Among several accomplishments this fall, one milestone surpassed by the Palo Alto Unified School District Board of Education includes the completion of the district’s first universal dyslexia risk screening for all K-3 students.
“This is a milestone in our approach to identifying and addressing struggling readers, and puts us at the forefront of California districts,” PAUSD Board of Education Board Member Todd Collins said. “We found 25% of all K-3 students were flagged as ‘at risk.’ We’ve got a lot more work to do there, but the first step in any problem is identifying it and determining its size, so this is good progress.”
In regards to the progress made on the project, Supt. Don Austin said the board has been doing much more than what the average person, or even an insider, thinks.
“I was watching school board meetings before I was superintendent, wishing I was here,” Austin said. “I saw some of the early discussions on this topic and if you look back on where the discussion started and where we are today it is night and day. The report…exceeded our (expectations).”
In addition to this, the board intends to review the structure of middle school math. This movement is a result of years of concerns as well as recent California Assessment of Student Performance and Progress test results. The results indicated that middle school students, particularly low-income and minority students, are not currently moving in a positive direction, according to Collins.
More broadly, the Board has made progress in forming a better relationship with Stanford through settling the Stanford General Use Permit. The GUP addresses Stanford’s use of land and addresses housing, traffic and environmental concerns, according to Stanford University. The university has shifted their focus to engaging with the local community. As of now, Stanford’s building plans are on hold as a result of being unable to create an agreement with the county.
“There is no GUP, but PAUSD reached a milestone agreement with Stanford which both sets the floor for any future financial mitigation as well as strengthens our relationship with Stanford,” Collins said.
According to Collins, Stanford financial mitigation will come into play if and when Stanford builds additional family rental housing in the district, which would increase the amount of students entering PAUSD..
“Since Stanford’s employee rental housing is exempt from property taxes, it means that there would be additional students, but no additional funding for the district,” Collins said. “Among other things, our agreement with Stanford called for an annual per-pupil payment to the District, starting at about $6000 and rising over time, to cover part of the cost of educating each student.”
An area of critical importance being addressed by the board is the strengthening of school safety. Deputy Superintendent Karen Hendricks is initiating a district-wide school safety and security review. According to the Board, PAUSD schools should be safe places to be if a natural or manmade disaster were to strike, therefore more staff, time and resources are being dedicated to this.
“If the Board is doing its job right, our work should be as interesting as watching the grass grow,” Collins said. “The students are the stars of our show — the board is just providing a stage for them to shine. By that standard, we’ve done pretty well this fall I think.”