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Superintendent's Update - October 9, 2020

From the Office of the Superintendent:



Tuesday, October 13, 2020

(Items due: October 2)

(Board packet review: October 6)

  • Uniform Complaint Williams Settlement
  • Developer Fees
  • Communications
  • Career Themed Pathways
  • Physical Safety and Start of the Year Procedures
  • A-G Report
  • COVID Budget Update
  • Athletic Conditioning/Competition
  • Equity Impact Report
  • PAUSD+

Tuesday, October 27, 2020

(Items due: October 16)

(Board packet review: October 20)

  • Districtwide Systems for Student Success Using an MTSS Framework
  • School Impact Fees Annual and Five-Year Report for 2019-20
  • CASSY Counselors
  • Disciplinary Practices and Student Outcomes
  • Preliminary Information - First Quarter D/F Report
  • District Alignment to Goals Update
  • District Finance Committee
  • Bell Schedules/Later Start Time/Common Schedules
  • Equity Impact Report


It is easy to get so wrapped up in the daily grind and changing conditions that we miss the good things occurring all around us. I visited every TK-1 classroom that will be opened on October 12 for in-person instruction. The visits started because I wanted to make sure everything was in place. I thought "everything" was PPE, spacing markings, desk barriers, and safety checklists. Those things, for the record, are in place.

I quickly remembered that the real "everything" that mattered was our staff. Our teachers and support staff are the most important aspect of reopening. My visits shifted from observations of equipment and "stuff" to conversations with our caring adults. Do we have "everything" for in-person instruction? Yes! We have prepared and caring adults with great attitudes and enthusiasm. We have people excited to see our kids. Even those nervous about some of the unknowns, expressed gratitude for the return and an eagerness to see students again. Despite some of the challenging issues we needed to work through, our team wants to serve our kids.

A little more than half of our first group of students selected in-person instruction. For the half that chose distance learning, we are there for them also. Some have asked how we assigned teachers to distance or in-person classes. Our teachers and principals worked together to determine who was going into each assignment. It was a beautiful thing. It doesn't mean people aren't anxious. It means the team worked together in the interests of all students.

We are also thankful for our Tentative Agreement with PAEA. We completed negotiations on reopening items earlier this week after roughly 70 hours of working together. While the agreement still requires ratification from the Board of Education and PAEA membership, it reflects a collaborative relationship that is much stronger than many know.

We have been at a "redline" level for over seven months. It takes a toll on everyone. Everyone involved in working through enormous complexity, changing guidelines, and the reimagination of education is appreciated. Thank you!


On September 22, a request was made during the meeting of the PAUSD Board of Education to place the topic of a communications position on the next agenda. The demand for rapid dissemination of clear, accurate, and comprehensive information has been a significant challenge. During an unprecedented time with fluid conditions, new restrictions, conflicting interpretations of guidelines, negotiations, and the reimagination of schools, creating content to capture decisions and add context has become a strain on operations.

For context, PAUSD has pushed out 1,213,625 emails between our main systems Infinite Campus and Blackboard. Our Backstage with the Superintendent series accounted for 14,499 views with a robust average view time of 20:57 and average audience of 2,747 people. The PAUSD COVID reopening webpage has 122,185 views. Cabinet staff has responded to 2,535 Let's Talk! dialogues with an average response time of 1.6 days and an average rating score of 9 out of 10. The number of Let's Talk! dialogues represents a small fraction of responses from staff handled through email. Board of Education meetings have averaged 710 webinar views since the closures.

In the past, PAUSD has employed a Communications Coordinator to manage the enormous volume of traffic and messaging required during normal years. The position purpose and use has not been seen universally as successful or a failure. Instead, there is evidence that greater thought on the front end may result in better outcomes. For these reasons, the staff plans to pause any effort to recruit or retain a Communications Coordinator. Instead, staff would like to begin a deliberate task force to identify a clear and undisputed communication plan, including reasonable expectations, reporting structure, prioritization of daily work, and public interfacing. The task force will present recommendations to the superintendent at a future time for consideration.


Table 1: 14th Day Enrollment Report, 2020-21

This table provides details on enrollment by school and by grade on the 14th day.

Enrollment data


The PAUSD enrollment numbers are down as expected. We have strong reason to believe that our decline is in rough alignment with surrounding school districts. For example, we are down roughly 8%, but were expected to decline by 3% before COVID. Using an adjusted rate, we see PAUSD really being down 5% (8% total minus the 3% trend) for COVID. There seems to be consensus around the belief that COVID enrollment declines in our region are "blips" versus trends. Decisions by Stanford and many tech industries to allow remote work has certainly impacted student enrollment. Families using second homes to temporarily move to states more widely open is seen as something that will correct in time. It is not prudent to make predictions about the future. At this point in time, we believe our numbers are temporary. Time will tell how many families will return and how Stanford and the tech industry will impact our numbers.




The CWA is an annual in-person writing assessment, administered to middle school students, in order to provide a mid-year snapshot of student writing progress. The assessment is (in)formative in nature and intended to:

  • give teachers information to guide instruction and intervention for the remainder of the year, and an opportunity to align their teaching and grading practices with colleagues across the District;
  • give students information to guide self-reflection and continued learning; and
  • give parents one tool for understanding their child's development as a writer.

Given the current environment, the District has decided to substitute the existing CWA with a digital formative assessment for the 2020-21 school year. The Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC) has a bank of assessments aligned to all of the Language Arts standards typically assessed in the annual California Assessment of Student Performance and Progress (CAASPP) exam. These interim assessments provide teachers and students with evidence of strengths, gaps, and misconceptions, so they can monitor and adjust learning together. The selected task is closely aligned to the learning targets of the PAUSD CWA and is articulated vertically across grades 6, 7, 8, and 10.


The first Career Technical Education (CTE) Stakeholder Advisory Board meeting for the 2020-21 school year was hosted on September 29 via Zoom. The purpose of the CTE Advisory Board is to work as a bridge between the District and industry partners. Our focus this year will be developing additional work-based learning opportunities, including internships and certifications. Notes from all CTE Advisory meetings can be found on the Curriculum & Career Education website. If you have any industry expertise and/or work-based learning opportunities to offer, please feel free to contact the CCE office for more information on how to get involved.



Thursday, October 7, marked the 6th session of the LatinX Parent Series. To date, an average of over 100 families have joined each live information night. The sessions are recorded and uploaded for families to watch on the Community Resources Center webpage. In our last session, we discussed school reopening plans, in an effort to ensure all families have updated information to help them make a decision on whether to send their children back to school (hybrid), or remaining in distance learning. The Student and Family Engagement (SaFE) Team looks to build on previous sessions, with over 130 families this week, and share continued information about school reopening for the TK-1 grade families. Additionally, this would inform them of upcoming plans for 2-5 grades, and make sure families know how this all works and how to best support their children. These informational sessions will continue through the remainder of the year.


Internet issues remain present in PAUSD as some students are still having difficulties accessing school. To date, the District has handed out more than 250 devices to families and plans to distribute over 100 more in the next two weeks. We know some families still have trouble, even after one device is distributed. We will, where possible, ensure families have enough devices in the home to provide internet access so that students do not miss out on classes. The Technology Services Department has been instrumental in setting up each device manually, and ensuring that they are safe and secure for families, with set-up instructions included. We will continue to provide this service as long as a need exists.


With the first quarter of the year coming to a close, the District has begun its enrollment of students into the online platform, FEV Tutor. This platform provides students access to a one-on-one tutor, twice per week, for an hour at a time. A referral form went out to all secondary counselors and point administrators at the secondary schools. The goal is to ensure our socio-economically disadvantaged and historically underrepresented (SED/HUR) population has access to one-on-one tutoring, in order to boost academic success during distance learning. With a return not slated until January, now is the time. FEV Tutor will support students in any subject area that schools feel is necessary, and individualized tutorial plans are being created. Tutoring is slated to begin the week of October 12 for those enrolled.


The Student Services division supports all District sites in efforts to provide safe, orderly learning environments for all students and staff. The primary role is to support students and sites on issues ranging from depression, grief, self-esteem, family life, stress, dating violence, sexual identity, and physical and mental health needs. Through both on-campus programming and community-based partnerships, students receive coordinated health education, assessment, counseling, and other support services to maximize student engagement and success.

The Student Services division coordinates and/or is a resource for the following areas:

  • Mental health and wellness
  • Student conduct/suspensions/expulsions
  • Suicide prevention
  • District counselors
  • Pupil attendance and engagement
  • School Attendance Review Board (SARB)
  • Site and District climate issues
  • Implementation/disaggregation of California Healthy Kids Survey and other data related to school safety
  • Anti-bullying staff development
  • Community school safety efforts
  • Health services (school nurses)
  • Foster/homeless youth services
  • Tobacco Use Prevention Education (TUPE)
  • Student discipline hearings
  • Section 504


Gunn and Palo Alto High School Wellness Centers hosted Wellness Week October 5-9. During lunch, various wellness organizations presented information about youth supports in the community. Students found out about the ways that each presenter is providing services or support virtually, as well as ways to get involved. These opportunities empower students to be able to seek support from organizations in the community or help their peers and family members get connected.

On Wednesday, October 7, SafeSpace presented "Hurt to Hope," a video account of students sharing their journeys and challenges with mental health, directed by Kai Doran, a senior at Menlo-Atherton High School. In this short film, students dive deep into their personal stories and describe how they battled and continue to battle their own struggles with mental health. While this video highlights the story of multiple teens, there is an underlying message of hope and perseverance for everyone. The presentation was followed by an open-ended discussion about mental illness and wellness, with the panel discussion focused on self-care, peer support, and an emphasis on resources available on campus.


Finding ways to engage students in distance learning is challenging, and the Fletcher and Greene Libraries both have programs that have created quite a buzz amongst students.

Last spring, the Fletcher Library borrowed a short story dispenser from the Palo Alto City Library. Both the dispenser and the contest to write a short story to be published on the machine were a huge hit with students. The Fletcher Library, in collaboration with the Palo Alto City Library, applied for and received funding from Partners in Education (PiE) to purchase its own story dispenser.

For over a month this year, students have received a short story from the new dispenser when they pick up their reserved books during the library's Curbside Pick-up/Drop-off service. Additionally, a new online portal is available for all students to receive one-, three-, and five-minute stories with a click of a (virtual) button.

This year's Short Story Contest is now underway. The winning stories will be published on both the Fletcher Library short story dispenser and on the online portal. Stay tuned to read the winning submissions!

At Greene Middle School, the library is keeping reading front and center for students and families with its annual Remarkable Reader Program. As a result, 117 students were nominated by friends, parents, and teachers as Remarkable Readers - students who love to read.

Don Austin - Read

As part of the national Teentober, teen reading celebration (formerly known as Teen Read Week), students who are nominated each receive a certificate of recognition, as well as the text of their nominations. Every student nominee who chose to send in a picture will also receive their very own READ poster, such as this example featuring Superintendent Don Austin. Congratulations to all of the Remarkable Readers at Greene Middle School!


Tuesday, October 13, marks the start of a parenting support webinar series - Families Connecting Across Generations Workshop - sponsored by PAUSD's Wellness and Support Services, in partnership with Asian Americans for Community Involvement (AACI). This is a 9-week workshop, which will be led by AACI counselors in Mandarin. While parts of the workshops are tailored specifically to families of middle and high school age students, it is open to families of K-12 students. The series will focus on educating families to prepare for their children's future, with culturally focused parenting, and offer guidance under these uncertain times. Contact Yifan Wang, AMFT, for more information at 650-329-3999 ext. 6975, or by email. Registration is via Eventbrite. Once registered, participants will receive a link to join live or receive access to a recording of each session.



Through conversation with each site, MOT site walks, and a previous spreadsheet data provided, we've identified any and every classroom that will have students starting on Monday, October 12. This includes the Special Education rooms that are already back. Our focus has been on classrooms of a population of 10-15. Right at School, support spaces, overflow rooms, or specialist rooms are not included. The plan is that every occupied classroom will have the existing ventilation certified or have a portable filter installed by end of day Friday, October 9. Every occupied classroom will also have a sign posted indicating it meets the mechanical ventilation requirements or a portable filter was provided. Please see the following images to see what the forms look like.

Ventilation status - blank
Ventilation status - N/A
Ventilation status - pass

Through this upfront work, we identified 100 classrooms plus the main offices that would be occupied by Monday, October 12. We already deployed 58 units on Wednesday and Thursday, October 7 and 8, respectively, and will distribute the remaining units Friday, October 9. After we open on Monday, October 12, we will shift our immediate focus to the 2/3 rooms returning on Monday, October 26.

This guideline and FAQ represent an enormous amount of collaboration between Leadership, Human Resources, Student Services, Business Services, Special Ed, Purchasing, Safety, MOT, Facilities, Bond Program, sites, and community feedback. This is some pretty complicated stuff. We believe this information to be correct based on numerous conversations with technicians, engineers and air quality experts.

Here are the steps we've done and criteria we established to ensure the healthiest environment possible:

  1. There are essentially two components of the HVAC system: Fresh air (ventilation), and recirculated filtered air (filtration). The current guidelines are to increase outside air to dilute the interior air (ventilation) and install new, clean filters (filtration). The guidelines prefer using MERV 13 air filters if the units can handle them but recognize many older units may only be able to use a MERV 8. The guidelines do not require the filter upgrade because many older HVAC units cannot function effectively with a MERV 13 filter because they create too much of a pressure drop. That was the target we previously strove for. You can think of it like breathing through your cloth mask with the units equipped with a MERV 8 filter that the units were designed for, but breathing through 10 masks stacked up with the MERV 13. That is just an example of the pressure drop and airflow to help understand.
  2. We continued to work to improve the air ventilation and filtration and have set up new classroom guidelines that we are using to certify the classrooms.
    1. The first guideline is filtration. We have done extensive research and have found high performing, low pressure drop MERV 13 filters that will work in our older units. Back to the mask example, that is like wearing an N95 mask instead of a cloth mask. We have replaced nearly all filters in the District with MERV 13s. This includes custom ordering and modifying some older units to work with the MERV 13 filters. Our new guideline is that every room must have MERV 13 equivalent filtration as a baseline.
    2. Our second guideline is ventilation. We established a baseline of measuring double the code required fresh air per occupant of 15 CFM (cubic feet per minute) of air per occupant. There are a number of ways the code allows that number to decrease in order to save energy, but we are disabling those features to provide a baseline of continuous 30 CFM per occupant. In many cases we will have more than that depending on the age and design of the system, but we are setting that as a baseline. Additionally, opening windows will increase that.
    3. We then test the rooms. This is a simple pass/fail test. If it meets those two criteria, MERV 13 and 30 CFM, it gets certified. If it does not meet those criteria, then we put a portable filter in the room. All portable filter rooms will also be certified under the portable filter option of our certification.
    4. We also are putting portable filters in rooms that we do not have time to test. We will continue to work through the District and test the units. When we test a room, if it passes, we will pull the portable unit out of the room and re-certify it as passing with mechanical ventilation.
    5. If a room fails, that does not mean the system does not work. Sometimes it can be a 5-minute fix. Other times it could be a 5-hour fix. And yet other times it could require a part that has to be ordered. We are not letting a failure get us bogged down at the expense of serving the District as a whole. We will install a portable filter and then come back to troubleshoot after we have provided for the safety of the rooms.
    6. We have hundreds of different HVAC systems of different ages in this District and the knowledge of the MOT team to keep these diverse units straight is astounding. They have been relentlessly creative in solving the challenges of juggling all these different systems as we try to upgrade them and push them beyond their designed parameters.
  1. We are additionally doing air quality testing to further enhance the systems as a third round of continued efforts to improve the effectiveness of the classrooms ventilation and filtration. This is the bipolar ionization that we have presented briefly in past board meetings. Those results are not known yet, but if they yield positive results we will implement the upgrades Districtwide and we will provide much more detail at that time.

The best way we've heard this explained is to imagine a swimming pool. The ventilation is a garden hose filling the pool. The filtration is the pool cleaning system. COVID is a child peeing in the pool. You would like to filter that water to clean it up, but your filter can only do so much, so you also need to keep adding fresh water. The more fresh water you have, the more dilute that pee is. So, we are trying to both add water and upgrade our filtration.

FAQ (otherwise known as everything you never thought you'd care to learn about filtration)

Feel free to share as much or as little of this with your staff as you feel necessary. This is meant as a resource and a guide to the myriad of questions around the topic.


  • What filters do I have?
    • Almost every occupied room with mechanical ventilation now has a MERV 13 filter. If they are not upgraded yet, they will be in the next week. Then, we will shift to the next wave of openings to make sure those rooms are upgraded.
    • The portable filters have a MERV 8 prefilter and a HEPA filter.
  • What is all this MERV business?
    • MERV is the Minimum Efficiency Reporting Value and is a measure of the effectiveness of an air filter. That translates to how small the particulates are that will pass through the filter.
    • MERV 8 blocks particulates at 3 microns.
    • MERV 13 blocks particulates at .3 microns.
    • HEPA filter is considered MERV 17 or higher and blocks smaller than .3 microns.
  • Where are the different filters used?
    • MERV 8 are used in schools, commercial buildings, high end homes, and industrial settings.
    • MERV 13-16 are used in Hospitals for inpatient care and surgery and high-end commercial buildings.
    • MERV 17-20 (HEPA) are used in cleanrooms, radioactive situations, and pharmaceutical manufacturing.
  • Which solution is safer?
    • For a comparison of the mechanical ventilation to the portable filters, they are partially doing different things.
    • The mechanical ventilation is both diluting and filtering the air.
    • The portable units are only filtering the air, but are doing so at an even higher rate that is closer to Hospital grade. Some studies suggest the HEPA level will catch all of the COVID aerosols while other studies suggest not 100%.
    • There is no clear winner between the two directions. They each have their own tradeoffs. As you can tell by the noise of the portable units, the increased filtration requires significantly higher airflow while the built-in system allows us to mix in fresh air to dilute the air more without the added noise.
  • What are other districts doing?
    • Every district is currently asking the same questions we have been.
    • Many are choosing to meet the first step criteria outlined above and stopping there.
    • A few districts have upgraded to the MERV 13 filters including East Side USD, Las Lomitas ESD, and others.
    • Many districts bought smaller HEPA filters on Amazon or Home depot. Those are typically sized for a bedroom and do not do nearly enough filtration to be effective.
    • We were the first to commit to the portable commercial grade filters as a backup and were therefore first in line. Two other Bay Area districts have also just ordered these units.
    • We've talked about the bipolar ionization (step 3 outlined above) that we commissioned air quality tests before making a decision. Other districts bought them outright and are now testing them. Those districts include Acalanes, Berkeley, and Bakersfield. Others are considering adding bipolar ionization. Many are waiting for our test results from the vendor.
    • Some districts are considering installing complicated fan systems with UV light. We researched those and they are less effective and considerably more expensive than the other options we are pursuing.

Portable Filter Locations:

  • What is the role of the main office purifier?
    • We added a portable purifier at every main office location. This is because there are various interactions from public, sick students, or faculty pass thru.
  • What about offices?
    • The theory is that smaller specialist rooms or offices do not have a large number of students or can adjust their practice to provide services outside, in larger rooms on campus, or even remotely. This determination is from various conversations with the sites about how these rooms are functioning. If special considerations are needed, please contact Eric Holm and you can discuss your unique situation.
  • What about larger rooms?
    • Some sites are using larger rooms for programs to increase distancing. Those rooms would require a significant amount of filters to address that large air volume. Therefore, we are not placing the portable units in the large spaces. Additionally, the large spaces are more closely approaching an outdoor environment due to the still small cohorts in the larger volume of air. Back to the pool analogy. It's like someone peeing in a lake vs someone peeing in the above ground pool.
  • Where should the portable filter be placed in the room?
    • We've defaulted to putting it near the front of the room under the assumption that is where the teacher will teach from in this new environment. The filter cleans all the air in the room, but it cleans the air around it first. Therefore, we've decided that having the clean air around the teacher is the best solution. If we did an air current map, the contaminants tend to stay around their source rather than drift through the room and tend to not linger around the device since they are pulled in and captured. So back to the pool analogy, the kid peeing just keeps peeing and the concentration of pee hovers around him. We feel the filter near the teacher gives the teacher the most protection.
    • Additionally, putting it near the window or door will help filter the outside air as it enters the room. See more under smoke section.
  • What about the isolation room?
    • We are not putting any additional filtration in those rooms since we hope to not need to use them.
    • We have sealed off the return air in the isolation room on every campus. That means the air will not recirculate anywhere in the rest of the system. Those rooms are essentially sealed off from any other systems.
    • When those rooms are used, we will follow a safety protocol to clean and sterilize those rooms.

Operational questions:

  • Do I leave my doors and windows open or closed?
    • Either is fine. Since the different ventilation solutions are each doing slightly different functions, we will leave it up to your comfort level.
    • Each person's comfort level will be different. We leave it to you to adjust the space according to your own safety wishes.
    • The built-in systems are providing a lot of outside air, in many cases, far more than the minimum baseline we've set. You should be fine with the doors and windows closed if you have mechanical ventilation.
    • The portable filters don't have mechanical ventilation, but they trap most of the COVID aerosols in the HEPA filter. With the doors/ windows open, you will dilute the air more, but also take longer to trap any COVID aerosols if you have a sick person in the room.
    • Per standard security protocols, you should close your windows at night.
  • Won't leaving the doors open waste energy?
    • Yes, but that's ok. The more outside air the better though that will waste more energy and the mechanical units will have to work harder. If you are a die-hard environmentalist, then close your doors and windows. Otherwise, open or close them as you see fit to adjust the comfort in your room and increase your dilution. We'll make up for the larger energy use by conserving more when we are on the other side of the pandemic. This applies to both the portable and built-in systems.
  • Do I leave my unit on every night?
    • Currently the engineers recommend leaving them on at least 2 hours before and after occupancy. Therefore, go ahead and leave them on each day. Again, we'll deal with the added energy used when we get through this. Also, the energy use of the filters is significantly less than air conditioning, so we would rather have the safer room air.
  • Can I turn them off?
    • Yes, but we don't recommend it. There is a switch on the back of the unit. If you want to turn it off, before or after students are in the room, flip the switch but you will then have to remember to turn it back on. We would recommend if you want to turn it off after a room full of students that you let it run at least 30 minutes to help clear out the air.
    • We do not advise turning them off when you have students because they are there specifically for the groups of people.
    • Additionally, if you have a substitute one day, they will not know to turn it on.
  • Can I turn off my mechanical ventilation?
    • At the moment we have overridden room controls to provide continuous ventilation.
    • The current recommendations are to ventilate the rooms before and after they are occupied.
    • Normally, the ventilation only occurs when there are people in the room, so we have forced that on.
  • Will custodians turn the portable units on and off?
    • Their time is critically spent on the disinfecting they are doing every night.
  • Will I have my portable filter all year?
    • Probably not. Our goal is to continue our pass/ fail testing of the ventilation in the rooms and once a room passes, we will remove the portable unit and move it to another area that needs it like the 2/3 grades then the 4/5s and then the middle and high schools. After we've caught up with all the mechanical unit testing, we think the portable ones will remain deployed in rooms that do not have mechanical ventilation.
  • Will the District change the filters on the portable units?
    • Yes, part of the benefit of these are they are standardized and use commercial filters that are easy to acquire. Filters have become one of the hardest things to acquire right now, like toilet paper in March, so having a standard size makes it a lot easier to change and we will do so when we change our built-in units.
  • Why are the portable filters so large?
    • They are commercial grade and are sized to meet the needs of a classroom. If you look at a classroom's HVAC unit, they are this size or larger. To really meet the needs of the space, you need a large unit.
  • Can I just bring in or use my classroom fan?
    • Do Not Use Fans.
    • Fans create turbulence which will kick up any COVID particles that fall to a surface.
    • The way the filters pull the air does not create the same kind of turbulence.


  • Will my mechanical ventilation be noisier?
    • We've increased the outside air volume and locked the units to continuously provide air. So, it will be a little noisier than it used to be. Not a lot, but a little.
  • The portable units are really noisy?
    • We know this. These are the quietest ones we could get that do what they do.
    • They are 59 decibels, which is similar to conversation.
    • It takes a lot of force to push air through a HEPA filter. We weighed this issue and consciously chose to go forward with these units because we felt the benefits outweighed the noise.
    • Back to the item on room placement, if you feel the noise is reduced by putting it in the back of the room, that will work as well.
  • Why is the mechanical ventilation quieter than the portable ventilation?
    • The main reason is the duct size and the HEPA filter.
    • We have large ducts and large registers to supply air from the classroom units to the classroom space. One of the primary jobs of a mechanical engineer is to design systems with a minimal noise as possible.
    • The HEPA filter is like pushing air through a wall. It takes a lot of force to do so.
  • Can you turn the noise down?
    • Yes, but that also turns down the airflow output. As we've said, we were rapidly deploying these.
    • If you have a portable unit and you are in a standard sized classroom then we shouldn't turn the air down.
    • If you are in a smaller space, let your principal know and they will coordinate with us to adjust the airflow accordingly.
  • Why didn't you buy a quieter model?
    • We did a lot of research. These are commercial grade filters which produce a lot of filtered air to help keep you safe.
    • Some other districts bought units that cleaned at a quarter the rate, but were 70 decibels.
    • The vendor did a test with all their available portable units and found the unit we purchased produced more filtration and was quieter than the other commercial grade ones.
    • This portable unit also has the ability to add bipolar ionization, which we believe will be an additional added bonus.

Bad Air Quality/ Smoke:

  • What do I do now, do I open my windows for COVID or close them for smoke?
    • The best advice we have right now is still to close your doors and windows to keep out the bad air.
    • That advice contradicts with the more airflow goals for COVID.
  • Mechanical ventilation smoke guidelines?
    • If you have mechanical ventilation, close your doors and windows. There is already sufficient outside air and it will recirculate through the filter.
    • Due to the filter recirculation, the indoor air will always be cleaner than the outside air.
    • We are adjusting our controls to more quickly be able to close some of the outside air to more finely tune these reactions.
  • Portable filter guidelines?
    • Your portable filter will do a good job of filtering the smoke. We recommend placing it near a single open window or door, so you still have increased outside air but also let the filter capture that air upon entering the room and filter it.
  • Is there anything else you can do?
    • The Office of the Superintendent continues to monitor the air quality daily to determine if the AQI will be over 150 the following day. We are continuing to seek out further solutions and data to provide better recommendations.
    • As part of our bipolar ionization testing, we have a testing company lined up to come the next time we have a smoke day to do specific smoke samples. We are checking weather patterns to be prepared to do those tests.
    • We will test smoke specifically in standard rooms, bipolar ionization rooms, portable filtered rooms, and outside. If we continue to get bad air, the silver lining is we are lined up to test various best practices to improve the air quality when the AQI is not over 150.
  • Will the District change any of these directions?
    • Probably. It seems that change is the only thing we can count on these days. Let's get back to school and then look at making adjustments. For the moment, we are erring on the side of caution to make our rooms safer.
    • In the long run, we will continue to make tweaks and continue to learn more about the transmission of the virus. When we make an operational change, we will let you know.



Our organization has used a variety of tools to send out messages to our parent community over the past few years including Infinite Campus Messenger, Blackboard/ParentLink, and Schoology; as well as standard tools like Google Forms/spreadsheets for surveys and polls. While all of these platforms have their strengths, we have run into limitations when it comes to direct parent communication.

We are launching a new product called ParentSquare as the return to campus student health screener. Our choices of new tools need to not only address current needs, but also have the potential to solve multiple issues beyond our current situation of 2020-21 distance/hybrid learning models. We believe this tool will grow with us and replace other messaging needs in the 2021-22 school year and beyond.

ParentSquare unifies all parent communication tools from the district office and classroom to the family, providing oversight throughout and powerful reporting metrics. It is connected directly to Infinite Campus and the ID Portal for logins, allows translation to more than 100 languages, and access via app, email, text, voice, and web portal. ParentSquare enables families to receive messages from us in their preferred medium and language, ensuring more equitable communication.

The first part in use will be the health screener for students, the rest of the product will be phased in over the coming months. For more information, visit the ParentSquare page on the PAUSD website.



We are pleased to introduce Sarah Thermond, our new theatre teacher/director at Palo Alto High School. Sarah has been involved in theatre all her life and most recently was the theatre teacher at Saratoga High School from 2012-20.

Sarah Thermond

We asked her a few questions about coming to PAUSD and starting her position in distance learning.

Why did you want to come to Palo Alto High School?

I wanted to come to Palo Alto so that I could really develop my teaching skills within one department and field; I love both English and Theatre, but trying to do both at once while running an after-school program and directing is a lot to tackle. Here, I'm able to focus on creating a rigorous and meaningful theatre curriculum, and on creating strong productions for the students to work on!

How are you building connections with students during a distance environment?

My classes are great about staying engaged and participating, and I try to do check-ins every day to see what is going on and to find out what some of their interests are. I also had them each fill out a survey for me at the start of the semester to get to know them better. One big advantage I have is that theatre training is so highly personalized, so whenever I get to give a student feedback on their work, I do feel like we are developing more of a connection. Working on productions with students has also been great because solving problems to make a show happen is practically its own bonding exercise in Theatre, so we've already gotten to do a lot of that.

How do you teach theatre without being in person?

There's a lot more focus on individual contribution. Normally, I'd start with a lot of group work and team activities, but only some of those work well via Zoom, so I am spreading them out. I've tried to start with some things that are easier to teach with technological access, like working on voiceover reel creation and editing. For the shows, we are experimenting with the different capacities of Zoom to create live performances that utilize sound cues, video cues, tricks you can do with virtual backgrounds - so we're just leaning into the situation and using the tools that the virtual realm puts at our disposal!