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Colorado State Board members defend decision to ask for-profit firm to manage Pueblo school

State Board of Education members Angelika Schroeder and Steve Durham met with lawmakers to discuss the nation's new education law.
State Board of Education members Angelika Schroeder and Steve Durham met with lawmakers to discuss the nation's new education law.
Nicholas Garcia/Chalkbeat

Responding to a lawsuit filed by a teachers union, State Board of Education members on Tuesday defended their decision to hand over control of a struggling Pueblo school to a for-profit outside manager.

Board Chair Angelika Schroeder and Vice-Chair Steve Durham issued joint statements a few days after the Pueblo Education Association, with the support of the Colorado Education Association, the state’s largest teachers union, sued to stop implementation of the turnaround plan.

Schroeder noted that the State Board approved a turnaround plan and external manager, both also approved by the local board of education, after Pueblo’s Risley International Academy of Innovation failed for eight years to improve student performance.

“We approved the plan developed by the district because we believe that without the district’s full support, the turnaround efforts wouldn’t have a chance,” she said. “We should all be focusing on implementing that plan and making sure our kids have access to a high-quality education.”

The State Board on April 10 approved plans to install the Florida-based firm MGT and the University of Virginia Darden/Curry Partnership for Leaders in Education as external managers of Risley.

MGT is a Florida-based company that has consulted with Colorado schools for years but is relatively new to turnaround work. It has also been appointed to manage an Aurora school and the Adams 14 school district.

State Board member Barbara McClellan cast the lone no vote on each of the MGT decisions.

The Pueblo school district requested that MGT be named as external manager for the middle school over the objections of some local teachers and community members who wanted to see the district pursue a “community school” model in which a wide range of services are offered to both students and their families, and parents are invited to be more engaged with school decisions.

The teachers union is seeking an injunction to stop the plan from moving forward and describes the decision to hand control over to a private company as usurping the will of the community.

Durham said the State Board followed all the requirements of the state Education Accountability Act. While state education officials are still considering their options to respond to the lawsuit, Durham said he expects local officials to work with MGT to prepare for the next school year.

“We expect the district and its chosen manager for Risley to continue moving forward swiftly to develop and implement plans to dramatically improve outcomes for the students,” he said.

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