New Mexico Senate confirms Arsenio Romero as new public education chief - Albuquerque Journal

New Mexico Senate confirms Arsenio Romero as new public education chief

Education Secretary Arsenio Romero thanks the Senate after being confirmed to lead the state education department on Wednesday. Romero’s confirmation comes after a “revolving door” of cabinet secretaries, but supporters say he’s uniquely suited to the job. (Eddie Moore/Albuquerque Journal)

There’s a new sheriff in town in New Mexico public education.

On a 34-0 vote, the state Senate on Wednesday confirmed former Los Lunas Schools Superintendent Arsenio Romero to be New Mexico’s top public education official, less than two months after his predecessor retired after about a year and a half on the job.

“My whole life has led me up to this moment,” Romero told the Journal in an interview. “This is probably one of the biggest days of my life.”

Romero’s confirmation comes a little over a year after his predecessor, former Education Secretary Kurt Steinhaus, officially entered the post. Steinhaus retired in late January, citing a need to focus on his family and health.

Romero, who was named to the position by Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham in late February, marks her fourth appointment to lead the state Public Education Department in four-plus years.

But he says New Mexico’s going to be “stuck with me for a long time.”

“I’m here for the long haul, … and together, we’re going to do amazing things,” Romero said.

Sen. Crystal Diamond, R-Elephant Butte, said there’s been a “revolving door” of cabinet secretaries — including at the PED — but said that some of the onus is on state legislators to help them succeed.

“If we don’t work with you, and commit to coming up with solutions with you, there’s no hope at all,” she said. “We will provide anything that (we) can do to help you be as successful as you can, because the more successful you are, the more successful New Mexico students are.”

Romero’s to do list

Improving reading proficiency, graduating more students and serving New Mexico’s most underrepresented students are the top items on Romero’s agenda, he said.

“I believe that we can do this fast, I don’t think it’s going to take a long time to get where we start to see some dramatic progress,” he said.

Romero singled out the Yazzie-Martinez lawsuit, which in 2018 yielded a decision finding that Indigenous students, economically disadvantaged students, English learners and those with disabilities weren’t being provided a sufficient education system.

To serve those students, Romero said he plans to carry the torch on the state’s separate Black, Indian and Hispanic education acts, and highlighted House Bill 285, dubbed the Special Education Act, which is making its way through the Roundhouse.

He said the department will also aim to be more transparent with families, and create more accessible ways for them to access data.

‘This is who we’ve wanted’

A dozen people, some from Romero’s past lives in school roles, lined up to speak in support of his confirmation on Wednesday, and several legislators seemed to echo their thoughts.

“This is who we’ve wanted as secretary for a long time,” Senate President Pro Tem Mimi Stewart, D-Albuquerque, said. “He started at five years old in his mother’s first-grade classroom, (and) he basically hasn’t left education since.”

“Finally, he’s in the spot where we’ve all thought he needed to be for a long time,” she added.

Romero will make a $200,000 annual salary as PED secretary.

Before he was the Los Lunas superintendent, Romero also led the Deming school district, and has served on the New Mexico State University Board of Regents. He went from being a teacher to a principal before going into district leadership roles.

But stepping up to the statewide plate is an entirely different ballgame, lawmakers pointed out.

“It is not an easy job, you have your work cut out for you,” Sen. Gay Kernan, R-Hobbs, said. “But I am so confident that you’re going to do a great job.”

Romero said he’s ready for the challenge.

“Now, instead of having the ability to only affect one classroom at a time as a teacher, or the ability to affect one school at a time as a principal, or the ability to affect one district at a time as a superintendent — now, I have the opportunity to affect the entire state,” he said.

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