June 8, 2017

Skandera to leave PED

New Mexico’s Secretary of Education will step down from her position later this month.

That’s the report from the Albuquerque Journal Thursday morning, which spoke to Skandera.

Skandera told the newspaper that she will leave her post on June 20, after more than six years on the job. Skandera has been the only head of the Public Education Department under Susana Martinez. In that time, Skandera has been a controversial figure, with teachers unions and Democrats voicing sharp criticisms of her priorities.

The public education head did not say what would be the next step in her career.

“This is not the end of something – it’s a baton pass of things that are already moving,” she told the newspaper.

Martinez praised Skandera in a statement Thursday, saying “New Mexico’s students and schools are better off today” after Skandera’s time as head of PED.

“Since day one of my administration, she’s been relentlessly committed to helping us fight the status quo – like teachers unions and other entrenched special interests – to reform education and give our students, teachers, parents and schools more of what they need to succeed,” Martinez said. “Now, more New Mexico students are graduating from high school than ever before, more are at grade level in reading and math, and more New Mexico kids are college ready. I’m so grateful for all Hanna has done for New Mexico’s kids, and I wish her all the best.”

Martinez also said Deputy Secretary Christopher Ruszkowski will act as acting cabinet secretary once Skandera steps down.

Skandera herself didn’t get confirmation hearings from the state Senate for her first few years in office and wasn’t confirmed until 2015, years after her initial appointment in 2011.

Most appointments, even for cabinet-level officials, sail through on unanimous or near-unanimous votes, but the Senate confirmed Skandera on a 22-19 vote.

Skandera was reportedly in line for a position with the Donald Trump administration. Later reports indicated her support of Common Core standards meant some Republicans would not back her nomination.

It’s those same Common Core standards that were some of the biggest bones of contention between Skandera and teachers unions, which have been frequent critics of Skandera during her time as head of the department. The unions, along with many Democrats in the state Legislature, criticized the amount of time of standardized testing taken each school year. In recent years, the state has reduced the time spent on testing, including this week.

Martinez has repeatedly reiterated her support for the PARCC test.

Teachers unions respond

National Education Association-New Mexico President Betty Patterson welcomed the news that Skandera would be leaving her position.

“The teacher evaluation system she imposed, based on excessive standardized student tests, was a difficult decision which brought hardships and caused many teachers to leave the state and the profession,” Patterson said in a statement Thursday morning. “Her failure to work well with the community of front-line educators, led to the diminishing of opportunities for student success. Some very bad public policy decisions were implemented through administrative rules created by the Public Education Department.”

American Federation of Teachers New Mexico President Stephanie Ly also was critical of Skandera’s time as Secretary.

“On Governor Martinez and Secretary Skandera’s watch in New Mexico, our State slid from 37th to 49th in the nation in the quality of our public education, was subjected to relentless attacks on public schools in favor of charter and private schools, had to fight against voucher schemes raiding public school funding, fought mandatory flunking of our students based on standardized testing, was subjected to abusive levels of over-testing of our students, and faced the institution of the nation’s most punitive evaluation system which has contributed to historic shortages of educators and students studying to enter the field of education,” Ly said in a statement.

Update: Added statement by Susana Martinez.