The bathroom where the killing happened is locked up and used for storage.
The old gray hallways are now painted sunshine yellow and tropical shades of coral, sea green and teal. The only real trace that a tragedy occurred is a small, meticulously kept garden with two memorial benches decorated with, among other artwork, cartoons of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.
But the changes at Southwood Middle School in Palmetto Bay are more than cosmetic.
The anguish will never fully disappear, but students and faculty members have worked hard to shed the stigma of the day young Jaime Gough died at school.
Thursday marks the first anniversary that the 14-year-old was found stabbed to death in an upstairs bathroom. Classmate Michael Hernandez is charged with murder.
And the students here want you to know that they love their school and their principal, and that their ranks include dancers and actors and fledgling documentary filmmakers.
They want you to know they are known as the Superstars — rival schools poke fun of the nickname, but that is only because they are jealous of Southwood’s successes.
And please, students say, Southwood is more than just a backdrop for live television news shots.
“We’re more than what the media and everyone thinks we are,” said Alexis Handley, 14, an eighth-grader. “We are an excellent school.”
To honor their fallen classmate, Alexis and other members of the school’s student body council have dubbed this week “Peace Week” and organized a series of speakers and activities that will culminate in a rally on Thursday.
“Southwood will always have some kind of connotation and that’s sad because it is one of our better performing schools. It offers many wonderful things,” said Frank Zenere, a Miami-Dade schools psychologist and crisis counselor.
When President Bush stands before Congress on Wednesday night to deliver his State of the Union address, it is a safe bet that he will not announce that one of his goals is the long-term enfeeblement of the Democratic Party.
But a recurring theme of many items on Bush’s second-term domestic agenda is that if enacted, they would weaken political and financial pillars that have propped up Democrats for years, political strategists from both parties say.
Legislation putting caps on civil damage awards, for instance, would choke income to trial lawyers, among the most generous contributors to the Democratic Party.
GOP strategists, likewise, hope that the proposed changes to Social Security can transform a program that has long been identified with the Democrats, creating a generation of new investors who see their interests allied with the Republicans.
Less visible policies also have sharp political overtones. The administration’s transformation of civil service rules at federal agencies, for instance, would limit the power and membership of public employee unions — an important Democratic financial artery.
If the Bush agenda is enacted, “there will be a continued growth in the percentage of Americans who consider themselves Republican, both in terms of self-identified party ID and in terms of their [economic] interests,” said Grover Norquist, the president of Americans for Tax Reform and an operative who speaks regularly with White House senior adviser Karl Rove.
Republicans note that limiting the growth of lawsuits and damage awards, as well as proposed investment accounts in Social Security, are ideas Bush and other conservatives have championed for years. The Bush agenda lies “at the wonderful intersection where good policy is good politics for Republicans and conservatives,” said Stephen Moore, president of the Free Enterprise Fund, which is lobbying for the Social Security changes.
But, one rung away from the White House, many Bush allies make no effort to disguise their glee at the payoffs these ideas could bring to interest groups allied with the GOP, and the heartburn they would cause interest groups allied with the Democrats.
In an interview last week, for instance, Norquist unabashedly dissected the political overtones of legislation to limit lawsuits.
“This will defund significantly some of the trial lawyer community, and it rewards the business community, the Fortune 500 guys who have been increasingly supportive of the broad center-right coalition,” he said.
Of specific provisions protecting gun manufacturers from class-action lawsuits, Norquist added, “This will strengthen the Second Amendment community, especially the NRA.” He was referring to the National Rifle Association, a core GOP constituency.
The expansive nature of the Bush agenda, said George C. Edwards III, a prominent presidential scholar at Texas A&M University, reflects how “this is a very strategic administration,” which tries to use policies to advance its long-term party-building goals. “I think Karl Rove views this as his great legacy.”
The danger for Bush is that there may be less support than he imagines for major changes of the sort represented by proposals for Social Security and plans to limit civil damages, some experts say.
“These are not incremental policies,” Edwards noted. “They have a greater risk of failure.”
Jacobson agreed, especially on the question of Social Security. “I’m not so sure that a program designed to increase the exposure of ordinary Americans to market forces in ever-broader aspects of life is politically sustainable in the long run — wait till the next recession.”
Thus, the hope of Democrats is that Bush’s move to lay claim to the issue of retirement security will in the end only buttress the Democratic advantage on this issue.
Even the most calculating and politically gifted Democratic presidents in the last half-century, Lyndon Johnson and Bill Clinton, did not prop up their legacy on the basis of securing one-party rule for their successor. They actually cared about the entire country, not their well-heeled cronies.
The logic of the conservative groups is that blacks have shorter life expectancies than whites, and thus, a federal retirement program is nothing more than a massive redistribution of assets from working-age African Americans to older, more affluent white seniors.
A quick review of the facts should help us understand why much of the conservative argument is wrong and explain why most African Americans are right to oppose privatization.
As another commentator noted, Social Security has become the modern equivalent of “40 acres and a mule” – a promise to be kept – to the African-American elderly. And leave it to the Republicans, who have a history of fighting against both Social Security and civil rights, to use them as cannon fodder in this battle.