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Superintendent reorganizes special-education department

Original post made on Mar 27, 2019

Palo Alto Unified Superintendent Don Austin announced at Tuesday's school board meeting that special education will now be housed within educational services, as most districts do, with a series of reorganized positions.

Read the full story here Web Link posted Wednesday, March 27, 2019, 9:02 AM

Comments (19)

Posted by Reorg
a resident of Downtown North
on Mar 27, 2019 at 11:12 am

The public has not been given adequate notice about this change. There was nothing on the Board Agenda about a reorganization. Nothing in the online Board docs show it was presented in writing. The Board had a closed (secret) session evaluating the employees involved, but that is not a written notification to the public. The last time a reorganization was handled this way, it was a disaster, leading to multiple firings, harassment cases and legal fees.

'Austin made the announcement as part of an agenda item on the operations section of his draft district wide plan, the "PAUSD Promise."'
There is nothing in the PAUSD Promise document about a reorganization.

When will this take effect? Has it already happened?

Posted by The Public Interest
a resident of Barron Park
on Mar 27, 2019 at 3:27 pm

Ok, so they don't actually know what the actual a-g graduation rates are...and since they messed up 200 students, how do they know that no college bound students were affected?

Posted by More of the same
a resident of Juana Briones School
on Mar 27, 2019 at 6:59 pm

These are more superficial moves from the latest superintendent, though they are better than the ones that Kevin Skelly (hey, I'll hire Holly Wade, who will later leave in utter failure) then Glenn McGee (look at the latest shiny object, you know, copies of the ones from Illinois). It's been a bad 12 years for PAUSD, and it hasn't been the same in special ed in about 9 years.

Posted by Parent
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Mar 27, 2019 at 7:58 pm

the Districts policy regarding special Ed is to mire the parent requesting the student be tested, in the SST cycle. Even when demonstrably the student has been struggling and has been recommended for tier I interventions. Some of the staff on the sp Ed team are aggressive and make it feel like the child is somehow at fault or how better off the child is compared to others who need the IEP/504 more.No wonder parents either lawyer up at these meetings, completely give up or if they can afford it spend out of pocket to get their child tested. Hoping the super is not just paying lip service to this.

Posted by PA
a resident of Barron Park
on Mar 28, 2019 at 3:35 pm

You have to lawyer up and even that doesn't really get you what you need. And even with a lawyer you get just a sheet a of paper called an IEP that they drag out for an entire year or more because you get no services during this period and force you to sign before the end of the year or they threaten you that you will have to go through the process all over again. The IEP ONLY includes their interpretation which will not resemble what your specialist or you thought you had agreement on.

You really need to leave, which is their strategy, because they can waste 6 years of your child's eligibility and she will be so traumatized there will not be any solutions left that can help your child become independent.

You get nothing for a triple co-morbid diagnosis, just a ticket to same class everyone else does. With some resistance they may even change the name of the class to what you asked for but it's still the same one-size-fits-none.

You are really out of luck if your child looks "normal" because no matter how many stacks of professionally done assessments, they don't know how to interpret the data and don't even read them. If I had a $ for every time a teacher or IEP admin said, she looked fine with what we're doing, all the while not understanding a single thing going on in class and being left out of group projects. DO ask detailed questions about how the school does their assessments, as they cut corners and fill out portions of the assessments themselves, that are meant for others, to save time, with a justification that they know the child better.

When you ask, "Why aren't the accommodations being provided? The response is "But she must negotiate with the teacher for each instance of an accommodation. This is a life skill she must learn so it's put in place to advocate for herself. Since she didn't use them last year (because she didn't get them) and she is still got a C (you must track grades yourself because they play games with grades), she doesn't need them so we removed them, we've addressed the deficits and she's able to hold her own in a regular classroom." And then you have to start the year long cycle again to get them included but this joke is sadly on you and your child, because the implementation phase is always skipped.

They don't know what they don't know and the big joke is they don't really care that they don't know, they are so used to being entitled gatekeepers holding the line from letting $$ be spent in order to have enough for programs they really care about and raises which is a federal violation.

Posted by Resident
a resident of Downtown North
on Mar 28, 2019 at 3:43 pm

New lipstick, eh?

Posted by Bob
a resident of Barron Park
on Mar 28, 2019 at 9:16 pm

Jeez you guys really make it sound like these educators don’t care about the students. Guess that’s why they went into debt obtaining a masters degree to be paid less than most professions that require that level of education.

If you think PAUSD is so bad why don’t you just LEAVE

Posted by PAMon
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Mar 30, 2019 at 6:55 pm

Bob suggests these educators care deeply about the students. The evidence he provides is that the teachers went into debt in order to join the profession. Anyone here know what the average SAT scores are for high school graduates who study education in college? Teaching is a fantastically cushy job for the academically average. Those who can, do and those who can’t, teach. Difficult students are obstacles to be rolled over on their way to a ludicrously generous pension.

Posted by Not Again
a resident of Downtown North
on Mar 30, 2019 at 8:24 pm

This was handled very badly by both the Superintendent and the Board of Education. The announcement is vague and unclear. The public can't clarify it, because the Superintendent brought no organizational chart and no written description of the changes. He provided no date when it is effective.

It was sad to see the Board Members roll over so completely. They provided no oversight, demanded no written description, and didn't ask probing questions to give the public any more clear information. We depend on the Board for oversight. Instead, they said "we trust you" multiple times. It's not the Board's job to trust. It's the Boards job to provide oversight and ensure complete, accurate information is given to the public.

Despite being such a massive change, the Superintendent did not bother to place it on the agenda, and instead buried it's presentation in a document about the Palo Alto Promise. It is only vaguely related to this document. The document does not actually address the change. I have searched this document, and find not a word about the reorganization. Clever trick. By not putting it on the Agenda, the Superintendent ensured no parent or member of the public could speak ask questions, speak against it or express concerns. The Superintendent says everyone he talked to wants it, but we don't know that since he sprung it as a surprise. He gets extra points for springing it before a week of school vacation, so people will be traveling and not be paying attention.

The Superintendent did not give families any notice. He stressed multiple time he "talked" to Administrators before the meeting, but not to parents or students, the people whose lives it will change.

The only written notice families received was this Twitter post from the Superintendent:

"Looking forward to increasing our alignment throughout the organization to serve our students efficiently, effectively, and intuitively. Bringing Special Education back with Educational Services will be a benefit for all students and staff. @orgametrics @PaloAltoEduAsc"

This Twitter post is so vague and self congratulatory that it is completely meaningless. Why didn't the Superintendent's provide Orgametric's advanced written report or data to support the change? Does the District have a contract with Orgametrics? Who approved it? What are the deliverables?

Making a massive change without providing advanced public notice and not placing it transparently on the agenda sounds uncomfortably like the Special Education Review a couple years back, used to reform Special Education. It didn't.

This has left families and students in complete confusion.

And Worry.

The article says Special Education will now be housed within Educational Services. These are the words of the article, not the Superintendent, but are unclear. What does that mean? The Superintendent said it will be under two different Assistant superintendents. But parts of it won't. What happens to counseling and mental health, transportation, NPS and NPA schools?

The argument that the Assistant Superintendent hired to oversee Special Education "... does not even work in the same building as special education yet had been charged with reforming the embattled department, Austin said.)"
The new supervisors will also not even work in the same building. Administrators wants to work in the main building for the status, to be closer to the Superintendent and Board Members. The two Assistant Superintendents are not moving to the portables.

"yet had been charged with reforming the embattled department, Austin said.)"
Does the Superintendent think moving the "embattled department" under the leadership of 2 Assistant Superintendents with no training or experience in the field solve this? It will only make it worse, erasing all improvements made by having an Assistant Superintendent who did know something about Special Education. She could resolve problems and end legal problems. She was hired to fix all this. Is he saying she failed?

Now, with two untrained Assistant Superintendents leading, the Special Education staff will return to the old ways with no knowledgeable management overseeing them. They can fool the Board and Assistant Superintendent and bring legal suits against the disabled who have been bullied and harassed.

This is happening just as the public is told there will be budget cuts to Special Education based on the recommendations of a business leader with a PH.D from an online college, who has never taught. There will be no knowledgeable oversight of Special Education or its budget or decisions. If the two Co-Directors of Special Education decide they don't like something, the District will "trust them," and there will be no recourse. More legal fees and gridlock. Back where we started. We are going backward.

Posted by Bob
a resident of Barron Park
on Mar 30, 2019 at 10:39 pm

@PAMon wow you sound like a really nice person. So what is your proposed solution since all teachers are just in it for the”cushy” jobs?

Posted by The more it changes...
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 31, 2019 at 2:04 am

You wrote:
"Jeez you guys really make it sound like these educators don’t care about the students. Guess that’s why they went into debt obtaining a masters degree to be paid less than most professions that require that level of education.
If you think PAUSD is so bad why don’t you just LEAVE “

First of all, saying that the special ed department here has sucked, specifically for about the last 10 years, is factually supported, and is not the same as criticizing all teachers. Don’t be a jerk. Everyone in California has a right to a free education with lots of provisions for equality under the law. People in Palo Alto usually are also paying through the nose for it.

If your loved ones were murdered and the police response was botched because of corruption, and you were trying to fix the corruption and find out who murdered your loved ones, how would you feel if someone said to you, “Jeez, you guys make it sound like cops just don’t care about people. If you think the force is so bad, why don’t you LEAVE.”

Do you know the saying Beauty is as Beauty does? Or, The road to Hell is paved with good intentions? Just because a teacher WANTS to be an upstander, and tells the students to be upstanders, does not mean the teacher avoids being an @$$hole when the administrators lie about a student or a family to retaliate or pressure the family to leave. (You see, the administration in PAUSD, illegally, beat you to it — they are already pressuring families of special needs children to leave, and have often been, unlawfully, successful.) Just so you know, your toxic attitude toward people who suffer unlawful discrimination related to special needs — if you are a teacher yourself, that’s illegal, and YOU really should leave.

Secondly, teachers here get paid a lot, the majority make over $100,000/yr. That means a couple can be making two or three times what a young couple with masters degrees or even PhDs at NASA make, or far more than the Governor of the State of California. Lots of administrators here make more than the Governor of CA all by themselves.

Much of the reprehensible behavior of the district came/comes from the district office. If teachers don’t like paying for their masters degrees, they should get in on what the administrators do. PAUSD regularly pays for degrees and higher salaries for some of the most poorly performing administrators who got caught but never held accountable for unethical, illegal, conniving, and incompetent behavior, lying, etc, and who didn't even spend much time working at the job they got paid to do in order to get their free degree.

The teachers and site administrators take their marching orders from above, and when those people mislead teachers about families or situations, including being overly legalistic, or have an agenda that makes what teachers do impossible (for example, making it impossible for teachers to implement the “Childfind” provision of the IDEA which requires them to be proactive about identifying special needs and accommodating them rather than being a willing part of a machine to ignore or crush them and make them go away — when teachers go along with it rather than standing up against it, they become part of the illegal behavior, as Kim Diorio found).

I’m sure most teachers do think they “care”. I’m also very sure teachers here don’t care enough to be the upstanders they tell their students to be, even when they have tenure. If they did, the special ed mess would have been fixed a long time ago, because PAUSD once had a reputation as having a great special ed department.

Solutions? First, the district has to really want to know where it really and truly f$%^&%^&ed up and f$%&R*(ed over innocent children and decent families, and want to understand enough to know how to address things before they get back. Pretending that turnover confers a blank slate and THIS TIME they won't f%&^( people up has never worked. How can you fix something you won't face and won't ever take responsibility for (board?)

Posted by Bob
a resident of Barron Park
on Mar 31, 2019 at 5:26 am

@the more it changes TLDR. Cool, so no real solutions just a lot of ranting and complaining. You are part of the problem.

Posted by Anon
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 31, 2019 at 6:59 am

I understand the negative viewpoint above, but, we have a new superintendent -- let's see what the outcome is. At least Special Ed is getting attention. Let's see if it is good attention, or, bad attention. My hope is that the damage inflicted on Special Ed over the last decade can be repaired.

Posted by The more it changes...
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 31, 2019 at 9:32 am

"I understand the negative viewpoint above, but, we have a new superintendent -- let's see what the outcome is."

I heard this with Skelly, McGee, every time there was turnover under each of them (Young, Wade, etc). In the meantime, children grew up in the system, families were sued because they had a special needs child, people were personally retaliated against viciously in ways the public hasn't even heard.

Turnover does not solve anything.

I just gave you where to start. The appropriate kind of failure analysis for an organization like this that keeps screwing up in ways that hurt children and families over and over again (when a decade ago it was functioning well): There has to FINALLY be a willingness to be responsible, to actually face the scope of the failure/harm proactively (and to do the right thing by hurt children when it does understand), not JUST grudgingly react because one family or other (with money for lawyers) finally stands up. That’s actually against the law to run a school district that way, there is a duty to be proactive about problems related to special needs. There is a duty to serve everyone equally, not just those with money to get lawyers or advocates. Nowhere do I see that anything has been really learned or fixed. All the ingredients for future administrative SNAFUS and CYA are still in place.

As anyone in the education business knows, those who do not learn from history are condemned to repeat it. First, we make sure the administration in this town is focused on doing the right thing and understands how.

To understand how you do things right, first, the district has to really want to understand where it really and truly f$%^&%^&ed up and f$%&R*^ed over innocent children and good families for the last decade since things went wrong, and want to understand enough to know how to address problems before they get bad. Pretending that turnover confers a blank slate and THIS TIME they won't f%&^# people over has never worked any of the many times we have heard this to avert real analysis and solutions. How can you fix something you won't face and won't ever take responsibility for (Board?)

Everyone seems to forget that we had exactly this conversation before the Title IX problems came to a head. Because one family was finally willing to FORCE the district to go through the Title IX stuff (since we apparently didn’t learn anything from the previous OCR settlement agreements), everyone wants to pretend AGAIN, that all is well and they can leave everything else under the rug.

@Bob, you just made very clear why we aren’t getting solutions. Learning to take responsibility and learn from failures/mistakes, and correct them (which is probably the greatest lesson), is not a platitude, it’s an important organizational value with specific attributes, none of which I see happening now yet despite the turnover. That’s where the solutions are. The CYA tendencies tend to cover other perception, too. Get out of your trench, YOU useless sniping is only hurting those who are trying to get real and solve things.

Posted by The more it changes....
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 31, 2019 at 9:42 am

A specific way to do the above has been proposed many times on this list. Either the City or the School District should empower an Ombuds office, which answers to families in the district, and the mayor's office, or the county office of education, just not anyone in the district organizational chart.

The office should then start the failure analysis. Invite families to complain, investigate proactively where families are too afraid or exhausted to come forward, establish its trustworthiness to both protect those who bring forward problems from retaliation (including teachers), and to implement solutions and procedures that help everyone.

Once it has worked through the pile of festering $$#3t that the Board and people like you want us to ignore until it hits the fan again, it can be there to serve the interests of ALL families, not just those with money. It would not be the first time districts were given that kind of outside oversight from an office of ombudsman. Absolute power corrupts absolutely, and a situation in which a few families break through and complain to the OCR every once in awhile does not balance the insularity of the district which has over and over resulted in these problems.

Posted by Roger Dodger
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Apr 14, 2019 at 12:12 pm

Seems our new supe may have an communications problem in addition to other issues. He's also decided to "re-structure" the Visual and Performing Arts (VAPA) leadership by eliminating the job of Art Coordinator, which is a 30+ year position of professional leadership at the district level for Visual Arts and Theatre. He did this without any notice, and without consulting either the community or the visual arts and theatre teachers it directly impacts. He posted this on his Twitter feed when pushback began:

Web Link

Someone might want to tell him that's a really poor look.

Posted by Resident
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Apr 14, 2019 at 1:47 pm

You can read about the "restructuring" (changes in 2 positions as far as I can tell) in the Supt's weekly update Web Link

The main impact seems to be to lower overhead and retain all programs. PAUSD has been pretty badly managed and change resistant as long as I can recall. I'm happy to see things shaken up a bit, especially with more efforts focused on low income kids.

Posted by Member1
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Apr 17, 2019 at 9:08 pm

Well my kid has no problems, has done well and they still have made my kid suffer wait and will not answer normal questions because they do not want to and no one will make them. If my kid did not have to spend time chasing down adults and begging for info my kid would have lived to be there and help any special ed student any way she could

Posted by Board watcher
a resident of Community Center
on Apr 28, 2019 at 10:03 pm

As someone above mentioned, it's mostly PR until the S*^% hits the OCR again. Well, grab on to your hats folks, there are 2 active investigations which no one is talking about. How's that transparency promise, elections over, forgotten... I wonder if the board will decide to fight the OCR again?

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