Town Square

Post a New Topic

School board: New staff mental health specialist, Fletcher’s $5.5 million pool and Churchill lane changes

Original post made on Aug 23, 2023

At the first meeting of the Palo Alto Unified School District for the 2023-24 year, the board on Tuesday, Aug. 22 heard updates from staff on a range of issues and took action on two items.

Read the full story here Web Link posted Wednesday, August 23, 2023, 8:45 PM

Comments (32)

Posted by Consider Your Options.
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 24, 2023 at 11:11 am

Consider Your Options. is a registered user.

So pleased to learn the easements have been approved. Thank you. Many years of planning and outreach and advocacy to the community, city, PAUSD, PTAs went into the planning of the facilities these easements will enable. The changes will be a boon to school commuters and other foot-powered people who prefer and need safer off-road connectivity at this location. Kudos for working together to make this happen. Our community wants and needs more of this kind of cooperation between our city and school district! Well done.

Posted by Greene and Paly Parent
a resident of Professorville
on Aug 24, 2023 at 7:34 pm

Greene and Paly Parent is a registered user.

Seriously Palo Alto Weekly? This is all what you've got to say on Tuesday's board meeting?

Web Link

Tuesday's open forum was the largest show of student advocacy I ever remember seeing at PAUSD. And it was very powerful. An amazing group of 25 Gunn high school students, many of them very busy seniors, were advocating in support of the younger PAUSD students against the ongoing toxicity from the administration towards them, their passions, and their dreams.

The students asked for a change, with data and facts, asked for honesty and fairness. They want to spare the younger students the toxicity that impacted them through the years. They spoke eloquently and with pain. Unfortunately, they continue to be sidelined and ignored.

The toxicity keeps pouring from the board leadership (persident and vice president), the superintendent of their school district, and their school leadership, including the principal. See for context from last spring

Web Link
"Leadership" adults:
Web Link

It is glaring that the students being sidelined are overwhelmingly minorities. The 8 biased adults in power (board president and vice president, Supt, Gunn HS leadership) are local-bred whites. Classic systemic racism by leadership that is tuned to a hyper privileged echo chamber that looks like them. Their base fears losing privilege, they want these other families to go away. Leadership feeds and amplifies that fear instead of working to create an environment where all our students feel included and can thrive. And in the heights of hypocrisy and dishonesty, they say they work for "wellness" and "equity".

Oh, the board meeting also featured another episode of "lying with data and statistics".... Gunn leadership praised "equity" achievements via the gamed metric of school grades (ignoring objective metrics). Early literacy statistically unsound metrics used. AGAIN.

Posted by Retired PAUSD Teacher
a resident of another community
on Aug 25, 2023 at 10:03 am

Retired PAUSD Teacher is a registered user.

“Superintendent Don Austin first introduced the services at a start-of-year kickoff event for staff and Romero was fully booked by the end of that week, Dawn Yoshinaga, director of Mental Health and Wellness, said”.

This poses the age-old question: Which came first, the chicken or the egg?

In other words, is PAUSD hiring a lot of folks with mental health needs, or is the environment created by PAUSD leadership leading to mental health issues?

It is a well known fact that public school teachers have one of the most stressful jobs on earth. Other staff feel the heat as well. Has PAUSD leadership done more to alleviate or add to the stress?

These are legitimate questions and any attempt to address the long-term mental health of PAUSD staff must also address the work environment fostered by PAUSD leadership. I’m not sure one mental health professional is able to address the questions, but somebody should if PAUSD is really concerned about the long-term mental health of its frontline staff.

Honest discussion and soul searching are good first steps. Do the board, Don Austin, and his subordinates have what it takes to hold such an open discussion? The track record is not encouraging.

Posted by Mondoman
a resident of Green Acres
on Aug 25, 2023 at 10:37 am

Mondoman is a registered user.


I can't believe all the public input wasn't mentioned (thanks for the heads up Greene...). This speaker seems especially clear and concise about the issues:

Web Link

My take on the "adults" is that personal ideologies and perhaps personal issues are at play, not "systemic racism". Regardless, it's a bad thing, hurts students, and helps no one.

Posted by CalAveLocal
a resident of Evergreen Park
on Aug 25, 2023 at 10:38 am

CalAveLocal is a registered user.

Palo Alto Online, please, PLEASE talk to our students. Their advocacy is admirable; and our school district is cultivating learned helplessness in them - trying to advocate for themselves and being stonewalled and plain ignored by the authority. Is this the lesson we want kids to carry into their adult lives?
Pool is great, but our kids are really suffering. Disgraceful.

Posted by Greene Parent
a resident of Greene Middle School
on Aug 25, 2023 at 10:42 am

Greene Parent is a registered user.

Overwhelming amount of public/community comments with important input for school board - a big oversight (possibly bias) by Palo Alto Online to choose to ignore the issues raised.

Posted by Mondoman
a resident of Green Acres
on Aug 25, 2023 at 10:43 am

Mondoman is a registered user.

The students maybe should have accompanied their comments with this song to get the board to reconsider their apparent ideology.

Web Link

Posted by Morgan
a resident of Meadow Park
on Aug 25, 2023 at 10:46 am

Morgan is a registered user.

What did Dibrienza mean when at the beginning of Open Forum she said, "based on the names I think I can guess some of the topics."? Most, if not all of the students that spoke had Asian surnames and they all spoke about the advanced math issue that has been occurring at the district.

Was Dibrienza implying that because the names were Asian (including Indian) that she knew they would be addressing the math issues? If so, she needs to publicly apologize for her racial bias, and possibly think about resigning from the board.

Posted by Mondoman
a resident of Green Acres
on Aug 25, 2023 at 10:56 am

Mondoman is a registered user.

My interpretation was that Dibrienza was just referring to the fact that many of the speakers had spoken before at previous meetings (like the May one in Greene...'s link) and so she recognized them as individuals.

Flawed accusations of racism just divert from the actual issue we are trying to get fixed.

Posted by Palo Alto Res
a resident of Downtown North
on Aug 25, 2023 at 11:22 am

Palo Alto Res is a registered user.

Everything Don Austin is doing that is anti-math sure is affecting majority Asian kids. How is that not systemic racism?

Posted by Member
a resident of Crescent Park
on Aug 25, 2023 at 11:23 am

Member is a registered user.

I too am surprised that no mention is made of the Board's unwillingness to address the community's math advocacy. If the PAUSD Board is unwilling to engage with the community, perhaps they'd be more ammendable to answering questions from journalists? For example, where is the Weekly's reporting of PAUSD's approach to math readiness for middle school students (unprepared students being permitted to advance, while more than prepared students are held back)?

Posted by Morgan
a resident of Meadow Park
on Aug 25, 2023 at 12:06 pm

Morgan is a registered user.

@Mondoman - That's your interpretation.

Looking at a list of Asian surnames and stating that you know what they're going to talk about, simply by looking at their names, could also be interpreted as racist.

As Palo Alto Res also mentions, the overwhelming majority of those affected by the district's decision are Asian. Add that to the number of students that spoke of being dismissed and mistreated by teachers, counselors and administrators, including the board and Stupidintendent Don Austin, it doesn't take much of a stretch to make the connection between Dibrienza's statement and its implication.

Posted by Mondoman
a resident of Green Acres
on Aug 25, 2023 at 12:40 pm

Mondoman is a registered user.

I'm sympathetic to your point of view.
Just to clarify, the list of names was a list of full names, many of whom had appeared on the speaker list many times before.
Even though this history of PAUSD math brings out strong emotions, we shouldn't jump to concluding racism when explanations like inartfulness or blind ideology are much more likely. I believe emphasizing the former just diverts us from dealing with the actual issues and policies here.

Posted by Morgan
a resident of Meadow Park
on Aug 25, 2023 at 1:42 pm

Morgan is a registered user.

@Mondoman -
I agree, for the most part.

I guess my overarching point is that the president of the school board should be a bit more sensitive to her off-the-cuff comments. How many people knew who was on that list, that they had commented previously, and on which topics?

However, one of the "actual issues" to be addressed does need to be the racial undertones in how this matter has been handled. You can't deny that PAUSD has trivialized the students' views and attempted to portray it as overaggressive parents pushing their children. If this were a group of white students wanting to reinstate baseball or football or increase the hours to the weight room, would the administration blame parents for pushing their children too hard, or would they say they admire their dedication to improving themselves and find a way to make changes?

Even at this meeting, Todd Collins gave a somewhat condescending soliloquy on the courage of the students that spoke up. But, is anything going to actually get done? It's as if he patted them all on the head and said, "Good job. Let the adults handle this. Now go along and play with the other boys and girls."

Posted by GunnParent
a resident of Palo Verde
on Aug 25, 2023 at 5:33 pm

GunnParent is a registered user.

Palo Alto weekly and the author of this article, Emma Donelly-Higgins: kindly explain why the 25 PAUSD students' voice was not covered in this article or any other article?
Please do explain - we PAUSD parents really hope this is not due to pressure from the school or those who are anti-advancement of interested math students.
This is a sincere plea for an explanation - nothing else.

Posted by Greene and Paly Parent
a resident of Professorville
on Aug 25, 2023 at 9:17 pm

Greene and Paly Parent is a registered user.

Not sure if the driver is racism or ``simply'' bias. If what they resent is ethnicity or "just" cultural differences. Does it matter? A large fraction of our students and families are the target of overwhelming toxicity and adversity. What is clear is that this must change.

Lets look at the demographics of those adversely impacted by the ``unusual'' actions and policies.

Action: PAUSD chose to remove access to post BC-calc math courses. It was free to PAUSD. PAUSD lied, and changed the story. But did not bulge.

Adversely Impacted: 89% non-white. 11% white.

Source: Web Link

Action: PAUSD makes acceleration in middle school exceedingly hard. Per MDTP data from spring 2023: 350/750 (46%) of 5th graders are ready for 7th grade math (scored 75% on 7th grade readiness test). Only 12% were allowed to place in 7th grade math.

Adverse Impact (ethnic breakdown of the top 46%): 80% non-white. 20% White.

Source: PRA #42465 #41366 (ethnicity from NWEA MAP data, looking at top performers)

Action: PAUSD eliminated the grade level lane in middle school:
23% of 2022-2023 8th graders were placed in Algebra while grossly unready (2+ years behind). This dead-ends and discourages theses students.

Adverse Impact: 68% of Latino and African students, 25% of White students

Source: SBAC Spring 2022 data

Overall, PAUSD inflexible math policies serve most white students are does not serve most non-white students.

But this is not a zero sum game. We can have all students, white or non-white better served by a flexible program that meets everyone where they are at. It does not even cost more.

Posted by Jocelyn Dong
editor of the Palo Alto Weekly
on Aug 26, 2023 at 8:19 am

Jocelyn Dong is a registered user.

Thanks, GunnParent, for your question. The students' advocacy during open forum on the math curriculum, and in particular multivariable calculus, certainly spoke to a tremendous amount of research, coordination and passion.
One of the challenges of school district reporting is that there are always more topics than our reporters have time to get to, given their multiple responsibilities and deadlines. But we look for the issues that the public is unaware of, that represent major changes (including financial) and that we have not reported yet to our readers.
We wrote about MVC in May (Web Link ) and published a follow-up letter from students in June (Web Link ). And Town Square has been the platform for robust discussion of the topic (Web Link ).
We had not previously covered the hiring of a staff mental health specialist, the more than doubling of the Fletcher pool budget or the significant planned changes for Churchill and El Camino Real.
That is not to take anything away from the students or their presentation on Tuesday.
I hope this makes our coverage of the school board meeting a little more understandable.

Posted by Retired PAUSD Teacher
a resident of another community
on Aug 26, 2023 at 10:35 am

Retired PAUSD Teacher is a registered user.

If you look up the features of a healthy work environment, one may conclude that PAUSD is sorely lacking in many of the key categories.

Open Communication


Compassionate Team Members

Effective Leadership

Employee Retention

Encouraging Discussion

Friendly Policies

Healthy Physical Environment

Employee Happiness

No wonder the new staff mental health specialist is overbooked. Teaching is a rough trade, but 25 Churchill makes it worse.

Posted by Mondoman
a resident of Green Acres
on Aug 26, 2023 at 10:57 am

Mondoman is a registered user.

I notice you didn't mention giving fair and complete reports of public meetings. I think any reasonable observer would consider the public comment issues from this meeting an important part of the meeting.

Even a few sentences added to the story mentioning this issue would have at least alerted readers to the strength and persistence of public questioning on this topic. I hope you'll reconsider your coverage decisions in light of this.

Posted by Bystander
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 26, 2023 at 11:50 am

Bystander is a registered user.

To Jocelyn Dong.

Thank you for your explanation and I wonder if that is supposedly standard journalism practice.

In other words, if a meeting spent 75% of the time discussing things that you had already covered and only 25% on other information, is it correct to give the impression that the other information took up the vast majority of the discussion. I can see that it is important to let readers know that there are other issues being discussed, but ignoring the major issues seems to fall into the category of ignoring the elephant in the room.

As someone said above, even a couple of sentences saying that there was discussion on various other issues would clarify the point and not to the detriment of the minor issues.

Main Stream Media have seemed to perfect the art of smoke and mirrors by reporting on what they want us to know rather than what is really going on. I don't expect to see this at the local level also.

Posted by S. Underwood
a resident of Crescent Park
on Aug 26, 2023 at 11:51 am

S. Underwood is a registered user.

I am appalled that Jennifer DiBrienza would make such a hurtful and dismissive comment about a group of young students about to speak at a public meeting, especially a group of students who are regularly subjected to negative racial bias and stereotyping. Call it what you want, everyone knows what they heard. If it were a lscrosse team, we'd be giving them leadership trophies.

Posted by Concerned
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 26, 2023 at 2:43 pm

Concerned is a registered user.

Reporter Emily Donnelly-Higgins or Palo Alto Online Moderator:

Can you please share the qualifications of Lisa Romero, the new PAUSD Mental Health Specialist?

This article lacked any background information on Lisa Romero.
No info accompanies her name that demonstrates her education, residencies/training, previous employment experience, or California state certifications to show she is qualified for the position (and the trust/confidence of employees).
No info is present on the PAUSD website.

This absence of Lisa Romero's credentials makes one wonder if PAUSD gives her the title of Mental Health Specialist because she lacks certifications or credentials.

Just curious: Is it possible that PAUSD hires individuals and gives them the title of "specialist" when they lack credentials?

While Palo Alto Online reporting is greatly appreciated & respected, this article read a little more like a PAUSD self-published publicity brochure.

Posted by Greene and Paly Parent
a resident of Professorville
on Aug 26, 2023 at 5:57 pm

Greene and Paly Parent is a registered user.

Thank you for the response. There is an elephant in the room. Yes, you perhaps reported on one symptom (removal of MVC -- albeit in a one sided way). But you are ignoring the larger context -- the disease.

Think of covering George Floyd's murder and the riots. Good jounralism would expose the incident as a symptom of a disease in the broader context. Bad/biased journalism would present it as fuss over an isolated incident.

PAO unfortunately chose to do the latter when reporting on MVC cancelation.

New symptoms keep occuring: Toxic comments towards students and families, the insanely obstructive middle school math placement process (also Spring-Fall 2023), new restrictions that just popped up on Paly course catalogue on accessing STEM courses.
Oh -- and PAUSD intentionally breaking laws intended to protect students, not bulging, going to court, losing in court, and misrepresenting the loss as a win.

The students that are the target of this toxicity are seeing through that. They are speaking up in unprecedented numbers. Please listen. Please don't minimize MVC as an isolated incident. Please don't pretend they don't matter and don't exist. Please don't tell them to go elsewhere. It is enough that the district leadership does that. PAUSD response is shameful -- check out their one-way Twitter feed.

PAO can choose if it wants to be perceived as the voice of the whole community or the equivalent of Breibart news -- a megaphone for conspired narratives.

Posted by Down the yellow brick road
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Aug 26, 2023 at 6:56 pm

Down the yellow brick road is a registered user.

The students were brilliant. They gave a lot of factual statements concerning multivariable calculus while being polite and respectful. MVC *can* be offered as a CCAP Dual Enrollment class that can be taught on campus during school hours as a closed classroom (no outsiders), that the instructor does not need to have a high school credential, and that grades and credit can be put on the transcript. This has been confirmed by the CA Department of Education and Foothill College. This is what our neighbor MVLA does.

PAUSD seeks to expand its Dual Enrollment program and praises the classes, as well as their teachers and students, to much applause at a board meeting earlier in the year.

Why the double standard? Why all the fake reasons that it cannot be offered? Why the gaslighting of the parents and students, accusing them of needing "resilience" to accept what has been handed down to them? Why is excellence in math so vehemently put down by the board and administration? Apparently it is worth publicly sacrificing all appearance of integrity for the obvious lies told about why it is illegal for PAUSD to offer MVC.

The district leadership should be aware of the bad lessons they are modeling: intellectual dishonesty, bullying, gaslighting, and rejection of facts, logic, and decency. Are they modeling good citizens? Imagine our students taking these lessons to heart and applying these learnings in their families and careers.

And what else is learned? That self-advocacy does not work and is met with unyielding hostility? That they are [portion removed] being called "2 dimensional", accused of lacking "soft skills", and subjected to comments by board members that they should go to private school, and to "check your privilege." PAUSD is practicing the opposite of DEI for these students that are minorities, subjected to racially discriminatory denial of opportunities, and excluded from being welcomed in the community. Some people are more equal than others.

Posted by realtoughquestions
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Aug 26, 2023 at 8:44 pm

realtoughquestions is a registered user.

I see Emily Donnelly-Higgins is a Paly grad and intern. We should support her with constructive feedback.

Emily please realize that this community cares deeply about our STEM students. When 25 students step up and courageously speak their minds, we want them acknowledged. The MVC situation has not been solved which is why this dramatic statement was prepared. To rectify the situation, I suggest PAO interviews the students and publishes the full text of their statement as an Op Ed.

PAUSD chose to sabotage these students' math education by forcing them to choose between their extracurricular activities and taking one of the most challenging and vital college math classes of their careers in zoom school. There were so many brilliant statements and thoughtful analyses. Ultimately they asked for a committee to work in be listened to. So it was still more shocking that they weren't by this education board article.

The students at this point in the video beautifully expressed the injustice of describing MVC students as college-obsessed and pushed by their parents. They are wrongly held back to protect less advanced students.
Web Link

But Andrew's statement broke my heart
Web Link?t=2147
"Counsellors should not be favoring one student over another in any situation even under the guise of consideration of the entire student body. PAUSD is holding back many interested students..."

Now look at who is heard...a beautifully choreographed video, set to music, tweeted on X by PAUSD. He appreciates the staff that put on the proms, the sports, etc and how he was emotionally supported when he spoke out as a school board representative. FYI, he was given more than one minute and his statement was about how he did not like his math class.
Web Link

Hopefully, PAO, the Ed Board, and this year's student board reps will listen to all students...

Posted by Benjamin Vakil
a resident of Gunn High School
on Aug 27, 2023 at 8:45 pm

Benjamin Vakil is a registered user.

I've just found the time to go through and read the comments under this article, and I am happy to see all the support coming from the parents in our community. :)
It took lots of effort on the part of every student who spoke, as well as many who were unable to be there, and I am thankful for everyone who helped out.

While I am immensely disappointed with Palo Alto Weekly for failing to mention us, I am not upset by it. I am much more interested in student voices being recognized. While nice, representation in Palo Alto Weekly is not critical to that goal. I prefer seeing coverage in the student-run MidPenPost, such as the article just posted there. It is stories there, not ones here, that students read, and that's what's essential in this student-centered issue.

The only thing I find distressing is the ample accusations of systemic racism by PAUSD. In my experience, and that of many of my peers, PAUSD has deliberately and forcefully kept us from doing the math that best suits us. This is due to decisions that end up hurting students. Not racism. We are trying to work toward solutions, but involving race is not the answer. These accusations only take away from what we are arguing for. I hope they do not color anyone's view of us. Although calls a focus on civility have been used to obscure our needs, they are sometimes warranted.

Although we're ignored in this article, I hope our speech will refocus this debate. I am happy to converse with anyone on this issue, especially PA Weekly; they have our info.

Lastly, to the parents and teachers here: remember to support your students, whatever their passions, whether it be math, music, art, history, science, sports, or whatever their passions. PAUSD has departed from doing this, but with work and collaboration between students and staff, I'm confident we can return to that.

Posted by Just Another Parent
a resident of Fairmeadow
on Aug 28, 2023 at 9:02 am

Just Another Parent is a registered user.

The Board President and VP sadly are carbon copies of each other. Both speak before they think clearly about what they are saying. Between the two of them and our wonderful Super we need better.
None of them are serving us honestly.

Posted by Online Name
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Aug 28, 2023 at 10:59 am

Online Name is a registered user.

Re journalism, I'll never forget the publisher's letter after the recent school board election where a book-banning conservative was running but that fact was omitted from the PAO profile but was cited by many of the people commenting complete with inks to coverage elsewhere.

According to the publisher's letter justifying its failure to cover her political beliefs, PAO was "waiting to see if her campaign gained traction."

(Note the takeover of local school boards has since become a major national issue as seen by the dramatic rise in book banning, closure of school libraries, etc. across the country.)

Posted by Anonymous
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Aug 28, 2023 at 5:22 pm

Anonymous is a registered user.

- aim high, stretch and do your best (school district and students)
- benchmark practices, curriculum offerings with comparable nearby school districts/schools, like those in Los Altos, Saratoga & etc.
- do NOT hold back high achievers owing to other students demonstrating a range of aptitude, interest, life goals under “equity.”
It is reality there will be a range of interest, dedication, aptitude, achievement especially in Maths
(From a former district parent of a student who holds a degree in Mathematics and uses that degree in professional job. Student did her own work, set her own goals)

Posted by Forever Name
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 29, 2023 at 1:10 pm

Forever Name is a registered user.

Students we support you! Yes, current and alumni parents, current and alumni students, and the community are cheering you on. Brilliant move stringing together your 1 minute limit and bringing irrefutable facts/data to the table.

The Board's direction with math is tone deaf, ignorant of what students actually need, and an irresponsible dismissal of student voices. The Board is derelict in their duties, shamefully dismissing a large group of students advocating for themselves and many other students.

Students keep advocating for yourselves and your passion in Math! Let's see if the Board actually listens and serves those they are supposed to be serving -- the STUDENTS! (As opposed to themselves, the Board, and their personal agendas.) Equity means serving ALL STUDENTS, including those with advanced math aspirations!!!

Posted by Observer
a resident of another community
on Aug 29, 2023 at 5:18 pm

Observer is a registered user.

Bravo to the Gunn Principal and administrators for being the adults in the room in their advocacy for students' mental health and well-being!

Posted by Allyson
a resident of Leland Manor/Garland Drive
on Aug 29, 2023 at 5:26 pm

Allyson is a registered user.

PAO Listened!!!! Thank you SO much for giving the students a voice! GREAT article!

Web Link

And they are also featured here:
Web Link

Don't miss out on the discussion!
Sign up to be notified of new comments on this topic.


Post a comment

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

Stay informed.

Get the day's top headlines from Palo Alto Online sent to your inbox in the Express newsletter.

Burning just one "old style" light bulb can cost $150 or more per year
By Sherry Listgarten | 12 comments | 3,300 views

Banning the public from PA City Hall
By Diana Diamond | 27 comments | 2,405 views

Pacifica’s first brewery closes its doors
By The Peninsula Foodist | 0 comments | 2,110 views

Holiday Fun in San Francisco- Take the Walking Tour for An Evening of Sparkle!
By Laura Stec | 8 comments | 1,959 views

Premiere! “I Do I Don’t: How to build a better marriage” – Here, a page/weekday
By Chandrama Anderson | 0 comments | 1,558 views


Palo Alto Weekly Holiday Fund

For the last 30 years, the Palo Alto Weekly Holiday Fund has given away almost $10 million to local nonprofits serving children and families. 100% of the funds go directly to local programs. It’s a great way to ensure your charitable donations are working at home.