December 11, 2015

It has been a great week to celebrate our students and staff.  On Wednesday, Palantir hosted Assemblyman Rich Gordon, Ms. Melissa Baten Caswell, Ms. Judy Argumedo, and I to the “graduation” of the third cohort of historically underrepresented students they have mentored.  This fall, Palantir taught coding to these students, the majority of whom are young woman, at the Palantir offices on Wednesdays after school.  In addition to expert instruction, they supported them with mentors and provided ample snacks and even pizza dinners.  The students not only learned coding, but were inspired to pursue further learning and developed confidence and resilience.  They also made new friends – even between Gunn and Paly!  Our Palantir partners certainly made our vision of “empowering every student to reach his or her fullest intellectual, creative, and social potential” a reality.  While not covered in the local papers, we have included a few photos of this special event below so our community can better understand how important partnerships are in providing opportunities, access, and supports to students who need these most.

At the Board meeting, Ms. Camille Townsend cited the rankings from Niche that ranked Palo Alto as the top district in California, and also had strong “top 25” rankings of all of our secondary schools.  While various organizations use different criteria for rankings, what I appreciated more than the ranking were the comments on quality teaching.  We have so many excellent teachers in our schools whose work transforms the words of our vision statement to tangible outcomes.  Watching our elementary math TOSA’s in action on Wednesday night was evidence of how we can teach mathematics to “develop our student’s knowledge, critical thinking, and problem-solving skills” and “nurture their curiosity, creativity, and resilience.”  Their collaborative lessons with about 100 parents illustrated how the Common Core mathematical practices can be taught in a way to assure conceptual understanding as students learn from mistakes, struggle to find alternative solutions to challenging problems, and learn not just to apply concepts and formulas, but how to derive them.

Student Voice: Academic Integrity and Homework

This week I had the opportunity to meet with Gunn’s SEC and Paly’s ASB.  Among the topics we discussed was academic integrity, which then launched a spirited conversation about homework.  The students noted that while very few students actually cheat on tests or plagiarize, it is more common to cheat by copying homework or collaborating on an assignment when it was to be completed independently.  The students noted that the administrators and teachers clearly value the importance of learning teamwork and the fact that “collaboration” is a 21st century skill and asked that we rethink and clarify expectations as to what work absolutely has to be completed without any external advice, review, or collaboration.  They also noted that while homework is generally not excessive, students tend to copy assignments that are perceived as “busy work,” such as doing a long list of required problems or tasks.  Some excellent suggestions that some teachers are already using include: assigning required problems that are graded and giving optional problems if students want to see them; more extensive use of Math XL which illustrates answers to complex problems and generates similar ones on an individual basis; giving students the flexibility to turn in some assignments late without penalty (several teachers provide “late passes” already); and other creative ideas that provide students some flexibility during particularly busy times.  Looking ahead to future webinars I will be hosting, I think one on academic integrity would be valuable, especially including students and teachers in the broadcast.

Health and Wellness Surveys

Three of the metrics we use to assess student connectedness, an array of social, emotional wellness indicators, and mental health risk factors are the California School Parent Survey and California School Climate Survey (staff) along with the California Healthy Kids Survey (CHKS), which was administered to students in fifth, seventh, ninth, and eleventh grades during the first two weeks in November.  The CHKS focuses on student resiliency, protective factors, risk behaviors, and is a critical component of school improvement efforts.  The parent and staff survey are both companion surveys to CHKS and enable comparison data in these areas.

The parent survey is offered in English, Spanish, and Mandarin and is available for completion until December 18.  I am asking and encouraging EVERY parent and faculty member to take this important survey.  Parents can access their school link and access code for participation in the parent survey in messaging through Infinite Campus.  The first message was sent to parents on November 10.  Staff received the access code and school link on November 16.  Our district social worker, Soula Nikolakopoulos, will be sending out another reminder early next week.

Leveled Readers

We are all appreciative of the Board’s approval to purchase leveled readers.  As a follow up, Ms. Barbara Harris sent the principals a note, which is excerpted (and partly paraphrased) here that will inform you of what we expect with the purchase of the new books.  Regarding the cabinet to discuss the $10,000 allocation to each elementary site for the explicit expenditure of purchasing classroom leveled texts for classroom libraries: “Our board members and union President, Terri Baldwin, asked if in fact this was enough money to fund a comprehensive classroom library.  This funding is just the start of purchasing leveled texts ... and we want to assure that every classroom has access to leveled texts.  Is it enough?  No, not for most schools because some schools have already had extensive support from other funding sources. For others, it is a solid beginning. The purpose is to support Guided Reading and Teacher’s College reading and writing units of study.  A valued aspect of a balanced literacy program is having appropriate leveled texts for each student.  Please note:

  • Before you allocate funds please meet with your school leadership teams and discuss how much money each classroom will get.
  • At grade levels you might discuss possibilities for the purchase of common sets of leveled texts.
  • It is up to you and your school leadership how much of the $10,000 each classroom gets this year.
  • Be sure you discuss a labeling system so these books remain in the school if or when the teacher leaves. These books become the property of the school.

In February, I will ask each of you to submit an inventory of what was spent and how many books were ordered for each classroom. 

It will help you when I ask you to send me the data in February.

We are all very excited and grateful that this resource is available now for you and your teachers.”

OCR

Yesterday Dr. Holly Wade and I spoke with Laura Faer and Zach Pelchat regarding our request for early resolution of our OCR cases.  It does not appear that we will reach early resolution, but we will reach a collaborative agreement.  Ms. Faer said they have made completion of our two unresolved cases a priority and will be finalizing the review process soon.  They will be scheduling a time to come to the district to learn more about relevant policies, initiatives, and practices that we have instituted in the past two years and assess how they align with OCR guidelines. They added that they will share their preliminary conclusions and concerns with us and work collaboratively to develop a resolution agreement.  We will have 30 to 90 days to respond to a draft of a final resolution agreement.  Once we reach an accord (assuming we do), OCR will issue a resolution letter and likely have a follow-up monitoring period.  We do not know how long a monitoring period might be, but they said the average is two to three years.  As we learn more we will keep the Board and public informed.

Looking ahead, we have a full schedule of Board meetings.  Next week we have a special meeting on the Elementary SPSA’s and BPRC.  Our January agendas are looking pretty full and, in the future, we will be putting a calendar of agenda items that we have already scheduled for the rest of the year in the packet.  Some of the topics we will be discussing in January include the Addison project, the EMAC final report, a process to consider renaming Jordan Middle School, policy framing, language around an Institutional Research Review Board, Citizen’s Advisory Committee’s and “grooming,” the update on the Focus Goals measures and deliverables, the unresolved OCR cases, funding for mental health supports, delaning Algebra at Gunn, the process for developing and approving Board policies, an update on Schoology usage and more.  Wow, that’s longer than my grandson’s Christmas wish list!  It will be a busy and important month.

I hope you have a terrific weekend.  If you are looking for an informative, interesting, and informational activity tomorrow, please join Smita Kolhatkar for Code Fest 2015 from 1:00 pm to 5:00 pm at JLS.  It’s a great opportunity to learn computer science and program robots, mobile devices, iPads, and computers.  The “hour of code” website has more helpful information.  In closing, Paly’s principal, Kim Diorio, found this snippet another principal wrote and thought it was worthy to share, and so do I.

"It’s that time of year when some of our students (and us!) need an extra hug and word of encouragement.  Thanks for your sensitivity and compassion.

Every school I know finds the 2-3 weeks before the winter break to be a time when there is higher stress in families, which is mirrored in some of the children.  It is a time of year when families remember loved ones no longer with them; broken traditions; living far from extended family; or the difficulties of establishing new traditions.  Financial woes are paramount this time of year, and families facing financial problems are constantly reminded of what they cannot provide for their children by the onslaught of media images of happy families around a Christmas tree opening mounds of presents.  Depression is at an all-time high this time of year.

And we end up overlaying a rigorous schedule of practices and rehearsals right on top of it all.  Of course this creates a beautiful and magical memory for our community as a whole.  Meantime we all have a greater need for decompression, sleep, routine, and structure.

Mix it all together and we have more incidents of hitting and arguing and a higher stress level in general.  Thanks for being there for the kids.  Thanks for being there for each other.”

Thank YOU for being there and giving all your efforts to support and serve our students, staff, schools, and communities.

Board Calendar 2015-16 Academic Year

Month

Date

Event

December 

15

Elementary SPSAs

 

16-18

Finals Testing Day

 

18

End of Semester

 

18

District-Wide Minimum Day

 

21-31

Winter Break

January

1

Winter Break

 

4

Return to School, K-8 Only

 

4

Teacher Work Day, High School

 

5

Return to School, 9-12 Only

 

12

Board Meeting

 

18

Martin Luther King’s Birthday

 

26

High School SPSAs

 

26

Board Meeting

February

9

Board Meeting

 

11

Staff Development Day – No School

 

12

Washington’s Birthday

 

15

Lincoln’s Birthday

 

23

Board Meeting

March

8

Board Meeting

 

9

End of Third Quarter

 

11

Local Holiday

 

22

Board Meeting

April

1-8

Spring Break

 

19

Board Meeting

May

10

Board Meeting

 

24

Board Meeting

 

30

Memorial Day

June

1-2

Finals Testing Day

 

2

End of Semester

 

2

District-Wide Minimum Day

 

2

Last Day of School for Students

 

3

Teacher Work Day

 

7

Board Meeting

 

21

Board Meeting

School Events Calendar 2015-16 Academic Year

MONTH

DATE

EVENT

LOCATION

TIME

DECEMBER

12

PAUSD’s Code Fest 2015

JLS

1:00-5:00 p.m.

 

14

Cookies and Cram

Gunn Library

3:30 p.m.

 

15

Hoover Holiday Coffee Cart

Teachers Lounge

7:00-10:30 AM

 

 

15

Holiday Teacher Luncheon & Coffee

Briones, MP Room

12:00 PM

 

 

16

Assembly

Palo Verde Blacktop

8:20 AM

 

16

Buddy Performance Assembly

Fairmeadow

8:40 AM

 

16

Staff Holiday Luncheon

El Carmelo

12:00-1:00 PM

 

16

PTA Staff Cookie Exchange

Terman Staff Lounge

12:00 PM

 

16

Fairmeadow Staff Holiday Party

PF Changs, Sunnyvale

3:30 PM

 

17

Staff Appreciation Holiday Cookie Party

Barron Park Staff Lounge

8:00-9:00 AM

 

 

17

Holiday Volunteer Coffee

Briones

8:15-9:00 AM

 

17

Holiday Soup Luncheon

Hoover Staff Lounge

12:00-1:00 PM

 

18

Sing-A-Long

Nixon

11:00-11:45 AM

 

18

Grandparents and Family Holiday Workshop

Barron Park Room 15

11:30-1:30 PM

 

 

18

Cookies and Coco

Paly Quad

12:00 PM

Board Reports and Tentative Timeline 2015-16 Academic Year

December

15 AM

SPSAs – Elementary Schools - Daytime

January

12

Audit Report

 

26 AM

SPSAs – High Schools - Daytime

 

26 PM

OCR

February

9

Facility Planning

 

16

Budget

 

23

OCR

 

 

Staffing

 

 

Second Interim

March

8

Goal Updates

 

 

Staffing

 

 

Second Interim

 

22

OCR

 

 

Celebration of Tenured Staff

 

 

3-Year Calendar Preliminary

April

19

OCR

 

 

CCSS Budget

May

10

LCAP

 

 

K-12 Health Curriculum

 

 

Special Education Program Review Report

 

 

Mathematics Piloting for 2016-17

 

24

OCR

 

 

LCAP

 

 

Budget

June

7

Budget

 

 

Deferred Maintenance

 

21

Goal Updates

 

 

OCR

  LCAP
  3-Year Calendar Preliminary
  Budget
  Deferred Maintenance