March 17, 2017

Happy St. Patrick’s Day to one and all. Here’s hoping the “Luck of the Irish” lasts through Saturday evening when our own Green Team – Paly’s Boys Basketball – plays for the Division I Northern California Championship. We are proud of our Vikings, and I can’t wait to be in the stands for Saturday’s showdown at Santa Clara University.

In PAUSD, we look at multiple ways to define success. Along these lines, our vision statement includes developing students’ knowledge, critical thinking, and problem-solving skills; and nurturing curiosity, creativity, and resilience. While we support students in their efforts to learn, encourage their work ethic, and report their success in terms of test scores and Niche rankings, we also have focused on defining success in other ways, such as immersion in projects and producing presentations, papers, or products that demonstrate how they apply their learning and reflect their passions. To this end, we are eager to share their artistic accomplishments. Recently, we learned that one of our students, John Dai, received extraordinary recognition for his short film, a visual poetry adaptation of Yeats's poem "Brown Penny." It is showing in the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences-recognized, 60th Annual San Francisco International Film Festival. To our knowledge, this is a first for a student filmmaker.  

Also, the Youth Speaks Out art exhibit opens next Friday at the Palo Alto Art Center. This annual exhibit is a powerful expression of our student work, and I encourage all to attend. You will see what happens when “curiosity, creativity, and resilience” are truly nurtured and students are given support, space, and voice to share their artistic talents.

At this writing in the early hours of Friday morning, the Board has not yet made a decision on the renaming of two middle schools. We have heard from so many people, and I deeply appreciate the many thoughtful comments that provided rationales - both opposing the name change as well as supporting it. At Tuesday’s Board meeting, one individual commented, “Think about it this way; what would you name a new school?”  Some emailers have suggested geographical locations. For example, my high school, LTHS in LaGrange, Illinois, was named after Lyons Township, and both the junior high schools and elementary schools I attended were named after their streets – Oak Junior High and Ogden Elementary.  Others mentioned numbers and a few creative (or sarcastic) folks mentioned fruits, noting “Apple” was already taken. In any case, if schools are renamed or if a new school were ever to be named, I have no doubt our creative, intelligent, innovative, and highly engaged community would think of something that everyone could appreciate and support. In my remarks at the Board meeting, I noted that Barbara Jordan and Frederick E. Terman were both admirable individuals. If we proceed with renaming, you will have ample opportunity to share your ideas!

Also, one of the concerns voiced is that any cost associated with renaming – costs that would likely be in the neighborhood of $50,000 or less because we would only do the minimal signage changes – will not be taking a nickel from other programs or services. Since this would be a one-time expense, we would be taking it from our healthy reserve fund, most likely from the $6,000,000 we set aside for a new school, which we will not be needing any time soon. So this cost would not involve any trade-off with keeping staff, supporting counselor services, providing bus services, or reducing the scope of any programs. 

Whatever the outcome of the renaming decision will be, there also is other pending important school district business that we need to address. In fact, looking ahead to our next Board meetings, on March 28 we will be discussing a proposal for reporting weighted AND unweighted grades on high school transcripts, and we are anticipating we will have a multi-year school calendar for discussion and approval following successful collaborative negotiations with the Palo Alto Educators Association (PAEA). On April 11, I am holding an open forum at 25 Churchill to discuss the budget shortfall, and we will be presenting our plan for the 2017-18 budget to the Board at the April 18 meeting.

I hope you have a wonderful weekend. As I mentioned in last week’s note, my 75-year-old sister-in-law and her 80-year-old husband are visiting for a couple of weeks. Carol had a liver transplant 14 years ago, so every day is a gift and she is walking evidence as to the power of education, research, discovery, and compassion. Like the women in Hidden Figures, she was tapped by Baker Manufacturing to be the first computer programmer, learning the COBOL language and programming a monster-size mainframe that took up an entire room and stored data on enormous disks. As you can imagine, she is beyond thrilled to be in the heart of Silicon Valley. We can’t wait to show our great state, including some time at the Computer History Museum as well as the great outdoors, touring some of our schools, and of course, the Nor Cal Division I Championships! Go Vikings!

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