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Superintendent's Update - November 19, 2021

THANKSGIVING THOUGHTS

I hope everyone has an opportunity to share what makes them thankful. A friend told me that people tend to over-select on the negative. I'm guilty of that statement from time to time! If we look carefully, there is plenty to celebrate around us.

I had a great conversation with some high school students recently. They provided some powerful insight about pressure that negatively impacts them. One specific example led me to writing the next section.

Imagine gathering with friends and family over the break. Now, consider a high school aged student as part of the group. A conversation starter could begin with, "Where are you going to college next year?" It's an innocent question, yet could cause unnecessary stress and anxiety. Any answer will be greeted with a response. Every kid wants the response to be positive and enthusiastic. The danger is in making the question or response feel like a competition or judgement.

A humble suggestion is to reframe the question if you have the opportunity. Consider, "Are you excited about next year?" It's a completely different question. A student can be excited about their post-secondary path no matter what it may be. It takes the judgement piece out of the conversation.

Nearly 40% of college students transfer at least once. A shade over 60% of students who begin in college will graduate within six years. These two statistics may not exactly mirror Palo Alto students. Regardless, national statistics point to the reality that initial acceptance to a particular college may not be as lasting or important as happiness and mental health. The holiday season is full of stressors in the best of times. Coming off of an extended closure, we encourage families to keep mental health at the center of discussions.

VACCINATION CLINIC UPDATE

This Sunday, November 21, PAUSD will be hosting a COVID-19 vaccination clinic in partnership with Safeway Pharmacies. The clinic will be held at the Peery Family Center at Palo Alto High School. There are still some slots left. Please register for an appointment HERE.

On the day of your appointment, please bring the following items:

  1. Filled out Consent Form available for download via your appointment link.
    • The consent form needs to be filled out and signed by a parent/guardian for participants under 18 years old.
  2. Medical Insurance and/or Prescription Card

**Participants under 18 years old will need to be accompanied by a parent, guardian, or non-custodial adult in addition to the legal guardian signing the Consent Form.

COVID TESTING UPDATE

The Cubberley Community Center (4000 Middlefield Rd. Palo Alto, CA. 94303) Covid Testing Clinic will be open all next week November 22 through November 26 from 10:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. The Clinic will be open on Thanksgiving Day from 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. No appointment is needed, but registration is recommended.

Starting now, students participating in routine COVID testing on the school sites do not need to order a test each week. Families will need to initially register and palce an order for their first test. After their first test, students will be able to walk up to the testing clinic and provide their name and date of birth to get a test. At the elementary level, school staff will assist with this step.

For more information regarding our testing program, please visit our site HERE.

CONSENT EDUCATION

Teaching about consent is key in establishing a respectful school culture. Proactive steps to teach students about consent begins early in a student's life and can include learning about bodily autonomy, effective communication, and how to be an upstander. The Educational Services team is actively engaged in discussions with staff and students about consent education and what meaningful, helpful learning experiences at every level should include.

Early education includes establishing a shared vocabulary, learning to identify and express your emotions, developing empathy for others, and building advocacy skills. This progresses into understanding boundaries, being respectful of what someone else says or requests, and building advocacy skills for self and others. As students mature, learning how to become a "safe" adult becomes the focus. Learning includes identifying trusted adults on and/or off campus, developing healthy relationships, and making healthy choices in a sexual context.

Explicit lessons on consent education for 5th grade, middle, and high school students will be rolled out during second semester. Secondary staff are in the process of assembling student advisory groups at each level to review lessons and provide input on both the content and delivery method.

CALIFORNIA ASSESSMENT OF STUDENT PERFORMANCE PROGRESS (CAASPP) ASSESSMENT - AGGREGATE DATA

At the end of last school year, students in grades 3-8 and high school participated in the CAASPP assessments. Depending on grade level, students completed English language arts/literacy, mathematics, and/or science tests. Individual score reports were released to parents earlier in the school year. However, the California Department of Education (CDE) has not yet granted permission to share aggregate data with the public. The embargo is expected to be lifted in mid-December and PAUSD anticipates reporting this data at a January Board of Education meeting. Information to be shared includes the context of the 2021 test administration, participation rates, aggregate student results (see sample slides), and how the results will be utilized.

EARLY LITERACY

Elementary principals continue to develop their instructional leadership through their monthly collaborative. Designed to provide time for our site leaders to notice and calibrate around effective, equitable instructional practices, and the use of the Orton-Gillingham (OG) methodology as they walk through classrooms, the Elementary Principals Collaborative was recently held at Escondido. The session expanded to include using an equity tool during the observation, visiting Spanish Immersion classrooms, and learning about Escondido's Response to Instruction (RTI) block.

Principals remarked that in all classrooms, in addition to encouraging and motivating language, teachers used clear enunciation and concise speech, allowing students to focus on the letters and sounds they were practicing. Teachers have created classroom environments that facilitate high levels of student engagement and confidence from all children. Students in both educational programs, English and Spanish Immersion, are learning the letters and corresponding sounds foundational to the language of reading and writing instruction. Students in our Spanish Immersion Program participate in a 90/10 model, where both Spanish and English are the languages of instruction for literacy. The classroom environments demonstrated inclusivity and belonging, including flexible seating, student self-portraits, tools used to determine left/right, and hands used to scaffold the kinesthetic aspect of writing that represent the various skin colors found among the "Friends Around the World." Principals noted strategies that they will share with teachers at their respective sites.

In addition to the unique instructional program at Escondido, Principal, Dr. Marcela Simões de Carvalho, provided her colleagues with a comprehensive presentation of their RTI block, which included the observation of an intervention teacher providing OG instruction to a small group of students requiring specific phonics and phonemic awareness development. The RTI block allows students who need reading intervention, English Language Development, Special Education services, counseling, and other differentiated instruction time to receive it. This approach addresses our focus goals of early literacy, equity, mental health, and healthy attendance.

As instructional leaders, Principals are dedicated to providing their teachers with current practices in education. As a unified school district, our students benefit from this monthly professional collaborative.

A SPOTLIGHT ON EQUITY EFFORTS IN OUR MIDDLE SCHOOLS

PAUSD is moving forward with essential work to transform leadership, practice, and culture for equitable student outcomes and evidence of equity-focused actions can be found Districtwide.

Many of our schools have established social justice committees that consist of school and community representatives who meet regularly and discuss and advocate for change at the school level. Principals are holding parent education sessions and Principal Coffees with the Assistant Superintendent of Equity and Student Affairs to provide parents with strategies for raising kids for social justice. This year has also seen a Districtwide effort in all PAUSD libraries to more consciously work towards diversifying book collections, starting with an audit of our current collections. Auditing the collection means looking at every single title and analyzing it for content, bias, and stereotyping. Each school has started with the Biography section in their respective libraries, looking closely at whose stories we choose to honor and how.

The Leadership for Equity at Greene, Fletcher, and JLS is perhaps the most exciting. All three middle school administrators are participating in a 9-Series Workshop titled "Becoming an Antiracist Educator" hosted by leaders in the field of equity and social justice at the Virginia Commonwealth University. The series is designed to build skills in leading for equity. Joining them are 30 more District Office and site leaders. Middle school principals also joined their high school principal colleagues in exploring the book, Grading for Equity by Joe Feldman, and engaging in dialogue around equitable grading practices.

And that's not all, for the first time in the history of PAUSD, all secondary principals are on their way to becoming certified in Universal Design for Learning (UDL) which guides the learning experiences of students to proactively meet the needs of diverse learners.

In January, the 80+ members of the Leadership Team will be participating in a learning session with best-selling author and Oprah Award winner, Irshad Manji. Manji will introduce the Moral Courage Ed Approach, which provides leaders with a pro-unity, no-shaming pedagogy to increase leader competencies in communicating across differences. Moral Courage Ed transcends the "Us against Them" culture wars and provides leaders with strategies to effectively communicate with teachers and students across lines of differences.

JLS Middle School

Under the leadership of Principal Chris Grierson, the staff at JLS Middle School has dedicated their efforts towards ensuring that all students know they matter. The JLS "You Matter" campaign was launched at the start of the 2021-22 school year and has continued this Fall with intentional efforts towards equity - closing the opportunity gap - and inclusion. Current efforts have been reviewed by the JLS School Site Council. They include the JLS Black Student Union (BSU), the JLS Polynesian Club (aka "Poly" Club), and the JLS LatinX Club, and the JLS Gender-Sexuality Awareness (GSA) Club. In addition to lunch gatherings, these clubs have completed schoolwide events, and will continue to host events and community service projects.

As a larger staff, JLS is exploring Grading For Equity, and like Greene and Fletcher, JLS has invested Professional Learning time towards Universal Design for Learning (UDL) and Equity centered approaches.

In the JLS Library, Librarian Michael Ambrose and Assistant Sam Franco Farwell are reviewing the diversity of the entire collection. Similar to the progress made at Greene and Fletcher, the JLS Library team has deliberately removed books that perpetuate stereotypes and is building up a more inclusive and diverse collection of resources in both print and e-book formats. This is most visible in our Biography section (pictured). In addition, the JLS Library featured LGBTQ+ Titles in a recent JLS Library Newsletter.

JLS will also be exploring becoming a No Place for Hate School. Having every student and teacher on campus sign a pledge to end bullying/harassment and treat each other with kindness and respect coupled with schoolwide opportunities to learn how to be an upstander will go a long way in ensuring that the school climate is one where all students can thrive. The GSA and other student led clubs are encouraged to approach the No Place for Hate Campaign as good citizenship and service.

Greene Middle School

Building educator capacity to advance equity is a core goal at Greene and Principal Sebastian Benavidez is committed to schoolwide professional development. On January 6, all staff will participate in a learning session with Lana Conaway, the Assistant Superintendent of Equity and Student Affairs, to learn about the District's equity agenda and learn strategies to combat bias.

Principal Benavidez has brought Greene families to the table to have honest conversations about how our students are experiencing the learning environment. The initial meetings were so impactful that it will become a regular part of the Greene Way. Plans are underway to engage the parent community in observing the school climate through Equity Walks. These observational walks are designed to ensure that we know the student and staff experience and have observational data to confirm or challenge assumptions about diversity, equity, and inclusion on campus. This process gives leaders the opportunity to evaluate our schools for visible equity markers. Students, District staff, and select stakeholders will participate in the Walks. Students and families will be interviewed to get feedback on the school climate and their experiences as part of the process. Equity Walks will begin after the holidays.

In addition, Greene will be participating in the No Place for Hate School campaign. Every student and teacher on campus signs a pledge to end bullying/harassment and treat each other respectfully and engages in campus activities to build community. Student leaders will drive the movement, providing opportunities to build their leadership skills and a social justice lens.

Last, but not least, Greene has created genre collections in the library catalog where students can go to find the experience and voices of the different groups in our community. If you would like to check them out for yourself, you can find them here:

Fletcher Middle School

Under the leadership of Principal, Melissa Howell, Fletcher staff has taken part in site-based Culturally Responsive Teaching professional learning. Staff previously engaged in a book study using Culturally Responsive Teaching and the Brain by Zaretta Hammond which discusses opportunities to promote engagement and rigor among culturally and linguistically diverse students. Principal Howell is leading efforts to observe for culturally responsive practices in the classroom. Building awareness in these areas is a step towards moving the needle on equity.

Fletcher is also taking a closer look at their book collections, looking for opportunities to build a more diverse, representative collection. Kristin Lee, Fletcher Teacher Librarian and Shala Howell, Fletcher Library Assistant, have spent the better part of this semester removing books that harbor stereotypes and tell a less than accurate history. They have also created a book section designed to prompt interest in diverse collections and has them displayed prominently in the library.

The Fletcher Teacher Librarian didn't stop there. After taking part in a course called "Equity in Action: Building Diverse Collections," sponsored by the Department of Equity and Student Affairs, Ms. Lee and colleague Rusty Tooley organized and facilitated training of the entire PAUSD Teacher Librarian team with the goal of doing the first ever library diversity audit. All Teacher Librarians are going through a detailed process of analyzing at a minimum the biography section of their libraries, and in January, analyze the results.

The presentation that inspired the work of the Teacher Librarians can be found HERE. The PAUSD libraries are committed to doing their part to ensure diversity, equity, inclusion, and justice. We are proud of the role our Teacher Librarians play in this necessary work.

Fletcher will also be exploring becoming a No Place for Hate School. Having every student and teacher on campus sign a pledge to end bullying/harassment and treat each other with kindness and respect coupled with schoolwide opportunities to learn how to be an upstander will go a long way in ensuring that the school climate is one where all students can thrive. The GSA and other student led clubs are encouraged to approach the No Place for Hate Campaign as good citizenship and service.