In with the new: Piluso will lead Marsh

Even as some supporters of reassigned former leader Jeff Sloan cling to the hope that they can get him back on the job, a new principal has been hired at Marsh Junior High School.

Stephen Piluso comes to Chico from a 14-year stint as principal of Durham Intermediate School. Before that, he taught in Durham schools for 17 years.

Chico Unified School District officials had planned on appointing an interim principal but were able to secure Piluso, who comes with a long local history of accolades and achievements.

A committee that included some of the most vocal critics of the decision to oust Sloan unanimously endorsed the appointment. On July 23, the Board of Trustees concurred, appointing Piluso to the post.

“He came with high praise,” said Steve O’Bryan, president of the CUSD Board of Trustees. He said Piluso was one of 17 applicants for the position.

The board had previously decided to reassign Sloan, popular with Marsh students and parents, to the Center for Alternative Learning (CAL) after concerns arose about his handling of money fund-raised by the student body. Sloan supporters called the move a vendetta by jealous Superintendent Scott Brown and have vowed to unseat incumbent trustees in the November election and get Brown fired.

Piluso is less interested in the past and more interested in the future of Marsh. “There are no major changes that need to be made at Marsh,” he said. “I have no preconceived ideas going in.”

He was aware of the administrative changes trustees were considering at Marsh, and when they were completed and friends in the CUSD encouraged him to apply, Piluso did so—bolstered by the fact that, due to a tightening budget, Durham was about to combine the intermediate- and high-school principal jobs there.

“I really wanted to stay at the middle-school level,” said Piluso, who would have gotten the dual job. In fact, Durham Intermediate runs on a sixth-, seventh- and eighth-grade model, something the CUSD is considering for its junior highs.

O’Bryan said that during an interview he was pleased with how Piluso answered his questions about how he’d feel if, as some trustees desire, the demographics of Marsh shifted to better reflect the ethnic and socioeconomic diversity of its feeder schools—even if that means tests scores will go down.

“He’s ready to make everyone feel welcome at the site,” O’Bryan said.

Piluso said he knows about half the staff at Marsh, and the fact that the committee endorsed him makes him feel “much more comfortable” about taking on the role.

“I’ll miss the Durham community,” said Piluso, who is 55. “[But now] I can end my career in Chico.”

Piluso lives in Chico with his wife, Catherine, who teaches first grade at Shasta Elementary.

The CUSD is also seeking a replacement for Marsh Vice Principal Frank Thompson, whom the board voted earlier this month to reassign to a classroom teaching position.