March was a month of self-reflection in our district and around our community. There were teen forums, parent and community forums, a gathering of Project Safety Net organizations and agencies, evening workshops, articles, and many, many individual and group conversations at schools, among teachers and students, and within families--all focused on student social-emotional health and well-being.
HIGH SCHOOL "WASC" REPORTS: The Board accepted the Gunn and Paly High School WASC reports, an accreditation process for the Western Association of School and Colleges. This is a 12-18 month self-study--an opportunity to create a six-year strategic plan for both Paly and Gunn, aligned with our PAUSD Strategic Plan. Gunn's goals include: develop a culture that broadly defines and promotes multiple paths to success, close the achievement and opportunity gap, and create a comprehensive data system and align course curriculum to regularly assess student progress, inform instruction, and aid communication at the department, classroom, and school levels. Paly's goals include: systemic alignment for great consistence around learning outcomes to reduce stress, research-based instructional practices that increase engagement for all students, and an innovative school culture promoting global competencies, creativity, and empathy. These 500-page documents can be read in their entirety online at: Click HERE for Gunn. And HERE for Paly.
SAFE AND HEALTHY HIGH SCHOOLS: The Board requested an update on the mental health and wellness support services provided at both high schools in the following seven areas: guidance counseling, suicide prevention strategies and programs, culturally-relevant counseling, school climate TOSAs (Teachers on Special Assignment), Camp Everytown and Camp Unity, program costs, and our partnership with Project Safety Net. Both schools have increased counseling support and health and wellness programming for students and begun partnerships with Stanford's Challenge Success program. The district is also re-evaluating the Living Skills curriculum to create a robust health education course for students. The district is in discussions with AACI (Asian-Americans for Community Involvement) to provide more culturally-relevant mental health services and has recently hired a Spanish-speaking Social Worker for the district as well. The school climate TOSAs are working on issues of academic honesty and restorative justice efforts. The high schools may also expand access to student leadership programs such as Camp Everytown and Camp Unity. We will be using the 2014 Strategic Plan Spring Survey Data to assess how the changes made over the past year have resonated with the community. To read the full report, click HERE and look for the materials from our March 24th meeting.
2015-2016 RESOURCE ALLOCATIONS: The Board heard district proposals for program additions based on additional property tax revenue this year. This additional property tax revenue will be offset by enrollment growth, reduction in lease revenue, and increased contributions to the retirement systems, as well as salary improvements and program enhancements. The Board approved an immediate release of $250,000 to support student health and wellness needs at our high schools by providing a licensed mental health therapist at each school. The schools would like to implement this position as soon as possible, so this funding was made available now. Other program additions proposed include: An ELL/Bilingual Support TOSA ($59,811) for the district who will strengthen access to information, community resources, and academic excellence that supports student success, a Bus Driver (and, in a separate item this month, the Board approved the purchase of a new bus) to increase transportation services to our VTP (Voluntary Transfer Program) students in East Palo Alto ($66,920-Driver; $175,125-Bus), an additional literacy and math TOSA for our elementary schools, as well as some flexibility in other staffing needs ($600,000), increasing middle school Health Tech positions to full-time ($100,332) and increasing Assistant Principal staffing at the middle schools ($363,156), high school staffing support for Assistant Principal positions, instructional leadership, and classified staff ($650,022), and a proposed Student Research Coordinator position ($142,862) who will design, develop, deliver, and evaluate electives for high school students to provide a framework for students to conduct original investigations on compelling questions of interest. The Board will take action on this item at the April 21st meeting.
PARCEL TAX: Have you donated yet? Have you volunteered to make some easy phone calls (free pizza included)? Have you sent an e-mail to your social network, reminding them to support our excellent public schools? Ballots will be mailed next week for our MAIL-IN ONLY election. Remind folks that they need to mail back their "Yes" ballot before April 30th, to make sure it is received on time. Measure A is a renewal of our current parcel tax for the next six years, with a $120 increase and continued two percent escalation, senior exemptions, and an independent oversight committee with annual audits. The parcel tax represents about 7% of our budget, an estimated $12.4 million in 2014-15, and is a local source of funding for schools that cannot be taken away by the state. The proposed increase of $2.3 million in revenue will allow the district to preserve core programs, keep class sizes small, support school libraries, and address new priorities including: equitable opportunities for all, STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Mathematics) initiatives, and health and wellness supports for students at all grade levels. For more information or to sign up to volunteer: www.SupportPaloAltoSchools.org. Thank you for your continued support of our students, teachers, and schools!
MAX MAIL: If you missed the recent edition of "Max Mail," a newsletter from our Superintendent Dr. Max McGee, here is a link. You will find more information about the work going on right now in our district around student social-emotional health and well-being.
LUNCH AT PALY: I was lucky to attend a lunch at Paly this month with my Board colleagues to hear directly from students about their experiences. They appreciate that we have hired a consulting firm to evaluate our course consistency, homework load, and grading practices, and that we have added counseling support. They feel intense pressure to succeed, especially among their peers, and are having conversations about how to reduce this competitive behavior at school. Each one of us plays an important role in raising healthy and happy kids. Thank you to everyone who has written me, shared your views and ideas, and participated in some of the community forums and workshops. We are all in this together.