Palo Alto Weekly

News - April 30, 2010

Around Town

THE VISITOR ... Foothill College math students were told in advance a "special guest" would be paying a visit last week, but they were stunned when software billionaire Bill Gates tiptoed into their classroom. Gates was there to observe Foothill's intensive Math My Way program, which is designed to give previously math-phobic students the skills and confidence to succeed at college-level math. Gates had heard about the program from Linda Thor, the new chancellor of Foothill-De Anza Community College District, who spent an hour and a half with the Seattle philanthropist in March along with two other community college leaders. At that time, Gates had expressed interest in how to spread "best practices" from single colleges to community colleges nationwide and followed up with a visit to the Los Altos Hills campus.

MOVING ON ... Palo Alto officials were shocked to learn this month that more than a third of the city-owned vehicles are underused and that local departments are reluctant to share what they consider to be "their" vehicles with other departments. The audit prompted the city to freeze its vehicle-replacement program in the current year (saving the city $2.5 million) and to start implementing a switch from the current fiefdom system to a citywide vehicle pool. The City Council's Finance Committee discussed the audit last week and praised it for saving the city money. But while staff was directed to return in January to report on the city's progress, the auditor who put the detailed report together won't be around for the follow-up sessions. Edwin Young, who worked on the vehicle audit on-and-off for more than two years, enjoyed his last day in Palo Alto Thursday. Young is moving to Hawaii to become the city auditor in Honolulu. Young, a senior auditor who joined Palo Alto in 2001 and helped the city auditor's office rack up a variety of awards over the past decade, said he was thrilled to return to Hawaii, where he was born, raised and educated. "I'm really excited about going back to my roots," Young said.

ROOM, WITH A VIEW ... Weary wilderness explorers will now have a new resting spot from which to ponder nature's intricacies. On Saturday, the nonprofit Committee for Green Foothills will dedicate a bench at Pearson-Arastradero Preserve in honor of Joan Bruce, who taught elementary school in Palo Alto from 1951 to 1993. Beginning in 1962, Bruce took students on yearly outdoor classroom trips to Pearson-Arastradero Preserve and Foothills Park. "Joan always felt that nature was a constant and so reliable. She wanted children to embrace it and feel the wonders that surrounded them in the Foothills. She felt that in nature you could teach every lesson necessary. She wanted the children to always be mindful and grateful for our natural surroundings," said Chrisi Fleming, Bruce's teaching assistant and long-time friend. Upon her death, Bruce made a bequest that will help fund an advocacy position, according to the organization. "We are honored that she chose to acknowledge our work with a bequest to help us continue fighting for the preservation of the land and are delighted to dedicate this bench to her memory," said Cynthia D'Agosta, executive director Committee for Green Foothills. The dedication ceremony begins at 2 p.m. next to the learning center.

PEER-TO-PEER PRESSURE ... Brainstorming over how to get more students to ride their bicycles to curb traffic congestion on the Gunn High School campus, Palo Alto school board members hit upon a tried-and-true formula — peer pressure. "We seem to react very well to competitive pressure in this community," member Melissa Baten Caswell said. "I'm surprised at how much peer pressure can change behavior." Noting the success of zero-waste lunch efforts in local elementary schools, Baten Caswell said, "A Ziploc bag is like poison now if you're in elementary school. A year or two ago, that wasn't the case — everybody had their sandwich in a Ziploc bag. Maybe we can harness some of that with our kids" to discourage driving solo to school.

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