Marsh moves on
2005: a year of healing for Marsh Junior High School
“We’ve had a good year, no bumps in the road,” said Marsh Junior High School Principal Steve Piluso.
Of course, Piluso is optimistic as he looks back on a turbulent 2004, which saw popular Marsh Principal Jeff Sloan ousted and reassigned to the Center for Alternative Learning (CAL).
The saga clogged the pages of local newspapers and divided the community. Accusations flew from those who supported Sloan saying his reassignment was part of a vendetta on the part of Chico Unified School District Superintendent Scott Brown. Others said certain details regarding the matter were never made public because it was a personnel issue. The public is still sensitive about the topic—Sloan refused to talk, and other faculty members preferred not to go on the record.
After the dust storm settled, only more questions remained.
Sloan, who is bringing in a principal’s salary as vice principal at CAL and Fair View High School, will be up for reassignment in March of this year. As one Marsh faculty member said, the district took the talented Sloan, a forward-thinking, innovative educator who was “fed up with the bureaucratic pace of things,” and “basically made him a playground supervisor.”
Another faculty member said 2005 is a healing year for Marsh Junior High. And the unassuming Piluso is the man who will steer the ship through 2005 and beyond.
Piluso said there were no major changes to be made at Marsh and that he wants to follow the same routines that were laid out by Sloan. Any changes now, he said, depend on the direction of the district as a whole, which right now faces the prospect of cutting up to $1.8 million from its budget.
Piluso, appointed on July 23 by the CUSD Board of Trustees, said taking over the principal post under such explosive circumstances was a little nerve-wracking because he faced “the unknown of how people were going to react.”
“It was a chapter that was difficult for a lot of people,” Piluso said. “But [teachers] also know they’re in this profession to educate students, and they’ve done their best.”
Piluso is no stranger to Chico or the CUSD. He graduated from Chico State University in 1972 with a degree in marketing, and his children, Tory and Chris, are products of the CUSD. He also coached junior varsity basketball at Pleasant Valley High School before beginning his teaching career in Durham in 1973.
He taught at Durham High School for 17 years and spent the last 14 as principal at Durham Intermediate School. Durham, like many other districts, was in the midst of a budget cut and was about to give him the dual role of principal for both the middle and high school levels.
The opportunity to take over Marsh Junior High came at a perfect time in Piluso’s career. He saw the changes being made in Durham and wanted to maintain his focus on the middle-school level.
“You can make a big impression on kids at that age,” he said.
Piluso said he was also fortunate enough to have current Marsh Vice Principal Rhys Severe rejoin him. Severe, who replaced Frank Thompson, had taught under Piluso at Durham Intermediate School.
Severe said the transition was much smoother than he anticipated and that he went in with no preconceived ideas. He said he simply wanted to establish himself with the staff and students.
“I think a new administrator in a new school should spend a year figuring out the culture of the school before making changes,” Severe said.
Piluso said one of his goals is to work with other middle schools in the district to make sure everyone is on the same page.
“Essentially, we want to make sure every student is getting the same opportunity to learn,” he said.
Marsh is currently awaiting notification to see if it qualifies for the Distinguished Schools Award, a program based on criteria including high academic expectations, comprehensive guidance and counseling programs and learning support systems for children learning the English language or who have learning disabilities.
Piluso said the school will be notified in the next few weeks.