School board elections can sometimes create uncertainty for sitting superintendents, but even with three of five seats to be determined in November, Veronica García seems secure.
Incumbents and a trio of hopefuls who are running for board positions on Nov. 5 say they support the direction the Santa Fe Public Schools superintendent is taking the district. And García, an education administration veteran who has seen the unpredictable nature of politics during her long career, doesn’t sense her performance is an issue in this election.
“There are some elections in some years with controversy surrounding the superintendent and great polarization in the community,” García said. “I don’t see this particular election being any kind of lightning rod referendum on the superintendent’s performance as it could be in other places.”
Even board member Steven Carrillo, who cast the lone vote against extending García’s contract in June and has been critical of the superintendent in the past, said he backs García after reviewing the district’s slowly improving proficiency scores and its strategy for improving them.
The Public Education Department had not released math and reading scores from 2018-19 school year when the other four board members earlier this summer voted to give García a 6 percent raise to $195,570 and extend her contract through June 2021.
“I made that decision back in June because I hadn’t seen the data. I’m not against the superintendent at all,” Carrillo said last week. “My expectation is to have significant growth in the 2019-20 school year. My intent is to be a partner with the superintendent.”
García’s contract ends in June 2021, and it would be her fifth year in charge of the district during her current tenure (she also served as superintendent from 1999 to 2002). Since García returned to the district in 2016-17, reading proficiency increased from 28 percent to 31 percent and math proficiency was up from 17 to 18 percent in the 2018-19 school year. And the graduation rate improved from 71 percent in 2016 to 73 percent in 2018.
Carrillo, the board’s longest-tenured member, faces a challenge for his District 1 seat from Carmen Gonzales — a longtime educator and former vice president at New Mexico State University and Santa Fe Community College.
Gonzales said her sister worked with García at Rio Grande High School in Albuquerque in the early-1990s and her brother and husband worked in the state Public Education Department when García was secretary from 2003-10. Gonzales and García served on Mayor Alan Webber’s transition team in a working group for supporting education.
“I’m the only one who hasn’t directly worked with her, but I do know her,” Gonzales said. “For eight years we had a terrible PED, so I’ve been pretty happy with how Veronica has guided the district. It doesn’t happen overnight. It takes three to five years to show any difference.”
In District 2, Sarah Boses, a Santa Fe High graduate and oncology nurse, and John Triolo, a retired educator who currently is on the board of The Masters Program, a state charter school, are vying to replace Maureen Cashmon, who is stepping down after one term.
Neither said they are jumping in the race to shake up district leadership.
“Based on some short observations, [García] has a great passion for kids,” Triolo said. “She took some public shots from the last Public Education Department and stood up for the schools. She didn’t sit down and take it, and that was pleasing to see.”
Boses, who has two children at El Dorado Community School, said current school board President Kate Noble, an acquaintance for several years, gave her a detailed rundown of the district and job requirements before she decided to run.
“My impression over the past couple years is I really like some of the changes Superintendent García has made,” Boses said. “I am very impressed with the direction things are going right now. I have nothing but a positive view.”
Rudy Garcia, who was appointed to fill a vacant seat in District 4 in December 2017, filed to run within an hour of Tuesday’s 5 p.m. deadline. Garcia, who is also a Santa Fe County commissioner and will be unopposed in the race, also voiced support for the superintendent.
“It takes a little while to get the machine going, but I have the utmost respect for the superintendent,” Garcia said. “She is the strongest and most experienced individual for that position.”