ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — After an almost 10-hour closed meeting Thursday that included candidate interviews and deliberations, the Albuquerque Public Schools board emerged shortly before 5 p.m. to announce three superintendent finalists.
- Almudena Abeyta, deputy superintendent for teaching and learning for Santa Fe Public Schools.
- Michael Cardona, chief school officer for Houston Independent Schools.
- Luis Valentino, associate superintendent/chief academic officer for San Francisco United School District.
Semifinalists who didn’t make the cut were: Veronica Garcia, executive director of New Mexico Voices for Children and former New Mexico Public Education Department secretary; Angelica Ramsey, chief academic officer for Santa Clara County Office of Education, Santa Clara, Calif.; and Rolando Trevino, superintendent of schools for Lockhart Independent School District, Lockhart, Texas.
After the board came out of closed session, members voted unanimously to trim the list of semifinalists down to the three finalists.
“I think it would be unfair to say what separated these candidates,” said APS school board President Don Duran. “It was a very difficult decision.”
Duran said one of the key questions posed to the candidates was how they would lead the district in closing “opportunity gaps” for disadvantaged students, and it was one to the topics the finalists addressed during a community forum Thursday night.
About an hour after the board announced the finalists, the candidates took part in a question-and-answer session with the public inside the board chambers. People at the forum, which drew a large crowd, wrote questions down on paper slips, which were read by a moderator.
The forum was structured so each candidate was brought out individually to address the crowd, and they all fielded the same questions.
Closing achievement gaps, promoting bilingual education, and engaging students and the community were common themes touched on by the three finalists during their session with the public.
An Albuquerque native, Abeyta said she has plenty of history with APS and the city.
She graduated from Del Norte High School and received her bachelor’s degree from the University of New Mexico, and spent time teaching in the city at Mary Ann Binford Elementary from 2001 to 2003.
“Growing up here I understand that Albuquerque is extremely diverse. There is a lot of need here … We have to focus in on instruction to make sure wherever our kids go to school – whether it be on the east side or the south side or the west side – they are attending schools that are providing rigourous instruction,” Abeyta said.
While she currently works for Santa Fe Public Schools, Abeyta also spent time working as a principal and assistant superintendent in Boston Public Schools, during which time she earned her doctorate degree from Harvard.
Cardona, the chief school officer for Houston Independent Schools, said he is a strong believer that all children are capable of learning at a high level and should be given the opportunity to do that in school. He also said APS is capable of great things.
“When I see Albuquerque, when I see the kids – I was at Rio Grande High School today – I see myself in some ways. I see a lot of what I grew up with, I see the high school I led, I see the potential. … We should be a model for the nation,” he said.
He also said that he is prepared to lead a diverse district like Albuquerque because the Houston school district he currently works in is the most diverse in the nation.
Cardona has been the chief school officer for Houston Independent Schools since 2012, where he oversees middle and charter schools, according to his resume.
Prior to that, he served as principal of Robert E. Lee High School in Houston from 2009 to 2012.
Valentino, the associate superintendent and chief academic officer for San Francisco schools, said it was in part because of a motto about student transformation he saw on the APS website that he was inspired to go after the superintendent position.
“I want to say that I would like to lead an environment that believes in helping students transcend their real or perceived limitations toward high levels of achievement,” Valentino said.
Valentino, an El Paso native, has been an associate superintendent in San Francisco Public Schools since 2012, overseeing curriculum matters.
Previously, from 2007 to 2012, he worked as director of school services in the Los Angeles School District.
He also once served as principal at Evelyn Thurman Gratts Elementary School in Los Angeles.
Three more community forums will be held there today from 7-8:30 a.m.; 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m.; and 4-5:30 p.m. at the Alice & Bruce King Educational Complex.
On Saturday morning, the board will conduct second interviews with the candidates and possibly pick the next superintendent.
In total, 59 people applied for the job. The board whittled the field down to six semifinalists last week after reviewing candidate resumes during a seven-hour closed meeting.
Current position: Deputy superintendent for teaching and learning for Santa Fe Public Schools
Education: Harvard University, Graduate School of Education, Cambridge, Mass., Doctor of Education, Urban Superintendents Program, June 2013
Current position: Chief school officer for Houston Independent Schools
Education: Master of Science, Educational Administration, Texas A&M University, Kingsville, 1995. Seeking Ed.D, Co-hort Educational Administration Program, Texas A&M University, College Station. Expected completion in December 2015
Current position: Associate superintendent/chief academic officer for San Francisco United School District
Education: Ed.D of Education Leadership, University of California at Los Angeles, 1997
*Based on résumés candidates submitted to APS