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Superintendent's Update - February 9, 2024

Superintendent's Update - February 9, 2024

From the Office of the Superintendent .  .  .

Board Agenda Calendar

View Calendar of Board Items 2023-24

Superintendent Austin’s Message    


We get plenty of (too much) attention for our academics and rankings. Over the past week, I’ve had a lot of fun looking at some of the other things that make us special. For me, it began at the Paly vs Gunn basketball game on Saturday. As a long-time high school principal and activities director, I have always loved high school activities. My wife, Paula, and I braved a little rain to attend the game. We planned to stay for the first half. Instead, we stayed for the entire game, including overtime! 

The game was fantastic. Both teams played hard, made some amazing plays, and were obviously well coached. We will get to the “winner” later.  The game was MUCH more than a competition between two schools. The stands were packed with spirited students. I have seen rivalry games when fan misconduct became the story.  That couldn’t have been further from the truth on Saturday. Both sides had a great time and behaved beautifully. The gym was buzzing from the opening tipoff to the final horn. Both cheer squads worked hard every minute of the night. They looked like units who really clicked as the teams they are. Dancers performed with grace and smiles! Music played. Staff members supervised, cheered, sold tickets, and kept things positive.

There is something really nice about seeing kids forget about their stressors for a while and turn into one big team. I didn’t see a textbook in the building! I am proud of our two high schools and our students. It was a great night. The winner? US!

Last night, we attended the Hoover Elementary School “Invention Convention.” (Yes, Paula has conceded that these events are as close to “dates” as we get. I did buy her a hotdog.) Kids were proud to show their parents and visitors their inventions. Some had working models and others were conceptual. One young lady made a machine that sorted LEGO bricks into piles, after sorting them electronically by color. It actually worked! A first-grade student shared his concept for an electronic claw that grabs kids and puts them back into bed if they try to get up in the middle of the night to play. He explained it would help with sleep patterns. He didn’t have a working model, but we did act it out!

Our students will remember the way they felt at the game on Saturday and the convention last night long beyond some of the things we intentionally “teach” them during the day. Let’s remember that both are important. Balance matters!


Ethnic Studies Update

Ethnic Studies will be a new graduation requirement for the class of 2029, beginning with the 9th-grade class of 2025-26. Our goal is to provide a meaningful, albeit brief, exploration into the diverse histories and experiences of various ethnic groups, calibrated to be realistic and impactful within its scope.

The District has hosted two virtual community input sessions (10/25/23 & 1/30/24), and provided an overview of progress being made in the Ethnic Studies course curriculum development. The Ethnic Studies Curriculum Committee continues to meet to develop the one-semester high school course. 

UC Berkeley History-Social Science Project is available for consultation and support in revising and restructuring the survey Ethnic Studies course, while honoring the essential disciplinary understandings of the field. 

Visit Ethnic Studies on the PAUSD website.

Parent Engagement Educator Series

Last week, Paul Kanarek, one of the founders of the Princeton Review  and former CEO of Collegewise, spoke to high school families about college admissions as part of the Parent Engagement Educator Series, co-hosted by PAUSD and the PTA. Kanarek enlightened the audience regarding how politics, finances, legal decisions, standardized testing, and technology impact college admissions. It was a lively discussion and we are grateful to our speaker for allowing us to record and share, College Admissions-Looking Through the Crystal Ball for 2024 and Beyond .

Post-Secondary Program New Year’s Ball

We are excited to share that after a hiatus during the Covid pandemic, Palo Alto Unified Post-Secondary Program hosted its New Year’s Ball at Lucie Stern Community Center Ballroom on Friday, January 26, 2024. The event was sponsored by Career-Themed Pathways. JLS Culinary Science students baked banana-chocolate chip, blueberry, and apple crumb mini muffins! Over 70 students from neighboring Post-Secondary Programs enjoyed the New Year’s Ball,

PAUSD Post-Secondary Program serves 18-21-year-old students with special needs The philosophy of the program is to promote independence in all areas of life, similar to their typically developing peers. Students participate in educational, community, social, and employment activities within their local communities to maximize their exposure to real-life experiences. A large part of the program focuses on becoming independent through securing and maintaining a paid full- or part-time job, in order to become a contributing and valued member of society. 

Thank you to the host of teachers, teacher aides, volunteers, and staff who contributed to the success of this event through their generous participation and support! 

Ad Hoc Committee Update

Visit the Ad Hoc Committees for the 2023-24 school year pages to find meeting notes as they continue to meet on a regular basis to tackle complex charges through diverse perspectives. The student committee from Greene Middle School recently shared their Ad Hoc Committee Report and Recommendations at the  January 16, 2024 Board of Education meeting.

A subset of committee members from the District level Technology/AI Ad Hoc Committee attended the AI+Education Summit: Advancing Human Learning with AI Technologies, hosted by Stanford University’s Human-Centered Artificial Intelligence and Stanford Accelerator for Learning, on February 1, 2024. The summit convened Stanford faculty and students, along with leaders and participants from academia, industry, civic society, PK-12 education, and government. Throughout the summit, questions were raised about how AI could transform teaching and learning in an ethical, equitable, and safe manner. Discussions also revolved around the metrics of assessment, fair evaluation, and overall regulatory framework required to deliver these qualities. Conversations focused on how to build AI for education and with educators.

Early Literacy

Book Clubs Promote a Love of Reading

Elementary Teacher Librarians support the PAUSD Promise Goals of Early Literacy, Equity, and Mental Health and Wellness through weekly instruction, curating rich, multi-level library collections, and connecting students to diverse, inclusive, and engaging books.

At Addison Elementary School, Teacher Librarian Amy Kageyama supports these PAUSD Promise Goals by hosting the Addison Treehouse Book Bunch. This weekly club brings 4th and 5th-grade students and teachers together to discuss middle-grade chapter books. Addison students share that they enjoy participating in the Treehouse Book Bunch because they “get to read new books,” “get to spend more time in the library,”  and “get to talk about books!”

Book clubs promote a love of reading and allow students to engage with characters from diverse backgrounds and experiences. While reading one of this year’s California Young Reader Medal (CYRM) nominated books,  Across the Desert  by Dusti Bowling, students explored the themes of self-worth and friendships as the main character, Jolene, attempted to save her friend who had crashed in the desert, and tried to navigate life with a parent struggling with addiction.

Book clubs also promote empathy, understanding, inclusivity, and an appreciation for differences. While reading this year’s CYRM-nominated book, Amari and the Night Brothers  by B.B. Alston, students explored themes of empathy and an appreciation for differences. The story depicted how Amari, a Black girl, is treated by others at her school and how she navigates racism and bullying while trying to find her brother.

Lastly, book clubs help develop social-emotional skills, such as active listening, valuing others' perspectives, and learning to resolve conflicts peacefully. As one 4th-grader said, “I like book club because it’s interesting to see other people’s opinions on the same book.”

Currently, the Treehouse Book Bunch is reading the Newberry Award-winning story, Hello, Universe by Erin Entrada Kelly. In this book, four children with different personalities and family dynamics unexpectedly come together. The club allows students to discuss character development, empathy for the characters with special needs, and outrage at how the bully in the story speaks and treats other people.

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