Superintendent's Update

Wednesday, January 29, 2020


It is common for me to write about things involving the operations of the District. For example, we are kicking off the search for two new high school principals for Paly and Gunn. I have also written about structural changes to our organization, funding issues, changes to Special Education, middle school math, dyslexia, and various topics throughout the year. They are all relatively important, but may have missed on connecting each operations change to student impact.

I would like to back up a little bit. I was born and raised in Chula Vista, about 6 miles from the Tijuana border. It was a big deal if anyone left the San Diego area for college and very rare for anyone to relocate professionally. If you were born in Chula Vista, you probably stayed in Chula Vista. I attended my local community college because nobody told me I had options. I didn't complete a single college application as a senior in high school. If things didn't work out, I intended to follow my father and work for CalTrans as a highway worker. I respected him and his hard work. There is honor in what he did.

I was lucky enough to have some athletic ability and our local community college coaches asked me to join them at Southwestern Community College. I had a significant injury during my second year and many schools backed away. A small school in Kansas was willing to overlook the injury. While there, I met two coaches who saw potential in me. One of them was married to the Dean of Education and thought I may make a fine teacher. They invested in me.

I spend a lot of time putting pieces in place that could easily appear like administrative tasks far removed from the classroom. To some degree, that is true. I would also like to think, that each of them has the intent of improving the experience for each student. I know what it is like to be in the "average" track. I remember that I saw my counselor once a year if I was lucky. Many of my friends had Ds and Fs on their report cards. I know what it is like to not have private tutors, fancy computers, or to come from a place of privilege. Some of the decisions may not be intuitively easy to connect to student outcomes. They are. It's all I think about. I, like the overwhelmingly majority of our employees, care deeply about our students.

We have some holes. They aren't new holes, but they are holes that need addressing. We are trying to be better tomorrow than we are today. It's a mindset that will serve us well. I appreciate the support and trust that we have received to date. Our best days are ahead. There will be a day in the near future when succession plans are the norm and the replacement mentality is a thing of the past. Stability will become the norm and unnecessary drama will dissipate. It's coming and our students will be the beneficiary. We will earn our #1 rankings...together. It's an honor to be here and a privilege to serve our students!


The Elementary Education Department has been researching various interpretations and viewpoints around literacy and the “science of reading.” As we know, reading is not simple.

Our research unfolded two key points worth noting. First, there is no one type of study that qualifies as the “science of reading.” A range of research is, in fact, scientific. Second, phonics is foundational to learning to read. Not only should it be explicitly taught, but taught alongside and in support of strong instruction in comprehension, fluency, writing, and vocabulary.

PAUSD has integrated the Teachers College: Units of Study in Phonics into all K-2 classrooms. This phonics program was specifically written to align with the K-5 literacy program, Teachers College Units of Study in Reading and Writing. The Units of Study in Reading and Writing follow a workshop model allowing flexibility for explicit instruction, student choice, independent reading and writing time, and small group targeted instruction. In using these three programs, from the same publisher, students learn the foundational standards-based skills that are designed to develop proficient readers with the capacity to comprehend text across a range of types and disciplines. This provides students with the differentiated instruction needed and supports multiple learning modalities.

As promised earlier, Leslie Faust has been assigned as our point person for early literacy efforts. She is reviewing multiple sources of research in the area of reading instruction and is formulating some of the key take-away messages. We will continue to review and evaluate phonics revisions made to the existing Teachers College units and explore alternative methods of enhancing reading instructions for all students in other programs as well. As previously agreed, this is a year of study for the team beginning with the equivalent of a literature review of relevant studies. We plan to include progress information in most Friday updates throughout the remainder of this year.


The Northwest Evaluation Association (NWEA) is a formative math assessment that is administered three times during the school year to all PAUSD students in 2nd-5th grades. This assessment is unique, as it adapts to each student’s response in order to provide a more complete picture of what the student knows and is ready to learn. This data assists teachers in monitoring academic growth in mathematics, and provides immediate information used to identify small groups, set goals during student conferences, decide on differentiation strategies, and screen for possible interventions. The mid-year informative assessment window is now open for all 2nd-5th grade students and closes on Friday, January 31. Understanding that there may be some confusion about the future of NWEA, there are no current plans to discontinue the use of NWEA at the elementary levels.


Upon returning from Winter Break, the reimagining middle grades math team reconvened to continue working through details for multiple elements of the shifts that were reported out on at the December 10, 2019 Regular Board Meeting, Item 5G, Reimagining Middle School Mathematics. The team has a rigorous meeting schedule and is using agile strategies to pace the work ahead.

In February, all middle grades mathematics teachers will be participating in a two-day professional development training with Silicon Valley Math Initiative (SVMI) to begin working on deepening their understanding of mathematically powerful classrooms. SVMI is currently working with the team to customize these critical days to specifically address our needs as a staff in relation to the programmatic shifts beginning in the 2020-21 school year. Regular progress updates will be communicated through the Superintendent’s Board Update, published weekly on the PAUSD website.

Big picture


After a screening and pilot phase spanning two school years, the Middle School Science Textbook Selection Advisory Committee has voted to recommend Amplify Science to the Board for adoption in classrooms next fall. The committee analyzed data from stakeholders including science teachers, middle school students, parents, representatives from Special Education, English Language Development, elementary schools, and administrators. Overall, the strong points of Amplify Science included alignment to Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) and cohesive use of phenomena to drive instruction, support for reading and writing, use of performance tasks, and teachers’ resources. Sincere appreciation is extended to each member of the committee for their thoughtful and thorough approach to this multi-year endeavor to build quality science instruction in PAUSD.


On January 23 and 24, high school science teachers met to continue use of the Five Tools and Processes protocol. In this timeframe they will focus efforts on designing Performance Task Assessments that are coherent with their new instructional segments for Biology, Chemistry, and Physics. These instructional segments reflect the NGSS shifts and will apply the 5E instructional model. After the collaboration to build assessments, each course will pilot a new instructional sequence this spring. A pilot phase of the remaining segments and further development of new curriculum will continue into next school year as teachers examine student work, and reflect and gather more feedback from peer observations of the new lessons and assessments.


The Saturday program is funded by the Low Performance Student Grant through the California Department of Education (CDE). The grant is one-time monies from the state that is meant to target students who scored a 1 or 2 on the California Assessment of Student Performance and Progress (CAASPP), and are not identified as special education. The Office of Academic Supports coordinates the program and will be sending invites to eligible middle school students. The winter SABE program will focus on English Language Arts (ELA). Students will rotate among three classes – English class, enrichment component, and a test-taking strategy class. Students will be provided a brunch during the day. The SABE program will begin on February 1 at Fletcher Middle School and Greene Middle School. The elementary program will begin on February 1 at Fairmeadow Elementary School.


On January 11, PAUSD held an evening meeting to welcome 77 students into the District through the Tinsley program. The students will begin in the 2020-21 school year. The meeting discussed the registration process and begins the paperwork for the students to be placed. The Tinsley program accepts students at the transitional kinder, kindergarten, 1st, and 2nd grade levels. Students are placed at Duveneck, Walter Hays, Addison, El Carmelo, and Fairmeadow. Students are also eligible to enter the lotteries for Ohlone, Hoover, and Escondido. Families will be informed of the placement on February 20. The event includes dinner and an opportunity to meet the principal and staff of the receiving school.

Additionally, the Department of Academic Supports in collaboration with the Department of Maintenance Operations and Transportation (MOT) held a community meeting on January 23 with families who participate in the Tinsley Program to discuss transportation. The meeting reviewed current needs and concerns and the District’s plan to address them. Identified gaps were discussed and staff received feedback on innovative ways to address challenges. Next steps on improving student experience on the bus were shared with staff. These included recruitment of bus drivers and monitors, aligning behavior protocols with school sites, and improving communication to families.

An encore presentation of the meeting will be held in East Palo Alto on February 5, 2020, from 5:30-7:00 p.m. at the YMCA, Community Room. Translation and childcare will be provided.

The presentation used at the meeting can be found on the PAUSD website.


The second Fifth Grade Puberty Talk Parent Night was held on Monday, January 13, with over 40 parents in attendance. Parents learned about what the California Healthy Youth Act entails and the topics of each classroom session. Puberty Talk is a five-session course, designed as an open forum for pre-teens to ask questions and get medically accurate, unbiased information about puberty developed by Health Connected.

The next Puberty Talk Parent Night is on February 27 at 6:30 p.m., in the Nixon Multi-Purpose Room (MPR). Parents and guardians from all sites are welcome. Materials are available for viewing at your school’s front office and at the District Office in Educational Services during office hours. Frequently asked questions can be found on the PAUSD website. If you have any questions or inquiries, please contact the PAUSD District Nurses.


As a part of the District’s focus on improving student attendance, connection, and engagement with school, Wellness and Support staff attended “School Refusal Assessment & Intervention” training in San Jose on Thursday, January 23. The focus of the training was to understand school refusal in order to identify and intervene earlier to help kids who are refusing to come to school overcome the serious emotional barriers that are impeding their school attendance. Staff will be working to bring back the most recent research and strategies to staff and families as a part of the work being done to address chronic absenteeism.

The training covered:

· Digging deep into the motivation behind this behavior and how it’s reinforced

· Uncovering co-morbid psychological disorders that might exacerbate the problem

· Gaining concrete strategies for getting school personnel and parents involved

· Creating and implementing strategic and individualized intervention plans


The Human Resources Department is excited to announce the second annual PAUSD Career and Advancement Fair which will be held at Palo Alto High School in the Peery Family Center Gym on Saturday, March 14. The Peery Center will be open from 10:00 a.m.-12:00 p.m. Interviews and other activities will take place from 12:00-2:00 p.m. Thanks in advance for supporting our efforts to recruit and retain an excellent workforce in PAUSD.


Staff has been hard at work with our new website vendor in preparing the refresh of the District and all 18 school websites. In following industry best practices, we’ve been explicit about defining the primary audience for which our websites are intended: the community and the public. This definition has allowed us to reorganize content in a way that seems more logical and in line with more traditional districts’ websites, but doesn’t necessarily reflect internal organizational structures. A preview will be available within the next couple of weeks, with an anticipated launch date around mid-February.


The Palo Alto Unified School District Board of Education seeks applicants for appointment to the independent, volunteer Strong Schools Bond Citizens’ Oversight Committee. The Committee reviews and report to the public on the District's bond expenditures. An applicant must reside within the Palo Alto Unified School District. An applicant must not be an employee, contractor, consultant, or vendor of the District. The committee has four regular quarterly meetings per year.

New committee members will serve a two-year term that will start on July 1, 2020 and end on June 30, 2022.

There is also a current vacant committee position that will start on April 1, 2020 and will extend, with a reappointment in June, through June 30, 2002.

The purpose of the Citizens’ Oversight Committee (COC) is to inform the public concerning the expenditure of bond revenues. The COC is required by state law to actively review and report on the proper expenditure of taxpayers’ money for school construction.

Application forms can be obtained by emailing Veronica Melero at or writing to Veronica Melero, Building D - Facilities Department, Palo Alto Unified School District, 25 Churchill Avenue, Palo Alto, CA 94306. You can obtain information by phone by calling Veronica Melero at 650-329-3927.

Completed applications may be emailed to: Veronica Melero at or mailed or delivered by hand to: Veronica Melero, Building D - Facilities Department, Palo Alto Unified School District, 25 Churchill Avenue, Palo Alto, CA 94306. All applications must be received by Friday, February 21, 2020, at 4:30 pm.