Friday, July 09, 2010

LOCAL DISTRICT SUPERINTENDENT LINDA DEL CUETO: Has Fundamental Belief that All Children Can Learn

MY TURN OPINION BY Diana L. Chapman  --Los Angeles CityWatch | Vol 8 Issue 54

July 9, 2010 -- 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 as head of Los Angeles Southern Region schools.

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.

  • smf notes for the geographically challenged: Del Cueto has moved from LAUSD Local District 8 (San Pedro, Wilmington, Carson, Harbor Gateway) to head up Local District 1 – which is the Western San Fernando Valley. Equally removed from (but hardly) the ‘Central Area of Los Angeles’. map of LD#1

“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 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 … now racing for charter and private facilities … in public schools.

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 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 Gate.

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 communicative manner.”

Los Angeles Unified has 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. 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 Dr. 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.

School Board Member Richard Vladovic, whom 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.”

  •  (Diana Chapman has been a writer/journalist for nearly thirty years. She has written for magazines, newspapers and the best-seller series, Chicken Soup for the Soul. You can reach her at or her website  -cw

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