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Principals to report on counseling tonight

Original post made on Oct 9, 2012

The principals of Gunn and Palo Alto high schools will report to the Board of Education tonight on their efforts to improve guidance-counseling services. Also tonight, the board will hear key Palo Alto results on the California Healthy Kids Survey and get official school enrollment data for 2012-13.

Read the full story here Web Link posted Tuesday, October 9, 2012, 9:51 AM

Comments (23)

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Posted by palo alto mom
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Oct 9, 2012 at 10:51 am

I know the main topic of this post is high school counseling, but in reading the Official Enrollment figures all the elementary schools have 22-25 students per class in 4th or 5th grade. Ohlone Mandarin has only 19 kids per class (its a 4/5th grade combo so you need to add the numbers together. Mandarin Immersion continues to be a program which is NOT equitable, not only do the kids learn a language - something not available to most PAUSD elementary students, but they also get to be in classrooms with 20% fewer students.

Web Link

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Posted by Gunn Class of '67
a resident of Barron Park
on Oct 9, 2012 at 11:40 am

Gunn Class of '67 is a registered user.

No need to attend meeting - per linked report: The results of the CHKS suggest that overall PAUSD students report higher resiliency and less engagement in high-risk behaviors compared to students across Santa Clara County and in comparable schools


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Posted by numbers game
a resident of Crescent Park
on Oct 9, 2012 at 1:00 pm

pa mom, interestingly, there is only 1 student from Ravenswood in the Mandarin Immersion program. That seems very low (0.008%) compared to a 6% average for elementary schools and 5% for Ohlone as a whole.

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Posted by Paly parent
a resident of Community Center
on Oct 9, 2012 at 1:07 pm

As a Paly parent, I don't understand why some Gunn parents are pushing for a Teacher-Advisor approach. Counseling at Paly is not that great either, and my kids never viewed their TA as someone they could go to if they needed help. In fact, they avoided bringing any issues or concerns to the TA because the TA writers college recommendations.
Counseling and caring at both high schools needs improvement

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Posted by Paly parent
a resident of Community Center
on Oct 9, 2012 at 1:30 pm

By the way, I am not voting for Ken Dauber. He is pushing for TAs at Gunn without bothering to understand the pros and cons of this approach. And even the often-quoted survey on satisfaction with counseling systems shows that Paly is doing a little bit better than Gunn, but still not that great.

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Posted by Jan H.
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Oct 9, 2012 at 2:02 pm

Jan H. is a registered user.

What has befallen our once-helpful guidance counseling system at PAUSD? When my son was at Jordan and Paly (late 90's), the counselors went out of their way to give guidance to kids in need, and always had good eyes for those kids who might be at-risk
We were. Wry thankful and appreciative of the fact that they often headed off problems and nipped them in the bud.

Please, tell me what happened? This makes me worry for my granddaughter who is growing up here

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Posted by Mom
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Oct 9, 2012 at 2:03 pm

Read "The Gatekeepers" by Jacques Steinberg for a story that illustrates exactly what is wrong with the Gunn college counseling system. On page 128 of the paperback version, Steinberg describes a Gunn teacher recommendation sent to Wesleyan regarding a then-Gunn senior. The student was a National Merit Semi-Finalist, and the teacher wrote in the letter of being "surprised" that the student had earned that recognition, since the student did not show "an exceptional skill for testing nor a particular affinity for the subject".
Steinberg reports that the student was ultimately rejected by Wesleyan. It is terrible that a negative recommendation letter from a Gunn teacher was probably part of the reason for that rejection, especially where the teacher's comments were clearly wrong.

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Posted by Just my opinion
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 9, 2012 at 2:27 pm

To Mom: So, I am confused by your comments. A teacher wrote a bad recommendation so the Gunn counseling is bad? Does this mean that you are opposed to TA (teachers write the recommendations)?

Frankly, after four years at a high school most students that are ready for college should be able to find a teacher that they have a relationship with beyond sitting at a desk. If a student picks a teacher from a class that they were not active in then can we think that maybe the student chose the wrong person to write their recommendation? Teachers are asked to be honest with their evaluation of the student and they only write a recommendation when asked by a student. Counselors write letters for all of their students.

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Posted by Gunn parent
a resident of Gunn High School
on Oct 9, 2012 at 2:34 pm

@Paly parent
The data shows that the gaps between Gunn and Paly are very large, see Web Link. It's fine to oppose advisory at Gunn (though I don't know why you want to, since you don't even have a child there), but you should be backing up assertions with facts.

In that vein, your claim that Ken doesn't understand the pros and cons of advisory runs afoul of some facts:
* Ken ran a parent education event at St. Mark's in the spring about counseling, including the pros and cons of both systems. Expert speakers included Denise Clark Pope of Challenge Success and Becky Beacom of the Palo Alto Medical Foundation. Video of that event is here: Web Link.
* Ken spoke to the Gunn site council and the Gunn junior parent network about counseling over a year ago.
* Ken has done an enormous amount of work pulling together the data about counseling. The school board directed that this work be used by Gunn staff in their counseling decision, and I have heard that it's actually included in the binders handed out to members of the Gunn committee.
* I've heard Ken say repeatedly that counseling at Paly isn't perfect, that it should also be improved (and that Phil Winston is working hard on that), and that Gunn should be able to implement an advisory model that fits its own needs.

Yes, one of the issues with the Gunn counseling system is that counselors are overwhelmed, so they don't really know the kids they are writing about. That means that the squeaky wheel (or Mom, more often) gets the grease, and other students don't get the attention they deserve.

It's really silly to keep fighting over what should be an obvious improvement in our services to students.

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Posted by numbers
a resident of Crescent Park
on Oct 9, 2012 at 2:39 pm

Actually, it looks like the rejection was more an issue of over-achievement at Gunn. Which is a problem at both schools - students competing against other students:
"[Jordon] had taken four Advanced Placement courses. ... Wesleyan liked to see its applicants “max out” what their high schools offered, and Jordan appeared to be doing so. That Tottenville High in Staten Island did not have as many Advanced Placement courses as Gunn in Palo Alto may have helped Jordan, at least in terms of applying to college."
Web Link (it's worth a read)

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Posted by Gunn mom
a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Oct 9, 2012 at 2:39 pm

Paly parent
You are incorrect about the data. The satisfaction gaps between Gunn students and Paly students on counseling are really large. You can see the full data here: Web Link

You can also read the open ended comments of the Gunn students from this same survey here: Web Link

I went to the We Can Do Better counseling workshop at St. Marks with Denise Clark Pope. These comments are just terrible. Look:

My counselor doesn't know much about me, and doesn't make a strong effort to try to connect with me. Also if I had a dollar for every time I went to his office and there was an "Out to Lunch" sign, I would have 8 dollars. I would be able to buy his lunch and bring it to him while we had a meeting. (junior male)

Answering e-mails would be a really great improvement to the guidance department. I find that my schedule fills up and the only way I can get in contact with my counselor is through e-mail. I sent an e-mail at the beginning of January about help with the FAFSA and other various financial aid things and I still haven't heard back. (senior female)

Honestly if you spend 10 minutes looking at these comments you will want to do something about Gunn counseling. It's not even a debate. It needs to be improved, at least up to the Paly level and probably both can be higher.

Another fact about Gunn counseling brought out in the post about the Gatekeepers is that at Gunn there are 6 or 7 counselors and they get together and decide which kids are going to get recommended for the Ivys and good schools, and which aren't. That means if your kid is kid of a kiss-up who spends a lot of time going to the counselor, they will get chosen, while if your kid is more shy they won't regardless of merit. Wake up, Gunn parents! The colleges are being doled out by 7 people and not everyone is getting a fair or equal shot. With TA every kid gets more of a fair shot.

Maybe that's why some parents don't want it?!

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Posted by Gatekeepers
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 9, 2012 at 2:47 pm

Gunn counselors don't read or edit teachers' recommendations.

Are you suggesting that they should? Wouldn't colleges think that unethical?

But interesting that you mention the Gatekeepers book. I read it too and at first was alarmed at the teacher's recommendation. But when you read on you learn that the student had Cs in science, algebra and AP Statistics and that the classes she took at Gunn were just middlingly difficult which, with her high academic ability that her high test scores suggested, could have been harder.

The teacher letter apparently had nothing to do with the admissions decision. Steinberg wrote "her performance in school - the rigor of her curriculum, her grades - suggested that she was dogging it. She seemed distracted" concluding in "some critical respects, she was slacking off." The girl shared that she was in fact slacking off with a B- average at the end of her junior year due in part to all the classes that she regularly skipped. Interviewed for the book, she said that she wished, in hindsight, that she had taken her studies at Gunn more seriously.

Despite all of that, the Gunn teacher's letter must not have been too bad; the student got accepted into NYU, UCLA and others.

By the way, that book was written 13 years ago. Hardly fair to intimate that this is what is happening at Gunn now.

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Posted by Janice Miller
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Oct 9, 2012 at 3:37 pm

I am proud to say that I have known Ken Dauber for several years and know that he is an amazing advocate for our children. At 6, our son had severe anxiety and almost crippling OCD at school. Ken helped us find the right school resources to help him get the support he so desperately needed. Our son is about to turn 11, at Jordan, happy, confident and doing well academically, socially and emotionally.

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Posted by Mom
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Oct 9, 2012 at 3:58 pm

To Gatekeepers: The student in question took six AP classes at Gunn, not exactly a slacker load. Yes, I am pointing out that Gunn's college counseling system fails students like this one. At the private schools in our area, teacher recommendation letters are reviewed by the college counseling staff before letters are sent to colleges to ensure that the letters accurately and fairly represent a student.
It is not a surprise after reading "The Gatekeepers" why Gunn students are stressed.

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Posted by numbers
a resident of Crescent Park
on Oct 9, 2012 at 4:03 pm

Gunn mom, I looked at the data, including the open-ended questions and there was not much difference between them.
It was interesting that, in the open-ended questions, only one mentioned Paly and that response was - "I think the Guidance Counseling department is seriously flawed. Paly has proven to have a system that works.".

If you're going to fill out the responses for your child, at least try and make it look like it came from them!

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Posted by Gatekeepers
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 9, 2012 at 4:53 pm

Yes, but her GPA was a B- so she couldn't have done well in her AP classes. In fact it said that she went into junior year with an A GPA but came out of it with a B-. Since junior year is when students start to take their APs, she had to do pretty poorly in them to pull her GPA down that far.

Every college rejects students, even top ones. Is that some how Gunn's counselors' fault? You may be the only person who thinks that a good counseling system is a pass into the college of your dreams.

Anyway, if you are trying to make the point that Paly's is better there sure as heck isn't anyone reading Paly's teachers' recommendation either. Sure the TA gets input from other teachers, but the final letter that gets sent out does not get a second set of eyes on it before the send button is pushed.

AND then there is that, as the books says, she got into NYU and UCLA. Not slacker colleges in anyone's book.

Why are you picking on Gunn? It isn't even your child's high school.

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Posted by Gunn mom
a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Oct 9, 2012 at 5:50 pm


What are you smoking? The numbers are very very different. Here is a link to the Ken Dauber report on the data: Web Link

"In gross terms, there are 125 measures on which Gunn and Paly can be directly compared. For 95 of these measures (76%), Paly students are 5 or more percentage points more satisfied than Gunn students. For 6 of these measures (5%), Gunn students are 5 or more percentage points more satisfied than Paly students. This is an overwhelming difference, though it is completely consistent with the history of student and parent surveys for various WASC and strategic plan surveys."

How can anyone say that's not that different? Seriously?The school board thinks it's different.That's why the school board ordered Gunn to make a plan to improve and to consider TA.

Nobody's mom filled this out for them! The surveys were completed in math class. Unless moms are going to math with their kids which in PAUSD frankly I wouldn't doubt.

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Posted by palomino
a resident of Midtown
on Oct 9, 2012 at 7:59 pm

Palo Alto Unified? Hardly. Okay, this message ain't gonna be too unified, but that's because of just being sick sick sick of gunn's attitude towards a unified school district....Paly does counseling better...much better....gunn staff just can't get off their high horse sometimes...others can do things better despite your wonderful skills. You look like 1950s high school turf war characters ready for a rumble only this isn't a drag race, it's a failure the kids own because most gunn teachers do not wish to honestly confront the data table that points out a ratio of 422 to 7. Which HP Apple FaceBook Google Stanford Nasa Yahoo thinks this is good math? The Gunn staff does. We can land a craft on Mars but can't break stubborn habits of mind of gunn staff who are making Gunn's principal's job much harder... I do not support (well intentioned) counselors who are so overwhelmed that either they do not know the names of their students or are inaccessible to them. It is inconceivable that their personnel issues must be publicized because of this failure of leadership (again, on Dr Skelly's watch). It simply means people have to accept change, unless it's a change Gunn doesn't want.....

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Posted by take a gander at this
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 10, 2012 at 1:40 am

Palomino and Gunn Mom,

Before you decide which school's program is better, consider this (lifted from another post by Different data, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood, on Oct 5 and 6):

"The problem with the whole 'lets rush to adopt TA' push is that there is NO even close to conclusive evidence out there that TA works or excels in promoting positive outcomes for the students.

When Paly students were surveyed a few months ago about their TA system, only 33% said that their TA sessions were valuable.

When Paly's most troubled students went the extra step and sought out their guidance counselors, only half said they helped them.

When both high schools' 12th graders, after having had years and years of experience with their guidance systems, were asked if their system was a valuable resource, Gunn’s 72% approval beat Paly's 57% by a wide margin.

Web Link

Research that proves TA is better? None. A study about TA, out of the UC a year or two ago, says that the research on TA's benefits is "murky" at best.

Web Link

It is pretty risky to run a school board campaign based on a platform that data proves that Gunn needs to adopt Paly's TA model urgently and, even better, TA has been tried, tested and proven to be better for 20 years in our own hometown.

Ken Dauber's quote: Paly - "we have years of evidence that teacher advisory is delivering guidance services more effectively" than at Gunn.

Sure doesn't seem that way when I look at the data.


Barb Klausner said she was drawing from Ken Dauber's data but clicking through that link I see that Dauber's data does not include the survey questions and student responses I posted which show TA in a less glowing light.

Cherry-picking what raw data to look at and then saying that that data is conclusive evidence that TA is the cat’s meow is not objective decision making. It is what scientists call confirmation bias, actively seeking out information that confirms one's preconceptions and ignoring evidence that doesn't, leading to statistical errors.

In other words, be careful, statistics can lie."

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Posted by Paly parent
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Oct 10, 2012 at 4:43 am

Paly's TA system appears better, but everyone has their own story beyond statistics. My child spent 2nd semester at Gunn during sophomore year. The transfer was unexpected so I contacted the Paly TA to advise of the change. He honestly admitted he didn't know who my child was after a semester of meeting with his new advisees. While at Gunn, my child met with a guidance counselor one-on-one to look at personal records and discuss a 2-year plan. That one experience outweighed all the TA meetings my child later attended as a Paly junior and senior. With current Gunn and Paly principals coming from the other school, I had hoped the 2 "systems" would find a happier medium for a broader population of students. (I must add that my child also found Gunn staff far more responsive and sensitive to student needs in general.)

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Posted by paly Parent
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Oct 10, 2012 at 9:01 am

The Paly TA system has some pluses, but when my son was a senior his TA didn't remember that he was his TA even after having him for 3 years.

The guidance staff at Paly is wonderful.

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Posted by Parent
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 10, 2012 at 2:42 pm

I find it amazing that parents now blame high school counselors for their children not being admitted into top 25 universities. I think all the parent complaints we've heard in the last few years just boil down to the fact that parents can't accept that their kids won't go to Ivy Leagues. So, I have a suggestion: Let's make an Ivy League admission standard and part of the Palo Alto (Gunn and Paly) high school diploma.

Seriously, the real problem in high school in this city is the ridiculous expectations that parents have for their children. Eliminate this and most high school kids will be just fine, whatever the exact configuration of high school is.

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Posted by Parent of Gunn student
a resident of South of Midtown
on Nov 4, 2012 at 10:49 am

As a parent of a Gunn student with 'special needs', but not enough for an IEP, the counselors have exceeded our expectations in helping. The problem is that they don't have 'control' over the teachers. Most of the teachers have gone above and beyond in helping, but there still are teachers that choose to ignore all requests by both the counselors and parents. I understand that kids should be able to self-advocate at this age, but unless you have a 100% neurotypical kid, it isn't going to happen. My only hope is that those teachers that choose to ignore parents requests for small additional help and guidance with special needs kids, have some of their own. Hopefully they will be able to have better perspective on this issue and will be more open to helping parents and their children. We are not about the grades - we are about keeping our children from depression, anxiety and overloading in stress.

If you child falls anywhere in this category - you should talk to the counselor about 'avoiding' certain teachers that have well-known reputations for hating parents. (That is what the kids say, not me)

But overall, we are so happy with the counselors at Gunn.The staff has been amazing. Thank you.

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

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