Pueblo superintendent resigns abruptly as state sanctions loom

Pueblo City Schools, the largest school district in Colorado expected to face state sanctions next year for poor academic performance, is without a leader.

Superintendent Constance Jones resigned Wednesday effective immediately after two years in the post, the school board announced during a brief emergency meeting.

“I have grown to love the Pueblo community, its children and the hard working and dedicated staff of the Pueblo City Schools,” Jones said in her resignation letter.

Jones’ departure will add immeasurable stress on the 18,000-student district, which has been on the state’s watch list for poor performance on state tests since 2010.

“It’s like a school bus going down the road without a driver,” said Suzanne Etheridge, the president of the district’s teachers union.

Board president Phyllis Sanchez did not immediately return phone calls seeking comment, but said in an emailed statement, “With the Board’s unanimous action this evening, we believe that we have reached a mutual and dignified end to our professional relationship with Dr. Jones.”

If results from last spring’s exams don’t show major improvements, the state will require the district to make changes that could include charter networks taking over schools or ceding all or part of the district’s administration to a third-party management organization.

If the Pueblo school board balks, the State Board of Education could strip the school district of its accreditation, putting federal funding at risk and potentially devaluing high school diplomas.

Jones’ resignation is the latest high-profile departure of a Colorado district superintendent.

In May, divisive Douglas County Superintendent Liz Fagen stepped down to lead a smaller district outside Houston. Another superintendent of a district on the state’s accountability watch list, Pat Sanchez, quit the Adams 14 School District for a schools chief job in the Bay Area.

Jones was hired in 2014 to replace retiring Pueblo Superintendent Maggie Lopez. Jones was picked in part because of her track record of boosting learning at low-performing schools in Florida. Her salary was $185,000 a year.

During her brief tenure in Pueblo, Jones updated the district’s outdated literacy and math curriculum, opened a new school and laid the foundation for more of the city’s schools to operate with more flexibility from local policies and state law.

But higher test scores did not follow.

“The major tension is the lack of progress in moving forward,” Etheridge said.

Marci Imes, principal of the Roncalli STEM Academy, said Jones’ exit will be stressful, especially as school is set to resume next month.

“At this point, what can you do but move forward?” she said. “You have 500 kids coming to school in three weeks and 40 teachers knocking on the door in two. What else can you do?”