Copyright © 2019 Albuquerque Journal
SANTA FE – Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham named Karen Trujillo of Las Cruces as New Mexico’s next public education chief, turning to a former classroom teacher and longtime researcher to lead one of the state’s most prominent agencies.
The governor’s selection, announced Thursday, represents a departure from the education policies of Lujan Grisham’s predecessor, former Gov. Susana Martinez.
Lujan Grisham, a Democrat, has already ordered an end to the state’s current standardized test system and directed Public Education Department officials to come up with a new test.
Trujillo told reporters at a Capitol news conference the state would no longer be in a “time of punitive measures.”
“The idea of accountability is no longer going to be to punish schools, teachers and students,” she said.
She said she will announce in March her proposed changes to the state’s plan under the federal Every Student Succeeds Act.
The director of the Alliance for the Advancement of Teaching and Learning at New Mexico State University, Trujillo said expanding community schools and educating and recruiting teachers who reflect the state’s diverse student body will be among her top priorities.
“These are all our children, and until we embrace that fact, we won’t be able to do anything,” she said.
As PED secretary-designate, Trujillo will have to give up the Doña Ana County Commission seat she won in November.
She will also be in charge of leading the Public Education Department’s response to a landmark July 2018 court ruling that found New Mexico was not meeting its constitutional requirements to provide an adequate education to all students.
Lujan Grisham, who was sworn in to office on Jan. 1, has said her administration will not appeal the ruling. She has also proposed spending an additional $500 million on public schools in the coming budget year.
Her plan includes increasing teacher pay, extending the state’s school year by three days annually and adjusting the state’s funding formula so that more money flows to schools with high rates of Native American students, English-language learners and students with disabilities.
“We are motivated to get this right, irrespective of a court decision,” Lujan Grisham said.
Despite recent improvement in the state’s high school graduation rate, New Mexico has long ranked at the bottom of many national education rankings.
But Lujan Grisham on Thursday set the lofty goal of elevating the state to the top of national lists, saying the state would empower teachers and give schools more flexibility to meet their students’ needs.
She also said her own two grandchildren, 3 years old and 4 months old, will enter public schools in the coming years.
Teachers union leaders, who staunchly opposed many of Martinez’s education initiatives, praised Lujan Grisham’s choice to lead the Public Education Department.
“My feeling is the PED has been retaken by educators,” Charles Bowyer, executive director of the National Education Association-New Mexico union, told the Journal. “It is a new day, and I think it’s going to be great.”
Hope Morales, a former teacher from Roswell who is the state director of Teach Plus NM, a group that offers teacher-support programs aimed at boosting minority student achievement, said she was excited to see a Hispanic woman appointed to the state’s top education job.
“It is an example of leadership that students in our state need to see and can achieve,” Morales said.
Trujillo, whose appointment is subject to Senate confirmation, is expected to start work at her new job immediately. She will make $128,000 a year.
Lujan Grisham also announced four other PED deputy secretaries, all of whom have classroom experience and will make $125,000 annual salaries. They are:
⋄ Native American Community Academy principal and Executive Director Kara Bobroff of Albuquerque.
⋄ Former Albuquerque Public Schools Chief Academic Officer Katarina “Kata” Sandoval of Albuquerque. She has also been working at the Native American Community Academy.
⋄ Former Legislative Education Study Committee Deputy Director Tim Hand of Las Cruces.
⋄ Los Alamos National Laboratory Foundation K-12 Program Director Gwen Perea Warniment of Santa Fe.
In addition, Pedro Noguera, a graduate school professor of education at UCLA, will serve as a special adviser to the new PED secretary.
He will work on contract with the department, a Lujan Grisham spokeswoman said.