Wyatt H. Alvis
Annelise E. Barron
Diane & Bill Boggie
David S. Brazer
Monika (Morhenn) Cheney
Baldwin & Sandy Cheng
Heather Armstrong Choate
Fabiana T. Coleman
Community Health Awareness Council
Liz & Jim Cowie
Ronald W. Davis
Linder & John Dermon
Jenni (Thompson) Djafari
Kate Vershov Downing
Kay Marie Ferguson
Natalie Kang Ferraiolo
Richard H. Greene
Judy & Milt Grinberg
Susan Symon Harrison
Laura Christine Herrero
Christine & David Hodson
Stan & Kiyomi Hutchings
Carolyn M. Johnson
Sakeena Ahsan Kalyan
Catherine S. Karagueuzian
Gloria M. Kardong
Joan B. Karlin
Gargi Mitra Keeling
Jennifer Aarts Keenan
Bart C. Lally
Henry M. Levin
Edward G. Modica
Amy Zucker Morgenstern
Ali Brown O'Brien
Nancy Huddleston Packer
Maria de la Paz
Mamie Gong Poggio
Scott & Donna Poland
Shanna & Kyle Polley
Katy (Schnitz) Reamon
Molly Foy Rich
Cheryl Balcon Rodella
Cathy Pinsky Rohloff
Al & JoAnne Russell
Anna C. Schultz
Chris R. Shatterly
Jeff & Corrie Sid
Stephen K. Smuin
Jeanese & Jeff Snyder
Kim & Kevin Stern
Jon R. Stone
Katie Crocker Storey
Lori Bogard Toomre
Debra Hapgood Toscanelli
Cy Ashley Webb
Joy Gorman Wettels
JoAnne & Bob Wilkes
Lisa (Whisnant) Williford
Joseph A. Woolcock
P.S. Among our signed suppporters are at least 53 parents and grandparents; 22 teachers (from the PAUSD, Girls Middle School, Keys School, Castilleja); 20 counselors, therapists, LMFTs, psychologists, and psychiatrists; eight physicians; seven Stanford professors of education, two of law, two of drama, two of philosophy, two of classics, and one of religious studies; five local rabbis; four pastors; attorneys with Skadden, Arps, with Cleary, Gottlieb, and with the City of Palo Alto; the co-founder of an outdoor program for home-schooled kids; three Palo Alto realtors; martial-arts, yoga, music, and drama instructors; a chief health strategist from Google; a garden manager for Living Classroom; the director of Stanford’s Genome Technology Center; software engineers; venture capitalists; an Academy-Award-winning filmmaker (Gunn, ’84); a sr. communications officer for the Lucile Packard Foundation for Children’s Health; a Florida psychologist & national expert on suicide intervention; a St. Louis pediatrician & national expert on reducing stress in med schools; the author of Beyond Measure & filmmaker of “Race to Nowhere." For more, see “About our Supporters” on this website.
Our Open Letter
funded by thousands of dollars in member donations,
has been published in local newspapers on four occasions,
most recently in the Palo Alto Weekly, with 468 signers
And as of August 27 we have 604 signers.
We'll be publishing the letter again when the moment's right.
So please, add your name and join your voice to our cause.
To sign: If you qualify to sign, and want to add your name, simply type in your first and last names, in the indicated field above.
Adding your email address (which will remain confidential) let's us put you on our mailing list.
But be sure you're eligible according to the terms of the letter's title.
An Open Letter
From Residents and Family Members;
Students, Alumni, and Employees of the Palo Alto School District;
Education and Healthcare Professionals and Youth Advocates—
To the School Board and the Superintendent
We love our city’s high schools, just as you do. We’re also concerned about them, and hope you’ll listen to our thoughts.
We’d like to relieve the stress and discouragement at our high schools—longstanding problems that have many causes, calling for a many-sided plan to fix them. Were putting forth such a plan, called Save the 2,008—for Healthier High Schools, because we share your desire for high schools that are forward-looking, life-enhancing, and vibrant.
Nothing can happen without the six of you, of course, because you’re at the helm of Palo Alto’s schools—even if all of us, truly, as Superintendent McGee says, are in the same boat. As he often reminds us, “We’re all in this together.” And indeed we’re not in this to run down our schools; we’re in it to lift up our kids.
Among our number (468 of us, names signed below), pooling donations to buy this newspaper space for Save the 2,008—for Healthier Schools, you’ll find Palo Alto parents and teenagers, business people and artists, rabbis and ministers, PAMF physicians and Stanford professors, Paly and Gunn alums, martial arts and yoga and music teachers, grandparents and grandchildren and people who are “names” in their fields.
But we’re far from being some great collective battleship that wants to bombard what’s wonderful about our high schools. And we’re far from blaming our schools for modern-day problems that have many sources. No, we’re just pulling our individual, 445 oars in sync, toward a shared destination reachable by a unifying plan.
For Healtheir High Schools would change everyday life for the high-schooler who feels harried from the moment the morning alarm goes off; for the parent whose workday thoughts stray to what’s happening, or not, at school; for the couple who argue, after dinner, about the downsides of private school versus the downsides of public. And this plan would improve life for school staff—faculty, administrators, counselors—who are daily backlogged with incoming emails, incoming things to do, incoming young faces with important needs.
Named for the number of students and faculty at our city’s hardest-hit high school two years back, when loss and frustration returned to shadow our District, Save the 2,008—for Healthier High Schools was founded, as you know from our published letters to you last year, by a high-school sophomore and a former teacher, based on their daily experience “in the trenches” of school.
It’s made up of six commonsense proposals. Obviously, they’re not an all-or-nothing proposition, or meant to be adopted “verbatim.” But they do make sense together, and—again, like oars in sync—can move us forward with the greatest speed and smoothness and lasting impact.
The proposals would ease campus stress and discouragement, by:
1. Shrinking the largest classes to a friendlier size. Classes at Gunn and Paly are routinely, impersonally, at 30 or more teenagers per room—much too crowded. Of all the ways to invigorate campus life, right-sizing classes is the most powerful, because it's “knowing that my teacher cares about me as a person” that makes each student feel inspired to learn. In classes that aren’t overbooked, more hands get called on; homework is returned sooner, with richer feedback; more one-on-one “mini-lessons” occur. With their teaching loads on a more human scale, faculty would have time to go to their students’ concerts, plays, and sports events—extracurricular caring that inspires even more learning. Is money an object? Backers of the Cubberley “super school” were ready to help us to the tune of millions.
2. Giving students a voice in homework loads (which can be drags on morale or on a good night’s sleep) via a new, confidential, teacher-friendly app. It would nightly crunch the numbers on actual minutes worked, would be the missing tool to implement our homework policy, and could be built by our very own whiz-kids. Faculty could use it to avoid “test-stacking” and to compare their homework practices with colleagues’. And every morning, flashing on our schools’ electronic marquees, would be the Average Minutes of Homework Done by the Entire Student Body Last Night.
3. Requiring guidance counseling prior to enrollment in multiple APs. Not a red light, just a flashing yellow light of caution—to remind students and parents that: a) APs gobble up family time, friendship time, playtime, and the sleep-time so indispensable to teen health; b) APs offer no proven edge for college admissions; and c) there are hundreds of colleges and universities across the land that offer excellent life prospects. (Who knew about little Luther College in Decorah, Iowa, cradle to eight Rhodes Scholars?)
4. Undoing our kids' schoolday involvement with texting and social media—by requiring that phones be turned off, first bell to last (as we do at our middle schools), and by making our campuses more companionable. Even during class-time, surreptitiously, our kids answer to the siren song of their phones—which bring them social comfort, connect them to Twitter and Snapchat, but also leave them prey to gossip and bullying and the approaches of strangers. For our teens, distracted learning is as shaky a proposition as distracted driving.
5. Curbing the bombardment of grade-reports—recently upped from every nine weeks to every three. This is information overload, pushing our kids toward perfection even as what they most need, more often than we think, is a little time to heal—to rescue themselves from an adolescent setback, a romantic rejection, a parental rift, a humiliation on social media, or from any bad case of adolescent blues for which “doctor’s orders” would be “Just take it easy for a while and you’ll recover.”
6. Eliminating the misery-inducing cheating that is committed by some 75% of our overburdened youngsters. Academic dishonesty is the degraded atmosphere they feel obliged to breathe, just to run the race of school. Worsened by outsized workloads, continually countenanced, cheating erodes self-esteem and churns up so much angst—paper after paper, test after test, all four years—that it’s an issue of mental health.
Why six steps? Because many-sided, longstanding problems—such as ours with "student stress”—require many-sided solutions. And because the steps mesh well together, multiplying their effect.
It's no good to open up more one-on-one time in class, for example, if some of it’s wasted in teacher-isn’t-looking, one-on-cellphone time. Likewise it would be cruel to "clamp down" on cheating if we didn’t help to lighten workloads. Too, teachers with less grade-reporting to do, less homework data to gather, will have more breathing room for the one-to-one tutelage that supports kids in not taking moral short-cuts. Faculty might even have time to make the student-affirming, evening phone calls to parents—better than grade-reports—that would be threads to help re-stitch our schools’ failing social fabrics.
And it’s wrong to cut kids’ attachments to their phones unless their attachments in the classroom are strengthened and we offer them meaningful connections to learning that isn’t cheapened by cheating, isn’t devalued by a continual reminder that it’s all about grades—learning they feel a passion for, learning that lifts their self-esteem.
Make no mistake: we’re not blaming our schools for modern-day problems that have many sources. But our teenagers spend more time at school and doing schoolwork than anything else; and their four high-school years, from wary frosh to accomplished, second-semester senior, are a crucible of adolescent development that will grip them emotionally for many more years to come, through decades of reunions. No, high schools don’t create teenage despair, and they cannot cure it; but there’s a tremendous amount they can do to make it more bearable, more survivable.
Though, at the hearing you granted Save the 2,008—for Healthier High Schools last September, you embraced none of our action-steps, and though the Superintendent informed us, “We will not be returning the plan to the agenda for discussion and action,” we would like you to reconsider. That fall we had only 383 members; now we have 604. You recently welcomed a grassroots initiative to change a middle-school name; ours is a forward-looking initiative too. This year we’ve been joined by Vicki Abeles (filmmaker of “Race to Nowhere”), by St Louis pediatrician Stuart Slavin (a school-health researcher and moving spirit behind lowered stress in medical education nationwide), by Richard Freed (adolescent psychologist, author of Wired Child), and by Matt Miles and Joe Clement, high-school teachers in Fairfax County, Virginia, where there has been a teen mortality rate the equal of ours.
We honor the care and diligence that you bring to our shared public trust: the fate and condition of our schools. We’re rowing in the same direction you’ve already pointed—with last year’s zero-period change and creative bell schedule. These six proposals, placed back on your discussion agenda, can propel our schools toward even further relief, and at no cost to our kids’ futures. And since our schools suffer from the same problems as others across the land, changes that we put in place here can be a model for progress nationwide.
We call upon you as Palo Altans who are in the same boat we’re in, riding out the same sea of troubles. The shore is in sight, the lighthouse shines. Let’s all pull together.