AURORA, Colo. (KDVR) — Andre Wright’s meet and greet with Aurora Public School teachers probably didn’t go the way he hoped Wednesday night.
He’s one of three finalists to be the new superintendent for Aurora Public Schools. The public forum for teachers was a chance for educators to ask questions of the candidate but the Problem Solvers estimate not even 10 teachers showed up from the entire district, and one teacher who did have questions was not given an answer by Wright.
“So I’m curious to know how you feel like your name should still be in the running for superintendent when your name is riddled throughout that police report against Ron Fay and Jill Watkins,” was the question posed by Jill Cullis.
Cullis taught at Gateway High School for 30 years but retired in 2021, after she says she was forced out by her principal Ronald Fay. Fay himself would retire in July of 2021 after he became the target of an embezzlement investigation.
Alleged embezzlement and grade fixing
A 338-page Aurora police report obtained by the Problem Solvers accused Fay and his long-time bookkeeper Jill Watkins of embezzling $100,000 from Gateway High School from 2019 to 2021.
The report makes numerous references to Andre Wright, who was the district’s chief academic officer at the time. District auditors wrote that Wright declined an interview request and stopped returning phone messages even though auditors wanted to question Wright about what he might’ve known.
The report says Fay sought and was granted permission from Wright to transfer $60,000 from a job position that was never filled to go into an account controlled by Fay that investigators said was essentially used as a slush fund by Fay and Watkins.
In addition, numerous teachers told investigators and FOX31 that Fay engaged in grade fixing for years to improve graduation rates. Students who should’ve failed were instead given Ds over the objections of teachers, according to educators who spoke to both FOX31 and district auditors.
A memo dated Oct. 22, 2020, to the district’s then-chief academic officer, Andre Wright, stated that in Fay’s first year as principal at Gateway High School from 2019-2020, “Gateway High School recorded 484 transcript grade change. The transcript grade changes are 53% higher than any other APS High School.”
The same memo reads, “Gateway High School recorded 41 unauthorized course credit type/title changes on student transcripts. Ex: Changing an elective credit to a core credit to enable a student to meet graduation or on-track requirements.”
The memo obtained through a public records request went on to state, “Further investigation is warranted,” but it’s unclear if the district in fact did any further investigation.
The lengthy police report includes a segment about allegations of grade changing that were supposed to be investigated by the previous district registrar, Katrina Dainko.
The report suggests the investigation didn’t dig too deep, because, “Ms. Dainko stated she felt pressure from Mr. Wright to not follow up further on the grade changes.”
In email correspondence with the Problem Solvers, Wright wrote that Dainko “Wasn’t pressured to do anything… This was a TEAM of people who looked into this not just me! A team of qualified individuals including the Director of Human Resources (I think she would know if anyone was pressured).”
Wright avoids questions during meet and greet
At the teacher meet and greet Wednesday night, Cullis, the retired teacher, asked Andre Wright, “How do you feel like you can run a district when you couldn’t manage a rogue administrator?”
Wright chose not to answer Cullis and instead, suggested she speak to other administrators standing nearby.
Investigative reporter Rob Low then approached Wright and said, “Andre, isn’t that a fair question? You are running for superintendent so shouldn’t you answer these questions for the public?”
Wright refused to answer any questions from FOX31 at the teacher forum and instead hurried down a hallway to avoid answering any further questions.
Again, Wright is one of three finalists for the APS Superintendent job. The others are Michael Giles, who is currently an assistant superintendent in Cherry Creek Schools and Nia Campbell who is the current Chief Academic Officer for APS.
The Aurora Public School Board has declined to answer any questions from the Problem Solvers about the Fay scandal or suggestions from its own district audit that Wright may have played a potential role in enabling Fay’s alleged misdeeds.
The board is expected to name its next superintendent in late April or early May with a start date of July 1.
Prosecutors for the 18th Judicial District are reviewing the accusation against Fay and Watkins to determine if criminal charges are warranted.
Aurora Police have recommended embezzlement and theft charges against Fay and Watkins and an additional count for the destruction of evidence against Fay.