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Survey: Students More Satisfied with Counseling at Paly Than Gunn

Results of heated study to be presented at tonight’s School Board meeting

Palo Alto High School students are far more satisfied with their counseling system than Gunn students, according to a study released to School Board members in advance of their bi-weekly meeting tonight.

The study builds on a mountain of evidence from previous years offering a similar conclusion. Surveys in 2008 and 2010, as well as surveys reported to the Western Association of Schools and Colleges in 2009, found Gunn students and parents to be nearly twice as dissatisfied with counseling services than students and parents at Paly, where a “Teacher Advisory Counseling System” is in place, according to Ken and Michele Dauber, co-founders of parent group We Can Do Better. The group last May called for the School Board to implement the Paly system at Gunn.

On the survey, in response to the statement, “My guidance counselor knows me and understands my goals and challenges,” only 45 percent of Gunn students agreed, compared to 52 percent of Paly students. An even greater gap emerged when students were asked to respond to the statement, “My guidance counselor is an important resource for me in dealing with the demands at Gunn/Paly.” 49 percent of Gunn students agreed, compared to 67 percent at Paly.

A complete side-by-side comparison of Gunn and Paly student responses, compiled by We Can Do Better, is available here.

"When the crisis of the last few years hit us, we simply did not have the boots on the ground that we needed at Gunn to stem the contagion,” said Ken Dauber. “Now, three years later, and despite all the efforts that have been made since then, we still don't have a system in place at Gunn as good as the one we have had for more than 20 years at Paly."  

The Daubers’ oldest daughter, Amanda, committed suicide in 2008. Since then, they have pressured the District to do what it can to increase student connectedness, citing what they call a “lackadaisical effort” by the school district to address the suicide crisis.

The Teacher Advisory system differs from Gunn’s more traditional system in that teachers themselves meet periodically with students to help them with academic and scheduling questions, while counselors handle emotional and mental health issues. Students get to keep their advisor for three years after freshman year.

At Gunn, a team of six counselors, each with a caseload of 360 students, handle both academic and social/emotional support, according to We Can Do Better. At Paly, 45 teacher/advisors meet with students between one and three times monthly, and help them with college admissions and other academic needs—and if necessary, refer them to counseling staff.

The data in the latest survey adds further strength to the argument that Paly’s system is better, says Dauber.

"The school board said clearly to the community a year ago that it's unacceptable to deliver services of significantly different quality to students at different schools within the district,” said Dauber. “That is what is happening in the high school counseling systems, and it's time to move Gunn to a teacher advisory system on the Paly model."

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