October 25, 2018
October 25, 2018

Dear PAUSD Community,

I want to let you know that a documentary film titled The Edge of Success has been released and premiered last week at the Downtown LA Film Festival. This documentary discusses teen suicide with a focus on PAUSD, and Gunn High School specifically. It features interviews with former students, educators, and leaders from several years ago, reflecting on the tragic series of student deaths we experienced at the time.

The film will also be aired at the Portland Film Festival this week. The documentary has already generated news media interest and conversations on social media, which may stir up painful memories and emotions within the Palo Alto community.

PAUSD is a success story that needs telling.

We appreciate that the film is designed to tell a story in a dramatic way, but unfortunately, it does not tell the full story about our school or school district. The documentary is a candid depiction of the pressures and concerns that impacted students at the time. It sheds perspective on the problem, but it doesn’t mention the work we have been doing over the past five years regarding student well-being, intervention services, and campus culture. We are working on solutions and seeing success. This film is only a snapshot, and does not show the bigger picture that can now be seen in our schools.

The social-emotional wellness of youth is broader than just what occurs in schools. Teen suicide is a community-wide concern. We all have a shared responsibility to take preventative, precautionary, and proactive steps to minimize student risk factors.

Our students are amazing! They have worked hard to develop resilience and to support each other when anyone is struggling. In addition to many site-specific programs, PAUSD has opened Wellness Centers at Gunn and Palo Alto high schools in the past three years to make care more accessible. These centers are staffed by licensed Mental Health Therapists, Wellness Outreach Workers, and Mental Health Specialists. The action steps are part of an intentional, integrated, sustainable district-wide effort to enhance interventions and reduce any reluctance to report concerns or seek help.

Our programs are driven by solid support from a powerful network of community partners and service agencies. If you have questions, concerns, or for anyone needing support, we highly encourage you to access our Mental and Physical Health Resources page.

The series of suicides were, and still are, a painful time for everyone in our community. We are stronger and more knowledgeable today. We want everyone to recognize the great work that brought this community together in support of each other as we tackled this issue. Our work continues, in order to grow and improve in support of all of our students.

We are strongest when we are together.


Donald B. Austin, Ed.D.
Superintendent of Schools, PAUSD