Pueblo City Schools’ interim leader failed to boost test scores at struggling middle school

A longtime Pueblo City Schools educator who was unsuccessful in boosting test scores at one of the city’s most troubled middle schools will lead the academically struggling district through the 2016-17 school year.

Charlotte Macaluso, who most recently was principal of Risley International Academy of Innovation, was named the sole finalist for the job of interim superintendent one month after the abrupt departure of Superintendent Constance Jones. Her appointment will be finalized after a state-required 14-day waiting period.

Among Macaluso’s new duties will be to convince the state that the southern Colorado school district should keep its accreditation after years of chronic low performance on state tests.

Pueblo City Schools is the largest school district on the state’s accountability watch list facing sanctions in 2017. The State Board of Education could take steps that range from closing schools, turning schools over to charter school operators, or turning over part or all of the district’s management to a third party.

If the district does not comply with the wishes of the State Board, it would lose its accreditation, putting federal dollars at risk and potentially devaluing student diplomas.

Macaluso is a lifelong Puebloan, which won favor with the school board, according to The Pueblo Chieftain.

An educator for 24 years, Macaluso ran Risley, a middle school in one of Pueblo’s poorest neighborhoods, for the last six. The school has been on the state’s watch list for low academic achievement almost as long.

The most recent testing data for Risley paints a dire picture. Only 60 of the roughy 350 students at the school met or exceeded the state’s expectations on the inaugural PARCC English exam in 2015. Only 26 students met the state’s benchmarks on the math test the same year. The school has high poverty rates, with 96 percent of students qualifying for government-subsidized meals.

While an independent review found Macaluso has boosted morale at the school, the school’s state rating has not risen.

Three years ago, Risley won innovation status, which grants it freedom from some state and local policies. That move to boost achievement, however, has not proven successful.

Before being named interim superintendent, Macaluso had been appointed executive director of the district’s new innovation zone, which would bring together Risley and five other schools in an even broader experiment. If approved by the State Board, the innovation zone would be the city’s most ambitious efforts yet to save its schools.

“It’s no secret that this summer has been one of change in our district,” Macaluso said at a back-to-school event, The Chieftain reported. “And our district is in a state of transition. However, it is my belief that although change may be uncertain and difficult for a brief period of time, it eventually makes way for tremendous opportunities and great possibilities.”