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E-Mails Show Rio Grande Parents Pushed for Graduation

By Andrea Schoellkopf
Copyright 2007 Albuquerque Journal; Journal Staff Writer
    E-mails obtained by the Albuquerque Journal show parents of a failing Rio Grande student pushed hard to persuade top-level APS administrators to let their son graduate with his class.
    Bernalillo County Commissioner Teresa Cordova, whose son's English grade was changed from an F to a D, contacted APS administrators on May 9, the day after being told her son would not graduate.
    According to copies of the e-mails, Cordova apparently sent a May 9 e-mail to Superintendent Elizabeth Everitt, Associate Superintendent Nelinda Venegas and school board member Dolores Griego, with a forward to Rio Grande Cluster leader Elsy Fierro.
    "As an educator myself, I will accept a late paper, but it often means a lower grade," she wrote. "So I might deduct points from a late paper but I still accept the work, especially if there are extenuating circumstances."
    Cordova is a University of New Mexico associate professor in the School of Architecture and Planning's Community and Regional Planning program.
    Her e-mail argued that her son needed intervention earlier in the year and it outlined many of the problems her son had had over the course of the year, including his parents' divorce and the suicide of a close friend, as well as his participation in varsity athletics.
    "He knows the material! Why shouldn't he pass and move on to the next stage of his life. For god's sake, how will failure help this kid?
    "What he needs now is to be set on a path for success, not failure," Cordova wrote.
    "Shouldn't a teacher want to do everything she could to help a child graduate? What is gained by not doing so? Why add to Rio Grande's already problematic low graduation rate? What good will this serve?"
    After being asked by Rio Grande Principal Al Sanchez to meet with him and the teacher on May 10, Cordova e-mailed Fierro asking, "what do I do? Don't know the purpose of the meeting."
    Fierro in a May 9 e-mail sent to APS Human Resources Director Andi Trybus and Associate Superintendent Susie Peck, and copied to Venegas, wrote, "I believe (two-letter name redacted) is continuing to confuse the issue and wanting to make me do his work."
    There did not appear to be a response from administrators.
    A May 10 e-mail from Principal Sanchez to Fierro said Nova Net online classes are provided free to seniors who do not graduate.
    "We work very hard all year to ensure our seniors graduate," Sanchez said.
    Former APS board member Miguel Acosta, the father of the student, also contacted Venegas on the matter.
    "Sorry for all this but (redacted) and I really want to see him walk, especially after all he's been through these last few months," Acosta wrote in an undated e-mail.
    Venegas responded that the work had been turned in and "we have offered assistance in grading it."
    "The situation is complicated for your son and for others because the school has no system in place to let parents know ahead of time that their child could be failing."
    Acosta, in a follow-up May 10 e-mail to Venegas, thanked her "for everything you have done for the district and for my son in particular."
    In the same e-mail, he questioned why his son should have to do Nova Net in the summer if "in essence, he did the equivalent of the Novanet by doing all the make up work, at our direction, reviewing all the semesters work and (redacted). He's done more than he would have if it was just at the teacher's direction."
    On May 11, Fierro asked APS administrators Peck and Venegas if seniors could still be allowed to graduate if they had failed only one class and were registered for Nova Net.
    Responses from Peck and Venegas said "it would be a nightmare."
    The e-mails also included a draft of the letter Fierro sent to Sanchez ordering the grade change. Fierro said it was sent to him on May 11.
    "In reviewing the information received from you, the teacher, and the parent, I find that the current system of reporting absences and student grades to parents is not adequate," Fierro said. "Though the student needs to be responsible for his failure to attend class and complete assignments in a timely manner, the school ultimately has the responsibility of effectively communicating with parents regarding absences and grades."
    In general, Rio Grande's system of reporting absences failed to notify parents about excessive student absences, and did not provide intervention to improve attendance or exclude extracurricular activities or refer a student to a children's court liaison, she wrote.
    "As a result of these findings, I am directing you to change (redacted). At this time, there is sufficient evidence to indicate that this is in the best interest of the student."
    The following week in a May 15 e-mail, Sanchez accused Fierro of having a staff member call parents whose children were not graduating to inquire about parent notification.
    "You have caused a dilemma that is going to put us in a precarious situation," Sanchez wrote.
    Fierro responded that that was incorrect and a parent had called her staff member.
    "He (Sanchez) clearly still wants to pin this on me," Fierro said, forwarding the e-mail to Peck and Venegas.