Compiled by Times researcher CATHERINE GOTTLIEB

Pacoima: A school charts a new community course

Compared to other parts of the San Fernando Valley, higher levels of violence and crime,poverty and unemployment have been a part of the landscape in Pacoima for years. But residents of one section think that changes at a local elementary school are helping to improve their immediate community.

Before Principal Yvonne Chan came on board three years ago, Vaughn Street Elementary School was one of the 64 lowest-achieving schools in the state. She worked with teachers, staff and parents to develop a strategy to improve academic achievment by serving the needs of each child. Central to their plan was offering community resources through the school. The Vaughn Family Center, financed with grant money, is a one-stop health, education and social service program. The capstone came May 7 when Vaughn Street School was named one of Southern California’s first “self-regulating” charter schools.

Population: 67,389


Population by race and ethnicity

Hispanic: 79%

Black: 12%

Anglo: 7%


Asian: 1%

Other: 1%

Per capita income:

Pacoima: $7,425

Los Angeles: $16,188

Vaughn Street School:

1,140 students

93% Hispanic


7% Black

School attendance rate:

1990-91 88%

1991-92 92%

1992-93 97%

Student Performance:

Language skills achievement tests

Percentile Statewide


1989-90 20th 1991-92 49th Sources: U.S. Census, Vaugh Street Elementary School, Census programming by Times analyst Maureen Lyons.


Upgraded security windows, doors, fences; beautified, repaintrd and cleaned campus

Operate “Service Exchange Bank” where parents contribute time or skill to reciprocate services received (last year, school received 4,000 hours of construction, language translation, gardening, tutoring and coaching services).

Purchase interactive video and computer equipment, language skills and science software

Established on-site family health and social service center staffed by two social workers and an administrative assistant

Develop school readiness program for all 4-year-olds in Vaughn Street service area; train parents and day-care providers to offer instruction.

Provide adult education classes including nutrition, prenatal and child care, English language, computer and language literacy classes


Jorge Lara

Resident of Pacoima for four years, child attends Vaughn Street School

If we change the way we are, the way we behave in the community and learn that we have things to offer, there’s no way things can’t change here in Pacoima. When you’re on the bottom, when you try to get help, people sometimes tell you you’re garbage, but at the school we learn and contribute. It’s like family. A second home. If you repair me, then my kids are going to benefit. I’m the one who has problems, not my kids.


Yvonne Chan

Principal of Vaughn St. for past three years

To meet the needs of the whole child we realized we have to be a total care center for the community, not just an educational center. This takes time.

We’ve had a lot of headaches on the way. We would fight, step on toes. There were ethnic and racial tensions (but) we must have social relations between adults to make this work--that’s social capital.

I’m from China. There was war, poverty. I washed dishes. I picked oranges. Education got me somewhere. For me, I attained the American Dream, and I want these kids and parents, the community, to have that.


Hilda Ochoa

Born and raised in Pacoima, two daughters attend Vaughn Street School

(Working with the school) has taught me a lot of respect toward other people, toward the black Americans, the Central Americans. I have been able also to share my gifts and talents with others in my community.

A market where a lot of our parents go shopping has a lot of graffiti. And we told them, OK, you’re part of us, we live in the community, you have your business in the community, so come be part of our school. And we have decided with the manager we’re going to put up a mural and the school will maintain it and in exchange when we have a fiesta they will donate fruit and bread and soda. We’re starting a relationship.