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Colorado Education Department to Pueblo school district: Let us help

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

The Colorado Department of Education is offering to play an unusually large role in guiding troubled Pueblo City Schools through a period of turmoil.

Following this week’s sudden resignation of the district’s superintendent, Interim Education Commissioner Katy Anthes on Friday offered to help the district find a new leader, conduct community outreach and help launch three school redesigns the district has been planning for a year.

A letter Anthes wrote to the school board president resembles one that then-Commissioner Rich Crandall sent the Adams 14 school board after its superintendent left this spring.

The 18,000-student Pueblo City Schools is the largest school district on the state’s accountability watch list for poor academic performance.

Unless the southern Colorado district improved dramatically on 2016 state standardized tests — the results are scheduled for release next month — it will face sanctions from the state.

State officials could order the district to close schools or turn them over to charter networks. The district may also be required to cede all or part of its administration to a third-party management organization.

If the district refuses the state’s requests, it could lose its accreditation, putting federal funds at risk and potentially devaluing high school diplomas.

“This is a very critical time for Pueblo City Schools to demonstrate effective and sustainable improvements in its lowest-performing schools,” Anthes said in the letter. “The next superintendent of Pueblo City City schools will need to lead this [turnaround] process with urgency, high expectations for students, collaboration, and the full support of your board.”

Phyllis Sanchez, the school board’s president, did not return a request for comment Friday.

Superintendent Constance Jones resigned on Wednesday after two years on the job, without going into the reasons for her departure. Many civic leaders believe she was forced out, The Pueblo Chieftain reported.

At a meeting Friday, the Pueblo school board took the unorthodox step of hiring Walter Calinger, a longtime educator from Ohio, as the district’s new assistant superintendent. School boards typically only hire superintendents and let that person hire for such positions.

The board also met with a representative from the Colorado Association of School Boards to discuss the association leading a search for an interim superintendent.

Mark DeVoti, the association’s assistant executive director, told the board an interim superintendent could be hired within a month to lead the district through the school year. If the school board follows DeVoti’s advice, it would be the interim superintendent’s responsibility to navigate the state’s yet-to-be-defined sanction process.

DeVoti said the association would try to identify a school executive who is familiar with Colorado’s accountability laws and has a track record of improving low-performing schools.

Commissioner’s letter

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