Given the recent buzz over the social and emotional health of Palo Alto students and the call to implement more areas of the Project Safety Net (PSN) plan, parents in the Palo Alto Unified School District (PAUSD) may be glad when they read the list of what district administration has pinpointed as its biggest goals for the next school year.
As PAUSD Superintendent Kevin Skelly and the five members of the Board of Education adjourn to their annual two-day retreat on Monday and Tuesday, Skelly identified the four biggest “focus goals” he and the Board will be concentrating on for the 2011-12 school year as personnel, finances, connectedness between teachers and students, and the social, emotional and physical health of PAUSD students—including exploring the possibility of implementing more areas of the .
PSN was formed a few years ago in response to that took place between 2009 and 2010 in the district. The mission of PSN is to develop and implement an effective, comprehensive, community-based mental health plan for the overall well-being of youth in Palo Alto. The plan includes education, prevention and intervention strategies that, together, provide a “safety net” for youth and teens in Palo Alto, and defines the community’s teen suicide prevention efforts.
Recently, there has been a lot of buzz over a specific area of the PSN plan, called “P-8,” or the “Supportive School Environment,” which makes recommendations for changes local schools can make to help reduce student stress, which many feel will help prevent future suicides. PAUSD who feel that the district has languished too long in implementing some of the recommendations within “P-8,” such as examining whether homework and course loads are too excessive in PAUSD schools, and preventing “test stacking,” or the possibility that a student can have as many as six or seven tests or major projects due on the same day.
“Students’ social, emotional and physical health are really important parts of our work,” Skelly said before the start of the retreat.
“Inspired by section ‘P-8’ of the Project Safety Net Action Plan, the district will continue to examine multiple aspects of our students’ secondary school experience in order to ‘create an expanded definition of success within the schools and community that embodies an appreciation of a variety of aptitudes and avenues that define success for youth and a structure that supports this message," says the agenda, which was written by Skelley.
Examples listed on the agenda include an “examination of the purpose and volume of homework and a system that distributes test and project deadlines;” the development of an official Board policy on homework that “encapsulates community values,” the encouragement of an expanded definition of success for students within the schools and community, and an embracing of the Developmental Assets Survey as the “intellectual framework” of the district’s support for the social, emotional and physical health of students, including utilizing in order to identify specific goals for 2011-12 and beyond.
These goals will add to other steps of progress the district and schools have recently made in an effort to improve upon students’ social, emotional and physical health, including a shift toward block scheduling at Palo Alto and Gunn high schools, to allow students to get more sleep, and beginning in the 2012-13 school year.
The three other goals on Skelly’s list include solving some of the district’s personnel challenges, devising a plan so that the district’s financial accounts end each school year with a strong balance that can be put toward other district improvements, and brainstorming ways to foster more connectedness between teachers and students.
Skelly says, there are still several positions that remain unfilled in the school district, personnel-wise.
“At the district offices, on the administration side of the building, we have a lot of long-time veterans and people with lots of experience. But, on the learning side of the building, we have almost everybody new and we’re still waiting to fill some personnel there,” he explained. “That’s an issue I think we need to look at, as we go forward.”
As for connectedness, Skelly said, his hope is that he and the members of the Board can explore ways to strengthen connections between students and teachers on each campus so that every student has someone they feel comfortable talking to.
“In other words, how do we make sure every kid has a great teacher and their experiences are positive?” he explained.
This year’s board retreat will take place all day Monday and Tuesday at the at 3277 Miranda Ave. in Palo Alto. Open Forum, in which members of the community can address the superintendent and board members on any topic they choose, will take place at 9 a.m. on Monday and 8 a.m. on Tuesday.
Skelly said, he finds the board retreats to be a very effective way for he and the Board to reconnect themselves, and get a lot of very positive work done.
“We get to discuss where we are, as a district,” he said.
Skelly said the Board will give a summary of the work they complete during the retreat at the last school board meeting for the 2010-11 school year, scheduled to take place this Tuesday, June 28, at 6:30 p.m. at the at 25 Churchill Ave. in Palo Alto. This meeting is open to the public.