Emails Show Pressure On Pueblo Teacher In TUSD Grade Changing Scandal

On Monday, May 23, 2016 Pueblo principal Augustine Romero set about saving the graduation rate by illegally changing the grades of failing students. The students in question, according to emails, had failed to submit work or were alleged to have committed plagiarism.

In those recently revealed and heartbreaking emails, the teacher at the center of the controversy, Yolanda Sotelo, shows herself to be a dedicated professional. The emails reveal a desperate Romero, who eventually decides to violate State law and alter the students’ grades in Culturally Relevant Curriculum (CRC) classes.

Initially, Romero had claimed that Sotelo suppressed curriculum from the students. His outrageous claim not only shocked educators, but confused them. Questions arose as to how a teacher, especially a dedicated teacher could “suppress curriculum.” The email exchange shows that to the contrary, Sotelo, who was instrumental in developing the Culturally Relevant Curriculum for the District, went out of her way to provide students every opportunity to complete assignments to “earn enough credits to pass the class and graduate on time.”

The emails clearly demonstrate that Romero’s claims were an utter fabrication.

Related article: TUSD Administrators Offer Tortured Explanations For Pueblo Grade Changes

Not only did Romero, Superintendent H.T. Sanchez and Governing Boards members Adelita Grijalva, Cam Juarez, and Kristel Foster attempt to smear Sotelo, efforts were made to intimidate the reporter, Valerie Cavasos with KGUN9 News, who broke the story.

As part of their effort to set the record straight and assist Sotelo, Board members Michael Hicks and Mark Stegeman filed a FOIA with the District. They received the revealing emails on Friday. Hicks has also called for an investigation by the Arizona State Board of Education.

Hicks said of the emails, “I’m just hopeful that the Arizona Board of Education’s investigation unit takes this issue as seriously as it has implications for all teachers. I, as a teacher of over 20 years and others in the teaching profession, have never heard the made up term “denied curriculum.” There is a reason why there is a law prohibiting anyone from changing a teacher’s grade but the teacher or a governing board.”

Hicks concluded, “I also find it very discouraging that the teachers union is remaining silent on this issue.”

The emails read:

From: Sotelo, Yolanda
Sent: Monday, May 23, 2016 12:29 PM
To: Carmona, Alma; Toro, Teresa; Romero, Augustine
Cc: Rosthenhausler I, Frank; Montano, Rafael; Fennema, Laura
Subject: RE: Seniors

May 23, 2016

When the senior CR classes were left without a teacher at the end of 2nd semester, I stepped up and took over because I did not want to see the students get cheated again. I taught at Pueblo for 31 years because I love the students. I love teaching here. I pride myself on teaching a curriculum that is academically rigorous so that students that continue their education will be ready and successful.

I now find myself in a dilemma that I should not be in. I asked students to read and show comprehension of the novels they read. I asked them to write a research paper, analysis and argumentative essays that are required of the CR program but also required of any English class.

With the expectation of five personal days, I was in class the 94 days that was required of me and every day I was on time. I created academically rigorous assignments. I let students through the whole year know what was expected. I made sure they knew where they stood in the class. I called parents when I needed to; I stayed after school once a week and even showed up in the mornings of the AZ Merit testing to help those that needed help with the essay I mentioned. Auggie, I did what I said I would do to help students so that they would go into the 4th quarter with a better chance of passing the semester.

After reading all the emails that have been going around, let me reiterate that the four students in question did not write the analysis and that is why they failed. [REDACTED] received a 0 on the essay because he turned in a plagiarized essay. He copied word for word the summary of the novel straight from the Stella Pope Duarte’s website.

My professional integrity is very important to me. I pride myself in creating and teaching a curriculum that will prepare students for their next stage of their educational career. I can say without reservation that I have done my job. After speaking with Maria Federico Bummer, she reminded me that my position was that of a substitute teacher. She said that my job ended on Friday and now I have CR duties that I must complete.

So even though my earlier email mail said I would look at essays if they had them, I will no longer do so. If you all want to make an administrative decision to override and change grades, that is your decision.

Respectfully submitted,
Yolanda Sotelo

From: Carmona, Alma
Sent: Monday, May 23, 2016 11:02 AM
To: Toro, Teresa; Sotelo, Yolanda; Romero, Augustine
Cc: Rosthenhausler I, Frank; Montano, Rafael; Fennema, Laura
Subject: RE: Seniors

In looking at [REDACTED] attendance, he might not be a good candidate…

Alma L. Carmona-Alday
Assistant Principal of Transformative Pedagogy
and Academic Associated Projects

From: Carmona, Alma
Sent: Monday, May 23, 2016 10:36 AM
To: Toro, Teresa; Sotelo, Yolanda; Romero, Augustine
Cc: Rosthenhausler I, Frank; Montano, Rafael; Fennema, Laura
Subject: RE: Seniors

Would [REDACTED] be a candidate for this as well??

Alma L. Carmona-Alday
Assistant Principal of Transformative Pedagogy
and Academic Associated Projects

From: Toro, Teresa
Sent: Monday, May 23, 2016 9:51 AM
To: Sotelo, Yolanda; Romero, Augustine
Cc: Carmona, Alma; Rosthenhausler I, Frank; Montano, Rafael; Fennema, Laura
Subject: RE: Seniors

Yoli,
Can we include [REDACTED] with and [REDACTED] ?
Tere

From: Toro, Teresa
Sent: Monday, May 23, 2016 9:48 AM
To: Sotelo, Yolanda; Romero, Augustine
Cc: Carmona, Alma; Rosthenhausler I, Frank; Montano, Rafael; Fennema, Laura
Subject: RE: Seniors
Importance: High

Thank you for this opportunity! I’m sitting here with Auggie; we need clarification on which essays you are referring to.
Tere

From: Sotelo, Yolanda
Sent: Monday, May 23, 2016 9:41 AM
To: Romero, Augustine
Cc: Carmona, Alma; Rosthenhausler I, Frank; Montano, Rafael; Fennema, Laura; Toro, Teresa
Subject: RE: Seniors

If they have their essays for me, I will look at them to determine whether they “earned” enough pts. They need to be turned in to Laura (I hope you don’t mind) and they need to be turned in today . She needs to verify that it was turned in today and the time it was. If they are in today, I will look at them on Wednesday.

YS

From: Romero, Augustine
Sent: Monday, May 23, 2016 8:30 AM
To: Sotelo, Yolanda
Cc: Carmona, Alma; Rosthenhausler I, Frank; Montano, Rafael; Fennema, Laura; Toro, Teresa
Subject: RE: Seniors

I totally get your perspective; however, grades are not finalized until 550 pm on Wednesday, May 25, 2016. Therefore, there is still time for these two to “earn” the points needed to graduate.

I truly hope you would give these two the opportunity to “earn” the points needed to “earn” the opportunity to graduate with their class; especially, given that we still have more the 57 hours left until we finalize grades.

Thank you for your consideration,
Auggie
Augustine F. Romero, Ph. D.
Principal
Pueblo Magnet High School

From: Sotelo, Yolanda
Sent: Monday, May 23, 2016 8:09 AM
To: Romero, Augustine
Subject: RE: Seniors

Auggie,

Yes, they were both close. I told each class how important it was to write the analysis on the 3rd quarter reading. Not all of them did it. When you look at [REDACTED] and [REDACTED] points, that assignment it would have earned them a passing grade. I know they want to graduate. The other students who wanted to pass the class wrote the essay. If they had each done possibly one more assignment, they would have earned the points to pass the class.

I am sorry at this point, according to the points they earned, let’s not forget that word earned, they did not pass the class.

YS

From: Romero, Augustine
Sent: Friday, May 20, 2016 5:23 PM
To: Sotelo, Yolanda
Subject: RE: Seniors

Yollie, what about the seniors who are close: [REDACTED]and [REDACTED] are 6% and 7% away from passing? Can anything be done for students like this?

AR
Augustine F. Romero, Ph. D.
Principal
Pueblo Magnet High School

From: Sotelo, Yolanda
Sent: Friday, May 20, 2016 4:51 PM
To: Romero, Augustine
Subject: Seniors

Auggie, as of 4:30 on Friday afternoon, I have 17 seniors who failed the class. I was not out to fail students, but some did not do the class work and homework that was required of them and/or some did poorly on the final. To quote Dr. Sanchez,”…there’s a right way of doing things and you work hard and you earn the grade and pass the class… .”

Those that failed didn’t work hard enough and they failed. They knew what they had to do to pass the class. I’m sorry I would have liked to have seen more pass.

I am taking a personal day off on Monday and will be at Pueblo on Wednesday.

YS

11 Comments on "Emails Show Pressure On Pueblo Teacher In TUSD Grade Changing Scandal"

  1. Not only is this a demonstration of the corrupt School District HT Sanchez is now running, it is horrific that the Teachers Union is not supporting this dedicated Teacher.,

  2. This is what happens when there is such a push for graduation rates instead of focusing on actual learning. Whatever happened to students having responsibility towards their actions and inactions? This has been going on forever since social promotion was instituted; it allowed for students to move on from grade to grade without ever having to do any work because they knew that they would pass. How is a high school teacher suppose to catch up a student to grade level when that student could never learn the material at grade level in elementary school? This is what happened to the Plato program at Pueblo after 2010. They took all the students who couldn’t read nor write or do math at grade level and put them in the Plato during the day and these students were getting semester grades in one week in order to improve graduation rates and move them out. They got rid of the original Plato teacher who ran the after school remedial Plato program because she was actually making the students do the work and students took the semester to get a grade if they deserved it. These were high school students who were at elementary grade level who had been passed on grade after grade. It cost money to keep a student back and that is a problem for the district, but it costs society far more when it comes to students who are ill prepared to contribute because they don’t have any skills that will prepare them for the real world or entrance levels of college. I am sure that Pima College is tired of having to have remedial courses for students who graduated from TUSD and are not prepared for the 100 level courses. Something needs to change and trying to ruin a dedicated teacher is not it.

  3. The teachers union was prob silent because this was a ‘substitute’ and not a regular rank and file member.

  4. Listen to a Mom | August 21, 2016 at 1:55 pm |

    I applaud the teacher who stood up against the social promotion. In the real world we all live in, no one cares or gives you a “pass” if you are unprepared or are “almost prepared.”

    The State Board of Ed is taking up the task of what goes into the A-F accountability and TUSD showed itself to be a bad actor in fudging grad rates. If grad rates become part of AZ’s new plan…what’s to stop TUSD or another district from gaming grad accountability?

    Will other teachers be able to bravely stand up to an intimidating administration? Many good teachers are leaving the profession and we would be well served to have more like Ms Sotelo.

  5. I agree with all the comments above. This is a reflection of a school district leadership…both elected and appointed…that is very concerned about the appearance of doing well, but not about whether students are learning the course material. It is a reflection of a school district that has managed to break the law with impunity. It is about a district that says it honors teachers but throws them under the bus when they hold to their standards and do not enable students interested in passing, but not in doing what is needed to pass. It is also about a union that does not represent the teachers in the district. Instead…just as other company unions down through history…it defends the corrupt administration instead of the teachers it is legally obligated to protect.

    The voters who live in TUSD have the chance to change all that by voting to re-elect Dr. Stegeman, electing Betts Putnam-Hidalgo, and defeating both Kristel Foster and Cam Juarez. The current leadership have done everything they can to protect their own positions while destroying TUSD. Isn’t it time to change that?

  6. David Thompson | August 21, 2016 at 3:33 pm |

    Augie cooking the books again for HT Sanchez like he did for Pedicone.

  7. Lillian Fox | August 21, 2016 at 7:59 pm |

    Superintendent Sanchez and Mr. Romero have been so brazen about changing Ms. Sotelo’s grades, you can be sure they’ve changed other teachers’ grades too. Teachers don’t speak up, because there are no consequences for the principal, but there will be plenty of consequences for teachers who speak up.

    It’s hard to respect the Arizona Department of Education, when they haven’t already taken action on such a blatant example of grade changing where both Superintendent Sanchez and Mr. Romero have already admitted to changing the grades. Mr. Romero even admitted changing the grades on Pueblo’s Facebook page!

  8. SSDD in the world of TUSD and another hit to the pathetic reputation that they already have and the three bobbleheads and Sanchez are so proud of and flaunt it every chance that they get. A principal changed the grades to make his graduation rate look better. If is happened now, how many times has it happened in the past? Many, many times and every time it happens it cheapens that value of the diploma that all of the students EARN… Well some do and some don’t. Is it any wonder the city, county governments and the 2nd largest school district are the reasons that this area is the 8th poorest in the nation. Thought not and they you have newspapers like the ADS that continue to be the shills for failed government and education. How utterly pathetic.

  9. Back in 2009, well-regarded history teacher John Ward, tried to expose the corruption revolving the MAS program at TUSD. In my interview with him, he spoke of hate, dissension, and divisiveness being taught by LaRaza-type educators that took over his class. It made headlines at the Red Star. But like everything in Tucson, the Grijalvas, Romero, and racist activists drove Ward out of town. IMHO, the only way to cure issues at TUSD is to remove the activists who run the district.

  10. Rather it’s the TUSD school board, the Pima County board of supervisors or the Tucson city council, the reckless corrupt agenda driven control of the masses is hard to believe.
    I’m often stuck wondering why we aren’t driving on the left in Pima county?
    The saddest part of this whole mess is that this kind of stuff has gone on for so long, is almost accepted as normal.

  11. TUSD Taxpayer AND Voter | August 22, 2016 at 8:29 pm |

    The union (TEA) is in bed with HT and the board majority! Hasn’t anyone noticed how the same seven red shirt-wearing TEA members report “for duty” when directed by HT? If TEA truly cared for public education, they would publicly support Yolanda Sotelo, whether she belongs or not! Do not be surprised if Jason Freed ends up with a quasi administrative job at the end of his term as the TEA president! He will be rewarded handsomely by HT for his loyalty. Remember Jason Freed supported his teachers only getting 26% of the Prop 123 money, Jason Freed did not support the Special Master’s plan to diversify TUSD’s teaching staff because HT didn’t want it.

    As a community we need to monitor this and make sure Yolanda Sotelo is not made to pay for standing up to corruption!

    Vote out Kristel Foster and Cam Juarez in November! That is the only chance we have as a community to save public education in Tucson!

    ADI, please continue to report on the misdeeds of TUSD!

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