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School district fills top, 'critical' positions

Original post made on Jul 5, 2017

The Palo Alto school district announced Wednesday that outside hires from school districts in Virginia, Southern California and Sacramento will fill three "critical" positions at the district office, including two new jobs created this spring.

Read the full story here Web Link posted Wednesday, July 5, 2017, 8:01 PM

Comments (28)

Posted by Oh No
a resident of Downtown North
on Jul 5, 2017 at 11:17 pm

Oh no! Another person out of state hire suoervising special education. That lead to the Distatord of the last 3 years. McGee did not know what the CDE was, that we were under an Audit, that audit findings had been withheld. He allowed bullying and sexual harassment and belittled families saying there were never any complaints. This hire has no deep knowledge of dyslexia, autism, bullying. A degree is psychology is the opposite of what we need. We already have psychs running the District. We do not need any Phds in policy now. The PhDs cost a lot and lead us into dasastor. We need real California teachers and managers. Do we have to pay moving costs?

Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 6, 2017 at 7:25 am

I read this with fear and trepidation, oh and concerns about whether this is the start of another financial drain on our resources. As the first poster above said, how much is it going to cost us to move them here and will they get a cost of housing bonus, etc. etc. etc.?

Posted by Yikes
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 6, 2017 at 7:37 am

Not great hires, no way around that. Final confirmation that Kevin Skelly killed the PAUSD brand, and MAX McGee put in the final nails. Administrators are not flocking to PAUSD anymore.

Posted by Seriously?
a resident of St. Claire Gardens
on Jul 6, 2017 at 8:12 am

No need for national recruiting. Try looking within.
This is silly.

Posted by Energy
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 6, 2017 at 8:31 am

Why don't we try hiring a bunch of students from Stanford for awhile? Research shows that if you pay people too much, it backfires. We have gotten used to the idea that we have to pay more for fancy degrees when what we really need are people with strong ethical compasses and a burning, intrinsic motivation to make things better. We woukd have to give them more authority, too. Strongly hierarchical organizations are not very resilient in the face of challenges. Even tenured teachers here don't dare speak out, much less risk their careers to be upstanders.

Posted by R. Winslow
a resident of Crescent Park
on Jul 6, 2017 at 9:53 am

Another 'duct tape' repair job. Did the PAUSD ever consider hiring/promoting one of its own school principals or perhaps an in-house administrator who has actually witnessed this ongoing incompetence on a day-to-day basis?

Why is it always some 'expert' from out of town who is granted a humongous salary (with an exorbitant benefit package) and whose 'vision for the future' only leave the districts in even further disarray?

If the PAUSD were a ship, it is still being led by captains who believe the world is flat.

Posted by Energy
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 6, 2017 at 10:18 am

@R. Winslow,
Now that Denise Herrmann has left, unfortunately, the trouble is that there is no one who hasn't been silently complicit with the goings on, or even good Germans keeping things going without ever appreciating the damage. What would you do if you were a teacher and your supervisor told you a family had ulterior motive, or was crazy, or had threatened to sue? You would do what you were told with no small dose of selfrighteousness. The more upset a family nmight get at being smeared and unfairly treated, the more you would feel justified to side with the slick colleagues engaged behind the scenes in actively stressing the family. As has been mentioned, many of the strategies families experienced do not originate in the district - employees took their orders from lawyers, who make admins feel that they are doing the right thing even as they do terrible things and increase district legal fees and liability.

Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 6, 2017 at 11:46 am

I look at this slightly differently. I am fearful of bringing out of State or out of area people in as they are going to get sticker shock both about home prices as well as the type of school district PAUSD has become. We have very involved parents, very well educated parents and parents who have grown up and often educated from all over the world, these may or may not be three distinct groups. Either way, I think someone from elsewhere, like McGee himself when he first arrived, will find it hard to assimilate their own ideas into the District.

However, I would be equally wary of someone being promoted as I am not sure of anyone who would be considered neutral enough.

Ideally, I would prefer to see someone from within the Bay Area who doesn't have to move house and who understands the pace and demographics of Silicon Valley.

Posted by R. Winslow
a resident of Crescent Park
on Jul 6, 2017 at 12:28 pm

>the trouble is that there is no one who hasn't been silently complicit with the goings on, or even good Germans keeping things going without ever appreciating the damage. What would you do if you were a teacher and your supervisor told you a family had ulterior motive, or was crazy, or had threatened to sue? You would do what you were told with no small dose of selfrighteousness.
@energy...sounds like some of these teachers are more concerned with tenure rather than the best interests of their students and community.

That said, the overall responsibility still rests with upper management/administration. Perhaps it's time for a 'clean slate' and a return to the days of Dr. Henry M. Gunn when the quality and scope of PA public education was at its very best.

Posted by Welcome
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jul 6, 2017 at 2:12 pm

Seriously, if any of our new hires make the mistake of reading this, I just wanted make sure that at least one person thought to say, "welcome." I'm sorry people here use every opportunity possible to smear everyone connected to our schools, even folks who haven't started work yet.

Posted by Downtown North
a resident of Downtown North
on Jul 6, 2017 at 2:24 pm

Please give the new hires a chance and don't be so negative! The new hires were interviewed by parents, administration and community members. I can't believe how quick everyone is to criticize!

Posted by helicopters
a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Jul 6, 2017 at 2:44 pm

Reading these comments please ask yourself why anyone would want to work for PAUSD. These poor folks haven't even started their jobs and people already whining. Perhaps word is out there - avoid PA parents! It can only hurt our ability to recruit people.

Posted by Deep Growl
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 6, 2017 at 4:26 pm

[Post removed.]

Posted by It's magic.
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 6, 2017 at 5:03 pm

The colleges have started to figure this out. Kids who are burnt out when they leave high school stand out in a negative way when they get to college and the job market. Creativity is snuffed out by such a regimen.

American creativity and ingenuity comes from allowing time for play, exploration. Goofing around can be productive. "Down time" is critical to synthesize knowledge and prepare our minds to use what we've learned creatively. Disciplined study and effort to grow and learn is important, but it must be balanced with playful, creative, unstructured fun ...and rest. It takes a different kind of discipline to strike this important balance.

If you measure learning by what you can regurgitate on a test, I suppose our schools may be lower performing. I'm okay with that. I appreciate the culture that gave rise to Silicon Valley magic. It is wonderful.

Posted by Oh No
a resident of Downtown North
on Jul 6, 2017 at 5:28 pm

@Downtown North "The new hires were interviewed by parents, administration and community members." Actually, we do not know that. We know the article made a broad statement to that affect. With Dr. McGee, you have to be very, very careful about his broad statements that parents or the community were included. Did each of these positions include interviews by parents? By Community Members? If so, who were they? Why are the Committee Member names, especially those of parents, not provided? Who picked the parents and community members? Were parents not picked for the committees allowed to give input? Were there general input meetings for the public and parents?

For principals, the schools have open, transparent selection processes. However, when I attended principal input meetings, Scott Bowers made it clear parents were not included in any selection committee. He would only say he consulted parents who were "community leaders." It stood out because other parents really stressed a desire to give input, and he repeated the District had already spoken to parents who were already 'community leaders', and this sufficed for all parents. That was only one principal selection process. If anyone knows the process, please post.

Again my concern with the article and press release is there are some broad sentences that make it appear that parents were on all the interview panels, but we don't know that. Some parents could have been allowed input at some point in the process, but we don't know when, where or who. In the past, McGee and his staff insisted community and parents had adequate input, such as involving minorities, LCAP, and seemed surprised when the public stated at Board Meetings they had not. He said there was input on the Special Education Evaluation Review, when very few input meetings were held and on very short notice, and parents were told they were "coffees" to hear about a book, not input on an evaluation.

Sorry but we have to be careful because Dr. McGee often inflates - when Holly Wade was promoted, he wrote he convinced community leaders of the need, but he spoke to one parent rep. He said he talked to all families involved with OCR, and it turned out he called one. He said he reviewed all legal cases he brought against families in Special Education, and they were all valid, but he spoke to no families.

Finally, while new hires should normally be left to sink or swim on their own, the Assistant Superintendent of Strategic Initiatives and Operations is one of the most sensitive positions in the District, with some of the most power and control over the most vulnerable of children. Parents have every right to be concerned. This is a high paying position, and the incumbent had a responsibility to read the press and know what she is being brought in to fix. She was chosen by a Superintendent who brought in some very expensive hires from out of state, and he himself came from out of state and did not know about California compliance laws or that our District was under an Audit. He showed no understanding of the legal issues or history of bullying, and chose a law firm because a problem employee liked them. The person who previously performed many of the duties of this new position was pushed out, had absolute control, and their tenure brought unprecedented findings of bullying and psychical attacks on girls at school.

This is a Superintendent on his way out the door, but he is conducting unprecedented hiring that will affect children the rest of their lives. Parents have a right to be concerned with his hires, and to wonder why staff can't be hired when a new Superintendent comes on board. The people taking the jobs know they are with a temporary Superintendent, and taking the risk. To give them the best chance, the most fair thing would have been for the Board of Education to be responsible and get a new Superintendent right away, or delay hires until we have a permanent one. There are executive decision makers here whose actions are questionable. There is no perfect answer or way to proceed. Still, the public should raise these questions.

From Article -
"The appointments were made after several weeks of candidate interviews conducted by Superintendent Max McGee with senior leadership, principals, parents and community members."

From PAUSD Press Release:Web Link
"Dr. McGee worked with senior leaders of his Cabinet, school principals, and parents and community leaders to interview dozens of candidates. “I am incredibly thankful to the individuals who made the time this spring, including parents and community members, to participate in numerous interview panels as we made sure to hire the very best educators who will help us provide high quality services to our students and their families,” said Dr. McGee."

Posted by Fred
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Jul 6, 2017 at 5:32 pm

@Magic, yes, who ever heard of creative, super-hard-working Chinese people? Wait - like maybe anyone who has been to China?

I don't know where the idea that elite US colleges are passing over hard-working kids for laid back "creative" ones comes from, but it doesn't show up in the college admissions results that I see or the elite campuses I visit. There's probably a point of diminishing returns, but hard work and high achievement (academic and otherwise) are the primary tickets to elite colleges, which are generally the ticket to elite careers. There's plenty of other worthwhile stuff you can do in life, of course, and some people have great success without fancy college credentials - but that's the well-worn path.

Posted by Fred
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Jul 6, 2017 at 5:46 pm

Parents and community members met candidates and gave input, sure. But what people miss is how thin the applicant pool is and how cursory the hiring process. We are hiring in a hurry at the end of the hiring season for spots that MUST be filled. And we almost never use recruiters, so we are relying on active job-seekers responding to ads in education job boards. We have a handful of qualified applicants (many not qualified), most of whom are known to NO ONE in the district (literally no one has met them before they come in to interview), come in for a few hours of in-person interviews, and then we make a hiring decision. That's fine for hiring, say, an entry-level person, but it is a crazy approach for hiring senior executives who influence the direction of the whole district (an assistant superintendent is one of the top positions). We just roll the dice and take our chances - with predictable results.

Posted by R. Winslow
a resident of Crescent Park
on Jul 6, 2017 at 6:30 pm

[Post removed due to deletion of referenced comment.]

Posted by Energy
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 7, 2017 at 8:21 am

Do you really think that creativity and hard wiork are mutually exclusive? Do you think that learning and fun or even hard wirk and fun are mutually exclusive?

Let's hope we finally get some admins who know better. Who have integrity, too, which should be the first requirement.

Posted by Fish in a Barrel
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jul 7, 2017 at 8:47 am

Take a moment (there's plenty of time, evidently) to read through these comments and ask yourself if YOU would want to work in a district where people feel free to engage in anonymous character assassination on a local online forum like this. These people are being subjected to baseless anonymous critiques without having spent a single second on the job.

If you are one of our new hires and you happen to read this, take my advice: please know that there are a LOT of people in our community who welcome you warmly and wish you all the success in the world. [Portion removed.]

Posted by Energy
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 7, 2017 at 6:13 pm

You have to understand the context in which commenters are commenting, i.e., the retirement of McGee and the exit of some longtime problem administrators like Wade and Carrillo, even while the problems, the damage to many families, and the trust problem, have not been addressed. (Problem to families.). Anyone can read the history of school problems for the last decade in this district simply by using a search engine or Townsquare. If they can't do that before moving across the country to take a job here, then if they don't want this district warts and all, it's nobody's fault but theirs. You ask who would want to take a job here, but apparently they do. Hopefully we will get people who are problem solvers and will decrease criticism by actually solving problems rather than sweeping them under the rug or using intimidation and retaliation against vulnerable families. Hopefully we will get people who value honesty rather than wish to suppress honest discourse.

You do make a good point that when the new hires arrive, it's time to make them feel welcome, and I have no doubt they will be welcomed. Please don't you ambush them with that kind of bile either. It can be just as offputting to hear someone leading with that kind of cranky self-righteousness and similar criticism of others that you did above rather than taking your own advice to create a welcoming greeting. Since this thread seems to be more an internal discussion about well-known concerns and whether the process will bring in people who will help the district create a new, well-functioning leadership, you are off the hook for your nastiness here, I think. Point well-taken about remembering to make people feel welcome. I hope you remember that many families have dealt with serious, damaging, unprofessional behavior from administrative employees, and an atmosphere of coverups, backbiting, and retaliation, so when you talk like that, it feels like another "sit down and shut up" instead of solving problems. Anyone with a modicum of intelligence could read TS before even applying here, or even The Atlantic. Yet they still came. We need less "sit doen and shut up" and more "what can we do to help make this right"?

Posted by Robert Smith
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jul 7, 2017 at 6:37 pm

The new hires all look plausible, let's give them a chance. Some people are asking to hire less experienced people, perhaps that is what is happening.

As negative as I have been myself, I am beginning to think that we need to take a more positive view.

Posted by Energy
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 7, 2017 at 6:54 pm

@Robert Smith,
This is not about negative or positive, it's about a serious trust problem and whether McGee will solve it or circle the wagons again. In his defense, he was plopped in the middle of a pretty thick swamp at Churchill, far worse than anything these new hires face, but he's had three years to get around to brass tacks. I am at least hopeful that new people who are intrepid enough to move out here might be able to break the cycle of coverup and defensiveness. Teacher of the year is a pretty rare honor that impresses me more than any degree. Another person's frequent moving between jobs is more of concern.

If you want to roll out the welcome wagon, please start a thread just for that, remain positive (not using it as a seemingly backhanded slam at others as fish did above, and I will join you in offering warm greetings.

Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 7, 2017 at 7:44 pm

I agree with Energy above, I think.

I will welcome the new hires if I meet them personally. I am always for the person and will not judge them as individuals. They have made a decision to take the job offered and are willing to move to take up their new job. That is the same with anyone who moves here, I would think.

My reservations are not with the individuals themselves. My reservations are towards the powers that be which have chosen these individuals. I hope the newcomers do well in their jobs, make friends, and enjoy living here. My hopes for PAUSD are that they will be more responsible with their hirings, particularly in respect of where it might cost us lots of money due to cost of housing bonuses or dealing with new hires who cannot do the job they were hired to do for reasons of being unfamiliar with Silicon Valley and the unique problems of the Valley.

Posted by corner
a resident of Palo Alto Orchards
on Jul 10, 2017 at 3:22 pm

@ magic

I think you are right, but also, you should go ahead and call some admissions officers today and talk about creativity. They will laugh at you. It is really sad but go ahead and call.

I hope the focus will be on creating free time and not wasting class time on scandals or book keeping matters, polls about scandals, training about how to avoid scandals..... Not a stellar year for anyone and not anyone's fault, but it would be great to try to keep adult matters out of the academic school day

Posted by francis
a resident of Barron Park
on Jul 11, 2017 at 8:27 am


Skelly, McGee, and company are/were no miracle workers, i won't argue that. but i'd respectfully ask that you consider the possibility that palo alto parents may be the ones killing the palo alto brand

Posted by Energy
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 11, 2017 at 1:06 pm

Let's look at your point through a small example.

Using a real situation, say your child is struggling with something that the teacher realizes and sends the child to an occupational therapist for evaluation. So far, so good. The therapist, a district employee, finds problems and recommends therapy. Again, all is right. The child's problem relates to very fundamental issues such as reading or writing, and luckily can be addressed. The therapist and teacher leave the district, though, and no one follows up on the recommendations, even though the parent brings up the issue with subsequent teachers. By the time the child is older, the problem, unaddressed, has snowballed so parents have to ask for an IEP, perhaps even after being told one is necessary.

Asking for an IEP suddenly changes everything. The parent is treated like some kind of hostile space alien, such as when the parent asks for records in order to fix mistakes for the child's sake, and given the runaround rather than a chance to follow district procedures to determine how to help the student. Parent is able to get records, after herculean effort, which falsely state that therapy was provided to the student as recommended, when it clearly was not. I say clearly, but that's if someone is willing to take the effort to look at and evaluate the facts, but this will never happen, and any attempts to bring it up are met with such nastiness and even more lies to clear up, parent gives up. Child simply suffers the consequences of being regarded as stupid because an addressable problem was never dealt with early as the law requires.

It is the law, not the parents, that requires the schools to proactively identify these problems and extend accommodations even when the parents don't ask, and to apprise parents of their rights if they do. When the law fails, parents do have rights, and should enforce them. The fact that we have had so few lawsuits in the face if what has happened is because Palo Alto parents are the adults in the room.

Blaming this stuff on parents is like blaming a nun who gets raped because she wore a habit. Huh? Is right. The problem is the oerpetrator. Parents anywhere would have problems with being systematically lied to, retaliated against, invalidated, gossipped about, and generally treated badly. This is not a Palo Alto parent problem, it is a problem of people like you who think abusive and illegal behavior should be glossed over and the victims accused of being at fault.

A "brand" can only be propped up so long when there is so much rottonness behind it. What protects the brand is creating a great trustworthy operation, i.e. Solving problems not pretending they don't exist. An important aspect of that is responding appropriately to solve problems, not covering them up an letting them fester. If you think that's a problem and prefer to protect a "brand" over ferreting out poorly performing dishonorable behavior ftom admins, then you do not belong in a school district where such behavior is so damaging.

Posted by Energy U R my hero!
a resident of Barron Park
on Sep 12, 2017 at 12:03 am

Very well said Energy! Gross avoiding of legal responsibilities and guiding already overwhelmed parents dealing w/a disability, who stupidly trust what they are being told is best for their child.

If you are ignorant about your rights, you will be taken advantage off - you are a mark!

Talk about bad use of PIE and other funding, if the IEP committee just allocated the $$$ they spent on sending double-digit number of people to each IEP meeting to accomplish nothing effective, into a bucket for the child, the redirected expense would fund the "INDEPENDENT" services they need (they've forgotten what the "I" stands for in IEP. IEPs in this district are a joke and illegal, if only the trusting parent understood their rights.

And if there is someone who is actually coming up with a clever support, the others will set her/him straight before your child gets the benefit.

Think of the IEP team as corporate HR, they're to protect the school resources and not do what's best for the child. A trusting family, makes it so easy.

What's it going to take to fix this? Does the school board and the superintendent know what's going on? If you don't like helping kids, you shouldn't be in these jobs.

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