Colorado

Hernandez, wife out at Cesar Chavez?

Earlier versions of this story misidentified a Cesar Chavez Schools Network employee who was placed on paid administrative leave. This version is correct.

Pueblo news outlets Thursday were reporting that three leaders at the Cesar Chavez Schools Network have been suspended by board president Dennis Feuerstein.

Lawrence Hernandez and his wife Annette, who founded the original Cesar Chavez Academy in Pueblo, along with Velia Rincon, recently appointed to run the network’s online school, were placed on paid administrative leave pending the outcome of two state audits, Feuerstein told the Pueblo Chieftain.

Neither Feuerstein nor Lawrence Hernandez could be reached for comment. Hernandez’s voice mailbox on his cell phone was full.

Feuerstein and other members of the network’s governing board are scheduled to meet Friday afternoon and are expected then to discuss the future of the three administrators.

Today’s action follows a turbulent week in which Hernandez publicly fought with administrators of the network’s online school, GOAL Academy, over control of the school. At one point, teachers and other GOAL staff were locked out of their offices and students were denied access to course materials.

Alex Medler, board chairman at the Charter School Institute, which holds the charter for the network, said the board requested Wednesday that staff look into possible revocation of the charter.

Click here to read the Chieftain’s short article on the latest developments, and here to read a short story by the Colorado Springs Gazette.

Hernandez was invited to the White House and his school spotlighted in a video by the U.S. Department of Education after he opened the original campus of Cesar Chavez in Pueblo. His students, mostly Hispanic and many of them poor, outperformed their peers on state tests.

But allegations of cheating on those tests and rumors about financial misspending have tailed Hernandez and his wife even as they expanded from one Pueblo school to campuses in Colorado Springs and Denver.

In May, Feuerstein defended the salaries paid to the Hernandezes and to chief finance officer Jason Guerrero, saying they “absolutely” deserved the increases as enrollment grew.

Internal Revenue Service documents obtained by Ed News Colorado found Hernandez received a 53 percent pay increase in three years, from $171,466 in 2005 to $261,732. Guerrero’s pay rose 80 percent during that same time, to $247,797 in 2007.

Annette Hernandez did not receive a salary in 2005 or 2006 but was paid $134,826 in 2007.

A couple of months later, in July, Ed News found more than half the students at Cesar Chavez Academy in Pueblo received extra time or other special accommodations when they took state reading and math tests in 2007 and 2008, according to data from state education officials.

Colorado Education Commissioner Dwight Jones announced an audit of state testing and financial practices at the Cesar Chavez schools that same month, responding to a request from outgoing Pueblo City Schools Superintendent John Covington.

Almost immediately, Hernandez balked at producing some of the data requested by Jones for the audit, calling it “completely unreasonable.”

Wednesday, as news of the standoff at Goal Academy spread and allegations of documents destruction surfaced, Jones issued a press release saying he was “extremely concerned” by the reports and said anyone who knew about records being destroyed should report it to police.

Click here to read a special report by Ed News about Cesar Chavez and and its founder, Lawrence Hernandez. Click here to read a profile of Hernandez.

Nancy Mitchell can be reached at [email protected]

School safety

Hiring more security officers in Memphis after school shootings could have unintended consequences

PHOTO: Jahi Chikwendiu/The Washington Post/Getty Images

Tennessee’s largest district, Shelby County Schools, is slated to add more school resource officers under the proposed budget for next school year.

Superintendent Dorsey Hopson earmarked $2 million to hire 30 school resource officers in addition to the 98 already in some of its 150-plus schools. The school board is scheduled to vote on the budget Tuesday.

But an increase in law enforcement officers could have unintended consequences.

A new state law that bans local governments from refusing to cooperate with federal immigration officials could put school resource officers in an awkward position.

Tennessee Education Commissioner Candice McQueen recently reminded school personnel they are not obligated to release student information regarding immigration status. School resource officers employed by police or sheriff’s departments, however, do not answer to school districts. Shelby County Schools is still reviewing the law, but school board members have previously gone on the record emphasizing their commitment to protecting undocumented students.

“Right now we are just trying to get a better understanding of the law and the impact that it may have,” said Natalia Powers, a district spokeswoman.

Also, incidents of excessive force and racial bias toward black students have cropped up in recent years. Two white Memphis officers were fired in 2013 after hitting a black student and wrestling her to the ground because she was “yelling and cussing” on school grounds. And mothers of four elementary school students recently filed a lawsuit against a Murfreesboro officer who arrested them at school in 2016 for failing to break up a fight that occurred off-campus.

Just how common those incidents are in Memphis is unclear. In response to Chalkbeat’s query for the number and type of complaints in the last two school years, Shelby County Schools said it “does not have any documents responsive to this request.”

Currently, 38 school resource officers are sheriff’s deputies, and the rest are security officers hired by Shelby County Schools. The officers respond and work to prevent criminal activity in all high schools and middle schools, Hopson said. The 30 additional officers would augment staffing at some schools and for the first time, branch out to some elementary schools. Hopson said those decisions will be based on crime rates in surrounding neighborhoods and school incidents.

Hopson’s initial recommendation for more school resource officers was in response to the school shooting in Parkland, Florida, that killed 17 people and sparked a wave of student activism on school safety, including in Memphis.

Gov. Bill Haslam’s recent $30 million budget boost would allow school districts across Tennessee to hire more law enforcement officers or improve building security. Measures to arm some teachers with guns or outlaw certain types of guns have fallen flat.


For more on the role and history of school resource officers in Tennessee, read our five things to know.


Sheriff’s deputies and district security officers meet weekly, said Capt. Dallas Lavergne of the Shelby County Sheriff’s Office. When the Memphis Police Department pulled their officers out of school buildings following the merger of city and county school systems, the county Sheriff’s Office replaced them with deputies.

All deputy recruits go through school resource officer training, and those who are assigned to schools get additional annual training. In a 2013 review of police academies across the nation, Tennessee was cited as the only state that had specific training for officers deployed to schools.

call out

Our readers had a lot to say in 2017. Make your voice heard in 2018.

PHOTO: Chris Hill/Whitney Achievement School
Teacher Carl Schneider walks children home in 2015 as part of the after-school walking program at Whitney Achievement Elementary School in Memphis. This photograph went viral and inspired a First Person reflection from Schneider in 2017.

Last year, some of our most popular pieces came from readers who told their stories in a series that we call First Person.

For instance, Carl Schneider wrote about the 2015 viral photograph that showed him walking his students home from school in a low-income neighborhood of Memphis. His perspective on what got lost in the shuffle continues to draw thousands of readers.

First Person is also a platform to influence policy. Recent high school graduate Anisah Karim described the pressure she felt to apply to 100 colleges in the quest for millions of dollars in scholarships. Because of her piece, the school board in Memphis is reviewing the so-called “million-dollar scholar” culture at some high schools.

Do you have a story to tell or a point to make? In 2018, we want to give an even greater voice to students, parents, teachers, administrators, advocates and others who are trying to improve public education in Tennessee. We’re looking for essays of 500 to 750 words grounded in personal experience.

Whether your piece is finished or you just have an idea to discuss, drop a line to Community Editor Caroline Bauman at [email protected]

But first, check out these top First Person pieces from Tennesseans in 2017:

My high school told me to apply to 100 colleges — and I almost lost myself in the process

“A counselor never tried to determine what the absolute best school for me would be. I wasted a lot of time, money and resources trying to figure that out. And I almost lost myself in the process.” —Anisah Karim     

Why I’m not anxious about where my kids go to school — but do worry about the segregation that surrounds us

“In fact, it will be a good thing for my boys to learn alongside children who are different from them in many ways — that is one advantage they will have that I did not, attending parochial schools in a lily-white suburb.” —Mary Jo Cramb

I covered Tennessee’s ed beat for Chalkbeat. Here’s what I learned.

“Apathy is often cited as a major problem facing education. That’s not the case in Tennessee.” —Grace Tatter

I went viral for walking my students home from school in Memphis. Here’s what got lost in the shuffle.

“When #blacklivesmatter is a controversial statement; when our black male students have a one in three chance of facing jail time; when kids in Memphis raised in the bottom fifth of the socioeconomic bracket have a 2.6 percent chance of climbing to the top fifth — our walking students home does not fix that, either.” —Carl Schneider

I think traditional public schools are the backbone of democracy. My child attends a charter school. Let’s talk.

“It was a complicated choice to make. The dialogue around school choice in Nashville, though, doesn’t often include much nuance — or many voices of parents like me.” —Aidan Hoyal

I grew up near Charlottesville and got a misleading education about Civil War history. Students deserve better.

“In my classroom discussions, the impetus for the Civil War was resigned to a debate over the balance of power between federal and state governments. Slavery was taught as a footnote to the cause of the war.” —Laura Faith Kebede