Santa Fe Public Schools is going local in its search for a superintendent.
School board members voted unanimously Thursday to accept applications for the position starting March 22, and they indicated their ideal candidate would come from within the state, if not the school district.
“Personally, I am not dead set against a national search, but I really do think we have the talent in this state,” board President Kate Noble said. “My strong preference is to look for someone who will work with the strong organizational culture that has been established that will keep us on a very good path.”
Superintendent Veronica García, who announced her retirement Monday, will provide guidance as the district begins the search for her successor, Noble said.
None of the board members advocated for hiring a firm to help recruit candidates, and Noble said it was not brought up in executive session. But it still could be an option depending on how the search progresses, she said.
Of the five school board members, only Lorraine Price has experience in searching for a superintendent. She served on the board when it hired García as an interim replacement for Joel Boyd in July 2016, and García became the permanent hire within two months.
“We talked about the superintendent helping us with that, and I think that is our intent — to keep it simple and straightforward,” Noble said. “Let’s get the job posting out there and see who applies.”
Tony Ortiz, the district’s legal counsel, told the board it is not uncommon for an outgoing superintendent to help in a search.
García said she was hired as a consultant by other school boards to help with superintendent searches before she joined Santa Fe Public Schools.
Twenty of the state’s 89 school districts have superintendent openings. The list includes three of the four largest districts in the state — Albuquerque Public Schools, Las Cruces Public Schools and Santa Fe Public Schools.
Las Cruces Public Schools has announced that Ralph Ramos will serve as its interim superintendent, replacing Karen Trujillo, who died Feb. 25, until a permanent replacement is found.
Albuquerque Public Schools interviewed three finalists earlier this month for its opening.
Noble said she doesn’t feel pressured to make a quick hire, adding every school district wants to find the best fit for its students.
“Everybody has to find a good superintendent, and there is more than three out there in the state who can do the job well,” Noble said.
García’s retirement, effective June 30, was unexpected. She signed a two-year contract extension in June that allowed her to remain in her position until the 2022-23 school year.
García said it was a difficult decision to make, but she felt her life was “out of balance,” especially since the coronavirus pandemic made 70- to 90-hour workweeks common for her.
“I’ve never begrudged a single hour or minute I gave to it,” García said. “Sometimes, I don’t always think about balance.”
García was the district’s superintendent from 1999 to 2002 before serving as the state’s first public education secretary from 2003-10.
The first part of Thursday’s meeting was full of emotion and tears, as board members praised García for her wisdom and leadership that they said improved the district. García oversaw a rise in four-year graduation rates, from a low of 67 percent for the class of 2015, the year before she arrived, to 86.3 percent for the 2019-20 school year.
Rudy Garcia, the school board’s vice president, said her support for students and education was apparent when she testified in the landmark Yazzie-Martinez lawsuit that the state was failing in its duty to properly educate all students.
“People say, ‘What about
her?’ ” Garcia said. “I say, ‘That lady has passion.’ She has passion for education and children in the district.”
Price, a retired educator, said she has a deep, abiding respect for García that goes back to her first stint as superintendent.
“I can’t even begin to think about a replacement,” Price said.