New education chief hopes to unite New Mexico educators, officials

Public Education Secretary Ryan Stewart said in July he had been in Philadelphia for most of the last four months with his wife and son. That revelation led legislators to introduce a bill requiring Cabinet secretaries to live in the state.

As the Public Education Department and school districts across New Mexico have scrambled to respond to a health crisis that turned the spring semester upside down, forced budget cuts and continues to throw campus reopening plans in limbo, the state’s top education official has been leading from afar.

Cabinet Secretary Ryan Stewart said in a phone interview Monday he has been in Philadelphia for most of the last four months with his wife and son.

The Public Education Department has had some top-level turnover in recent weeks: Both Deputy Secretary Kara Bobroff and communications director Nancy Martira resigned this month.

Stewart doesn’t see his location as an obstacle. “I can assure all New Mexicans there is not substantive difference in my ability to perform this job,” he said.

He’s been on the job for less than a year. Stewart lived in Philadelphia before he was hired to lead the Public Education Department in August 2019. His wife and son had planned to move to New Mexico to be with him, he said, but that was delayed by the COVID-19 pandemic.

He remained in Santa Fe for a few weeks in March after the pandemic forced school closures and disrupted in-person learning. Then he returned to Philadelphia, Stewart said.

He returned to Santa Fe for the five-day special legislative session in June, when lawmakers responded to a massive budget shortfall from the economic effects of the pandemic.

He’s been back in Philadelphia since the session ended, Stewart said, but he plans to return to New Mexico in early August. He will quarantine for two weeks and be ready to visit schools if they reopen.

“My work really doesn’t stop,” Stewart said. “It just starts a couple hours earlier. The only difference is which room I happen to be sitting in for Zoom calls all day — my living room here or in my apartment in Santa Fe.”

He spoke with Gov. Lujan Grisham about his desire to work out of state, he added.

Tripp Stelnicki, a spokesman for the governor, said in an email, “Working out of state is permitted, but it’s not necessarily something we encourage” on a long-term basis.

“If we hired someone from Alaska, say, we wouldn’t say, ‘OK, you can go ahead and work for the state from Alaska indefinitely.’ We would want that person to move here and quarantine and begin work as soon as it’s safe to do so,” he said.

However, Stelnicki said Lujan Grisham has not held in-person meetings in months, even with Cabinet secretaries, except for her nearly weekly virtual news conferences, which are livestreamed on Facebook. Those events are limited to three people or fewer, who all are screened for symptoms of COVID-19 before coming in close contact, Stelnicki said.

Veronica García, superintendent of Santa Fe Public Schools, said she had not noticed Stewart was working from out of state.

“I hadn’t noticed anything of concern,” she said. “If the secretary hadn’t shared he was working from Philadelphia, I would have no way of knowing if he was in his office on Don Gaspar, his home in Santa Fe or in Philadelphia. The Public Education Department’s communication and responsiveness have been excellent.”

Santa Fe Public Schools was one of several districts in the state that announced last week it would start classes remotely next month due to surging numbers of cases of the virus that causes COVID-19.

Most districts and charter schools have submitted contingency plans for how they will safely and effectively provide three types of education as the pandemic continues: a completely remote model, a full return to classrooms and a hybrid model that combines distance learning with in-person classes.

Stewart said many of the state’s roughly 89 school districts and 100 charter schools are planning to start the new year with a hybrid model of learning — unless the governor orders campuses to remain closed.

“For educators this year, we’re going into something that is completely unprecedented, so we’re going to have to be flexible to move across those reentry models, given what happens with the virus and whether or not there is an outbreak,” Stewart said.

“The expectation is that plenty — maybe not quite most, but plenty — of districts will come back in the hybrid model next month,” he added.

(30) comments

Ted Nugent

I've gotta hand it to Mr. Ryan Stewart. I'm pay State of NM income taxes, supporting [his] lifestyle in Pennsylvania. Mr. Stewart, you're good! You are taking teleworking to a whole new level, Senor. Congrats. Here the State of NM is now faced with multiple issues concerning k-12, and you get to vote absentee from your living room recliner in PA. Post some pics, brother. Let me know that my tax dollar is well spent.

Barbara Barlow

After 4 years of commuting, we relocated from Chicago and spent 6 years in St. Louis. the airlines missed the income!

Barbara Barlow

As the senior executive in the New Mexico education system, which has more than proved its need for an experienced , hands on and creative manager and team builder, this man betrays a lack of experience and judgment working out of Philadelphia. Especially because he has no prior experience in our circumstances, our unique needs, capabilities and the personalities involved in achieving his department's objectives.

Even if he had come up thru the ranks, assuming responsibility for the complexities of his new job as Number One, demands living, eating and breathing it 24/7....on site.

coronavirus, and its restrictions notwithstanding.

He will never, ever leave his philly cheese steak sandwiches behind in exchange for a burrito with christmas !

i know, because i commuted for four years between my home in chicago and office in st louis until it sold. i was at my desk mondays at 8 AM and left for the airport fridays at 5:30 PM when my employees began their 15 minute drives home.

Paul Davis

I don't know Ryan Stewart in any way. I can however assure you that it is possible to live in Philadelphia for 22 years and never once eat a cheesesteak. It is also possible to prefer a burrito in any style (R/G/C) over the cheesesteak.

Lupe Molina

What's the problem here? He's working remotely like anyone else. And why is this front page news?

Sloan Cunningham


paul pacheco

See what happens when you elect a native New Mexican but who hires highly paid administrators from out of state who can’t take care of their own states! Pat yourselves on the back people who voted for MLG; yet highly educated true New Mexicans are passed over! Go figure…..

Robert Nowak

At first, I was thinking - ok, fair enough. The meetings and work have been fine to do remotely. But then I thought about what I learn from just living here, even though We very strictly quarantine, mask, do everything as safely as we can. Knowing what the day-to-day is like here, seeing how people act, how they mask or don’t, is info he can’t possibly get from the east coast. And if his family were here, too, he’d have different insights. See the lines at the grocery stores, see the empty shelves, see the prices go up, see the kids and teens in the parks playing basketball, not distancing, I can’t guess what might be different where he is living now, and he can’t guess what it’s like here, now. So I won’t blast him for not being here in Santa Fe, but I think he can make better decisions if he relocates here as soon as it can be done, with decent precautions for safety.

Chris Mechels

Sounds like the Governor is in a cocoon also, just as we suspected. At least King Webber checks out reality on occassion, but MLG just hides. Perhaps she doesn't trust her little homemade mask "face covering"?? Perhaps an N-95 could bring her out?? She and Tripp, and Nora, hiding in the office, exhorting us to be good or they will spank us, or have DPS spank us...

For the Governor's view on "leadership", and the Secr of Health's, check out an upcoming Rules Hearing on Thursday morning. A secret "Emergency Rule" which allows them to punish us, with a $5,000 fine, and have a hearing, created by them, in which we have NO RIGHTS. Pure thuggery, denying the citizens rights, in the dark; Check it out, get mad, show up.... Four Emergency Rulemakings in March; simply yell "Emergency" and do what you want. MLG has a funny idea about Democracy; where SHE has rights, and WE don't... for details;

Matthew Trujillo

This seems to be the norm with high payed government employees. It is not a matter of what is convenient. How do we as New Mexicans trust a person working from the comfort of his home from the east coast. This to me shows he has no stake in New Mexico ,when he is not even working or living in New Mexico. This does not instill confidence in a government employee who live on the other side of the country. Governor Grishm correct this!! Another question arises. Who is paying for these flights to and from the east coast. I think Larry Barker should do a special investigations. I would bet that this would reveal government waste spending and potential fraud. Remember the Larry Barker Investigation into state employees claiming on time sheets that they were at work. This investigation clearly revealed employees not being at their office and claiming they had worked those day. Open you eyes Governor this doesn't look good when you don't know your own cabinet Secretary isn't in his office.

Al Chavez

I'm sure Stewart can do a good 90% of his job remotely--he would be doing it that way anyway during the pandemic. But it's that other 10% that bothers me a bit. It's the 10% that involves being here, getting the *feel* of the state—going to the grocery store, picking up New Mexican take out, filling up at the gas station, walking around in the New Mexican outdoors, and meeting with people while physically distancing. That 10% is hard to get from Philly. I mean, a Philly cheesesteak sandwich just doesn't compare with a good green chile cheeseburger. C'mon man, get back here....

Navidad Campbell

I support the Governor, but this is a bad look for her administration. He needs to either move here and stay, or think about moving on. No matter if he can make it work from PA. It's never happened before, and cannot be a new normal for such a high level position. MLG, you don't need distractions like this while you deal with a pandemic in our state.

Mr. John Martinez

Anyway Wallace Boston. I didn't say it was best practice that he's Philly but it isn't necessary that he's in NM, the productivity can be just same. The typewriter is gone, the carburetor is gone, the rotary phone is gone. In 1983 my niece was born in Germany while my brother was stationed in an US Army base there. A 15 minute phone call was $20. Today, that niece lives in London and I can reach her 24 hours a day on a Free video call. Things change. Move forward.


MLG pandering to him because she is afraid he will quit her too

Mike Johnson

Not only an unqualified, out of touch carpetbagger, but an absentee official as well. So typical for an MLG appointee.

Mr. John Martinez

Sounds like the SFPS superintendent didn't even have a clue he wasn't in Santa Fe. Also, in a state as large as NM he couldn't be in all places at once, so those meetings with other superintendents would be held online anyway. It's ok to let go of the horse and buggy and get a motorized car. We might get to where we need to go, faster.

Wallace Boston

The SFPS Sup doesn't have a clue about a lot of things so that's probably not a good analogy.

Mr. John Martinez

It's not a big deal, just proves that in a modern world many jobs can be done from remote locations...the same for remote learning. If you can read, write, do math, problem solve and share the information the location isn't the most important thing. Come into the 21st century.

Wallace Boston

This state is in the middle of a pandemic. School aged children, their teachers, and parents are struggling with what to do with the upcoming school year and the SECRETARY OF EDUCATION is working remotely in the east coast. I'm all for working remotely in this modern age, but certain things require boots on the ground as another comments mentioned. We need the Secretary to be holding meetings in person with Superintendents, Principals, teacher unions, parents, students, oh and with the Governor.

Katherine Martinez

Mr. Martinez, from one Martinez to another, you are missing the entire point here. Yes, teleworking is indeed the norm these days and has been for many years; productivity is sufficient in most cases. These examples however are for clerical or administrative positions Are you suggesting we outsource our workforce all over the world such as the call centers in China or India? A highly paid Cabinet Secretary ($100K+) needs to have a local presence, at least part of the time, even in the best of circumstances, let alone in a national pandemic. There is something called allegiance. If you think this man has allegiance to New Mexico, you are very mistaken.

Wallace Boston

Oh my gosh - the optics of this is just horrendous! Get a clue...

Lee DiFiore

His and mlg's response is that he can work from anywhere. They are both missing the point. It's the appearance stupid.

Kathy Fish

Wait, so dude's been flying from the COVID-ridden east coast to Santa Fe - and back? It's frustrating to see folks from afar being hired - really, these jobs should be prioritized for New Mexicans. Thanks, SFNM, for covering this issue, dismaying as it is. Resign, Philly man! Resign!

Richard Reinders

Does he have to quarantine 14 days and how often is he flying, he will be spending more time in quarantine in both states then working?

Robert Bartlett

If , as seems the case, the democrat's objective is non-education this may seem appropriate. However, to most beleaguered parents this is a gross dereliction of duty when leadership was most needed.

Amos Vigil

I mean, this is taking remote learning to the extreme. I'm sorry, this is not setting a good example for being the head of the education department. This isn't gonna fly with the voters from New Mexico.


he is there applying for a job, you know that

Ted Nugent

This dude is having the last laugh! I mean he's spending his NM paycheck in another state. Creative. Gives Telework a whole new meaning.

Richard Reinders

He needs to have his boots on the ground here working with everyone in education daily to find solutions to the Covid and education problems, or find a person that wants to live here. If test score were going up as well as graduation rates he might be able to justify living elsewhere. There is no oversight and the children will suffer.

Katherine Martinez

Real good, very genuine for New Mexico.

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