LAUSD SUPERINTENDENT CORTINES TAPS THE DISTRICT’S SOUTHERN HEAD TO MIND HIS LARGEST REGION: GONE IS THE LOCAL SCHOOL SUPERINTENDENT WHO SHEPHERDED THE BUILDING OF A CONTENTIOUS NEW HIGH SCHOOL IN SAN PEDRO – AND GUIDED SAN PEDRO AND GARDENA HIGH THROUGH A MECCA OF CRITICISMS DURING PUBLIC SCHOOL CHOICE
Diana L. Chapman
Linda Del Cueto, who led the way to build a new high school in San Pedro
despite a storm of sharp criticism and steered a collaborative principal to the
area, stepped down from her post in June where she headed all of Los Angeles
schools in its southern region.
She left the job with “mixed feelings” somewhat “bitter-sweet” to head Los
Angeles Unified’s largest region of schools, plopped in central area of Los
Angeles starting in July.
“I loved it here and I’m really going to miss everyone,” Del Cueto explained
during a June interview. “I worked really hard to learn all the unique and
diverse communities and I loved it from the spirit of San Pedro to the
uniqueness of Gardena.
“It’s a lateral move, but it’s one that that Superintendent Cortines asked for.”
LAUSD Superintendent Ramon Cortines needed an experienced
official to manage the largest area of LAUSD which boasts 131 schools, 15 of
which are high schools.
Her new post, she said, will primarily concern an effort to make those campuses competitive enough to keep middle class residents in public schools who are racing to charters and private facilities.
During her three years of heading the southern region, which runs from northern
Los Angeles above Gardena and swoops all the way south to the cliffs of San
Pedro and encompasses Wilmington, Carson, Rancho Palos Verdes, and Lomita, Del Cueto leaves behind her a repertoire of successes – perhaps the most difficult,
finding a principal to rescue the beleaguered San Pedro High.
San Pedro High was thrust into a “public school choice option,” meaning it would
have to compete to maintain its schools against outside operators, such as
charters or non-profits. It also suffered from revolving door leadership,
drooping test scores, poor accreditation and an entrenched staff.
When the last principal retired shortly after a brief two-year stint, Del Cueto
went out of her way to find a successful, “collaborative,” “drill-down,”
principal, one who this time lived in San Pedro, understood the community and
had a keen ability to bring players together.
So far, new principal Jeanette Stevens, who Del Cueto nabbed from another region of the district to prop up San Pedro High School -- has proven to be popular
with the community and scores of teachers within her first year. The school is
expected to pass its accreditation this month – without much trouble – and has
launched a new layout of small learning communities at the overcrowded school of 3,500.
Del Cueto also showed her expertise in manning such a vast area of schools after
weathering the brunt of intense criticism in San Pedro when the district agreed
to build High School 15 at the Upper Fort MacArthur reservation, called Angel’s
Despite massive opposition from a narrow contingency of neighbors, the school
board agreed to build the 800 seat campus, which is expected to open in 2012.
Del Cueto braced the swirling controversy in which residents relentlessly
complained about massive traffic in their neighborhoods, dangerous access on
Alma Street and the destruction of the serene area that overlooks the Pacific.
“I learned through this that the district can do a better job of communicating
with the public,” the regional superintendent said. “Just because I’m passionate
about building a new school, doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be sensitive. When the
district rolls out such large projects, it has to be done in a much more
Los Angeles Unified had owned the 28 acre site for years. The school will be an
annex of San Pedro High and will partially house San Pedro High’s Marine Magnet
students. The campus will be surrounded by educational resources, including the
Marine Mammal Care Center and the International Bird Rescue Center.
Other areas Del Cueto said she’s proud of include:
--Changing the definition of “articulation” so that it doesn’t mean students get
just a tour of their next school. Now, she leaves behind plans for feeder school
teachers to meet with the faculty at the students’ next educational level. For
example, middle school teachers will talk with high school teachers about
algebra and math, she explained, and what students learned as well as their
strength and weaknesses. In some cases, teachers will even visit students at
their new school.
--Turning Gardena High, another struggling campus under the “public school
choice option,” to small learning communities, but in this case a 9th grade
academy was added. Ninth graders will wear uniforms “to minimize potential
conflict” and be separated from sophomores, juniors and seniors who are not
required to wear uniforms. “We felt the students really needed this as a safety
step,” Del Cueto explained.
--Working with LAUSD's school board member Richard Vladovic’s office in obtaining $25 million worth of funding
to give Harbor Teachers Prep Academy – a nationally recognized high school that
boasts the highest test scores and graduation rate in the district – a permanent
home at Los Angeles Harbor College. It currently operates in bungalows at the
college and has no access to sports facilities. She considered the project a top
priority as the school draws students from Wilmington , Carson and San Pedro.
With Del Cueto’s recommendation, Michael Romero has been named interim local district superintendent.
Vladovic, who Del Cueto worked closely with, said she will be missed, but that Romero is an excellent pick for a replacement.
“Linda did a good job and cared about kids, Vladovic said. “She had a
fundamental belief that all children can learn and exemplified effective
leadership at Local District 8. We will miss her greatly but we have a new Local
District Superintendent Michael Romero who can hit the ground running and who
has very similar traits.”