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Officials to present 'lessons learned' from civil rights probe

Original post made on May 6, 2013

Palo Alto school officials will present "lessons learned" from a federal civil rights investigation into a bullying case at a Palo Alto middle school in a public Board of Education study session Tuesday, May 7.

Read the full story here Web Link posted Monday, May 6, 2013, 4:40 PM

Comments (27)

Posted by Kathy Sharp
a resident of Charleston Gardens
on May 6, 2013 at 5:47 pm

Re: Web Link

Dr Skelly, members of the Board and site administrators:

This proposal to change the Guidance Policy for Palo Alto Unified School District includes a wholesale elimination of any reference to Teacher Advisory and to special programs aimed at at-risk youth including but not limited to AVID, Focus on Success, and College Pathways. This is unacceptable and not in alignment with years of previous Board action on the subject of Guidance which supported these effective and important programs.

Melissa, Camile, Barbara, Dana and Heidi, I urge you NOT to adopt the policy as submitted by staff and to request re-instatement of the paragraphs that describe Teacher Advisory and special programs for at risk youth as part of the Guidance and Counseling Services delivery system.

Teacher Advisory is an Effective Program

Teacher Advisory has been found to be a very effective Guidance delivery method for Guidance Services. In the recent Strategic Plan survey, students and parents showed high levels of satisfaction with Paly's guidance services which includes Teacher Advisory. The Gunn Guidance Advisory Committee included the expansion of Titan 101 as a key recommendation. Titan 101 uses an advisory model to provide guidance curriculum.

Special Programs for At-Risk Youth Support the Goal of Reducing the Achievement Gap and Support A-G attainment

Special Programs for at-risk youth including AVID, Focus on Success and College Pathways are an important support to assist the District in closing the achievement gap. With A-G alignment, it is even more important to have programs in place which target youth who are at risk of not attaining A-G and thus not graduating. In the Board meeting of June 2012 and in the update provided in October, the Board encouraged Paly to explore implementation of the College Pathways program, recognizing its effectiveness at Gunn. This is not the time to eliminate support for at-risk youth from the guidance delivery system or from the Guidance Policy.

Without Board Policy, students are vulnerable to site based staff and budget changes.

The benefit of having a District wide service delivery model which is supported by and in compliance with Board policy is important to ensure comparability of services. Deleting Teacher Advisory and College Pathways from the Board policy on Guidance Services is not the way to achieve this objective; it only adds another layer of confusion for students, families and counseling staff at both high schools.

Eliminating reference to these important programs means that they are subject to changes in direction, staffing and funding at the site level. While there may be tacit agreement on the effectiveness of these programs today, as staff and administrators transition, the support can quickly evaporate leaving students vulnerable.

Guidance Service delivery requires continuity in order to effect change with individual students and communities of students over time. Lack of policy leaves individual site based programs subject to change due to staffing changes, administrative decisions and funding shifts leaving students vulnerable.

Lowest Common Denominator

In addition to removing the reference to Teacher Advisory, the policy inserts a paragraph that counseling staff will meet “annually” with students: "Counseling staff will provide, minimally, annual individual support to students in the selection and completion of coursework to meet the individual needs of each student and promote the broadest array of opportunities upon completion of high school."

This annual meeting has the effect of taking setting the bar for the provision of counseling services at the lowest common denominator. The new policy affirms that the annual meeting is good enough. The counseling surveys and data collected as part of the Strategic Plan Survey provided a clear response that an annual meeting with a counselor is not sufficient.

Unequal Impact - those most at risk get hurt by this policy change.

Students will be unevenly impacted by this Board policy change. Those students who are most at risk will potentially feel the biggest impact. Students who are wealthy and connected can continue to make use of private resources to supplement or supplant the academic and college planning support they receive at school. Adoption of the proposed policy perpetuates unequal access to services in our community and exaggerates the achievement gap.

I urge you to reject the proposed Guidance Policy drafted by staff and re-affirm previous Board decisions supporting Teacher Advisory and the College Pathways, AVID and Focus on Success programs. Ask staff to create a unified mission, vision, curriculum and evaluation system (metrics) which support comparable guidance delivery at the two high school campuses.


Kathy Sharp
Parent of Gunn Students Kevin Sharp '13 and Emma Sharp '11

Posted by Just Do It
a resident of Greene Middle School
on May 6, 2013 at 6:03 pm

[Post removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]

Posted by Do Your Job
a resident of Midtown
on May 6, 2013 at 7:26 pm

I hope the school board members really look at the kind of job Skelly has been doing when they are evaluating him and do a complete evaluation. The school board members have good data this time, nothing and I believe almost nothing has been hiding from them. So go board members and do what you have to do. I know your job is not easy, but you are there because you wanted the job, now do not fail us, because if you do, you are really failing thousands of kids, whose parents have signed up for the best education. We will wait for the results of the evaluation. Thanks Palo Alto Weekly for keeping us posted on this important issues. Great article.

Posted by Do Your Job
a resident of Midtown
on May 6, 2013 at 10:21 pm

Just in case you missed this posting I think is addressed to the board members:

Posted by the_punnisher, a resident of Mountain View, 1 hour ago
the_punnisher is a member (registered user) of Palo Alto Online


That is the REALITY, folks! I had already made public what OTHER BAY AREA DISTRICTS have done in similar cases and they satisfied OCR requests! Following that advice would have defused this volatile issue and set the PAUSD Administration and the Board on the right path.

That advice has been ignored, so reap what you have sown.

Once the CRIMINAL case is complete, the CIVIL cases begin. And " you ain't seen nothin' yet " applies.

The REAL gotcha: the District Insurance DOES NOT PAY FOR CRIMINAL ACTIONS of a School District ewmployee!

The lack of using the available County Consul means that Due Diligence was NOT followed.

Firing Skell and most of the Special Education Staff woulde show that the PAUSD Administration is now working in good faith. That action might " reset the clock " for OCR findings because of that good faith effort.

I repeat: Fire Skelly NOW! Or start expect to shell out big bucks in the future....for a LONG time...

Posted by Mom
a resident of Charleston Meadows
on May 6, 2013 at 11:30 pm

[Post removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]

Posted by Answers
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 7, 2013 at 1:12 am

[Portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff.] Housecleaning is needed. Holly Wade needs to go. Chris Grierson was brought up to a principalship too soon. He needs some time and experience to get his arrogance and flip attitude in check. Kathy Baker, she was a star in the Weekly in August, but that was before these few bits of truth and transparency were known. Leave the kids out of it, even the older ones. Focus on the big kids who we are paying millions of public dollars. We pay them a whole bunch for periods just like this: periods when we direct our representatives, the board, to fire, buyout, call it what you want, but to change the leadership without delays of years.

Dear board,

You blew it 12 months ago when you met in closed session and did not plan Skelly and Young' exit, instead you gave another year on Skelly's contract. You've lost trust, credibility, face, respect, and support from the parents that you represent. As our representatives, you have violated the civil rights of a child. Could any of you imagine that when you were young and receiving your first lessons about MLK or Cesar Chavez, or when you were at Stanford or Princeton? When you are a leader, there are no excuses. When you offer us excuses, you are not a leader.

Posted by village fool
a resident of another community
on May 7, 2013 at 6:48 am

@Answers - thank you.
@editor - I second Answers. No specific kid should be mentioned here, please.

Posted by Unearthly
a resident of Midtown
on May 7, 2013 at 7:05 am

[Post removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]

Posted by JLS dad
a resident of Esther Clark Park
on May 7, 2013 at 7:26 am

The question isn't why Skelly was hired in the first place as what to do now that it is apparent that the community no longer trusts him or has confidence in his leadership. It's not just a small group of stress activists anymore. A large majority of the Palo Alto parent community is ready for new leadership. The board is not suiting up and showing up for the tough job of giving him the bad news but rather they appear to be entirely under his control. Prediction: today after his evaluation they will announce his contract renewal for another year, and give him glowing reviews. Dana Tom is insufficiently strong, decisive, and firm and is not real leadership material.

Posted by Bob
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 7, 2013 at 8:31 am

> Dana Tom is insufficiently strong, decisive, and
> firm and is not real leadership material.

So .. how come the voters in the PAUSD (PA, Stanford and LAH) have voted him into office twice?

And .. how come no one seems to want him recalled and replaced with someone who is "sufficiently strong, decisive and firm"?

Sorry .. but the thousand of PAUSD voters seem to want this sort of person at the helm of their school system. Sad, that seems to be who PAUSD voters are at their core.

Posted by Mom
a resident of Charleston Meadows
on May 7, 2013 at 8:43 am

It was really OK with me that the editor erased my posting mentioning some kid earlier. However, have anyone reported it to the school or just erased the eye-sour and good to go?
I probably mentioned it here, hoping anyone who read my posting and heard the rumor somewhere might check out if the kid is OK at school.
I can tell that the school won't take it seriously if I report it. That's how it's been.

Posted by JLS dad
a resident of Esther Clark Park
on May 7, 2013 at 8:56 am

@Bob. Dana wasn't voted into office twice. He was elected once, then the second election was cancelled due to there being no candidate willing to run against two incumbents. Then he voted himself an extra year in office. So he will have served 9 years having been elected once. He is just not the kind of firm, strong, decisive leader we need in PAUSD. This is a serious real job helming a large organization with a nearly 200 million budget, thousands of employees, thousands of students (consumers), other stakeholders, and public-facing implications. Dana Tom is weak, indecisive, petulant, often moody, and seems to love cozying up to his alpha male Kevin Skelly. He's not the man to lead the district.

Posted by Bob
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 7, 2013 at 9:20 am

> Dana wasn't voted into office twice. He was elected once

Thanks for setting the record straight. However, you didn't address the point as to why he has not been recalled?

Posted by JLS dad
a resident of Esther Clark Park
on May 7, 2013 at 9:37 am

No mystery there -- recalls are expensive and time consuming. You cannot deduce that people think he is a strong, forceful leader doing a masterful job from the fact that he hasn't been recalled. The dog that does not bark in that dark night is not proof that no burgler was there.

Posted by VoxPop
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on May 7, 2013 at 9:54 am

With all the pitchforks and flaming torches out, and cries of "off with their heads," I think it's time to take stock.

There are about 11,000 children in PAUSD schools. There are about four cases of allegations of problems. Not to minimize whatever happened in those cases, this does not seem to be a huge number of incidents, given the size of the school population, the number of teachers and administrators, and the number of parents (who are not all without fault).

The district should certainly do its best to solve whatever problems exist, but let's keep things in perspective. In any organism the size of the PAUSD community there are almost certain to be problems with one thing or another. The job of the district is to minimize their number and severity. If you look at the numbers, the district has done pretty well.

Posted by Bob
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 7, 2013 at 10:08 am

> recalls are expensive and time consuming.

Maybe .. but if the recall is not scheduled as a special election, the costs are not all that great.

As to time consuming, give the various social and school networks that are available to PAUSD parents--it would seem that the necessary signatures needed to initiate a recall would not be that hard to collect--if in fact people wanted Dana Tom ousted.

Given that no one even voice a feeble opposition to the no-election selection of Tom a couple of years ago--it's hard to believe that most people care. What do you want to bet that no one outside the people with kids in school, and policy-wonks to pay attention to government, in general, even know who this fellow is?

Seems to me that Palo Alto gets what it wants--and it wants people like Dana Tom at the helm of its school board.

Posted by neighbor
a resident of another community
on May 7, 2013 at 10:59 am

[Post removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]

Posted by Mamacita
a resident of Greene Middle School
on May 7, 2013 at 11:05 am

Apparently, Kevin Skelly continues to learn nothing from all of this, and neither does the school board that continues to protect him.

Posted by conundrum
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on May 7, 2013 at 1:04 pm

@ JLS dad,
And the opposite is also true. "The dog that does not bark in that dark night is not proof that a burgler was there." However, which is the more likely?
No, the real reason he is still there is that there is no competition for the place. As we've seen in the recent election, even with competition, it tends to be weak. Getting him recalled is nigh on impossible. There just isn't any support for it.

Posted by Doc
a resident of College Terrace
on May 7, 2013 at 3:19 pm

It's ridiculous to blame one or even several incidents on one person. The Palo Alto community is hyperactive and hypervigilant about almost everything - and this is more a sign of a *community pathology*, rather than some part of the institutional structure of the community being dysfunction. Community, heal thyself!

Posted by village fool
a resident of another community
on May 7, 2013 at 3:42 pm

@Mom - you raise a good question. I read your deleted comment. I can not recall exactly - I understood the school was addressing the issue.
If I am wrong, I would hope that anyone who has concern as to the well being of a child would step forward. Better safe than sorry. I hope I am wrong, and you are not implying that feedback as to concerns of kids well being is not welcome.

Posted by Retired Teacher
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on May 7, 2013 at 5:23 pm

My kids went through the PAUSD, at Green Gables, now Duveneck, Jordan, and Paly. It was a fine--but not perfect--district then. It's a fine--but still not perfect--district now. There was some bullying then, and, amazingly, there's some now. What's different is that we didn't try to crucify the leadership of the District, even when we didn't agree with all of their decisions. And we didn't have an "Office of Civil Rights" out to create a big empire out of magnifying some minor mistakes and making them into federal crimes.

What we're seeing now is the power of a small minority, who failed to elect their representative to the Board of Education, to hamstring the district, in conjunction with the publisher of the Weekly, who magnifies every minor peccadillo into a major crime, and the aforementioned OCR and its excesses.

The PAUSD will be paying for these excesses for years to come.

I fully expect that the Weekly redactors will gut this post, as they do most efforts to support the district and its leadership.

Posted by Retired student
a resident of Downtown North
on May 7, 2013 at 6:41 pm

If the Office for Civil Rights is trying to build an empire, they are doing a poor job of it -- ony 15 districts out of 14,000 nationwide in the last 4 years have had a finding of noncompliance for disability harassment.

But I suspect that Retired Teacher isn't going to be diverted by facts. Somewhere there are some current students who don't know how lucky they really are.

Posted by Retired Teacher
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on May 7, 2013 at 6:53 pm

[Post removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]

Posted by Thanks for clarifying
a resident of Evergreen Park
on May 7, 2013 at 10:19 pm

By "The PAUSD will be paying for these excesses for years to come" I assume Retired Teacher is talking about the legal settlements we will be paying out to the victims of our staff's failure to follow federal law? An excellent point, thank you!

Posted by doc
a resident of College Terrace
on May 8, 2013 at 9:11 pm

@thanks for clarifying: "I assume Retired Teacher is talking about the legal settlements we will be paying out to the victims of our staff's failure to follow federal law?"

Yes, that will probably be the case, but that doesn't support the contention that PAUSD policy infrastructure is dysfunctional. When someone in your immediate family falls and skins their knee, do you blame someone else for not insisting they be more vigilant to every crack in the sidewalk? It would be nice to see balance, for once, in a community debate, but snark rules in this town - along with the unreasonable weight of the minority.

Add to that the nice chunk of change that the Weakly makes by exploding every little thing into a headline that implies the sky is falling. Bill Johnson is laughing all the way to the bank!

Posted by Answers
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 9, 2013 at 1:20 am

Again with the minority business. You sound just like Kevin Skelly and the board in minimizing the seriousness of the dysfunction of governance. First it was just one OCR complaint, so no big deal since the majority was doing so well, but then another and another surfaced, and the coverup began. One finding by the OCR of a civil rights violation was one too many and the other OCR complaints put it over the top. I have never sued anyone, but I cannot complain about these folks filing complaints. Our district is essentially leaderless. Our board has been bungling their way for the past six years and now have the lawyers running the show. It is so weak and substandard. It doesn't warrant my taxes, donations, or vote. I'm working towards a change.

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