When Linda Sink retired from Albuquerque Public Schools in 2012 after 35 years with the district, she said she wasn’t quite ready for retirement life.
Now, with her five-year tenure at Santa Fe Public Schools set to end June 30, Sink said she is ready to be “an old lady.”
“I’m ready to move on and start camping and gardening,” she said with a laugh.
Sink, 67, submitted her resignation in February. At the time, she said, she didn’t know Superintendent Veronica García also intended to retire. The Santa Fe school board is now conducting a fast-paced search for a replacement for García, who announced her plans in early March. The board said Thursday it had received 15 applications for García’s position so far, and it would continuing accepting submissions until Monday. It plans to narrow the list of candidates and interview finalists April 17.
“She kinda has been my role model for being an administrator,” Sink said of García. “I will be forever grateful that she called me because I was very excited to work for her.”
Sink spent four of the last five years as the district’s deputy superintendent and served as the chief academic strategist prior to that. During her tenure, she oversaw the daily operation of education programs and services, including curriculum, instruction and staff development.
García said Sink’s expertise in those areas — especially after serving four years as chief academic officer in the Albuquerque district — was exactly what she was seeking for her administrative team.
Sink was a teacher, principal and administrator with Albuquerque Public Schools and spent seven months as interim superintendent in 2008 before moving into her role as chief academic officer.
She also was director of ancillary services with Cooperative Educational Services, where she focused on customized professional development for New Mexico teachers and on-site coaching.
“Her first task was to develop relationships with principals and start working with these lead teams on standard-based instruction,” García said of Sink’s job with the Santa Fe district. “She’s done a wonderful job in developing quality professional development and aligning the curricula for the various content areas and keeping us on track for that.”
Sink’s skills became crucial when the COVID-19 pandemic hit the state in March 2020 and shut down in-person instruction for much of the next 12 months. Sink said she wanted to retire after the 2019-20 school year, but the pandemic altered her plans. She committed to stay for one more year.
García regularly praised the district’s ability to transition to online learning sooner than many others in the state, and she said some of the training teachers went through regarding remote learning prior to the start of the school year helped them navigate the choppy waters they initially endured.
“It was Linda’s idea to develop lessons for the teachers — and a lot of other school districts didn’t do that — just to help them as they adjusted,” García said. “She really knows instruction and curriculum.”
Adrienne Cole, a second grade teacher at Amy Biehl Community School, said the professional development and ready-made lesson plans teachers received helped them adjust to a new concept and gradually learn what worked and what didn’t for them.
“I think [remote learning] went well,” Cole said. “I know in speaking to other teacher friends, some students really thrived, and some parents really loved it. And I think them getting a routine down was a big deal.”
Sink admitted she finds it depressing that some community members talk about how horrible the 2020-21 school year has gone because she feels it forced her, administrators, teachers and staff members to acquire new skills they wouldn’t have developed without the pandemic.
“I feel like in some weird way, the silver lining is that we learned new structures we will use the rest of our lives in education,” Sink said. “With online learning, it can be used in so many ways.”
When the district reported about 38 percent of students were failing at least one class or subject during the first quarter of the year, Sink helped develop a committee to explore the reasons for it and adopted different grading practices that she felt were more equitable for struggling students.
Some of the options were using assignments to recognize individual growth in a subject rather than just for grading purposes, as well as reducing assignments for secondary school students to ease their workload.
“It’s been a hard year, but we’re staying the course,” Sink said.
Katherine Diaz, principal of Atalaya Elementary School, said pondering the concept of what failing a subject or class truly means was good training for principals and teachers. She said it could have a long-lasting impact on how teachers assess student development.
“One of the baby steps is that an F can be anywhere from 59 percent to zero,” Diaz said. “That is a big range, while the rest are just within 10-point ranges. Why do we need to have so many more chances to have F’s rather than A, B or C? It has been talked about for a number of years, but it was brought up again after that first quarter.”