A School for the Next Century
A few short years ago, the Vaughn Street Elementary School in Pacoima in the San Fernando Valley of California had all the problems typical of an inner-city public school: depressingly low test scores, a deteriorating physical plant, a more than 50 percent turnover in teachers every two years, and very little parental participation. In 1993, however, a dramatic turnaround began. Under dynamic new leadership, priorities were reordered, teachers took a greater degree of ownership of the school, and families became involved. Best of all, test scores have risen significantly every year for the past three years, increasing from the tenth percentile to greater than the fortieth percentile.
What changed? The Vaughn Street School--now renamed the Vaughn Next Century Learning Center--was one of the first in California to take advantage of the opportunity to become a charter school under a state law passed in 1992. Under the direction of principal Yvonne Chan, the school was placed under community control as a locally governed charter school. With the freedom to set the school's priorities in consultation with the teachers and parents, Chan cut expenses by putting services such as payroll and stocking the cafeteria out to competitive bid. With the money saved, she built a new wing of fourteen computer-equipped classrooms and added new teachers, lowering the student/teacher ratio from 33-to-1 to 27-to-1.
This year a further reduction to 20-to-1 has occurred in grades one through three, as a result of Governor Pete Wilson's class-size-reduction program. Teachers are now expected to work longer hours, but they have more author