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Where the Palo Alto school board candidates stand on student achievement

Original post made on Sep 22, 2022

In their own words, the four candidates seeking two open seats on the Palo Alto Board of Education share ways the school district can support the diverse academic needs of all students.

Read the full story here Web Link posted Thursday, September 22, 2022, 9:41 PM

Comments (22)

Posted by pausd parent
a resident of South of Midtown
on Sep 22, 2022 at 10:19 pm

pausd parent is a registered user.

Watching this campaign over the past month it has been interesting to watch the evolution of other candidates to follow the lead of Shana Segal, the only educator running. From the very start, differentiated instruction has been a key part of her platform. Now it has worked its way into the messaging of other candidates.

Some people tried to challenge and question her on it. She held her ground because she has experience to back it up. Now it's in vogue. I think every candidate mentioned it in their debates this week. Just remember where it started.

We are lucky to have someone with Shana Segal's leadership, experience and training running for school board. In my ten plus years living here, I can tell you it's a rare combination.

Posted by AnnieB
a resident of Midtown
on Sep 23, 2022 at 10:28 am

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Totally agree with the previous comment. Shana is a natural for the board. So nice to see someone who just wants to do that job, and is not angling for other things within the democratic party. It's an important job. We are so lucky to have someone like her.

Posted by jamiebarnett
a resident of Evergreen Park
on Sep 23, 2022 at 10:37 am

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Shounak and Nicole are running on the best platforms. These are the two people with the experience — who know how to run an *actual* organization, manage an *actual* budget (which means making the tough tradeoffs vs. promising teachers things they can't realistically deliver), set culture (with an earnest, good-faith interest in equity and access), hold the administration accountable, and manage large-scale communications through the district. Attend a forum or one of the coffees in your neighborhood, and you will see that Shounak and Nicole are far and away the two strongest candidates.

Posted by D. in Barron Park
a resident of Barron Park
on Sep 23, 2022 at 10:48 am

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I'm thankful that I wasn't the only one the heard one of important issues of Shana's platform, "differentiation," used by Nicole for the first time during the online debate.

Posted by Resident10
a resident of Professorville
on Sep 23, 2022 at 11:21 am

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Completely agree with the previous commenters. The difference is that Shana understands differentiated learning in an actual classroom setting and can give specifics regarding HOW to do it. It is not a buzzword or talking point for her. It is something she has the skills and knowledge to put into action. PAUSD has had some good ideas but has often fallen down on the implementation of their plans. Having someone with Shana's practical experience on the board will be a huge benefit to PAUSD - and the community.

a resident of University South
on Sep 23, 2022 at 12:03 pm

KEN HOROWITZ is a registered user.

I agree with Jamie Barnett that Shounak and Nicole are the best candidates to lead PAUSD in the years to come. They both have a positive outlook for the future of our students. They are energetic and visionary. Please vote for them!

Posted by Greene and Paly Parent
a resident of Professorville
on Sep 23, 2022 at 12:20 pm

Greene and Paly Parent is a registered user.

Is nice to see how Nicole and Shounak are following Shana's lead on differentiation!

Let us look at Dharap's *actual* track record on differentiation. Dharap promoted "one-size-fits-all," worked against differentiated instruction, supported elimination of honors classes, and spoke against academic excellence.

-- Recall Dharap's vote on the 9th grade Gunn Algebra delaning. The data showed dismal results. Then Dharap voted to stop getting additional reports to board (!!) (once a report is produced, public can see it, bad on his resume). This action shows he does not actually care how students are served. Just cover up inconvenient data.
Web Link

-- Dharap supported the de-laning of middle school math. This past year all PAUSD 8th graders took Algebra. Indeed great on paper (e.g. Dharap's resume). BUT are students served? Are the underserved kids served? Data shows that 20% of students placed in PAUSD 8th grade Algebra are woefully underprepared and also ARE NOT EXPERIENCING GROWTH. This data was sent to Dharap. He did not respond.
Web Link

PAUSD middle school math courses have 1/3 of kids 1+ years ahead and 1/5 of kids 1-2 years behind. The "middle" is also not served: Teachers struggle to even teach to the standards with such a wide spread of levels. Students that don't take math outside the district during middle school are not prepared for PAUSD high school's honors and advanced lanes. Many need private tutoring and experience stress.

We need someone with experience in education (Shana), builds transparency and trust, and is there to serve our students and families.

Posted by aa1234
a resident of Triple El
on Sep 23, 2022 at 12:42 pm

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I am also very interested in hearing about the relevant background and experience of each candidate.
Is s/he a:
- parent of kids in the district schools?
- parent of kids outside the district schools?
- a current or former educator or administrator in education?

Being a successful attorney, business owner, executive in a corporate environment are, in my opinion, irrelevant qualifications , especially if you have no kids i.e. skin in this game
(looking at you, Dharap).

Are some candidates using this as an entry into a political career?

Posted by Resident10
a resident of Professorville
on Sep 23, 2022 at 1:22 pm

Resident10 is a registered user.

@jamiebarnett I went to listen to Shana and was impressed, less so with the other candidates. Managing a budget includes more than numbers -Carolyn Chow will run the numbers. The role of a board member is to understand the trade-offs in the schools and classrooms - how will it impact students, then make the hard decisions. Shana has the most experience in understanding the numbers in an educational setting. As far as holding the superintendent accountable, you actually have to understand his proposals to do that - understand classrooms, teacher capabilities and how schools operate. Not looking to hire for a start-up but for a school district, which requires different skills.

Posted by Mondoman
a resident of Green Acres
on Sep 24, 2022 at 3:06 pm

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"Implement workshops on culturally-responsive teaching, anti-racism, trauma-informed practices, ..."
Sure would be nice if any of that had actual evidence that it improved student learning...

Posted by GreatPumpkin
a resident of Downtown North
on Sep 24, 2022 at 9:32 pm

GreatPumpkin is a registered user.

Dharap comes across as anti-academic. This could be the reason Special Education students do so poorly in PAUSD.

Board Policies eliminated A-G graduation standards and allow lower State standards, or any standard. Board Policies state any plan the parents agreed to equals automatic agreement to graduate students at a lower standard. A PAUSD diploma means nothing. Some of this was done for COVID. That is over, and he needs to stop blaming it for everything. Move forward.

Dharap said he did not do well at Gunn High School, and later became an attorney. Great for him, but most students need a good high school education to succeed. Programs created in the past 2-3 years remove students from neighborhood campuses and put them into "Intensive" and "Therapeutic" programs. These teach "Core" standards, which are far below grade level standards. Some classes remained at the high schools, but Palo Alto High School's disability courses were cut by half and moved to Cubberley with low standards and without inclusion. These kids are now invisible. PAUSD labels students as mentally ill, using its own evaluations. There are no protections for these students, not even their family's health data. These kids are hidden away in Therapeutic "Functional" and Vocational programs. Legally, Special Education can get rid of these kids whenever they want under lower graduation standards.

Dharap gave Special Education 3 years of budget increases with no spending reports, and allowed them to implement programs without Board approval as Intensive, Therapeutic, Core programs with low standards. Dharap does not understand oversight. He thinks being a Board Trustee equals being a lawyer, "if the 3 steps of this process were followed, it is legal and I vote yes" and "if Superintendent said he implemented a Policy, it succeed." No wonder Special Education legal costs increased. That is not Equity.

Posted by Father of Gunn Graduates
a resident of Gunn High School
on Sep 24, 2022 at 11:09 pm

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We don't need one size fits all for our students. We need classes that challenge high achievers, and tutoring peers and lower grade students is a great additional way to challenge high achievers while helping those who aren't as high achieving. We need a voice on the school board that represents students and parents first and works to involve parents more actively in their students' leaning. Ingrid Campos will bring this needed balance to the school board.

Posted by Greene and Paly Parent
a resident of Professorville
on Sep 25, 2022 at 7:09 am

Greene and Paly Parent is a registered user.

Dharap's narrative is that academic achievement in high school does not matter (and thus can be deprioritized). This narrative comes from the limited view of coming from the heights of privilege which is his own personal experience.

Low expectations harm most students and disproportionally more those with fewer privileges. Community colleges are indeed free. But adult time to learn is not. Students that graduate HS with the meaningless diplomas that Dharap is pushing for but without the learning habits and academic preparation have to spend at best additional years in college to reach the same goal. To those without privilege this means while working in lower paying jobs and often supporting themselves and sometimes others. Most of those students, also those underserved PAUSD graduates (!), drop out within the first year of college. The empty diploma can only go that far.

Dharap's own story is that of immense privilege. It is not a preferred route. We can not expect that the students that PAUSD fails to prepare academically have realistic options open to become professionals. The personal story of less motivated privileged kid that got bad grades in HS and then became a professional should not be a guiding principle to our schools.

The evidence we do have is that underprivileged students do much better when high expectation are held together with support. It is incredible what this can do to improve achievement. But Dharap is NOT INTERESTED in evidence and data. Multiple times he declined even looking at those or actively requested not to get them (I covered that in a different thread). Here is what works:

Posted by Sandra Cox
a resident of Mountain View
on Sep 25, 2022 at 7:21 am

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"PAUSD middle school math courses have 1/3 of kids 1+ years ahead and 1/5 of kids 1-2 years behind."

If 33% of the students are advanced in math by 1+ years and 20% are behind by 1-2 years, wouldn't it be easier for some students to simply skip one grade while the others are held back 1-2 grades?

That leaves approximately 47% who can matriculate normally.

Posted by Ashley Davis
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 25, 2022 at 12:55 pm

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The Oriental/Asian students performing at above average academic levels in high school academics should be allowed to enroll in college coursework concurrently or to graduate earlier.

This will allow the more gifted students a more exigent path on the fast track.

Posted by GreatPumpkin
a resident of Downtown North
on Sep 25, 2022 at 1:04 pm

GreatPumpkin is a registered user.

@Greene and Paly Parent
The web link to 9th Grade Math was informative. When you sent Dharap data and he didn't respond, he tends not to respond to anything. Not all the Board members understand data, especially attorneys. There is also a real gap in this Board's understanding of finance, budgets, how Special Education students are tabulated.

Todd Collins and Dharap's philosophy is sound in terms of their job is to see the big picture. Where they are falling down is Oversight. They seem to believe they should not look at data, not ask for Special Education budget reports, and let the Superintendant report once in a while based on "data" his staff provide showing their own success.

In terms of his Equity claims, Dharap comes from Gunn, which is a completely different environment than Palo Alto High School. The big difference: wealth. Gunn is suburban, car driving, large houses, privileged community at the very edge of the district. Palo Alto High School is in a city campus with a diverse student demographic. Many are lower income (at least 3 low income housing complexes in downtown Palo Alto) and live in less expensive housing (apartments and condominiums).

In terms of the CAC representig Special Education families, all volunteer and hard workers, but tends to be run by Gunn families with time and money. The want the best but don't understand the needs of lower income, city, multi-unit families.

Middle School instructor concerns that mental health and Special education staff were reduced ring true. There are huge differentials in resources schools receive. Gunn has always had far greater Special Education resources than Palo Alto High School. Gunn families would not know Special Education was reduced at Palo Alto High and moved to Cubberley. Graduation requirements were lowered. Therapeutic programs were created without Board approval or budget reports. Giving so much power and control to Special Education with secrecy is frightening.

Posted by Mondoman
a resident of Green Acres
on Sep 25, 2022 at 1:48 pm

Mondoman is a registered user.

@Sandra Skipping a grade can help, but the same mismatch of skills will show up in the new class as well. I think the issue the OP was getting at is that when you have such a wide range of skills/achievement levels in a single class, it's difficult to impossible to "differentiate" the teaching enough to support all the students.

For example, that's why schools have varsity, junior varsity and sometimes even 3rd level teams for the same sport.

Posted by Mondoman
a resident of Green Acres
on Sep 25, 2022 at 1:53 pm

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@GreatPumpkin That's funny - I always thought it was Paly that had the wealth :) Plenty of apartment dwellers at Gunn; maybe we should focus on people's thoughts and actions rather than trying to divine social characteristics of half the city vs. the other half. I seem to remember many posters here commenting on what a pit south Palo Alto is, with no redeeming value to El Camino or San Antonio (all part of Gunn, right?).

Posted by GreatPumpkin
a resident of Downtown North
on Sep 25, 2022 at 7:20 pm

GreatPumpkin is a registered user.

@Mandoman No there are disproportionately larger numbers of multi-unit dwellings in North Palo Alto and multiple low income housing units. Many seniors and disabled due to public transit. There are some very expensive homes but fewer people live in them. Gunn is a completely different culture. It is suburban and car oriented.

Gunn's location and demographics matters because Drahap made it a topic in his re-election. Voters have a right to be concerned with his limited perspective. He promotes himself as doing well in life without much effort in high school at Gunn, but does not recognize the outstanding education he received.

Not all students get the same. Even a quick look at the 2 school's Master Schedules show Palo Alto High School has far fewer Special Education classes than Gunn. Palo Alto High Special Education classes were moved to Cubberley. Gunn's were not. Look it up. Special Education students can be required to graduate under a lower standard. Look it up.

Voters want money well spent on effective educational programs across all campuses. What data did you study to conclude PAUSD school location does not matter to outcome? Have you reviewed documentation for each campus? Have you compared all of the campuses Master Schedules, teacher lists, lists of uncredentialed teachers, lists of aides and type of aides, access to vocational programs, grant funded programs, number of therapeutic staff, number of case managers, special education teacher case and workload, number of IEP and IDP students and meetings teachers must attend, adult student ratio at each campus, budgets, funraising, sports, A-G graduation rates, college entrance AND college graduation and long term employment rates? You know PAUSD data showed 50% of PAUSD Special Education graduates are unemployed and spend their days on video games? That they start college but can't finish?

Drahap allowed secrecy in Special Education budgets and programs. Equity is a fair voter concern.

Posted by Greene and Paly Parent
a resident of Professorville
on Sep 25, 2022 at 8:49 pm

Greene and Paly Parent is a registered user.

@Sandra Cox

You make a good point. Here are additional details on what is happening with PAUSD middle school math. As mentioned, there is now a single pathway so all these students of wildly different levels actually sit in the same classroom. There is no differentiation and no due oversight (as @GreatPumpkin noted also) on what actually works and how students are served. Board members and Shounak in particular are literally refusing input.

There is an option at PAUSD to "skip" a grade in math, but only 10% are allowed to, about a quarter of those that qualify. For comparison, in Los Altos, Cupertino, and Saratoga, 45%-50% of students take Algebra in 7th grade and the program allows them to do that without "skipping" (learning outside of school). The PAUSD process results in disproportionate effects: Uniquely at PAUSD many more boys than girls take Algebra in 7th grade (1:3 to 1:4 ratio in some years) and very low number of white boys with US-born parents. In contrast, data from neighboring districts show gender-balanced 7th grade Algebra courses with healthy HUR representation in accelerated math. (The data for PAUSD was obtained using PRAs, analyzed, and shared with board members. Other districts lawfully collect and publish such data.)

A typical PAUSD middle school math class of 25 students has ~5 that are 1+ years behind, and ~9 students already proficient and unchallenged. How can teachers manage that? How can those behind even hope to catch up (data shows they don't experience growth) Even those "in the middle" are not well served. A typical pattern of PAUSD students without STEM parents (i.e. guidance to building strong math foundations during k-8 outside of school) is that they end up struggling and needing tutors in high school.

Our students are getting less despite better funds. Why? Ed Boards at the mentioned neighboring districts are student-focused, exercise oversight over math pathways, with input and community feedback.

Posted by The Wind in the Willows
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Sep 29, 2022 at 11:55 am

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Dharap is contradictory his own words. He talked about differentiation in the candidate forum, but he also said in the interview with Palo Alto Daily that PAUSD should hold students back in math until 9th grade to teach Algebra 1. (* For reference, PAUSD currently offers Algebra 1 to 7th grade to 9th grade students depending on individual progress and preference.)

If students do not take Algebra 1 until 9th grade, they will lose the chance to take Calculus in 12th grade! (9th grade: Algebra 1, 10th grade: geometry, 11th grade: Algebra 2/Trigonometry, 12th grade: pre-calculus.) Under Dharap's proposal, only students who can afford to take outside classes will have the opportunity to take Calculus before graduating high school.

Under Dharap's plan, outstanding students from low income background will have no chance to compete with rich kids because Dharap's plan will eliminate any opportunity for low income kids to take advance math at PAUSD!

[Portion removed.]

Posted by Greene and Paly Parent
a resident of Professorville
on Sep 29, 2022 at 9:29 pm

Greene and Paly Parent is a registered user.

Dharap was featured in the Palo Alto post 9/28 "Incumbent lays out his philosophy." He is asked whether algebra should be offered to our eight graders or delayed to high school. His response is that he would follow recommendations to teach algebra later. He also states that "tailor curriculum to serve every student... this would make us a private school".

Explaining what this means: 80% of our students successfully complete Algebra in middle school. If delayed, they will be 1-2 years of math behind their peers in neighboring Los Altos (where 45% take Algebra in 7th grade and 85% by 8th). It also would be nearly impossible for our students to take AP calculus in HS (50% of our students do). Dharap suggest that only those that can afford private school should have that option.

Neighbors, even if you don't care about future STEM workforce, economy, global competitiveness, social mobility, equity, or have kids in school, think about what this would do yo your property value.

[Portion removed.]

The majority of US schools offer Algebra to middle schoolers.
Web Link
The first draft of the CA math framework recommended against offering Algebra in 8th grade, misrepresenting a failed SFUSD experiment as a success. That was debunked by STEM professionals, UC professors, and parents and was scrapped as inequitable. Draft2, removed this recommendation, but has other major issues and is being re-written by the CA BoE. Web Link

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