Kate Noble has emphasized for the past month the Santa Fe Board of Education would be open to the public’s input regarding the superintendent search, and she said Friday she feels it has done that.
Noble, the board’s president, said the weeklong “Your Voice Matters” campaign, which solicited community members’ feedback via email about what they feel are important issues to ask the six candidates interviewing on Saturday to replace outgoing Superintendent Veronica García, was productive.
The board will conduct the interviews online, beginning at 9 a.m.
They will be closed to the public.
The district as of Wednesday had received correspondence from 23 people, including some extended conversations, in documents reviewed by The New Mexican.
Noble added the virtual “listening sessions” she conducted with fellow board member Carmen Gonzales revealed a surge in interest, with as many as 17 people showing up for Wednesday’s meeting after just two on Tuesday.
“I prefer the constructive rather than the negative input, but I feel like we got some good stuff,” Noble said.
However, former board President Steven Carrillo said members could have done more to elicit responses from the public, even amid the coronavirus pandemic.
Carrillo said the board could have held in-person candidate forums at one of the district’s gymnasiums, as Santa Fe County is at the least-restrictive turquoise level of the state’s four-tiered system of pandemic-related public health restrictions.
Carrillo added any of the gyms would have allowed for proper social distancing, and the forums would have let the public ask questions of the finalists and give board members more productive feedback.
He acknowledged he wouldn’t have anticipated a packed house for those sessions, but it would have allowed for more transparency.
“I don’t think it’s that they didn’t want to do it,” Carrillo said. “I trust their motives. I just think that perhaps they thought it would be more difficult than it needed to be. It would have been so simple, but I don’t think there was any malice by any stretch. I just don’t think there was the will to do so.”
Noble said an issue she finds with candidate forums is that they become more a political rally with people choosing sides, rather than a meeting that elicits meaningful questions that can give board members guidance about what the community wants.
“Ultimately, the board’s decision would unlikely be significantly altered or different,” Noble said.
Interfaith Coalition for Public Education member Lynn Bickley sent an email to all board members Wednesday, encouraging them to report on the feedback received from the district’s email campaign and to conduct community forums with each finalist. The coalition also suggested it would be happy to organize and facilitate the events.
Bickley declined an interview request about the email and the search.
Mary Ellen Gonzales, another former school board member, said she feels the board is doing an efficient job at conducting the search despite the challenges of the pandemic.
“Every board, when you have to choose a superintendent, really goes about it very differently,” Gonzales said. “Considering COVID, I like the process they are using now.”
Most emails from the public came from teachers and staff members, with some endorsing one of the six finalists.
Brooke Turnquist, a seventh and eighth grade math teacher at El Dorado Community School, agreed with the board’s decision to hire a New Mexico candidate, but she said she felt the district needs someone who “has vision, experience, energy and guts.”
She wrote the district needs a more consistent plan regarding curriculum and formative assessment platforms because both are always changing after a few years and teachers are always adapting to them.
“We need someone who will admit and work to change the fundamental flaws in the system,” Turnquist wrote.
Ivan Cornejo and María Cristina López wanted to know how the next superintendent intends to help students from immigrant families. Their email stated they heard from immigrant parents who have concerns about English-language learners who do not receive appropriate services, adding the district needs more qualified teachers in bilingual programs.
Noble responded she would take their questions and topics into consideration as the board finalizes its list of questions for finalists. Noble said she welcomed that type of feedback, adding she had a good conversation with Native American participants in her individual session Friday.
“It was a good way to start the day,” Noble said. “I’ve spent a lot of time in trying to reply to every email and I read them all carefully. I feel really good about that, but we can always do more.”