May 19, 2017

Advanced Authentic Research

Welcome to the Superintendent’s Weekly Message "Final Jeopardy." Here’s the answer; you have thirty seconds to pose the correct question: What do “CRISPR Cas9 as a Gene Editing Tool,” “Spintronic Applications of Doped Graphene Ribbons,” “Diversity and Mindset,” and “Why Teens Prefer Communications via Snapchat” have in common?… Time’s up! If you said, “college term papers,” “graduate theses,” or “dissertation titles,” you are wrong, but not by much. The correct response is: What are some titles of our students' Advanced Authentic Research (AAR) projects shared at the recent Celebratory Showcase?  (AAR's website has abstracts of all the projects). Approximately 180 sophomores, juniors, and seniors presented their year-long research projects, which matched their talent, curiosity, and passions with talented mentors. The results were beyond spectacular, but what struck me most were the statements students wrote about their own learning. Here are a few examples:

“This was my first time doing scientific research, and it was a life changing experience for me. When I first started this project, I didn’t imagine where my research would take me as I had more questions than answers. My project had many ups and downs, but I am proud to have been able to push through those obstacles and achieve my goals with the help of my amazing teachers and mentor. AAR has been more than just an academic exercise – it has become an integral part of my life by helping me solve a long-standing problem in the field of medicine and give it back to the world.”

“My first introduction to cancer was my father’s diagnosis when I was in seventh grade. Watching him struggle through his illness, wishing I knew how to cure him, I decided I wanted to research the same thing he had; the Hedgehog pathway. If I contributed to the knowledge and understanding of this pathway related to cancer I would have helped other people from having to suffer through chemotherapy the way so many people I know have.”

“Through this project, I learned that school doesn’t have to be boring. I can learn what I want to and explore what interests me. I wish all classes were like this because it makes me want to work hard, and the class isn’t as stressful as the other ones because I have interest in what I am doing.”

At the 2017 Celebratory Showcase this week, Stanford’s Peace Innovation Lab Curriculum and Instruction Director presented PAUSD with an award for our collaborative efforts to launch a new journal: A2I3R (Advanced Authentic Interdisciplinary Inquiry and Innovative Research), a peer-reviewed, interdisciplinary academic research journal featuring papers, posters, and personal stories behind selected projects from high schools. Journal A2I3R is a joint endeavor between PAUSD and Stanford’s Peace Innovation Lab, Graduate School of Education, and Center for Design Research, and the Public Knowledge Project. The Journal’s mission is to amplify student agency and voice while strengthening AAR’s three key elements of personalized learning, integration of knowledge, and development of communication skills.

Speaking of awards, here’s a shout out to our students' statewide Synopsis Science Fair Championship Projects: Anne and Isabel Willner, Ayush Gupta, Robert Selwyn, Tian Chen, Frederick Nitta, Kevin Frans and Alex Gao, Sandhini Agarwal, Rustam Gandhi, Swati Goel, and Isabel Sperandio. These students all pursued their projects independently in their “free time,” not for a grade but because they were eager to learn and apply their new knowledge to a project that can improve the quality of life. I am so proud of all of them.

Board of Education - Student Focus Group

Earlier this week, we learned a great deal more from students during lunchtime focus groups. As students looked back on this year and forward to next year, they shared some ideas for making our great schools even better. These included:

  • More consistent grading, homework, and content among teachers who teach the same class
  • Provide more information regarding prevention and dealing with sexual harassment in Living Skills and have it required to be taught in ninth grade 
  • Find a way to keep from stacking up tests and projects
  • Make sure the teachers read the results of the student surveys

Protecting Learning Environments from Sexual Harassment and Assault

Also, as I hope you read in yesterday’s Superintendent's Message, we are focusing important resources and close attention both to prevent sexual harassment and assault, and to support any victims. That said, it is also essential we take a long view of how to change the tone on school campuses, first in Palo Alto and then across the country. Changing the culture around gender relations for young people in knowing and respecting boundaries, instilling respect and empathy, and understanding consent is a job for all of us. It starts here at the top but it is also the responsibility of every educator, parent, and peer. We need to make this change a shared, institutional goal. Moreover, every adult must model exemplary behaviors, language, and actions. We must commit to not turning away from immediately addressing inappropriate sexual innuendo, harassment, or assault; to addressing discrimination head on; and to report and stand up to bullying - including cyberbullying, which is far too prevalent among anonymous adults in our caring community. Campus cultures across America are dealing with similar problems and we can be leaders in creating the most positive, accepting learning environments where every student can flourish. As our district begins our goal setting for next year, you can be assured that safe, supportive, empathetic, and caring learning environments will top my list along with two more: 1) assuring equity and access to high quality teaching and learning and extra-curriculars, and 2) striving for more consistency in curriculum, grading, and testing practices. 

Please Provide Your Input

Before turning to a quick look at the Board agenda, it is officially SURVEY SEASON! These next few weeks you have ample opportunities to be heard. Here they are:

  • Strategic Plan Survey for students, parents, and teachers to comment on district initiatives and school climate
  • Student Input Survey for high school students to provide feedback to teachers on their classes
  • Health Connected Survey for parents and teachers of fifth and seventh grade students to provide feedback on the sexuality education program
  • Name Your School Survey for students, staff, and parents at David Starr Jordan and Terman Middle School

May 23 Board Meeting

And now, here’s what's in store for Tuesday’s Board meeting;

Chief Business Officer (CBO) Presentations. The Board will discuss budget items for law firms that provide services to our district for special education, construction, Office for Civil Rights matters, and labor related contractual issues. Ms. Cathy Mak, our CBO, will also present the nutrition services contract for renewal.

Bond Program Manager’s Presentations. Dr. Robert Golton, our Bond Program Manager, has a long list of agenda items related to the Strong Schools Bond, Construction projects, and site leases. 

Staff Presentations - Academics. The PK-12 Computer Science Curriculum Design Advisory Committee will share their recommendations for phasing in computer science study at all grade levels. Also, Chief Academic Officer for Secondary Education Sharon Ofek will present the middle schools’ and high schools’ required Single Plan for Student Achievement (SPSA) school improvement plans.

Superintendent’s Presentations. I will be sharing our plan for an Advisory Committee to prepare recommendations to the Board for new names for Jordan and Terman Middle Schools. I will also provide an update on the status of policies, practices, and investigations related to sexual harassment and discrimination, as well as an update to the district’s Organizational Chart.

Thank you for taking time to read this Weekly Message. My efforts to make them shorter are failing miserably, so if you made it this far, I am most grateful and hope you will offer some feedback, as well as provide ideas for future messages or ask questions you would like answered. I hope you have an absolutely wonderful weekend. For once, we have some downtime so it will be hard to procrastinate much longer on the home improvement projects ... unless I just happen to require extensive rest after pitching batting practice for an hour or so to grandson Trent’s Babe Ruth team. As always, thanks for supporting Palo Alto Schools.

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