Written by: Catalina Zhao and Cooper Aspergen
Administration officials will propose plans to examine supplements to the counseling program at the school board meeting on June 12. This review, which will be presented as a “plan for a plan,” will direct changes that may come into effect in the 2013-2014 school year.
The board meeting on March 27 prompted the administration to consider making alterations to the counseling system. At the meeting, consultant Kelun Zhang, hired by the board to assess the counseling systems at Gunn and Palo Alto High School independently through surveys, focus groups and interviews, presented the Guidance Review Report. This evaluation included an analysis of student survey results regarding the efficacy of the two different systems.
After the presentation and an open forum, the school board asked Gunn and Paly administrators to review their guidance services, looking at areas for improvement. “From the board meeting, the two schools were directed to reflect and come up with a plan to improve and enhance their guidance programs,” Associate Superintendent of Education Services Charles Young said.
Gunn then formed the Guidance Review Workgroup (GRW), consisting of teachers, counselors, administrators and classified staff members. “The Guidance [Workgroup] is in charge of creating the basics of the plan for June 12,” Jacoubowsky said. “It’s a think tank group. We’re going to look at what changes and improvements need to be made.”
GRW has examined the staff’s concerns and goals and is currently formulating four separate committees. According to GRW co-facilitator Brian Tuomy, each group will be tasked with a different aspect, one group would be for analyzing, another for balance and the final for communication.
Major changes and new models will not be implemented until Gunn undergoes a process that includes collecting the opinions of staff, students and parents. “I’m not in support of bringing in any program without going through a process,” Principal Katya Villalobos said. Young agrees that a process is necessary. “The reflection and evolution process is key to this effort,” he said. “You study the report, analyze other models, look at the research and build understanding and sturdy structures that support lasting change.” According to the GRW facilitators, this process will most likely reach its conclusion in March 2013.
Three major issues the workgroup has focused on are freshmen transition, help in guidance for college applications and the social and emotional health of students. According to Villalobos and other administrators, members of the workgroup hope to target Titan 101, freshman orientation, parent education and a timeline for counseling services. In addition, the workgroup may consider recommending a greater number of counselors and Adolescent Counseling Service interns.
A revision of Titan 101 serves as one of the administration’s more prominent goals in the construction of the proposal. According to the Guidance Review Report, 50 percent of the 392 freshmen surveyed either “strongly disagreed” or “disagreed” with the statement, “I found Freshman Orientation/Link Crew and Titan 101 useful for helping me transition from middle school to high school.” “We are looking at ways to do a better job of delivering guidance type services and transition type services to our incoming freshmen,” Jacoubowsky said. “While the idea of Titan 101 is great, the implementation of it this year has not gone over as well as it could have.”
GRW is also working to improve the guidance department’s communication with the student body and parents. “The problem right now that we suffer from is that it appears no one really knows what guidance is,” Tuomy said. “‘Do they deal with everyday issues? Are they in charge of making sure that kids get into college?’ Nobody really knows. So part of it is we have to figure out a way to convey to the current community that this is what guidance services are at Gunn High School.”
Outside parties have worked to influence the formation of the GRW’s “plan for a plan.” Using the survey data, parent-run community organization We Can Do Better Palo Alto designed a different report based on the similarities and differences of Gunn and Paly’s guidance systems in an effort to bring Paly’s advisory system to Gunn. “I think advisory has a lot of different advantages,” We Can Do Better Palo Alto founder Ken Dauber said. “For example, it uses multiple adults that students can have contact with.”
Gunn parent Amy Balsom of We Can Do Better Palo Alto agreed with Dauber. “It’s providing multiple layers of scaffolding for support, no matter what students need,” she said. The group believes that a gap exists between Gunn and Paly counseling that needs to be mitigated by changing the former’s system.
We Can Do Better Palo Alto’s comparative analysis was met with criticism by Gunn administrators. “The report was basically broken apart and the group turned it around into a comparison of both high schools,” Villalobos said. “I don’t support the way it was done because that was not the intention or the design of the report.”
While conscious of the push by We Can Do Better Palo Alto for Gunn to convert to the advisory system, GRW’s priority is not to adopt the advisory model, but to find what works most appropriately for Gunn. “Not changing to advisory does not mean there will be no change to our system, and the concern right now isn’t ‘we will or won’t’ adopt the advisory system,” Tuomy said. “The concern is more of a ‘give us the time to do what’s best for the community.’ We want to find how to best serve Gunn.”
The workgroup does not feel changing to the advisory system would best serve Gunn and its culture. “According to research, advisory is most successful at schools with 400 to 600 kids,” Tuomy said. “That is not the case for this school.”
Overall, administrators feel the workgroup is on the right track. Everyone involved in the proccess remains committed to ensuring the success of any proposed changes. “We’re excited,” Villalobos said. “We reflect, we change, we improve.”