It's all about jobs, says Kara Rosenberg, director of the Palo Alto Adult School.
As state financing dwindles and funds once reserved for adult education are freed up for other purposes, Palo Alto's 90-year-old adult-education program is slimming down and gearing up for the challenge.
The Palo Alto Adult School -- part of the Palo Alto Unified School District -- took a 10 percent funding cut this year and lost 20 percent several years ago.
As a result, it's shrunk its program for older adults, ceding much of that territory to Avenidas, the community nonprofit for seniors. And last year, it closed its Palo Alto High School-based program to train aircraft-maintenance technicians.
"There are no jobs in this area, and we didn't have the resources to maintain a high-quality program," Rosenberg said. "If there aren't any jobs and they're not hiring, why pour resources into it?"
Rosenberg, who has directed the Adult School for 11 years and worked there for 32, said she's heavily focused on the new mantra coming out of the Department of Education in Sacramento: literacy and jobs.
"What we've been asked to do is focus on literacy and getting people to work," she said.
She's embarking on an effort with Paly Principal Phil Winston to create "a career pathway for high school and adult school students" and is part of what she describes as "a grassroots venture to align services between adult services and community colleges.
"We're trying also to involve businesses so we can get immigrants moved from English classes into college and training that will move them into family-sustaining jobs," she said.
Adult education in California, originally charged with teaching English and citizenship, goes back 150 years.
With an annual student population of 8,000, Palo Alto's program has evolved to meet community needs, with fee-based classes in hobby areas such as cooking, painting, birding, knitting, ikebana, music and languages and state-supported, tuition-free classes in English as a Second Language (ESL) and citizenship.
Along with other adult schools in the area, the Palo Alto Adult School partners with Boston Reed College, a privately owned career-training institution, to train technicians in a range of subjects including pharmacy, EKG, phlebotomy, veterinary and electronic health records -- for fees of up to $3,000.
But Palo Alto's highest-enrolled program is ESL, serving everyone from recent immigrants to au pairs.
"The pleasure of teaching ESL is that it's something people know that they need and it's immediate," said Rosenberg, who began her career as an ESL teacher.
"We have a pretty vibrant program for au pairs. They come with a pretty strong background in English already, but because it's a cultural exchange program they're required to take classes, so we offer English through movies, grammar, writing, history and culture and pronunciation -- those tend to attract au pairs."
To meet the typical au pair schedule, classes are offered in the mornings at Greendell School in south Palo Alto and in the evenings at Paly.
Palo Alto's popular Preschool Family program also falls under the management of the Adult School.
Rosenberg says she likes to take a risk with a few classes each quarter to keep the program interesting.
She was recently disappointed with the turnout for a new class in social networking but plans to give it another shot.
"I think social networking will start to catch on and people will be more and more interested. It's not aimed at young people but at people not as familiar with social networking who might want to become more comfortable.
"I have to keep learning, and we need to keep attracting new people, and there are always new things coming along."