At a time when Southeast-area schools are faced with critical overcrowding problems and low test scores, Andrew Cazares has become the new superintendent of the Los Angeles Unified School District's Region B, assuming a job he knows is seen by some as a "revolving door" to other positions in the district.
Yet despite earlier accusations from parents that the district is insensitive to the problems of the predominantly Latino Southeast area and has made the Region B post a mere stopover for administrators working their way up the Los Angeles schools ladder, Cazares has gained the confidence of local activists at meetings he has held with them during the past few weeks.
Community representatives who have talked with Cazares seem enthusiastic about his plans to improve the quality of education and deal with overcrowding in the region.
"This region has had many superintendents here for a short period of time," said Cazares. "There has to be a commitment. . . . I don't plan to leave here for a long, long time. As far as I'm concerned, this is it."
However, he can give no guarantee that he will stay put, because his contract, like those of all superintendents in the district, runs for one year, he said.
Cazares, 48, is the fifth superintendent in the past seven years to oversee the elementary and junior high schools in Region B, an area that encompasses Bell, Cudahy, Huntington Park, Maywood, South Gate, Vernon and an area in Watts west of Alameda Street. With an increase in immigration and births in the Southeast area over the past decade, the region has more students and has grown faster than any of the seven others in the district. (High schools are handled by another superintendent.)
The region is also first among the districts in another respect: It has had a higher superintendent turnover rate than the others.
Bill Rivera, assistant to district Supt. Harry Handler, explained the turnover rate by saying that the board of education has tried to put its "top people" into Region B to deal with the unique problems in the Southeast area and that because of their talents many of these people move up in the district in a relatively short time.
Rivera added that the board has no policy regarding how long region superintendents should remain in one post.
Cazares' predecessor, Gabriel Cortina, was popular among parents for his efforts to increase school construction. Cortina, who served as head of Region B for 2 1/2 years, was reassigned in mid-February as districtwide assistant superintendent of adult and occupational education. He replaces Bob Rupert, who died.
Critics of the reassignment complained they had been promised by the board that Cortina would stay in Region B for at least five years.
But Cortina, who had eight years of experience in the district's vocational training programs, said the move was unavoidable because "the pressing needs of that division cropped up."
While parents and community leaders were concerned about Cortina's departure, many are pleased with his replacement.
"We needed somebody who will add stability to this area," said Mary Ledesma, community representative for Region B. "Luckily, we got Andrew Cazares. He is a very good person to work with. The parents like him very much."
Willene Cooper, chairwoman of the parents' Legislative Committee on School Overcrowding in the Southeast region of the Los Angeles schools, added that she is pleased with Cazares' appointment.
"Andy came in with some background in Region B," Cooper said, referring to Cazares' work as the region's Title I field coordinator in 1981. "He is familiar with the structures and problems."
Cazares has been with the district for 19 years, holding 17 positions and serving most recently as a coordinator of the district's task force in Sacramento for the implementation of the state Education Reform Act. Passed in 1983, it stiffened graduation requirements, improved instructional programs and raised teachers' salaries.
While in Sacramento, Cazares lobbied successfully for a Senate bill to allocate $25 million for construction at overcrowded schools throughout the state.
He hopes his experience as a lobbyist for the district will speed the acquisition of school construction funds from the State Allocation Board, a process that can take anywhere from three to five years.
"If we need legislation in Sacramento, I can make suggestions as to what our needs are here and go up to Sacramento to present our case," Cazares said. "I can also help in presenting these problems to legislators in our district."
Cazares said Region B will continue to follow the Capacity Adjustment Program (CAP), in which students at overcrowded schools are bused either inside or outside the region to schools that are below capacity.
About 2,500 students in the region are bused under the program to schools in the Harbor area, the San Fernando Valley and West Los Angeles.
Cazares said Region B schools will have to continue operating on a year-round basis, but that there may be a change from the present four-session system to a three-session one.
Under the four-session plan, students are in school for nine weeks and on vacation for three, with three-fourths of a school's student body on campus at any one time. The advantage of the three-session plan is that only two-thirds of the student body is on campus at any one time, and thus schools can handle a larger total student population.
"Everyone would agree that a regular school is far and above the best, but I think having year-round schools is making the best of the situation," Cazares said.
In the three-session plan, students are in school for 17 weeks, then off eight or nine weeks for vacation.
Another tactic Cazares plans to use to ease overcrowding is to transfer the top grade of an overcrowded elementary or junior high school to a junior high or high school operating below capacity.
For example, the board of education voted Monday to send the ninth grade at Markham Junior High in Watts to neighboring Jordan High School beginning in September.
Concern Over Test Scores
Parents in the Southeast area whose children might be sent to Jordan had expressed concern about the plan, saying test scores at Jordan were 10 points lower than at area high schools. While the reconfiguration does not directly affect Cazares' work because he deals only with elementary and junior high school students, there is the possibility that younger students at some time may be sent to schools in the Jordan complex.
However, Cazares said he does not foresee boundary changes as an effective solution to the overcrowding problem in Region B, favoring instead year-round schools, the CAP program and increased school construction.
Cazares' efforts to improve educational standards will begin with visits to every classroom in the 37 elementary and six junior high schools in his area to talk with teachers and get their suggestions on how to make instructional programs more effective.
A congenial and eager man with a smile that flashes from beneath a thinning mustache, Cazares has a jar of sweets labeled "Andy's Candies" on the edge of his desk.
He intends to expand the usual beginning "Dick and Jane" reading material to include such subjects as social studies, science, math, music and fine arts, so that students will have exposure to these areas from the moment they start to read.
Cazares said he plans to have all teachers in the region keep "future planning" books that detail their course plans for an entire semester. The books would be evaluated by district administrators to determine whether or not important course material is not being covered.