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Covering the Pueblo City School Crisis – Interview with reporter Nic Garcia

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Nicholas Garcia is a Pueblo native who graduated in 2004 from Pueblo South. Prior to becoming a reporter for nonprofit education news network Chalkbeat, he was a reporter for Outfront, the leading LGBT news publication in Colorado. Last month he wrote “Steel City Turnaround” the story of the ongoing struggles at Pueblo City Schools (District 60) and its hope of turning i…

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Nic Garcia | Chalkbeat.org

Nic Garcia | Chalkbeat.org


Nicholas Garcia is a Pueblo native who graduated in 2004 from Pueblo South. Prior to becoming a reporter for nonprofit education news network Chalkbeat, he was a reporter for Outfront, the leading LGBT news publication in Colorado.
Last month he wrote “Steel City Turnaround” the story of the ongoing struggles at Pueblo City Schools (District 60) and its hope of turning it around. He spent two weeks visiting the schools, talking with administration officials, teachers and families covering the crisis.
Currently, the district is facing state intervention if the district doesn’t see marked improvement by 2015, the end of its 5-year accountability clock.
I spoke with Garcia about his series “Steel City Turnaround,” the clock the district faces, and what needs to be done.
PULP: Why did you want to tell this story?
Nicholas: I’m from Pueblo and I have a niece going into the district. I felt it was important a Puebloan told the story because if someone from Denver told this story, Pueblo may not trust the piece because it was from an outsider.
At first, I got a hard no from the district. We went back and forth on the details but I knew I had to spend time in the schools. They finally gave me unprecedented access and I appreciate that from the district.
Your story paints a dire picture. If the district doesn’t improve the test scores, the state will have to come in. How worried is the district?
Of the two officials I spoke with, they were very optimistic Pueblo is going to beat the clock by 2015. Denver and Englewood school districts beat the clock in very similar situations in low performing schools. Englewood’s district is a mirror of Pueblo’s situation and they turned it around.
You write how Roncalli went from one of the best middle schools in Pueblo to one of the worst. What happened? 
When the demographics switched the staff at Roncalli was not prepared for the type of students who would attend. No one told them they [Roncalli] would be fundamentally unprepared for these students. It would be a completely different challenge to teach them than the students they had a few years before that.
As I wrote in the piece with a former assistant superintendent Branda Krage said, “The one thing the district didn’t do was to prepare the school.”
How did this demographic switch happen?
Since Corwin was a magnet school, parents have to apply to get their children into the school. Then a lottery picks the students. There are no disqualifiers to any applicant and because of open enrollment anyone is allowed to apply there.
If a student’s number isn’t picked, they default to their home region and many of these students’ home school was now Roncalli. So either families didn’t know they had to apply, they chose not to apply, or didn’t get in because of the lottery system.
Should Corwin’s principal be moved to say a school like Roncalli to fix it?
I believe Principal Julie Shue needs to stay put at Corwin. And you are starting to see Corwin’s best practices implemented district wide.
What you are seeing is District 60 providing parents with choices. There are going to be kids that are going to excel at Corwin but not at Pueblo Arts Academy and vice versa. Choices should be applauded but only if all choices are equal. The problem District 60 faced is not all school choices were equal—sometimes school choice is no choices at all.
I think they get that now.
There’s a quote in your piece about saying turnaround isn’t overnight for some kids, but can they afford to wait three years for the district to turn it around. What’s right here?

That burden has always plagued school districts. The key issues that make up a school like leadership, culture, and curriculum among others can have an immediate impact. Data shows there have been school districts in trouble similar to Pueblo City Schools and were able to correct this in a year.
Critics want to blame former Superintendent John Covington and the short time superintendents stay in Pueblo, is that fair? 
While many have privately pointed to John Covington, if you look at third party data during an…
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The allure of small parks like Pueblo Mountain Park

It’s time to rediscover why a small park like Pueblo Mountain Park is important to outdoor life.

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If you thought the only officially sanctioned outdoor recreation area that Pueblo had to offer was Lake Pueblo, think again. When imagining Pueblo, visions of pine-covered mountains and thick evergreen forestry don’t necessarily come to mind. There really isn’t a place in Pueblo where you can go hiking – in the traditional sense. Unless you count dodging rattlesnakes out on the trails around the reservoir “hiking.”

But I’m talking about the kind of hiking where pine needles crunch beneath each step, where the bark of ponderosas makes the air smell like vanilla. Hiking that involves changes in elevation, in surroundings and in heart rate. And if you too crave this breed of hiking experience but suffer a loss of enthusiasm knowing you may have to travel 30+ minutes to satisfy it, then you’re in for a treat to savor an old favorite.

Nestled in the southern foothills of Colorado just outside of Beulah is Pueblo Mountain Park: a 611-acre piece of land owned by the City of Pueblo and managed by the Mountain Park Environmental Center (MPEC). The drive is 20-25 minutes and while making it a conveniently close hiking spot that eases the stress of planning around travel time.

There are approximately six miles of hiking trails through the Wet Mountains in Pueblo Mountain Park that connect with and loop around one another to give you options for a shorter or longer hike. Two of the trails at the west end of the park connect with San Isabel’s Squirrel Creek Trail on which you may access the nearly 17,000 additional acres of San Isabel National Forest land…

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Local and independent journalism is under threat in the West and you can change that.  With corporate raiders slashing newsrooms across the West, the PULP is one of the “Last Locals” in Colorado to produce original, compelling journalism produced by the best writers in Colorado. But that costs money, time and hard work. So enjoy this article right now, and if you read $5 worth of PULP, we’ll ask you to make a small contribution to PULP and writers like Madison Gill.

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If you thought the only officially sanctioned outdoor recreation area that Pueblo had to offer was Lake Pueblo, think again. When imagining Pueblo, visions of pine-covered mountains and thick evergreen forestry don’t necessarily come to mind. There really isn’t a place in Pueblo where you can go hiking – in the traditional sense. Unless you count dodging rattlesnakes out on the trails around the reservoir “hiking.”
But I’m talking about the kind of hiking where pine needles crunch beneath each step, where the bark of ponderosas makes the air smell like vanilla. Hiking that involves changes in elevation, in surroundings and in heart rate. And if you too crave this breed of hiking experience but suffer a loss of enthusiasm knowing you may have to travel 30+ minutes to satisfy it, then you’re in for a treat to savor an old favorite.
Nestled in the southern foothills of Colorado just outside of Beulah is Pueblo Mountain Park: a 611-acre piece of land owned by the City of Pueblo and managed by the Mountain Park Environmental Center (MPEC). The drive is 20-25 minutes and while making it a conveniently close hiking spot that eases the stress of planning around travel time.
There are approximately six miles of hiking trails through the Wet Mountains in Pueblo Mountain Park that connect with and loop around one another to give you options for a shorter or longer hike. Two of the trails at the west end of the park connect with San Isabel’s Squirrel Creek Trail on which you may access the nearly 17,000 additional acres of San Isabel National Forest land.
There are four main trailheads at Pueblo Mountain Park. Devil’s Canyon Trail is the most popular, following the path of a seasonal drainage called Devil’s Dribble. After about a half a mile of easy hiking beneath the shade of the pines, this trail cuts directly through a small canyon, requiring hikers to scramble up jutting sandstone rocks and fallen trees along the Dribble to reach the checkpoint to link up with either Mace Trail or Northridge Trail.
On Mace Trail, you can get to Lookout Point where all that stands between you and the panoramic views of the valley below, the mountains above and San Isabel beyond is a guard rail fixed to the edge of a cliff. Northridge Trail is the longest trail in the park and one that connects to San Isabel’s Squirrel Creek Trail. The terrain of Northridge Trail changes rapidly: one moment in the dry and rocky semi-desert plains freckled with juniper and pinyon, another gazing down from above the treeline at a green sea of Douglas firs huddled shoulder-to-shoulder. Tower Trail is another that accesses Squirrel Creek Trail, but its main attraction is Fire Tower: built in the 1930’s as a fire lookout but never officially used. Fire Tower marks the highest point in the park at 7,400 feet.
Pueblo Mountain Park has b…
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Let’s Talk About It: Pueblo Murals

Once viewed as vandalism, street art has become the dominant voice of art in Pueblo.

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Look down virtually any of the alleyways in the East side and Bessemer areas of Pueblo and at various locations downtown and in the business district, and you can find some form of street art. Pueblo is regarded nationally as a street art capital, and it’s no secret why. For one, Pueblo is home to many members of the high-profile Creatures Crew – a muralist/graffiti artists group that host collaborators and fellow artists from around the country. You can find some of their work gracing the walls behind The Klamm Shell in Bessemer, or the alleyway outside of Shamrock Brewing Co.

In 2015, local muralist Mathew Taylor hosted The High Desert Mural Fest here in Pueblo. And along the Arkansas River levee used to be the longest mural in the world as officially declared by the Guinness Book of World Records. The mural ran for three miles along the levee up until around four years ago, when the City of Pueblo announced that a nearly $15 million construction project to address repairs to the levee would mean the destruction of the beloved mural that had been around since the 1970s. Efforts were made to preserve parts of the mural, but it ceases to maintain its world-record status.

Other recognizable murals in Pueblo include a large brown bear surrounded by flowers in the Central Plaza area (painted by Taylor and co artist Michael Strescino), the famous faces depicted outside the Pirate’s Cove, a horse stuck in a tree down on Main Street (that was actually commissioned by the city to commemorate the flood of 1921) and many others ranging from simple to more abstract designs. Some of these designs cross into graffiti territory, but retain an obvious component of artistry that keeps people of the community and city officials from calling for their removal.

Therein lies a point of debate surrounding the street art movement in Pueblo. When is street art considered vandalism? Where do we draw the line between approved artistic expression and illegal tagging?

!– BEGIN THEIA POST SLIDER —

Look down virtually any of the alleyways in the East side and Bessemer areas of Pueblo and at various locations downtown and in the business district, and you can find some form of street art. Pueblo is regarded nationally as a street art capital, and it’s no secret why. For one, Pueblo is home to many members of the high-profile Creatures Crew – a muralist/graffiti artists group that host collaborators and fellow artists from around the country. You can find some of their work gracing the walls behind The Klamm Shell in Bessemer, or the alleyway outside of Shamrock Brewing Co.
In 2015, local muralist Mathew Taylor hosted The High Desert Mural Fest here in Pueblo. And along the Arkansas River levee used to be the longest mural in the world as officially declared by the Guinness Book of World Records. The mural ran for three miles along the levee up until around four years ago, when the City of Pueblo announced that a nearly $15 million construction project to address repairs to the levee would mean the destruction of the beloved mural that had been around since the 1970s. Efforts were made to preserve parts of the mural, but it ceases to maintain its world-record status.
Other recognizable murals in Pueblo include a large brown bear surrounded by flowers in the Central Plaza area (painted by Taylor and co artist Michael Strescino), the famous faces depicted outside the Pirate’s Cove, a horse stuck in a tree down on Main Street (that was actually commissioned by the city to commemorate the flood of 1921) and many others ranging from simple to more abstract designs. Some of these designs cross into graffiti territory, but retain an obvious component of artistry that keeps people of the community and city officials from calling for their removal.
Therein lies a point of debate surrounding the street art movement in Pueblo. When is street art considered vandalism? Where do we draw the line between approved artistic expression and illegal tagging?

Artist Mathew Taylor gives a guided talk in front of one of his murals during a 2018 Pueblo Mural Tour. (Photo: Ashley Lowe for PULP)


Taylor is firm in his belief that legal graffiti art murals deter the practice of illegal graffiti tagging. In his perspective, the artistic drive that goes into composing a mural commands a certain degree of respect. Tagging for the sake of staking a territorial claim is distinguishably less driven by artistic vision and marked by its hurried or moreover careless appearance. Thus completed murals tend not to be vandalized by gang-related tagging in his experience. In t…
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In Southeast Colorado, Libraries are access in the digital divide

Libraries contemplate new roles as community centers and tech hubs.

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Across Colorado, libraries that were built over one hundred years ago are still serving their communities.

These libraries don’t just check out books, however. Colorado libraries are taking on new roles, from social services to cutting edge technology.

In the small town of Trinidad, technology draws many people to the library, which serves the largest land area of any public library in Colorado.

“Our computers are full most of the day,” said Mallory Pillard, director of the Carnegie Public Library in the old mining town. “People play games, check Facebook or print important documents for taxes or file for divorce. It’s entertainment or important life work, and everything in between.”

The Trinidad Library is named after Andrew Carnegie, a steel industrialist from Pittsburgh who funded thousands of libraries across the United States between 1883 and 1929. Those library buildings are now historic structures that are referred as Carnegie libraries. Across Colorado, 18 Carnegie libraries still operate as public libraries, but look very different from the days that they offered only books and newspapers.

Pillard said that in Trinidad the library building itself had to transform to accommodate the needs of a modern community, including a rewiring project last year to allow faster internet speeds. “Obviously Andrew Carnegie and the people that built this library didn’t think we would need networking stuff here,” said Pillard.

In Pueblo, the Pueblo City-County District Library is redefining what it means to be a library.

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Across Colorado, libraries that were built over one hundred years ago are still serving their communities.
These libraries don’t just check out books, however. Colorado libraries are taking on new roles, from social services to cutting edge technology.
In the small town of Trinidad, technology draws many people to the library, which serves the largest land area of any public library in Colorado.
“Our computers are full most of the day,” said Mallory Pillard, director of the Carnegie Public Library in the old mining town. “People play games, check Facebook or print important documents for taxes or file for divorce. It’s entertainment or important life work, and everything in between.”
The Trinidad Library is named after Andrew Carnegie, a steel industrialist from Pittsburgh who funded thousands of libraries across the United States between 1883 and 1929. Those library buildings are now historic structures that are referred as Carnegie libraries. Across Colorado, 18 Carnegie libraries still operate as public libraries, but look very different from the days that they offered only books and newspapers.
Pillard said that in Trinidad the library building itself had to transform to accommodate the needs of a modern community, including a rewiring project last year to allow faster internet speeds. “Obviously Andrew Carnegie and the people that built this library didn’t think we would need networking stuff here,” said Pillard.
In Pueblo, the Pueblo City-County District Library is redefining what it means to be a library.
In recent years, the library has studied what Pueblo residents need to lead informed, active and connected lives. The result is a library that looks and sounds very different from the quiet book depositories of yesteryear.
“It’s very busy, full of children, with lots of people in the neighborhood,” said Midori Clark, Director of Community Relations for PCCLD. “The library is a busy place with a lot going on.”
In May, Pueblo City-County District Library was awarded the National Medal of Honor for Museum and Library Service, the highest honor in the United States for cultural institutions.
In granting the award, the Institute for Museum and Library Services commended PCCLD’s “responsive services for unique needs.” The library’s responses to community needs including opening three new branch library locations in 2014 in the neighborhoods that needed services the most.
The services offered at Pueblo’s libraries include much than just books. At PCCLD, Pueblo residents connect with much-needed social services like housing or food resources.
“People don’t think of the library as a place where you can get a high school diploma,” said Clark. In May, five Pueblo residents graduated from high school through a library program designed to help adults earn diplomas online.
Library staff saw some residents visiting to check out books needed additional help, like finding affordable health care. In response, the library hired a social worker to help the Pueblo community. Residents visiting the library could also find out where to get shelter, legal help or food resources.
While it may seem unusual for the library to offer social service connections along with books, Clark says many libraries across the country are transforming into resource centers for people in need.
“Other government agencies might seem scary or daunting if you don’t have all of the paperwork or all the the answers,” Clark said. “We strive to be that non-judgmental place where everybody is treated with respect.”
Libraries across Colorado are looking toward the future. Many libraries responded to the explosive growth of e-readers by adding digital books that can be borrowed and downloaded directly to a tablet or smartphone. Other libraries respond to the digital divide by providing a place where people can connect in person, seeing a role for the future as a community center.
“The library is that place where anybody can come,” said Clark. “We are friendly and welcoming and ever…
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One more thing...

Local and independent journalism is under threat in the West and you can change that.  With corporate raiders slashing newsrooms across the West, the PULP is one of the "Last Locals" in Colorado to produce original, compelling journalism missing in today's profit hungry world. But that costs money, time and hard work. We don't believe in spamming you with ads and that's why we need your help.

For every contribution, we put 100% back into producing original and amazing journalism. That's a promise only a local and independent newsroom can promise. Take heart because you will fuel stories just like this one and the future of journalism.

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