Leading a prayer circle assembled on the sidewalk outside Willard Intermediate School in Santa Ana last week, Hazael Sanchez asked that its teachers instruct “with passion, with love.”

Seven others gathered in the circle around him quietly said, “Amen,” as children rode around them on bicycles and cars occasionally drove by blasting music.

Sanchez works at St. Peter Lutheran Church in north-central Santa Ana’s Willard neighborhood, which is among the city’s hardest hit by crime and poverty.

The newly formed Willard Task Force for Transformation, organized by Pastor Jon Pedersen, met after the prayer walk in a bilingual discussion with about 30 residents on topics that ranged from education to domestic violence.

Also attending were officials from the Santa Ana Police Department and the Santa Ana Unified School District.

The task force has among its goals enlisting property managers and landlords to keep track of objectionable resident conduct, with an eye toward keeping out gang-affiliated, drug-abusing or violent residents.

“Well-run apartment complexes make all the difference in the world,” according to Pedersen, who said that good managers “know who’s supposed to be there and put limits on the number of residents.” Crowding is a problem in Santa Ana, as are graffiti and school performance.

Police Cmdr. Kenneth Gominsky reminded residents that the city contracts with a service to remove graffiti within 24 hours. He encouraged residents to report incidents immediately.

Arturo Jiminez, the director of constituency services at Santa Ana Unified, said that teachers, more than any single factor, determine schoolwide academic performance. He said good teachers are the reason for Willard’s recent improvement on standardized tests.


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