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Panelists tell community: Listen more, listen deeply

Original post made on Feb 26, 2015

A mother, a sister and a friend who have lost loved ones to suicide, along with a psychiatrist, a pediatrician, the Palo Alto superintendent, a high school principal and a city representative all spoke candidly and personally at a community event Wednesday night about the state of Palo Alto youth.

Read the full story here Web Link posted Thursday, February 26, 2015, 9:08 AM

Comments (31)

Posted by Gunn Father
a resident of Gunn High School
on Feb 26, 2015 at 10:38 am

While these actions are too late for too many, it is positive to see the administration working on many fronts. Teachers are indeed a critical element of the process. Some are caring , helpful participants, others are merely punching the time clock and teaching as they always have ; secure with their tenure. This is a larger problem and a national one and should be addressed separately. Tenure is an immunity that has long outlived its usefulness.
That all said, the administration must continue to understand that a major ' co factor in stress ' on these kids , is the teaching environment and hopefully those teachers that are stressing the kids and need to be weeded out, will be. Every Counselor at Gunn knows who these teachers are but merely speak in hushed tones when asked directly about them . I wish the administration luck but will do all I can not to send any more of my kids to Gunn. Suicides aside, it has not been a positive experience, in fact much the opposite. Hopefully the experiments will work, but risking , quite literally , my kids lives is not something that makes sense.

Posted by Crescent Park Dad
a resident of Crescent Park
on Feb 26, 2015 at 10:49 am

To expect teachers to instantly become mental health professionals without proper training and compensation (for education/training and then for a higher/required work-performance-standard) is a bit of a stretch.

Throwing blame at the current set of teachers may feel good, but it does nothing to help in terms of creating a partnership and buy-in to what the new professional teaching model should be.

Posted by Gunn parent
a resident of Barron Park
on Feb 26, 2015 at 11:09 am

Glad to read that Gunn may get a new paint and new landscape. Hopefully this means new paint color that is more cheerful and new landscape with perhaps flowers. The current campus is a bit dreary looking. Would be great to brighten it up. I know color influences my mood, and I am sure that applies to our kids as well.

Posted by Wish I'd known
a resident of Fairmeadow
on Feb 26, 2015 at 11:14 am

I wish the school district had sent an email to all parents announcing this forum - there may have been much better attendance. I'm not sure if it was called out in one of the weekly school "newsletters," but those are so cluttered with every day announcements it was probably missed by many people who otherwise would have attended (with their kids). Maybe next time?

Posted by Addison Parent
a resident of Downtown North
on Feb 26, 2015 at 11:39 am

Wish, the district did send an e-mail to parents specifically about this forum. I got it directly and through my Infinite Campus.

Posted by neighbor
a resident of Barron Park
on Feb 26, 2015 at 11:59 am

I really hope that McGee can overcome whatever barriers there have been in the past to re-paint Gunn buildings. Parents were emphatically assured many times during the last 10 years, when my kids were there, that cheering up the campus was in the works, including a new paint color. Never happened. There was some one or something putting a wrench in the works. Whether it was the "blend in with the ecosystem" school of architecture digging heels in somewhere along the line or something else, we never figured it out. At least consider using the paint they use at the elementary schools. Even that would be better than the dirt brown.

Posted by Wish I'd known
a resident of Fairmeadow
on Feb 26, 2015 at 12:23 pm

Addison: Er, you're right. I hadn't seen it yet. Maybe a little more notice next time? And then three reminders? lol.

Posted by Rovers
a resident of South of Midtown
on Feb 26, 2015 at 1:06 pm

I agree with the comments of Gunn Father. I'm a dad to a freshman boy at Gunn. I think it's a meatgrinder of a school -- a demoralizing place. These community talks are empty PR and unrelated to the actual school experience. I feel for the mother who lost her son who shared the stage with these administrators. I can't even imagine talking about something like that. I wish my child did not go to Gunn but I feel it would be more disruptive to move him now. When you talk to adults at Gunn, at the end of the day they all come back to the concept that life is competitive so kids better get used to it now. That's a false and dangerous comparison and no way to educate children.

Posted by Chuck
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Feb 26, 2015 at 3:16 pm

What a waste of time again. A group of adults patting themselves on the backs because they want to show how much they care , and Principal of Paly wants to support the teachers. Stop talking about it and take care of your children. It's time they brought real interventions to help children . A life skills class is not going to help any child who,is really suffering. It's time the adults stop focusing on themselves and really see the child in front of them.

Posted by Marc Vincenti
a resident of Gunn High School
on Feb 26, 2015 at 3:37 pm

Dear Palo Alto Onliners,

This is an excellent article by Ms. Kadvany, and is stellar coverage.

Last night's panel came in good faith, with good intentions, but to the extent that their message added up to "Listen more, listen deeply," they certainly chose not to practice their preaching.

The evening was billed as: "Let's talk: a Community Conversation," but no one in the audience was invited or allowed to speak.

Audience questions could be submitted only on note cards or via phone-text. No one could actually "speak"; no one had "a voice." This, of course, makes it impossible for anyone to convey, or to hear each others', feelings.

Was hearing feelings thought to be too frightening, too unimportant? This community is full of feelings! Feelings are at the center of our dilemma!

Along with this, the moderators onstage were free to rule out questions (perhaps those there were no good or ready answers for), pick and choose. They never had to call on a raised hand without knowing what was going to be said. This stifle spontaneity.

I'd fear I'm just carping here, nit-picking, if this type of "conversation" weren't reflective of some large and embracing community problems: we have trouble working with our feelings (or even attending to them, rather than intellectualizing); we prefer structures that exert control; those in charge prefer to speak rather than listen.

This isn't healthy for us. I think we do it so unconsciously that we forget we're doing it, and so we keep missing the heart of our problems.

It's the same approach that so often has been used in our schools for "suicide prevention": we ask (tell!) our kids to go to yet one more assembly and hear a lecture, to sit down for yet another class, to listen to more instruction on mental health or drugs or drinking, to take in more curriculum.

Our offered cure is too often some form of "Sit down and shut up." For the most part (as with the audience last night), our teenagers remain uncomplaining, at least aloud, to the grown-ups who are the Keepers of the Grades.

Yes, it takes courage to appear before the public onstage, and many of the panelists were bravely candid about their own, personal experiences.

And yes, it's incumbent on leaders and advisers to provide leadership and advice; they need to have their say.

But when this overshadows listening, on an occasion when one has called a meeting, in person, of the community, and when the meeting is overseen by our District's chief consultant on mental health, and when it's been billed as "Let's Talk: a Community Conversation," then there's the risk of sending the audience away a little more doubtful, a little more depressed.

Marc Vincenti

Posted by Marc Vincenti
a resident of Gunn High School
on Feb 26, 2015 at 3:51 pm

P.S. Thank god our School Board still has the courage to allow anyone to come to any meeting and say anything to them and to the viewing audience about anything at all! This is wonderful for all of us!

Posted by a parent
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 26, 2015 at 4:01 pm

Dear Marc Vincenti,

You make some excellent points. I was afraid that would happen. We have a lot of problems in this district that come back to the sad fact that our district does not "do" dialog. They just won't. They want to control everything. By "they" I mean Charles Young and his protegee, Brenda Carrillo, and they in turn probably got that from district legal.

"Our offered cure is too often some form of "Sit down and shut up." For the most part (as with the audience last night), our teenagers remain uncomplaining, at least aloud, to the grown-ups who are the Keepers of the Grades."

This is what happens to parents, too. We can't complain about problems or our children and their educations will be retaliated against. Then tragedy strikes, and there's another public meeting in which the otherwise "bad guys" do all the talking and no listening.

Wow, I'm very disappointed. I had really hoped this would be the beginnings of dialog instead of more of the same.

Posted by Marc Vincenti
a resident of Gunn High School
on Feb 26, 2015 at 4:15 pm

P.P.S. The Superintendent's office, and especially the communication coordinator, Tabitha Kappeler-Hurley, were most helpful and welcoming, despite a very busy day, in making it possible to pass out brochures and flyers at last night's meeting.

Posted by outsider
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Feb 26, 2015 at 6:11 pm

chem h teacher at play must not have any memos about her community or giving the kids an actual break- she sent home a 198 problem lab, had a major exam for the kids to study and complete during break. The same teacher gave an AP test as an exam which most in her class did not pass and then told them it was their fault. The administration knows but did absolutely nothing, they said it was the parents problem and they needed to fix it. I hope the new admin would allow for accountability but it seems that they think time will just pass and problems will float away. Two full classrooms with kids flunking a test is an instructional disaster and not one the kids or parents can fix. Just another example of a "thank you for sharing" response with no action. Yes, they listened but then turned their backs to the students. It really is time for an outside agency to step in and help. I am sorry to see this is a very static district with limited views that keeps telling itself things are great.

We need to look at the very quiet children who would not ever stand up for themselves and not just the ones who are in "leadership" positions. I think the quiet children are sending out a very clear message asking for adults to change.

Posted by Bob
a resident of Barron Park
on Feb 26, 2015 at 9:50 pm

Get real. Wake up! The competition is fierce. These kids are surrounded by $250k Mclarens, BMW M3s, and Range Rovers. Heck some of the kids at Gunn DRIVE these cars. I went to Gunn and know kids who have been told by their parents they are failures because they didn't get into an Ivy. Palo Alto is an unreal place with wild expectations. There is no way to succeed unless you are on the CEO/VC track. Hopeless. I will send my child elsewhere when it is time for high school. These PR meetings are such a joke, with everyone afraid to talk about what's really going on.

Posted by Parent
a resident of JLS Middle School
on Feb 26, 2015 at 9:57 pm

@ Rovers,

You may wish to join our Googlegroup -
PAUSD-FAN PAUSD Family Advocacy Network

The goal is:
Healthy Schools
Healthy School-Home Boundaries
Innovative Educational Paths
Student Wellbeing

It's a small group at the idea stage, and you will have to be approved/ introduce yourself and why you want to join/your goals. We're hoping to work with the district but planning on having an innovative educational path by next year regardless.

There are an amazing array of opportunities out there. We would like to form a community of innovation for our district.

Posted by Parent
a resident of JLS Middle School
on Feb 27, 2015 at 12:55 am

Our district vision statement:
We support all PAUSD students as they prepare themselves to thrive as global citizens in a rapidly changing world. We develop our students' knowledge, critical thinking, and problem solving skills, and nurture their curiosity, creativity, and resilience, empowering every child to reach his or her full intellectual, social, and creative potential.

CA ed code:
Web Link
Web Link

"(a) It is essential to our democratic form of government that
parents and guardians of schoolage children attending public schools
and other citizens participate in improving public education

"(c) All participants in the education process benefit when schools
genuinely welcome, encourage, and guide families into establishing
equal partnerships with schools to support pupil learning."

This is a great community, we have the resources and the will, and our kids are worth it.

Posted by Parent
a resident of JLS Middle School
on Feb 27, 2015 at 1:11 am

I almost forgot:

Web Link

"Parent involvement is one of eight “priority areas” identified by the state, and schools will be
assessed as to how successful they are in working with parents."

Posted by BetterMessage
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Feb 27, 2015 at 6:20 am

Rather than "Listen More, Listen Deeply" the district should use Listen More, Get off you a&# and do something"

Retread outsiders post above on the 'Famous' Chem teacher - she is terribly demotivating. There are a few hanging around that will make your kid hate school.

You see, the effects are corrosive and long lasting. A teenagers mind cannot withstand a year of daily intimidation and bullying. That's what is happening here - a direct abuse of the power structure in the classroom used to bully children.

The lady, and those like her need to be gone. The administration is too timid to fire them. Cowards.

Okay, so what is another solution? We have extra money and can afford a few extra teachers - hire replacements for the bottom 1% a users, and move this chem h teacher into an empty classroom.

LA has a "rubber" room for problem teachers they cannot fire - it is time we have similar mechanisms to get these bullies out of the classroom!

Let's use our parcel tax for the benefit of students, in a very real, tangible way.

Posted by Entering Paly
a resident of Crescent Park
on Feb 27, 2015 at 6:36 am

Would anyone please name this Palo Alto High School teacher? It's hard to understand that admin, parents and students all know about the behavior, and nothing is being done. The rate my teacher web site has been spot on for most teachers in the district, a good way for a student to dodge any bullet for unprofessional habits in the classroom. A cheat sheet that is public and open without retaliation. Unable to determine who this teacher is, is this really happening?

Posted by Anonymous
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 27, 2015 at 8:09 am

Same Ol', Same Ol. I'm really looking forward to the day when the last of my kids leaves Gunn High School and were done with PAUSD.

Posted by Maryanne
a resident of College Terrace
on Feb 27, 2015 at 11:20 am

Thank you for covering this important community gathering. We are grateful to so many Palo Altans for attending this forum and engaging in discussions about this critical topic for our community. We also have been discussing at Family & Children Services of Silicon Valley how we and other organizations and professionals in this community can do more, in partnership with the city and schools, to support local teens and families. In the meantime, our Cambridge Avenue clinical team offers individual and family counseling services, and Palo Alto students have access to a set of no-cost counseling services (on school referral). We also are proud to offer culturally-competent counseling and social activities for LGBTQ youth and young adults. To get connected or to discuss solutions, please call our nonprofit organization: 650.326.6576. (One more thing: We hope everyone--especially youth--also will be attending the Listening to Youth Voices Forum on Sunday, March 1, from 5 to 7 p.m. at the First Congregational Church. This forum is being sponsored by local nonprofits, the City of Palo Alto, Project Safety Net, and Palo Alto Unified School District.)

Posted by Palo Alto Youth Forum 2015
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 27, 2015 at 12:09 pm

The Youth Forum will have an open mike for youth speakers in addition to a diverse panel of youth speakers. This is a chance to speak directly and to hear directly from youth about their experience in Palo Alto at home, at school, and in the community.

This wonderful event is free and open to all. There will be activities and information, refreshments and change to talk with others. Please come!

First Congregational Church
1985 Louis Road, Palo Alto
Doors Open a 4:30 PM
Panel starts promptly at 5:00pm

For more info, see
Web Link
email to

Posted by Paly Parent
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Feb 27, 2015 at 12:49 pm

@Entering Paly: Agree that is fairly accurate. I am unsure of the name of the Chem H teacher - you can probably call the school. But there are other infamous teachers in every department that Paly admin is aware of and has ignored. The superintendent is going to have students evaluate teachers, so there is some hope - at least he's trying. Overall, the teachers we have experienced in our 7 years are okay and some are very good. We have found most all to be caring even if their workload is insane. Life becomes Hell when your child gets 2-3 who overload, and when that occurs, engaged parents do anything they can to help their suffering child while the others with complacent parents sink into hopelessness and despair.

Posted by Alphonso
a resident of Los Altos Hills
on Feb 27, 2015 at 1:07 pm

I heard there was a survey of PA high school students and 90 out of the 100 kids randomly picked said they were afraid to go home and tell their parents that they got a B. To me it is pretty obvious where the pressure is coming from so to sit around and blame someone else is missing the point. You are entitled to blame others, but then you will not be part of the solution either.

Posted by Paly Parent
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Feb 27, 2015 at 1:35 pm

@Alphonso: I don't think you get it. Some teachers make it too hard to get a "A". So there is a class of 30 and they all are capable of earning an "A". But the teacher refuses to distribute 30 "A"s, and instead gives only 6 of them "A"s. To eliminate the other 24 from gaining "A"s, the teacher increases the difficulty of the homework/tests, resulting in "A" students getting "B"s. In a different school district, these students would earn all "A"s. So how does the student explain it to their disengaged parent that they did their best but the class was too difficult? Meanwhile, there are other parents hiring tutors and proofreading homework so their child gets the "A". Yes, in the end, it is the parents - they should send their child elsewhere if they want their child to get all "A"s on their own. Let's remember how challenging college admissions are. Even middle tier colleges want to see "A"s.

Posted by Paly parent
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Feb 27, 2015 at 2:06 pm

With regard to consistency across classes and teachers, I would LOVE if papers were graded with the names of the students hidden from the grader. It would be even better if multiple teachers of the same class mixed up papers, hid the names of the students, and then graded the papers. I think it would yield some surprising results for everyone - teachers, students, administrators, and parents!

Posted by Paly parent
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Feb 27, 2015 at 2:45 pm

We live in Palo Alto and the majority of our children are "above average"... because a lot of the parents are highly educated big fish from small ponds who all moved to the small pond called Palo Alto. If that's the case, our students are the right tail of the bell curve of the broader population. HOWEVER, our students are now being placed on a bell curve within the school population. So half of those kids feel pretty ordinary or plain old stupid, when in the "real world" they are actually very clever.

If you consider the need for students to pursue STEM careers.... The tragedy is that so many students choose to not compete or they weed themselves out from trying to pursue STEM careers even if that's their interest. Student believe that if they're not in the top math/science lanes, they can't pursue STEM degrees since they're comparing themselves to the kids they're around on a daily basis. The message everyone needs to understand is that the world needs a LOT of STEM worker bees.... and a LOT of schools offer solid programs in STEM.

To me, if grades are being rationed out on a bell curve, then that's a failure of our education system. If a whole class gets 90-100% of the material, should that mean only the top few get the A? Does it mean the class is too easy and it's time to put in trick questions to test their limits? Or does it mean that the teacher has done an excellent job?

Posted by BetterMessage
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Feb 28, 2015 at 12:14 am

@entering Palo Alto asks: "Would anyone please name this Palo Alto High School teacher?"

Historically the Online Moderator deletes the names of any teachers who have been accused of mistreating students.

Perhaps the moderator would care to explain why?

I personally feel it is a barrier to progress, and a disservice to community.

Maybe it's a legal thing...

So the abusers can operate with impunity and anonymity

Posted by Just another teacher
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Mar 1, 2015 at 9:46 am

Sigh. Interesting how an article about a panel asking parents to listen more closely to their children turns into a discussion of why we can't have the name of one particular teacher [portion removed.]

I'll tell you what: if you believe everything your kid tells you about what goes on at school, without reservation and without attempting a more nuanced understanding of circumstances, then I'll feel free to believe everything they tell me about what goes on at home.

Posted by a parent
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 2, 2015 at 2:27 am

Just Another teacher,

Seriously. You think parents trying to solve a problem with an individual teacher - not blaming all teachers or even you - is a "pitchfork brigade"? [Portion removed.]

But speaking directly to your point - How can I believe the teachers when they never have anything to say because they never respond to emails? It's so bad, it makes me wonder if they have been directed never to leave a paper trail.

Besides, the problem is what we see before our own eyes at home in the impact on our children.

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