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October 05, 2005

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Publication Date: Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Menlo Park schools mourn death of teacher Michelle Mazzei, 34 Menlo Park schools mourn death of teacher Michelle Mazzei, 34 (October 05, 2005)

** The fourth-grade teacher was killed Sunday in a bicycle-car accident.

By Marjorie Mader

Almanac Staff Writer

The Menlo Park school community is in shock and grieving after learning that Michelle Mazzei, a beloved fourth-grade teacher at Oak Knoll School, died Sunday, October 2, after being hit by a car as she was bicycling on Woodside Road near Interstate 280 in Woodside.

Ms. Mazzei, 34, an experienced cyclist and triathlete, was biking west on Woodside Road near Moore Road at about 10:50 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.

Ms. 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 the school's teachers and counselors, who came to campus Sunday afternoon and began calling parents of students in the school, informing them of the tragedy. The flag at the school was flown at half-mast Monday when students returned to school.

Principal Ackerman spoke to students about the accident Monday morning on the school's TV station, KNOL. Parents met in the school's multi-use room after the drop-off Monday to talk with grief counselors about how to help their children cope with the loss. Teachers on leave and district counselors came to school to offer support.

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

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, then she became a fifth-grade teacher at Encinal full time.

"It's heartening to see how David Ackerman, the teachers and counselors responded to the tragedy by providing information" to the school community, said Carol Orton, president of the governing board of the Menlo Park City School District. The immediate response from parents, she said, was, "What can we do to help?"

The tragedy struck even deeper in the school district because Ms. 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. "I have known Michelle ever since she was my oldest daughter's fourth-grade teacher five years ago. She was a really wonderful teacher and completely dedicated to her profession."

Ms. Mazzei was loved not just by her own students, but by all the children at Oak Knoll, said Ms. Thygesen. "She had a very close relationship with her colleagues, and everyone is already missing her terribly."

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

The driver of the car was identified by the Sheriff's Office as Theodore Thornbrough, 68, of Westminster, Colorado.

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 Ms. Mazzei, the report says.

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