By Darrell Todd Maurina
Exactly what the new cabinet-level secretary of education will do hasn’t been decided. But local educators have some ideas of the type of person they’d like to see in that office.
A constitutional amendment passed last week by voters requires that the newly-formed Department of Education be “headed by a secretary of public education who is a qualified, experienced educator who shall be appointed by the governor and confirmed by the Senate.”
Dr. Neil Nuttall, superintendent of the Clovis schools, said he’d like to see a person in the position with specific kinds of experience.
“Obviously, I think we ought to have someone who has experience as a teacher and administrator at the building level, and I think they ought to have experience as a superintendent as well so they can have a varied background,” Nuttall said. “I’d like to see someone who has a strong history of going in and looking at organizational bureaucracies and finding good ways to improve productivity. As a secretary of education, setting up that department is going to be very crucial.”
Dr. Beverlee McClure, president of Clovis Community College, lost her appointed seat on the state board of education when the amendment passed and hopes the new structure will assist local educators improve ties with colleges and universities.
“Our local K-12 system is one of the best in the state,” McClure said. “After sitting on the state board of education, I believe the best thing we can do in this part of the state is to work together to have seamless education to integrate more of our K-12 students into post-secondary education.”
The presidents of the other two post-secondary schools in eastern New Mexico agreed, but cautioned that many details of what the secretary will do still need to be worked out by the Legislature.
“I think it’s a good thing we have a secretary of education,” said Dr. Phillip O. Barry, president of Mesa Technical College in Tucumcari. “There’ll be greater accountability and the governor needs to work with the secretary as far as leading the education movement in New Mexico.”
“I don’t know what the scope, authority and function of the position is — if they are going to be the secretary of K-12 and higher, I’d like to see that their experience and knowledge base be at the college level, but I’m sure my colleagues at the K-12 level would like to see someone at that level in that position,” Barry said.
Dr. Steven Gamble of Eastern New Mexico University cautioned that personality may be more important than qualifications.
“First, we need to have someone in there who has the confidence of the governor, and second, a person who will listen first before acting rather than act first and listen later,” Gamble said. “Third, an excellent background at the senior level, either K-12 or higher education, and a good understanding of the role and mission of both.”
“I think they need to have an understanding of the history of education in New Mexico, what has worked and what hasn’t worked, as well as an understanding on the national level of things that are working or not working in states similar to ours,” Gamble said.
Nuttall said perhaps the biggest asset for a cabinet-level secretary would be an ability to network between the governor and local schools.
“We are such a diverse state that we are going to have to have someone who is able to get out and visit with people about their local concerns,” Nuttall said. “They need to get a ground-level, grass-roots picture of what the challenges are, and that’s hard to do unless you just get out there in the field.”
“In this particular case, it is very new territory and one is going to have to have the confidence of the governor and the other secretaries and other departments to operate effectively,” Nuttall said. “If that is the case, there is a real possibility to be a network like never before.”