Gun violence takes another young life

Last Friday, I put what I thought would be the finishing touches on a story about all of the Oakland students who have been shot and killed since January 2009. But by Sunday morning, the piece was already one tragedy short of complete.

Eric Toscano, a Skyline High School senior who played on the football team, was celebrating his 18th birthday at home on Saturday night when bullets flew from a passing car. He died at Highland Hospital a few hours later, on Sunday morning. Three other teens were wounded. Toscano planned to go to college in the fall; his coach, Jamaal Kizziee, told me about the day he came by with news of his first acceptance letter.

The story was heartbreaking — and covering it, during a full-blown celebration of Oakland, was surreal: Continue Reading


School safety and the perimeter problem

Kimi Kean and Minh-Tram Nguyen meet with neighbor about graffiti

In case you missed it, there was a story in today’s Trib about the efforts of Oakland principals Minh-Tram Nguyen and Kimi Kean to draw attention to a citywide problem: dangers in the streets outside schools.

City leaders and police responded quickly to their plea for help, which was precipitated by three daytime shootings near the school in three months. We’ll check back in a few months to see if the conditions have changed, and if more neighbors and nearby businesses have lent a hand.

Is this cooperative spirit alive and well in other parts of the city? In what ways could it be better?

SCHOOL BOARD ALERT: Tonight’s 5 p.m. Oakland school board meeting will be held at Laurel Elementary School, 3750 Brown Ave., rather than the usual place. You can find the agenda here.


An Oakland school’s back-to-back burglaries

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Adam Taylor has had it. He’s been principal of Brookfield Elementary School for only a year and a half; during that time, he estimates his school has been broken into — get this — at least 25 times.

Two of those break-ins took place within the last week. First, speakers, microphones and other audio equipment disappeared. Then, over the weekend, burglars forced their way through protective fencing and windows to enter the school, which is located in an isolated part of East Oakland, along the Interstate 880, and stole at least 20 computers.

When the first custodian arrived at the school this morning, Taylor said, half the classroom doors were wide open. Continue Reading


Drive-by shooting near Frick; no students outside

Just before 10 a.m. this morning, a 19-year-old was walking along Foothill Boulevard, right next to the Frick Middle School play yard, when he was hit and critically wounded in a drive-by shooting.

As far as we know, no kids were outside at the time for the school’s prized physical education program (pictured below) or recess. If they had been, who knows what might have happened.

frick playground
Tribune file photo of a P.E. class at Frick Middle School

The shooting happened just a block from where 11-year-old Alana Williams was hit by a car and killed in a crosswalk on her way to school in October; police have yet to identify the driver, who fled the scene. 

Some of you have made the case for including the East Oakland middle school in the district’s new security cameras initiative; maybe, after this, Frick will make the list.


OUSD security update: List of schools

New security cameras at Oakland Tech
photo by GIOVANNA BORGNA/Tribune

Oakland Tech was the first school to receive the security upgrade we discussed earlier, and I saw a brief demonstration today in the school library. The cameras can swivel and zoom, and the picture is much clearer than the grainy images I usually associate with security camera shots.

As people have noted here, campus security requires much more than fancy technology. It’s not cheap, either. A Department of Justice matching grant covers about half of the $3 million cost; the other $1.5 million will come from OUSD’s modernization fund, but that it was budgeted for security upgrades anyway, according to OUSD’s director of procurement, Michael Moore Sr.

Still, it does sound promising, if it works as designed. Here is a list of Oakland schools slated to be part of the upgrade: Continue Reading


A new security system for Oakland schools

view from a security camera at Oakland's Fremont High in 2002The Oakland public school system is about to embark on a new initiative with a new acronym: SOS, which stands for “Secure Our Schools.”

The district plans to install 750-plus cameras at 26 middle and high schools between now and the end of the 2010-11 school year, using a $1.5 million Department of Justice grant.

It’s hoped that the infusion of technology — and the ability for school police to monitor the happenings on every campus from one location — will keep a lid on a number of the district’s chronic ills, including truancy, neighborhood crime, on-campus fights. Continue Reading


A moment of near-silence

Antonio NunezStudents from all four high schools on East Oakland’s Castlemont campus — Leadership Preparatory, East Oakland School of the Arts, Castlemont Business and Technology School, LPS-College Park — crowded outside the new auditorium this afternoon to honor their classmate Antonio Nunez and all of the other Oakland students who have died violently this year.

By my count, at least seven OUSD students have been fatally shot in 2009 Continue Reading


Oakland’s new Tonys and the city-schools divide

At an Oakland school board meeting last night, while Jody London spoke of the need to strengthen ties with the city, it was announced that the new schools chief, Tony Smith, would join the city’s even newer police chief, Anthony Batts, and Mayor Dellums at a town hall meeting Monday night at Prescott school in West Oakland.

Given the number of shootings — fatal and non-fatal — that Oakland public schoolchildren have suffered since August, and the tragic death of 11-year-old Alana Williams, who was struck by a car Oct. 16 while she was in a crosswalk right by her school, it seemed like a good start.

Smith speaks often about the need for everyone to come together to solve Oakland’s seemingly intractable problems, including the perils facing children and families in some neighborhoods. So who better to work with — at least, outside of the district — than Batts?

Maybe that will eventually come to pass.  Continue Reading


Study offers solution to Oakland’s crime rate: graduation

Extrapolating from research on the effect of high school graduation on incarceration, researchers from the California Dropout Research Project present us with a bold guesstimate: If Oakland cut its dropout rate in half, the city would have 805 fewer homicides and aggravated assaults each year.

The report also projects that the drop in dropout rate would give the city an extra $144 million in “lifetime economic benefits.” You can find the one-page city profile here, and info for 16 other cities including Berkeley and San Francisco here.

Oakland’s dropout rate, according to the latest estimates by the California Department of Education, is about 36 percent. What would it take to cut that in half?

image from kimberlyfaye’s site on flickr.com/creativecommons