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October 05, 2005

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Palo Alto Online

Publication Date: Wednesday, October 05, 2005

News Digest News Digest (October 05, 2005)

School's hurricane donations stolen from principal's office

Approximately $1,500 in student donations earmarked to help victims of Hurricane Katrina was stolen from the principal's office at Cesar Chavez Elementary School in East Palo Alto last weekend, according to Assistant Principal David Herrera.

Upon hearing the news, at least two major corporations and dozens of parents and private donors have so far come forward to replace the students' money. Wells Fargo Bank and Yahoo! For Giving will each donate $1,500. Wells Fargo also plans to give the school an additional $11,000 for general needs as part of its Adopt-a-School program. "It's been very heartwarming and overwhelming how generous people are being," Herrera said. "This is an incredibly unusual circumstance to be faced with having unexpected money. Schools are not used to that, especially our schools." Cesar Chavez students had raised the stolen money as part of a September "coin" drive to benefit the hurricane victims. School administrators discovered that the donations -- which were kept in several large water jugs in Principal Cammie Harris' office -- were gone Monday morning. Officials were planning to count the money and announce how much was raised Monday, but instead, the students were told at lunch that their money was stolen. Herrera said a second announcement about the onslaught of donations was planned for lunch Tuesday. Herrera said East Palo Alto police are still conducting an investigation. He also said there is some suspicion that the suspects are former students. "You never want to think it's one of your own students," he added. "It's disheartening." During September, Herrera said the water jugs, one for each grade, were brought into the lunch area for students to donate money. Students held a bake sale and other events to raise funds for the drive. A private foundation had also pledged to match the school's donations four to one. "The students worked so hard to raise the money for the hurricane victims, and their generosity should not be overshadowed by the theft," said Kim Wininger, president of Wells Fargo South Peninsula Banking. Herrera said a few $200 radio communication devices were also stolen and there was graffiti in the principal's office. Cesar Chavez is part of the Ravenswood City School District and serves fourth- through eighth-grade students. Ninety percent of the students are on the free or reduced lunch program. East Palo Alto police can be reached at (650) 853-3125.
-- Alexandria Rocha

Schools mourn teacher's death

The Menlo Park school community is in shock after learning that Michelle Mazzei, a beloved fourth-grade teacher at Oak Knoll School, died Sunday she was hit by car as she was bicycling on Woodside Road near Interstate 280 in Woodside.

Mazzei, 34, an experienced cyclist and triathlete, was biking west on Woodside Road near Moore Road at 10:51 a.m. when the driver of a 1998 Mercedes drifted into the bicycle lane and struck her, according to the San Mateo County Sheriff's Office. She was wearing a bike helmet, said authorities who are investigating the accident. Mazzei suffered major traumatic injuries and was taken to the emergency room at Stanford Hospital where she died.

Upon learning of the accident, Oak Knoll Principal David Ackerman immediately contacted his teachers and counselors who came to the school Monday afternoon and began calling parents of all the students in the school, informing them of the tragedy. The

Mazzei had touched the lives of many students since she began teaching fourth grade at Oak Knoll School in 1996-97.

She began her teaching career in the Menlo Park City School District earlier, in August 1995 at Encinal School. She worked part-time in a program that focused on helping academically needy students, and then she became a fifth-grade teacher at Encinal full-time.

The tragedy struck even deeper in the school district because Mazzei was the daughter of Doreen Mazzei, the former executive assistant and secretary for 15 years to superintendents Judy Rogers Bianchi and Ken Ranella.

Her father, Robert Mazzei, retired after teaching 35 years in the South San Francisco Unified School District. Her sister, Christina Borde, is a deputy district attorney in San Mateo County.

"Our entire community is still in shock over this devastating tragedy," said Terry Thygesen, school district trustee.

Services for Mazzei are pending. A memorial gathering at Oak Knoll School and possibly a memorial wall honoring Mazzei is being discussed.

The driver of the car was identified by the Sheriff's Office as Theodore Thornbrough, 68, of Westminster, Colo. He was en route to San Francisco on I- 280 and took the eastbound off-ramp at Woodside Road to use a pay phone, according to the Sheriff's Office report. He turned around to get back on I-280 and was driving in the slow lane of traffic, apparently looking for an entrance sign to I-280, when the car struck Mazzei, the report said.

-- Marjorie Mader

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