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Gunn, district staff again defy school board on counseling

Original post made by Curious, Fairmeadow, on Jun 10, 2013

Three months after being told by the PAUSD school board to develop a 3-year plan to fully implement the recommendations of a parent-staff advisory committee on counseling, Gunn will return on Tuesday night with a plan that falls short of the board's directive.

The school board meeting comes on the heels of the district's 2013 strategic plan survey, which found "a large gap in non-academic counseling satisfaction across Gunn and Paly": 54% of parents at Gunn expressed satisfaction compared with 73% of Paly parents, and 58% of Gunn students versus 68% at Paly. See Web Link pp. 27-28. For availability of counselors, 63% of Gunn students and 75% of Paly students were satisfied, while for quality of support the gap was 60% versus 73%.

The study also found that for college and career counseling "overall satisfaction is much higher at Palo Alto High School." For example, 72% of Paly parents but only 46% of Gunn parents said that their students receive effective college counseling. These gaps tracked closely a 2012 district survey on counseling at the two high schools.

At its March 19 meeting, the school board heard the report of the Gunn Advisory Committee (GAC), which was appointed in fall 2012 to devise improvements in Gunn guidance counseling following a year and a half of controversy over a large gap in service and satisfaction with Paly. The committee's recommendations included dozens of measures, including an expansion of the Titan 101 freshman advisory program to include sophomores, juniors and seniors.

At the March meeting, board members told Gunn principal Katya Villalobos and PAUSD Director of Secondary Education Michael Milliken that they were unwilling to approve a one-year plan that lacked specifics on full implementation of the GAC recommendations. Board members also demanded a statement of who at Gunn would be responsible for each component of a multi-year plan. Villalobos and Milliken promised to return with a plan incorporating those details. See Web Link

The Gunn proposal, for which Villalobos and Milliken are seeking approval on Tuesday, does not mention many of the GAC recommendations, including the expansion of Titan 101. It also does not identify staff members responsible for implementation. Instead, it proposes a "Creative Scheduling Committee" composed of parents and staff that would meet in the fall and winter of 2013-2014, culminating in a vote of Gunn staff in March 2014. See Web Link

Board members expressed their frustration during the March meeting at the lack of specifics about how to define or achieve comparable guidance services between Paly and Gunn. At that meeting, Milliken admitted under questioning from trustee Melissa Caswell that he had deliberately instructed the GAC not to consider comparability, despite the Board of Education's instruction to the contrary. Milliken also told the board that he would be unable to define "comparable" until fall 2013 at the earliest. Milliken announced last week that he is leaving PAUSD to assume the superintendency at the Belmont-Redwood Shores school district.

The Gunn proposal is the latest development in a years-long struggle over what to do about the gap in parent and student satisfaction with guidance services between Paly, which has a teacher advisory guidance model, and Gunn. In 2008 Noreen Likins, then Gunn principal, pushed for a teacher advisory model with strong student support. Resistance from staff and Likins' resignation stalled the effort, but contributed to the rollout of Titan 101 in 2011.

In 2012 a district survey found large gaps in satisfaction and services between Gunn and Paly, but the school board's directive to Gunn to consider teacher advisory in response foundered on staff resistance, led by Superintendent Kevin Skelly. See Web Link

Comments (29)

Posted by Curious fan
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Jun 10, 2013 at 11:07 pm

Thanks curious! I <3 your posts. Wow those numbers are just stunning. The gaps are huge in satisfaction between Paly and Gunn. Can't wait to hear Mumbles Milliken try to explain those. Maybe everyone who is happy with Gunn counseling was stuck in traffic the week of the survey. Power outage. No Internet. Also, they could have had chicken pox. Or the dog ate the surveys of those who were happy with counseling. Maybe all the people who were happy with Gunn counseling were meeting with their counselors for long, personal sessions in which they received excellent personal service during the week of the survey and had no time to answer the survey. There must be some explanation other than the fact that Paly's TA system is just a lot better and parents and students are a lot happier with it. We already know that can't be true.

Posted by Proof is in the Test Scores
a resident of Hoover School
on Jun 10, 2013 at 11:17 pm

Gunn is obviously so superior because of the higher test scores! If the test scores are high then it must mean that the students are getting good counseling. The Paly people are just jealous of all of the Ivy League placements that the Gunners get. It's as simple as that. Why doesn't Paly just quit trying to wipe it's system on Gunn. We Gunners are headed to the stratosphere with our overly awesome test scores.

Posted by Crescent Park Dad
a resident of Crescent Park
on Jun 11, 2013 at 6:10 am

[Post removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]

Posted by Curious fan
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Jun 11, 2013 at 10:22 am

I think its awful that all those parents and staff took all that time to serve on the GAC only to see their recommendations ignored and not implemented. I also think its unbelievable that that board keeps saying that they want comparable services and the district and Gunn admins keep ignoring that direction. There should be by now a plan to make Gunn comparable to Paly, with a timeline, metrics, a person assigned responsibility for each task, and accountability. When is someone going to make this staff see the light? Look at this statistic from the strategic plan survey:

46% of Gunn parents think that their student received "effective college counseling" compared with 72% of Paly parents.

Why aren't we done with this yet? We have a 25 point gap in satisfaction with COLLEGE COUNSELING. This isn't about touchy-feely social-emotional health (where there are also huge gaps). This is about whether your kids get effective college counseling, Gunn parents. Are you kidding me? How does the school board think it is doing its job when its own strategic plan survey shows that half the people in PAUSD are getting royally shafted in what we all agree is one of the most important areas, college advising. What gives? Why would we let the teachers vote on whether or not to fix that problem? That's your solution?

Let's get this straight. Suppose that we discovered that on the north side of town, police response to burgler alarms was 5 minutes, but on the south side of town, it was a hour. Would we let the police officers patrolling the south side of town vote on whether or not to decrease their response time to equal that of the north side?

What if we found that fire stations on the north side of town respond to 911 calls within 6 minutes and routinely save burning homes and businesses, but on the south side, they get there after the house has burned to the ground. Would we let the slower fire station VOTE on whether or not to improve to the level of the northside?

What on earth is going on with PAUSD's board that they can't see what is going on? Here's my hypothesis: THERE ARE NO GUNN PARENTS OR FORMER GUNN PARENTS ON THIS BOARD. Four of the five are Paly parents, and Heidi has never had a child in high school. When her children get to Gunn she will understand the problem but of course it will be too late for the thousands of kids who will graduate between now and then and get inadequate college counseling.


Posted by Proof is in the test scores
a resident of Hoover School
on Jun 11, 2013 at 12:17 pm

Why are those present Gunners and future Gunners not connected to the school board or admins.? Of course I forgot that the top guy in the district (mr. Skelly) is. GUnner parent. Yikes!! That is scarey!! I think he will be a Gunner parent for at least one more year assuming he still has a job. That means that our Superintendent mr. Skelly is THE TOP GUNNER!

Posted by paly parent
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Jun 11, 2013 at 1:02 pm

Pretty simply, the Gunn admin and teachers do not want to adopt the Paly counseling program and do not want to make the changes recommended by their own Gunn committee so they are delaying as long as possible. The BOE and Dr. Skelly can only do so much, they come up against union rules regarding what teachers can be required to do.

This isn't an issue of North vs. South or Paly vs. Gunn parents on the BOE (if you want Gunn parents on the board, then Gunn parents need to run).

Posted by Curious fan
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Jun 11, 2013 at 1:22 pm

"The BOE and Dr. Skelly can only do so much, they come up against union rules regarding what teachers can be required to do."

There are no union rules that prevent implementation of a TA system at Gunn. There is one at Paly -- same union, same rules. Dr. Skelly isn't doing it because he is personally hostile to TA. The Board isn't making him because the board is useless. This is not about the union rules this is about Skelly refusing to follow Board direction and the board failing to hold him accountable.

"This isn't an issue of North vs. South or Paly vs. Gunn parents on the BOE"

Yes it is. Don't be silly. That's exactly what it is. Gunn is the poor relation. What we are being given is a system that is plenty good for the immigrant and less well-off residents of South Palo Alto, which is to say, severely inferior. This has been proved to be the case over and over and over. There has been study after study, committee after committee. Last time the BOE heard a staff report, Michael Milliken announced that he had personally decided to simply tell the GAC that they didn't have to consider comparability. Did he experience any consequences for that act of insubordination?

Posted by Hmmmm
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 11, 2013 at 3:45 pm

Curious Fan,

When you look at student responses, Gunn rated less favorably but not by lots.

Gunn students say that they want more time with their counselors which could be why they answered the way they did. That is easy to fix. Gunn just needs to match Paly’s spending. Resources are not infinite though, so shifting money means that something else will get short shrift, undoubtedly earning it lower ratings next survey round.

No fear mongering on college counseling please. 74% Paly compared to 65% Gunn is hardly an earthshaking difference and nothing close to the "royal shaft" label you put on it.

And your claim that "we all agree" that college counseling "is one of the most important areas," you might want to look again. Our community placed it 7th.

According to our community, THE most important thing our schools do – by a wide margin- is academics where PAUSD gets a 90% approval rating.

Posted by Gunn parent
a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Jun 11, 2013 at 4:01 pm

I don't know what your definition of "lots" is but the gap among students regarding college counseling is 10 points. I call that lots. And whe viewed in context it is clear that it isn't just time it's also quality. Those gaps are just indefensible. You are saying gunn parents should be satisfied even if they get less because its cheaper. Thanks.

Posted by Proof is in the test scores
a resident of Hoover School
on Jun 11, 2013 at 4:10 pm

Let's face it, the gunners win hands down when it comes to test scores and everybody knows it test scores are the most important thing!!

Higher test scores equals more Ivy League appointments!!

Is that really what PAUSD district is all about?


Just get with the program Paly and figure out how you can get more people into Ivies like those Gunners.

Gunners rule!

Posted by Terman dad
a resident of Fletcher Middle School
on Jun 11, 2013 at 4:22 pm

I have been watching this for two years now, and its moved from comedy to tragedy to farce. It will probably settle down into tragedy. I thought sure my daughter (8th grade next year) would get a decent counseling support when she gets to Gunn. Now I doubt it.
This is absolutely an issue of North v. South. Dana Tom, Melissa Caswell, Barb Mitchell all live in the rich part of town. Camille Townsend is in the Paly district. I guess the new one, Emberling, is in the Gunn district but doesn't know what is coming.
If Paly had this kind of gap for this long, the school board would be moving heaven and earth to fix it.

Posted by paly parent
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Jun 11, 2013 at 4:36 pm

Curious - my reference to union rules just meant that I don't believe teachers can be "forced" to do anything besides teach. If teachers at Gunn don't want a TA a system, they can't be forced to volunteer to be a TA. I don't think Skelly is hostile to a TA system, I think he is reluctant to try to implement something that does not have buy-in from the Gunn teachers.

Gunn is not the poor relation, they have great teachers, great students and great test scores. There is however, a big difference in the level of involvement of the parents from both areas, that is reflected in all kinds of things from who coaches little league to who runs for school board.

Hmmm- thanks for bringing up resources. Gunn CHOOSES to spend less money on their whole counseling program than Paly. I believe they spend more money on small English classes because they have a larger portion of ESL kids (almost 10% of Gunn students are ESL), I think Mandarin is actually the second highest "language spoken at home" for the Gunn students, even more than Spanish. A number of families from Taiwan and China view Gunn as a "private" school option for them, for the cost of renting an apartment for their child, they can send them to a top school.

Posted by paly parent
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Jun 11, 2013 at 4:46 pm

Terman dad - yep, most of the School Board (and the City Council) are from north Palo Alto. If people want more representation from south Palo Alto, the need to run for office! It will not magically happen. There are also more little league coaches, etc. from north Palo Alto, all of which tells me that parents are more willing to volunteer.

And to everyone that considers north Palo Alto "rich", yes there are people with money, but there are also lots of renters and people that struggle. Paly and Gunn have a pretty equal number of "socio-economically disadvantaged" students, Gunn has about 8.6%, Paly has 7.7%.

Posted by Barron Parker
a resident of Barron Park
on Jun 11, 2013 at 5:46 pm

I am absolutely in sync with terman dad. I know teachers at Gunn who would love to be a TA. There is a group of teachers many of them Instructional Supervisors who run the school along with the union and they don't want TA. I like Katya but she lets them run right over her. Dr. Skelly doesn't want TA at Gunn, didn't you read the stories last year about he told them not to do it even though the school board said to?
What can we do about the school board not caring about Gunn students? I don't care why they don't care, and I don't want to hear about having to elect people from south of Oregon to get decent services at Gunn. Barb Mitchell is the worst, she really doesn't want to do anything for Gunn. She is loving this long delay, it is exactly what she was trying to do all last year.

Posted by Hmmmm
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 11, 2013 at 6:06 pm

Gunn parent,

I agree. There is room for improvement. But moving to TA that 1 out of 4 Paly students are unhappy with is not something I'd do before a lot of digging to see what about TA missed the mark for so many students.

I don't agree. The satisfaction spread between the two schools - about a 10% lower satisfaction rate - is important to note but likely in the noise.

I'll say again. It is a matter of the choices the schools make. Gunn invests slightly more to provide academic support where needed according to Paly parent and so, no surprise, it typically rates slightly higher than Paly on academic measures. (Recall that our community just called out academics as its #1 priority so most would say that was money well spent.) Paly spends slightly more on counseling (ranked 7th) and so it slightly trumps Gunn on that.

All that is going on here is that Gunn's past priorities didn't happen to align with yours.

You and other posters should be thrilled now that Gunn moved counseling to the top of its to do list and is implementing a 100+ page improvement plan.

Web Link

To the poster who commented on the mental health of Gunn students: The two schools are identical on "at risk" emotional measures: eating disorders, depression, suicide attempts.

Web Link

So why are you all still so unhappy? That this very complicated thing called counseling didn't get changed yesterday?

We all should be thankful that Gunn is taking the time needed to make sure that changes will be done well. I don't see any subtext or conspiracy, just lots of prudent planning.

Posted by village fool
a resident of another community
on Jun 11, 2013 at 6:39 pm

@Curious - Thank you. I am also a Curious fan. I hope you will be able to follow up on some issues you raised recently. After reading your posting, above, I added the following to my Open Address to Ken Dauber calling to form a Shadow Board -
Dear Mr. Dauber - Sorry for my late address. I learned only last night that the board was going to follow up on the Gunn guidance issues (Thank you "Curious"). I am sorry - I did have ample time to collect my facts, research.
Almost three months have passed since I first addressed you, calling to look, basically, into the iceberg, the possibility of Pandora Box.
As far as I recall - only documents that were provided after exercising the Brown act revealed that Gunn officials were instructed, sometime way in the past, not to consider the "North" TA program. I do not know if these instructions were ever retracted.
I have listed an imaginary King family above - may I suggest to have in mind, when considering the following, a potential academically driven kid of this family? It seems to me that this family may reflect the "silent majority" - those who can not afford private college planing and application counseling or do not have the access to in house advice that many in Palo Alto have, naturally.
Few questions that come to my mind, below, using North and South (a notion mentioned many times). Obviously, I am no professional in polling etc.
1. Is it possible that not all within the school system feel free to speak their minds?
2. Is there any way to figure out the root of Gunn's teachers resistance to the system used in the North? Especially important if the answer to #1 is yes.
3. Was Gunn ever given freedom to explore all options?
4. Is it possible to really know how effective the north system is ?
4.1 Is there any way to know % of those who are satisfied that use some outside support for college planing and applying?
4.2 Any way to know if the King family ever responded?
4.3 Any way to know if the King kids ever responded?
5. Is it possible that the South satisfaction level responses are impacted by knowing what is going on in the North?
6. Is it possible that those who did well in the North would have done the same in the South, and vice versa? specific students do not have control group.
Basically I am suggesting the possibility that the data available now may be contaminated by the lack of transparency and lack of best practices. When there is fear of retaliation and lack of transparency everything is possible.
link - Web Link

Posted by D.A. Whitewater
a resident of Fletcher Middle School
on Jun 11, 2013 at 6:58 pm

If even one person in a school knows them well enough to care, a student's chances of success go up dramatically. In small groups that can focus on a range of subjects without the usual teacher evaluation layered on top of the relationship, teachers and students can form new bonds and set new standards for a personalized education experience. What parent would not want the chance for their child to experience this with a teacher? Why is advisory provided for my children 6-9th grade and then discontinued when they need it the most?

Posted by Hmmmm
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 11, 2013 at 7:03 pm

Barron Parker,

Grabbed this off an old thread which shows that the board did NOT tell Gunn to switch its counseling to Paly's TA program.

Board Member Barb Klausner to Gunn:

"'I hope you, Tom and your guidance department did not interpret the suggestions for change to be a negative reflection on any of your work thus far. As I stated last night, after reading the report and finally understanding the way the Gunn system works, I am that much more impressed by what our counselors ARE able to achieve.'"

Posted by parent
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 11, 2013 at 7:34 pm

Four parents spoke tonight during the counseling part of the meeting. [Portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff.] How many parents are there at Gunn? If this was a huge problem, there would certainly be more parents there.

Posted by Rewriting history
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jun 11, 2013 at 11:00 pm

Nobody said that the board told Gunn to switch its counseling model. The board noticed that Gunn delivers worse services than Paly, and told them to consider TA. From one of the articles linked above:

"But several school board members expressed "a sense of urgency" for Gunn to explore changes, pointing to student survey results indicating consistently higher levels of satisfaction with counseling at Palo Alto High School than at Gunn High School.

Though saying they were loath to dictate specifics, a majority of board members suggested Gunn shift to a counseling system closer in structure to that at Paly, which augments its four-member guidance-counseling staff with 46 "teacher advisers" and several college counselors."

That said, the school board tonight folded up, and accepted a plan from Gunn that includes only small changes, with no requirement for showing comparability. Only Caswell tried to push back, but Tom abandoned his earlier support for change at Gunn, leaving her without allies. Tom in particular seemed to have lost interest in the issue of equity between Paly and Gunn. Clearly geography matters on the schoolboard.

Posted by Not curious anymore
a resident of Midtown
on Jun 11, 2013 at 11:19 pm

The board broke faith with the Gunn parent community who showed up to serve for a year on the GAC. The whole thing was a bad faith stall and delay and it worked. Well played Board your string of getting pwned by Skelly is unbroken. Worst moment; Dana Tom's weird hissy fit about how data doesn't matter. Best moment: when Trinity Klein lied about having sought feedback from the GAC parents and one of the parents happened to be there and called her out. Runner up: when Klein and villalobos trashed Titan 101 in an effort to not have to expand it. Bottom line: there will never be comparable counseling at Gunn. [Portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]

Posted by in due time
a resident of Gunn High School
on Jun 11, 2013 at 11:34 pm

Heidi is very sweet but she is hopelessly naive and unprepared for the job she now has. But in due time, her kids will get to Gunn and she will know exactly how bad she handled this. We can take some minor satisfaction from that inevitable fact.

Posted by Well-deserved
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 12, 2013 at 6:58 am

You have the board you deserve: unresponsive, lost, and leaderless. None of their work has helped kids. Never have I seen local politicians fight so hard for petty positions. None of the board members will go on to higher office. They simply lack the talent. As for Kevin Skelly, he'll have his salary for three more years, thanks to Barbara Klausner and the other four one year ago. Skelly's next evaluation, in closed session so not for you and me, is next week and nothing will come out of it. He'll get his $300K in salary and perks for superficial task forces, study sessions, and committees. Skelly has played this community well by waiting out critics, withholding information, and digging in, none of this in the interests of kids. Critics need to applaud his effort. He beat you and kept his job. This is a town of citizens with money and prestigious degrees, but to admit that they got deceived would be an admission of a collective lack of intelligence.

Posted by Stop
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 12, 2013 at 7:10 am

Not curious anymore,

[Portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]

As for trashing Titan 101 - it was students who expressed reservations about it and what I heard at the board meeting is that Gunn is trying to respond to their concerns. It is no surprise that students are not keen on "forced" getting-to-know you sessions. Would you be? (Despite what parents said at the board meeting last night, not everything kids dislike is good for them. This tack - adults know better - is a complete 180 from Ken Dauber's "listen to the kids" plea when the guidance discussions started last year btw.)

Twisting the story, disregarding student interests, and placing blame is not what Gunn is doing.

What it is doing is implementing the Gunn advisory committee's recommendations: listening to students, upping college counseling by staffing a new office for it, adding more counselors so they will have more time for students, forming small group counseling sessions to give students more touch points, developing a standardized counseling curriculum so all students are sure to get the same material, improving Titan 101 by increasing the role of peer mentors, etc.

No part of that reads "bad faith stall and delay."

As for showing comparability, didn't PAUSD last night promise to put out annual guidance satisfaction surveys? Given that survey results started this discussion last year, survey results will continue to be a very useful tool for measuring comparability and identifying where adjustments are needed.

Posted by not curious anymore
a resident of Midtown
on Jun 12, 2013 at 7:50 am

They aren't implementing the GAC recommendations. They are implementing very selectively. Only 12/40 recommendations are implemented (a slight improvement since in March only 8/40 were implemented). The Board told them to come back with a timeline and plan to implement all 40 including dates and person(s) responsible, and to work with the GAC to do it. None of that happened. There is no timeline to implement these recommendations. Staff cherry-picked what they wanted to do, threw away the rest, and then lied to the board and said that they had "run it by" the GAC. You are obviously staff, so let me tell you that it is incredible to me how easily you just lie. Trinity Klein just flat out lied about having sought feedback from the GAC parents when directly asked by Melissa Caswell. Only because a mom from the GAC was there did she get caught. But it didn't matter. It's not like anyone stopped and said "why did you just say that?" or "Let's make sure that happens so come back when it does." Those parents on the GAC were window dressing, and now everyone knows it. On suicide: right now Gunn has a student/counselor ratio of 275:1 at best. Paly has 75:1 at worst, plus a grade level counselor. The board said that comparable services included the ratio, touchpoints, and division of labor. But then it folded up like a cheap suit, declared the issue concluded and that is that. So sorry, Gunn students. When the epidemic happened, there weren't enough adults at Gunn in touch with students. There still aren't but now that has receded into memory. As Camille said, look at all those colleges painted on the graduating seniors hats! Look at the pretty hats! How can anything be wrong in a school with all the colorful hats? She's a joke, but this is no joking matter. Sorry students, parents tried.

Posted by Gunn booster
a resident of Barron Park
on Jun 12, 2013 at 8:08 am

[Post removed due to same poster using multiple names]

Posted by Stop
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 12, 2013 at 8:28 am

[Post removed due to same poster using multiple names]

Posted by wally
a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Jun 13, 2013 at 4:19 pm

"Let's get this straight. Suppose that we discovered that on the north side of town, police response to burgler alarms was 5 minutes, but on the south side of town, it was a hour. Would we let the police officers patrolling the south side of town vote on whether or not to decrease their response time to equal that of the north side?"

Apples to Oranges. What if even with an hour response time, the south side burglaries were solved at 75% vs 50% up north with a 5 minute response time?

Thats apples to apples.

Posted by gunn site council
a resident of Gunn High School
on Jun 13, 2013 at 4:30 pm

Finally it is decided that the TA program is not worth the expense. If it was any good then the board would insist on having it at Gunn. But they decided it isnt worth it. what Gunn has is good enough for district students. That is really good news because that means we can save a lot of money ending TA and putting in Gunns system at Paly. I hope now that the board can look at why we are maintaining a wasteful and expensive TA program at Paly. Those Paly students deserve the same great program we have at Gunn. We need to bring comparable services to district students and the right way to do that is to replicate Gunns system and get rid of TA. What do you think Paly parents? You're fine with that right?

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