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Is PAUSD in Decline?

Original post made by Worried, Duveneck School, on Nov 3, 2006

Bill Giordano sentenced to four years in prison. Here's how he was known prior to his arrest: "After more than 25 years in the school district, he had developed a reputation as a teacher who went out of his way to help his students."

There's also a lot of praise for Lisa Swagerty, a Palo Verde 3rd grade teacher who along with her husband were cited last Saturday by the police for contributing to the delinquency of minors. Clearly, she is well liked and by all accounts a respected teacher.

But just like Giordano, she is just another problem staff member on the PAUSD payroll. Being a teacher means you have to lead students by example, not only in the classroom but also in everyday life. Parents of the students who were invited to her home probably thought to themselves: "That is one safe place for my child to spend an evening." I don't know how many parents were shocked when they were called to pick up their drunken teen. At least no one got hurt, thanks to the police who arrived on the scene before anyone could commit DUI. So, Swagerty won't be arrested or sentenced to prison. And I doubt any parents will sue her for anything.

But there has to be some consequence for Swagerty. Life can't just go on as if nothing ever happened. What kind of message would that be? That it is ok for teens to go to a party and drink themselves in the presence of adult host? As long as nobody got hurt? What's the big deal?

With all the problems already faced by PAUSD, one has to wonder if the party is over for Palo Alto Schools. While other school districts are catching up, this one is slipping on all fronts. Pretty soon, people might use past tense to describe how great PAUSD was. "Which high school did you go to?" "Paly." "Used to be a good school. What happened?"

Comments (9)

Posted by bret
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Nov 3, 2006 at 12:13 pm

It's not the greatest school district. I often meet other paly alumni who feel they were swept to the side while ivy league bound kids were the main focus of the school's attention. On top of that, there are some sketchy teachers in the district like Giordano; always have been. The district also has it's problems with kids who put on a face of perfection, but behind the scenes they may be doing hard drugs, contemplating suicide, alcohol abuse, etc. There is a lot of presure from parents who are the world's top 1% in terms of wealth and power and kids who are simply born average.

Posted by Get A Grip
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Nov 3, 2006 at 1:36 pm

Worried, Your post seems more about villifying and piling on more shame. Haven't we seen anough of that, in this case?

I'm upset that this happened to, but you are making large generalizations about PAUSD, kids, PAlo Alto, etc. etc from this one example. What's up with that? That's not the kind of logic that we want to inform our community with; it makes matters worse.

Posted by parent
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 3, 2006 at 1:47 pm

Funny you should say that. Sitting the the board meeting last night, which was mostly a round table of all the elementary school principals telling the board about all their fantastic creative ideas for teaching, I couldn't help but wonder if they'd be patting themselves on the back quite so much if we were a community of less means and less connected to a wealthy, educated community. I wonder how much of the PAUSD test scores are driven by 'luck' (as in; parents who are willing and driven and have supplemental resources to make sure their kids excel are carrying this districts test scores).

I don't think you could prove we're a great school district by walking around our facilities (decrepit), looking at our tools (libaries, technology, art rooms, science labs, teachers aids), or watching our board and district level decision making processes, (a comedy of errors, slow and lacking in direction, particularly around chasing after every hair brained scheme to walk their way, no strategic priorities, an AMAZING level of denial with regard to the PIE benchmarking study last night...)

I wonder if folks are going to feel like digging into their pockets next year for MORE money to throw at this board and superintendent via PIE or via new bonds to fix our schools? I think that will only happen if the board gets its strategic priority thinking caps on, and starts getting back to business and showing some backbone.

They can start on January 9th, by just saying NO to diversionary, divisive, low priority programs, that shower more enrichment on the highest performing kids.

Posted by anon
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Nov 3, 2006 at 3:46 pm

I agree with parent on all counts.

Posted by epa
a resident of Mountain View
on Nov 3, 2006 at 4:16 pm

If you asked me, not that you would but if you did, I'd tell you that PAUSD ain't what it used to be. The only thing that's keeping it afloat is the over-priced real estate which creates a lot of hype that extends to schools. There's the natural association between real estate and schools but in Palo Alto's case, the wheels are beginning to come off and sooner or later people will wake up to reality.

Posted by Get A Grip
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Nov 4, 2006 at 10:24 pm

First of all, this city IS, and will be for a LONG time, a city with a very demanding demographic. It's a built-in feature that accompanies the cost of housing here.

PAUSD does have some problems; so do many other districts. Many, many districts wish they had the problems that PAUSD has. There is a fantastically talented and diverse bunch of parents in this district who dedicate talents that most schools systems can only fream abut having.

Sure, it's true that if you plopped this demographic womwhere else, it woudl be an achievement-oriented group. So what? What's the point of saying that? It sounds like small potatoes to me, and/or sour grapes.

The FACT is that we have the demographic we have. The fact is that our city, and our school system have yet to get fully in gear since the bottom fell out of oour local economy 4-5 years ago. This is all going to take leadership, which will appear soon enough.

As for our comparative achievement stats with similar demographics, yes, we do need to work on that. One of the things that will help make that happen is NEW LEADERSHIP, and a BOE that begins listening, and listening hard, to the people on the ground, doing the hard work of teaching every day - and then taking the sage advice from the experts (the teachers) and ACTING on it.

If we replace the superintendent, it's not writtenn in stone that we even have to rehire a new one. There is NOTHING is the California State Education Code that requires a district to have a superintendent.

What we need is a transparent organization, and real BOE and municipal leadership to make this town and its schools fire on all cylinders. We need vision, and leadership. I see some of that beginning to appear in small pockets, and expect it will continue.

We ALL have to pitch in to make this city, and its schools work. We DO have something special in our midst - our citizenry, with all its talents and passion. Let's unlock that! What can we do to make ourselves great? That's the question we need to answer, and the goal we need to pursue.

Posted by Getting a bigger grip
a resident of Greater Miranda
on Nov 6, 2006 at 1:20 pm

So, I infer from your statement about "our citizenry, with all its talents and passion", that you support that energy which drive positive forces in the district... like the Mandarin immersion parent group.

They've worked within the system, processes, and have given all they got (including money). What an insult to use NIMBYism and other scare tactics to flush a program with true merit. Are the opponents as likely to contribute to a positive program with their negative passion?

Posted by Parent
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 6, 2006 at 3:07 pm

Really, what are the merits of the Mandarin Immersion program for PAUSD? I haven't heard any yet. It doesn't address this district's top priorities, it doesn't offer language education programs that reach all students equitably, it feathers the cap of a few lucky lottery winners, as you so nimbly point out it comes to us courtesy of a few big money special interest spenders who wish to see PAUSD resources devoted to their own pet special interest project for the long term. It does nothing for PAUSD in the long run.

If that parent group were truly interested in the best interests of PAUSD they'd be looking for language strategies that could be offered district wide. Or they'd be looking for ways to help the district solve the achievment gap. In fact the opponents do have some important alternative ideas and offers of help, such as foreign language task force, strategic priority setting for the district, more focus on kinder and pre-k resources to reach achivement gap risk kids early, etc. And they have been spending just as much time, with much less resources and much less access to information, and much less access to the district officials. What they don't have is as much ~money~ as the wealthy proponents from PACE (so shame on them for not having money!)

This special interest group is really fond of saying they're working their wallets off to get their way. Sure they are, cause there's a big payoff in the end for them. They get free private school caliber language academy paid for (mostly) by public school funds. Don't be fooled by "Getting a Bigger Grip"'s righteous indignation. The best defense is a good offense when you have no ground to stand on.

By the way, look for Delaine Eastin's speech in November to tout the merits of language education. PACE has worked tirelessly to get sponsors for this speaking event, which they will parlay to LOOK like apparent support for PACE's Mandarin Immersion Proposal. In fact a few PTAs and League of Women's Voters are sponsoring the speech, but not supporting the controversial MI proposal. There's a big difference between a language academy that will cater to a few high achieving lottery winners, and a language program that offers equitable beneficial language enrichment for all kids. When you hear about that speech, notice that Mountain View School District and Mountain View Leauge of Women Voters in combination with PACE, are going to be a big visible sponsor of this speech in Palo Alto - to hopefully talk PAUSD into how to spend PAUSD resources. Perhaps Mt. View would like to sponsor the whole MI proposal, and that could be a big win win for every one!

And that is one more useful, constructive idea coming from the opposition to MI.

Posted by Anna
a resident of South of Midtown
on Nov 6, 2006 at 6:52 pm

I'm not opposed to language education; if anything, we need more of it. The problem comes with the FACT that MI, althuogh a wonderful idea - DOES stress the district in ways that DO NOT create universal benefit.

Again, what absolutely astounds me - no matter that we all agree that MI is a great idea in and of itself - is that more serious inputs weren't sought from staff and teachers, relative to how this program will further strain the PAUSD system.

MI shuold be re-thought, and deployed in a way that ENHANCES PAUSD AS A WHOLE. Currently, that isn't the case.

I don't want to push this too far, because it will confuse other issues, but it sould be said that this entire issue of MI, and the way it has been rolled out and deployed thus far is ANOTHER example of the absolute lack of leadership and appropriate levels of informed operational diligence that we should EXPECT from our sernior administrative group. INstead, what we have is a years-long mish-mash of parental hope, cajoling, push, pull, and then some half-baked deployment that DOES strain the system.

Why didn't Callan and Cook look into this more thoroughly. IN fact, this is one of the things that the MT is complaining about. THings are passed down from on high, willy-nilly, and dumped in site administrator's and teacher's laps, WITHOUT having properly consulted them FIRST.

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