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Superintendent's Update - January 26, 2024

Superintendent's Update - January 26, 2024

From the Office of the Superintendent .  .  .

Board Agenda Calendar

View Calendar of Board Items 2023-24

Superintendent Austin’s Message    

This week's update will cover several topics, including middle school math validation protocols and special education. I wanted to take a moment to provide my thoughts before you read about the items in more detail below.

Math is a recurring topic of discussion, especially since many of our families show a keen interest in math and science. They want to be informed about the opportunities available for their children. The ongoing debate regarding our approach to math acceleration, defining age-appropriate instruction, and assessing students' competency is not likely to be resolved through our revisions alone. It's a complex matter that has persisted for decades, and it's safe to assume that discussions about math pathways and acceleration will continue for many more years.

The Board of Education has tasked staff with exploring opportunities to improve the validation process. Our Math Instructional Leaders (ILs), experienced teachers responsible for gathering input from their peers, play a crucial role in this process. We heavily rely on ILs because they are professionals who work directly with our students in the classroom. They see our students daily, providing instruction, assessing skill level and progress, and offering valuable insights to District leadership. I have great respect for their work, especially considering the diversity of opinions on this matter.

In my own life, I have three adult children, each with their own unique experiences in math education. One of them accelerated two levels and completed AP exams in Calculus AB/BC and Statistics. Another attempted a similar path but struggled, opting not to take any AP exams and generally disliking math. The third followed the standard program and pathway, completing courses with relatively low stress and is now teaching Art at the high school level. I share these personal anecdotes to emphasize that there is no universal approach to tackling math. Even within the same family, children can have different needs and preferences. What works for one may not work for another, and what feels right for a parent may not align with their child's best interests. As your superintendent, I encourage anyone considering a two-level math acceleration (remember, PAUSD defaults to one level) to have a conversation with your child. If any doubts remain, reaching out to their teacher can provide valuable insights. Additionally, if the exam results do not meet your expectations, it's wise to carefully consider whether acceleration at this time is the best path forward.

Shifting focus, special education is receiving full attention. We are embarking on a dynamic shift in our focus on special education. With approximately 10% of our students receiving special education services, we aim to enhance programs, supports, and services to improve outcomes for students with disabilities.

Assistant Superintendent, Lana Conaway, has been assigned to lead the Special Education Department to new heights. Lana has hit the ground running, starting with a series of town hall meetings, to help gain valuable insights from dedicated staff and families of students with disabilities. This collaborative effort to improve the special education program starts with closely examining what works well and what needs to shift. Revisions are on the horizon.


Ethnic Studies Community Input Session

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 second community input session and overview of progress being made in the Ethnic Studies course curriculum development is scheduled for  Tuesday, January 30, 2024, from 5:00 to 6:00 p.m.

Join virtual meeting via Zoom 

Town Hall Meetings on Transforming Special Education

Assistant Superintendent, Lana Conaway, will be hosting a series of three town hall meetings to support crucial conversations about transforming special education. These meetings will serve as a platform for special education stakeholders (families of students with disabilities, teachers, staff, and administrators) to come together, share insights, and collaborate on creating more inclusive and effective educational strategies for students with special needs. An invitation has been sent via ParentSquare to families of students with disabilities.

Town Hall Meeting Dates

  • Elementary Staff – January 30, 2024
  • Secondary Staff – January 31, 2024
  • Families of Students with Disabilities – February 2, 2024

Questions? Contact Equity and Student Affairs

Middle School Math Validation Process Update

For Spring 2024, rising sixth, seventh, and eighth-grade students who wish to accelerate beyond the already compacted middle school math program may participate in the Math Validation Process. 

The updated Math Validation Process will consist of one paper-and-pencil assessment, instead of the previous two-part test. This assessment will evaluate the readiness for the grade-level math course the student would like to challenge, in addition to the student's knowledge of the topics and skills covered in the course. More information will be provided in the coming weeks.

Palo Alto Middle College High School Application

The application for Palo Alto Middle College High School  is now available. Please apply on or before February 9, 2024.

Visit Palo Alto Middle College High School website  for additional information.

California College Guidance Initiative (CCGI)

The California College Guidance Initiative (CCGI) is a state-funded nonprofit that works to smooth the path to college and career for all California students, especially those who have been underrepresented in higher education. Palo Alto Unified School District established a partnership with the CCGI in October 2022, with full implementation planned for  the 2024-25 school year. CCGI will assist students and parents/guardians with college and career exploration.

CCGI is designed to enhance and complement the functionality of Naviance, not replace it. Students should continue to use their school-based counseling services as well as their Naviance account.

If you have any specific questions or concerns about your student’s future academic and career plan, please contact their school counselor. If you would like to understand more about district provided supports, please  submit a Let’s Talk Ticket.

Visual and Performing Arts (VAPA)

Terri Lyne Carrington Workshop with High School Jazz Band 

Terri Lyne Carrington, jazz drummer who formerly toured with the legendary Herbie Hancock, worked with Jazz Band students from Gunn and Paly this week, offering a unique and enriching musical experience.

Carrington not only showcased her exceptional drumming skills, but also provided valuable feedback to the students, creating a dynamic learning environment. Carrington shared anecdotes, quoting her mentor Wayne Shorter when he told her, “You can’t just walk up to the door, you have to walk through.” Thus inviting students to take risks, even when afraid.

Adding another layer to the performance, she brought along a talented dancer who skillfully improvised to the live jazz music, transforming the performance into a captivating conversation between sound and movement. The interactive session allowed the students to participate actively, playing while the dancer responded to the music with expressive movements, fostering a collaborative and creative atmosphere.

Carrington's visit undoubtedly left a lasting impact. Thank you to Stanford Live for this collaborative opportunity for PAUSD students to work with Ms. Carrington!


Ignite 2 Unite Workshops at Palo Alto High School

Three workshop days at Paly this week created moments that will help build momentum toward creating a more connected and empathetic campus. Jason Jedamski from Ignite 2 Unite, facilitated the program, Breaking Down the Walls, to over 500 student participants and 75 student leaders.

Breaking Down the Walls brought together students from across campus to connect to build meaningful connections and positive relationships, increase empathy and understanding, and support a thriving campus culture.

Students partnered with peers for short, low-risk conversations using a play, trust, learn model. The program  then transitioned to activities that built empathy and understanding through mutually sharing stories about each other’s lives. This exchange helped participants recognize that,” it’s hard to hate someone whose story you know.”

Finally, Breaking Down the Walls focused on supporting a thriving culture, with students leaving the experience feeling more connected to their peers, staff, and school; together creating momentum toward the realization of a more connected and empathetic campus.

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Supports for Student Mental Health and Wellness

Thank you for your continued partnership in fostering the well-being of our students. As we begin a new semester, we understand that students may encounter various challenges that can significantly impact their mental health and overall well-being.

Therapists and psychologists are dedicated to supporting the social-emotional health of our students at every school. Secondary students also benefit from the expertise of counselors and have access to Wellness Centers, staffed with professionals committed to supporting their mental health.

In addition to on-site resources, we also utilize TBH, an online platform providing PAUSD middle and high school students with free virtual mental health support. Students may register for TBH services through their PAUSD ID Portal, and book a session that best fits their schedule, including evenings and weekends.  Email questions to:

allcove  is another valuable resource in Palo Alto, which offers a variety of services encompassing mental health, physical health, education and employment, substance use, and peer and family support. The Children's Health Council offers free parent support groups  and the Voices of Compassion  podcasts, which provide insightful discussions on mental health and parenting, serve as a valuable tool for both students and parents.

Please feel free to reach out to your child’s school if you believe your child is in need of support.

Also remember the important helplines below:

  • Suicide and Crisis Lifeline: Dial 988

  • Crisis Text Line: Text “home” to 741-741

  • Bill Wilson Youth Hotline: 1-408-850-6125

  • Trevor Lifeline LGBTQ+ Crisis Support: 1-866-488-7386

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