Wasserstrom Award honors founder of Alta Vista Charter School

Surgery kept Gilbert Guerrero from personally receiving the 23rd Evelyn Wasserstrom Award Sunday afternoon. It did not stop others from praising his work.

The founder and superintendent of the Alta Vista Charter School gained recognition for more than two decades as a mentor, educator, dreamer and doer, said Uzziel Pecina, who accepted the award on Guerrero’s behalf.

“Gilbert always believed that education is a civil rights issue,” Pecina said during the presentation at the Community Christian Church in Kansas City.

Pecina credited Guerrero for his own success, for example, in earning a doctorate degree in education that he dedicated to his late father and to Guerrero.

The award presentation was one of a number of area celebrations this week to commemorate the work of the late Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.

In Raytown on Sunday, Mayor David Bower congratulated finalists of an “MLK Today” essay contest as part of the city’s 16th annual MLK celebration. The event included performances by Maxine “Queen Mother” McFarlane, Bryan Austin and Hawaiian dance groups.

The Wasserstrom award presentation was the third in a weeklong schedule of events by the Southern Christian Leadership Conference of Greater Kansas City. The organization created the award to honor Wasserstrom, who was director of the Kansas City branch of the National Conference of Christians and Jews, shortly after her death in 1984.

Sunday’s events included presentation of the award by the SCLC of Greater Kansas City and the Jewish Community Relations Bureau/American Jewish Committee.

Guerrero acted on his dream 22 years ago to start a Latino education program that became Alta Vista, a college preparation charter school, said Juan Rangel, director of the Institute for Workforce Innovation-Community Engagement at Metropolitan Community College and a prior recipient of the Wasserstrom Award. Guerrero fought to correct a 50 percent drop-out rate among Hispanic students locally.

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