Fired New Mexico public education secretary to lead Las Cruces schools

The Las Cruces school board unanimously voted Tuesday to name former Public Education Secretary Karen Trujillo as the district’s interim superintendent. Morgan Lee/Associated Press file photo

LAS CRUCES — Karen Trujillo, the former New Mexico public education secretary who was fired just six months into her job, was chosen Tuesday to lead Las Cruces Public Schools. In a 5-0 vote, the Las Cruces school board named Trujillo as the district’s interim superintendent after Superintendent Greg Ewing resigned last week.

Trujillo, who graduated from Mayfield High School in Las Cruces in 1988 and began her education career as a teacher in the city, said she is excited to continue to serve New Mexico students in her hometown.

“Having been a member of the community for so long, I have a lot of relationships built here. There is a level of trust that is exciting,” Trujillo said in a phone interview Wednesday with The New Mexican. “I’m excited to work at the local level and with the [Public Education Department] and the new secretary to figure out how we can move kids forward together. That’s all that matters.”

The appointment to the interim superintendent position comes a month after Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham abruptly fired Trujillo as leader of the state Public Education Department, raising eyebrows from some state lawmakers and criticism for some in Southern New Mexico.

Lujan Grisham said the firing came after some of her “expectations were not met.” Days later, the state released test results that showed around 80 percent of public school students in New Mexico weren’t proficient in math and 67 percent weren’t proficient in reading.

Lujan Grisham spokesman Tripp Stelnicki said at the time of Trujillo’s firing that it was not related to the test score results.

Las Cruces school board members said the district was lucky to find Trujillo amid the disarray as the school year starts.

“This person seems a gift to us at this moment and we want to take it,” said school board member Maria Flores.

“With the school year just starting, and the unexpected availability of this respected education advocate, the board moved quickly to explore the possibility of selecting her to lead Las Cruces Public Schools,” said Ed Frank, board president.

Trujillo is a former Doña Ana County commissioner. Before serving as public education secretary, she was an associate dean for research in New Mexico State University’s College of Education who specialized in quantifying and finding solutions to the state’s teacher shortage.

“I am looking forward to reconnecting with the PED in a different role,” Trujillo said. “I think there is an opportunity to maintain positive relationships with the people there.”

Dillon Mullan of The New Mexican contributed to this report.