Thursday, August 26, 2010

More With MCS Consultant Jeffrey Hernandez

Posted By on Thu, Aug 26, 2010 at 8:45 AM

As part of this week's print extravaganza, I interviewed controversial Memphis City Schools (MCS) consultant Jeffrey Hernandez. His $1,500-a-day consulting fee, coupled with an intense animosity for him from some parents in Palm Beach County and his ties to superintendent Kriner Cash and deputy superintendent Irving Hamer, have caused questions about his employment at MCS.

As the chief academic officer for the Palm Beach County School system, Hernandez installed centralized lesson plans for teachers, frequent student assessments, and Saturday classes for struggling students. The resulting controversy included a Facebook page, Testing is Not Teaching, and after only a few months, Hernandez was reassigned to work only with low-performing schools and the district went back to a decentralized system.

During the last few months of his contract there, however, Hernandez was concurrently working for MCS as a consultant.

And In June, when his contract was officially up in Palm Beach, one of the blogs for the Palm Beach Post reported that the schools that used Hernandez's methods showed gains on the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test while those that didn't, didn't.

You can read the print Q&A here. Other portions of the interview are excerpted below:

Flyer: How did you begin your career in education?

Hernandez: I started as an office secretary in an elementary school. I started from the perspective of the bottom up. I worked with a phenomenal principal and he mentored me.

How old were you at the time?

I was 16. I had just graduated from high school ... I was one of several students across the district selected to do high school in two years. I then became a teacher in the inner city.

After spending 7 years as an assistant principal, former Miami-Dade County superintendent Rudy Crew then appointed you as principal. How was that?

Crew came and opened the School Improvement Zone. I was one of the principals he appointed the day before school started. It was an inner-city high school populated mostly by Haitian Creole students. We had 100 percent free/reduced lunch. The day before school started, we had 16 teacher openings, no books, a negative budget by about $50,000, and graffiti all over the school.

Crew is like superintendent Cash. By Monday, the school had to look like I'd been there all summer. I took that school from a D to an A and we maintained an A for three years.

You have a history of turning around failing schools. How do you do it?

In the School Improvement Zone, the first year we implemented it, there was a huge effort across the district to recruit quality teachers. It was nice to see so many teachers who wanted to come do this work.

We went to an extended day. We went to 6 p.m. every night.

We had a lot of support from the Haitian Creole community. The parents were involved in school.

We did Saturday tutoring for four hours each Saturday. It was a comprehensive reform effort supported by the district, the school, the parents, and the teachers union.

After working your way up in the Miami-Dade system, you were hired by the state to intervene in schools in Miami and Broward and Palm Beach counties. Where did you go next?

The superintendent of Palm Beach County approached me to come work for them. I declined a couple of times. I was really committed to the work I was doing in the state, but I saw the impact that could be made for Palm Beach County and their minority community.

The superintendent gave me a charge: You concentrate on the work and I'll take care of the politics.

As I was coming into Palm Beach County, the state was changing its expectations. [The more affluent schools] weren't used to have differentiate for subgroup populations. Many had not experienced the work you had to do in the Title 1 schools.

I created a comprehensive curriculum that insured equality and equity across the district. We had the same standards for Algebra 1 in a rich area and in a poor, minority area.

Because of the timeline, we did not have quality time to community meetings to inform people of the changes. What occurred was the community started to hear the changes through the voice of the classroom teachers.

When I got notice we didn't have any communication, by that time, people were already angry. I became the face of change. Prior to Palm Beach County, I never had any issues. I was a mentor. I was a leader. I had always made the right changes for students.

Knowing what you know now, is there anything you would have done differently?

I would go to Palm Beach County again. I would have done the same reform initiatives, but I would have come to Palm Beach earlier in the year. Because of the timing of when I came in, we did not have time to get what we were doing out there before the community found out about the changes.

I would want to have more time to develop a relationship with the district. I was an outsider. I had never had that perspective. Before, I was in Miami-Dade and I knew everybody.

Even with the turmoil, we closed the achievement gap for African-American and minority students. We got our schools off the list; we kept an A as a district. So even with all the turmoil, we must have been doing something right.

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