Around TownHOT OFF THE PRESS ... President Barack Obama was the very first recipient of Linda Darling-Hammond's new book recommending ways to fix America's "slipping" education system, the Stanford University professor of education told a campus audience this week. "I told him I'd give him a test that will not be a multiple-choice test — it will be a 'performance assessment,'" Darling-Hammond said in a jab at the fill-in-the-bubble mentality she believes has led to a narrowing of horizons for American students. Darling-Hammond headed Obama's education transition team and reportedly was on the short list for his Secretary of Education pick. She examines strategies — among the most important, investing in teachers — that have led to school systems in Finland, Singapore and South Korea rising to the top of the international charts in her new book, "The Flat World and Education: How America's Commitment to Equity Will Determine Our Future."
GETTING ON BOARD ... For Santa Clara County Supervisor Liz Kniss, the proposed cuts to Caltrain service literally hit close to home. Kniss, a former Palo Alto mayor who recently joined the Peninsula Corridor Joint Powers Board (which oversees Caltrain), returned to City Hall this week to discuss Caltrain's budget crisis with the City Council Rail Committee. The Caltrain board, she said, continues to look for new funding sources to help the agency cover a $30 million budget shortfall. Caltrain officials are also considering reducing the number of trains, closing some stations and eliminating weekend services at others, including at California Avenue in Palo Alto. Kniss said she has heard "a lot of outcry about California Avenue" — outcry that is expected to continue until at least Thursday, April 21, when the board plans to make a decision about service reduction. Deputy City Manager Steve Emslie said the Caltrain proposal to kill weekend service at California Avenue is particularly troubling because the area around the station is designated as a "pedestrian and transit oriented district." "Weekend service is a big part if it, especially for the housing built in that area," Emslie said. "We see that as a major impact to our land-use planning." The board is not united in how many trains Caltrain should run each week, Kniss said. The most draconian proposal on the table would slash the number from 86 to 48. Kniss said she supports looking for new funding sources to maintain the current number of trains. "Until we find that permanent funding source, it's absolutely imperative to continue the services we have now," Kniss said. Caltrain's ridership has grown exponentially over the past decade, with the number of daily riders growing from about 25,000 in 2003 to more than 41,000 this year. "What you worry about when you start to cut service back is that people find other ways to not use the train," Kniss said. "And I don't really think you want 41,000 riders out on Bayshore or on 280, or wherever they would be every day."
THE NEXT CHAPTER ... Palo Alto kicked off National Library Week in style Monday night when the City Council celebrated the city's ongoing renovation of local libraries by welcoming a group of volunteers spearheading the bond-funded effort. The group Palo Alto Library Foundation, whose volunteers include former Mayor Bern Beecham, Alison Cormack and Susie Thom, announced Monday that it has already raised $3.3 million for books, furniture and computer equipment at the new libraries (the $76 million bond voters passed in 2008 only covers the buildings themselves) and expects to meet its campaign goal of $4 million by this fall. Beecham told the council that the existing Main and Mitchell Park libraries were funded by a bond local voters passed in 1956 — the year Dwight D. Eisenhower occupied the White House, Norma Jean Mortenson became "Marilyn Monroe" and Elvis had his first hit — "Heartbreak Hotel." That's also the year IBM developed the first hard-drive — a four-megabyte drive that was about the size of two refrigerators. "We've come a long way," Beecham said.