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Around Town: a water fountain, a font of knowledge and improved scores for young learners

Sep 30, 2023

In this week's Around Town column, read the latest news from downtown Palo Alto, the Rotary Club of Palo Alto/University and the Palo Alto school district.

SHATTERED GLASS … The last time Palo Alto tried to replace a crumbling fountain in a central commercial area, the project spurred a community debate pitting residents with traditional tastes against those with more modern leanings. While the former had the greater numbers, the latter ultimately prevailed when the city approved a sleek fountain sculpture to replace the former “bird bath” near the California Avenue Caltrain station. By contrast, the city’s new effort to refurbish downtown’s most famous water dispenser — the Lytton Plaza fountain — is proceeding with little public debate. According to Community Service Department Director Kristen O'Kane, the bigger issue is high costs and limited labor.

The city had to go out to bid three times, each time receiving no more than one bid. The winner? Contractor Vance Brown, who will be paid $370,881 to repair the fountain, a triangular concrete slab coated with a layer of embedded glass. Though the fountain remains functional, city staff note that the top layer of the concrete slab has shifted and there are cracks across the slab. Staff is in a hurry to make the necessary repairs to the fountain, which is described in the report as “an essential element to the aesthetics of Lytton Plaza.”

“Additionally, the plaza is an attraction of the downtown business district. Delaying repairs or turning off the fountain could negatively impact the business community,” the report states. Despite the high cost, the City Council swiftly approved the project at its Aug. 21 meeting, setting the stage for construction to be completed this fall.

LITERACY SCORES SHOW GENERAL IMPROVEMENT ... Palo Alto Unified School District staff presented data at a school board meeting on Tuesday, Aug. 22, showing overall higher literacy test scores this past school year for third graders across the district. Anne Brown, assistant superintendent of Elementary Education Services, and Danaé Reynolds, director of Literacy Instruction, presented an update to the Every Student Reads Initiative showing that several subgroups of third graders showed higher Smarter Balanced English Language Arts test scores by at least 4% this past school year, as compared to the 2018-19 school year.

Groups meeting this goal included Hispanic or Latino, socio-economically disadvantaged, socio-economically disadvantaged Hispanic or Latino and English learners of less than 12 months, according to Reynolds and Brown’s presentation. The Black or African American group improved between the 2018-19 and 2021-22 school years, but the student group was too small to evaluate test scores this past year. The students with disabilities group did not show consistent improvement.

The Every Student Reads Initiative is designed to get every student reading at grade level by the end of third grade by instituting curriculum changes, universal screening programs and systems to monitor student progress, according to

A SCHOLAR AND A HUMANITARIAN ... For a recent Stanford University graduate to head off to Cambridge University may not sound like something out of the ordinary. But Christian Cepeda is no ordinary individual.

A first-generation student from a low-income background, Cepeda is a Harvard-Amgen Scholar, Goldwater Scholar, a Hispanic Scholarship Fund Scholar, QuestBridge Scholar, Stanford NEUro Fellow, and a Caltech Wave Fellow. And now the human bio researcher can add 2023-24 Rotary Global Grant Scholar to his CV. Cepeda was presented with a scholarship check of $30,000 from the Rotary Foundation to attend Cambridge.

Rotary Club of Palo Alto/University President Larry Christenson and Club Treasurer David MacKenzie recently presented the check and were joined by Dr. Noe Pablo Lozano, co-chair of Rotary District 5170 Global Scholarship Grant Committee. This past summer, Cepeda interned at a Rotary-funded RotaCare Clinic in East Palo Alto, providing free medical care to low-income people. Cepeda hopes to pursue a career as an MD-PhD at a research institution, mentor new students in his lab, and direct free clinics to support underrepresented individuals.