School community discusses gang concerns 

Dozens of attendees join a table discussion session during Annual Hart District Safe Schools Discussion Invitation held at the Santa Clarita Activities Center in Santa Clarita on Tuesday, 090523. Dan Watson/The Signal

School Resource Deputy Andres Rubalcava told parents Tuesday that he sees the beginnings of the activity right down the street from campus as soon as school lets out at Placerita Junior High School. 

“What I’m seeing is, some of the high schoolers are coming to the junior high kids to recruit,” he said, describing meetups of gang members and their targets for recruitment at Newhall Park. “We know who’s who,” Rubalcava added, explaining his strategy as a school resource deputy for the William S. Hart Union High School District is to be as approachable as possible and build relationships with the students, which helps everyone identify children who might be more susceptible to recruitment and try to reach out to them. 

Hart district board member Joe Messina described Tuesday’s talk at the Santa Clarita Activities Center as a way to share information with parents on what the schools are doing about school safety and security, as well as to hear back from parents. 

One of the new topics for the forum that was instituted last year was how parents and school staff can help reduce the impact of gangs and their activity on school campuses. 

Santa Clarita Valley Sheriff’s Station Deputy Andres Rubalcava

As one of seven deputies and a sergeant who oversee the districtwide program, Rubalcava’s patrol beat, so to speak, includes Hart and Placerita Junior high schools, which are down the street from each other in Newhall — one of the areas that officials frequently watch for gang-related activity. 

A big part of that job is building relationships with the children on campus, said Placerita Junior High Principal John Turner, who also joined in the roundtable discussion with parents, staff and school resource deputies. 

One of the things Turner gave Rubalcava a heads up about when he started last year, Turner said, was the requests for stickers he’d get, which is a way to bond with the students. 

Sure enough, on the first day of school, the deputy was swarmed, Rubalcava said with a laugh. By day two, the deputy said he knew to have the stickers. 

“The ultimate thing is that I think it’s all about relationships,” Hunter told the table during the group discussions, “and I’ve seen that over and over, and that’s a very powerful thing.” 

Santa Clarita Valley Sheriff’s Station Capt. Justin Diez, who staffs the School Resource Deputy program with station deputies, said Tuesday the gang issue is a growing concern. 

Diez noted that it’s a little unique in the SCV, versus South L.A., for example, where hundreds and hundreds of gangs fight over territories that abut each other with constant battles over turf. 

He identified three main areas — Canyon Country, Newhall and Val Verde — with three primary gangs having influence in those areas. He declined to name them rather than giving them the attention they seek, he said. 

This year, board member Cherise Moore, whose trustee area includes two campuses in those areas, Hart and Golden Valley high schools, asked for the topic to be on the agenda for discussion to raise awareness of the concern. 

“I don’t think a lot of people really are aware that we have gangs in our schools,” Moore said, even if it isn’t at the same scale as it is in many South Los Angeles communities. 

The portion of Tuesday’s discussion that focused on gang solutions was largely at individual tables, but Moore was looking forward to hearing about how those discussions went as well. 

Superintendent Mike Kuhlman said Wednesday the information from the table discussions would be presented at the district’s next board meeting, Sept. 13.  

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