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Superintendent's Update - November 17, 2023

Superintendent's Update - November 17, 2023

From the Office of the Superintendent . . .

Board Agenda Calendar

View Calendar of Board Items 2023-24  

Superintendent Austin’s Thanksgiving Message

As the Thanksgiving season approaches, it presents an opportunity for introspection about the truly significant aspects of our lives. In the spirit of reflection, I asked each leader in our team to share a dual narrative: one of their contributions to someone’s growth, and another of how they themselves have been nurtured by others. This exercise, rooted in simplicity, reaffirms that our essence is shaped both by our actions toward others and by the influences we welcome into our own lives. In a world prone to underlining division and inequity, I am reminded that the act of sharing positive stories is inherently joyful, as evidenced by the inspiring accounts from the Leadership Team.

Molly Tuttle, Palo Alto High School Class of 2011, and Grammy-winning Bluegrass artist, recently captured my attention with her song, “Crooked Tree.”  Her lyrics poetically illustrate a poignant message: the beauty of uniqueness and the strength found in natural diversity. I encourage you to experience her message directly through her video and song at  Molly Tuttle - Crooked Tree.

The metaphor of the “crooked tree” speaks to the pressures our students face to conform to certain expectations. Tuttle’s narrative suggests that while uniformity might be favored, it is the divergent paths that contribute to making us who we are.

This theme resonates personally as I reflect on my own children’s journeys. My daughter, whose athletic ambitions were paused by the pandemic, discovered a passion for art - an endeavor that has since allowed her to inspire others. My son, despite a traditional path of academic and extracurricular excellence, found his calling in a hands-on career that brings him fulfillment. My middle daughter, after a period of exploration, has carved out a unique and unexpected path to happiness. Their stories, much like the crooked tree, celebrate the value of individuality and the courage to grow beyond prescribed paths.

As we gather this Thanksgiving, let us appreciate not only the “straight trees” among us, but also the crooked ones; those who defy expectation, and in doing so, enrich our collective experience. Here’s to embracing the full spectrum of our community’s growth  .  .  .  this holiday and always!

Two Early Literacy Events in November

El Carmelo Elementary School

Earlier this month, El Carmelo Elementary School excitedly welcomed renowned children's author Andrea Beaty into their new Multi-Purpose Room. Widely recognized for best-selling books, including Rosie Revere, EngineerIggy Peck, Architect; and Ada Twist, Scientist. Beaty’s stories entertain and inspire young readers to embrace curiosity, creativity, and the pursuit of knowledge.

The visit marked the launch of Beaty’s newest book, Lila Greer, Teacher of the Year, which celebrates the invaluable contributions of educators. This heartwarming story centers on dedicated teacher, Lila Greer, who inspires her students to reach for the stars, through her passion for teaching and the power of education. The event allowed students and faculty to engage with the author, ask questions, and gain insight into the creative process behind her books. It was a moment of celebration for the school community, highlighting the importance of literature, imagination, and the dedication of teachers.

As a special tribute to educators, and acknowledging the essential role of teachers in shaping the future, Ms. Beaty presented a set of her books to kindergarten teacher Roxana Barbera. Ms. Barbera embodies the qualities of dedication, innovation, and a commitment to nurturing young minds.

For more information about Andrea Beaty and her books, please visit her official website.

Children's Author Andrea Beaty prresenting her books

Fletcher Middle School

Award-winning and MacArthur Fellow (“Genius Grant”) recipient, graphic novelist, author, and teacher  Gene Luen Yang  presented to over 350 eager Fletcher students on Tuesday, November 14.

Brought to Fletcher by local bookstore, Books Inc., Yang inspired students with his writing and cartooning. His graphic novel  American Born Chinese won the prestigious Michael L. Printz award in 2007,  the first graphic novel to be recognized by the Michael L. Printz Committee. The book has just been made into a  Disney Plus  show featuring Michelle Yeoh and Ke Huy Quan.

Other accolades for Yang include Dragon Hoops,  which received five-star reviews, was a  2020 Michael L. Printz Honor Book, and  listed on the  New York Times  25 Best Children’s Books of 2020, the School Library Journal Best Graphic Novels of 2020, and Publisher’s Weekly Best Books of 2020.

Yang linked video gaming to writing books and challenged attendees to identify three items when they next played video games: 1) What is the goal? 2) What are the obstacles? and 3) What are the stakes? Once students have identified these three items, can  they write a story? 

Author visits provide a unique way to inspire students to read books and make lasting memories. Fletcher students who attended Gene Luen Yang’s presentation would certainly agree!

Short-Term Ad Hoc Committees Updates

Short-Term Ad Hoc Committees  for the 2023-24 school year continue to meet regularly.

The District Committee on Technology/AI worked in partnership with staff and students to develop  Palo Alto Unified School District Generative AI Guidance . Leveraging site leadership, grade-level at elementary sites, and discipline-specific at secondary sites, feedback was collected and incorporated into the document. Input from parents, administrators, teachers, special education staff, and industry experts was also included.

This guiding document underscores the potential of generative AI to enhance teaching and learning. The primary objective is to offer guidance to both instructors and students. It is adaptable to evolving technologies and the Committee welcomes feedback and input from the educational community to ensure continued effectiveness. In addition, the Committee worked to generate a resource page for staff. Please see our curated collection of tools , guides, and insights, developed to support staff interested in exploring innovative technologies.

Palo Alto Safe Routes to School Requests Survey Participation

The City of Palo Alto is exploring the potential for new Safe Routes to School programs for middle and high school students within the Palo Alto Unified School District. The Palo Alto Safe Routes to School Partnership is part of a national movement to help encourage and support students and families to walk, bike, and roll to school. The City of Palo Alto has supported several Safe Routes to School initiatives across the City, including Walk and Roll to School events, City/School Transportation Safety Committee meetings, Walk and Roll Maps, Bike Rodeos, and more.

To date, most of these programs have focused on serving elementary school students and families. The City is looking forward to hearing your suggestions for a program specifically designed for secondary students. Whether or not you have participated in the past, we would appreciate your input on the following survey, which will help determine priorities for new programming.

This survey is open to students and parents/caregivers of Palo Alto Unified School District  middle and high schools only. The Palo Alto Secondary Schools Survey will be open until Monday, November 27, 2023.

If you have additional questions or feedback, please contact


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