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Quality of Palo Alto's High School Education?

Original post made by parent, South of Midtown, on Mar 21, 2007

I noticed many families sending their kids to private middle schools even though they live in Palo Alto. I am wondering what families (especially from private middle school) thought of the Public High Schools experience. It seems the parents with positive experiences are vocal and those that take the kids out of public school keep their opinions quiet. Any "new" High School info would be appreciated. I do not consider the test scores/college placement a true indicator of the schools' quality... Palo Alto has an amazing gene pool and many kids are brilliant, they would excel anywhere. I have a bright, quiet child and want to provide the best high school education possible.

Comments (12)

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Posted by SkepticAl
a resident of Ventura
on Mar 21, 2007 at 10:15 pm

It's not the gene pool! Perhaps that was said tongue-in-cheek? Consider the flip side of that statement. Those who can't afford to live here must be genetically deficient? Those who aren't lawyers and doctors and engineers and professors were doomed at birth?

If you're comparing good public schools and good private schools, I think the idea of "best possible" really depends on the match between the child/family and school. There are bright and quiet kids thriving in all kinds of schools, and beyond the academics, different schools offer many variables in experiences that can't be evaluated in terms of "best." Much of what I learned and didn't learn in high school wasn't apparent to me for years afterwards. I was a sheltered private school boy with an exceptional academic preparation and a pretty steep learning curve in other ways once I got out of that cozy little campus.

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Posted by Euro Parent
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 22, 2007 at 8:57 am

I would like to echo what SkepticAl says. I went to a cozy little private school (for girls)and was reasonably well prepared for the exams I needed to leave school, but little else. Most of my education for life happened after I left school and had to find my own way in the world. I would say that any parent considering private school must consider whether they are choosing a school that is too sheltered. I have heard comments from friends who did choose the private school road for their children and are now questioning their decision, not because of the quality of the academics, but because of the ability of their kids to function in the "real world".

I know that all private schools are not the same and probably the bigger the school, the more the school reflects real life. But do look into other aspects of the school as well as its academic record.

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Posted by Palo alto mom
a resident of Crescent Park
on Mar 22, 2007 at 9:22 am

I think parents choose a private middle school because of its smaller size and because middle school can be a particularly challenging time for kids. Also, although our elementary and high schools are wonderful, Jordan middle school is just ok.

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Posted by future jordan mom
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Mar 22, 2007 at 1:49 pm

Palo alto mom: I am new to palo alto and I am curious about your statement of "although our elementary and high schools are wonderful,jordan middle school is just ok". could you please elaborate on that? thanks, a future jordan mom

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Posted by anonymous
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Mar 22, 2007 at 8:03 pm

I agree with Palo Alto mom - she nailed it.

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Posted by theopaul
a resident of Barron Park
on Mar 23, 2007 at 8:34 am

Nailed what?

Remember: Being vague doesn't help. Support your statements with some form of substance.

Otherwise, you might as well argue with the ocean.

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Posted by Kate
a resident of Crescent Park
on Mar 23, 2007 at 9:50 am

Having had three kids go through Paly, I can say based on my experience that high achieving kids get the best teachers, the most enriching classes and, for the most part, a great education. However, the system fails the kids stuck in the lower quarter of their class. These kids do not receive the classroom experience they need and deserve. They tend to receive the new teacher with the accompanying disorganized classroom environment. There are problems, even with the experienced teachers, in the math and foreign language departments, but there are many great teachers at Paly. Ms. L., one of the teachers in the English Department, teaches kids to love literature. She is one of the best teachers I have met to date. Overall, Paly's a great school, but like everywhere else, very teacher dependent.

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Posted by Paly Parent
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Mar 23, 2007 at 10:31 am

I would agree with Kate. Paly is a great school for good kids. The problem is often with those who are not so great. Some teachers really do a great job of helping those who need it and some are just not interested in those who need encouragement. My daughter graduated last summer and I have a freshman son. My daughter was a good student, but not an excellent student. Some of the teachers just recommended that she go down a level or repeat a class next year without actually recommending what she could do to improve her grades. I think that constructively giving advice on how a student can improve a grade rather than just saying "you must try harder" is a rare piece of advice. My son is in TEAM and these teachers tend to be very good and enthusiastic, but once again, when help is needed it is often too late in the quarter or semester to do much to make a difference.

As far as the counsellors and admin go, I would say that there is a good service there and if there are problems, they tend to contact you.

So, my experience is that there are cracks and you can fall through them, but by staying one step ahead and if you are lucky to get the "right" teachers, you should find no problems there.

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Posted by Palo alto mom
a resident of Crescent Park
on Mar 23, 2007 at 11:02 am

Paly parent makes a great point. If your kids have gone all the way thru PAUSD, you get spoiled because our elementary teachers are so on top of their kids, and communicate so well with the parents, that you are seldom surprised that your child needs help.

Many Jordan teachers act a bit too much like high school teachers - with a hands off attitude, teaching a subject instead of teaching kids, and letting the kids be totally responsible for asking for help. While it is important to learn to advocate for yourself, many middle school kids need a bit more hand-holding and reminding than many of the teachers are willing to admit. They may look grown-up, but they are still kids. There are also many wonderful, caring middle school teachers.

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Posted by theopaul
a resident of Barron Park
on Mar 23, 2007 at 12:24 pm

Nice work folks....that's more like it!

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Posted by parent
a resident of South of Midtown
on Mar 23, 2007 at 11:41 pm

Kate and Paly Parent,
I appreciate your insightful comments. I hope next year my Gunn 9th grade will be mature enough to ask for help when needed and to "try harder"when needed. I will copy your post and share them with both my kids. I am not surprised by Kate's comments about the teachers not asking students to "try harder", I just wish this was not true. Even in PAUSD elementary school when my kids were not doing their best work, the teacher would never ask them to try harder, write neater etc.. In middle school (not in PASUD) we had been fortunate to have teachers who told kids to "try harder" , and my kids (usually) met the higher standards and became more confident. Teachers asking students to "try harder" is such a simple thing that lets the kids know teachers care and believe in them. The Palo Alto school district seems to spend so much time and money, but they skip the fundamentals simple things that could impact so many students with out added fees.

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Posted by Parent
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 24, 2007 at 10:46 am

Parent, south of midtown

Yes I think our teachers care, but the comment "try harder" always gives me an odd feeling of helplessness. I remember my own schooldays and being told to try harder when I felt I was trying very hard. I would much rather be told to "be careful with spelling and grammar in your essays", or "take more examples from literature and history and less from your own life", as being good examples of helpful advice, rather than the empty comment "try harder". I have seen essays written by students who have put in what they consider to be extremely good, ending up with a poor grade and they really don't know why. Helpful constructive comments are much better than cliches and knowing why something gets a poor grade is much more helpful than simply being told it was not good enough.

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