Rich Thug, Poor Thug

How gangs overran a school in an affluent neighborhood. And how administrators reclaimed it.

"Nobody wants to know about that stuff because it's too dangerous, man," insists Ricky Tejeda, age sixteen, a junior. "When I first got here, you saw some of it, but I don't know anybody doing that now. Sometimes you get a textbook that has gang stuff in it, a symbol or a nickname, or 'Latin Kings Forever.' Stuff like that. But that's from before."

The last bell sounds a few days after Miller has returned from Washington and his meeting with President Clinton. At the ceremony he spoke briefly with the President, the first lady, and Vice President Al Gore. He had a more extensive conversation with Attorney General Janet Reno. "She was aware of what we had accomplished at Braddock," Miller says. Braddock was cited for crime-fighting as a result of the First Annual Report on School Safety, which President Clinton requested in December 1997 after a series of shocking shooting incidents on school grounds. The Departments of Education and Justice compiled statistics on school violence and also identified campuses, such as Braddock, that had battled that tide.

The principal is standing outside the school to oversee dismissal. A storm is approaching from the west. You can see the curtain of rain falling over the Everglades. An egret stalks the swale a block away.

Miller is distracted from the nearby attractions of nature. He speaks into a walkie-talkie, communicating with his security staff. All is quiet. Dismissal is running smoothly. He speaks about what he and his staff have accomplished in four years. "What we set out to do was establish neutral turf here," he says of the school. "And that much we've done.

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