Historic APS board of all women commits to collaboration

In a time of polarization in politics and education, members say they intend to operate differently

By: - January 6, 2022 2:33 pm

Josefina Domínguez is sworn in as one of four new members to the Albuquerque Public Schools board of education.

The congratulatory environment was evident beyond the electoral success of the four new Albuquerque Public Schools Board members. 

It was also celebratory in the history of the moment. 

Three of the four members were present in-person with family and sworn in by Judge Catherine Begaye (Diné). 

After Courtney Jackson was sworn into office, the board members took their seats, and Josefina Domínguez, the lone member to stay home and report via Zoom, adjusted her camera. The new group was introduced — the first ever APS school board to be run entirely by women. 

“I didn’t feel like I was going to be emotional, but I am, and I think the reason that I am emotional is because of the collaboration. That part feels really good, and it’s strong,” Yolanda Montoya-Cordova said after she was elected board president. “It’s a great way for us to start as a team, and to really demonstrate to this community that we’re committed as a sisterhood of women working really hard.”

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Peggy Muller-Aragón, one of the longest-serving members on the school board, was elected vice president. To honor the moment, she offered advice from Danica Patrick, a race car driver, on how to navigate environments dominated by men. 

“She says make sure the excitement and possibility of succeeding destroys any fear,” Muller-Aragon said. “What we have to do is go full speed ahead. Put our kids first. We know this all-female board, no matter who comes after us, will go down in history. We made history. We are history.”

The significance of the moment is rooted in the evolution of women’s rights in this country. Sixty years before women’s suffrage, Marietta Patrick and Lydia Hall were elected to a Massachusetts school board, the first women to hold elected office in the U.S. 

The structure of the new board will be fascinating to watch. According to a 2020 report by the National School Board Association, among more than 90,000 school board members nationwide, gender is divided almost evenly: 49% of members are women, 51% are men. 

The report states that women have different reasons for running for office than men, and when they are in the minority on a school board, they tend to speak out less. 

“It’s hard to argue that you have a representative system when you have people left out based on gender, race, class, ethnicity,” said Susan Carroll, professor of political science and women’s and gender studies at Rutgers University. “Beyond the justice argument, women in our culture have different life experiences, and it’s important to have those experiences represented at the table.”

The APS school board members not only bring in their perspectives from the lived experiences as women now in elected office, the board has a majority of members who grew up and graduated from Albuquerque schools.

Danielle Gonzales, one of three new members who graduated from a high school they now represent, was emotional in her introduction as she talked about visiting her late grandmother’s house to pick up the family Bible she used during her swearing-in. 

“It’s just such a privilege to stand here as a graduate of Albuquerque Public Schools, and a graduate of Valley High,” she said, “the same community where my grandparents chose to raise their children, the same school where my parents actually met, and the same community where I’m raising my children now.”

Crystal Tapia-Romero, an early childhood professional and West Mesa High School graduate, spoke to an effort to bring change to the board.

“I believe the community spoke loudly. They were ready for something different, ready for a change,” she said. “I honestly believe that through everything that we’re going to do, God’s going to lead and guide every single step, and through this, I know we’ll make great change.”

The direction of the new school board and specific proposals to shift priorities are still unclear at this moment. Beyond electing officers and a commitment to draft a fair budget, no new or sitting member offered any direct policy ideas during Wednesday’s meeting. Time will reveal the board’s progress. 

The next APS election is in 2023, which means APS board members will have at least two years with this particular team.

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Shaun Griswold
Shaun Griswold

Shaun Griswold is a journalist in Albuquerque. He is a citizen of the Pueblo of Laguna, and grew up in Albuquerque and Gallup. He brings a decade of print and broadcast news experience. Most recently he covered Indigenous affairs with New Mexico In Depth. Shaun reports on issues important to Native Americans in urban and tribal communities throughout the state, including education and child welfare.