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New Pueblo leader pledges to go through TCAP scores “child by child” in order to make gains

Students at the Pueblo Academy of the Arts participate in a science lesson in April 2014.
Students at the Pueblo Academy of the Arts participate in a science lesson in April 2014.
Nicholas Garcia

Pueblo City Schools’ new superintendent Constance Jones got some really bad news earlier this month, but she isn’t looking back.

The bad news: Pueblo students made no progress on the state’s reading, writing or math tests last spring.

But instead of worrying how the district reached those results, the new leader said her mission is to work with principals to understand the academic needs of each of the district’s 18,000 students as the state begins to administer new, more rigorous assessments in the spring.

“I’m not going to focus on the drops nor try to go back and track and analyze programs,” Jones, who began her tenure as superintendent July 1, said. “The most important thing I can do is to help principals and teachers use the information we have today and break it down to the individual child. What are their strengths? What are their weaknesses to the standards? Until we do that, we aren’t going to see significant gains across the board. We’re going to go child by child.”

While school district’s across the state had similar outcomes, Pueblo is near the end of the state’s accountability clock and has a deadline to improve or face state sanctions.

The school district’s struggles were the subject of a three-part series published by Chalkbeat last week.

The slight dip in proficiency scores coupled with slow academic growth, or how the state measures how much students learn each year, does not bode well for the district.

While the district as a whole did meet its reading goals, several of the city’s neediest schools, including Roncalli Middle School, the Bessemer Academy, and Benjamin Franklin Elementary School, still lag far behind.

The state is still months away from publicly releasing its official ratings of schools and school districts, careful observers would note there isn’t much good news in Pueblo’s recent data.

Jones, who joined the school on July 1, replaced Maggie Lopez, who retired after leading the district for four years.

Before leaving, Lopez — and other school officials — defended their four years of school improvement efforts and were confident Pueblo students would continue to make enough progress on state tests to beat the state accountability clock.

One of Lopez’s key strategies was to build alignment throughout the district in curriculum and evaluations. Jones said she’ll use those systems to build upon.

“There are systems in place,” Jones said. “But public education is a continuous improvement process. You’re never to the pinnacle, it will never be perfect.”

One example of an initiative Jones plans to rollout this year is a new literacy program that is closely aligned to the new standards will be implemented this year in as many grades as financially possible.

“We’re going to be very focused and we’re going to be very purposeful in our teaching and learning,” Jones said. “And if we are, each individual child will make the gains.”

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