Superintendent's Update

March 4, 2020


I think there is some importance in knowing how our staff makes decisions, especially when it relates to complex areas outside our areas of expertise. Clearly, COVID-19 was on the radar around the world. We, like most everyone, scrambled to learn more about the virus and how it may affect our students. It didn’t take long for our designated source of information, the Santa Clara County Office of Education (SCCOE), to begin communicating with all school districts. We also looked at websites to see what was communicated in other counties. This, combined with deeper looks at public health departments, began to shape up a range of things for us to consider.

Internally, we discussed how we may best prepare for a predictable spread to the United States. All sources pointed to basic sanitization and good hygiene practices as the best ways to slow the spread of most viruses, including COVID-19. Our Board Policy does not allow for alcohol-based cleaning products, which is problematic in the case. We will come back to that in a minute. We are well-stocked with soap for restrooms, although we did have some vandalism which left some dispensers out of service for a short period of time. They are now repaired.

We assessed that our biggest predictable issue was communicating effectively in the face of misinformation and potential speculations. We were correct! When we received information that two students may have been exposed, we all were very concerned. It is challenging to get accurate information in the moment, so we took immediate action to remove the students until we could get things sorted out. Unfortunately, our first outreach efforts for information were less successful and timely than we may have hoped. A better system is in place throughout the County now as a result.

Back to the cleaning products…I was authorized to suspend our Board Policy and immediately order alcohol-based sanitizers. That is a good thing and led to extensive weekend efforts. We received guidance that secondary exposures (exposure to a person with no symptoms that was exposed to a person with the virus) does not constitute an elevated risk. Had we known that information, I am not sure we would have acted differently in the moment. Regardless, we are now better educated.

We do not have a Public Information Officer (PIO) in our school district. That means a group of approximately six of us work in conjunction to put together our communications. It is difficult since the people writing to staff and parents are the same people working the problem in real time. This becomes especially challenging when staff and parents are expecting responses to emails. For that reason, we are leaning heavily on our Frequently Asked Questions page. It is not reasonable for people to expect the same small group to work the problem, communicate broadly, monitor social media, appear on/in the news media, and respond to hundreds of individual emails. We apologize, but it can’t happen.

We are not addressing the questions from stakeholders in isolation. No school in our county is closing at this time. We have no confirmed cases and no practical reason to close our doors. Our county has advised against cancelling domestic field trips. I am not sure that this advisement will hold up for much longer. If individuals do not want to send their children, we should all respect their wishes. It is possible that conditions could change that would lead to a change in our District position, but that is not the case at this time. Field trips will be reevaluated daily.

On behalf of the staff and Board of Education, I would like to thank everyone for the encouragement and support we have received. This unique situation is sure to elicit differences of opinions, even throughout the expert world. Everyone is fully engaged and trying to make the best decisions possible for our students, staff, and community.

The FAQs have been updated on the website, the recommendations remain the same to prevent the spread of the ordinary flu viruses and other illnesses:

  • Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. Use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer if soap and water are not available.
  • Cough into a tissue or your elbow (not your hand). Then throw tissue away and wash hands.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose, or mouth with unwashed hands.
  • Avoid contact with people who are sick.
  • Stay home when you are sick.
  • Keep students home if temperature is above 100.0 F (37.8 C) or they report not feeling well, appear weak or ill.
  • Consult your health care provider if you or your child has special health conditions that put you at increased risk.


Every teacher and principal know that students who struggle to meet academic benchmarks should be offered extra support, above and beyond the first best teaching strategies in their classroom. Over the years, PAUSD elementary schools have been implementing a variety of different support strategies to help students reach benchmarks. Well-meaning and hardworking educators have tried a variety of intervention programs over the years, and yet, we continue to struggle to determine what interventions work the best and whether or not they are working.

Over the past ten years, PAUSD elementary principals have prepared and submitted an annual Response to Intervention (RtI) plan to the Director of Elementary Education. The plan outlined the Tier 2 interventions to be implemented at school sites during the year and set a group goal for the program. At the end of the year, a final report was written by the principal, submitted to the Elementary Education Department, with little to no trend analysis.

In the 2017-18 school year, the elementary principals formed a Professional Learning Community (PLC). This group was formed to look at student supports that have been implemented to determine the most effective strategies in order to help students reach academic benchmarks. This PLC work led to the development of a common School Plan for Student Achievement (SPSA) goal for all elementary sites.

The team of PAUSD elementary principals will examine the impact of reading interventions on the 2016-17 kindergarten cohort, so that all students not identified for Tier 3 intervention, will reach grade level Benchmark Assessment System (BAS) benchmark by the end of 3rd grade.

When it came time to look at the interventions for the Kindergarten cohort, the principals recognized that every school implemented something a little different and it was difficult to determine with confidence, the effectiveness of any one intervention program. Goals for students were still generally vague, and one group measurement was used to track success for the group as a whole. Tracking of student progress from year-to-year was also difficult, as much of the data was not easily accessible in a single document.

The Principal PLC group decided that a common tool for collecting data was needed. Working with elementary Teachers on Special Assignment (TOSAs) and the District Technology Support Department, a tool began to take shape. Over the last three years, with input from the sites and principals, this tool has been upgraded to become an instrument that provides more specific and strategic data. The tool now allows for highlights of the data for easier analysis of program efficacy and continuous student progress monitoring.

At first, only reading intervention data was tracked using this tool. Shortly after, math intervention data was added. Student goals were initially vague and written as a narrative. Last year, a dropdown menu of grade level, subject-specific, standards-based skills was added to the document. This year a tab to set goals for and track behavior intervention strategies were also added.

The main benefit of the tool is that the data will now be consolidated into one useful dynamic document, allowing for successful interventions to be tracked for a student over multiple years. Work to add a pre-K student data option is now being developed, and enabling the sharing of the data between schools, as a student promotes from one school level to the next, is also under consideration. Many 6th grade teachers, having heard of the elementary tool, have requested that the data be shared with them when students are promoted to middle school.

Principals are the driving force behind the improvement and implementation of best Tier 2 teaching strategies. These sustained efforts in developing a common tool allow principals and teachers to discuss the data in an in-depth, meaningful manner.

As we move toward The Promise 2.0 work will be focused on determining and implementing the best way to serve underperforming groups of students. Having an established common tool to set goals, track implementation and efficacy of any support structure, is imperative as we analyze our efforts to support all students.


The Innovation and Agility Department hosted its last student/mentor forums for the Advanced Authentic Research (AAR) program at Paly and Gunn this week. These last Mentor/Student Forums prepared our students to conclude their research projects. During the forum, students worked with their mentors and discussed data collection and various challenges. We thank our community partners and volunteer mentors who make this personalized learning experience possible.

Paly’s Career Month started this week and will continue through March 5. We are grateful to the many industry leaders participating in sharing their experiences, which help our students discover various paths to success and post-secondary opportunities. There are 15 speakers from a wide variety of industries, from business to social work. Learn more by visiting Paly’s website.


Over the last few weeks, we provided some background on the Middle School Common Writing Assessment (CWA) and shared the results of a study that the Department of Research, Evaluation and Assessment (REA) conducted last year into the site-specific CWAs previously administered at JLS and Fletcher Middle Schools. We have also written about the development of the new Districtwide CWA and explained how cross-site teacher teams came together to thoughtfully create common prompts, sources, rubrics, administration instructions, and other materials. This week we will briefly discuss the connection between the CWA and the PAUSD Promise.

The administration and scoring of the CWA is directly tied to the High Quality Teaching and Learning section of the PAUSD Promise. As such, it constitutes one step toward implementing aligned instructional practices. The CWA parallels several key strategies under the Instructional Practices category:

    • Analyze formative data to inform instructional next steps: Teachers will be examining student scores on the CWA and using those scores to inform their writing instruction for the remainder of the year.
    • Ensure course-alike teams of teachers have common formative assessments: The CWA is a Districtwide common formative assessment, constituting a shared experience for 6th, 7th, and 8th grade English teachers and students.
    • Ensure course-alike teams of teachers have common grading practices…and scaled rubrics: During the Districtwide calibration and scoring days, course-alike teachers from each middle school have had a chance to discuss what grade-level proficiency in argumentative writing should look like. They have relied on a common PAUSD rubric to calibrate their writing expectations.


  • Tuesday, March 24, 6:00-7:30 p.m., “Supporting Healthy Gender Development in Our Elementary-age Children” at Walter Hays Elementary School, Multi-Purpose Room.
  • Wednesday, March 25, 3:30-6:30 p.m., “Be Sensitive, Be Brave: Mental Health” will focus on building community responsiveness and cultural sensitivity on mental health and mental illness. Please RSVP on the Eventbrite page. Sponsored by The Project Safety Net Team (PSN) together with Santa Clara County Suicide Prevention Programs and Palo Alto University at the Cubberley Community Center- Room H1, 4000 Middlefield Road, Palo Alto.
  • Wednesday, March 25, 6:30-8:00 p.m., Family Talk Workshop: “What Am I Feeling?” at Board Room in the District Office. This workshop is recommended for 7th and 8th graders and their families to discuss brain development, strong emotions, values, sexting, sexuality, sexual behavior, and consent.
  • Thursday, March 26, “Families Connecting Across Generations Workshop” Sponsored by Wellness and Support Services with Asian Americans for Community Involvement (AACI). This is an 8-week workshop educating families on preparing for their children's future with culturally focused parenting for more information contact Yifan Wang, AMFT, at 650.329.3999 ext. 6975 or via email. Look for registration steps through Eventbrite in the near future in your inbox.
  • Saturday, March 28, “Beyond the Books,” a youth-led conference for parents on how to support their children’s success.