Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s decision to fire Education Secretary Karen Trujillo on Monday took a lot of people in New Mexico by surprise, including Trujillo, who said she was blindsided.
It’s been three days, and some New Mexicans suspect they haven’t been given the real reason Trujillo was fired and why now.
The administration has said it was about her ability to communicate, manage and meet the governor’s expectations for transforming public education in New Mexico.
A spokesman initially pointed to the shaky rollout of a signature education program called K-5 Plus across the state, but the administration is beginning to walk back an effort to pin the firing on implementation of that program. Trujillo had pushed back, saying she didn’t get much direction from the governor and that she had raised alarm early on about how difficult K-5 Plus would be to implement immediately, as designed by the Legislature.
And Trujillo said if communication was deficient, it was on the part of the governor.
“It would have been nice to have a conversation with the governor where she said what her concerns were so that I could have done something about them, but that conversation never took place,” Trujillo said. Tripp Stelnicki, Lujan Grisham’s director of communications, said Trujillo heard from top administration officials from the governor’s office, including Lujan Grisham herself, about the governor’s frustration with her communications skills and leadership at the Public Education Department — and that Trujillo’s pushback comes from someone “with an axe to grind.”
“This was not infrequent communication. These concerns were not new. Interventions failed, a change had to be made,” Stelnicki said.
ByRobert Nott and Andrew Oxford, Santa Fe New Mexican |
State lawmakers, facing an outcry over legislation defining “school-aged” students as those under the age of 22, voted Tuesday to provide a year of funding for programs that help adults get a high school education. The provision limiting the age of a public school student would cut off services for some older students who already have been left far behind, opponents argued, and could spell doom for schools like Gordon Bernell Charter School, which serves many students over 21 — including inmates in the Metropolitan Detention Center in Albuquerque. Sen. Mimi Stewart, a Democrat from Albuquerque and a sponsor of a broad Senate education package, Senate Bill 1, proposed keeping the student age limit in place but also setting aside a year’s worth of funds for schools hit by the change. The age limit provision was just a piece of sweeping education measures in both the House and Senate that would expand a summer program for low-income elementary school students, steer more money to schools serving at-risk students and raise the minimum salaries for teachers and principals. Each chamber passed its version of the legislation Tuesday with bipartisan support, and sent the bill on to the other side.
The state Senate’s confirmation process for New Mexico’s new public education secretary, Karen Trujillo, was short and painless. It lacked the drama, conflict and fire that marked hearings involving the controversial Hanna Skandera, who toiled through four years of political battles, committee hearings and public testimony over her confirmation, which Skandera at one point called “a circus.” In the end, the Senate voted 22-19 to confirm Skandera in 2015 — four years after she was appointed to the job by then-Gov. Susana Martinez. The Senate never confirmed Skandera’s successor, Christopher Ruszkowski, who took the job in the spring of 2017 on an interim basis after Skandera’s resignation and was named secretary-designate by Martinez later that year. For Trujillo, the entire process took little more than two hours and ended with a Senate vote of 38-0.
One of Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s favored legislative initiatives finally advanced Wednesday when the Senate Rules Committee voted 8-0 for a bill to create a centralized department for early childhood education. Senate Bill 22 would consolidate programs that are spread among several agencies, including the Public Education Department and the Children Youth and Families Department. The sponsor, Sen. Michael Padilla, D-Albuquerque, helped his cause by cutting in half his initial request of $2.5 million to get the department running by July 1, 2020. Padilla now is seeking $1.25 million for the department to make the proposal more palatable. He said the public would benefit from the new agency.
Growing up surrounded by a mother and sisters who were teachers, Karen Trujillo decided to rebel. “No,” she said to herself as a child, rejecting the idea she should become an educator. “I don’t want to do that. I want to do something else.” But the call of the classroom was too strong for her to resist, she said, and when she was about 12 she had what she called an epiphany.
Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham on Thursday finally hired her secretary of public education, and both said they aren’t afraid of the challenges ahead. “I’m feeling not so much fear but excitement,” said Karen Trujillo, a longtime educator from Las Cruces, who will lead the department. In choosing Trujillo for the $128,000-a-year job, Lujan Grisham ended weeks of speculation about who would overhaul a public education system often ranked as one of the worst in the country. The governor said Trujillo leads an “all-star team of education” professionals. Together, they hired four New Mexico educators as deputy secretaries and a special adviser from California whose background is in education and sociology.