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Parents of students at private Catholic girls’ school in Conejo Valley rally to save it from closure

La Reina student Sita Cortez hugs her mom Claudia
Caroline Feraday
La Reina student Sita Cortez hugs her mom Claudia

After nearly 6 decades, La Reina High School and Middle School notified families last week that it will shut down its Thousand Oaks campus at the end of the school year.

14-year-old Sita Cortez eyes fill with tears. She is a student at La Reina – a private Catholic girls’ school in Thousand Oaks.

She found out last week – along with the other 270 students and their families, that the school intends to shutter its campus at the end of the school year.

"When I first found the news, it was heartbreaking," she told KCLU. "The thought of having to leave La Reina and this community that has built me. I was honestly scared and frightened to have to make new friends, and all of us are getting split up."

Her mom – Claudia Cortez says the school was out of her reach as a child, so being able to send her daughter there meant a lot – and she was able to with financial aid.

"I came to this community when I was about 12, not knowing how to speak English, how to write, how to read - not even Spanish. I spoke Mixteco, which is a dialect where I came from," she explained.

"I'm happy to work day and night to make sure that she gets that education, to make sure that she has all of the opportunities that I can have for her. But because of La Reina she has more opportunities that I can essentially give her myself," she told KCLU.

Sita said she's crying because she knows how hard her mom worked for the opportunity. "And in just one week, in just a few seconds, all it took was an email to destroy her accomplishments," she said.

The school – which has served the community for nearly 60 years – told parents that declining enrollment and higher operating costs were factors in the closure. But, parent Rachel Shaw, whose daughter is a Junior at the school, says – if finances are the problem, why not let parents like her fundraise to save the school?

"It is an incredible school. It's all girls. It is focused on creating strong, independent women," Shaw told KCLU.

"We, as parents, did not know. We were not informed that there were budget deficits and we were never given an opportunity to remedy. So we've been working very hard, and in the last week we have raised pledges for over $2.2 million and rising. If the issue is money, we can raise that," she said.

"We believe in financial aid. We want students to come to La Reina not just because they can't afford it. Financial aid has never been an issue, and it will not be an issue now. And we have not been declining in enrollment for five years. Our numbers have stayed almost exactly the same," she said.

"So we believe the school is sustainable and we want to fix it," said Shaw.

It’s not only the parents and students who are feeling shocked and saddened by the imminent closure. Heidi Voss is the music director at the school and has been there for 18 years.

"It feels like a death. We're all going through a grieving process where we were, first of all, shocked, and it feels almost worse than a death because it feels like a betrayal," said Voss.

Voss said even as a member of staff she didn't have a heads up that the news was coming.

"It was 100% a shock," she said. "The announcement was like a ton of bricks, and the thing that they fail to recognize is this community is strong. The generational power of women coming together for a shared mission to build other women up here, now and forward. That's what La Reina is. That's the community that they decided they're going to have random people walk in and shut the doors on. That's the problem," said Voss.

KCLU reached out directly to the school but they didn’t respond to our enquiries.

Caroline joined KCLU in October 2020. She won LA Press Club's Audio Journalist of the Year Award in 2022 and 2023.

Since joining the station she's won 7 Golden Mike Awards, 4 Los Angeles Press Club Awards and 2 National Arts & Entertainment Awards.

She started her broadcasting career in the UK, in both radio and television for BBC News, 95.8 Capital FM and Sky News and was awarded the Prince Philip Medal for her services to radio and journalism in 2007.

She has lived in California for ten years and is both an American and British citizen - and a very proud mom to her daughter, Elsie.