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School board under pressure on counseling

Original post made on May 25, 2012

Under scrutiny over guidance counseling at Gunn High School, Palo Alto school board members this week said decision-makers at Gunn should have all the data at their fingertips but reiterated earlier statements that reforms must be shaped by the school's own community.

Read the full story here Web Link posted Friday, May 25, 2012, 9:04 AM

Comments (47)

Posted by parent
a resident of Gunn High School
on May 25, 2012 at 10:45 am

I have been involved in 3 school districts and 2 private schools around the country, and I have had children graduate from both Paly and Gunn - I will always completely support a dedicated counselor system like the current system at Gunn High School.

At Gunn, counselors are completely dedicated to their job counseling students, and teachers are completely dedicated to teaching students in their academic area of expertise.

Counselors counsel; Teachers teach.

My advice is to hire more dedicated counselors at Gunn as enrollment rises, not copy the Paly model.

Posted by PA Parent
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 25, 2012 at 11:04 am

Sounds like a directive from the Superintendent to me. It was never suggested to "copy the Paly model". Teacher advisory is just what it says, "advisory"..........those teachers are still teaching and the counselors are still counseling. It sounds like you haven't really researched what is being proposed for improving the Gunn system (and Paly as well). Nobody has ever accused the hardworking counselors at Gunn of not being dedicated. If you have attended any of the meetings you would have this knowledge. Teacher advisors are a supplement to counselors.......not a replacement. Please don't condemn without first investigating what is being proposed. There is always room for improvement and I think Gunn deserves a better system regardless of what the Supt. thinks. Let's get the best for all of our students. They deserve nothing less!

Posted by Teacher
a resident of another community
on May 25, 2012 at 11:08 am

As a Gunn grad and former Paly teacher, I agree with the first post. Let teachers teach and counselors counsel.

Posted by parent
a resident of Gunn High School
on May 25, 2012 at 11:39 am

Interesting. Has there been ever an anonymous survey/poll among Paly and Gunn teachers on this subject? I think this would be helpful to understand the teachers' perspective on this subject.

I am not sure whether I can trust postings here. However, I do trust the data collected from the survey, and the insight the open-ended questions provided on this matter. The survey shows a distinctive difference in quality of counseling/advising in PALY versus GUNN. I would really like to see the science-supported-information shape the future of the programs, rather than subjective comments shape the future of our kids.

Posted by Going-Down?
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 25, 2012 at 12:16 pm

Recently the Daily Beast published at national high school ranking—

America’s Best High Schools--2012:
Web Link

Seems that even with the difference in guidance counseling between Gunn and Paly, Gunn’s students performed significantly better than Paly’s students—

#71: Gunn High
#178: Palo Alto High

Got to wonder why this ranking has not made it into any of the local papers? Also got to wonder if the Counseling system at Paly is responsible for the lower performance of the school, compared to Gunn?

Posted by Focus, people
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 25, 2012 at 1:06 pm

"Counselors counsel. Teachers teach." Is that your best response to hundreds and hundreds of students who took the time to share their experience with the current structure at Gunn and Paly? Have you read the comments?

If a solution must be limited to two sentences, here are mine:
Students responded to surveys. Adults should listen, study, and respond - objectively, professionally, thoroughly.

Pom poms and defenses should be left at the door - all models on the table for consideration - PLEASE. Let's get busy and deliver the world-class education and structures that our young people NEED and deserve (and that our reputation suggests). This is where we are aligned, yes?

Posted by Happiness Factor
a resident of Fairmeadow
on May 25, 2012 at 2:16 pm

@ Going Down?
I fail to see what the Newsweek High School ratings have to do with the question of improving counseling services. The rankings are based on self reporting of graduation rates, college acceptance rates, SAT/ACT/AP test scores and the number of AP course offerings. Web Link

Are you suggesting that it is the Gunn guidance model that is responsible for the higher ranking? I have heard that student stress is very high at Gunn and that many students have written comments that they need additional time and support from their counselors. I vote for more student support at Gunn. Maybe that way they will be happier and rise to number 1!

Posted by time to end this
a resident of Crescent Park
on May 25, 2012 at 4:51 pm

Yeah for the board! About time they stood up. This was always a situation that needed to be resolved by Gunn and not by WKBPA.

Posted by Ken Dauber
a resident of Barron Park School
on May 25, 2012 at 6:59 pm

The real story is more complicated than is presented here and in the comments. The school board is looking to the Gunn administration to come back with a plan for counseling at the June 12 school board meeting, but it has given the administration some significant constraints that aren't detailed in the story. However, senior district staff intervened very early, in early April, to direct the process at Gunn in a way that will make it difficult for the administration to meet the school board's requirements. The question now is how that will all play out. This is a lengthy post but I think it's useful to lay this all out in some detail.
As the story notes, at the March 27 school board meeting our parent organization, We Can Do Better Palo Alto, presented data drawn from PAUSD that shows that students at Paly are much more satisfied with their guidance services than are students at Gunn, and that they report that they have much more access to a varied set of services than do Gunn students. The school board recognized the service gap, and (with the exception of Barb Mitchell) spoke strongly in favor of change at Gunn to make guidance services comparable between the two high schools. The board also directed Gunn to strongly consider adopting teacher advisory in order to achieve comparability. (You can read about that meeting at Web Link
At the meeting on Tuesday night, the school board reiterated its commitment to comparable services, its conclusion that the services are not now comparable, and its instruction to Gunn to strongly consider teacher advisory. The following is drawn from a summer of the meeting I posed to our Facebook group page, at Web Link and you can check my summary by viewing the meeting yourself, at Web Link (scroll down to item G, about the open-ended student responses).
Three of the four Board members present (Camille Townsend left early because of an ongoing health issue, and Barb Mitchell continues to oppose significant change at Gunn) reached consensus on the following directions to staff.
Barbara Klausner made two points:
1. The data analyses and comparisons that We Can Do Better has performed should be sent to the high schools for use in understanding the current state of counseling at the two schools. This is important because the district's data does not allow comparison, does not fully capture the benefits of multiple overlapping guidance roles in advisory, and does not allow easy access to the student comments. It also does not allow analysis of the effect of the different guidance modes on services for minority students.
2. Gunn's plan must provide for comparable services to Paly. Klausner explained that comparability means that Gunn's plan must provide a similar number of touchpoints over time, overlapping roles between adults (for example, both TAs and college advisors deliver college information to students, making it harder for students to slip between the cracks), a division of labor among adults, and multiple adults in guidance roles for each student.
Dana Tom said that Gunn must seriously consider a change to a teacher advisory system or another major change that delivers comparable services, and must be prepared to discuss in detail how it considered that change and how it reached its conclusion. (Ironically, he wondered aloud how to ensure that this message would get communicated to Gunn).
Melissa Caswell agreed with Klausner's and Tom's points, and added the explicit instruction that guidance models be compared on their own terms, without attention to speculations about impacts such as larger class sizes, fewer electives, etc. These supposed negative effects have been a major part of the district's rhetoric in resisting change at Gunn, even though, as we've pointed out repeatedly, the financial impact is relatively small and there are many options for funding this change other than cuts to classroom teaching.
Taken together, the Board's action strongly underlined its March 27 direction, and provided an even more detailed set of criteria and expectations. Clearly Board members felt frustrated by the resistance to their directive of March 27, and felt that they had to set forth specific language to limit discretion.
If anything, the Gunn administration is more constrained than it was after the March 27 meeting, because the Board reaffirmed its commitment to comparable services, described in some detail what "comparable" means, required that Gunn take into account the data comparing the two high schools, and clearly stated the expectation that Gunn should consider a structural change to its counseling model, and be prepared to defend a recommendation not to make such a change with clear and explicit evidence.
However, the Gunn administration is operating within another set of constraints, these imposed from above by senior district leadership, most importantly Superintendent Skelly. As has been reported, Dr. Skelly wrote a memo to the school board on April 20, telling them that he had met with senior district staff, including the director of secondary education, Michael Milliken, and the Gunn principal, Katya Villalobos, and decided that Gunn should make incremental improvements in counseling rather than make a change to teacher advisory, including hiring 2 additional counselors. Dr. Skelly told the board that he was communicating that down to Gunn staff. (It's important to note that in addition to the direction already noted in the March 27 meeting, the board told Dr. Skelly not to hire more counselors at Gunn, as those resources would be needed for teacher advisory if that was the ultimate decision). That memo is the subject of the Brown Act discussion that will be the subject of a special meeting of the school board next Thursday. We received the memo via a Public Records Act request, which we made after it became clear that there was a private process going on that was not consistent with the school board's March 27 direction.
What has not yet been reported is that Dr. Skelly wrote a memo to his senior staff 2 weeks earlier, on April 6, laying out his rationale for opposing the school board's decision on March 27. We also received that memo via another Public Records Act request. That memo can be seen at Web Link The memo consists mostly of commentary interspersed into a long email from the district's consultant on counseling, Kelun Zhang, sent following her presentation to the Board on March 27. Dr. Skelly asked senior district staff, including Charles Young, the associate superintendent, to take the lead on next steps. What is most useful about the memo is that it lays out in very clear terms the basis for Dr. Skelly's opposition to counseling changes at Gunn. In brief, Dr. Skelly believes that guidance counseling is largely about college counseling, and therefore that the service gaps identified by the PAUSD data in the areas of academic advising and social-emotional support are mostly irrelevant. For example, he writes "AS A PARENT, I DON'T REALLY CARE IF THE GUIDANCE COUNSELOR MEETS WITH MY FRESHMAN OR SOPHOMORE STUDENT. THEY DON'T HAVE THAT MUCH TO TALK ABOUT AND I DON'T WANT TOO MUCH HYPE ABOUT COLLEGE TOO EARLY. I AM FINE IF, AS A PRACTICE, OUR COUNSELORS FOCUS ON STRUGGLING KIDS. BUT THIS MEANS MANY STUDENTS DON'T HAVE A PERSONAL RELATIONSHIP WITH THEIR COUNSELOR. AND SURVEY RESULTS ARE LOWER." In fact, of course, there is little likelihood that students struggling with social-emotional issues will be noticed by counselors who don't have time to meet with them. But Dr. Skelly's memo at least sets out clearly his vision for guidance at Gunn, and it bears careful reading.
The problem is not that Dr. Skelly opposes implementing teacher advisory at Gunn, although I think most parents disagree with his argument that freshman and sophomores don't need guidance, and that students don't need personal relationships with their counselors. It is that he has not made his disagreement with the school board public so that we can have an open and honest debate, and has instead directed a process at Gunn that is not responsive to the school board's direction at its March 27 meeting. We can get a hint of that in his instruction to senior staff that "we should be courageous in terms of our next steps but also cognizant of the conversation we had at the last board meeting" in the April 6 memo, and a full acknowledgement in his April 20 memo to the school board. That was followed on May 5 by a letter from Dr. Skelly and Principal Villalobos to the entire Gunn parent community, assuring them that Gunn would make no major changes to counseling, and by an announcement to the press by Principal Villalobos of a process of further study that will return to the school board in March 2013, even though the school board has made no such decision.
Dr. Skelly has also played a direct role in opposing teacher advisory at Gunn. He met with instructional supervisors and restated his opposition to teacher advisory. He recounted to me personally an encounter with a Gunn math teacher who told Dr. Skelly that he was interested in teacher advisory, and might be interested in being a teacher advisor himself. Dr. Skelly responded with a long list of negative consequences, to which (at least in Dr. Skelly's telling), the teacher responded by saying that he was no longer interested in teacher advisory.
So the reality is more complicated than this story indicates. The school board has asked the Gunn administration to return with a plan for comparable services, but with a substantial set of conditions attached. The Gunn administration, however, is contending with a senior district leadership that opposes consideration of teacher advisory, which is realistically the best (and probably the only) way to satisfy the school board's demand for truly comparable services with Paly. According to school board members, as of two weeks ago Gunn staff had not even met with Paly teachers to discuss teacher advisory, despite having had over a month to do so. It's difficult to see how Gunn can return to the school board, in the face of the position of senior district leadership, with anything other than a plan for more delay. Unfortunately, the school board is likely to accept that delay unless parents communicate clearly to board members that they really do want guidance services at Gunn as effective as those the district is delivering at Paly.
For more details and links to data, you can visit

Posted by Mary
a resident of Gunn High School
on May 25, 2012 at 8:27 pm

Let teachers teach and professional counselors counsel at Gunn. Gunn's counseling & teaching staff must be doing something right - ask the folks at Newsweek. How can an advisory system which meets MONTHLY be of any real help to students? Paly students see advisory period as a great time to work on their tan in the quad, or to visit T&C for food & drinks. TA's have no leverage to enforce attendance. Students don't take seriously anything that (1) offers no units, and (2) has no power to impact their lives such as a "cut."

Posted by Paul
a resident of Gunn High School
on May 25, 2012 at 8:36 pm

[Post removed due to same poster using multiple names]

Posted by Lurker
a resident of Professorville
on May 25, 2012 at 8:56 pm

Thanks, Ken, for sharing this memo from Skelley. I'm bothered by several of his remarks:
These rankings are flawed and a poor measure. But, I assure you that Skelley cares about them and college admission. I'd argue that's his main concern with counseling. But, it's this emphasis on getting into the "best" college that puts stress on our students. The district should set the tone and be advocating that each student finds the best post-high school plan for him and be less concerned about which colleges students are admitted to.
Popularity is not a measure of quality and/or excellence!!
College advising is not the most important work our counselors or TAs/college advisors do!! If students are struggling emotionally, these issues need to be addressed, first, before the professionals can even begin to think of worrying about them graduating from high school no less college admission.

Posted by Gunn parent
a resident of Barron Park
on May 25, 2012 at 9:01 pm


First, Little Rock.

Second, I pay your salary. I don't mean to be too harsh, because I'm sure you are a great teacher, but the taxpayers and parents of this district have the final say as to what the schools should offer. As someone who lives in the Gunn district and has one student there and one on the way, I don't want to get worse services than parents at Paly are getting for the same investment. That is ridiculous. I have no connection to We Can Do Better, but wasn't it founded by a Google engineer and a Stanford professor? I have looked at the data and it is clear that Paly is better served. I want equal services -- seems fair. My kid has never even met his counselor and he is a sophomore. That's not fair.

Posted by parent
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 25, 2012 at 9:34 pm

Please, everyone who is reading this: don't take everything Mr. Dauber says at face value. He presents in such a way that it seems so believable. Much of what he states is his own opinion or interpretation of what he has read. I don't know what their agenda is, but forcing a change on a school is just asking for failure. There are many ways to deliver guidance and counseling services. TA is just one of them. Let the Gunn staff come to their own conclusions. They aren't saying no to TA, they just want the time to look in to it to come to a decision. There is no urgency around this. There were suicides at Paly when the TA system was in place. The advisory system at a school will not influence the decisions kids make no matter what the Daubers think or say. It is so much deeper than that.

Posted by Gunn parent
a resident of Gunn High School
on May 25, 2012 at 9:55 pm

"Please, everyone who is reading this: don't take everything Mr. Dauber says at face value."

Don't worry parent from Another Palo Alto neighborhood. We don't. We know he is long winded.

And we have two kids in Gunn and like it just the way it is.

Posted by We Deserve Better!
a resident of Gunn High School
on May 25, 2012 at 10:25 pm


As regards Mr. Dauber, and your assertions about him, "Much of what he states is his own opinion or interpretation of what he has read"

Would you please shed some light on this comment? Where are you finding his own opinions that are not backed up by solid facts? If you are making accusations you should be able to back these assertions up. I would appreciate you letting us all know. As far as I have observed, Mr. Dauber is posting things that other people have said (such as the student opinions from the survey) or the memo from Skelly which I can't see as being capable of being interpreted any other way than than what Skelly stated in his own words.

"The advisory system at a school will not influence the decisions kids make no matter what the Daubers think or say. It is so much deeper than that." What does this mean? What is so much deeper than that? I am glad that the Daubers are thinking and saying things that need to be thought and said. Our children deserve better and I don't want to see the school board drop the ball on this. Thank you

Posted by anti - wcdbpa
a resident of Leland Manor/Garland Drive
on May 25, 2012 at 10:33 pm

I'm tired of the silent majority of "we can do better" and the Daubers pushing their views and wants on the rest of us. I am happy with the Gunn counseling model. I don't want any changes. Stop pushing your views on the rest of us and the school district.



Posted by Curious
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on May 25, 2012 at 10:42 pm

Hi Paul. I genuinely want to know why you think teachers would be foolish to go along with an advisory model. Would you mind posting your thoughts on that? I get that you don't want to be forced. But I'd like to know what it is about this model that you think Gunn teachers would see as problematic (or foolish). If you have an opinion as to why or how PALY has overcome those challenges in their 20 year history with advisory, I'd be interested to hear that as well.

Mary, I find the over 700 students who took the time to actually write about their experience with guidance at Gunn far more compelling than the results of an equation employed by "the folks at Newsweek". And I reject your characterization of Paly students and teens in general. Unfair and inaccurate. Read the open coments from your own community's teens. Seems like they took the survey seriously enough and were very articulate in their open responses (even though no units were conveyed). Perhaps they believed in the power of the survey, believing that adults would hear their concerns and make changes that could actually "impact their lives".

It could happen.

Posted by Gunn teacher
a resident of Gunn High School
on May 26, 2012 at 8:26 am

I don't want to debate my colleagues on an Internet bulletin board, but I want to assure Gunn parents that teachers are by no means united in opposition to teacher advisory, despite what you might conclude from posts here. Most of my colleagues got into teaching in order to be of service to students, and are willing to look at evidence that we need to improve. Many of us signed up to participate in Titan 101 for freshmen, because we know that students don't get enough time to figure out how Gunn works, how to put together a schedule, etc. I'm sure that if we do get TA, many of my colleagues will be willing to serve as TAs, particularly for a prep period. We will need training and support, which was lacking for Titan 101 and is probably part of the problem. I will probably sign up for it myself.
Mr. Dauber's post is interesting but also disturbing. There is a lot going on behind the scenes that I didn't know about. I do think that Dr. Skelly means well, but it makes me sad to read what he wrote about our students not needing help and personal relationships except for college. We are still recovering from the tragedies. I think he may be too distant from Gunn to really understand what students face day-to-day. I spend a fair amount of my time on trying to help students deal with issues that could probably be handled better with TA. Our counselors really are great but overworked.
I have also wondered why our administration has been so negative about TA. I saw the post on another story from one of my fellow teachers who talked about not having enough information about TA. I have friends at Paly so I know how it works but there is definitely a lot of confusion at Gunn among teachers.
I hope that whatever process comes out of this is not so political and defensive. I am hearing that we are going to have a committee including parents and teachers. To me, I worry that this seems like a recipe for more fighting. Speaking for myself, I would rather have the school board just decide rather than put us through another year of this. Are we going to get any new information? It would be more productive to talk about how to implement TA than fighting about whether it is a good idea.
P.S., the Little Rock reference took me a minute to get, but I really don't think it will get to that point. Funny though, I have to admit. I do appreciate Palo Alto for moments like that.

Posted by Gunn Mom
a resident of Gunn High School
on May 26, 2012 at 9:17 am

My child has attended Gunn for 3 years. We have witnessed firsthand how some of the guidance office staff are not empathetic or invested in the students.
Why not add more counselors to Gunn's staff? Some counselors are overburdened because all the students want to switch to them. What if the good counselors burn out?
While teachers may not want to follow the Paly model, it would be very helpful for counselors to be able to confer with them more. The feedback from some teachers about my child has been helpful, insightful and reflects a great deal of investment and thought in an individual child.
Please find a way to work together for the student's sake.

Posted by Gunn Googler
a resident of Gunn High School
on May 26, 2012 at 11:16 am

Ken, thanks for your long and informative post. This careful work and the data you have pulled together makes me proud to be a fellow Googler.
Because many people won't read what you wrote and it's important, let me summarize it as I understand it (warning I'm not as nice as you are). The school board told Gunn to design a plan for comparable guidance services with Paly, with a list of requirements that makes it pretty clear that only teacher advisory will do the job. Skelly thinks that counseling is actually about college, so building in more student contact and better academic advising for high school classes is not worth doing. Instead of saying that publicly (probably because parents would be up in arms) he told Gunn staff to fix it privately, and let the school board know in a confidential memo. I don't know why the school board didn't push back at Skelly, but reading that memo it is pretty clear Skelly is used to telling them how things are going to go behind the scenes.
All would have gone according to plan except that Ken found the memo to the school board and Skelly's memo to his reports. Then the school board had to go back and say, "No, we really meant it" to Skelly, and here we are. Gunn is coming back to the school board in 2 weeks. Unless Skelly changes his mind you can be sure Gunn won't be bringing a plan for advisory. Instead, we'll get a plan for more study, and Skelly will hope that the heat comes off over the next six months or year.
As a parent of junior at Gunn, I have two comments of my own. First, what is going on at the school district? I don't expect perfection, but I do expect reasonable public administration, and this isn't it. Second, Steven Tadelis is right. If I have a process that I can improve by 50%, with a high degree of predictability of success, at a small incremental cost, it makes no sense not to do it. That is the definition of low hanging fruit.
This won't be fixed in time for my kid, but I'll be watching what happens next and voting on this issue at the next school board election.

Posted by Another Paly Parent
a resident of Community Center
on May 26, 2012 at 12:27 pm

As a Paly parent I am grateful for the parents and staff who lobbied to implement structural changes that better support my children. Twenty years ago a battle was waged to implement teacher advisory. I am thankful that parents,teachers and staff had the courage to fight for this program. My children reap the benefits of this twenty year experiment and the improvements that have been made along the way. I am excited to see what recommendations for improvement Phil Winston and his team bring back to the School Board in June.

Paly students also have the benefits of late start, block scheduling and tutorial. All of these suggestions were met with opposition and I am thankful for those who walked ahead of me and persevered.

Teacher advisory is not the panacea for suicide prevention. It is however one of many support systems recommended by Project Safety Net under the P8 suicide prevention strategies for schools. Web Link
Here are some excerpts from P8 Supportive School Environment:
“Next Steps:
Study, discuss and implement additional environmental strategies that create a more supportive school and learning environment, such as finals prior to winter break, revised test and project calendars, revised homework policies addressing purpose and volume, academic integrity concerns, tutorials and ADVISORIES, and social and emotional skill development.

Apply positive strategies across all schools in the district. This would allow for a common language, economies of scale, cross training and SHARING OF WHAT WORKS.

Give careful consideration to the implementation of the following suggestions from the Youth Forum:

Improved connections with campus counselors/adults
• Exploration of ways to connect students with adults
• Improved visibility and physical access to counselors
• Increased opportunities for students and counselors to connect “in good/bad moments” at assemblies, sporting events, student activities
• Encouragement of a climate of staff-student connections BEYOND the classroom setting”

If Gunn teachers, parents and students would like to know more about the Paly Guidance model here is a link to Paly’s guidance web page: Web Link
There is a wealth of information for parents and students that is applicable to all high school students. If you click on the Advisory Schedules you can get a feel for the guidance curriculum that is distributed to the students through the TA system.

Posted by Gunn parent
a resident of Barron Park
on May 26, 2012 at 5:05 pm


Let the teachers teach

Let the counselors counsel

Let the devil take the hindmost.

No thanks.

Posted by another gunn parent
a resident of Gunn High School
on May 26, 2012 at 6:00 pm

we still haven't heard what the trade-offs are, and there will be trade-offs despite what we can do better says

Posted by another gunn parent
a resident of Gunn High School
on May 26, 2012 at 6:02 pm

and i don't see the two communities as homegeneous at all therefore disagree with steve tedelis, does he really know us?

Posted by Annie
a resident of Midtown
on May 26, 2012 at 6:23 pm

The Paly TA system is about so much more than college. It's a dedicated teacher that actually knows your child. One who calls you at home if grades are slipping to talk over how to intervene. One who will even come with your child to meet with another teacher if there are problems. It's someone who answers your concerned e-mails right away. It's parent-teacher-child teamwork at its best.

Posted by palo alto mom
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on May 26, 2012 at 7:21 pm

Annie- I'm so glad you have had such a great TA experience! It varies widely from TA to TA, my older son (Class of 2010) never talked to his TA outside of class, we never heard anything from him (even when failing grade a class), he never expressed concern about not meeting A-G requirements (deliberate in our case) and senior year, my son went to get something signed and he said "you have to have your TA sign this" forgetting that he was actually his TA! So some teachers make a great effort to get to know the students and some sign up mainly for the prep period.

Younger son - currently a freshman has had a much better experience with his Freshman TA.

Posted by Curious
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on May 27, 2012 at 9:50 am

Dear Another Paly Parent...
Thank you for your post and the reminder of the study, the logic and rationale, the work that has gone before. Very helpful to see how this current issue fits into a bigger vision for our teens' health and well-being.

Posted by Gunn parent
a resident of Barron Park
on May 27, 2012 at 3:45 pm

I would like to know how this conversation moved from one about connectedness and supporting our students as Another Paly Parent documents to one about teacher and administrator control. I think this is a question worth spending some time thinking about as a community. We had a suicide epidemic that displayed some of the current weaknesses of Gunn's connectedness between students and counselors. It was hard for students to find someone to talk to as I understand it, and it had been so for years. On the WCDB website I saw the statistic from the 2008 WASC survey at Gunn that 78% of students supported adding advisory at that time, and that was BEFORE the crisis. So the lack of connectedness has been an issue of longstanding. It is not new -- but it burst into our awareness as the cluster took hold and there was little in the way of support for the kids who were traumatized by the losses to the school community.

Project Safety Net recommended advisory. Project Safety Net and the other things Paly Parent talked about were collective community wide responses to improve emotional supports for our kids.

So how is this conversation now about whether Ken Dauber is a nice person(I don't know him but he seems very clear and direct, though not mean -- I haven't heard him make any personal attacks the way he and his wife are personally attacked all the time. And didn't they lose a child by suicide? Do people have no shame going after them? Even if you disagree, people they lost a child. Where is your humanity?

So is this about connectedness for high schoolers at Gunn or is it about teacher autonomy? Because to me it is about my kid and the fact that he is a sophomore who has not yet met his counselor. I don't have autonomy at my job -- why do you teachers think you should have this when most people don't have the right to veto what the shareholders or owners of their company want. Taxpayers are the shareholders of this school district. Sorry, but you aren't self-employed. What is your union's position on advisory? I assume they don't oppose it since Paly teachers have the same union. So are you on a wildcat strike, those of you like Paul who think you can just refuse?

Why are we talking about the Daubers and the teachers and Kevin Skelly's hurt feelings from a year ago instead of connectedness for kids?

Those of you who think teachers should get to control the schools, please tell me your plan to enhance connectedness to the level of Paly.

Posted by Ken Dauber
a resident of Barron Park School
on May 27, 2012 at 8:19 pm

@Gunn Parent

First, thanks for defending Michele and I but it's not necessary. I'm not bothered by attacks.

Thanks also to Gunn parent and Another Paly parent for refocusing the conversation where it belongs -- on the nearly 1,900 students at Gunn. Advisory is one of the strategies mentioned in our community's suicide prevention plan -- Project Safety Net. That's because it fosters connections between adults and kids by putting many adults who can provide multiple contacts with students in guidance roles. PAUSD is one of the authors of the Project Safety Net plan, and increasing connectedness has been a focused goal for years. I don't think there is any other change that we could make in our schools that would increase connectedness for our kids as much as teacher advisory at Gunn.

We founded We Can Do Better Palo Alto a year and a half ago to advocate on behalf of implementing P-8, which is the section of the Project Safety Net plan that focuses on reducing "stress and distress" of teens in our schools. P-8 calls for the district to "study, discuss, and implement" changes in a number of areas that are part of the core operations of the schools, including guidance. P-8 has been the hardest part of the Project Safety Net plant to implement, precisely because it's not about adding mental health programs to our schools. It's about making changes in existing organizational practices, where there is always substantial resistance to change. It's no surprise, although it is quite disappointing, that so much of the discussion about teacher advisory has focused on the consequences for adults of having to change what they do, as opposed to the benefits to our children of bringing them more effective guidance services and more connection to adults.

Since Gunn Parent mentions Superintendent Skelly, and my earlier post also talks about his role in this decision, I'll share my thoughts. Dr. Skelly has many positive qualities and many commitments that I share (including to A-G for all students, where we have been among his strongest supporters) but I have been disappointed in his lack of enthusiasm and leadership on fostering connectedness and on social-emotional supports for students generally. His comments in the confidential memo to his staff that creating personal relationships between students is not an important part of a guidance system is a clear reflection of that position. I've spoken to him directly about this several times, including in a 2-hour meeting with him last week.

I doubt if Dr. Skelly harbors hurt feelings about our difference in opinion (he sent me a nice email after our meeting acknowledging our differences but reaffirming our shared commitment to our students), but it is an area of relative weakness from our perspective. Certainly I think he has missed an opportunity to exercise strong leadership in helping to guide Gunn towards a healthier guidance system for students, and has made it much more difficult for Gunn staff (including the teacher who commented earlier in this thread) to advocate for a change to teacher advisory.

But this is ultimately not about me or our group or about Dr. Skelly. It's about our kids. It's fine to ask "the Gunn community" to consider how to respond to the challenges and the opportunities in the data that we're brought forward, and also to the academic research about and our own district's experience with the benefits of teacher advisory. But we need to remember that at the center of that community is our kids. They have a right to expect that we will act in their interests and that we will place more weight on our hopes for them than on our fears for ourselves. All of us -- parents, teachers, counselors, and administrators -- have to put the needs of our children at the center of our thinking. If we do that now, honestly and fearlessly, then we will start to make positive change now. If we don't, we won't.

As I listen to the discussion, I discount the voices of adults who are not talking about the needs of kids, and I try to come back to the words of Gunn students as reflected in their hundreds of messages to us, as compiled here: Web Link I suggest that we all do the same. For more information on this issue, including links to the results of their survey responses, see our website at Web Link

Posted by Palo Verde Parent
a resident of Palo Verde
on May 27, 2012 at 8:36 pm

Ken- I appreciate the tone of your last post and it is the first time I have read a WCDBP response without my dislike of the group getting in the way of the message. When members of your group disrespectfully refer to Dr. Skelly as "Kevin", attack individual teachers (ie the math dept at Paly, which ironically has a high percent of its teachers serve as teacher advisors including the center of many of WCDBP attacks), and roll their eyes at the school board it becomes a challenge for me (and likely others) to separate the message from the messenger. Your last post finally allowed me to actually think about the topic of counseling at both schools and what will ultimately best serve all of our students, which you correctly point out should be the focus all along.

Posted by Ken Dauber
a resident of Barron Park School
on May 27, 2012 at 9:08 pm

At the risk of seeming long-winded, I want to comment on a point made by Lurker above. Lurker notes Superintendent Skelly's statement that "I TOTALLY AGREE. WE HAVE SOME COUNSELORS AT GUNN WHO ARE NOT AS POPULAR AS OTHERS. WE NEED TO IMPROVE THE QUALITY OF THE PEOPLE IN SOME OF THESE POSITIONS. SO MUCH OF EXCELLENCE COMES DOWN TO PEOPLE. " Lurker comments in response that "Popularity is not a measure of quality and/or excellence!!". (See page 3 of Dr. Skelly's confidential memo to his senior staff of April 6, here: Web Link
I think what's important about Dr. Skelly's comment here is not that it equates popularity with excellence. The mention of "popularity" actually seems to reflect Dr. Skelly's view that the student survey measured whether students like the guidance system, when in fact it measured whether students feel that they can access a quite detailed set of guidance services (I pointed this out to Dr. Skelly in our meeting last week, in fact).
Dr. Skelly's comment about poor quality counselors at Gunn follows, in his memo, an effort by the consultant to figure out how the difference in effectiveness of guidance between Paly and Gunn might be due to something other than the difference in the two guidance models. The primary purpose of Dr. Skelly's remark was to identify guidance staff quality as one factor distinguishing Gunn from Paly, and not primarily to equate "quality" with "popularity".
We, by contrast, have always insisted that staff at Gunn are equally committed, equally skilled, and equally qualified as those at Paly, and that the difference in effectiveness is due entirely to the different guidance models in use at both schools. It seems quite unfair to conclude that the counselors at Gunn who are laboring under extremely difficult work conditions are responsible for the fact that, for example, freshmen and sophomores may well never see a counselor. I and other members of We Can Do Better Palo Alto made this point repeatedly during the Open Forum section of the May 22 Board meeting (video is at Web Link scroll down to item D, Open Forum). We should be talking about which guidance system best serves our kids, rather than talking about the people in those systems, who are in our experience uniformly hard-working and committed.

Posted by Ken Dauber
a resident of Barron Park School
on May 27, 2012 at 9:14 pm

@Palo Verde Parent

Thanks, I really appreciate your note and your feedback. None of us is perfect by any means. I hope that we can continue to move this conversation to focus on the students at Gunn and what they need.

Posted by time to end this
a resident of Crescent Park
on May 28, 2012 at 9:23 am

Seriously, Ken? A group that undertaken teacher character assassination, demeaned the board with descriptions of "flower pots" and positively abused admin staff now claim: "We, by contrast, have always insisted that staff at Gunn are equally committed, equally skilled, and equally qualified as those at Paly,"?

Dr. Skelly has always shown commitment to this district and support for it's students and teachers - unlike WKBPA.

Posted by Ken Dauber
a resident of Barron Park School
on May 28, 2012 at 10:11 am

@time to end this

I take it that you don't want to take up the challenge of substantive discussion. In any case, as I said at our parent education event on May 16, it's clear that the differences in effectiveness between guidance at Paly and at Gunn are due to the fact that Paly uses a teacher advisory model and Gunn uses a traditional counseling model. We have run, as Dr. Tadelis pointed out at Tuesday's board meeting, a 20-year natural experiment in which of these two models is most effective.
The results are striking, and I encourage readers to look at the spreadsheet with the comparative data from the 2012 survey here: Web Link You'll note that we've shaded the cell green when the result at Paly is 5 or more percentage points greater than the one at Gunn, and red when Gunn exceeds Paly. There are over 200 such comparisons where Paly is favored, and 6 for Gunn. For many comparisons Paly exceeds Gunn by 30, 40, or 50 percentage points. Moreover, these data are consistent with prior years of parent and student surveys of guidance at the two schools, and are also consistent with the academic research on the benefits of teacher advisory over traditional guidance models.
The idea that differences of this magnitude and persistence stem from differences in the quality of staff in guidance roles at the two schools is highly implausible. I think it's unfair and inaccurate to attribute the difference in effectiveness to staff, and neither I nor anyone else in our group has ever suggested that. That's why we have focused on the difference in models, in addition to the fact that our collective experience with guidance staff at Gunn convinces us that they are hardworking and dedicated. But if you disagree with that conclusion, you should make your case and state your evidence. Otherwise, I don't see what your comments have to do with making progress on bringing increased connectedness and more effective guidance services to our students at Gunn.

Posted by time to end this
a resident of Crescent Park
on May 29, 2012 at 11:01 am

Your response to a question about whether we should trust WKBPA or the district board, staff & teachers is to re-post a survey?
You could at least apologize and try an engagement model. Until then, your "us vs. them" approach will leave you on the outside.
If you truly believed this was about students and not WKBPA members' egos, having the board nod politely and ignore you isn't going to help.

Posted by Another Paly Parent
a resident of Community Center
on May 29, 2012 at 12:46 pm

Organizational change is often met with resistance. It took some cage rattling to increase district awareness of the Project Safety Net Suicide Prevention Strategy P8, Supportive School Environment, which includes teacher advisory. WCDB breathed life into this document and I am very thankful that the School Board has fully engaged in this work and is working with staff to move these initiatives forward.

Posted by Another Gunn parent
a resident of Gunn High School
on May 29, 2012 at 2:53 pm

"time to end this": I think Ken's point is that rather than figuring out who to trust, you can just look at the data and make up your own mind. You seem to be way more invested in the "us vs. them" approach than WCDB. Since the School Board is actually pushing Gunn to improve counseling and telling them to look at WCDB's data, they also seem to more interested in talking about counseling than you seem to be. I agree with Ken and Another Paly Parent: let's talk about our students and counseling, not adults and their feelings.

Posted by Wynn Hausser
a resident of Barron Park
on May 29, 2012 at 3:00 pm

@time to end this: From your description of living in the Crescent Park neighborhood you are presumably in the Paly part of the district. I've noticed that some of the strongest opposition to changing the Gunn model are similarly outside the Gunn attendance area. So I'm wondering, what's up with that? Why does the Gunn counseling debate concern you so? Do you believe that my kids and others who go to Gunn don't deserve comparable services to those who go to Paly? That connectedness is not a worthy goal? That people shouldn't participate in our democracy if they disagree with policy directions and just let the chips, which are in this case children's lives, fall by the way? I'll add my observations that the strongest attackers here never seem willing to stand by their words by including their name. Curious.

@Palo Verde parent: I think you raise an important point here about the messenger interfering with the message and I too want to acknowledge it. To a large extent, I think the discussion has been derailed by a focus on personalities rather than on what will best serve our students. And that has not been a good thing. At the same time, while some of us have been very critical of the Superintendent's handling of this matter, for example, I view this criticism as part of the sometimes messy process of democracy. Holding our public officials accountable should focus on actions, not attribute motive. And having followed this debate closely I believe that has in the majority of cases been done even as the discussion has at times been heated. I'll add that I think there has been much more venom directed at the Daubers personally than anyone has to the school board, Supt. Skelly or teachers (see latest examples above).

But in the end, none of this is the point. The point is to bring Gunn students (and Paly students to the extent that things there need improvement)the best possible services and give them the greatest level of support possible. And when one takes a dispassionate view of the literature and best practices from our district and others,and trends in the guidance profession, I think it is hard to conclude anything other than that a teacher advisory system is the way to go. So I believe the board and administration should set that as the goal and then have the Gunn community focus on how (not whether) it can be best implemented into our school. The consequences of continuing with an outdated model are too severe not to take this step at this time. I hope all will look through the rhetoric and study the facts and issue itself so we can move forward from here in a more positive way.

Posted by Moira
a resident of Midtown
on May 29, 2012 at 5:39 pm

Thanks Mr. Hausser for being a voice of reason.

Posted by time to end this
a resident of Crescent Park
on May 30, 2012 at 11:16 am

AGP, "You seem to be way more invested in the "us vs. them" approach than WCDB"
Really? You seem to have missed Ken's comment:
"We, by contrast, have always insisted that staff at Gunn are equally committed, equally skilled, and equally qualified as those at Paly,"

Given WKBPA's history and attitude towards Palo Alto teachers & departments, do you seriously believe that WKBPA hold the teachers in higher regard than does the board & staff?

Posted by Another Gunn parent
a resident of Gunn High School
on May 30, 2012 at 2:30 pm

Time to end this: Ken was responding to Supt. Skelly's criticism of counselors at Gunn "I TOTALLY AGREE. WE HAVE SOME COUNSELORS AT GUNN WHO ARE NOT AS POPULAR AS OTHERS. WE NEED TO IMPROVE THE QUALITY OF THE PEOPLE IN SOME OF THESE POSITIONS. SO MUCH OF EXCELLENCE COMES DOWN TO PEOPLE" (from Skelly's "confidential" memo to his staff, Web Link I agree with WCDB that rather than blaming people for the problems with counseling at Gunn, it would be better to help them do better by giving them and students something that works better. What do you think?
You are very angry at Ken for some reason, but you never say anything here about counseling. I agree with Wynn Hauser "The point is to bring Gunn students (and Paly students to the extent that things there need improvement)the best possible services and give them the greatest level of support possible." I don't know any of the WCDB people but I have looked at the data and the video on YouTube with Denise Pope (Web Link starting at about 12 minutes). Teacher advisory seems like it's obviously the best choice for our students.

Posted by time to listen
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 31, 2012 at 8:37 pm

"The school board recognized the service gap, and (with the exception of Barb Mitchell) spoke strongly in favor of change at Gunn to make guidance services comparable between the two high schools."

Interesting to note that Barb Mitchell has gone through the Paly system with three or four of her children and she is the only one who is not "in favor of change" to the Paly system. Seems like she may know something others do not.

Posted by time to end this
a resident of Crescent Park
on Jun 1, 2012 at 8:37 am

AGP, Ken & co. have previously called for Dr. Skelly to be sacked, teachers replaced and departments closed down. Ken then stands up and says that he's supports teachers. And you then take his other comments as dogma?
The board was previously blind-sided. The first 5 paragraphs of the article show them getting back to where they were. It's indicative of WKBPA's influence waning. I guess that's why Ken chose to strike out at Dr. Skelly again in this way. Trying to undermine his relationship with the districts teachers.
I'll continue to support the district, staff, teachers and students. You can continue to support WKBPA.

Posted by Another Gunn parent
a resident of Gunn High School
on Jun 1, 2012 at 10:38 am

Hi Time to end this. What do you mean the board was "blind-sided"? I think you mean, "the board saw the data on counseling at Paly and Gunn that I didn't want them to see, and now they want comparable services at the two schools."
I can see why you don't care about that, since you already have teacher advisory for your kids at Paly.
What's really happening is that WKBPA has provided data that shows that Gunn students are not getting the same services as Paly students. Some people in the district office, for some unknown reason, don't want to change (I'm thinking you are probably one of them, from your talking about "admin staff"). So rather than talking about the data or counseling they want to throw mud and falsehoods around hoping to distract people from the truth. I doubt it will work but it's pretty funny watching you try. I'm probably paying your salary though so I would rather you spend time figuring out how to make the schools better rather than posting anonymous slurs about parents.

Posted by parent
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 5, 2012 at 9:20 pm

Exit surveys taken by Gunn seniors give 80% approval rating for counseling dept. Why isn't WCDBPA pushing those statistics?

Posted by time to end this
a resident of Crescent Park
on Jun 6, 2012 at 2:48 pm

Parent, it's simple. WKBPA took a point in time and extrapolated it to a 20 year timeframe. Anything that doesn't deal with this "point in time" gets ignored. Not only that, the point in time chosen was a survey designed for a completely different purpose. So, not only was the extrapolation suspect, the actual data was invalid and their conclusions a leap of faith.
Next they'll be taking the API scores at Hoover and Ohlone and advocating that Ohlone get's shut down or turn to Hoover's model. After all, we have had this 40 year natural experiment and Hoover's results have outstripped Ohlone's by nearly 100 points every year.
How on earth can the Board allow this to continue. They just sit there like potted plants and accept what is fed by the staff.
It's just not good enough. If the Board doesn't sort this out, we need to re-call them.
Look at this API data. It shows conclusively that Hoover is a much better school than Ohlone.
Sad really

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