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Retiring, Yes, but Not Shy About Love for Her Work : Education: Norwood's Angelene Kasza, 72, leaves a legacy of innovative programs from a 52-year career.

July 03, 1994|DIANE SEO | TIMES STAFF WRITER

After a distinguished 52-year career in education, Angelene Kasza has retired as principal of Norwood Elementary School, leaving a legacy of innovative programs, including one that paved the way for Spanish-speaking children to become proficient in both English and Spanish.

To celebrate Kasza's retirement, several hundred students, parents and teachers attended a June 23 party at the school's Oak Street campus, just south of Pico-Union. While mariachis played, party-goers feasted on everything from tacos to fried chicken. Students also sang and danced to honor the longtime principal, whose last day was Thursday.

"I've never lost enthusiasm for what I do," said Kasza, 72, who has been at Norwood Elementary for 21 years. "I've always loved getting up and going to work, and frankly, I think I'm blessed to be able to say that."

Kasza began her career in 1942 as an elementary teacher in San Bernardino, where she taught the children of migrant workers. She moved to Los Angeles four years later, and taught at Cienega, Sterry, Broadway and Walgrove Avenue elementary schools, before becoming an assistant principal at Kester Avenue Elementary in 1955.

After serving as principal at Langdon Avenue and Knollwood elementary schools, Kasza became principal at Norwood Elementary in 1973.

"I felt as though I was coming back to my roots," said Kasza, who lived in South-Central as a child and now has a home in Northridge. "I had worked with poverty migrant workers before, and I grew up in the area. I felt I had something to contribute."

A few years after coming to Norwood Elementary, whose 1,300-student population is 99% Latino, Kasza created a program to help non-English-speaking students make the transition to classes conducted in English.

About 95% of the students who complete the program are able to make the switch to English classes at their grade level, Kasza said.

"She's visionary," said Bruce Aubry, who has taught at the school since 1980.

"The transitional bilingual program allows students to do intensive work so that they can transition into English classes at their own grade level. Before, students who were supposed to be in the fourth grade were being put into a second-grade English class."

To recruit bilingual teachers for the program, Kasza placed an ad on a Spanish-language television station in Los Angeles, asking for Spanish-speaking applicants with teaching credentials in their native countries. English was not required.

"I had over 100 applicants, and we ended up hiring 16 teaching assistants," Kasza said. "They taught Spanish reading so that students could become proficient in their native languages before making the transition to English."

Although budget cuts forced the school to discontinue the program during the 1992-93 school year, school officials are hoping to reinstate the program this fall.

Kasza's other accomplishments include helping more than two dozen teachers become principals, fostering an educational partnership with USC and opening the first Norwood Family Center in the fall.

"She's very encouraging to teachers," said Frances Goldman, who has taught at Norwood for 15 years. "She listens and she considers people's feelings and needs. She's a warm, gracious person."

Elizabeth Guzman, a parent who coordinates the school's family center, said residents respect Kasza because she always has tried to include them in the school.

"Even though her Spanish is not perfect, people feel they can talk to her," Guzman said. "She always told us that if we learned English, she would learn Spanish."

Kasza, who will be replaced by assistant principal Rita Flynn, said she probably will spend more time with her son and daughter and her three grandsons in Indiana and Brussels. But beyond that, she doesn't have definite retirement plans.

"I've always allowed my life to unfold, so that's what I'll do."

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