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.