The Santa Fe school board stayed true to its commitment — it went local with its superintendent finalists.
All six of the top candidates for the job, chosen from a pool of 16 applicants during a special meeting Thursday, reside in New Mexico. Four come from within the district, and another has ties to Santa Fe Public Schools.
They are vying to replace outgoing Superintendent Veronica García, who announced her retirement in March after five years with the district in her second stint in the position.
The finalists, who will be interviewed April 17, include the following:
- Kristy Janda Wagner, deputy superintendent of operations and school support.
- Hilario “Larry” Chavez, associate superintendent of athletics, activities and school support.
- Vanessa Romero, associate superintendent of instruction and school support.
- Julie Lucero, director of the district’s Exceptional Student Services.
- Gabriella Blakey, chief operations officer of Albuquerque Public Schools; Blakey was assistant superintendent of curriculum and professional development at Santa Fe Public Schools in 2014-15.
- Curtis Clough, associate superintendent of Silver Consolidated Schools.
School board President Kate Noble said the board was unified in its decision to focus on local candidates who understand the culture of Santa Fe and also met the high standards it had set for the position.
The district sought candidates with at least a master’s degree in educational administration or educational leadership, five years of teaching at a public school and a minimum of 10 years of administrative experience at a public school, which includes being a principal or a district administrator.
The board spent almost three hours discussing the applicants Thursday night before revealing the list of finalists.
“We had set some pretty rigorous qualifications and attributes in what we wanted to see in candidates’ packets,” Noble said. “We stuck to that. It was, as one person said, ‘You were pretty specific about what you wanted in a candidate.’ “
The four internal candidates each said it was an honor to earn an interview but added they felt it was a result of the collaborative effort García and Deputy Superintendent Linda Sink, who also is retiring, helped ingrain.
“I think that it’s really the high quality of our leadership,” Janda Wagner said. “When there is high performance, a depth of experience and a wealth of knowledge, you become very collegial. That is how I would describe us.”
Among others who applied for the post were Taos Superintendent Lillian Torrez; state Public Education Department deputy secretaries Katarina Sandoval and Gwen Perea Warniment; Vaughn Municipal Schools Superintendent Jack Props; and Craig Hockenberry, former superintendent of Three Rivers Local School District in southwestern Ohio.
García also held the district’s top job from 1999 to 2002.
During her second tenure, she has overseen a rise in four-year graduation rates — from 67 percent for the Class of 2015, the year before she arrived, to 86.3 percent for the Class of 2020.
She guided the district’s transition last year from in-person to remote learning in response to the coronavirus pandemic.
García also testified in the landmark Yazzie/Martinez education lawsuit, which determined the state was failing to provide an adequate education for many of its at-risk students.