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The Legislative Education Study Committee has named a new leader – about eight months after its last director quit amid controversy.
Gwen Perea Warniment was selected after three finalists were interviewed for the position Tuesday morning.
Committee Chairman Sen. William Soules, D-Las Cruces, described her as “exceedingly qualified, and committed to the education system and children of New Mexico.”
“It’s a little bit of a dream job,” Perea Warniment told the Journal. “This is a critical role because it serves a bipartisan, bicameral committee, which means that it’s about cultivating and/or encouraging that we listen to one another. And that’s a huge thing for this committee to model for the rest of the state.”
Perea Warniment, 46, is already a leader in the state Public Education Department, currently serving as its deputy secretary of Teaching, Learning and Assessment. She’ll step into the director role in late May or early June, according to a news release.
As director, Perea Warniment will manage a staff of analysts who conduct a continuing study of laws, policies and costs related to education in New Mexico. The LESC, made up of 31 state legislators, also recommends funding levels for public education and changes in education-related laws.
Perea Warniment’s salary is currently being negotiated, LESC spokeswoman Helen Gaussoin said. The committee’s acting director currently makes around $135,500, Gaussoin said, and as a deputy secretary Perea Warniment made about $135,900.
Perea Warniment said she was especially honored to be selected because she’s from New Mexico and because she’s an “educator at heart.”
Before her time as a deputy secretary, she worked on science education as a program director for the Los Alamos National Laboratory Foundation. She also served as an instructional coach and teacher in public schools.
She said her priorities as director will primarily be to serve the LESC and its staff. In that role, she said her job is to facilitate gathering evidence-based best practices with “voices from across New Mexico” to help inform legislators in reaching the outcomes everyone is looking for.
“Supporting staff is sort of initial … I want to be able to listen to the Legislature, or this committee in particular,” she said. “Then I want to be able to support them in making those decisions.”
At the same time, she said she also hopes to address New Mexico’s “workforce crisis.” That includes teacher vacancies and problems with retention, issues she said also extend to instructional support providers and other school staff.
“This workforce crisis that we’re enduring in the state seems to be, in my mind, the most fundamental to being able to ensure or enact any other policy that we want to see happening,” she said.
The other finalists were Language and Culture Division Director Mayra Valtierrez and former Central Consolidated School District Superintendent Daniel Benavidez. The three finalists were selected out of a pool of 12 applicants.
The committee’s former director, Rachel Gudgel, resigned in September following allegations she made disparaging comments about Native Americans.
Legislative staff wouldn’t release the findings of a personnel investigation, making it unclear what she was accused of saying and what allegations were substantiated.
Many called for her resignation or for her to be removed, including tribal leaders. Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham said she would have fired Gudgel if she worked for the administration.