
Posted by Stop her!
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on May 17, 2015 at 4:46 pm

[Post removed.]


27 people like this
Posted by Taxpayer
a resident of College Terrace
on May 17, 2015 at 5:07 pm

Townsend wants to be in charge without having the votes, by bullying the Superintendent. Kudos to Dauber for calling her bluff. We don't need government by tantrum in Palo Alto.


Like this comment
Posted by C
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on May 17, 2015 at 5:26 pm

"If Gunn is moving toward a block schedule then it seems to make sense that zero period classes do not work anymore. Block classes are longer and therefore anything in zero period would have to start even early than they do now."
This simply isn't the case. At Paly, for example, which runs on the block schedule, 0-period classes just meet before school for 55 minutes or so - they don't keep them as block classes and make them run for an hour and a half.

"Then, despite strong testimony by medical experts, she rambled about rushing to quick conclusions and a lack of data about teen suicide clusters."
A preliminary survey done by students indicated that 0-period students were actually sleeping more (on average) than the rest of the student body. The district expressed no desire to follow up on this, despite the fact it's plausible even given the recommendations given by medical experts. They also ignored the opinions of Gunn's student body. I don't see how this doesn't constitute a "rushed" decision.


11 people like this
Posted by I support max
a resident of Green Acres
on May 17, 2015 at 6:26 pm

Max is an exceptional leader. Remember what he said....this is his last job and he wants to do the best ever. Thanks you max.


Like this comment
Posted by Bob
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 17, 2015 at 6:55 pm

It might be interesting to research the stated authority of a California School District Superintendent in the CA Education Code. Bet that there isn't that much about Sups to be found in that document.

And how about locally? Anyone point to a document that provides clear direction to the Sups as to what their authority might be--complete with boundaries?


23 people like this
Posted by JLS/Paly Parent
a resident of Midtown
on May 17, 2015 at 7:42 pm

We need change to schedules and enforce the homework policy. And we need this change quickly, first and foremost for the health of our children. (For those who don't care about children, you should still care for the sake of property values, which are tied closely to the quality of our schools. Public perception re: school quality may well change, and change soon, and not for the better. And if that happens, property values will also change, and change soon, and not for the better.)

It is refreshing and encouraging to see Dr. McGee acting decisively to institute these changes. I'm sure it feels strange to Townsend. I would like to see her adjust her perspective, tighten up her comments at Board meetings, and spend more time in advance of Board meetings studying her Board packets.

A change in direction can feel different, or confusing, or scary - but it's what we need. Delay is the worst possible approach in these circumstances.


23 people like this
Posted by Experienced Parent
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on May 18, 2015 at 12:32 am

I am so happy that McGee and Dauber have the guts to stand up to opposition. If it were up to a vote, parents would overwhelmingly vote against zero periods. McGee is being productive, unlike Skelly, who was a figurehead, not a leader, and who I saw being bullied by staff at an Everyday Math meeting - they wouldn't even let him talk - I was wondering who was the leader in the room (clearly not him).

I am, however, disappointed that McGee decided to maverick the science research program at Paly and take students to Singapore. That seems like a pure ego-driven agenda.


102 people like this
Posted by Brian Kaplan
a resident of Barron Park
on May 18, 2015 at 7:58 am

Dear "Experienced Parent",

I would love you to explain "If it were up to a vote, parents would overwhelmingly vote against zero periods." as it utterly fails to accept that EVERY Gunn parent had a chance to "vote" on zero period for THEIR child if and when they were asked to sign the permission form.

[Portion removed.]

Many argue the "medical" evidence presented is dispositive. Hardly. There has been Zero research on the question of early risers (remember farm kids), choice, and mental health.

[Portion removed.]

Please share with all of us this dispositive evidence that focuses on research on the question of early risers, choice, and mental health.

The anti-zero period majority fall into three camps:

1) Concerned parents who are so shaken by the affects teen suicide has had on our community they are willing to do ANYTHING they think will help prevent more suicides (WORRIED)

2) Parents who think they know better what's good for other parents' kids. (SUPERIOR)

3) This last group is a tough one to talk about. It is those parents who are concerned their child was "disadvantaged" by this "hyper-achievement" group of self motivated kids who self selected and wanted to take classes at 7:15a. (JEALOUS)

I believe there is subtle cultural bias at work in both the SUPERIOR and JEALOUS groups mostly aimed at Asian-Americans.

The stereotype being activated is the concern that these Asian-American parents are so hyper-driven to see their kids succeed (defined as getting into a top college from US News & World Report) that they push their child so hard that when the child perceives he is not living up to his parents expectations, he is put under incredible pressure/stress that in the most extreme cases leads to suicide.

The SUPERIOR group feels compelled to intervene and take the zero period decision away from these parents.

Some in the JEALOUS group don't like the competitive academic nature of the school system in general and Gunn/Paly in particular. They want their child to be well-rounded; able to take sports, music, dance, or just have some healthy downtime. They are torn between wanting their child (and others) to have more non-academic time and knowing the "system" of getting into high ranking schools prioritizes academic achievement. The system of 5% acceptance, means that academic achievement is the first cut. If you don't have amazing grades and super strong test scores, don't bother applying. From there, elite schools can then pick and choose from the incredible non-academic achievements of the applicant pool; world-class piano player, national debate champion, started a non-profit, worked on curing cancer, etc.

I have no idea how these groups break down in terms of percentage and many parents would occupy more than one group.

What I do know is their numbers in total far out weigh the small grouping of parents who had kids who said they wanted to take a zero period. My guess is that most parents in the CONCERNED group did not even know zero period existed.

The decision has been made. I don't fault Max for making it given the pressure being exerted. What I find fault with is the disingenuous way in which the "concern for all kids" banner has been waived to mask some of what's going on in groups 2 and 3.

I will continue to assert that the overall system works better when parents who know (or should know) what is best for their kids are making decisions as opposed to other parents or school leaders.

Yes, both Gunn and Paly are academically competitive schools. Both rank in the top 250 out of 23,000 High Schools. We, as parents, are making a choice to spend more on housing to live in Palo Alto. If you feel Gunn or Paly is just too competitive a place for your child, do what is right for your child and make a different decision for them. Pocket the huge gain on your home and move to a different school system. Most parents in American have limited choice about where their child goes to school based on economics. Here is just the opposite.

That said, there should indeed be more work done to improve the quality of life for our students (schedule, homework, social/emotional work in school) but eliminating zero period (which was working for those who chose it) was just an easy target.

Best,

Brian


6 people like this
Posted by Gunn parent
a resident of Evergreen Park
on May 18, 2015 at 8:44 am

I love what you just wrote Brian.


23 people like this
Posted by Think
a resident of Gunn High School
on May 18, 2015 at 8:53 am

Brian,
I am generally really impressed with our kids in this town, but you are coming across as spoiled and overprivileged.

You forgot the 4th category of parents like me who didn't know what to think but were inclined to go with choice, until reading the evidence. Sometimes, when health and safety are the issue, you don't get to choose. This is the I-can-drive-safely-at-15 argument all over again. Sure, some can. Statistically, many can't. The ones who can't invariably think they can. The adults just have to make decisions based on the evidence.

As for Townsend, it must be a real shock to be confronted with what a decision based on reasoning through facts and evidence look like.

Thanks to Dr. McGee for being willing to do so.

Now Brian, move on. I'm sure you are a smart person -- learning to make the best of change is a great lesson in life that will prepare you for when you don't have everything handed to you on a platter.


18 people like this
Posted by new category
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 18, 2015 at 9:00 am

Brian,

There is a group you forgot to mention, the ALL ABOUT ME group.

I've been in this district long enough to see that that those who advocate for stuff under the banner of "choice" are usually supporting a personal preference type project.

As long as resources work for the ALL ABOUT ME group, it's OK right?

If you are going to spend additional district resources opening school doors when all other doors are closed, then focus on the kids who can use the help.

It may be that the kids who REALLY need the educational resources would like the school doors to be open after school, hey maybe at 7PM.

At some point you may want to recognize the BIG picture.


17 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 18, 2015 at 9:15 am

As a parent of teens who has had to spend a lot of my time dragging my sleepy teens out of bed in the morning (after they go to bed at a reasonable time and say they are just staring at the ceiling for the first couple of hours trying to get to sleep), choice for our family would be an 8th period at 3.30 pm so that they could awaken when their bodies told them and study later in the day when their brains are fully awake. As a parent, I acknowledge that I am not a morning person and the first hour or so of my day is not productive for me.

Choice for our family would look a lot different. If you want to give choices to all, then an option of starting later and ending later would be just as fair.

Unfortunately, all possible choices are not being given and I don't see the later risers and night owls complaining about no 8th period classes.


2 people like this
Posted by C
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on May 18, 2015 at 9:45 am

"If you are going to spend additional district resources opening school doors when all other doors are closed, then focus on the kids who can use the help."
You realize that no additional resources are really being used, because if the kids weren't in a zero-period class they'd probably be enrolled during the school day, right?

"It may be that the kids who REALLY need the educational resources would like the school doors to be open after school, hey maybe at 7PM."
There are more problems with this, given that it could conflict with adult school or make it harder for janitors to clean between the two school days (daytime student + nighttime adult school). Furthermore, this would go over dinner time and require that the cafeteria be open etc. and so would be more expensive. If you're suggesting an extra class from 3:30 - 4:30 that's more plausible, but keep in mind many teachers have children in the district and as a result a significant portion prefer early-ending school days. Plus given how this would prevent a student from taking sports, I don't see why this would be a more popular option than zero-period which allows them to.


11 people like this
Posted by Steve
a resident of Palo Verde
on May 18, 2015 at 9:55 am

I agree with everything Brian Kaplan wrote except for one thing. He suggested that the people opposed to zero period are the majority. I do not think that is the case at all. In fact, I think they are a small, though very vocal, minority. Remember, zero period at Gunn has been 100% optional. No one has to take a zero period course and every course offered during zero period is also offered at other times of day. A relatively small percentage of Gunn students take a zero period course in any given semester. So it is an option available for those who want it, and has no effect at all on the vast majority of students who choose not to take it. A poll of Gunn students showed that an overwhelming majority (around 90%) favored keeping zero period. That majority included many students who had not taken a zero period class. Parents I speak to might or might not think zero period is right for their high school students, but, as with the Gunn students, the vast majority feel it is fine to have the option available for those who want it.


8 people like this
Posted by new category
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 18, 2015 at 10:20 am

As far as leadership is concerned, the new Superintendent nailed it.


5 people like this
Posted by Time for Townsend to go
a resident of Midtown
on May 18, 2015 at 10:32 am

[Post removed.]


12 people like this
Posted by merry go round
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 18, 2015 at 11:02 am

"A relatively small percentage of Gunn students take a zero period course in any given semester. So it is an option available for those who want it, and has no effect at all on the vast majority of students who choose not to take it. A poll of Gunn students showed that an overwhelming majority (around 90%) favored keeping zero period."

Gunn is a public school and the decision made for the school should be for programs that benefit the majority of the students. If only a small percentage of the students use the program then maybe this is an easy take away. Think of this in terms of a teacher that teaches one of their classes in zero period. This is one less opportunity for the majority of the students to experience this teacher's teaching.

An option for those early risers would be to spend this morning time to do homework or research to prepare for their school day with the rest of the students that do just fine with a regular start day.


7 people like this
Posted by Steve
a resident of Palo Verde
on May 18, 2015 at 11:12 am

@merry go round
So we should have programs that only benefit a majority of the students? Does that mean you would eliminate electives that only a minority of the students take? How about extra assistance provided to struggling students? PAUSD spends a very substantial amount of resources on those programs and yet they benefit a minority of students.

Also, you wrote, "An option for those early risers would be to spend this morning time to do homework or research to prepare for their school day with the rest of the students that do just fine with a regular start day." How about students who have after-school jobs or after school athletics for whom being able to take zero period and have a free period at the end of the day would make their scheduling easier (in the case of students with jobs) or allow them to avoid missing classes (in the case of students in athletics)?


2 people like this
Posted by The sudies do not shed light on zero period
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 18, 2015 at 11:51 am

I support retaining Zero period. I also think the block schedule is a good proposal.

The zero period OPTION is exercized by about 15% of students who want it (with their parents' permission). A small percentage of students are early risers and BENEFIT from this OPTION. Do you notice a pattern here? A small percentage of students are early risers and a small percentage are using zero period.

Most of the studies everyone refers ad nauseum acknowledge that some students are early risers. NONE of the studies I have seen discuss an OPTIONAL early bell time (zero period) with a later mandatory bell time.

As far as I can tell, zero period as an option WAS NEVER STUDIED. The pediatricians who stepped forward and signed the letter did not do their homework to see how the RESEARCH applies to this particular situation. Neither, evidently, did our local newspaper.

If there is a study that supports the zero period decision I wish the district or the local paper would reference it so others like me who are interested can read it and understand the basis for Dr. McGee's decision. I am open to be persuaded by new information.


13 people like this
Posted by BetterPartOfCautiin
a resident of Barron Park
on May 18, 2015 at 11:56 am

Ummm, we would not consider electives which the medical profession warns against. In writing. Addressed directly to our school.

The comparison to electives makes no sense.


22 people like this
Posted by Reality check
a resident of Barron Park
on May 18, 2015 at 12:00 pm

Several doctors spoke at the school board meeting last week, and every one of them supported Dr. McGee's decision. They included Meg Durbin, the co-leader with Dr. Shashank Joshi of the HEARD Alliance, which works on adolescent mental health. They also included Stanford Prof. Rafael Pelayo, who is one of the preeminent sleep researchers in the world. Dauber asked Pelayo directly about whether zero period is a safe option for students. Pelayo said no. He said that students and parents are a poor judge of how much sleep students need and how much they are getting, that the latest research shows that about 3% of students can make a 7:20 class and still get 9 hours of sleep, and that circadian rhythms in teenagers make progressively harder for them to go to sleep earlier even if they want to.

The idea that there is no scientific evidence or medical support for this change, including the American Academy of Pediatrics, is false. Not a single doctor or expert has ever spoken on the other side of this change, and hundreds are on the other side. You don't need a complicated theory to understand why McGee made this change. Just look at the evidence. That is why Townsend chose to launch an unfounded attack based on process rather than on substance.


10 people like this
Posted by BetterPartOfCautiion
a resident of Barron Park
on May 18, 2015 at 12:05 pm

And to those who claim there is no experimental data on CHOICE, that is not true. Gunn did that as a natural experiment. A student died. No researcher would continue such an experiment.

So the CHOICE hypothesis has been proven false.

Choice does not immunize you.

This case closed. I think that many people ( like me) didn't care at all about Zero period, but now looking at:
- medical advice
-Gunn's experiment, and the outcome

We now look at Zero period as a complete fiasco and want no part of it.


12 people like this
Posted by Milliard
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on May 18, 2015 at 12:43 pm

I warned Dr. McGee last year upon his arrival that some board members would test his indepence soon. When they realize that they can't control him they would ask for his dismissal. So Palo Altans must remain remain vigilant if we want to see positive changes be implemented in our school district. This is only the beginning of many such outbursts from members such as Camille Towsend.


35 people like this
Posted by Jetpilot
a resident of Stanford
on May 18, 2015 at 12:47 pm

As one of the physician signers of the letter to Dr. McGee urging the immediate elimination of Zero Period, I applaud his decisive leadership. This really is about the health of the majority of our students. As stated in an earlier post, I was shocked and saddened by the testimonies at recent PAUSD board meetings of so many Gunn HS students who vociferously oppose elimination of zero period and restrictions on AP courses. The rude "finger-snapping" (which I had never seen done before) was very off-putting. It really did remind me of Veruca Salts (the Chocolate Factory) who "want what they want NOW," regardless of the impact that this one element of the "academic arms race" has on other children. (These changes will not keep anyone from Palo Alto high schools being accepted to a fine university.) This arrogance, lack of empathy, and selfishness is antithetical to the values that really matter in life. [Portion removed.] Achievement is over-rated. What really matters in the longterm is resilience, kindness, caring for and serving others.


8 people like this
Posted by greenmom
a resident of South of Midtown
on May 18, 2015 at 12:57 pm

Thank you Superintendent for listening to the majority and the experienced, and not letting bullying get to you. You truly have a desire to mend things here in Palo Alto, and you are our only hope if we are to continue in this school district when our children reach High school age. The way things are now, I doubt Palo Alto will have a sustaibable school district any longer.


Like this comment
Posted by Paly Parent
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on May 18, 2015 at 12:57 pm

[Post removed.]


2 people like this
Posted by Bruce Moision
a resident of Fairmeadow
on May 18, 2015 at 1:51 pm

As a parent of two children in the school district I've been following this discussion with great interest. I'm very disappointed to see the large amount of editing of posts by Palo Alto Online. What could be the criteria? I think it's important that the opinions of people involved in the discussion are not hidden.


Like this comment
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton
on May 18, 2015 at 2:08 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

The PAUSD Board would be wise to adopt a Board Policy Manual like that of the Menlo Park Fire Protection District which includes such pertinent policies as:

"5.1 Board Responsibilities and Duties of Fire Chief
Important activities of the Fire Board are the formulation of policies and rules regarding Fire District programs and services. In carrying out its legislative and policy-making responsibility, the Board shall delegate the administrative, personnel and executive functions to the Fire Chief."

"5.8 Board Members Conduct and Responsibilities
Conduct
The Fire District Board Members shall observe the following code of conduct designed to guide their actions in carrying out their responsibilities. A Fire District Board Member should strive to: Understand that his/her basic function is "policy" and not "administration";"

"5.8.7. Recognize that the Fire Chief should have full administrative authority for properly discharging duties within the limits of established Board policies;"

"5.3 Board Members Meeting Participation
The basic manner in which members fulfill their office must be at a regular, special, committee, or workshop meeting, and will be a matter of public record. The method of participation is discussion, deliberation, debate and voting. All members, including the President, are expected to participate fully in deliberation and voting."

"5.4 Board Members Decorum
It is understood that Board Members will not always agree. Board members have the right to maintain and express differing viewpoints, styles, opinions and values. Nonetheless, Board members should aspire to respect the dignity of their office and to observe common standards of decorum to the extent possible."


Like this comment
Posted by Bob
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 18, 2015 at 2:45 pm

> Gunn is a public school and the decision made for the school should be for
> programs that benefit the majority of the students. If only a small
> percentage of the students use the program then maybe this is an easy take away.

Most public schools offer programs that benefit small groups of students, as opposed to the majority. Sports programs are targeted towards a small group, music towards another, and programs like the Mandarin program in the elementary schools are really for a very limited, and special group. So, we should look at the facts before acceptig these sorts of claims. Academic programs such as physics, biology and computer science generally are not required courses of all students.


> This really is about the health of the majority of our students.

The marority of the students were not involved in Zero period. How come someone from Stanford claiming to know more than the rest of us isn't aware of this basic fact?



16 people like this
Posted by Gunn parent
a resident of Gunn High School
on May 18, 2015 at 2:56 pm

Townsend needs to go. She has been on the Board for far too long. She is an obstructionist, ill-informed, superficial Board member. McGee has my full support. Thank you, thank you, thank you to the Superintendent for his leadership on this issue.


2 people like this
Posted by Gunn Mom of 3
a resident of Gunn High School
on May 18, 2015 at 5:02 pm

Thank you Brian Kaplan and Steve from Palo Verde. I agree 100%.


9 people like this
Posted by Brian Kaplan
a resident of Barron Park
on May 18, 2015 at 6:52 pm

[Portion removed.]

As you can tell by the posts and reaction, I am not alone in seeing this as an issue that touches deeply on parental choice. Just as I have no business telling you what's good for your kids, you have no business telling me (and the other parents of the 300 zero period students at Gunn) what's good for our kids.

Sorry if my concerns about how a decision to take something away that was working comes across as "privileged." [Portion removed.]

I have already stated that I have no dog in this fight. My son, who loved being able to take zero period, (slept fine, etc.) is off to college and my daughter would never choose to take an early class.

Whoever is now posting as "new category" is making an argument about resource utilization. Why this versus other uses of resources? Interesting question but one that fails to see the BIG picture. Do you know anything about union contracts and how schools are run? One group we have not talked much about are the teachers. Teachers are contracted to teach a specific course load. The teachers who signed up to teach zero period did so b/c they too saw some advantages. For many of these zero period teachers who are forced to live far from Palo Alto (there's that nasty economics thing again), they enjoyed being able to avoid a horrendous commute by driving at 6am versus 7:30am.

If you think there is interest in having a mythical 8th period (not) or opening up the school at 7p, you are welcome to lobby for it yourself, try to activate others to influence the school board to approve the idea and going thru a process to build these changes into the negotiated contract. This is how schools work and is part of the big picture you seem to not understand.

Lastly, let me address the false analogy being thrown out of the "I-can-drive-safely-at-15 argument all over again." The reason we don't allow "some" 15 year olds to drive is that this would be administratively cost prohibitive and nearly impossible to truly identity the tiny percentage of 15 yr olds who we could assure are as safe, if not safer, than their 16 year old counterparts. Let's play this out. Perhaps 1 in 1,000 15 yr olds are actually mature enough and skilled enough to drive better than the average 16 yr old. If we could 100% determine who that 1 kid in 1,000 is (and it required no additional resources to administer), then why not let that kid drive early? But...of course, we can't determine which kid is that magical driver and it would be very expensive to even try to implement, so we don't try. Interestingly, other societies have made different decisions - see Web Link

Did you know that you can drive at 14 in Ethiopia? New Zealand chose 15.

There are other reasons the analogy fails. We hold driving as a privilege (there's that word again) because it comes with inherent risks to not only to the driver but others as well. I think the argument that zero period "harms" this individual is weak - lots of evidence about sleep deprivation and the benefit of later (8:30am) start times for the vast majority of students but nothing about the harm caused to students who have chosen this option. And certainly no evidence whatsoever that taking a zero period leads to suicide.

Does allowing a student to choose take zero period potentially harm others? I don't think so, but accept there might be some parents that saw zero period as providing an unfair "advantage" to the 300 students who took the option. Some might say, "Hey, wait a minute. My kid is not an early riser and is, therefore, not getting his/her piece of the academic advantage pie." There was no academic advantage, it was just a matter of schedule time shifting.

There is, however, one element that actually is analogous.

Young drivers must obtain their parents permission to get a driver's permit - see Web Link

This is the case in California. I would hope that parents, who know their kids best, would make the right driving decision for their kid. If they lack maturity or are "extra" prone to risk taking behaviors, I hope, for all our sakes, the parents would refuse to sign off on the permission form (or at least send their kid to Ethiopia:)

Moving on and taking my privileged, all-about-me attitude elsewhere. I do hope this "better prepares (me) for when (I) don't have everything handed to (me) on a platter" - like getting the privilege of engaging in debate with anonymous posters (something we all know debases the debate, and drives unneighborly conduct behavior - see Web Link).

Until the next kerfuffle...

Brian




2 people like this
Posted by Time for Townsend to go
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on May 18, 2015 at 7:20 pm

[Post removed.]


6 people like this
Posted by Anonymous
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 18, 2015 at 7:41 pm

I applaud McGee for making a decision and acting like a true administrator. This wasn't a board matter and too often the PAUSD spends months and years studying and listening while problems fester.


6 people like this
Posted by Thank you Max
a resident of Ventura
on May 18, 2015 at 7:53 pm

Great move, thank you Max. Lots of pseudo-scientists blowing smoke. Sleep doctor Pelayo said on Tuesday you can't predict which students are going to be OK with early morning classes. But even that doesn't matter. 3% of students in 7:20 classes get 9 hours of sleep. 15% of Gunn students were in 7:20 classes. You do the math. Brian says "no evidence whatsoever" that zero period was connected to suicide. Except for the suicide of the student in zero period. Oops, maybe a little bit of evidence.


14 people like this
Posted by parent
a resident of Gunn High School
on May 18, 2015 at 8:12 pm

Majority of the comments here seem to be an orchestrated effort.... to applaud Mr. McGee, Dauber, Weekly. I do not agree. Student input should have been taken into consideration when there is a major decision. Student input is completely skipped in this decision. This is disrespectful. This is inconsiderate. Whatever the subject is, we should always keep the communication channels between students and administration open.

In this case, Townsend rightfully questions the rush act of Mr.McGee, because there was no dialogue between him and students before the decision, which shows a significant ignorance and disregard.


13 people like this
Posted by Thank you Max
a resident of Ventura
on May 18, 2015 at 8:26 pm

Not sure what parent means by "orchestrated". I'm sitting at Peets by myself, with my cup of tea. Townsend accused Dr. McGee of "backroom deals" made in "secret". That is slanderous and the reason she gets away with it is low expectations. People don't take her seriously. Superintendent is supposed to make decisions. This one was an easy case. A student death, unanimous medical opinions. If Townsend wants to be the super, she should apply for the job. She was out of line.


5 people like this
Posted by Thank you Max
a resident of Ventura
on May 18, 2015 at 8:27 pm

Oh, just noticed orchestration also involves praising the Weekly. Who did that? Nobody here. Conspiracy theories again.


8 people like this
Posted by Rehash
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 18, 2015 at 8:58 pm

@parent:

DR. (not Mr.) McGee did talk with the students, he just decided to do what was best instead of what a handful of them wanted. Zero period has only been around for three years, and should never have been implemented without due diligence on the potential repercussions. Why are people acting like one of their basic human rights is being taken away?

@Brian:

Your verbose post is quite condescending and lacking the very "proof" you are demanding. E.g.:

>> "If you think there is interest in having a mythical 8th period (not) ..."

Do you have proof that there is no interest in an 8th period, or is that just your opinion?

Also,

>> "Just as I have no business telling you what's good for your kids, you have no business telling me (and the other parents of the 300 zero period students at Gunn) what's good for our kids.

Well, actually, the school district is responsible for ensuring a safe learning environment, and they have every right to make decisions in the best interests of all students, even if a few families disagree and aren't able to understand the big picture.

Please don't anyone bring back the argument about convenience to the teachers and what about those that want to get off early because they have kids. All of the rest of us parents that work have to figure out our schedules and childcare, so sorry if I don't think the teachers should somehow get more consideration than is what is safe for our kids.

Having teachers work at 7:20 am means that is one less hour they are available during the rest of the school day, so don't try to say that zero period does not take away from the rest of the students "choices."

I agree with @Resident - let's allow an 8th period time slot for the non-athletes that prefer to take classes in the afternoon. That would be safer, healthier, and more fair than this zero period thing that, according to SCIENCE, only 3% of kids can safely participate in (and of course, no one can accurately predict which 3%).

I'm completely behind Dr. McGee on this one!


2 people like this
Posted by C
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on May 18, 2015 at 9:21 pm

"instead of what a handful of them wanted. "
90% of those surveyed is just a "handful" of students? I think you're marginalizing the entirety of Gunn's student body here.

"Do you have proof that there is no interest in an 8th period, or is that just your opinion?"
Let me ask you, then - do you have any proof that there is no interest in an 8th period, or is that just your opinion? As a former student of PAUSD, I would say that my experience indicates that there is not great interest for an 8th period. I can think of one example from my HS career where someone wanted an "8th period". A girl went from AP Spanish to AP French halfway through the class period because they were held at the same time and she wanted to take both (and had experience in both). This in essence created an eighth period. And it's important to note that despite how many users here claim that the "academic arms race" is causing everyone to take an insane courseload, she is the only person I can think of who did this. I would also consider the fact that no one has been at board meetings lobbying for an 8th period as possible evidence that students - and the community - don't support offering it. Other data you might look at would be the number of students who take preps - if these students wanted more classes, they could just forgo a prep (of course, this would focus primarily on juniors/seniors because they typically take preps).


"Having teachers work at 7:20 am means that is one less hour they are available during the rest of the school day, so don't try to say that zero period does not take away from the rest of the students "choices.""
I assumed you meant course offerings. In theory, every zero-period student would just enroll in the non-zero period class, which would leave the same course offering with approximately the same class size and the same number of classes. As a result, the teacher would be teaching the same number of classes and spend the same amount of time free at school.
For example: Let's say all teachers must spend 6 hours at school and teach 4 classes (which are one hour long). A zero period teacher will teach for one hour before school, and then 3 classes during the day - leaving 2 hours of time for students to come ask for help. A non-zero period teacher will teach 4 classes during the regular school day, and have 2 hours for students to come ask for help. There really isn't a difference, given that you can't meet with teachers during the times they have class (otherwise you'd be interrupting).


12 people like this
Posted by Gunn Mom
a resident of Palo Verde
on May 18, 2015 at 9:53 pm

If the implementation of zero period in Gunn did not need approval from the board, why does removing it need approval from the board?

Please let Max do his job. He has made a decision. This decision will not make every one happy, but in his vision it will improve the overall well being of the students. He also has scientific evidence to support his decision. Let's move on.





6 people like this
Posted by Rehash
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 18, 2015 at 10:33 pm

>> 90% of those surveyed is just a "handful" of students? I think you're marginalizing the entirety of Gunn's student body here.

The entire student body didn't participate in the "survey," so no, I'm not marginalizing the entirety of Gunn's student body. In fact a very small percentage participated, and, as expected, most of them had a stake in zero period. The rest may have been their friends so they responded to support them. But let's remember, this amateur survey was not sanctioned or monitored by any professional entity, and thus the results are completely unreliable.

>> Let me ask you, then - do you have any proof that there is no interest in an 8th period, or is that just your opinion? As a former student of PAUSD, I would say that my experience indicates that there is not great interest for an 8th period.

I have no prrof that there is no interest in an 8th period (and I certainly didn't say I did). You then go on to offer your (one person's) experience to validate that there is no interest in an 8th period. Heck, we can that a survey too, right?

>> I assumed you meant course offerings. In theory, every zero-period student would just enroll in the non-zero period class, which would leave the same course offering with approximately the same class size and the same number of classes. As a result, the teacher would be teaching the same number of classes and spend the same amount of time free at school.

Yes, those 300 kids would attend classes at another time. Is every single zero period class fully redundant with another offering during the day? Are all classes full at 7:20am? By offering an unhealthy 7:20am "option," that effectively makes those classes unavailable to the "normal 97%" of teenagers that need a later start time. And we're ignoring the portion of kids who were actually using the zero period in order to fit in an 8th class!

Excellent decision, Dr. McGee!


2 people like this
Posted by Think
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 18, 2015 at 11:06 pm

"How about extra assistance provided to struggling students?"

Please tell me you did not just liken a public school system providing assistance so that special needs and struggling students are provided an equal education as the law requires with special elite treatment for kids who want to start school earlier?

I can't even get the district to let my kid have Khan Academy for math (for the rapid feedback and self pace to go faster) which would be no skin off their nose and no extra cost. It doesn't require teachers working extra hours, affect anyone else, nor does it affect mental health except that my kid would be a lot happier and feel a lot more respected by the school if allowed the concession. Other kids have been allowed independent study for math before. Yet, no dice. Believe me, no one is singling you out.


10 people like this
Posted by Bruce Moision
a resident of Fairmeadow
on May 18, 2015 at 11:20 pm

In his first note, Brian Kaplan characterizes those who oppose zero-period as being either jealous, superior, or worried (by which he means misguided), and playing to stereotypes. He goes on to tell us that if we don't like the environment, we can leave. 

I'm not concerned about my kids getting into an elite school. I know that's not necessary to lead a meaningful life. What concerns me about the schools is that the hyper-competitive environment can breed isolation, arrogance, selfishness, and a lack of empathy. That, to me, is an unhealthy environment.

That Kaplan’s comments receive such a positive response suggests that his views do reflect the majority opinion. Perhaps most parents do have their kids here for the competitive environment despite any negative consequences. Of course, the underlying assumption is that those consequences will always fall on others.


1 person likes this
Posted by C
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on May 18, 2015 at 11:22 pm

"The entire student body didn't participate in the "survey," so no, I'm not marginalizing the entirety of Gunn's student body. In fact a very small percentage participated, and, as expected, most of them had a stake in zero period. The rest may have been their friends so they responded to support them. But let's remember, this amateur survey was not sanctioned or monitored by any professional entity, and thus the results are completely unreliable."

I agree the survey isn't ideal (at all) - but don't the preliminary findings (If I recall properly ~300 people took it, most of whom were NOT enrolled in zero period) merit more investigation? By essentially saying "No, they don't" I would say that you're ignoring Gunn's student body because you haven't even checked how they feel - the little we do know indicates the opposite of what posters here are arguing! If I remember, one of the surveys even indicated that students in zero period were sleeping more on average than students not enrolled.

"I have no prrof that there is no interest in an 8th period (and I certainly didn't say I did). You then go on to offer your (one person's) experience to validate that there is no interest in an 8th period. Heck, we can that a survey too, right?"

You missed my point. I asked that question to point out to you that neither of us is going to be able to *prove* affirmatively whether there is or isn't interest in an eighth period class, and so sadly all we can rely on is experience. And because of this that there really isn't a point to asking that question. Further, if you read my post, I was very careful to NOT claim that there is no interest - it reads, "I would say that my experience indicates," "possible evidence" and "might look at."

PS - I did say in theory. Athletes and other students with commitments in the early afternoon will not be able to enroll - but again that doesn't change the point I was making, that teaching times don't affect the amount of "meet-with-your-teacher" hours offered. Even if not everyone re-enrolled (as many won't be able to) the fact that the amount of available hours to meet with a teacher remains unchanged so that claim is bunk. Early-risers will also be disadvantaged.


8 people like this
Posted by BetterPartOfCaution
a resident of Barron Park
on May 18, 2015 at 11:52 pm

This is simple. All the data is on the table, all that remains is the process of letting people express their opinions back and forth. It could go on forever, as the Me crowd won't convince the No crowd. It is a waste of time listening to this any longer; someone has to decide.


And that person has to own the responsibility. Because next year, if a zero-period kid jumps, you will never forgive yourself. Legal liabilities aside, nobody could live with themselves if they get this wrong.

It is a governance problem: if I were Max, I would shove it right back in Camille's face, and tell her point blank: 'I'm not changing this, and you won't bully me to own a bad decision. If you want to overrule my decision, fine - you own it, you get the votes, and you own the outcome'

That is the board prerogative; but they are accountable if another kid from zero period jumps. Make it public, and put it to vote. Make Camille convince the board or shut it down.

I wouldn't sleep at night owning the decision to restart zero period, and I doubt the rest of the board members would either.

Better to err on the side of caution. And all the people begging for choice have the luxury of not being accountable when this goes wrong.


7 people like this
Posted by Rehash
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 18, 2015 at 11:56 pm

@C:

>> "I agree the survey isn't ideal (at all) - but don't the preliminary findings..."

No, these are not "preliminary findings," they are the result of an amateur (read: likely very biased) survey meant to promote a particular point of view. There is absolutely no validity to be had in these amateur and likely biased "survey" results. NONE.

>> "I would say that you're ignoring Gunn's student body because you haven't even checked how they feel "

This issue is not about how Gunn's teenage student body feel, it's about the adults in this district providing a safe and healthy learning environment. I appreciate that some Gunn students may "feel" they want the option of a zero period academic class, but the adults in the district, who are tasked with the well-being of ALL of the students, understand that zero period is not a safe and healthy option in this district at this time. I know it sucks to have to put up with more educated experiences, but that's life.

>> "If I remember, one of the surveys even indicated that students in zero period were sleeping more on average than students not enrolled."

This one makes me laugh every time. A self-report, amateur "survey" of teenagers who want to keep their zero period option claim that they get MORE sleep than teenagers who don't take zero period. Can it get any more unprofessional and unreliable than this bit of hearsay? SCIENCE says 97% of kids cannot handle starting school before 8:30am in a healthy way, but somehow 15% of Gunn kids in zero period are getting EVEN MORE sleep because they get up earlier. Sorry, not buying it.

My comments about proof of a lack of desire for an 8th period were clearly directed at Brian Kaplan, not you, in response to his post. Please don't obfuscate the issue. I didn't "miss your point," because I was not addressing your point (whatever it was). Actually, now I am suspecting that "C" and "Brian Kaplan" are either the same person or in the same household, as "C" seems to be responding as though he were "Brian Kaplan." Interesting.


10 people like this
Posted by Rehash
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 19, 2015 at 12:04 am

@BetterPartOfCaution:

I agree with you completely, except for "nobody could live with themselves if they get this wrong." The "Me Me Me" crowd will not take responsibility, they will continue to focus on only their wants and deny the impact on anyone else.

You are right, we will not change the opinions of people who's sole focus is on themselves and their personal convenience.

Dr. McGee: PLEASE stay strong and continue to make decisions that are in the best health decisions for our kids! I really think we are in the majority, even if we are not the squeakiest wheels or the most verbose posters. Please ignore UNscientific data and continue to focus on the real, SCIENTIFIC DATA!


4 people like this
Posted by BetterPartOfCaution
a resident of Barron Park
on May 19, 2015 at 6:56 am

@Rehash "The "Me Me Me" crowd will not take responsibility, they will continue to focus on only their wants and deny the impact on anyone else."


Right. Which is why they cannot lead.

Good leadership goes hand-in-hand with teamwork: we are all in this together.

It is so obvious that this decision requires leadership who thinks not about their personal gain, but rather considers the possible consequences for their charges. It sounds cliche, but think of the children.

The ME crowd is just further evidence of the bad culture instilled in some of these players. PAUSD remains a place where the scales have tipped from 'Community ' to
'Every Man for Himself and The Devil take The Hindmost'

Such attitude is not fit for leadership.

And I can imagine being exposed to this attitude everyday in class is wearing on kids.


80 people like this
Posted by brkaplan
a resident of Barron Park
on May 19, 2015 at 9:18 am

brkaplan is a registered user.

Sorry, but I could not resist.

When anonymous people say silly things, it just does not feel right to let them stand.

To: Thank you Max who writes, "You do the math. Brian says "no evidence whatsoever" that zero period was connected to suicide. Except for the suicide of the student in zero period. Oops, maybe a little bit of evidence."

OK, some folks just don't seem to understand what basic words mean - see Web Link which provides "united, joined, or linked." There is ZERO evidence the recent suicide was related to zero period. As I have said before, I am big believer in trusting parents. You seem to want to ignore the grieving parents who felt compelled to publicly state their belief that academic pressure (let along waking up early) had anything to do with the suicide.

I guess I could have used the word causation. We, as outsiders, know very little about the reasons why a particular young person sadly decides to take his life. Even the parents (who I hope you would at least accept have a better chance of knowing their child) are often left with little or no understanding.

I am trying to have an evidence based discussion. We can certainly reasonably argue over the interpretation of results/data, but to make claims in the absence of any data is dangerous. While not knowing for certain, I would guess that the suicide was just as "connected" to participation in an after school biking club as it was in being enrolled in a zero period class.

I do want to say, that I (and I would hope all reasonable folks) would be more than happy to alter my opinion in the face of real evidence. Only though real data can we actually learn something. If the parents even hinted that zero period might have been a factor, I would certainly soften my position.

If anyone can show a study that looks at choice, early risers, stress, suicide ideation, and suicide, I would be thrilled to try to learn from it.

To Rehash who writes, "do you have any proof that there is no interest in an 8th period, or is that just your opinion?

This is just my opinion. You will notice that I tend to provide links to sources when I an trying to make an argument based on data.

On this topic, I was certainly wrong. Turns out there are already several 8th period offerings (called G period) at Gunn. I have not had the time to learn more about this (# of classes, what type, # of students), but am quite happy to see this option for some students.

I would suspect (my opinion) the number of students taking G period at Gunn is less than 300 - does not really matter unless someone want to take this option away.

The big picture point I was trying to make was not well written. The point was that any change to schedule, curriculum, requirements, resources etc. require lots of support to enact. School systems are complex but it is certainly much easier to take something away from a minority (I mean population not ethnic/racial) than to add/change something.

Rehash also writes, "Well, actually, the school district is responsible for ensuring a safe learning environment, and they have every right to make decisions in the best interests of all students." to which I say duh. Of course.

I am not trying to belittle your opinion that zero period represented an "unsafe" learning environment, I just don't find any evidence to support that claim. You make a bizarre claims that are b/c some teachers were teaching a zero period they are less available to teach to the "majority." You do realize this is a zero (no pun intended) sum situation. Those 300 kids who would have been taking zero period next year don't just go away. They will occupy seats in classes that happen take place later than 7:20am. If you want teachers more available (i.e teaching more classes), this would have to be negotiated into the contract. I am not an expert in PAUSD contracts, but the typical requirement is for a full time teacher to have 180 students.

Further, you write, "according to SCIENCE, only 3% of kids can safely participate in (and of course, no one can accurately predict which 3%) - can you provide a link to the source? I would love to see this.

OMG!! You write, "By offering an unhealthy 7:20am "option," that effectively makes those classes unavailable to the "normal 97%" of teenagers that need a later start time."

Holy biscuits, I now get it. You think the only way for a student to have taken a certain class was to take it at 7:20a. If so, I 100% agree this would be unfair.

Why or how did you come to this assumption?

To be blunt, you are totally wrong. Every class that was offered as an option for zero period was also an option during the regular school day (the only exception is Broadcasting, which, btw, is being maintained as an option for kids at 7:20a next year).

Couple of other points. I am not posting under the name "C" and don't know who this person is. I am not ashamed to attach my comments to my name and greatly appreciate anyone (on either side of the conversation) who is willing to show up as a real person.

It is so so easy to go into attack mode and describe me (and others) as being part of a "me me me" crowd. You certainly don't know me. I am not happy with this decision because I don't believe it was based on evidence. Rather is was based on fear and emotion. It is an over-reaction to a set of very complicated issues that relate to the mental health of students. It was an easy target and took something away from students that was working. Further, it reinforced student sentiment that the adults don't care about their opinions. It is ironic (sadly) the very folks who so concerned about student health are so easily willing to make students feel invalidated and unheard.

This goes well beyond the 300 students who were taking zero period. The student view is (my opinion here based in limited but some information) that students are killing themselves because the adults are not listening to their concerns.

I gain absolutely nothing from this debate and it has zero impact on me.

I believe the motivations of most people who concluded that taking away academic zero period (leaving PE, etc.) was the right move are good. This is the worried group. I am part of this group in many ways. I can think of nothing more tragic than losing a child to suicide. I support the calendar shift, the late school start, the block schedule, the re-tooling of the guidance program at Gunn. I just don't share the opinion that removing the zero period option was a necessary move.

The most recent comments seem focused on accountability. If a child happened to be in zero period and committed suicide, I would not blame anyone unless I knew a lot more about the circumstances. If, G-d forbid, the pressure of taking a class at 7:20a, was actually the instrumental factor that drove a student over the edge, I would not hold the district accountable. I would wonder what about the child's relationship with his parents was present that allowed the parents to sign off on taking the class. Were there any clues the parents could have or should have picked up on? That said, if it were the case (was actually the instrumental factor), of course, I would change my opinion and be on the side encouraging the district to make changes.

It just so happens that a recent suicide was taking a zero period class. My understanding (limited) is that the student rarely attended this class. Further, the parents (even while grieving) came out and said academic stress was not a factor. Michelle and Ken Dauber, probably the most vocal on the need for change, who tragically lost their daughter to suicide, have said that academic stress was not a factor.

Even as I disagree with the decision, I do not advocate the district reversing Max's decision. This would not be productive. I do hope, however, that as further conversations/debates/battles erupt over the more substantive changes that need to be looked at, that evidence is used to back up what will certainly be emotional issues. I implore anonymous posters (the vast majority) to pause and think about how your desire to score debate points while being masked significantly contributes to the vitriol.

I accept that well-intentioned adults, some looking at the same data I am, have come to a different conclusion about how to extrapolate the data to conclude a blanket statement that an early start time for some kids that chose it (with their parents permission) was a dangerous thing for those students.


Oh, 1 more thing. Yes, my posts here are long. There is a lot going on to address. If you find them to be "verbose," I invite you to exercise your "option" to skip over them.

Peace,

Brian


11 people like this
Posted by Ferdinand
a resident of Barron Park
on May 19, 2015 at 10:36 am

Ferdinand is a registered user.

I wrote the perfect response and then it disappeared when I hit the wrong button--poof, @!!&!!! Demoralized, here are a few inferior points of my previously stellar message:

Because Brian has two beautiful dogs I agree with much of what he has stated regarding Zero. However, I think our intellectual analysis on the deficiencies of Max's decision-making process and the merits of offering early academic classes is a detour of sorts.

Being Ferdinand the Bull, who values adequate time to reflect on beauty, shouldn't we be moving towards a different conversation? How can we restore balance and intellectual curiosity to our highly academic high schools, given that students and parents are feeling the intense fear [getting superlative grades, college acceptance, successful future employment] and competition [between friends and between the academic lanes or student hierarchies]? Is removal of academic Zero one baby step towards experimenting with this school culture?

Many students are embarrassed over any failure, lie about low grades, or won't even admit "I don't know" when faced with a question. What a waste of human experience that could be more joyful, honest, and vibrant. As someone who values the understated and humble, what of those students who truly feel excluded from the extremely academic focus because of all the self-promotion that happens on campus? Are they casualties who later find they are smart and valuable when placed into a more balanced college setting? Imagine being judged as a parent under such strictures of perfection: staying up late to watch Sherlock with a 12 year old would invite moral or legal condemnation!

In my time frolicking around Gunn campus it is not unusual to find a jaded, stressful, and even angry tone that permeates many of the high achievers. Oh boy! Teens like to complain, but many do seem like victims of an unstoppable machine. Yes, this is anecdotal but the fixation on high grades at any cost does negatively impact our students' time for sitting up on a hill smelling the flowers.

Can we turn lemons into lemonade? Perhaps those early risers could do something not related to school: make a lovely breakfast for his/her hardworking parents, walk the dog, listen to some inspiring music, or perhaps write in a journal? Do the laundry for heaven sakes! I must have sat upon a bee to get me this worked up!


8 people like this
Posted by mom of teenagers
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on May 19, 2015 at 11:46 am

mom of teenagers is a registered user.

Bravo to Dr. McGee for doing his job. Period.

And one of the things missing from the zero period discussion was that a number of students using that time to take MORE THAN SEVEN CLASSES! Some of the students are "enrolled" in up to 10 classes. Is that a healthy, balanced way to schedule school?


15 people like this
Posted by iSez
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on May 19, 2015 at 11:49 am

iSez is a registered user.

After one 5-year old boy died at Great America in the wavepool because the mom wasn't watching him, Great America instituted a rule that all children under a certain age must wear a bulky lifevest. Obviously, a liability issue. Yes, it's ruined the fun for the rest of the children who have responsible parents who watch them in the wavepool.

We've had 9 suicides and most were extremely sleep-deprived students. We need to save the majority of students. Those few natural early birds (What? 100?) will just have to go along with no zero period just as the children have to go along with the lifevests.


7 people like this
Posted by My Thoughts
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on May 19, 2015 at 11:50 am

My Thoughts is a registered user.

@Brian: "If, G-d forbid, the pressure of taking a class at 7:20a, was actually the instrumental factor that drove a student over the edge, I would not hold the district accountable. "


I would.

And given the medical advice offered to the board, I think quite a few people would as well, should this practice continue.

The fact that you don't hold accountable the people who COULD prevent it; who are informed to prevent it; who's responsibility is the safety of the children... is an odd position; one you certainly entitled to, but odd.

I suspect not in the majority.

So while I understand your reasoning pivots on the lack of specific, exact, clear-cut evidence today, I don't think that indemnifies any future problems. Especially given the Board has been informed by the medical community that lack of sleep drives depression and suicide. It would be a hollow argument to tell the judge: "We weren't certain of that, and we valued choice more than caution."

But the guy who would be in that position in front of the judge hopefully has better sense.


1 person likes this
Posted by resident3
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 19, 2015 at 8:27 pm

resident3 is a registered user.

Something new ever day

G Period at GunnIs that G for Gunn, or G for another way to schedule stack.

Paly doesn't have G period does it? Or do they have P period

Seriously - why are Gunn students taking more classes than Paly? What's next?


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Posted by Ferdinand
a resident of Barron Park
on May 19, 2015 at 9:37 pm

Ferdinand is a registered user.

Both Paly and Gunn offer 7 periods to students. Many juniors and seniors have fewer classes [5 or 6] which then gives them 1 or 2 open periods/preps. Freshman and Sophomores who participate in school sports also get released from their regular PE while they are participating in the sport, thus getting a prep as well.


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Posted by brkaplan
a resident of Barron Park
on May 20, 2015 at 9:44 am

brkaplan is a registered user.

Dear Isez,

In order to advance the dialog and everyone learn from it, I continue to be really saddened by the almost total lack of willingness to cite sources.

You make a claim:


"We've had 9 suicides and most were extremely sleep-deprived students."

The first part is a fact. The other is based on something. Did you just make this up? Did someone tell you this? Most helpful, did you read this somewhere? If so, why not share the source so we can all learn?

Of course, once we come to some understanding that the statement is true, we are all free to draw our own inferences. If the sleep deprivation is truly the single greatest factor in these 9 particular suicides, I would first wonder what tone or standards the parents are setting for sleep.

The school (which itself is an option), [I don't have time to find a source, but I hope it is generally accepted that we live in an affluent place where modest homes sell for $2m, as such, it's reasonable to conclude that most parents living here could afford to live elsewhere] does NOT dictate how much sleep YOUR child is getting.

Some may argue the school gives too much homework and, as such, my kid is up way too late. Some parents may say, I have no way of controlling my teen's sleep. If this is true for your situation, I hope you would agree the school has less control over your teen than you do. You set the tone. We have had times in our house when we essentially ordered our teen to go to bed saying "forget the homework, it does not really matter in the long run." BTW, I am not a big believer in giving any homework, just the bare minimum to directly reinforce learning objectives from class (but that's a different conversation).

I do not in any way deny the medical conclusion that most teens get too little sleep. Nor do I deny that sleep deprivation is a bad thing, that can cause unbalanced thinking, adds to stress, etc.

For this reason, I fully support the "late" start times of 8:25am for Gunn. I can hold this view and also hold the view that for a self-selected group of students with parents permission are able to handle the consequences of taking a class at 7:20am.

People in the WORRIED group are acting (my opinion) as if taking a zero period class is a direct recipe for suicide. I assume most would say, "Gee, I am nor sure if taking a 7:20am class leads to suicide, but don't we have to do anything possible to prevent suicides?" This is a problematic position to hold. Let's do some math. 1 out of 9 suicides was in zero period (unless I a mistaken). The parents have said, it had nothing to do with his suicide. Regardless, if we want to hold zero period accountable (and ignore all the hundreds of other factors involved), then 11% of the suicides are from first period. This means that 89% were from the general population. By this logic, one could say that being a Gunn student causes suicide. Why then, not call for shutting down Gunn until we can get to the bottom of this?

Most (my opinion) would see this as an overreaction. I don't know the details of the 9 tragic suicides, but I think there is evidence that the majority were Asian-American and mostly male. Why then not say that being an Asian male at Gunn causes suicide?

My point is that we are grasping at straws with very limited information. Some parents are happy with their child's experience at Gunn. Some parents see it as a place that puts too much stress on their kids and want to see that pressure reduced. Some parents are so concerned they have chosen to take their children out of Gunn. These are all valid opinions and choices.

In the face of not knowing what to do and wanting show an immediate "win", we went after an easy target and grabbed onto the one thing we do know (i.e. teens generally aren't getting enough sleep, teens feel academic pressure (with both its positives and negatives), and these things combined may, in the rarest of cases, leads directly to a student taking their life. Even saying that is hard as it ignores the many other variables involved (parental pressure, community pressure, societal pressure, mental illness, nutrition, friendships, exercise... the list goes on).

I would have preferred a real conversation about zero period which allowed both students and parents to have a chance to express how this choice was working for them. This process would have at least shed light on the many misconceptions surfaced. Some criticized zero period seeing it as a way to "game the system" and allow some students take more academic classes. As far I can tell this is just not true. As far as I know there are just a few exceptions to the 7 classes policy. It would have been great to learn more. Some even thought that some of these academic zero periods were ONLY offered at 7:20a; thereby shutting out those 85% of the kids who did not want to wake up at 6:30a. Totally false.

I would have preferred a thoughtful look at the benefits and costs of zero period. I would have used the 2015-16 school year as a time to study and learn more about zero period. I would thin the group of parents who were willing to sign off on their child's request to take a zero period, would have been willing to help provide data (real data) about their child's sleep, stress, etc. over the course of the year. Moreover, I am sure, the student's themselves would have been willing/interested in gathering data.

To be honest, I am not sure how the new Gunn block schedule would have impacted zero period. All I do know is Paly has blocks and also has zero period this year - so the two things aren't mutually exclusive.

It is frankly just so easy to blame the district for everything going on in your kids lives. It relieves parents owning the direct raising of their kids.

I will likely get responses like those from "My Thoughts" that a year of study is reckless, the "medical" community has spoken, there is a suicide just waiting to happen in zero period....and had a suicide occurred from a zero period kid next year, the district should be held accountable.

I have a different opinion. First, from my understanding of suicide, in most cases, there is truly no one or no thing to blame. Whereas you might want to blame the district, I would again ask, why these parent's made this choice for their child (especially in the face of all the heated debate about sleep and zero period that occurred in the Spring of 2015). Were there signs that getting up early was a factor in their child's depression or mood swings? Of course, some suicides happen from kids who show no signs of depression but I have to believe that even these parents must have some inkling their child was unhappy. They may not have fathomed that he was a suicide risk, but there must some subtle shift in behavior.

There is no absolute way to prevent suicide, but I would think that parent education and helping them identify early warning signs and when to seek treatment for their child is bound to have more impact than eliminating zero period. And you can't just put this on the district. Parents, the very ones who so easily voted with their voices on eliminating zero period, would have to put some time and energy into this effort.

I will speak for myself here, but I view the public school's primary role (above all else) as educating my children and preparing them academically for higher ed if that's the choice they want to make. I believe it is my role a parent to teach my kids morals, values, how to deal with stress, conflict, disappointment, ambiguity, social situations, failure, etc.

As a wealthy community of highly educated people, we seem (my opinion) to want to put a lot on the district. Does the school have a role in both helping build self-esteem and academic rigor? Of course. But let's put most of the job of parenting on parents.

The more I have weighed in on this and read every post, I am more convinced that what may have started as a sincere effort to "save kids" from the dangers of zero period got sweep up by loud voices that saw zero period as a competitive disadvantage for their child. I suspect there is another group who just want to see the academic pressure of the school reduced. They learn about a bunch of self-motivated high achieving kids wanting to shift their school schedules by getting up at 6:30a to allow them to volunteer in a research lab, play tennis, go to tutoring, play video games, have an after-school paying job and see these kids as part of the problem of driving academic competitiveness. Well, guess what? These kids don't go away because they won't be at school at 7:20a. They just fill more seats during the normal part of the school day. Concerned about academic pressure at Gunn then the most effective thing you can do is TALK TO YOUR KID. Sorry, I know I said I don't like it when people try to tell me how to parent my kids but this just seems like common sense. Even if Gunn changes to a block schedule, less homework, more meditation and mindfulness, better counseling, etc. it will still be a top performing academic high school. If you don't feel that Gunn is the right place for your child and you are exhausted trying to enact change you feel is necessary, then take your child out of Gunn.

I will try hard to resist further commenting (it is tough though when you are called names "spoiled" "Me me me, etc but will try hard)

Two closing thoughts:

1) Please ADD to the conversation by citing sources and linking to them.

We all learn something from this and it adds credibility to your argument. Of course, we are human and will have our own interpretation of what conclusion to draw, but at least we are talking about the same thing.

For example, after reading the August 2014 Policy Statement of the American Academy of Pediatrics -see Web Link my conclusion is this was a study to help validate the call for later school starts across America (which, when studied in 2011-12, showed 40 percent of high schools in the U.S. currently have a start time before 8 a.m.; only 15 percent start at 8:30 a.m. or later. The median middle school start time is 8 a.m., and more than 20 percent of middle schools start at 7:45 a.m. or earlier). I support this as am thrilled Gunn moved to a 8:25am start (which often still seems too early for my freshman).

Others have concluded that this means it is unsafe for any student to start school before 8:30am. I have my own conclusions as to the letter signed by local pediatricians, many of whom I know and respect. It's easy to see how any pediatrician would support kids starting school at 8:30am. My hunch is that many signers were not familiar with the actual issue being discussed. One doctor, compared the issue (she must have believed she was supporting) to a student's decision to start smoking. It took quite a while to get many people to understand zero period was a choice being made by the student AND the parent. If a doctor, who is a signing a letter in support of a policy decision can't get this straight after being reached out to by supporter of the letter, then it's easy to see that many people saw this as a "the kids don't know what's best for them and the adults need to intervene." Well guess what? The adults were already involved. So the issue being presented is actually, "the kids don't know what's best for them, nor their parents, so other smarter/caring adults need to intervene." This sentiment does not sit well with me but I accept their were some who truly believe they were acting in the kids best interest, given the parents would not. Fine.

2) Please please think about what posting anonymously does. It is clear this brings the level of debate way down. The evidence is dispositive. In fact, a factor in many teen suicides is the anonymous cyber-bullying they face (sorry no source to cite, but you can dig this one up for yourself).

If my verbose ramblings encourage even just one person to take the time to link to a source or step out of the shadows and post under their real name, I will think this effort (even getting banged up a bit) worth it.

We are all real people (fact), struggling with mostly similar issues (conjecture) and wanting mostly similar outcomes for our kids (conjecture).

Plus, most everyone in Palo Alto has degrees from "elite" colleges (conjecture), the very places that fuel the competitive nature of high schools.

Let's put those smarts to good use and try to a have a more civil and, when possible, fact based conversation.

Peace out.

Brian


2 people like this
Posted by Crescent Park Dad
a resident of Crescent Park
on May 20, 2015 at 9:57 am

Crescent Park Dad is a registered user.

I disagree with McGee's decision to terminate 0 period classes at Gunn. But I also support McGee's ability to make such decisions without the BoE mucking it up. McGee should be allowed to make such decisions...even when we may disagree.

I would counter some of the arguments on this thread when referencing "vocal minority" or such other statements. My understanding is that there are approximately 300 Gunn students taking 0 period this year. That's 15% of the student body - I'm having a hard time buying the argument that 15% of the student body is not a significant number.


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

 

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