Not the welcome she expected

Lindsey Smallwood (courtesy photo)

On Saturday, special education teacher Lindsey Smallwood headed to her new West Oakland school, Martin Luther King Jr. Elementary, to take pictures of her classroom. The trip didn’t turn out at all like she planned.

The following passage is taken from her blog, Smallwood at Large.

Dispatch: 911 – What’s your emergency?

Me: We were just robbed at gun point. We – my husband and I.

Dispatch: Are you hurt, do I need to send an ambulance?

Me: No, we’re not hurt. They took our money, took Chris’s money.

Dispatch: Where are you now?

Me: We’re at the liquor store across the street.

The liquor store across the street from the school. The new school. Where I just took the new job. The place where I am going to go every work day for at least the next year. That school. That’s where it happened.

Teachers: Do you feel safe on your way to and from school? What precautions do you take? Has anything like this happened to you?


Cyberbullies, beware

Bullying is grounds for suspension or expulsion in California, whether it’s done face to face or through electronic media. And if there was any doubt that Facebook and other social networks came under the state’s definition of electronic media, there isn’t anymore.

Assemblymember Nora Campos (D-San Jose) introduced the Cyber Bully Prevention bill, AB 746, this year. Not surprisingly, it won bipartisan support and faced little opposition before Gov. Jerry Brown signed it on Friday, according to a news release from Campos’s office. (I wouldn’t imagine many politicians would vote against an anti-bullying bill, even if they didn’t like it, though some did.)

The new rule takes effect in January. Here it is:  Cyber bully prevention law

Does anyone at your school or your child’s school monitor social networks? Have students been disciplined after allegations of cyberbullying? Do you think this will make a difference in how kids interact with each other online?


Cutting school, with dire consequences

Condolences outside Oak Knoll Market

I’m supposed to be an education reporter, not a crime reporter, but lately there hasn’t been much of a distinction.

Today I reported on a tragedy that unfolded at a market near Youth Empowerment School in the East Oakland hills — which, according to the school principal, is about to close (not merge into the Castlemont campus, as originally planned).

On Tuesday morning, a 14-year-old YES freshman cut school and, police said, got into a violent struggle with the 57-year-old owner of Oak Knoll Market over bottles of vodka he was trying to steal. When the boy fled, the owner followed in his car; he hadn’t driven a block before he fell unconscious and died, possibly of a heart attack.

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A life cut short, a graduation celebration canceled

DITIYAN FRANKLINDitiyan Franklin would have graduated from Castlemont’s Leadership Preparatory High School next month. But on Wednesday afternoon, the Oakland teenager was shot and killed a couple of blocks from his house, near Arroyo Viejo park in East Oakland. Police said Thursday they had not determined a motive or identified a suspect.

Franklin is the second Castlemont senior in recent months to lose his life. His father said Chris Jones, a student at East Oakland School of the Arts who was fatally shot outside of his house Dec. 31, was a neighbor.

Yesterday, we talked to grieving family members and classmates about Franklin. You can find the story here.

MODERATOR’S NOTE: Please keep your comments respectful of those who knew and loved Ditiyan Franklin.


A tragic start to the new year

Chris Jones (courtesy photo)Chris Jones was all set to graduate from East Oakland School of the Arts and study music at Cal State East Bay. He had his graduation day marked on his cell phone calendar — along with a note about how happy he would be, at that moment.

But, as you might have heard, the talented 17-year-old was shot Friday evening outside his house, in front of his mother and two sisters. It was New Year’s Eve, and they were heading out to eat. Jones was Oakland’s last homicide victim of 2010. His older sister was injured in the shooting. You can read the initial news report here.

This evening, classmates and teachers from his high school are holding a vigil in the family’s home. Seventh Avenue Baptist Church (1740 Seventh Ave.) is having a musical celebration in his honor at 6 p.m. Sunday. The memorial service is at 11 a.m. Monday at St. John Missionary Baptist Church, 1909 Market St. in West Oakland.

There will be a story about Chris in Sunday’s Tribune.


Case study: an alternative to “zero-tolerance” discipline in West Oakland

Cole Middle School. File photo by Kristopher Skinner/Bay Area News Group

A social justice center at UC Berkeley’s law school published a case study today that highlights the successes, challenges and potential of restorative justice in schools, based on observations at the (now closed) Cole Middle School in West Oakland.

Restorative Justice is a set of principles designed to build community, prevent violence, correct behavior, and to repair harm, as well as frayed relationships. It’s an alternative to the traditional school discipline model, and the centers believe it could be a way to reduce the disproportionately high suspension rates of black and Latino students. You can find a lengthy description and online resources here, on the district’s website.

This is not a data-heavy report, but it does give a promising stat: The suspension rate at Cole dropped by 87 percent and expulsions went to zero after the program was implemented. Check out the graphs on page 31, if you have a chance.

It was an interesting read, especially if you make it beyond the executive summary. It’s clear that the author(s) spent lots of time at the school, observing and talking to people. (I think I met a law student working on this project — Atteeyah Hollie, maybe? — at a Cole event in 2008, after a gun went off in a classroom.)

Here’s a section on negative assumptions that some had, going in: Continue Reading


The Oakland police chief’s middle school strategy

Chief Batts. Tribune photo by D. Ross CameronOakland Police Chief Anthony Batts is in Washington, D.C. right now, lobbying the federal powers that be to give him $6 million for a pilot community policing program at four Oakland middle schools.

Batts’ plan is to hire 24 police officers and to assign them to four Oakland middle schools: Frick, Madison, Roosevelt and Westlake.

Officer Jeff Thomason, a public information officer for the police department, said four of the six officers at each school would provide security, and that two would serve as mentors and run the O.K. Program for gang and violence prevention.

“Basically, we want to start our community policing model at those schools,” Thomason said.

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East Oakland moms ask police for help

Oakland schools have a reputation for being dangerous. But for some families, they’re an oasis of security in an otherwise frightening and unpredictable world.

Walking to school in Oakland. Tribune file photo by Laura A. Oda.A group of East Oakland mothers told Oakland Police Capt. Ersie Joyner this morning that they live in perpetual fear — that they rarely feel safe, even in their own homes. That walking their children to and from school, past groups of young men flying gang colors, can be terrifying.

“I am tired of feeling like a hostage in my own house, in my own neighborhood, in my own city,” said Maria Soto, whose two children attend Greenleaf Elementary, a new school on the Whittier campus.

An incident this fall stoked parents’ worst fears: 6-year-old Leslie Ramirez, a Greenleaf first-grader, was wounded in the middle of the night by a stray bullet fired from outside of her house.

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Oakland youth and the Oscar Grant verdict

A jury could begin deliberations this afternoon or tomorrow in the Mehserle murder trial, and there’s been much talk (some have called it hype) about what the reaction in Oakland will be, especially if the former BART police officer is acquitted. Youth UpRising is doing its part to keep the peace producing the above video and organizing an event at 5 p.m. on the day of the verdict, whenever that is. (Flier below.)

Heard of other activities? Continue Reading


The summertime violence continues

This was all happening during last night’s board meeting. So sad. Although Superintendent Tony Smith said yesterday that one of the boys had died, the West Oakland Middle School student — shot in front of his own house — was in critical but stable condition today.

As Tribune Reporter Cecily Burt reports:

OAKLAND — A 17-year-old Berkeley boy was under arrest Thursday as a suspect in a Wednesday evening shooting that left a 13-year-old West Oakland boy in critical condition and his 16-year-old friend also wounded.

A second suspect, who police believe is the actual gunman, is being sought.

Police believe the suspects are affiliated with a North Oakland gang and that the boys shot were innocent victims. The shooting happened about 5:54 p.m. Wednesday at the home of the 13-year-old in the 1600 block of 8th Street.

Officer Ed Somarriba said Thursday that the 13-year-old, a student at West Oakland Middle School, and the 16-year-old, a student at EXCEL High School who also lives in West Oakland, and some other people were standing outside when the 17-year-old and another youth walked up. The second youth pulled a gun and began shooting at the group, Somarriba said. Both suspects fled.

No one else was hurt. The victims were taken to hospitals, and the 13-year-old was in critical but stable condition Thursday.

Joey Stevens, 26, said he had ridden on his bike past the boys and was still in the area when he heard what he at first thought were fireworks. He stayed with the younger boy, whom he knows well, until the paramedics arrived.

“He was so scared. I told him to breathe and be calm,” Stevens said, tearing up as he recalled those moments. “He’s a real sweet kid. He doesn’t mess with anybody. He went to school every day.”

You can read the whole story here.