Luis Valentino, a high-ranking administrator with San Francisco Public Schools who has 28 years of experience in education, was named by the Albuquerque Public Schools board on Saturday as the district’s next superintendent.
The school board announced it had chosen Valentino over two other finalists Saturday afternoon after meeting in closed session for several hours. The seven-member board approved the selection unanimously.
“We are confident our new superintendent will celebrate equity, excellence and diversity,” school board president Don Duran said during a news conference Saturday.
The board still has to finalize a contract with Valentino.
Duran expects that will be done this week, after which the details of the contract will be made public, he said.
The other finalists were:
- Almudena Abeyta, an Albuquerque native and currently the deputy superintendent for teaching and learning for Santa Fe Public Schools.
- Michael Cardona, chief school officer for Houston Independent Schools.
As chief of APS, Valentino will oversee a district with about 88,000 students, 14,000 employees and a $690 million operating budget. He plans to start in his new role on July 1, he said, but will be traveling between San Francisco and Albuquerque in the coming months to meet with the board and familiarize himself with the district.
Valentino said he plans to “hit the ground listening,” – noting he stole the line from Abeyta – by traveling around the district and listening to teachers, students and community members.
Valentino said he will create a 90-day plan during his first three months in office that he will share with the board in October. The plan will outline his goals and plans for APS going forward, he said.
An El Paso native, Valentino said that he stumbled into education more or less by accident while living in Los Angeles.
“I will tell you my reasons for going in were not very honorable. I thought I was going to be there two to three years and now I’m going on 28 years,” Valentino told the crowd during a community forum for the superintendent finalists Thursday.
Valentino started his career in education teaching in a bilingual classroom in Los Angeles, where he quickly realized his love of education, he said.
“Coming in I was working in a different industry. Six weeks in, just in those six weeks, I realized I’d found my calling. I resigned from the job I had taken leave from,” he said.
Valentino worked as a bilingual teacher for about five years, from 1988 to 1993, according to the résumé he submitted to APS.
From there, he held a series of education-related positions until 2000 when he became principal of Evelyn Thurman Gratts Elementary School in Los Angeles, a position he held through 2007. He had earned his doctorate in education from UCLA in 1997.
Between becoming a teacher and a principal, Valentino said, he focused on helping students who had been marginalized by society and the school system.
“As I was moving up, for me it was really critical to address the needs of marginalized populations of students because that was what I had been exposed to,” he said. “My whole career has really been spent in helping to address the inequities that exist in the system to ensure that all students are successful.”
In 2007, he became director of school services for the Los Angeles Unified School District, according to his résumé.
Five years later, in 2012, the San Francisco Unified School district hired him to his current position as associate superintendent of curriculum and chief academic officer.
During community forums held last week, and again on Saturday, Valentino said he wanted to come to APS because he believed the district was committed to transforming students for the better. He said schools are among the few institutions that can change society.
Since August, APS has been working under interim Superintendent Brad Winter, who had retired as APS chief operating officer last spring. Winter said all along he had no interest in pursuing the permanent superintendent position.
On Saturday, Duran thanked Winter for coming out of retirement to run the district on an interim basis.
“His dedication, his support for APS has been unfailing,” Duran said.
Although APS has been without a permanent superintendent since August, the search for a new superintendent did not ramp up until earlier this year.
Board members said they wanted to wait until after the February school board elections because there could be new members on the board – which there are.
Both Barbara Petersen and Peggy Muller-Aragon joined the board in March after winning election in February.
The initial deadline for applications for the superintendent position was March 2, but the board then extended its overall search timeline, citing a need to accommodate all board members’ schedules. The board extended the application deadline to March 31.
In total there were 59 applications for the position, including 44 in the first wave.
On April 2, the board met in closed session for seven hours to whittle the list down to six semifinalists.
Those candidates interviewed with the board during a nearly 10-hour closed meeting on Thursday, and the board narrowed the pool to the three finalists.
Once on Thursday night and then three times on Friday, the finalists answered questions during public question-and-answer forums.
APS parted ways with former superintendent Winston Brooks in August when the school board bought out the last two years of his contract for $350,000.
Board members have not said why they wanted to replace Brooks.
Board President Analee Maestas had hired an attorney to investigate an undisclosed “serious personnel issue” involving Brooks, and the board agreed to keep it in a secret personnel file.
Because the board did not make public information about how it decided to buy out Brooks, the Journal and KOB-TV filed an Inspection of Public Records Act request, which APS denied.
The Journal and KOB filed a lawsuit in January against the APS board over its refusal to make public several records, including an attorney’s report that led to Brooks’ resignation.