PaliHi College Center Undergoes Changes
Last spring, Palisades High School seniors were accepted to elite colleges/universities, such as Harvard, Yale, Cornell, Princeton and Stanford, as well as UC schools, such as UCLA and UC Berkeley, and various two-year colleges.
About 97 percent of the 2018 class was accepted to either a four- or two-year college or both.
The four counselors at PaliHi’s college center–Ruth Grubb (head of the center), Melissa Rangel, Diana Hurst and Karen Ellis–wrote letters for the almost 700 students applying to four-year private schools (letters of recommendation are needed from a counselor).
Additionally, the women met with students/parents to make recommendations for colleges or universities where a student most likely would be accepted.
At the end of July, Ellis, the least senior of the college center advisors, was promoted to head of the center. She has two children who graduated from college.
Grubb, whose three children attended PaliHi and graduated from colleges around the country, was told she was being reassigned as a regular counselor.
Hurst, who has three children, two of whom graduated from PaliHi and were/are college athletes, was the lead counselor for students who were interested in playing sports in college. She was told eight days before she was supposed to return in August that her contract would not be renewed.
Melissa Rangel kept her position and Kristi Morrow, new to PaliHi, was hired.
Dr. Pam Magee, PaliHi’s executive director/principal, had no comment about the changes.
When Dr. Chis Lee (director of academic planning and guidance services) was asked, “Why did you make a change, especially since 97 percent of kids go to college?” he responded, “We just wanted to try something different.”
By trying something different, did administrators follow the rules?
All non-classified positions are at-will, which means a person can be dismissed for any reason and without warning (as long as the reason is not illegal).
But PaliHi does have set rules for hiring. Its charter specifies that hiring should be done by a committee consisting of the executive director or a designee, the supervisor and/or other representative member from the appropriate operational department, “and at least one member each from the parent and pupil stakeholder groups.” (Page 77 of the PaliHi Charter).
The hiring committee, assembled in late July just for the college center positions, consisted of five administrators: Magee, Dr. Chris Lee (director of academic planning and guidance services), Amy Nguyen (director of human resources), Monica Iannessa (director of student achievement) and Tami Christopher-Hooker (director of admissions).
The remaining five members included classified representative Gio Stewart (unification director), teacher Joel Jiminez, 2018 PaliHi graduate Amir Ebehadj and two students, whose names were not made public.
Christopher-Hooker, who was a teacher last year and joined the administrative staff this fall, had a son who entered PaliHi in August. Circling the News was told she was considered the parent on the committee. Ebehadj, who was counseled by Ellis last year as a senior and entered Berkeley last month, was deemed the community member.
Circling the News contacted Nguyen to ask why community members or a local parent was not on the interviewing committee.
Nguyen wrote in an August 7 email to Circling the News, “Based on the reasonable judgment of PCHS management, all panelists were selected based on their experience and ability to meaningfully contribute to the selection of the new Head College Advisor.”
Of the eight adults on the hiring committee, only Nguyen and Christopher-Hooker have children. None of the other administrators, the teacher, the classified staff or the community rep (Ebehadj) do.
In addition to being Ebehadj’s college counselor, Ellis also serves on the board of PaliHi’s Fuerza Unida with Jimenez and Iannessa.
Three people were interviewed for the head position, and Circling the News asked to see the applicants experience or questions asked during the interview.
Nguyan wrote, “PCHS will not disclose these interview questions given that they reasonably fall within recognized exemptions to the PRA [public record act], including at Government Code section 6254(a) [preliminary drafts, notes, or intra-agency memoranda not retained by the school in the ordinary course of business]; as well as section 6255. To the extent this response denies any request you have made pursuant to the PRA, the PCHS administrator responsible for such denial is Executive Director Pamela Magee.”
Circling the News learned that some parents had complained because they didn’t feel counselors suggested the right colleges for their seniors.
But, counselors understand the college application process is a numbers game. If a student has a 3.9 and a 31 ACT, it might be marginal to get into a UC school, such as UCLA or UC Berkeley, because those students join students with similar scores who are applying from all over the city, state, country and internationally.
The students who apply for UC schools are “ranked” with the scores (combination of grades and standardized test scores), and then, extracurricular activities and essays come into play to determine who is accepted. A talented athlete may be chosen over someone who has a higher score, but mostly it is a simple numbers game.
Additionally, at PaliHi, records have been kept for years of students who get into an “elite” school such as Columbia or MIT and what stats are most likely needed for admission. As much as a parent might not want to hear that their child is not Harvard material, counselors have a good idea of what constitutes a “stretch—and beyond” school.
Even if administrators want to make changes, as they are allowed to do with at-will jobs, there is a prescribed method of hiring in the Charter. In the case of the college center, it appears it was not a fair search. Additionally, the college center no longer has a counselor who can make recommendations about Division-I, D-II or D-III sports.