Thus Spake the Super

Miami-Dade school chief Roger Cuevas is cracking down on sports abuses. Again.

When the state athletic council investigated Miami High two years ago, they alleged that grades may have been changed for athletes at that school. Athletic directors around the county contend that grade changing is a common practice.

I hope not! It isn't easy. It's like a ship that has been going on since the '30s. There's a lot of tradition. There's a lot of alumni pride. There's a lot of school pride. And there's a lot of community pride.

You say you hope not, yet two years after the Florida High School Activities Association [FHSAA] alerted you to the problem, the Herald comes out with an exhaustive and conclusive story about grade changing at several schools. Were you surprised when you read that story?

Roger Cuevas: A happy but sometimes uninformed leader
Steve Satterwhite
Roger Cuevas: A happy but sometimes uninformed leader

Yeah, because I thought I made it very clear to them that I mean business. I felt betrayed in a way. Here I am, I'm really trying to make it better for all, especially the children; we've got to teach them what is right, and it's still going on. Like I said, I don't have enough staff, only two people to supervise both men's and women's sports. I have reached the capacities of my staff. I have to go beyond and ask for help. And I gotta thank you guys for bringing to light some things that people would probably never tell me. Because I know I'm upset that's going on. So they probably don't want to talk to me.

You 're showing gratitude, which is nice. I was going to ask you if it 's embarrassing that the media is uncovering this.

No. No. I think because of the hard-line position that I took, I probably pushed away people from coming to me and telling me. Yet still it went on. I hope that in the next year that we change more policy to make it stricter. There's always more you can do. There's always a better way of doing it. And I had no idea I was going to be dealing with athletics as a problem. My problem is reading. I push academics.

You say newspapers are reporting things and are being helpful. And you say you have only two people on your staff addressing these problems. It makes me wonder: Do you have control over the institution of athletic sports?

Well, that's what I'm looking at right now. [Sports] has absolutely grown. It has absolutely escalated. And I need to look at how we address athletics in the district. Let me put it this way: We allow the schools to sort of self-govern.... No, I don't think it's embarrassing. I think it was a crime to [change grades for] youngsters.

How about punishment? Jackson High was ordered to forfeit every football game last year. Their principal received a written reprimand and they were fined $1000.

I'm not through yet!

That might be good, because it seems an awful lot like no punishment, to lose games already played and pay a thousand dollars when they 've made tens of thousands of dollars in profit from the success of an illegal football team....

Now [the investigation of the grade changing] is in the hands of the school police and the State Attorney's Office. I can't discuss that, but we're not through. I hope I can clean it up. I hope during my tenure I was the superintendent who was able to bring honor and integrity to high school sports in this country. Note what I said: in this country.

What do you mean by "country? "

I think there's an attitude of winning above all, and I think we need to change that. Our schools are here to produce a work force. A work force that either goes to work directly or goes into the college ranks. That is our purpose, not to win sports activities. It's fine to do that, but I think [our] primary purpose is to develop a citizen that is able to participate in our community, with gainful employment and participation in the democratic process. But you have to teach that. And if you teach them it's fine to change grades, it doesn't send a good message.

For years, ever since the Miami High story, I 've been forbidden to talk to the two people who run the GMAC, Fred Rodgers and Wayne Story. Almost every athletic director I call tells me they are not allowed to talk to the media or they will be fired.

They will be fired?

That 's what they tell me. You 've thanked the media for exposing some of these problems, yet the culture of the school system makes it very hard for the media to examine anything. It 's almost as if it would be better if problems weren 't examined.

No. No. Let me put it the easiest way: I want to portray an image of transparency. In other words we're not hiding anything. Transparency. But what happens is the media will interview a principal, the coach, the athletic director, a parent, the student. You will get five different stories. I have seen that happen over and over again. There doesn't seem to be consistency.

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