Parents who have been anxious to dissect a controversial survey of Gunn High School students will now get their wish.
The survey, available in the right column of this story as a .PDF and obtained through a public records request, has been at the center of an to move mid-year finals to before winter break.
In the waning hours before the pivotal May meeting at , Board Member Barbara Klausner received the results of the Gunn survey and at the time called it the primary influence behind her decision to cast the tie-breaking vote in favor of the calendar change.
For months, parents upset about the new calendar have been sharply critical of Klausner’s decision to allow that survey into the discussion, given that it was not made part of the official Board Packet and only surveyed students from one school, among other complaints.
Phil Mahoney, a representative of Time to Thrive, a parent group with more than 300 members, Thursday blasted the survey as being “not worth the paper it was written on.”
“It was not done very scientifically, it was not done conclusively,” said Mahoney.
The study was conducted by Jesse Zwerling, 2012‐2013 Senior Class President at Gunn, between May 5 and 6, 2011, on the Thursday and Friday before the Tuesday Board meeting.
The survey found that 74 percent of the 967 students who responded preferred moving the start date of school to earlier in August and taking exams before winter break.
When asked if the change would reduce stress, 72 percent said yes, and 66 percent said pre-break finals would not impact their college application activities.
The problem, according to some parents, is that a separate survey, conducted at Palo Alto High School, showed very different results and utilized a different—some say more valid—methodology.
The Paly survey asked respondents to rate, on a scale from one to four, how much of a problem it would be to have pre-break finals if the dates of the exams overlapped with completing college applications. When asked this way, a majority of students said it would “definitely be a problem.” A majority of students also said it would be a problem for winter break to start late, on December 22nd.
Ultimately, 51 percent of students from Paly were opposed to the calendar change.
Barbara Klausner said Thursday that, contrary to what Time to Thrive parents are claiming, the Gunn survey did explicitly ask students to consider the consequences of pre-break finals.
“It references not only the earlier start date, but also the dates for break and the end of the year,” she said. “While it does not spell out every possible benefit or drawback, it does refer to timing with standardized testing schedules and college applications."
Phil Mahoney had a different view on the survey.
“The questions in the survey can be very leading,” he said. “It’s like asking you, do you like ice cream? Yeah, of course I do! Oh, I didn’t tell you you’re gonna put on 30 pounds around your waist. Do you still like ice cream?”
Tekla Nee, a parent who is also against the changes, said the board members who voted for the new calendar essentially cherry-picked the Gunn survey because it best supported their view.
"The board took this report of Gunn's support for the change and ran with it, ignoring Paly's survey showing students were against the change. Instead, they should have run from it."
Mahoney said that the board members who favored the change made a poor choice in going against the will of a majority of parents.
“I’ve been around politics a long time,” he said. “I’ve rarely seen elected officials that are so callous to their constituents.”
Klausner took issue with that claim, saying that there are strong voices on both sides of the debate and that it would have been impossible to appease everybody.
“The calendar issue obviously has people with strong views on both sides,” she said, “including people who very much want students to have finals over and done with before winter break.”
Klausner noted that in making her decision, she also reached out to people in surrounding school districts, where a majority of schools have pre-break finals.
“I spoke to people in those school districts and heard that while there were issues, on balance the communities thought the calendar served students' interests,” she said. “I do not believe that a difference of reasoned opinion is grounds for a claim of callousness.”
Regardless of the tension between parents and Board members, the calendar issue is for now a done deal. The Board agreed to revisit the issue in March, when a committee will report back on how the district intends to mitigate and adapt to the changes.