Palo Alto Weekly

News - December 10, 2010

News Digest

Strong-arm robberies hit Palo Alto streets again

Robbers snatched valuables from two people in Palo Alto Saturday and Monday evenings, adding to a string of incidents on city streets in recent months in which pedestrians have been accosted for their wallets or merchandise. Both victims were approached from behind, according to Palo Alto police.

A 31-year-old woman was approached in the parking lot behind Borders Bookstore on Monday, Dec. 6, at 9:34 p.m. by a man described as Pacific Islander and between the ages of 18 and 30, tall and thin and wearing a white or gray hooded sweatshirt and dark jeans.

The suspect pushed the woman off balance and pulled her purse from her shoulder. The victim was not injured.

In the incident on Saturday, Dec. 4, a 14-year-old boy was attacked in the Embarcadero Road Caltrain undercrossing at 5:25 p.m.

The victim was holding his bicycle with his left hand while walking and was checking his iPhone with his right hand when the robber approached from behind and snatched the phone out of the youth's hand and pushed the victim away with his left hand.

The robber ran into Town and Country Village shopping center. Numerous police officers tried to find the suspect but were unable to locate him in the crowded mall, police Sgt. Wayne Benitez said.

The suspect is described as a young Latino male, 5-feet, 6-inches tall and 150 pounds. He wore a black hooded sweatshirt, black ski mask and black pants, Benitez said.

Police are asking for the public's help in apprehending the suspects. Anyone with information about the two robberies can call the Palo Alto Police Department at 650-329-2413 or make an anonymous tip at Paloalto@tipnow.org.

Palo Alto school calendar stays same in 2011-12

Following mixed and passionate testimony about academic calendars, the Palo Alto Board of Education Tuesday night unanimously approved a 2011-12 district-wide calendar similar to that of the current school year.

However, a majority of board members appeared poised to make a substantial shift the following year — ending the first semester before the 2012 winter break — provided they receive assurances from teachers that program quality would not suffer by having a shorter first semester and a longer second semester.

"This is a split issue in this community," board member Barb Mitchell said.

"This is the third calendar cycle we're completing where we've had the concept to have a pilot to complete first semester before winter break. In the past, we've also arrived at calendar fatigue and then we've punted.

"I do want to stick with it this time."

The board will consider the 2012-13 and 2013-14 calendars in February, after teachers have been consulted on the question of uneven semester lengths. An abbreviated first semester would be necessary in order to complete the semester before winter break while keeping the school start date no earlier than the third week of August.

In addition to polling teachers, Assistant Superintendent Scott Bowers said he will survey parents, students and staff on the calendar issue before bringing the issue back to the board in February.

Nearly all nearby high schools, including Los Altos, Mountain View, Menlo Atherton, Woodside, St. Francis, Castilleja and Menlo, have switched to pre-break finals.

Mandarin Immersion program now 'ongoing'

Palo Alto's once-controversial Mandarin Immersion program was elevated from the status of "pilot" to "ongoing" Tuesday with nary a whimper of complaint from opponents.

The Board of Education voted unanimously to end the pilot status of the three-year-old language-immersion program, but asked for annual check-ins to ease lingering concerns about possible attrition, expenses and student achievement.

The program currently serves 88 K-3 children in four classrooms at Ohlone School. It is scheduled to go through fifth grade, with no provision for continuation into middle school.

English-speaking children comprise roughly two-thirds of the enrollment, while Mandarin-speakers make up one-third.

"There was lots of controversy with this program, but I think we've delivered what was needed to the community," Superintendent Kevin Skelly said.

At the time of its approval, debate over the program centered around resources, with opponents arguing that a new "choice" program drawing students from all over the district would displace other children from their neighborhood schools.

Mandarin Immersion found a home at Ohlone School, where Principal Bill Overton said it has integrated well with the school community.

A $300,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Education has funded start-up costs, including development of curriculum materials through the fifth grade.

— Chris Kenrick

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