Copyright © 2021 Albuquerque Journal
A native New Mexican and a proud product of the state’s public education system, Kurt Steinhaus has spent his entire career in education-related fields in the Land of Enchantment.
From years in the classroom to joining the state Department of Education to working at Los Alamos National Laboratories to overseeing the Los Alamos Public Schools, he’s seen all sides of the education field.
But he says it’s his wife and “life partner” Jo Beth who keeps him grounded when it comes to leading the state’s Public Education Department.
As the recently appointed secretary-designate of PED, Steinhaus faces multiple major challenges — helping students catch up following a year of remote learning, keeping schools in-person despite the COVID-19 surge, meeting legal mandates to create a more equitable distribution of financial and material support to districts, improving graduation rates and reducing dropout rates, and, of course, trying to raise low literacy levels among the student population.
But Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham is convinced he’s the right person for the job.
“The state of New Mexico is immensely fortunate to have Dr. Steinhaus leading public education,” she said. “His deep and varied experience, his relationships throughout the state, his commitment to growth and well-being of the human beings who populate our schools are all part of what will make him successful as a leader and administrator in this role, as he has been successful in his previous leadership roles.”
Lujan Grisham added that Steinhaus has “all the tools to keep moving the ball forward” as he leads the effort to transform New Mexico’s public school system.
“I look forward to a successful year of literacy,” she said.
Steinhaus replaced Ryan Stewart, from Philadelphia, who held the position for two years and stepped down to return home as his father struggles with an increasingly severe illness.
The new PED chief is no stranger to Santa Fe. He previously worked in the PED building where he was the department’s deputy secretary as well as Pre-K (pre-kindergarten) czar and education policy adviser to Gov. Bill Richardson. Before that, he was an adviser to Gov. Garrey Carruthers.
It was under Richardson that Steinhaus did research about improving and enhancing Pre-K services and funding. He wrote a bill that was presented to the state Legislature. It ultimately passed by one vote and provided $3 million to get Pre-K started in New Mexico.
Family, early spark
Steinhaus, 67, was born in Los Alamos and attended Los Alamos High School.
“My parents are from back East — Maryland. My father was a physicist and my mother was a social worker,” Steinhaus said. “My father got a job at Los Alamos and they said, ‘We’ll stay a couple of years.’ They never left. They just loved this place.”
While at Los Alamos High, he participated in speech and debate and was a member of the Olions thespian club. He also took up the French horn and played in the all-state competition — and continues to play today.
“I think I started my education career when I was still in high school, and I got offered a job to be a YMCA camp counselor,” he said. “So during the summers, I worked with groups of kids, and I thought, ‘Hey, this is pretty cool stuff.’ And I liked working with kids.”
Steinhaus parlayed his interest in music into a music scholarship at Eastern New Mexico University, where he also earned a master’s degree in music. He earned a second master’s degree in education technology from the University of Oregon.
Steinhaus did his student teaching at Los Alamos High School and subsequently took a job teaching music at Alamogordo High School in the mornings and at the Holloman Middle School in the afternoons.
It was at ENMU that he met Jo Beth Glascock. She graduated with a degree in music and also was hired to teach music at the high school in Alamogordo.
During the 11 years they were in Alamogordo, they married and have remained so for 44 years. Their daughter Valerie is a software engineer at Los Alamos National Laboratory, and son Kent is a hydrology engineer in Colorado.
“And then I got a job offer to come be part of the research and evaluation unit here in this (PED) building. We had two kids, and I thought this would be a great opportunity,” Steinhaus said. “Every time there was a promotion, I applied for it. I got promoted eight times in 11 years.”
Technology for Education
Steinhaus embraced the opportunity to develop a statewide technology plan, “which included building an infrastructure for remote learning,” and in 1994, he said, “we passed the first Technology for Education Act.”
While at PED, Steinhaus applied for and received a grant from UNM to get his doctorate in education. His work in developing the statewide technology plan allowed him to interact with folks at the national labs at Sandia and Los Alamos. Out of those contacts, he later wound up with a job at Los Alamos National Laboratory.
“I was running their education programs and their student pipeline programs, which gave me experience about what the private sector needs from us in public education,” Steinhaus said. And that was “very valuable” later in his roles as superintendent for Los Alamos Public Schools and now cabinet secretary for the PED.
Steinhaus retired as Los Alamos Public Schools superintendent after six years. “I went to graduation on May 30, spoke at the graduation, and got in my car and went camping with my wife on the South Rim of the Grand Canyon.”
Retirement, however, didn’t last long. He soon got a phone call asking him to come back and serve as the head of PED.
Steinhaus, who has played French horn with various groups and brass quintets, hasn’t had much time lately to continue that pursuit. He remains, however, an avid runner, having competed in 21 marathons in 19 states. His goal: run a marathon in every state.