In this week's Around Town column, read about an inspiring teacher who really connects with his students, lawmakers' rebuke over delayed passport renewals and why the council is switching its meeting start times.
TRAVELERS BEWARE ... Rep. Anna Eshoo, alongside 194 other members of Congress, called out the United States Department of State for recent passport processing delays in a joint letter last month. The letter, which was addressed to Assistant Secretary for Consular Affairs Rita Bitter, highlights the impact these delays have had on prospective travelers, some of whom have had to abandon their plans or pay additional fees for faster processing and shipping, the congresspeople said. This comes amid a dramatic increase in demand for passports this year compared to 2022. The State Department is getting an estimated 30-40% more applications this year than it was at the same time last year, according to the letter. "I’ve heard from hundreds of constituents expressing frustrations about the current delays in processing passports by the State Department, and they deserve explanations, communication, and recompense for why the current passport delays continue to exist," Eshoo said in a May 19 newsletter. The department also rolled out the beta-test of the Online Passport Renewal system earlier this year, but has since paused the service. The lawmakers requested more details about the OPR process, such as whether or not applicants were made aware of the potential for longer waiting times. In closing, they requested that the State Department draft a timeline showing how they will reduce processing times.
STAND-OUT TEACHER ... An East Palo Alto teacher is a finalist in the NBC Sports Bay Area All-Star Teacher contest, which recognizes outstanding secondary education teachers in Central and Northern California. Stephen Ashford, or Mr. Steve, as he is known by his students, is a physical education teacher at East Palo Alto Charter School, which he started volunteering at as a parent 23 years ago before taking on the role. Ashford was selected as one of five finalists in the contest according to four categories: overall commitment, excellence in teaching, rapport with students and level of distinction. He said his goal as a teacher is to make sure the kids are having fun. "If the kids aren't having fun then I'm not doing my job," he said. Ashford brings joy to his school community by making music videos, holding toy drives and, when his school switched to virtual learning in 2020, recruiting celebrities to make personalized videos addressing the students. The videos appeared on the school’s Instagram page @epacs.aspire, which turned into a community hub during the pandemic in large part due to him. Coming back to school after the break, he said, students were struggling with being around other kids again while also processing the police brutality many of them had been seeing online. For the first year back, he focused on being an ear to students who needed someone to talk to. He said his favorite part of the job is when kids come back to visit him as adults. If he wins the grand prize, his school will receive $30,000. Voting for the finalists is open until June 5 at NBCSportsBayArea.com/AST.
COUNCIL MEETING EARLIER — OR LATER? ... The Palo Alto City Council, with its newest members now on the job for five months, is poised to decide that meetings should start 30 minutes earlier than previously required by municipal code, but 30 minutes later than they have actually been starting in recent years. According to the ordinance, which the council will vote on on Monday, many recent meetings have been labeled "special meetings" in order to push forward their start time from 6 p.m. to 5 p.m., as meetings regularly take over six or seven hours due to the volume of agenda items. Council member Julie Lythcott-Haims broached the subject at — you guessed it — a special meeting on April 24. "As far as I can tell, we no longer have regular meetings; we have special meetings," she said. "Calling our regular work 'special meeting' confuses the public." The council opted for a 5:30 p.m. rather than 5 p.m. start time to ensure that people who work can still participate fully. Meetings will continue to occur on the first three Mondays of each month.