Goal: Close the counseling gap between the high schools by implementing a teacher advisory counseling system at Gunn
|Counseling data and analysis|
|Quantitative results from 2012 PAUSD guidance survey||These tables permit direct comparison between Paly and Gunn results, unlike the tables included in the district counseling resport. Data obtained from a public records act request.|
|The open-ended responses from Gunn students on counseling||Otained via a public records act request. These comments (over 700 in all) were provided to senior district staff in March 2012 but not provided to the high schools or to the public until we published them in late April 2012.|
|The open-ended responses from Paly students on counseling||Otained via a public records act request.|
|Video of our May 16 parent education meeting about teacher advisory||Our meeting, held at St. Mark's, featured Denise Clark Pope of Stanford's Challenge Success and Becky Beacom of the Palo Alto Medical Foundation. Check out the video for Dr. Pope's discussion of the benefits of advisory, Ken Dauber's description of the data from the student surveys, Paly students and parents talking about teacher advisory, and a Q&A session with parents -- and more! The other two parts of the video are linked from the YouTube page.|
|Our comparison between guidance at Paly and Gunn, based on the consultant's report||The consultant who produced the March 2012 report was directed by the district not to compare Paly and Gunn. Since comparing them is necessary in order to determine next steps, we provide here that missing comparison.|
|Our analysis and critique of the consultant's report||The consultant's report is missing not only a comparison, but has some other important flaws that we detail here.|
|Facebook post about advisory and class sizes||Addresses the claim that moving to advisory at Gunn would increase class sizes.|
|The counseling decision process|
|April 6 confidential memo from Superintendent Kevin Skelly to senior staff re counseling at Gunn||Useful for laying out Dr. Skelly's position that freshman and sophomores at Gunn don't need to see their counselors, and personal relationships with guidance counselors are unimportant, because college counseling is the main purpose of high school guidance. Obtained via a public records act request.|
|April 20 confidential memo from Dr. Skelly to the school board||We obtained this memo via a public records act request, and it is the subject of special meeting of the school board to be held on May 31 concerning the Brown Act, our state open meetings law. In it Dr. Skelly told the Board that had he opposed making significant changes to Gunn counseling beyond adding two counselors, and would communicate that to Gunn staff despite the Board's direction to the contrary at the March 27 board meeting.|
|Facebook post about May 22 board meeting||Report on what the school board said at its May 22 meeting about counseling, and where we are in the process.|
Tell the school board you support advisory at GunnClick here to send email to the school board
PAUSD regularly surveys parents and teachers about their experience with our schools. We looked at several of those surveys -- including surveys in 2008 and 2010 that were part of the districts strategic planning process, and surveys reported to the Western Assocation of Schools and Colleges (WASC) in 2009 -- and found that students and parents at Gunn are approximately twice as dissatisfied with counseling services as are students and parents at Paly. That disparity holds across every measure, from general to specific and from quality to availability, and across every survey and time period measured.
For example, in the 2010 strategic plan survey 33% of Gunn parents were dissatisfied with counseling services, versus 17% of Paly parents. 40% of Gunn parents said that their child did not receive effective college counseling, versus 19% of Paly parents (for students, the gap was 41% versus 28%). 32% of Gunn parents were dissatisfied with the availability of academic counseling, versus 14% of Paly parents. In 2008 39% of Gunn students were dissatisfied with the availability of counselors, versus 16% at Paly. In the 2008-2009 WASC survey at Gunn, only 43% of parents and 66% of students felt that "a counselor is available to help select classes and provide guidance in planning for the future." 45% of Gunn students didn't "know who to talk to to access support services such as personal counseling."
The most recent survey of Gunn and Paly students, presented to the school board on March 27, 2012, painted a definitive picture of a large and persistent gap: out of 125 measures on which our two high schools could be compared, Paly exceeded Gunn by 5 or more percentage points on 95 measures, while Gunn exceed Paly on 6. That pattern held true across all grades and service areas. That comparison (missing from the district's report), can be seen in our compilation of the missing table.
Voices of Gunn and Paly Students
Beyond the numbers, you can hear the voices of Gunn and Paly students directly in their open-ended responses to the most recent counseling survey, where they were asked if they had any suggestions for improving counseling. Over a thousand students told us their stories. We obtained their responses through a California Public Records Act request -- none of these voices appear in the district's report, and no one at PAUSD had even looked at them. At Gunn, an 45% of respondents wrote out negative comment (many quite lengthy) and only 3% wrote out positive comments. At Paly, 27% wrote out negative comments (of which only 22% were about TA) and 8% wrote out positive comments. Read the comments of Gunn students and comments of Paly students
These open-ended responses are linked above. Please take the time to read them. A few samples from Gunn students:
"We need more support, and we need you to actually DO something when we come to you for help. When we're stressed out from workload or social issues, sometimes we need more than just someone to talk to. We need help to find out what's wrong and then fix it. It would also be nice to have some way of communicating with our parents through you..." (comment 730, sophomore female)
"I had a very difficult time meeting with my counselor. Finally, after many emails from me and my father, I was able to schedule an appointment. It was after I had already decided my classes for junior year and overall it wasn't too helpful. I feel like I barely know my counselor and I do not feel comfortable speaking with her about anything, even school related things, because we are so distant. It would be really nice to have some guidance and be able to talk to my counselor about personal issues but I think it would just be awkward because we don't know each other. I would really recommend getting more counselors so the student to counselor ration would be lower. I don't think my counselor would even recognize my face." (comment 97, junior female)
Several of the student comments even specifically ask for advisory by name: "We need more counselors to be able to handle the amount of students we have. The Paly model seems to work better than ours, follow what they are doing." (comment 721, sophomore female)
"I think the Guidance Counseling department is seriously flawed. Paly has proven to have a system that works. Gunn needs to take a look at what other top schools have done with their counseling department and model ours after theirs. . . Everyone knows that the Counseling department is flawed. Sure, we have a lot of Gunn students. But group counseling sessions, 1 meeting a year, etc. is sub-par." (comment 1061, sophomore male)
What is behind this satisfaction gap between Gunn and Paly? The quality and training of the counseling staff at both high schools is high, and presumably similar. Staff at the high schools share information about colleges with each other and attend the same professional development opportunities. The counseling staff at Gunn is actually large than at Paly.
The key difference between Gunn and Paly is that Paly has a teacher advisory counseling system, while Gunn has a more traditional model. In an advisory model, teachers periodically meet with groups of students to provide front-line advising on academic and scheduling questions, and the counseling staff handles counseling on emotional and mental health. Students typically keep the same advisor throughout high school after the freshman year. The advisory model was initially developed at New Trier High School, a suburban high school near Chicago, and has been adopted nationwide, including at Paly. The advantages of an advisory system are clear and well-documented in the academic literature. They include creating a connection between students and adults on campus in a non-evaluative context, freeing trained counselors to do counseling instead of scheduling, and giving teachers more insight into students that they can share with each other.
At Paly, 45 teacher/advisors (TAs) meet with their students between one and three times a month. TAs write college letters for their advisees, help them with schedules and academic planning, and refer them to counseling staff as needed. At Gunn, six counselors handle academic advising and scheduling for students as well as social and emotional support. Each counselor has a caseload of 360 students.
We Can Do Better members presented the data on the counseling gap between Paly and Gunn to the school board at its meeting on April 5, 2011. Board members appreciated receiving this data, and commented that it is not appropriate to have differences among schools in the district that lead to some students receiving worse quality educational services than others. Dana Tom, for example, called for district-level program evaluation of counseling and other services to ensure "comparable results" across schools. Camille Townsend promised to push for a full discussion of advisory at Gunn in the school board retreat in June 2011. We Can Do Better members attended the school board retreat, and as a direct result of our efforts the board adopted a focused goal for 2011-12 to investigate why the two high schools have two different counseling systems, and whether they could provide better services by aligning their efforts. The district hired a consultant to prepare a report on the two systems at a cost of nearly $28,000, which was presented at the Board meeting of March 27, 2012.
Inexplicably, the district instructed the consultant not to directly compare Gunn and Paly to each other, so her report did not mention the most significant fact about guidance in our district that her own survey revealed: Paly exceed Gunn by 5 or more percentage points on 95 of the 125 measures of effectiveness on which the two schools could be compared, while Gunn exceeded Paly by a similar margin on only 6. See the documents at the top of this page for more information and analysis.
Tell the school board you support advisory at Gunn
Download an annotated bibliography on academic stress and closing the achievement gap, produced along with Stanford University's Challenge Success.
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