Palo Alto Weekly

News - April 16, 2010

News Digest

Stanford loses bid to renew EPA charter schools

Stanford University was rebuffed Wednesday in its bid to renew the charter of a struggling East Palo Alto elementary school it oversees.

Citing poor academic performance and ineffective behavior management in the classroom, trustees of the Ravenswood City School District voted 3-2 to deny a new five-year charter to Stanford New Schools. The Stanford-affiliated nonprofit operates an elementary school and a separate high school, which together serve about 550 students from East Palo Alto and eastern Menlo Park.

"Whether your name is Stanford or something else, it's all about the data," trustee Larry Moody told a standing-room-only audience of parents, teachers and Stanford professors who had come out to support the schools.

"Certain levels of performance had to be adhered to."

Trustees left open a chance that the two Stanford schools could survive for at least two more years but only under strict supervision. They asked Ravenswood Superintendent Maria De La Vega to work out terms of such a deal with Stanford and bring it back to them for a final decision.

Wednesday's vote came after passionate, sometimes tearful, pleas from parents, students and Stanford professors to save the school community they have taken years to build.

The vote also followed conflicting interpretation of reams of often-contradictory state data.

Stanford argued that its state Academic Performance Index "similar school ranking" scores of 6 in 2006-07 and 7 in 2007-08 technically qualified it for automatic renewal under state criteria. A drop in that score to 3 in 2008-09 was attributable to "a significant change in the group of state-identified similar schools," Stanford said.

In recommending against charter renewal, De La Vega viewed the same data differently.

Saying the 2006 to 2008 scores represented only the better-performing Stanford high school, she argued that the drop in the 2009 score reflected a serious "downward drag" of including the poor-performing elementary school in the score.

Historic Palo Alto Bowl gets a new lease

The historic Palo Alto Bowl in south Palo Alto will get a new owner May 1 and its lease is being extended to 2014, according to new owner Rhythm Smith and a representative of the San Jose-based Barry Swenson Builder.

"We've extended the lease," Aaron Barger, senior development manager at Swenson, confirmed Tuesday when asked about a reported delay in redevelopment of the site at 4309 El Camino Real.

Smith, currently general manager of the bowling alley, told the Weekly that she has purchased the business from current owner Rex Golovic, who operates two other bowling alleys in San Mateo and Daly City.

She said the lease-extension arrangements have been completed and that she will become owner as of May 1.

The Thai Garden restaurant in front of the bowling alley is part of the business and will remain, she said.

The development plan had been to replace the half-century-old bowling alley and Thai Garden restaurant with a 167-room hotel and 26 three-story townhouses, with a pedestrian/bike path along the rear of the property.

Barger said the economy is a significant factor in the extension of the lease, which was finalized Tuesday.

"We are not ready to build yet, anyway, and it's a good thing to keep the bowling alley there," he said.

Palo Alto Fire Chief Nick Marinaro to retire in June

Nick Marinaro, Palo Alto's soft-spoken fire chief since late 2004, announced Thursday that he will retire June 29 after 37 years with the Palo Alto Fire Department.

He earlier had worked his way through Stanford University as a student firefighter with the former Stanford Fire Department and moved to the Palo Alto department when the two merged in 1976.

Marinaro, a Palo Alto resident, said he plans to travel, remodel his home, do some volunteer fundraising for Stanford and perhaps work with Habitat for Humanity.

In recent years Marinaro has struggled with economy-related budget problems and has scrapped with firefighters' union leader Tony Spitaleri. The union is currently circulating initiative petitions seeking to freeze staffing levels within the department, which is nearly 18 percent of the city's overall budget.

Locals celebrate Earth Day

Earth Day is officially Thursday, April 22, but Palo Alto and nearby towns are celebrating the Earth and all things green throughout the week and beyond.

Highlights range from Gamble Garden's free event for kids on April 16 to a tour of the Water Quality Control Plant on April 24.

For a listing of Earth Day events, visit www.PaloAltoOnline.com.

— Karla Kane

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