This month, the Palo Alto School Board made significant progress towards our focused goals for this year. As a reminder, our six aspirational goals include: a more personalized approach to learning that is engaging, challenging, purposeful, and encourages mastery; an alignment of our course curricula, grading practices, homework load, and assessments; a more strategic use of data; improving equity and access for historically underrepresented students; managing our enrollment effectively; and promoting safe and welcoming schools for both students and teachers.
CDC VISIT: In March of 2015, PAUSD requested the support of the Santa Clara County Public Health Dept. (SCCPHD) for an Epi-Aid to address the issue of youth suicides in Palo Alto. An Epi-Aid is a rapid response by the Centers for Disease Control to investigate a public health crisis. The objective of an Epi-Aid is to describe patterns and trends related to a health issue, describe associations between the health issue and various determinants, and make practical recommendations for actions to mitigate the health problem. The CDC agreed to the Epi-Aid study and the SCCPHD began meeting with stakeholder groups to understand the issues and learn more about local suicide prevention efforts. The four main goals of the Epi-Aid are:
1) To characterize epidemiology of fatal and non-fatal suicidal behaviors among youth (ages 10-24) from 2002-2015 in Santa Clara County,
2) Examine degree to which media coverage of youth suicides met safe reporting guidelines for suicides,
3) Inventory and compare youth suicide prevention policies, activities, and protocols to evidence-based and national recommendations,
4) Make recommendations on youth suicide prevention strategies at the school, city, and county level.
The CDC visited Santa Clara County from Feb. 16-29th for their fieldwork. They do not collect any new data for an Epi-Aid, but they partnered with SCCPHD to hold multiple focus groups with people who can speak to suicide prevention efforts and policies across Santa Clara County, the City of Palo Alto, and the Palo Also Unified School District (including Project Safety Net, PAMF, Stanford/Packard Hospital, and many other mental health partners). Follow up efforts will include analysis of data collected and generation of a final report. The preliminary findings will be released about a month after the visit. The final report can take up to six months or longer to complete. To see the Board Report on this item, click HERE, and download the meeting packet from February 9, 2016.
MENTAL HEALTH AND WELLNESS: The district has steadily increased its investment of time, energy, and funding into mental health and wellness initiatives across our PK-12 schools, providing more direct services to students, staff, and families. There has been an increase of school psychologists, the addition of a district social worker, licensed therapists, another district nurse, and an increase in certified interns on our secondary campuses. Last year, the Board also authorized the addition of a mental health specialist at each high school. At our Feb. 9th meeting, the district proposed a new coordinator for Health and Wellness programs, in order to manage, maintain, expand, and monitor the multiple critical resources we provide our students. The goal would be to identify gaps in services and develop a strategic and comprehensive plan for a continuum of supports. The CDC has published statistics that show that 13-20% of youth have mental health needs, but more than 70% do not seek treatment, even those with insurance. Schools provide increased access, decreased stigma, and early intervention services that are less expensive and can prevent the need for more intensive services later on. (CDC, Calif. Health Interview Study) For the remainder of this year, the Board voted to approve up to $50,000 towards mental health services, including an extension of our contract with AACI (Asian-Americans for Community Involvement) to increase services to Mandarin, Korean, and Spanish-Speaking families. The district has also requested ACS (Adolescent Counseling Services) evaluate whether we need to increase ACS services on our secondary campuses for the 2016-17 school year.
SECONDARY COUNSELING COMMITTEE: Building on the work of the Gunn Advisory Committee (GAC) Report, the district proposed creating a committee to evaluate distributed counseling models with a goal of creating one strong model for both high schools. The current charge of this committee is to "investigate, analyze, and recommend a comprehensive, effective, and innovative system of high school support by December 2016 that ensures students thrive socially, emotionally, and academically and are prepared for their futures in the 21st century." District staff would also like to work on a common SEL (Social and Emotional Learning) curriculum for our high schools. The Board will hear more about these efforts and take action on approving the committee work next month. To read more, click HERE, and download the packet from Feb. 9th.
ADDISON ELEMENTARY SCHOOL DONATION: In March, 2015, an anonymous donor approached the district with interest in supporting a facilities upgrade at Addison from the existing temporary modular buildings to a permanent school building. The dialogue expanded over the next few months to include the current undersized older library and the multi-purpose building. In May, 2015, the donor gave $25,000 for the creation of a conceptual design for the discussed improvements. The district retained Gelfand Partners, the architect for the three previous Strong Schools Bond elementary school projects and Gelfand worked with the Addison community (students, teachers, parents, administration) to produce a conceptual design booklet, completed in Nov., 2015. The donor has now come forward with an offer of $1,330,000 for all activities up to and including the bidding of this project. (It is important to note that the total budget for the Addison re-design would be about $17 million, a sum that neither the donor, nor the Board, has committed to spending.) The Board discussed its policy on progressive parity and the district also requested Board approval to spend $163,000 to create a community-based conceptual design plan for all the remaining elementary schools who have not yet benefited from the Strong Schools Bond program (all elementary schools except Fairmeadow, Ohlone, and Duveneck, which have already been modernized). Currently, we still have $60 million in Strong Schools Bond funding, which includes funding for a potential new elementary school.
BUDGET REPORT: Our Second Interim Financial Report reflects the following changes since the budget adoption in June, 2015. We estimated a growth in local property tax at 5.24% over the previous year's growth. In February, 2016, the Controller's office revised estimated property tax growth to be closer to 11.26%. Currently, our unallocated funds available for program enhancements and employee compensation is $8,510,790. We also received one-time funding of about $1.3 million for Educator Effectiveness and the Board heard a detailed plan for professional development to support our dedicated teachers. Budget pressures continue with a potential cyclical economic downturn, potential enrollment growth and new school, and steadily increasing pension costs.
BUDGET STUDY SESSION: On February 23rd, the Board convened a special Study Session on the budget to hear about district priorities for the coming year. The Board shared its priorities on the following potential program requests: Expert math tutors at the secondary schools, Enhanced Summer School, After-school programming at the middle schools, Full Day Kindergarten, Enrichment STEAM programs at the middle schools, Health and Wellness Coordinator(s), Breakfast for free/reduced lunch students at the elementary schools, Reducing class sizes, Coordinator for World Language Programs, Expand TEAM program at Paly and Small Learning Community (SLC) program at Gunn, and Reading Specialists at the elementary schools. Other budget items for next year might include funding the results of the Counseling Committee, a Special Education Program Review, and an expansion of the Advanced Authentic Research (AAR) program. As you can see, there are many quality requests and not enough funding to cover them all. The Board will continue in negotiations with our union groups as we plan for some of these program enhancements.
COMMITTEE WORK: This month, the City of Palo Alto Comprehensive Plan continued its discussion about the current and future need for more effective Transportation and Parking solutions in our community. Also, the Stanford/Schools Liaison Committee met on Feb. 17th and we heard from Stanford about the 2,400 new beds for graduate student housing in Escondido Village--construction begins in the fall of 2016. The intersection that will be most affected by this project is Serra at El Camino. I also went up to Sacramento for the CALSSD (Calif. Assoc. for Suburban School Districts) meeting on Feb. 5th, where we heard about key education elements in the Governor's new proposed budget. Some surprises included the Governor's controversial proposal to eliminate funding for Transitional Kindergarten and turn it into an "Early Education Block Grant." Potential ballot initiatives in November (pending signature gathering) include an extension of Prop. 30 education funding, a potential $9 billion school facilities bond, marijuana legalization, changes to Prop 13 property taxes, among others.