MOURN­ING HER SON

Rigob­erto Rue­las is re­mem­bered as a ded­i­cated ed­u­ca­tor who helped stu­dents.

Los Angeles Times - - Latextra - Alexan­dra Zavis and Carla Rivera alexan­dra.zavis @latimes.com carla.rivera@latimes.com

Rigob­erto Rue­las’ mother, Rita, takes part in a can­dle­light vigil Wed­nes­day night for her son, a Mi­ra­monte Ele­men­tary School teacher who com­mit­ted sui­cide. Hun­dreds of peo­ple at­tended the cel­e­bra­tion of his life. They re­mem­bered an ed­u­ca­tor who made a dif­fer­ence in many lives.

Hun­dreds of peo­ple filled a church near South Los An­ge­les and spilled out into the streets for an emo­tional Mass on Wed­nes­day cel­e­brat­ing the life of a pop­u­lar fifth-grade teacher at Mi­ra­monte Ele­men­tary School who com­mit­ted sui­cide in the An­ge­les Na­tional For­est.

Tear­ful relatives, col­leagues and stu­dents re­mem­bered Rigob­erto Rue­las as a ded­i­cated ed­u­ca­tor, who steered chil­dren away from gangs, helped them over­come aca­demic dif­fi­cul­ties and in­spired them to aim for col­lege.

“He wasn’t just a teacher to me, he was a sec­ond fa­ther,” said 13-year-old Karla Gon­za­lez, who broke down and sobbed when she took her turn at the mi­cro­phone. She said Rue­las helped her learn English when she ar­rived from Mex­ico and bought her books to read. “I will al­ways be grate­ful to him,” she said.

Many of those at Pre­sen­ta­tion Catholic Church in the Florence-Fire­stone neigh­bor­hood expressed anger at The Times for post­ing on the In­ter­net the rat­ing he re­ceived in a data­base. The Los An­ge­les teach­ers’ union has said that it learned from Rue­las’ fam­ily that he was de­pressed about his score when he dis­ap­peared last week. His body was found Sun­day in a ravine in the Big Tu­junga Canyon area, about 100 feet be­low a bridge.

Us­ing a sys­tem known as “value-added” method­ol­ogy, the news­pa­per an­a­lyzed seven years of stu­dent test scores in English and math to de­ter­mine how much stu­dents’ per­for­mance im­proved un­der about 6,000 third-through fifth-grade teach­ers. Based on The Times’ find­ings, Rue­las was rated “av­er­age” in his abil­ity to raise stu­dents’ English scores and “less ef­fec­tive” in his abil­ity to raise math scores. Over­all, he was rated slightly “less ef­fec­tive” than his peers.

Rue­las’ brother, Ale­jan­dro, told “AirTalk” on KPCC 89.3 FM on Wed­nes­day that it was un­fair of The Times to post the in­for­ma­tion. “He’s not a mayor,” he said. “He’s not the pres­i­dent. He’s not a pub­lic worker.”

But when asked by ra­dio host Larry Man­tle what his brother had said about the scores, Rue­las in­di­cated that was not the kind of sub­ject Rigob­erto dis­cussed. “I don’t know if he felt he didn’t want to bur­den any­body,” said Ale­jan­dro Rue­las, who has de­clined to speak to The Times.

He said he was un­aware of any per­sonal prob­lems in his brother’s life. Asked whether he be­lieved that Rue­las took his life out of frus­tra­tion with the scores, he said the fam­ily was still gath­er­ing in­for­ma­tion.

“The lit­tle feed­back that we are get­ting right now is that that school wasn’t the health­i­est place to be work­ing,” Rue­las said. “The peo­ple who are sup­posed to be help­ing them as far as ad­min­is­tra­tors, prin­ci­pals are us­ing this kind of scores also to bully and ha­rass.”

Mi­ra­monte Prin­ci­pal Martin San­doval said Mon­day that he gave lit­tle cre­dence to the method used by The Times and had not dis­cussed rat­ings with his staff.

“Num­bers come and go,” Robert Lopez, a for­mer Mi­ra­monte prin­ci­pal, said at Wed­nes­day’s me­mo­rial Mass. “I have a com­pletely dif­fer­ent im­pres­sion of what value-added means. It means com­ing in early and open­ing up the door, al­low­ing stu­dents to come in for help when they need it.”

Rue­las’ mother, Rita, spoke for the fam­ily when she of­fered thanks to all those at the ser­vice. “He was your son, he was your brother,” she said. “He was there with you for all of those years.”

Many then walked to the nearby school for a can­dle­light vigil in front of an im­pro­vised me­mo­rial wall dec­o­rated with hand­writ­ten mes­sages, draw­ings, flow­ers and bal­loons.

A fu­neral Mass will be held Tues­dayat St. Emy­dius Catholic Church in Lyn­wood.

Robert Gauthier

GRIEV­ING:

Robert Gauthier

Stu­dents from Mi­ra­monte Ele­men­tary School weep as they lis­ten to tes­ti­mo­ni­als to teacher Rigob­erto Rue­las. Speak­ers said he steered chil­dren away from gangs and in­spired them to aim for col­lege.

PACKED:

Hun­dreds of relatives, col­leagues and stu­dents filled Pre­sen­ta­tion Catholic Church on Wed­nes­day night to cel­e­brate Rue­las’ life.

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