Homework, Schoology, and Mental Health Funding

Homework policy and Schoology

schoology.jpgSurveys by Challenge Success show that at both Paly and Gunn, many students are spending more time on homework than the 10-15 hours per week set by the district homework policy. On average, students at both schools spend around 3 hours per day on homework, on both weekdays and weekends. Juniors spend more time, with Paly juniors spending an average of nearly 4 hours a day on weekends. Around 60% of students report that homework “often or always” prevents them from getting enough sleep (and students report an average of only 7 hours of sleep per night, compared to the recommended 9 hours 15 minutes).

And since these numbers are means for all students, many students are doing even more homework, and getting even less sleep, than these averages suggest. In addition to the quantity of homework, a quarter of high school students feel that many or all of their classes assign unnecessary busywork. Clearly, we need a way to more closely track homework time and inform teachers about how much time their assignments are taking, and how well homework is helping students to learn.

At a special board meeting to review high school plans for the next year, I asked the Gunn and Paly principals to report on progress in complying with the district homework policy and the requirement that all teachers use Schoology, the district’s web-based tool for communicating assignments and test and project dates. There is still substantial room for improvement in both areas. This is my top priority for the remainder of this school year.

In the PAEA union contract signed last spring, the teachers agreed that all middle and high school teachers would fully use Schoology beginning in fall 2015. Paly principal Kim Diorio reported that all Paly teachers will be following this agreement by the end of this month. However, Gunn principal Denise Herrmann said that only 75% of Gunn teachers are using the tool in accordance with the PAEA agreement, and 10% are not using Schoology at all.

Dr. Herrmann said that she is working with PAEA to close the gap, which is a positive development. I will be watching this closely in relation to this year’s negotiations. Mutually respectful and productive labor negotiations depend on all parties delivering on their existing commitments. Our high school students need Schoology for tracking their work, and teachers need it to help schedule their assignments to prevent test and project “stacking” for their students.

Funding for student mental health

Nearly a year ago the school board authorized $250,000 in additional funding for mental health services at Paly and Gunn. The schools hired new staff who are performing a valuable role in coordinating services. However, providers and students consistently tell us that there is too little access to on-site help for struggling students. Many reports suggest that there is still a lengthy wait for students to see an ACS counselor.

In response, in December I proposed an additional $200,000 in funding for mental health services for our middle and high school students, effective immediately. I unfortunately was not able to convince my fellow board members to act at that time. However, district staff is bringing a proposal to the board on February 9 to spend only $31,800 on services, targeted to Mandarin, Korean, and Spanish speakers.

While I welcome this proposal and intend to support it, I will continue to work to ensure that the district is providing students the support they need. Particularly during a public health emergency, fully funding mental health services for our students is a common-sense preventative measure that we should all embrace. In fact, on February 9 the school board will hear from a representative of the Santa Clara County Health Department about the Centers for Disease Control study visit to the district scheduled for later this month. The CDC will advise the district about improvements to our suicide prevention efforts.

Update and next steps on new school planning

I’m pleased that at the January 26 school board meeting, my fellow trustees Melissa Baten Caswell and Terry Godfrey came out strongly for investing in Paly and Gunn, rather than in a new, small third high school at Cubberley. That decision was supported also by many community members, and by the Paly student board rep and the Paly Voice and Campanile.

Still undecided are next steps on an elementary school and a middle school. Our elementary schools are larger than they have been in decades, and I strongly believe that we should reopen Garland or Greendell to reduce school sizes and respond to a lack of neighborhood spaces, particularly in the Palo Verde area. Our middle schools are all at or above capacity. Both of these questions will be on the February 23 school board agenda. I have advocated for quick action with staff providing any additional information that is needed for a decision. Further delay doesn’t help our current students.

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