We Used to Be One of the Worst Schools in California. Not Anymore.

With high suspension rates, low achievement scores and ineffective teachers, Pacoima Elementary had the dishonor of being one of the worst schools in California. So in 2003, we parted ways from the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) to form an independent charter school. And things have never been better. Today, Pacoima Elementary Charter School is among the top performing schools in the area. Our teachers and staff are committed to our students. Our kids are learning and thriving, and parents are involved to support their children’s education in every step of the way. https://www.facebook.com/LaComadreEducation/videos/1951634551722065/   The Los Angeles Unified School District hosts more charter schools than any system in the nation. There are more than 270 charters schools that operate in LAUSD. Four of them are conversion elementary schools in Pacoima. Despites opposition to charter schools, students who enter Los Angeles charter schools are more academically advanced than their peers in traditional public schools. Students who enter charter elementary or high schools displayed significantly higher test scores, relative to their counterparts entering traditional public schools at the same grade levels.

I Wanted to Quit But I Didn’t

I remember the stomach pains I felt from driving to our school in 1998, when I was a young reading coordinator. Our score on the Academic Performance Index, the scorecard the state used for schools, was 398, far below the minimum target of 800. On the statewide measure comparing schools with similar student demographics, we earned a 1 out of 10. Many of our teachers were on what’s known as the “must-place” list, LAUSD’s list of teachers who are shuffled from school to school. I remember the feeling of failure from the student’s low-test scores. I kept telling myself that if only I worked a little harder this would be easier. One day, more determined than ever, I walked into the school’s new principal’s office and told her ‘I quit.’ The principal asked me to stay by offering me a job as an assistant principal. I told her I couldn’t do it. She asked me to do it for the students. And I did. As the days passed, I slowly came around, restoring confidence in myself and in other teachers. Within weeks we started a petition. We spoke to teachers, engaged parents and elected officials and after a battle of almost two years we got 51 percent of the vote needed for charter support. In 2003, LAUSD gave our school the stamp of approval and we became Pacoima Elementary Charter School. The principal retired five years later and I have been the school’s principal since she left. We have come a long way since 2003.

Started From the Bottom, Now We’re Here

Today, Pacoima Charter Elementary is outperforming all the non-charter schools in the area. We leaped from 1 to 8 on the state’s school ranking of similar schools—69 percent of our students scored proficient or advanced on the most recent state science assessment. Our community of four charter schools consistently outperforms local district schools, while serving the same socio-economically disadvantaged community. We have an in-house doctor, a psychologist, two speech pathologists and two social workers to care for our kids’ social, emotional and physical needs. We cannot give the system an excuse to let low-income children fail for generations in traditional public schools. Our school is proof that school and student success is possible. The playgrounds once used by students at Pacoima Elementary to start fights are now used to play guitar, build and design engineering projects, program robots and make conga lines to the music of a loud and blasting drum line. Our kids, who were once seen as doomed to fail are now learning and thriving. And I can vouch for that.
Sylvia Fajardo is the principal of Pacoima Elementary Charter School in Southern California.

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