Skelly responds to concerns about new advising policy

Christina Chen, Author

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The Palo Alto Unified School District school board met Nov. 4 to discuss changing district advising and counseling policy. The discussion has been postponed to the board’s next meeting. “It certainly needs staff work.” Skelly said of the current draft of the counseling requirements. [Photo by David Raftrey]

Proposed changes to the school district guidance and counseling policy will not affect Palo Alto High School’s teacher advisory system, Supt. Kevin Skelly stated at the Dec. 4 school board meeting in the Palo Alto Unified District Office.

After parents and community members expressed fear and doubts, especially to the removal of the “Teacher-Based Advisory Programs” section of the board policy draft, board members voted to postpone discussion to the next meeting.

During the open forum, Kathy Sharp, a member of the parent watchdog group We Can Do Better Palo Alto, asked the board members to address these doubts and emphasized the effectiveness of the Paly support system.

“Teacher advisory has been found to be an effective program, and redlining that is not in the best interest of all the students in the district,” Sharp said.

Skelly stated that the school board does not intend to remove the Teacher Advisor system.

“Just to clear up, there was no attempt to denigrate the TA model,” Skelly said. “I think the board sees many positive features of that and honors the fact that there is considerable support at Paly.”

The policy draft also changes the language from “early identification and intervention plans shall be developed to help identify those students who may be at risk” to “counselors shall assist in developing intervention programs,” which Sharp notes as a reduction in the board’s commitment to provide comparable counseling services.

“This would leave the most vulnerable of our students at risk,” Sharp said. “Students who have high income and connections–they can afford to get these counseling services paid for by their parents or by their families.”

A rotating committee of two board members has been working on the changes to the guidance and counseling services policy. The school board plans to gather more information from Palo Alto High School and Gunn High School, rework the draft and present a revised version in March.

“It’s our hope to come back with this after we’ve heard back from the two sites in March,” Skelly said.

Board members will discuss updates to the district’s guidance and counseling program at the next school board meeting on Tuesday, Dec. 18.