Superintendent's Update


A mentor once told me that I was overthinking something. He told me:

trust your skills

mistakes are permanent

attack things with your best effort and good things happen

My favorite part of the advice I received was that perfect plans don’t exist and are not necessary to accomplish great results. Essentially, he told me to point and go! We have some big issues to tackle in PAUSD. Some have been disproportionately discussed, yet overwhelmingly unchanged. In the words of Joan Baez, “Action is the antidote to despair.”

High-achieving school districts are often paralyzed when it comes to issues that other places seem to address without controversy and better results. I am going back to my mentor, who would say we are guilty of overthinking things from time to time. I have seen discussions about specific topics morph into plans that touch everything except the source of the original issues. As your Superintendent, a major job responsibility is to set the direction and push the “go” button.

We are making some future changes to aspects of our middle school math program. Middle school math is not alone in the fact that some degree of dissatisfaction is expressed on both ends of the equation (couldn’t resist using a math term). Our advanced students may feel held back and, on the other end, the gap is growing for our struggling students. This is an opportunity for us to recalibrate and try something new. The risks are actually very low and the potential rewards are relatively high. As a model for how things may work across the District, our math teachers are fully engaged in the process and eager to provide creative ideas and perspectives. Our Instructional Leads are working with departments and site administration to consider every option.

It will take a little while to measure the results against our desired outcomes. The more important part is that we are moving. We acknowledged a deficit and went into motion with a short timeframe. Recommendations from our teachers will be shared in December. I am thankful for their effort and dedication to our students!


PAUSD is engineering for equity. Several opportunities have already been provided to engage educators in critical conversations about race and privilege and its impact on student outcomes. In addition, a coalition made up of stakeholder groups joined forces to tackle the opportunity gaps inherent in our system. The Community Partnerships and Engagement Team (CPET) met this week to begin exploring problems of practice that result in a disparate impact for our District’s most vulnerable students.

The team, made up of representatives from Palo Alto Council of PTAs (PTAC), Community Advisory Committee (CAC), Partners in Education (PiE), Children's Health Council (CHC), Latino Parent Network (LPN), and Parent Advocates for Student Success (PASS) expressed the need to clearly identify who we are talking about when we say Historically Under-Represented (HUR) students as the term has become a catch all phrase. If we are truly equity-focused, we must identify the groups that fair less well in the District. Students with disabilities, African-American, Hispanic, Pacific Islander, English Learners, and students from low socioeconomic backgrounds need our attention the most.

Education is the pathway to disrupt the cycle of poverty that impacts all members of a community. Therefore, equity-minded action should be the moral imperative for all of Palo Alto. We are asking for the community’s support in this effort – volunteer at a school, join CPET, become part of the solution. For information on how you can get involved, contact the Assistant Superintendent of Equity and Student Affairs, Yolanda Conaway.

Big picture


On October 17, the Elementary Science Pilot and Adoption Committee met for a full day of exploration. They were able to prescreen all 11 state-approved science programs. Each program was reviewed by both a primary (K-2) and an upper (3-5) grade level group. Data was collected using the "First Impressions: Pluses and Minuses" system, along with the Prescreening Tool from the California Next Generation Science Standards Toolkit for Instructional Materials Evaluation (CA NGSS TIME). This data will be presented collectively at the December 16, 2019, Science Pilot Adoption Committee meeting, where the committee will make recommendations for those programs moving on to Paper Screening in February.


On October 23, English teachers from Fletcher, Greene, and JLS Middle Schools, gathered at Fletcher to continue working on the Districtwide Common Writing Assessment (CWA) for grades 6-8. In May and September, teacher teams took release days to decide on a genre, construct a prompt, choose source materials, and design a common rubric for each assessment. At the Joint Middle School meeting, staff focused on completing print-ready assessment materials and finishing audio recordings and slideshows for implementation. The CWA will be administered across the District as follows:

  • 6th grade: Jan. 13–17, 2020
  • 7th grade: Dec. 9–13, 2019
  • 8th grade: Feb. 3–7, 2020

Also, on October 23, middle school history/social science teachers met at Fletcher to calibrate argumentative writing samples. Teachers read and sorted student papers into four categories: emerging, developing, proficient, and advanced. Afterwards, teachers discussed which criteria they had used when sorting papers, and used that discussion to begin developing a common definition of proficiency; deciding what it means to achieve grade-level proficiency in argumentative writing, and determining which grade to assign to proficient work.


The Special Education Department met with the Director of Professional Learning to review the Induction Program, and the New Hire Equity Workshop series, to identify ways to align professional learning. The Special Education and Professional Learning departments are planning to work collaboratively to provide workshops for teachers.

The Behavior Support Team (BST) met with the Special Education Department to provide an update on the development of a video library of behavioral strategies, which staff will be able to access to support students.


Students, staff, and families came out in force and in orange to celebrate the District’s seventh annual celebration of National Unity Day on Wednesday, October 23. Campuses were covered in words of encouragement and messages of acceptance and inclusion. There were T-shirts that read, “You can sit with me,” human and paper unity chains with messages expressing what it means to be kind, inclusive, and accepting. Libraries displayed books highlighting Unity Day themes which could also be seen in drawings, kindness walls, and friendship trees. At one middle school, students and staff came together to fold over 1,000 orange origami cranes to display around campus while other schools hosted a Unity Day Picnic during lunch where student leadership and other groups facilitated booths with activities focused around the concept of unity and community.

Gunn celebrated Unity Day with a lunchtime open mic event hosted by the Student Executive Council and the Wellness Team during which students shared their experiences with bullying and spread messages of hope and kindness. The Flextime activity for the week is called “Inside me, outside me” where students painted masks to depict the face they show to the outside world, and what their experiences are on the inside. The masks will be featured in the Wellness Center for the rest of the month to promote diversity and compassion within our student body. Paly’s Unity Day celebration lasted throughout the day with staff wearing “Choose Kindness” pins. At lunch, students and staff played lawn games and had cider and snacks to promote connecting with others through food and fun. Paly students and staff decorated banners with words of kindness, hope, and encouragement for others. They are now posted around the school.

Many thanks to staff, families, and students for making Unity Day and National Bullying Prevention Month a unifying community-wide event. Special thanks to the City of Palo Alto, Palo Alto Council of PTAs (PTAC), school Parent Teacher Student Association (PTSA), and the Community Advisory Committee for Special Education in Palo Alto (CAC) for helping make this day and message impactful.

Big picture


Care Solace is an online resource with a live 24X7 concierge line to assist individuals in finding local mental health related programs counseling services. To use Care Solace, individuals answer ten basic questions in order to receive an extensive list of referrals to applicable care providers.

Care Solace is now available for use by Palo Alto students, staff, and families at no cost. Please note, this service is an optional resource available by choice and is not mandatory in any way. Care Solace does not require a user’s name, address, phone number, or date of birth. All of the information that is entered in on their platform is completely confidential and stored securely. Please visit the Care Solace website if you are interested in seeking counseling-related services.

If you have questions, contact PAUSD Wellness and Support Services at (650) 329-3769.


Creativity is recognized as a key skill of the future! Innovation and Agility-Curriculum & Career Education (CCE) is, for the third year, nurturing creativity through the elementary Creativity Cart program. The mission of the program is to support and enhance students’ creativity and resilience, while connecting them to today’s real-world complexities. Participating schools receive a supply cart organized around monthly themes and stocked with recycled materials to fuel their imagination and critical thinking skills. Other districts have shown interest in the Creativity Cart program and we are excited to help them replicate the experience.


Research continues to demonstrate the importance of school attendance for students’ well-being and achievement. As such, attendance metrics drive several PAUSD Promise strategies in the categories of Wellness & Safety and Equity & Excellence. The PAUSD Attendance Task Force has conducted a thorough review of PAUSD’s attendance systems, practices, and policies, and identified areas for improvement and alignment, to ensure student attendance is tracked and reported in a consistent and equitable manner across all sites. Parent communication will go out in the coming weeks to emphasize the importance of attendance, explain PAUSD’s practices and policies, and invite parents to partner with schools to address attendance issues that may be a barrier to their student’s success and well-being.


The Department of Academic Supports is providing a variety of resources for students who are the first in their family to attend college. Some of the resources include: field trips, tutoring, and Advancement Via Individual Determination (AVID) classes. Gunn High School is piloting a homework center with tutors available, for first generation students in the College Pathways program on Mondays and Wednesdays from 3:00-5:00 p.m. Students are matched with tutors to provide support in math and English classes. AVID and first-generation students have also been going on field trips to local colleges. Middle School AVID classes have visited the campuses of UC Santa Cruz, Cal State East Bay, and San Jose State University over the last two months. Gunn High school AVID and College Pathway students visited UC Davis on October 25. AVID classes are available at all secondary sites. AVID classes offer students in-class tutorials, post-secondary preparation, and self-inquiry and advocacy. To learn more about the AVID model, please visit the AVID website.