Subscribe to the Journal, call 505-823-4400

          Front Page

This story has additional information: PDF of memo

State Ed. Secretary Sides With Teacher in Grade Dispute

Andrea Schoellkopf
Journal Staff Writer
    A state investigation has faulted an Albuquerque Public Schools administrator for changing the grade of a Rio Grande High School senior, saying the teacher had exceeded her requirements to help the student pass.
    The June 19 report by the New Mexico Public Education Department, received by APS on Wednesday, said the parents were provided with at least five notices that their son was failing English, "two of these specifically stated that failing a class could result in a failure to graduate."
    The actions of Elsy Fierro, the Rio Grande cluster leader who ordered the grade change, are being referred to the Educator Ethics Bureau for action on her licensure.
    "Dr. Fierro exerted undue influence when she directed the administrative team at Rio Grande High School to change a student's grade," the report said.
    "This undue influence was based on the authority of her position and clearly resulted in determining professional decisions concerning a student's final grade. In addition, incomplete and inaccurate information was provided to the superintendent and the associate superintendents in an apparent attempt to gain support for the grade change directive."
    Fierro said Wednesday she would not have changed the student's grade if Rio Grande principal Al Sanchez had provided APS with the same documentation given the state.
    "Al Sanchez was asked specifically for this documentation," she said Wednesday. "He still didn't have this information. All of a sudden this information pops up. The PED didn't talk to the parent when they were investigating to verify the validity of this information."
    She also said the change was made in collaboration with Associate Superintendents Nelinda Venegas and Susie Peck.
    Fierro's changing of an F to a D in a required English class for the son of Bernalillo County Commissioner Teresa Cordova and former school board member Miguel Acosta, allowed him to graduate with his class and sparked a public outcry. She ordered the grade changed at Cordova's request and after having another teacher re-evaluate the student's makeup work.
    Rio Grande teachers protested Fierro's decision, arguing it was influenced by powerful parents. The Albuquerque Federation of Teachers filed a grievance on behalf of English teacher Anita Forte, who refused to change the student's grade after makeup work was turned in weeks late.
    State Secretary of Education Veronica Garcia and the Public Education Department had agreed to review the Rio Grande situation and the APS process for appealing students' grades.

Below is The Associated Press version of the same story:

State Ed. Secretary Sides With Teacher in Grade Dispute

Associated Press
   The state's top education official has sided with a teacher over a disputed failing grade to a high school senior whose parents are a Bernalillo County commissioner and a former Albuquerque school board member.
    State Education Secretary Veronica Garcia said her department's investigation into the issue supported Anita Forte.
    School district administrator Elsy Fierro changed the Rio Grande High School student's grade from an "F'' to a "D," despite objections from Forte and Rio Grande principal Al Sanchez.
    The grade change allowed the senior to graduate with his class last month.
    Garcia said Fierro will be referred to the Educators Ethics Bureau, which can discipline educators and revoke their teaching and administrative licenses.
    Albuquerque Public Schools Superintendent Beth Everitt upheld Fierro's decision to overrule the Rio Grande teacher, saying the school did not follow procedures for notifying families of failing grades and did not provide intervention to help the student succeed.
    The state's investigation found Rio Grande school personnel followed district policies and "appropriate notification was provided" to the student's family, contrary to the parents' claims, Garcia said.
    The student is the son of former Albuquerque school board member Miguel Acosta and Bernalillo County Commissioner Teresa Cordova.
    The findings did not address any potential consequences tot he student.
    School board member Marty Esquivel said the findings "confirm what the rest of the universe knows" — that the district was wrong to overrule the teacher.
    The findings align with a draft settlement of the teacher's grievance against the school district that said the teacher properly assigned the grade.
    Everitt said the settlement, presented Monday to the school board, would be official once she and Ellen Bernstein, the union president, signed it.
    Everitt moved Fierro from overseeing Rio Grande High School earlier this month, citing a need for more oversight for the school.
    Fierro remains director of instruction for the Rio Grande cluster middle and elementary schools.

Copyright ©2007 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.