September 8, 2017

One of the highlights of this week was having Outdoor Office Hours at Gunn High School.  A few teachers and students stopped by to talk about a range of topics, and I also attended a portion of the Sources of Strength workshop while on campus.  I learned a great deal about what methods and qualities students perceive excellent teachers to have, self-induced pressure, and why students may be reluctant to report incidents of sexual harassment.  I’ll turn to these in a moment, so please keep reading as this message also has news about next Tuesday’s Board Meeting, Niche Rankings, and a bit more.

During Outdoor Office Hours, some high school students shared what excellent teachers do (without naming names).  Clearly communicating expectations, lessons, and assignments; showing they care about me and who I am, and checking in with me; being genuinely “into” what they’re teaching; and challenging students with projects and work but not crushing them, were the top characteristics.  A couple also mentioned the importance of a sense of humor!  While times have changed in the last fifty years, I probably would have responded then as our Gunn students did this week.  Great teachers share these timeless qualities, and we are fortunate to have many of them.

The conversation regarding pressure and stress took an unexpected turn when one of the students mentioned that not all stress is bad and that “we (the students) often have ourselves to blame.”  She articulated how it was important for her and her peers to learn how to manage and handle stress but not to be overly distressed to the point of being debilitating.  We discussed the extent to which homework might be a cause of distress.  This student and her friend related how homework was generally reasonable but that students tended to pile additional work on themselves, including college essays, extra-curricular demands, and over-studying for tests.  My takeaway was that we would all be well-served not by eliminating all sources of stress, but by making consistent and sustained efforts of supporting students to help themselves learn to manage their time, balance competing demands, and maintain healthy eating, sleeping, exercising, and working habits.

We also had an extended conversation about a concern that the students and I had from the Office for Civil Rights (OCR) Climate Survey, namely why incidents of sexual misconduct at school often go unreported.  The students expressed concerns about how reporting would impact them.  We also discussed some questions that students have:  Would something get blown out of proportion?  Would there be subtle retaliation?  Do my parents have to know?  Would I embarrass myself?  What happens if I report it and then decide I don’t want to have an investigation and just address the problem myself?  If it happened outside of school, should I really report it here?  Will it be confidential if I tell my teacher?

These are excellent and difficult questions.  I told them how critically important it was to report an incident and shared the anonymous online complaint system.  Also, we discussed to which adults they could report a matter, and the responsibility for follow-up that a teacher, a counselor, an administrator, the district compliance officer, or another staff member would have depending on the nature of the report.  The next day I discussed this conversation with our secondary principals and our Compliance Officer.  We will be developing and implementing a plan to help all students understand the importance of reporting, the ways to do so, the protections that they have, and more.  We will also enlist students’ ideas about how to assure we reach every student -  we already know that it is not through large assemblies.

Please note that our anonymous complaint system is fully functional.

Board Meeting

Tuesday’s Board meeting will cover several important items.  These include:

Approval of Policies:  BP/AR 1312.3 Uniform Complaint Procedures, BP/AR 5145.3 Nondiscrimination/Harassment, and BP 5145.7 Sexual Harassment.  OCR has reviewed and approved the language of the BPs and ARs, so we are seeking formal Board approval at the meetings.  Once approved, we will issue a Guidance Memo throughout the district (staff, parents, and taxpayers) and have additional follow-up training with our leaders shortly thereafter.

Enrollment Class Size Report:  We annually present our 14th day enrollment statistics, and this year will show data on class sizes that include the average, smallest, and largest for each class in each secondary school department.  Spoiler alert:  our enrollment stabilized this year, only declining by about 30 students.

2017-18 Budget Adjustment:  In addition to the mistake of not filing a formal written request to reopen the contract and the widespread misunderstanding among all parties that the 3% increase was off the table due to the 2016-17 budget shortfall, we had some positive news about increased tax revenues – 6.5% compared to projections of 3.7% – as well as carryover from the 2016-17 year.  As a result, we will be discussing scenarios for a revised budget.  Please note that as we revise the 2017-18 budget we are not intending to make cuts to programs or services that directly impact teaching and learning.  There are some open administrative positions and classified staff positions that I am recommending we not fill to realize some savings.

Approval of District Goals:  As you recall we have three overarching goals:

High Quality Teaching and Learning:  Engage every student in joyful, purposeful learning that appropriately challenges all students to ensure core content mastery and maximizes each student’s opportunity to excel academically.

Equity and Access:  Assure that every student has access to multiple programs, services, activities and enrichment experiences that support student learning and enable each individual to achieve his or her fullest intellectual, creative and social potential.

Wellness and Safety:  Provide for the social, emotional, and physical health needs of students and staff and cultivate positive, identity-safe school environments that promote high levels of connection, engagement and overall well-being throughout the school community.

At this meeting we are asking the Board to approve these three goals as well as the action steps to achieve them.  We are also interested in receiving feedback on the metrics that the Board would like to see provided regularly for each goal and action step.  The metrics include: 

  • Assessments:  Test results (e.g. SBAC, NWEA) that will be reported by applicable LCAP categories (All, EL, Socioeconomically Disadvantaged, Students with Disabilities, Racial/Ethnic)
  • Surveys:  Data from student, parent, and teacher strategic plan survey; student course surveys; specialized surveys (e.g. full-day kindergarten, homework), California Healthy Kids Survey (CHKS)
  • Counts:  Number and percentages of enrollment, participation, and the like
  • Deliverables:  Specific documents that will be brought to the Board for information or approval

The Board packet will be posted online, and I encourage you to read and review materials.

Looking ahead to future Board meetings, we have an ambitious schedule:

  • September 13, 4:00 - 6:00 p.m.:   Special Board Meeting (Closed Session) regarding confidential student and personnel matters in the Cozen O’Connor report that investigated the handling of alleged student sexual misconduct at Palo Alto High School
  • September 13, 6:00 - 8:00 p.m.:  Board Workshop on Governance (protocols, meeting management, etc.)
  • September 15, 8:30 - 10:00 a.m.:  Board Policy Review Committee
  • September 20, 4:00 - 6:00 p.m.:  Special Board Meeting to share the Cozen O’Connor report

Niche Rankings - Number One in California

Last weekend, a superintendent from a neighboring district sent me news about the Niche rankings.  The news about our district and schools was so good that I immediately posted it on Twitter (@suptmaxmcgee) and Facebook.  You can review details of the rankings online, but here’s a short summary:

  • PAUSD was ranked as the best district with the best teachers
  • One of our high schools, one of our middle schools, and one of our elementary schools were also ranked number one in their respective categories
  • All twelve of our elementary schools were ranked in the top thirteen of the state
  • All three of our middle schools were ranked in the top five of the state
  • Both high schools were ranked in the top five of the state

In closing, while this has not been the easiest week, I have learned from mistakes (including my own) and identified faulty processes that can and will be fixed in short order.  That said, spending time in our schools this week and seeing such high quality of teaching, such powerful depth of learning, and such sincere caring adults, has been renewing and rewarding.  We are truly blessed to live, work, and serve in this community.

I hope you all have a wonderful weekend.  I am really looking forward to meeting with our Parent Advocates for Student Success group on Sunday afternoon, both to outline our big vision for assuring equity and access and to provide some specific details regarding supports for students and families.  Truth be told, I am also looking forward to their ice cream sundaes!