Midpeninsula Post

PAUSD superintendent’s contract extended to 2027

Palo Alto High School in May 2023. (Mike Zhao)

The Palo Alto Unified School District board extended Superintendent Don Austin’s contract to June 2027 after receiving a “satisfactory” evaluation at the June 20 meeting. 

Board members evaluated Austin’s performance — which received the highest possible rating — based on the district’s progress on the PAUSD Promise, a document outlining the district’s priorities for the year and metrics to measure progress. It was first introduced in 2019 by Austin, who has been superintendent since 2018. “Innovation” was added as one of the five priority goals for the 2023-24 year

“I am excited to see how we can stretch as a district, especially in the area of dual enrollment,” Austin wrote in an email to the Post. “We also made significant investments in the area of student behavior support, which was a request of our teachers and classified support staff.”

The decision was controversial, however. In an open letter to the district, over 590 PAUSD parents, students and staff expressed their concerns about Austin’s contract renewal. The document criticizes Austin for his lack of transparency, conflict escalation and involvement in lawsuits. The letter also claims that Austin’s actions have contributed to a federal investigation into discrimination against students with disabilities, and lawsuits regarding math placement. 

“Many teachers are also unsatisfied with our superintendent but are afraid to speak up or sign the document due to the fear of retaliation,” an anonymous PAUSD teacher wrote. “The district will not hesitate to throw teachers under the bus.” 

Austin recently faced criticism for the controversial removal of multivariable calculus and linear algebra classes at Palo Alto and Henry M. Gunn high schools.  Students and parents expressed concern over these changes, presenting an open letter with 422 signatures at the May 9 board meeting. The district has since reinstated multivariable calculus.  

In response to the criticism, six PAUSD parents wrote a letter in support of Austin, claiming that Austin has had a successful track record throughout his time as superintendent. During Austin’s tenure, the district established various in-house student mental health programs, adopted a 9 a.m. school start time and restructured special education programs to better serve students, they wrote.

“Parental pressure has contributed to the departure of the last few PAUSD superintendents,” the letter stated. “The inability of some parents in our community to tolerate difficult decisions and not getting their way is a huge distraction and counterproductive to progress.”

More recently, community members confronted the district about the May 5 incident at Jane Lathrop Stanford Middle School, where a special needs students attacked and injured two teachers.

“We need help,” said PAUSD elementary school teacher Krista Velasquez. “We’re being asked to be therapists, teachers, administrators, behaviorists, everything, on our own, isolated in our classrooms.”

Austin has since announced the addition of 12 new behavioral intervention coaches, one for each PAUSD school, in a superintendent update. The district will also instate a new mental health assistant program for staff to promote their wellbeings.

“We are going to launch, on July 1, a new employee assistance program, which will be a significant improvement for our employees when it comes to mental health services,” Austin said at the June 20 board meeting. “We are hiring the first ever mental health professional dedicated to the staff, the employees of the school district, for their help.”

Despite the petitions arguing for and against his contract extension, Austin said he holds high hopes for the future and looks forward to excelling in the areas of dual enrollment and innovation.

“I am grateful for the opportunity to lead such an extraordinary school district,” Austin said.

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