Parents’ campaign leads to reforms at Cudahy elementary school

Adelina Garcia, left, and Adriana Serrano walk their children home from Teresa Hughes Elementary School in Cudahy. They were parent leaders in a petition drive last fall to oust the school principal.
(Bob Chamberlin / Los Angeles Times)

Rosa Estrada wanted some serious changes at her child’s Cudahy elementary school. She joined efforts last fall demanding new leadership amid complaints that the principal had failed to address campus bullying, boost academic performance or work collaboratively.

Estrada said none of her numerous calls to L.A. Unified’s south area administrators were returned. And in November, after parents submitted a petition to the L.A. Unified Board of Education signed by more than 600 people demanding the principal’s removal, they were told the document had been misplaced.

“I thought nothing was going to be done,” Estrada said.

She was wrong. The principal, Elva Cortez-Covarrubias, has been reassigned, the search for a new school leader is underway and the Cudahy City Council last week recognized the Teresa Hughes Elementary School parents with certificates lauding their activism “in defense of education reform.”


“We are so excited,” Estrada said. “We all have smiles on our faces from ear to ear.”

The announcement that Cortez-Covarrubias would not return came Dec. 20, three weeks after James Noble, L.A. Unified’s operations administrator for south area schools, told the Los Angeles Times that a meeting with parents had not produced “any complaints that would cause concern.”

It was not clear what prompted the abrupt removal. L.A. Unified did not respond to requests for interviews with Noble, Cortez-Covarrubias or other officials.

The campaign for new leadership had attracted broad-based support in the working-class Southeast Los Angeles city. Cudahy City Council members — reformists elected in the aftermath of the 2012 corruption scandal there — got on board.

They held a hearing to air parent grievances about the school leadership and called for an investigation in a Dec. 11 letter to L.A. Unified Supt. John Deasy, local Supt. Robert Bravo and board member Bennett Kayser, who represents the area.

“We decided we had a moral responsibility to support our parents and demand accountability from the school,” said Cudahy Mayor Jack Guerrero.

Guerrero and Councilwoman Diane Oliva joined Teresa Hughes parents and teachers at a meeting that month with Kayser and south area administrators, which some said seemed to have been a turning point. Kayser did not return calls for comment.


Meanwhile, United Teachers Los Angeles also worked with parents, organizing meetings to help plan strategies. Mario Andrade, the union’s representative at Teresa Hughes, said 25 of the school’s 40 teachers had signed a letter calling for a new principal. The departure last September of a popular kindergarten teacher who no longer wanted to work with Cortez-Covarrubias helped spark the unified effort by teachers and parents to work for change, he said.

Ingrid Villeda, the teachers union representative in the south area, said the Cudahy success offered lessons to union members to go beyond their insular concerns and work broadly with parents to improve their schools. She also said the efforts demonstrated that parent-led reform is possible without the controversial state parent trigger law, which allows parents to petition for changes at low-performing campuses but has been criticized for sowing discord and confusion.

Adriana Serrano, whose second-grader attends Teresa Hughes, said parents were looking forward to a new principal and planned to continue their involvement in the school.

“We were able to achieve change because we all worked together and we want to continue doing that to bring the school up and succeed,” she said.