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Winter wants to build bridges, cut drama

Copyright © 2014 Albuquerque Journal

Brad Winter, the new interim head of Albuquerque Public Schools, said Monday that he will welcome opinions from the community – unlike his predecessor, Winston Brooks.

Brooks often refused to work with community and business groups, which created animosity toward APS and damaged its reputation, Winter said Monday in an interview with the Journal.

“I could not work for him anymore,” Winter said, explaining he was fed up with what he described as Brooks’ unwillingness to work with the business community, the state Public Education Department and neighborhood groups.

Winter said that, while he found it difficult to work with Brooks, he had planned to retire as APS’ chief operating officer in May anyway. Winter rescinded his retirement after the school board selected him to become interim superintendent Aug. 22, but he has said he will not seek the position permanently.

Winter also holds a seat on the Albuquerque City Council.

Brooks could not be reached for comment Monday.

The school board decided Aug. 15 to buy out the last two years of Brooks’ contract for $350,000. He was earning $250,000 a year in salary, plus benefits.

Winter said his top goals are to repair relationships with the community, reduce truancy and eliminate “drama” at district headquarters.

“People out there, they are angry,” he said, because many believed APS didn’t want partnerships.

Winter said he has made it a point to meet with community and business groups during his first three weeks on the job.

One was the Southwest Alliance of Neighborhoods, whose members were happy to see him, President Johnny Peña said.

Peña said that, although the alliance had extended an invitation to Brooks, the former superintendent never met with them.

“Dr. Winter did come and made it clear he’s available,” Peña said.

The alliance told Winter it would like APS to place a greater focus on early childhood education and truancy, helping students in poor and single-family households, Peña said.

Winter agreed and said cutting down on truancy will go a long way toward improving student achievement in the district. There were 13,941 habitually truant students in APS in 2013, the last year for which data is available.

Winter said he’s also tried to improve relations with Education Secretary-designate Hanna Skandera and the Public Education Department. The relationship had been chilly in recent years after Brooks and school board members criticized the state’s new teacher evaluations and school grades – which are top PED initiatives under Skandera. Brooks was roundly criticized last year after he tweeted disparaging remarks about Skandera.

Brooks was suspended without pay for three days, and Winter at the time met with Skandera and Gov. Susana Martinez to try to mend the relationship.

But the relationship remained frigid, Winter said.

“Winston just had a profound effect on those folks. Nobody (at PED) wanted to work with him,” Winter said, adding he’s talked with Skandera since becoming interim superintendent.

Skandera said she hopes there can be an ongoing dialogue between her department and APS.

“It was a good start,” Skandera said Monday of her recent conversations with Winter.

Board President Analee Maestas and member Marty Esquivel have said that, although they have differences with the department over teacher evaluations and some other policy issues, they want APS to work with the PED.

That opinion is not shared across the board. Board member Kathy Korte has said it would be fruitless to open dialogue with the PED because she doubts the department would compromise on key policy issues.

Winter said Brooks at times unnecessarily clashed with other local governments. He pointed to a recent tiff with Bernalillo County over the pool at Rio Grande High School.

Bernalillo County, which owns the pool, ran out of money to complete a $3.6 million renovation needed to keep the pool open and Brooks balked at the county’s request that APS chip in $400,000 to finish project.

Brooks argued the district has a set system for funding capital projects, in which infrastructure projects are based on a needs analysis. He said funding the pool would undermine the district’s normal funding process.

While that was true, another option was available, Winter said. He said the amount requested was small enough that the district could tap the money needed from its operational budget. In the end, APS agreed to give $200,000 from its operational fund to the project after the city agreed to pitch in $200,000, too.

Winter’s contract with the school board extends through June 30 and includes a $200,000 base salary. Winter said he expects the board could hire a permanent superintendent by May 1.

He noted board members have said they won’t select a new superintendent until after the board elections in February. Korte, Esquivel and Maestas are all up for re-election.