Palo Alto Weekly

News - April 9, 2010

News Digest

Palo Alto elementary school upgrades on tap

Computer-enabled Smartboards, whiteboards and new lighting and ventilation soon will come to every classroom in Palo Alto's 12 elementary schools, school officials said Tuesday.

Portable classrooms will be replaced with permanent buildings on campuses that currently have four or more portables.

Ground will break by next year for major building renovations — including two-story classroom buildings — at Ohlone and Fairmeadow schools.

Next in line for substantial upgrades are Duveneck, Hoover and Addison schools, which will come later. Officials also have set aside funds for major renovations to Garland Elementary School in anticipation of re-opening the facility as the district's 13th elementary school. The campus, at 870 N. California Ave., is currently leased to the private Stratford School until at least 2015.

School officials Tuesday offered a sweeping summary of the latest ideas for $98.5 million in elementary school upgrades under the $378 million Strong Schools Bond Plan, passed by voters in June 2008.

An earlier notion to equip every elementary classroom with a "teaching wall" that includes storage and board space was scrapped in favor of the Smartboard idea.

The school board will be asked to vote on general elementary allocations under the bond program at the next board meeting April 27.

Palo Alto schools get grant for suicide recovery

The federal government has awarded the Palo Alto school district $50,000 to "respond" and "re-establish a safe learning environment" following four student suicides in the past 11 months.

Palo Alto was one of three school districts to seek and receive the grants in this round from the Office of Safe and Drug-Free Schools in the U.S. Department of Education. The others were the Mescalero Apache School District in Mescalero, N.M., and the Madison City School District in Madison, Ala.

The funds come from the department's Project School Emergency Response to Violence (SERV), which has awarded more than $27.4 million to schools across the country since 2001.

"When unfortunate events disrupt the lives of children and schools, it's vital that the learning process continue. Project SERV provides districts and institutions of higher learning with resources to help respond in a timely manner," Kevin Jennings, assistant deputy secretary for the Office of Safe and Drug Free Schools, said Wednesday.

Carol Zepecki, director of student services who has coordinated the district's efforts to respond to the suicides, said the grant will enable the district to refer students needing support for up to six or nine sessions of counseling instead of the three sessions currently offered.

The Department of Education's announcement said Palo Alto had sought the grant "to hire a person to screen and coordinate local psychiatrists and therapists who have volunteered their services.

"In addition, funding will be used, among other things, for grief counseling, a peer support program, targeted depression screening for students, suicide awareness training for teachers, and the development of a website for parents, students and school staff that addresses suicide intervention."

In response to the recent string of Palo Alto student deaths at the Caltrain tracks, the school district has joined a wide array of community organizations to establish Project Safety Net, aimed at developing comprehensive community education, suicide prevention and teen support.

Zepecki said the grant will fund improvements to the Project Safety Net website, as well as a psychologist "to work on a variety of intervention activities and coordinate all efforts."

Chen pleads not guilty in Palo Alto cleaver attack

A restaurant worker charged with attacking a fellow employee with a meat cleaver at a California Avenue restaurant pleaded not guilty to three felonies, including attempted murder, on Tuesday in Santa Clara County Superior Court in Palo Alto.

Chunren Chen, 62, allegedly attacked 55-year-old Zezhrong Yang, a co-worker, in the kitchen at the Jade Palace restaurant, 151 California Ave., on the evening of May 27, 2009.

Police have described the attack as a heated argument that went awry.

He faces three felonies: attempted murder, assault with a deadly weapon and aggravated mayhem. He faces a maximum sentence of 10 years to life in state prison if convicted on all charges, according to Amy Cornell, spokeswoman for the Santa Clara County District Attorney's Office.

Chen has remained in custody since his May 28, 2009, arrest at his Fremont home. He has appeared passive in court several times as defense attorneys have awaited his medical records from China.

Yang, the victim, will testify about the attack at a preliminary hearing on June 25 in Palo Alto.

— Sue Dremann

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