ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — One of the semifinalists for Albuquerque Public Schools’ superintendent job has instead taken a top post with the state Public Education Department.
And it’s a position that oversees efforts at the heart of a major education lawsuit that found the state wasn’t meeting its constitutional obligation of providing a sufficient education to all students, namely those considered at risk, such as those with a disability or students from low-income families.
Vickie Bannerman is the new deputy secretary for the Identity, Equity and Transformation division of PED, which she started this month , and she says she’s ready to bring candor and collaboration to the role.
“If we can just think about the title, right? ‘Identity, equity and transformation’ — those three words are just paramount, fundamentally solid in everything I try to do,” she said.
She said she’s been an equity advocate in APS for about two years and has experience as a teacher and substitute teacher, among other administrative roles.
She told the Journal that she’s tried to have an “equity lens” throughout her career.
“There is no such thing as a one-size-fits-all anything, not even in clothes. You may say one size fits all, but it’s not true and it’s the same in education,” she said.
While Bannerman said she’s “very familiar” with the Yazzie, Martinez lawsuit and its findings, she admits there’s more to learn.
“I think there will be a learning curve starting any new position,” she said.
She’s familiar with the needs students have, coming to the job after serving as principal at Volcano Vista High School in Albuquerque since 2017.
And she’s seen firsthand how important it is to get students instruction that is relevant to their culture and experiences.
“I think about books like, you know, ‘Tom Sawyer’ and ‘Huckleberry Finn,’ ” she said. “We teach these when the N-word is expressed upwards of 200 times. Now, what does a child think about that? I was that child who sat in the classroom and was told to read that book because it’s one of the greats. I didn’t find it that great,” she said.
In her work at Volcano Vista, Bannerman said, she emphasized making sure students identified positively with lessons that also taught history in context.
Bannerman was a semifinalist for APS’ superintendent post, but she took herself out of the running to lead the PED division.
“I did not want this to be a pit stop position for me,” she said.
Bannerman said she jumped at the chance to make differences in education statewide versus at one district.
She said that while the PED has provided good road maps in the form of policies and rules, she’s looking to help push that further into action at the school level.
“Once you have the blueprint, then it becomes up to districts to really start to think about: ‘OK, we have a guideline, but what does it really look like for our schools, our students?’
“I know our state is ready for action. So, here I am to support an amazing team that currently exists in PED, to help move them from documentation to action, to help increase the accountability of districts doing what it is that they say they will do.”
To get there, she will focus on teamwork. She wants more partnerships across bureaucratic lines, including between districts and the department.
She acknowledged there may be distrust — whether between schools and their district or between districts and the PED — to overcome. But she wants to take that on to make collaboration more than a buzzword.
She’s also open to changing how things are done, including equity councils, part of a response to the Yazzie, Martinez findings.
The councils, made up of school personnel, community members and others, were designed to play a part in assessing how schools are helping at-risk students. But they got pushback from school leaders originally.
She said she will examine the effectiveness of initiatives already in place.
“Anything that is not doing what it was intended to do is on the table for reconsideration,” she said.
Bannerman was inspired by family members to pursue a career in education.
Her aunt was a teacher, and her mother was an educational assistant whom Bannerman saw positively affect students.
“I don’t think there’s anything else I could have done,” Bannerman said.
Bannerman succeeds Kara Bobroff, who resigned July 1. Bannerman’s yearly salary as deputy secretary is $130,000.
“Every time I start a new job, that’s all I ask: Give me a shot,” she said.