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Superintendent emphasizes need for review, unity, proactivity

Original post made on Aug 13, 2014

On the second day of the Palo Alto school board's annual retreat, new Superintendent Max McGee introduced six ambitious goals for the district, which the board provided feedback on and asked him to further develop before they decide which ones to adopt.

Read the full story here Web Link posted Wednesday, August 13, 2014, 6:50 PM

Comments (50)

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Posted by Geoff Ball
a resident of Downtown North
on Aug 13, 2014 at 7:42 pm


I want to focus on, "The board immediately found issue with the phrasing of McGee's first-listed goal, which used the term "consistency" to promote evenness in curriculum, instruction and assessment -- while aiming to still allow individual schools' autonomy."

There are strategies for developing strategies that focus on two goals /values that are seemingly contradictory) and finding ways to advance BOTH goals. This is particularly important when BOTH goals are ESSENTIAL to organizational vitality and success. Names applied are 'dilemmas thinking' and 'polarity management.' Rather than choosing one value over the other, the need is to think about both at the same time. Unfortunately, few people have much experience with this type of thinking.

Some references:
Web Link - see especially their 'polarity map" (search on Google)
Web Link - download papers on dilemmas.

Another by Collins and Poras, Built to Last - "No Tyranny of Either-Or" A website that describes this tyranny is
Web Link

One I wrote - Dilemmas Thinking – Creating a Context for our Conversations.doc is not currently on my website though I will put it up with a link from my home page as soon as possible.

As E. Scott Fitzgerald pointed out, "The test of a first rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in the mind at the same time, and still retain the ability to function."' This is exactly what the visionary companies are able to do." (From Built to Last).

All the best

Geoff Ball
Palo Alto Resident with Grandsons in PAUSD

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Posted by parent
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 13, 2014 at 8:37 pm

"being proactive rather than reactive when problems arise"

Amen, amen, amen!

[Portion removed.]

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Posted by Parent
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 13, 2014 at 9:23 pm

Yes, this is highly needed!

"1. Create conditions that assure consistency in curriculum, instruction and assessment . . ."

The students' experience in class is so dependent upon the teacher. Some teachers torture while others teaching the same subject next door are reasonable, fantastic teachers. The teachers who torture are usually the new, young teachers who don't understand the impact of their challenging expectations. They are over-enthusiastic and think every student should love the subject as they do. They expect their students to put an exceptional amount of time into studying and homework and are ignorant of the fact that students have 5-6 other classes with schoolwork. Since they are young, they are control freaks, doling out few As and have no problem distributing C grades to hardworking students. They feel that if they give out too many good grades, the students won't respect them. In reality, they end up disrespected because everyone dreads being in their class. The only way to deal with these teachers is for parents to pay for tutors or do the work for the student because the expectations are too high. And this makes it unfair for the students with complacent parents.

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Posted by Very concerned
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 13, 2014 at 9:41 pm

I am going to give the benefit of the doubt that with Goal #1, there will be some relief from the pity poor inconsistent practices that happen at all levels.

However, the lack of mention about social emotional HEALTH of students is of great concern. Adding to this, the phrase "To prepare students for a future that necessitates global collaboration and competition, cultivate support for a district-wide culture that expects, advances, inspires and promotes academic excellence, hard work, active engagement and perseverance for every student."

This type of competitive mania talk is backwards, imho. It kills independent thinking. Is this part of the "collective" deal as well?

Thankfully the social emotional concerns are somewhere in the strategic plan, so it may be up to site control to get innovative ways to kill the work overload?

Anyone there to help me understand how the goal of creating even harder working students is going to meld with health concerns?

Are we back to Math wars here?

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Posted by Apex
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 13, 2014 at 9:42 pm

The mere discussion of accountability, consistency, and detrimental problems is a new development, it almost signals that reflection and evaluation might transform a district better than rote cheerleading. Of course, the board is still more interested in saving face by lashing out at the OCR, thus they are not exactly receptive to any goal that hints that their leadership has been detrimental to instruction and students. And yes, Charles Young must be replaced. It's hard to type that because he has worked with the lawyers to monitor and influence what comments remain up on this forum. Let me know if you need the link to the article he wrote with the district lawyer. For his critics, you may have to abstain from writing your criticism publicly because this will prevent the rebuilding of his brand which would facilitate his employment in another district. He does not have an effective future here. Trust remains an issue, as does basic competency. Max is also tasked with brand rebuilding, but for PAUSD. The video featuring all the principals on the website lacks charm and presents a motley crew of leaders that are uninspiring at best. This district is definitely in a years'-long funk, and these goals may be the apex of Max's tenure, unless he gets some reform-minded folks on the board in November.

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Posted by Parent
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 13, 2014 at 9:54 pm

Speaking of control freaks.

Am I the only one wondering if the 3 evals for McGee are so Mitchell has a final parting shot in November? She manipulates the election cycle to hang on another few years and now wants to leave her bony imprints on our new super. Let's hope she doesn't poison his enthusiasm and honest communication with parents. November can't come too fast. Any hope the eval is after the election?

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Posted by Parent
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 13, 2014 at 10:10 pm

Social-emotional health of students will improve if the teachers become more aligned with balanced workloads. Don't confuse this with dumbing-down the curriculum. There are many fantastic teachers who teach well and the students learn without wanting to self-destruct. Why does rigor equate with learning? If anything, too much information makes it more difficult to actually learn and remember because the student is too stressed out with too many worthless details.

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Posted by Very concerned
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 13, 2014 at 10:15 pm

I liked the video, and a lot of great people on it. I also liked that it does speak to the "collective."

I just don't like the global competition talk and students having to work even harder, when sometimes we're not even sure what they're supposed to be working on.

Yesterday it was standardized tests, today it's Common Core, there is Everyday Math, and before it was California Math. "Everyday", "California," and whatever the next big thing is - that alone makes students work harder. It's one switch after another. Has Math changed that much? Not really, neither has any other subject.

What matters is how students are responding, and that has to do with health. Tired business talk about competition is unnecessary. These are young people who deserve better.

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Posted by Not so worried anymore
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 13, 2014 at 10:50 pm

I'm changing my handle.

Upon reading the article again, I'm not so worried. The new Superintendent seems to get it, and his fresh eyes have already helped (with honesty). The Board appears to be trying to keep things within some unspoken Palo Alto way, which nobody has really agreed to in the first place.

Max- keep going.

Since you can't do it all, I would focus on the collective, it will help find the problems. The competitive part will take care of itself after that, this is where Palo Alto is irrepressible.

KEY is this point.

"McGee stressed that there need to be concrete review and evaluation processes for new practices or programs at every level of the district – from special education to the IT department – in order to have "outcome metrics and deliverables" that the board can act on.

"It's important here to have this district-wide system," he said. "I think it's critical."


Please don't mess this up.

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Posted by ILikeThisGuyAlready
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Aug 13, 2014 at 10:59 pm

Six very good goals, all relevant and timely.

I really like three elements of this which tie together: consistency, innovation and problem finding. This is like a short list of our current weaknesses .

The strategic surveys regularly bemoan teacher inconsistency; not only is it unfair, in the worst case low quality teaching and poor classroom management drive student disengagement.

Problem seeking is something we are unaccustom to in the district, but the tech community uses this all the time: find a problem and you are on the first step to innovation. Solve the problem and you move your teaching methods forward. Share this technique with your peers (consistency) and you move the whole organization forward. Using problem seeking, innovation and sharing/disseminating together and suddenly a problem-rich environment becomes a trove of innovation.

Why hasn't this happened alredy?

Current leadership at the sites are not problem seeking, but rather more adept at covering mistakes. This preserves the status quo, and misses the opportunity to innovate. We gotta pry the out from under their rock. You can start at Jordan.

Additionally, current approaches at innovation start from a mixed initial set of capabilities. Some teachers are good (have successful strategies and methods), some do not. Asking for new ideas from someone using substandard methods is a mess - sometimes you get kludgy fixes to problems of their own making, often times you get puzzled looks - it's always true that the fastest improvement is to move ALL teachers to use best practices immediately. This is fast and efficient, as nothing 'new' needs to be discovered. Collaboration and encouragement from leadership is all that is required - the ideas already exist somewhere in the organization. (Consistency)

True innovation then focuses on solving problems and improving methods where it has NEVER been done by anyone. This is where problem seeking helps - no point in solving a problem your neighboring teacher already knows; far easier to just ask them. However seeking new problems and trying multiple solutions helps you find what works best.

Consistency, problem seeking, and innovation work together when managed well.

I like this guy already.

Now he just needs to put all his weight on the rudder of this Titanic...and find site management who 'Get It'.

Good Luck, and welcome to Palo Alto !

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Posted by village fool
a resident of another community
on Aug 13, 2014 at 11:57 pm

PAUSD board decided unanimously to challenge Federal agency - Web Link, Web Link

Superintendent's stand?

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Posted by Paly parent
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Aug 14, 2014 at 3:22 am

Interesting. The board seems to want to maintain the status quo of lack of accountability at the school sites. Look for them to try to favor candidates in the election who will work to hinder the superintendent.

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Posted by Oldtimer
a resident of Crescent Park
on Aug 14, 2014 at 7:01 am

Barb Mitchell has long wanted to have a weak district office and strong principals. It fits with her libertarian ideology. That is also behind her leading the fight with the federal government. Can she maintain that position as a lame duck? It seems as though the other board members are still going along with her.

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Posted by ILikeThisGuy
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Aug 14, 2014 at 7:15 am

In fact, what has been obvious for a while is that we have immature leadership at district and sites for a while now . By immature, I mean problem hiders, and accountability avoidance. This is typical of 'adolescent' managers - usually new to the position and unsure of their role and authority . Often lacking good role models. What is odd is the long-term arrested development of the management team - it was four years ago that Klausner called out Skelly for hiding the OCR problem.

That was the obvious sign we had a problem -hiding culture that extended to the top of the organization.

You can only hide the problems for so long...

A mature accountable management seeks out problems without fear, and actively looks for solutions.

No more pooping in a box and hiding it in the closet...

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Posted by ILikeThiGuy
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Aug 14, 2014 at 7:18 am

Correction: 2years ago Klausner called out the OCR hiding problem.

... Seems like a lifetime ago.

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Posted by Midtown Parent
a resident of Midtown
on Aug 14, 2014 at 8:32 am

Looking forward to fresh eyes and approach.

I understand that everyone likes to work in a happy, congenial atmoshphere but the Board has its priorities in the wrong place. The classroom needs to be improved not at the expense of a "happy", secretive Board. Quality standards and homework within reason and with a reason, is really needed.

I hope that Mr. McGee can promote change, honest communitcation, and transparancy of different ideas vs. the Board's homogenous, stick-your-head-in-the-sand, keep-your-nose-out-of-our business approach.

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Posted by Apex
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 14, 2014 at 8:37 am

Barbara Klausner did nothing of the sort with OCR. She put on some theatre at a board meeting in spring 2012 complaining about a Kevin Skelly governance problem and then was all smiles the following meeting, giving Skelly two more years on his contract. Proper board leadership would not have robotically added two more dysfunctional years to Skelly's contract, but if you remember, the board was still in the mode that everything was awesome and that there were just a handful of rabble-rousers causing problems, which is a narrative that Tabitha Hurley and the board are still trying to message us today. What Max has done that is so earth-shattering is hint that there are systemic issues that have not been addressed by Skelly and the.board. Sadly, it seems like the board is taking the buffet route of selecting goals that go along with their charade at the June board meeting in which they read prepared statements about how the OCR is being mean to them. Klausner did nothing during her four years and seeing her self-promoting appearance at Skelly's last meeting in June was insulting.

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Posted by more of the same
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Aug 14, 2014 at 9:12 am

"but if you remember, the board was still in the mode that everything was awesome and that there were just a handful of rabble-rousers causing problems,"

And what have we found out? Apart from the first 2 ALL the rest of the OCR complaints have been found in the districts favor.

You really need to get over this. OCR & Special Ed hearings happen. Just that in Palo Alto there are far fewer than in the neighboring districts. Check out the data before posting.

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Posted by Not so worried anymore
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 14, 2014 at 10:47 am

"McGee's sixth goal – "Generate a mindset of collective community learning that works collaboratively and actively to identify, prevent and solve strategic problems that are detrimental to teaching and learning"

"Board member Camille Townsend said she thought the use of the word "detrimental" is jarring. Others expressed that "generate a mindset" should be somehow replaced with "Be more proactive and less reactive."

Mrs Townsend

Problems that are detrimental to teaching are what is jarring, not the term "detrimental"

PLEASE leave this goal AS IS. Watering down is the usual usual.

I am not so worried anymore about the goals which don't specifically state health because it is implicit that ALL these goals will be healthy.

I am now worried about the Board. Comments like Townsend's are part of the window dressing - precisely what the goal itself is trying to solve!

Come on Board!

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Posted by Reach of Fresh Air
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Aug 14, 2014 at 12:26 pm

McGee is truly a breath of fresh air after all the stink caused by Kevin Skelly. So far so good, the man has a lot of damage to repair!

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Posted by Gunn Parent
a resident of Gunn High School
on Aug 14, 2014 at 12:32 pm

Way to go Max McGee! Your approach is very refreshing, clear and unafraid to call out real issues. PAUSD Board, PLEASE do NOT mess this up (again)! The wording is excellent. We need to stop whitewashing our goals for the district.

Consistency is a huge issue in the high schools, with teaching quality, grading, course content and ability to connect with students. I also appreciate the use of assessment in goal #1. We need to have assessment tools so that every student knows how to improve (yes even those with very good grades). Being self reflective of one's own abilities and areas for improvement is a very important life skill.

Keep all six goals and don't change a word!

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Posted by Crescent Park Dad
a resident of Crescent Park
on Aug 14, 2014 at 12:36 pm

5. Develop clear accountabilities for ensuring implementation of key strategic plan initiatives.


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Posted by Stew Plock
a resident of Triple El
on Aug 14, 2014 at 1:20 pm

The clear statement by Mr. McGee of proposed goals for the district and the school board to consider is refreshing. As district teams are created to further develop these goals, I would encourage the administration to find ways to include retired residents in those working teams. Palo Alto seniors, especially those who have been part of the academic community, have a lot to offer. And though they are often pretty busy, they still have more time to work on projects such as school district related efforts. Achievement of goals often involves change, and change requires time and effort, often scarce commodities for parents and for teachers.

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Posted by Mil
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Aug 14, 2014 at 1:49 pm

It shouldn't come as a shock to Palo Alto residents that the school board members have already found issues with the new school superintendent wordings. Such a parochial group of people that doesn't appreciate independence in his superintendent could only continue to hurt the interests of Palo Alto residents. A new school board election is around the corner. Let's use our collective interest and become more proactive in the choice of the new school board members. We need new members with a vision to modernize the way we conduct our affairs in preparing all our children regardless of their background for the 21st century.

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Posted by Simon Firth
a resident of College Terrace
on Aug 14, 2014 at 3:35 pm

Mil - you say, "We need new members with a vision to modernize the way we conduct our affairs in preparing all our children regardless of their background for the 21st century." I know and have worked on schools issues with two of the candidates, Terry Godfrey and Ken Dauber (with Terry for many years at Escondido and with Ken on the district's Homework Committee). From my experience, both would provide exactly what you are looking for. And it seems to me that both Terry's and Ken's specific ideas about how we can develop as a learning community mesh well with (and complement) the ideas being suggested by the new superintendent. If you want to know more, take a look at their websites and go meet them as they campaign around town during the next few months.

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Posted by parent
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 14, 2014 at 3:59 pm

@more of the same,
You wrote, "And what have we found out? Apart from the first 2 ALL the rest of the OCR complaints have been found in the districts favor. "

This misleading statement has been cleared up many times on these threads. What is your position in the district that you insist on reviving it?

First of all, only in very, very rare cases does the OCR get into the details of a case. The OCR does not decide the cases. It did not decide those cases. The OCR takes complaints when there is reason to believe a district is not extending due process to students.

It's the difference between being found having a court building but not having a judicial system, and waging a battle in court. You're talking about this like it's the latter; the first 2 OCR cases were actually the former. The later OCR cases are like the government coming in and saying, We don't have enough evidence since the first 2 settlements that they aren't running a judicial system in there. Not exactly a resounding endorsement of the district. The OCR did not decide any cases for the district.

The other cases were not taken because there wasn't enough evidence that the district had not extended process to the students. Having just settled two cases in which the district agreed to revise its processes, this was the probable outcome, because the OCR can see the the steps the district has taken to extend process to students since it was found not doing so. That has nothing to do with whether the complaints themselves were of interest to the OCR or not.

However, if you work for the district and this is how you think, you have no business being in this profession, because you are denying those families due process by conflating those two things and thus giving only the appearance of giving them process. If you think the OCR's not taking up the issue of whether process was provided means you automatically deny a family's complaint, then that amounts to de facto discrimination.

This is not a battle. OCR's job is to try to get districts to follow the law. They could take money away from districts, but almost never do. Only in very, very rare cases do they get into the details of a case. They did that in the first OCR case only because our district's behavior was that egregious. They didn't actually in the second OCR case. That case was only to make the district follow process for all students, and extend process in that one case, the OCR didn't decide anything about the individual case.

The first 2 settlement agreements resulted because our district wasn't following procedures (that they write themselves to follow the law) and was even acting like they didn't have them. It makes sense that other complaints may have been filed after the ones resulting in the settlement agreements were filed, because it took time for the district to come into compliance.

Once again, OCR did not decide "for" the district. The sad thing here is that a district of this caliber would have such poorly performing administrators that parents felt they even had to go to the OCR to complain that our district was acting like processes to protect vulnerable classes of students didn't even exist. The OCR's later decisions basically said, there isn't enough evidence that the district isn't following processes. They did not decide the cases.

Lastly, our district exists to serve children. Anytime that many families feel they have to reach out to a federal government agency for help because our district is so falling down on the job, finding that the district probably offered due process because there wasn't enough evidence to show they hadn't, is not exactly anything in the district's favor, and it's certainly nothing to the benefit of our kids.

I certainly hope our new administrator is able expunge this "us against them" culture in the district office towards parents.

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Posted by Apex
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 14, 2014 at 6:49 pm

Stop falling for that tired bait of the old there was only one violation found out of the dozen or so OCR cases. Exemplary districts don't receive this kind of attention from OCR nor do they make themselves vulnerable to these investigations or other lawsuits. Kevin Skelly followed the ouster of the demonized Mary Frances Callan and had it easy for three years, even through his inadequate response to the suicide crises. Too many folks who sought help for their children lost patience with his cheerleading and were thirsty for leadership. Max has brought a bit, but if haven't forgotten how Skelly was given these free passes at the beginning, too. Max needs to clean out his cabinet ASAP and we cannot out in another PiE shill on the school board.

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Posted by not really
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 14, 2014 at 7:28 pm

"Exemplary districts don't receive this kind of attention from OCR"

Arcadia - voluntary resolution without admitting any violation of federal law
Web Link

San Carlos Unified - ditto
Web Link

Santa Clara Unified - investigation

Yale...Brown. . . U of Chicago ... UC Berkeley . . . Harvard . .. Princeton . .. CNN "55 colleges under investigation" Web Link

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Posted by Apex
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 14, 2014 at 9:59 pm

And now we are being compared to San Carlos School District (not unified) Santa Clara Unified School District, and Arcadia Unified School District. In my profession, PAUSD was thought to be much ahead in reputation, which makes it even sadder that it has fallen into the club of mediocrity. The rebuilding of the brand seems to be one of the most important goals for Max. Then we won't have folks continuing the trend of the past few years of apologizing and making excuses for the district's blunders and ineptitude by saying see, other districts are making the same mistakes as us. We are better than that, at least that is what we keep telling ourselves. Time to prove it.

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Posted by ILike ThisGuy
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Aug 14, 2014 at 10:46 pm

I think the prior mismanagement had a few issue with OCR. However the only relevance to the article above is the fact that prior management culture was hiding problems. Dr. Skelly admitted publicly that he hid this from the board. Clear evidence of problem hiding. Classic avoidance of accountability.

Contrast that with Dr. McGee's comments to identify problems, be strategic, be problem-finding.

It is a sea-change in culture if he can pull it off. I care less about the details of OCR and would like to close that chapter. It can only happen with the management principles espoused here.

I hope the board strongly backs Dr. McGee in putting such management principles to work quickly.

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Posted by village fool
a resident of another community
on Aug 14, 2014 at 11:31 pm

I could not find the Superintendent's view, PAUSD Board's unanimous decision to challenge the OCR wise. Web Link, Web Link

Any insights?

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Posted by Problems
a resident of Downtown North
on Aug 15, 2014 at 11:49 am

Dear Superintendent:
This hearing shows the kind of problem PAUSD should move away from OAH CASE NO. 2013051146.
Palo Alto Unified sued a non-English speaking family, even though they did not understand the process. Special Education did not translate all the documents for the parents as required by law, and had no good reason. Saying a document was not available to Palo Alto Unified shows again the Special Education version of the "document is missing/not in our stored record/our computer ate it/we lost it".
Maybe the family is not perfect, maybe the family had a hard time defending itself against the school district with it's unlimited resources. Bringing this case against a family with limited resources, limited English and lack of understanding of the legal process shows how mean spirited Palo Alto Unified is. Thankfully the parent advocate stepped in to help the family, or who knows what damage the District could have done.
Bringing this case also displays District's attitude of 'we didn't do it because we didn't have to," and "we have more sophisticated lawyers who can play the system against you, you can't afford that, ha ha,". It is the same attitude seen in everyday dealings with Palo Alto Unified Special Education. Bringing this case was a very poor way to treat disadvantaged families of children it is supposed to be educating, and was a mis-use or precious tax payer resources. Web Link

From the Judge's Ruling, Under 2:

"On August 1, 2013, Parents filed a request with OAH to supplement District’s
disclosed exhibits because they believed documents were missing. The motion reflected Parents’ confusion about preparing exhibits for disclosure and hearing. On the same date, Parents served District and OAH with about 54 pages of documents. However, Ms. Rossner established at hearing, by showing the ALJ and the parties, that Parents have a “suitcase” or office bag of jumbled documents pertaining to Student’s education. Ms. Rossner explained
that, beginning on Saturday, August 3, 2013, she spent the weekend sorting through the papers, and that the documents Parents selected to produce for hearing last week did not represent an organized and informed decision about which documents would be important for hearing. In addition, Ms. Rossner explained that Parents still do not understand what the hearing is about and are not prepared to select or present witnesses and documents at this

District conceded that its exhibit binder produced to Student last week and presented to the ALJ at hearing contained only English versions of its individualized education programs (IEP’s) at issue in this case. Ms. Seymour represented that District’s Spanish versions of the IEP’s were not produced to Parents on July 30, 2013, in compliance with the PHC order or the Education Code, because they were “not available” to her, but did not
otherwise explain the circumstances. District’s argument that Parents were not prejudiced by advance disclosure of the Spanish versions of the pertinent IEP’s was rejected as it was clear Parents’ own records were completely disorganized. Thus, even if District delivered Spanish
versions of the IEP’s to Parents at or around the time of each IEP team meeting in 2012 and 2013, District was nevertheless required to deliver the Spanish versions to them in its evidence binder and did not do so.

While Student has had almost two months within which to seek counsel, Parents’ representation that they have been diligent in seeking help was not controverted. In addition, it was clear that Parents have not understood the hearing process and have been overwhelmed with attempting to advocate for their son and organize voluminous records, which has been complicated by delays in receiving Spanish versions of OAH orders."

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Posted by Parent
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 15, 2014 at 12:06 pm

Dear "Problems: Is it our country's responsibility to teach immigrants English? I were to move to another country, I would expect myself to learn their language, not expect them to bend over backwards to help me. Life is unfair and people are not created equal in the minds of humans. Appearance, intellect, etc., all are factors in life.

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Posted by Problems
a resident of Downtown North
on Aug 15, 2014 at 2:43 pm

@Parent: We don't actually know that they are immigrants. FYI, non-English speakers work and pay taxes also. Non-English speakers should not have to expect the powerful would actively attack them. Life may be unfair, but my taxes do not have to be used to make it worse for the vulnerable.

As for PAUSD's conduct in this case:
This is not the conduct of educators.
This is not conduct of a District putting the best interests of the child first.
This is the conduct of a District and Special Education department who wants to show it's power by going after the weakest first. As the judge ruled, failing to translate the documents is a violation of law. It's not the first time PAUSD has done this. Special Education's culture is to get away with anything you can.

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Posted by Skelly Free Year!
a resident of Midtown
on Aug 16, 2014 at 8:28 am

Yeah!!! Our first school year free of Skelly. Hopefully things will be back to the way they were when he came and poisoned the environment in our school district with his "Go ahead and try to make us reason, I got all the lawyers I need on mi side and for free to make your life impossible.
Welcome Max, I hope you clean house by sending Winston, Katherine Baker former principal at Terman Middle School, Holly Wade our special ed. director, Scott Bowers and all the people at the sites where our student's rights were violated . It will not be easy and will cost the district $ but it is the right thing to do to put our student's first. We need to start fresh. By keeping these people here you are letting the rest of the staff that is okay to things like these and no consequence will come to those who are not working to make a better Palo Alto School District

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Posted by reality, what a concept!
a resident of Barron Park
on Aug 16, 2014 at 10:12 am

You're talking about events that happened over two years ago. The OCR found NO issues with the districts handling. Whether you consider that to be "found in favor" it doesn't matter. Again, the ORC found NO issues with the districts handling of the cases.

There was another post somewhere that showed Palo Alto had fewer outstanding special ed cases compared to districts such as Cupertino, Fremont, Mountain View. It was like a factor of 5 to 1. That was real current data, not just your opinion. You really are barking up the wrong tree trying to milk 2 year old events for your own political ends.

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Posted by Buzzwords
a resident of Midtown
on Aug 16, 2014 at 12:41 pm

I've never seen so many buzzwords and corporate-speak in my life. Can't he just write in plain English? Has he hear of SMART goals before? Hardly any of these are specific or measurable, never mind the ART. I thought we'd get more for our $300k+/yr.

Goal 1: should be ensure not assure. How is he going to oversee if everything is consistent, a new $150k/yr hire?

Goal 2: how exactly do you plan to "prepare students for a future that necessitates global collaboration and competition"? Send each kid to China and India? And are you saying you currently don't "cultivate support for a district-wide culture that expects, advances, inspires and promotes academic excellence, hard work, active engagement and perseverance for every student"? If you do, then it is not a goal. If you don't, then you should be ashamed.

Goal 3: This should not be a goal. This should be a standard operating procedure. If the school board doesn't lead it, who will?

Goal 4: Obviously. Why would it not be done.

Goal 5: This should not be a goal. This should be a standard operating procedure.

Goal 6: How exactly do you generate a mindset of collective community learning? What does this even mean? Buzzword overload!

How about just one goal: ensure our kids have a safe environment where they can learn.

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Posted by parent
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 16, 2014 at 2:48 pm


OCR is NOT in the business of proving that districts are not at fault or have "no issues" in how they handle any case. That is simply not what they do.

If you look at OCR's website, there is a whole long list of reasons they may close a complaint, that have nothing to do with whether the district is blameless. They also separate the issue of due process being provided from whether a given case has sufficient evidence from whether the case was decided properly.
Web Link

According to OCR's website:

If your district seems to be applying their own PROCEDURES - which PAUSD had previously been found in the two resolution agreements NOT to be doing - then OCR does not take the complaint. Or, if the OCR does not have enough solid evidence to pursue a complaint, it closes the complaint. That's also in their rules. This does not mean that the student does not have cause to complain, nor does it even mean the complaint isn't valid, it just means OCR does not have enough evidence to take the complaint under their jurisdiction.

Under no circumstances does OCR conduct an investigation to prove a district wasn't at fault for anything, or had "no issues", that's just a misstatement of what they do, and disturbingly so, as it serves to invalidate and ignore the problems with our district and very real harm that may be occurring to families and students. This is just a completely wrong-headed attitude toward what has been happening here. Anyone who has that kind of mindset shouldn't be in a field that is about serving children and families, it's antithetical to doing a good job.

The Weekly article makes it clear the OCR was looking at whether PAUSD, after two resolution agreements, was extending due process to students (not deciding the cases):
"... the evidence did not establish that the district failed to provide a prompt and equitable PROCESS for addressing the allegations of discrimination," the federal agency stated in a letter"
Web Link
[emphasis added]

See that? PROCESS. The OCR was not decided the case. The OCR does not decide the specifics of the case in the vast majority of complaints. It only gets into the details of cases, as it did in the bullying case, in the most egregious ones. If you look at the OCR's own website, they even overtly point out that they almost never decide individual cases. If you make a complaint to OCR and they even find against the district, they will still often not decide the case itself, and will advise people to pursue a complaint with their own lawyer if they are unhappy with the outcome, because presumably the OCR's involvement will have provided process where it was lacking.

Got that? In even one of the settlement agreements, in which the OCR found PAUSD was seriously violating the law and not following its own procedures, it did not decide the case itself. It only laid out a process for PAUSD to follow because the student had been denied legally due process.

As for PAUSD doing so well relative to other districts, out of 20,000 complaints, the OCR might have to turn to resolution agreements with districts in only 20 cases. Out of those 20, in one year, PAUSD had 2. Not exactly a ringing endorsement. You're right that time has passed and the district has taken steps, but many of the same people involved in what was really pathetic performance for district families are still there, and instead of a spirit of solving problems and serving families, they seem to think just like you, digging in on the same behavior that caused the first resolution agreements.

I really hope our new superintendent has radar out for the kind of CYA mindset that would conflate the OCR's closing of those complaints with a false and pernicious idea that the district was somehow found to be blameless or have no issues (which OCR doesn't do) and that the concerns that prompted so many families to reach out to OCR are to be ignored and marginalized. I have so much hope that he'll make changes and make his tenure about serving families again, which is what a school district is supposed to do.

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Posted by parent
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 16, 2014 at 2:54 pm

@ Buzzwords,
Given the culture that has arisen in our district in recent years, I actually find what was said a breath of fresh air.

I'm much more concerned when I see names like Charles Young and Brenda Carrillo in charge of making sure they get done. It's more likely he'll hear and see one thing because of them while problems persist and only get any attention when they come to a head.

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Posted by Apex
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 16, 2014 at 4:10 pm

The more you criticize Charles Young, the longer it will take for another district to pick him up. It'll be East Bay, maybe even the superintendency in Pleasanton, where Skelly's secretary, Kathleen Ruegsegger, still has influence as a former board member. That district seems to be unraveling a bit and they may be looking to return to a time when things were better, and coincidentally, Young was there, and maybe they will want to go back to the future. Change needs to progress in PAUSD and more new blood is needed. That Max is new blood is hopeful. Ken Dauber on the 2015 board is hopeful except when you consider Terry Godfrey on the board. We do not need another PIE crony on this board. Heidi Emberling has been a disaster is terms of the nothingness she has brought to the board meetings. Watch the recordings yourself or go to the board meeting and please do enlightened us of any substantive contribution, even verbal, that she has made. As for Young, his contributions were mediocre at best, some of you posters of course allege a lot worse. Even Scott Bowers is not far from retirement, and it would be noble if he accepted some of the responsibility of the Kevin Skelly years and retired because essentially the last three years were a Skelly-Young-Bowers affair. But none of these folks were able to change the instructional practices of the teachers because of PAEA. That is going to be a tough one for Max.

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Posted by village fool
a resident of another community
on Aug 16, 2014 at 6:38 pm

What is the Superintendent view about:
1. PAUSD unanimous decision to challenge the OCR?
2. PR position? (created pretty recently)

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Posted by parent
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 16, 2014 at 7:11 pm

I think Mitchell just cast a big pall on McGee's early months by ensuring she has a parting shot to do an eval of him before she leaves. What were those folks thinking to go along with that? Like the board superintendent evaluations in the past were all that fruitful! The only purpose to do one in November is so that Mitchell can continue to use our school board for her political purposes.

I'd like to see parents have the ability to have the kind of equivalent balance of power that referenda and initiatives allow in City politics. Not necessarily even through expensive formal votes, but through major consensus actions, such as can happen in PTAs if something is amiss.

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Posted by reality, what a concept!
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Aug 17, 2014 at 11:09 am

When Parent is asked to show data that Palo Alto fares worse than neighboring districts, Parent responds with two year old data. All current data showing the opposite to be the case and reinforcing comment about still, two years later, milking a two year old case for her own politically ends.

When Parent challenged on OCR finding no fault with Palo Alto in all other cases, Parent states that OCR was not there to find fault but to ensure Palo Alto follows procedures. Parent fails to understand that OCR found that Palo Alto DID follow their own procedures and found no civil rights violations. Somehow parent believes this means that Palo Alto wasn't exonerated.

Parent, it's 2014, not 2012. Time to move with the times. You can't keep milking a two year old case that has long been resolved. Please provide current data that shows Palo Alto fares worse than neighboring districts.

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Posted by parent
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 17, 2014 at 12:50 pm

@ "reality",
Why you keep trying to spin this to be some kind of battle between the district and parents, in which the goal here is some kind of CYA for the district speaks very loudly to other motives that are not about serving children.

OCR almost never decides the individual cases. OCR's role is NOT to find whether the district has no issues or even to find whether the individual's accommodations were appropriate. OCR's role is to ensure students have due process available, which may even include pursuing a hearing if there is a disagreement as to accommodations (i.e., if the district may be wrong in its determination of what the student is due).

It's the difference between being found to have court buildings but no court system, and appealing a case wrongly decided. You are saying that if a complaint to a higher power against a city giving only the pretense of having a court system then forced the city to install a court system, that if a later complaint to that higher power about some unfair or unlawful activity by the city results in a finding that the city now has a functioning court system where the complaint really should be dealt with, not by the higher power, you think that's the same as saying a) the system is working correctly and b) all cases against the city have proven the city to be blameless.

You are conflating two very different things. I can't imagine what purpose you would have unless you are part of the district, and if you are, you are denying actual justice by conflating the existence of process with the proper application of it to protect students who need it. If people in the district office are doing this, it will result in later complaints, exposing the district to much more liability than now. Giving the appearance of process is something that is only proven over time, but if you persist in doing so, it will be an actual denial of process.

Under the law, districts have a duty not just to apply their own procedures properly, but to proactively identify and extend those protections to students who need them, because it's been found to be the cheapest way with the best outcomes for the students in the end. Our district doesn't do this. Our district still has a lot of "issues". Being found to have put in our court system does not mean we have justice here.

Do you think those cases are so old that we should just ignore the behavior of those administrators, that continues to this day? One of them almost resulted in a new complaint because of blatant (with proof) retaliation by someone in the administration. The other is in court. The fact that our district had to even enter into two settlement agreements at all, and that administrators who are still here behaved so shamefully, unprofessionally, and dishonestly, is no reason to crow about how great everything is.

Do you really think the measure of excellence in Palo Alto should be whether we are worse than neighboring districts? Like your constant spin to conflate the offering of process with whether Palo Alto is doing a good job for its students, that's an extremely concerning view. Certainly, it has no place in a school district, anyone who thinks that way should find a profession where winning at all costs and stroking their own egos is important, not SERVING families and children.

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Posted by parent
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 17, 2014 at 12:54 pm

And by the way, as a parent, my "political" ends are to ensure the best and safest education for our kids. The same cannot be said for your persistent misdirection and CYA. For once in your life, put the kids first, and not your own ego.

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Posted by Adolescent Leadership
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 19, 2014 at 1:35 pm

Posts on PAUSD "Adolescent Leadership" are particularly accurate in describing the management.
Many of the problems from Special Education could have been avoided were it not for their black and white thinking and inability to handle complex thinking. For example when they say studies show disabled children learn more in the mainstream, that is probably very true to a point, but it's unlikely the studies say 100% of all children do. Why not show us the studies that are so black and white? They say Federal law requires all kids be in mainstream classrooms, the law must allow for different environments if it doesn't work. When they say if a child does not learn to read by Grade 3 it's too late and they should not get help but should just sit in a mainstream classroom without help, that is ridiculous thinking.
There is also an element of "Group Think" here. The Board thinks like they are told to by the people they are supposed to be supervising: Special Education, NSBA, Special Education.
The Board and Administrators still go around repeating the inaccuracies told them by Special Education in the October, 2013 presentation to the Board of Education. The Board was told full inclusion had been achieved, suddenly all disabled kids were now fully supported with the right resources by now being in the mainstream with less resources. When Board members go to schools and say Special Education in PAUSD cannot be good quality because mentally ill students take all the money, this is one sided and cruel. Board members saying now all the teachers felt more strongly supported from Special Education than ever before, despite the fact that the survey showed the opposite are not checking their facts.
Special Education, NSBA and their attorneys train the Board that Special Education is all wonderful, there is no bullying of the disabled, disabled kids are learning more because the other kids in the classroom will help them, and any problems are due to parents of disabled children being too emotional. Demeaning families and training staff and the Board to think of families as an adversary is one of the common tactics used.
The Adolescent Leadership mind does not provide evidence. It says a goal is achieved because the adolescent leader says so. Other immature practices include not having document in their stored record, missing or losing documents, not standing by their word, ignoring and not responding to questions and complaints thinking they will go away, not ensuring Administration or staff resolves problems reported to it. Adolescent Leadership Mind only listens to people who tell you what you want to hear or have already decided, accepting blank statements from Administrators like 'we are working with the family,' and allow their Administrators to show the prevalence of arrogance and thinly veiled disdain for families they are supposed to be serving.
More complex and mature thinking might look like: "Many disabled children can be mainstreamed. Some cannot. Mainstreaming could cost less or it could cost more, depending on what the student needs. Since we mainstreamed children but only increased support at a very few schools, we should expect at some schools it will be harder for teachers to teach with the increased workload of children who may need more help. We have provided some additional training for teachers and aides, and that may help some of the children. But we have provided nothing close to the amount of training staff would need to educate the children and to prevent severe problems before they happen. We will hire TOSAs and aides without complete training and say it is the same as a licensed trained person. We will consider other teaching programs or methods for children we have not taught to read. That may be our fault. Being adults in high level positions, we will listen and be respectful to parents and teachers when they report the real problems they are seeing in real classrooms, not what we want them to see. It is not enough for us just to say it is true, we know we must provide evidence. Evidence is not anecdotal stories or bringing lots of people into a room whom we pay to say what we want them to say. We need to look at many facets of a situation. We will welcome this so we can think of ways to resolve problems and then work on solving them, even if it does not fit the grand master plan. By no means will we consider solving problems by threatening to sue disabled children, sending therapists who serve children in school to testify against them in court. Instead, we will only use our resources to help children."

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Posted by parent
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 19, 2014 at 6:31 pm

@ Adolescent Leadership,

Wow, you nailed it. The one thing I would add is that much of that negative culture comes from getting the wrong kind of legal advice that makes it impossible for district personnel to work with parents in good faith. We should find a legal team we feel can protect the district while working for the whole district, INCLUDING families. If our self-insurance makes that too hard, we should look at how to insure ourselves differently so the whole focus and culture of our administrators is how to best serve families. Dump these lawyers who destroy any chance of a collaborative culture between administrators and parents.

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Posted by walnut grove parent
a resident of another community
on Aug 23, 2014 at 12:03 am

Charles Young was the principal at Walnut Grove, a school in Pleasanton that has been torn apart by the District's badly handled removal of a popular principal. Many seeds of discontent were sown at the school under his leadership that may have played a factor in the Walnut Grove debacle, and rumors still persist about his connection with a certain staff member that is known to have been one who instigated the principal removal - and also received a 250k payout from Pleasanton USD for being "harassed" by the principal who was removed.
I think Pleasanton parents prefer that Palo Alto keep Charles Young. We have enough problems of our own with our poor performing board and superintendent without Charles Young bringing back his drama.

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Posted by $94k Special Ed Legal
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 23, 2014 at 1:53 am

PAUSD June 2014 warrants show $94,130.18 paid to law firm Fagen, Freidman & Fulfrost Special Eduction legal firm in June, 2014
Dora Dome paid $1752 for legal. Public Records Request page shows Palo Alto Online June, 2014 request with memos related to PAUSD Board of Education work about OCR and Fagen, Freidman Fulfrost involvement in writing materials for PAUSD to make public.

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Posted by parent
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 27, 2014 at 4:51 pm

@ walnut grove parent,

Wow. That is really interesting about Young and disturbingly similar to now: Rumors of involvement with a certain staff member and going after parents who crossed that certain staff member. Eek. I wish McGee the best.

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