Firebrand Teacher Running for Colorado Statehouse | Westword

Firebrand Teacher Tim Hernández on Bid for Colorado House

House District 4 had been repped by Serena Gonzales-Gutierrez, who won an at-large seat on Denver City Council.
Tim Hernández is hoping to make the jump to the state legislature.
Tim Hernández is hoping to make the jump to the state legislature. Courtesy of Tim Hernández
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Tim Hernández is a teacher best known for fighting on behalf of diversity, equity and inclusion related to both students and educators. Now he hopes to bring his passion to the Colorado Legislature as a representative for House District 4 — and while these roles may seem very different, he believes they have much in common.

"I don't view it as that large a transition," Hernández says. "The best teachers among us are community organizers. They organize thirty people an hour at a time — get them organized and through to their objective. And above being a teacher and a politician, I'm a community organizer."

He's also a controversial figure who made headlines last year when students at North High School protested the decision not to keep him on the staff. Still, he says that the response to his Statehouse run announcement "has been overwhelmingly positive. I feel our community is ready to rally to make sure we get a Northsider into this seat, a Chicano into this seat, and a teacher into this seat."

House District 4 stretches roughly from Regis University south to Morrison Road, and from Sheridan Boulevard east to Zuni Street. Until last month, it was repped by Democrat Serena Gonzales-Gutierrez, who's now an at-large member of Denver City Council. Her win in that council race created the HD4 opening, and to fill the remainder of Gonzales-Gutierrez's legislative term, which runs until November 2024, the Colorado Democratic Party opted to hold a vacancy election rather than request that Governor Jared Polis choose someone for the post.

However, the community as a whole won't be making the selection — at least not yet. The people gathering on August 26 to pick Gonzales-Gutierrez's replacement will be "appointed leadership of the Democratic Party within the House district," Hernandez notes, as well as a handful of other officials — an estimated 69 people.
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Rochelle Galindo and Cecelia Espenoza are also candidates for the vacant House District 4 seat.
Two other hopefuls with significant Democratic connections are also vying for the spot. A precinct captain in HD4 (as is Hernández), Cecelia Espenoza previously worked as a counsel for the U.S. Department of Justice and an appellate immigration judge. The former professor at the University of Denver and St. Mary's University School of Law chaired the board at the National Hispana Leadership Institute in Washington, D.C., as well.

Also in the race is Rochelle Galindo, who in 2015 became the first openly gay person to be elected to the Greeley City Council. She followed this win by besting Republican rival Michael Thuener to become the state representative for Weld County's District 50 in 2018. She resigned the next year after being accused of sexual assault and providing alcohol to a minor, but she was cleared of these charges in 2021. Since she left the legislature, Galindo has worked in various roles at advocacy organizations Colorado People's Alliance, Colorado People's Action and Emerge.

Hernández has taken a less traditional path to this run. He was hired as a teacher at Denver Public Schools' North High in January 2021 and quickly became a student favorite. But at the end of his first year, administrators maintained that the school didn't have enough money to pay his salary — so he was encouraged to apply for a one-year associate position, "where the government pays for half of it and the school pays for half of it," he points out. As this term was nearing its conclusion, Hernández applied for one of several open teaching positions at North, but was told that he hadn't been hired for any of them because of a subpar interview — an excuse he didn't buy, since he'd successfully interviewed at the school twice in the previous eighteen months.

Students rallied in support of Hernández on May 13, 2022; he attended the protest, and was placed on administrative leave that day. As a result, he told Westword, "I was officially locked out of the entire DPS system: pay stubs, grades, attendance. I couldn't get into anything, and I was formally asked not to contact students, parents, anybody, about being on administrative leave. It was a pretty hard line — like being excommunicated."

DPS superintendent Alex Marrero subsequently removed Hernández from the district's non-renewal list, essentially guaranteeing him a job for the 2022-2023 academic year. Instead, he accepted an offer from Aurora West College Preparatory Academy. While teaching there, he was approached by University of Colorado Denver professor Dr. Margarita Bianco and asked to participate in Pathways2Teaching, a program she founded that is designed to help students, and particularly students of color, to become educators. He agreed, and says he was amazed by the response.
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Tim Hernández was placed on administrative leave at North High School for attending a rally staged in support of him.
Photo by Vincent Chandler
"We thought we were going to get maybe fifteen kids," he recalls. "By the end, we got over fifty." Impressed by his work, Bianco encouraged him to launch Pathways2Teaching at Urban Peak, a nonprofit that assists homeless youth. "A lot of our students there are transient students," Hernández notes. "If you take three classes with us, you can work as a paraprofessional at DPS, and if you work part-time there, you get health insurance and other opportunities," including entry into what he refers to as "the para-to-teacher pipeline. We're dedicated to directly increasing the number of teachers of color and encouraging students to become teachers in their own community."

Education and issues related to the unhoused residents of House District 4 top Hernández's list of issues. "We want to have fully funded public schools and quality education, and we want the student experience to be affirming and empowering and inclusive, enabling all of our children to have a quality lifestyle following their public education," he stresses. "And we need to find a sustainable solution to the housing crisis so we can provide people with an opportunity to have a safe and stable home and increase housing stock that's dedicated to anti-gentrification practices."

Gun-violence prevention and climate sustainability are also high on his agenda. But to find out what's most important to residents, he's hosting a House District 4 vacancy listening session from 6 to 8 p.m. Friday, August 11, at Convivio Cafe, 4935 West 38th Avenue. All HD4 voters, constituents and candidates are invited to attend.

Asked if he can adapt his style to work in a bureaucracy like the Colorado General Assembly, Hernández gets metaphorical. Community organizers "are like wildfires," he contends. "We can set an entire community on fire by getting people mobilized and organized." He cites political role models such as House District 6 Representative Elisabeth Epps as demonstrating that "community organizers can learn to be blowtorches" capable of focusing their fire to achieve specific policy goals. "It's about adapting our skills to meet the demands of the spaces we're in," he adds.

"My life's work is in the classroom. But what shows up in my classroom oftentimes are the consequences of political decisions. And that's why I want someone who loves this community to represent it."
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