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Superintendent's Update - February 24, 2023

Superintendent's Update - February 24, 2023

From the Office of the Superintendent:


The Board agenda calendar can be found HERE


The latest School News Roll Call can be found HERE. 


There were a few questions about math placement and pathways after a story appeared in a local newspaper regarding a pending lawsuit. While we do not discuss pending lawsuits, I want to share some information to clarify our current state.

After reviewing the District website and informational materials regarding math placement and pathways, I can see why there was a degree of confusion. Despite the best efforts of everyone involved, the explanations of our placement process were cumbersome and wordy. The governing policies were difficult to find, and the explanations were often confusing. As a result, the website was completely redesigned and organized to be user-friendly and cleaner. Please see the update HERE.  

California law governs math placement for incoming freshmen in high school. In my career, I have worked in communities that look vastly different from Palo Alto. The California Mathematics Placement Act was created to correct the practice of enrolling disadvantaged students in ninth grade math classes below Algebra I. At the time, some Districts had a practice of placing large numbers of students in paths or tracks that prevented them from reaching Algebra II, which was a UC / CSU requirement for admissions.  

In our case, Algebra I (currently named MS Algebra) is the default course in eighth grade. Beginning with the sixth-grade class in the fall of 2020 (current eighth graders), students' progress through four years of content in a compacted three-year path. Practically speaking, PAUSD accelerated every student by a full year.  

While the law only addresses placement in ninth grade, we also allow students to skip one additional level (2 years accelerated) through a validation process also contained on our website. For context, 94 current eight grade students are taking Geometry across our three middle schools. This represents roughly 12 percent of our eighth graders. They are equally distributed among all three middle schools.  

Last year, 174 students attempted to skip a middle school math course from fifth grade through the validation process. Approximately 44 percent successfully validated their ability to skip a course. We had 33 students score above 90 percent on Part II of the validation process, with one perfect score! Five students were within five points of reaching the cut score, and 17 students scored 95 percent or above. 

There are occasional requests for students to challenge high school courses through a validation process. In rare cases, when a student is prepared to challenge an entire course, they may attempt a validation test through their high school. Only courses in high school may be challenged. Courses may be taken outside of PAUSD with prior approval and within the district’s guidelines. 

The explanation of our acceleration process should not be interpreted as an endorsement for most students to move at a pace faster than our default path. The program is already accelerated with multiple paths to our highest-level math courses. More students will enter high school in Geometry next year than at any point in recent history. 

Mental health and academic course demands are often coupled in conversations. As a parent of three adult children and a former high school principal, I have tried to balance the debate in my own mind. We believe that the PAUSD program provides a solid foundation for all students at an age-appropriate pace. We believe the percentage of students accelerating beyond our already accelerated program (roughly 12 percent) is in the ballpark of what we would expect.  

With the conversation about math often skewing to the accelerated student, we also want to acknowledge that some students are struggling. Each of our middle schools has increased support services this year. The significant investment in our students is showing signs of improving outcomes. It is important to remember that the first group of students in the current path were in sixth grade when secondary schools were largely closed in 2020. It will take some time to get an accurate picture of the impact of our course revisions. It will also take time to better understand the ongoing impacts of school closures overall.  

This update and an improved website will not be clear enough for everyone. We always believe that your school site is the best source of information for detailed and unique questions. Your counselors and teachers are excellent sources of information. Please reach out if any part of this update or the website is unclear.  


The Gunn High School Career Speaker Committee, composed of parents, students, and teachers, organized the fifth annual Career Speaker Series presented through Zoom and in-person. The event included professionals from various industries to highlight their career pathways and personal journeys. The industry sectors represented included education, journalism, nursing, business, sustainability, engineering, politics, entrepreneurship, and nonprofits. We thank the amazing speakers for presenting and engaging in lively Q & A sessions with students. Palo Alto High School will host their Career Speaker Series in mid-March. 


The applications for community, staff, and student involvement in the new ad hoc committees (English Learners, Elementary Behavior Supports, Dual Enrollment, and Mental Health) are now closed. Members have been finalized for each committee, and we thank the community, staff, and students for registering to volunteer their time. 

Additionally, Enrollment Trends & Options and Social-Emotional Learning and Functionality (SELF) & Advisory at the High School Level committees concluded their final meeting. The committees are now working on finalizing their committee recommendations. Serve and Celebrate Others is an on-going committee. This committee met this week and recognized that there have been more than 100 service activities across campus this academic year. There are abundant activities happening at the sites, and more ideas abound. We need to identify how to celebrate these activities.  


March is National Nutrition Month. March is the perfect time to celebrate and recognize both the importance of quality nutritious meals and the role that student nutrition service professionals play in supporting student health, school meals, and learning. This year’s theme is “Fuel for the Future.”  

School meals provide fuel each school day for PAUSD students. During the week of March 6, National School Breakfast Week, staff will be changing and testing new items on the breakfast menu. This change will include reduced-sugar cereals, oatmeal, and build-your-own parfaits. The menus at elementary school sites will be targeted to develop, collaborate, test, and re-test offerings. 

Staff will incorporate fresh, locally grown, minimally processed, scratch-cooked, and organic foods to ensure quality meals that not only fuel students through their school day but inform and impact their food choices for the future. 

Some of the new menu entrees include chicken Caesar salad, peach smoothie bowls, spaghetti with marinara sauce, hummus boxes with fresh locally sourced vegetables, and Tuna Sandwiches.  

Please take a minute to visit the Student Nutrition Services web page to view the new menu selections for March.