For the first time since being elected to the school board in 2012, Steven Carrillo faces a challenger.
Carmen Gonzales, who serves as Mayor Alan Webber’s education adviser, is vying for the District 1 seat representing schools on the east side of the school district.
“Carmen will be a formidable opponent because she’s part of the Democrat machine in Santa Fe,” said Carrillo, who says there’s nothing overtly political about him. “I don’t even know how to play politics.”
The reference to “Democrat machine” is a jab at the league of progressive Democrats in town, and that would include Mayor Webber.
Gonzales makes no bones about her ties to the mayor.
“I worked on the mayor’s campaign and did a lot of house parties,” said Gonzales, who after the election was asked by Webber to serve as co-chair of his transition team and then as his education advisor, an unpaid position.
He didn’t ask her to run for school board, though, she says.
“The mayor never talked to me,” Gonzales said, adding that she was urged to run by several educators and community members. “I said no, and said no. But I thought about it and I thought, ‘You know, I could do that. I have the energy and the time right now to contribute to the schools, and I wouldn’t mind giving back.'”
After a long career in education, which started as a teacher’s aide at the old Alvord Elementary school, Gonzales says she flunked retirement. When she formally retired as vice president for student success at New Mexico State University and moved back to her hometown in 2011, she started volunteering and serving on boards for community groups, and was tapped by Santa Fe Community College’s then-president Ana “Cha” Guzman as a grant writer.
“I decided to do it for a year and ended up doing it for five,” said Gonzales, who also serves as president of the Santa Fe Community College Foundation.
Her school board campaign treasurer is former SFCC president Randy Grissom.
On her campaign website, Gonzales says she stands for promoting and expanding early childhood education and pre-K, preparing students for a global job market, equity for all students, integrity, civility and collaboration.
Gonzales says she recovered her Spanish-speaking skills as an adult. She’d abandoned the language after being sent to the principal’s office as a child for speaking Spanish in class.
“I never spoke another word. I worked hard to get it back,” she said, adding that being bilingual is a great attribute to possess. “Here in New Mexico, there’s no reason everybody shouldn’t be able to speak Spanish.”
She also said she’d like to make sure there’s follow up on the Yazzie-Martinez lawsuit, the case the Santa Fe district was a part of in which a judge ruled that the state was not fulfilling its constitutional obligation to provide a sufficient education to all children and that New Mexico must come up with the necessary funding to meet New Mexico students’ right to a sufficient education.
“I want to focus on making sure we do that,” Gonzales said.
Gonzales, who serves on the boards of Communities In Schools and Kitchen Angels, says she comes from a family of committed people.
Her father, Albert Gonzales Sr., overcame blindness suffered in a diving accident as a 16-year-old to forge an accomplished life, earning status as one of Santa Fe’s Living Treasures in 2004. He graduated from Georgetown University law school, was land-grant activist Reies Lopez Tijerina’s attorney, served as a state legislator, county commissioner and school board member. Gonzales Elementary School is named after him.
“My mother was amazing, too,” she says. She was a school teacher at Salazar and Wood Gormley elementary schools. Her mom was also elected to the state school board, which during those years hired and evaluated the state school’s superintendent.
Still more to do
Carrillo is a California transplant, but has lived in Santa Fe for nearly 30 years.
A graduate of Loyola Marymount University, Carrillo has a background in social activism, and the food and beverage industry. He currently works as an insurance agent.
When he first ran for school board in 2011, Carrillo, who had a son in the public schools at the time, said his desire to improve education for children is what inspired him. Though his son graduated Santa Fe High School last year, Carrillo said he’s still committed to improving public schools in Santa Fe.
“I have a lot more to contribute,” he said. “Being in service of public education and kids has been the greatest joy of my life.”
Carrillo said his work isn’t nearly done yet.
“I personally will not be satisfied until our graduation rate is in the mid to high 80s and proficiency rates are in the 60s for English and 50s for math.”
SFPS’s graduation rate and proficiency scores have improved, but at a slow rate. The graduation rate stands at 73%, while the latest proficiency scores were 31% and 18% in English and math, respectively.
“We have a ways to go,” he said.
But Carrillo thinks he can help make a difference, and that he already has.
“I have a list of 40 things, I’m not exaggerating, that I’ve been a part of in eight years,” he said. “It’s really a checklist of everything I’ve accomplished. Everything I said I would do in 20111, I’ve accomplished.”
Carrillo rattled off a number of things that have happened during his tenure, including the construction of Nina Otero Community School and El Camino Real Academy, and renovation of Atalya Elementary; making art and music core subjects; and passage of bond financing measures, including those paying for technology upgrades.
“We now have the best digital technology program in the state, bar none,” he said.
He was also instrumental in passing resolutions rejecting funding from the NRA for the ROTC program and urging the state Legislature to raise the minimum age to buy tobacco products to 21 to help combat the harmful effects of vaping.
“I met with the lieutenant governor recently and it looks like that will be on the docket in the next session,” he said.
He was perhaps former superintendent Joel Boyd’s greatest ally on the board.
“I think hiring Joel Boyd was a big accomplishment, in saying OK, enough is enough, we have to make a change,” he said. “Now I know that Joel was controversial in some ways, but we had tremendous growth in those three-and-a-half, four years.”
Carrillo is not afraid to take a stand, or speak his mind. That has sometimes led to “spirited” discussions, some would say clashes, with fellow board members and Superintendent Veronica Garcia.
“People see conflict as somehow a negative; I don’t,” Carrillo said. “I think conflict is what gets you to discuss things in an authentic way and move to reach common ground.”
Carrillo cast the lone vote against extending García’s contract in June. In March, the school board voted him out as its president, choosing Kate Noble instead.
“I know that you’re very challenged by my outspokenness in some ways,” Carrillo told his fellow board member then. “I will say that I’m at the Legislature constantly. I’m at public events constantly. I’m a very positive public figure for the district, and I would hope that you don’t let your emotional feelings toward me get in the way of my service.”
Both candidates have pretty good voting records. According to County Clerk records, Carrillo has missed voting in only one election since the general election in 2010. The one he missed was a vote on a general obligation bond to provide the school district with $100 million in funding for green building initiatives, district-wide facility improvements and construction.
Gonzales didn’t vote in the September 2017 election proposing to increase gross receipts taxes on sales within Santa Fe County. She also didn’t vote in the municipal election in 2012 or the school bond election that same year.