Committee helps to better student experience

School Climate committee designed to create inclusive school environment

Palo Alto High School’s Climate Committee, created in Jan. 2014, is continuing this school year. Its goal is to make Paly’s school culture more inclusive and welcoming.

In the committee, members will discuss ways to improve the experience of students, faculty, staff and parents at Paly, including reducing academic stress and bullying, facilitating closer student-teacher and parent-teacher relationships and improving attendance. According to the Climate Committee Application, it aims “to build empathy and inclusion across campus and the community” through open discussion.

The committee is headed by Teacher on Special Assignment (TOSA),  Eric Bloom, who is a social studies teacher and the Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC) School Culture focus group leader.

Junior Reid Walters will be one of the main students helping Bloom manage the committee. Though the committee was officially announced in second semester of the 2013-2014 school year, “the climate committee [is] going to meet outside of class time during lunch and after school,” Walters said. “Mr. Bloom and I are just getting it started this year.” They have not had their first meeting yet but are currently gathering applicants.

The committee will be funded for one semester as a test course to determine whether funding will continue based on the committee’s progress. Success will be measured by decreasing numbers of students receiving Ds and Fs and more students meeting the A-G requirements.

Two major areas of discussion in Jan. 2014 were the academic honesty policy and the consequences of violating it. According to Walters, Bloom has already been working on the academic honesty policy outside of the climate committee. Regardless, these topics will also be discussed by the new committee.

One original idea presented by principal Kim Diorio and Bloom was a process in which a teacher is a “student for a day” or a parent is a “teacher for a day.” This idea has not yet been fully implemented but is still a topic of high interest.

“We are going to be working on projects such as the ‘student for a day’ project once we have the committee set up,” Walters said.

The formation of this committee at Paly was inspired by similar committees at other Palo Alto Unified School District (PAUSD) schools, the PAUSD Safe and Welcoming School Task Force and the WASC accreditation process.

Jordan Middle School’s Climate Committee and the positive response it incited prompted Paly to create its own environment for discussion of the school’s strengths and areas of improvement. According to the Jordan website, the School Climate Committee is comprised of “dedicated teachers, administrators, staff, parents and students” striving for a “Respectful, Open-minded, Community of Kind and Safe students,” a model adopted for Paly’s own committee.

Many of the goals of the PAUSD Safe a-nd Welcoming School Task Force formed in May 2013 are being embraced by Paly’s Climate Committee as well. This task force is similar to Jordan’s committee but includes all school age groups and makes changes on a bigger scale. According to the PAUSD website, the task force’s goal is to “review policies [and] procedures, train staff, guide students and engage parent partners to fortify efforts to help all students build a strong connection to school.”

In addition, the WASC visitation team’s upcoming tour and evaluation of Paly in the winter of 2014 or spring of 2015 encouraged Paly to implement active changes. Many of the proposed changes originated in meetings of the WASC School Culture and Support of Student Personal and Academic Growth focus group, led by Bloom.

With many plans and goals ahead of them, Bloom and Walters are enthusiastic about the year. Walters said, “I’m excited because I think that the climate committee has the opportunity to make a lot of positive changes at our school.”