Las Cruces Public School board starts breakneck superintendent search
Changes to how the district hires its top official include a consulting firm and 72-member advisory committee
Cyclists ride past the Las Cruces Public Schools administration building May 4, 2023. The Board of Education plans to hire a new superintendent for the district by early July. (Danielle Prokop / Source New Mexico)
The Las Cruces Board of Education is looking for a new superintendent to lead the district – and plans to name a candidate by July 1.
That leaves less than two months for the search and naming a new leader, said school board President Teresa Tenorio in a phone interview.
In recent press releases and prior meetings, the board was looking to hire someone over the course of 140 days, conducted over the summer and announce a new superintendent by Aug. 15.
The board pivoted to a more condensed schedule at an April 28 meeting. JG Consulting, an Austin-based firm the board hired to conduct the search and background candidates, recommended moving faster, to get more candidates to apply.
“There’s a window of time when superintendent candidates are shopping around,” Tenorio said. “That window closed when you get closer to the end of the school year, or the end of the fiscal year.”
Las Cruces School Board members met April 28 and put forward the following calendar:
The application opened April 28, and will close June 4. There will be three sets of interviews scheduled for June.
- A closed session narrowing of candidates for in-person interviews June 16 and 17.
- The board will host a public forum on June 22 from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. to meet with semi-finalists.
- A final round of interviews in closed session is scheduled for June 29 and June 30.
- Deliberations in closed session are scheduled for July 1, where there will be an open portion of the meeting at the end to announce a new superintendent.
The search follows the recent resignation of Las Cruces schools superintendent Ralph Ramos.
Ramos, 54, headed the district for just over two years. He stepped into the interim position March 2021 after the sudden death of Karen Trujillo, who was struck by a car while walking her dogs.
The then-board set out to hire Trujillo’s replacement in just under two months, citing the need to hire a superintendent by the start of the new fiscal year.
The board hired Ramos for the position on June 1, 2021. His starting salary was $10,000 higher than Trujillo’s at $180,000.
A board member, the sole vote against Ramos, resigned days later, citing transparency issues with the process, and “bullying and misogynistic comportment,” from the former Board President Ray Jaramillo. A probe from an outside law firm reported “no findings” of management or improper conduct in their investigation.
The reasons Ramos left are unclear.
Billed as a retirement, Ramos left the school district after two meetings behind closed doors explored two grievances filed against him by employees. The name of the employees and the nature of the grievances are not public.
The first meeting was held in January for four hours behind closed doors. The Las Cruces Sun News reported the board met again just two days before Ramos issued a statement about his retirement on March 9. Ramos left the district April 7.
Board member Jaramillo also resigned March 9, reposting a letter he sent to other board members. He’s since made the Facebook letter private, but said the purchasing of daycare Alpha School for Young Children, and family health issues as reasons he stepped down.
However, in an interview with the Las Cruces Bulletin, Jaramillo said Ramos’ departure led to his own.
“If Ralph was still there, I’d still probably be there,” Jaramillo told the Bulletin. “Ralph and I made a connection. We worked hard to develop a relationship that I thought was good for the district.”
More participation, money spent on this search
The recent search holds a few key differences from recent years – the advisory committee made up of teachers, district staff, parents, students, businesses and election officials had 72 people nominated to sit on it. In the 2021 search, there were eight people nominated to the committee. A full list can be found here.
The board also hired a national educational hiring firm, Austin-based JG Consulting.
The board did not hire a consulting firm for recent superintendent searches, said Kelly Jameson, a spokesperson for Las Cruces Public Schools, who said the last time a firm was brought in may have been in 2006.
At the April 11 meeting, three board members present expressed “sticker shock” from the quotes provided by the two firms applying for the contract.
Tenorio declined to provide how much the district paid the consulting group, directing Source NM to file a public records request for that information. Source NM is waiting on that request.
JG Consulting bid $50,000 to conduct the search at neighboring Socorro Independent School District, in El Paso County. Socorro schools have approximately 48,000 students, a little more than twice the size of the Las Cruces district with 23,711 students.
In the April 28 meeting, Las Cruces schools board member Robert Wofford asked if the firm conducts interviews beyond the candidates’ own references.
“My question stems from past superintendents here, and failing to fully vet,” Wofford said.
Guerra responded that the firm makes the effort to reach out to lots of individuals to determine if there’s any impropriety “personal or professional” in candidate’s backgrounds.
“We’re batting 1000, we’ve never failed a search, we don’t intend to start now,” Guerra said.
JG Consulting held interviews with board members, breakout groups of the advisory committee, and collected responses from a parent survey to produce a report of the ideal qualities for the next superintendent. This included someone who preferably is bilingual in Spanish and English, has experience in similar districts, and has experience as a teacher.
Tenorio offered her perspective, that the most important qualities were the ability to communicate, be transparent, and allow the parents, businesses and more the chance to engage with schools.
“Being a superintendent is a very hard job,” Tenorio told Source NM, “I want to be able to support a superintendent who puts kids first.”
GET THE MORNING HEADLINES DELIVERED TO YOUR INBOX
The job description
JG Consulting developed a 16-point bulleted list of the ideal qualities of the next superintendent, based on feedback from the parent survey, meetings with members of the 72-person advisory committee, and the board. This has been lightly edited for conciseness.
- Experienced educator, with demonstrated success in a school district with similar demographics as Las Cruces (bilingual preferred)
- Visionary leader, dedicated to longevity in the district
- Commitment for LCPS to get high academic achievement scores
- Visible school leader, building a sense of community
- An advocate for improving teacher and staff salaries, close digital divide
- An understanding of the unique community of Las Cruces, embrace multiculturalism, including Spanish and English education, working with high child poverty, need for social, emotional learning
- Visionary to address post-pandemic effects and trauma on students
- Innovate leader who understands the collective bargaining process, can work with classified and certified unions
- Effective communicator, dedicated to community schools model, school-based health centers, college/career readiness, workforce prep
- Systems thinker, streamline organization, and uphold mission statement
- Visible, transparent, willing to make difficult decisions and defend them, willing to be held accountable, make culture transparent, open communication system-wide
- A candidate that believes in diversity, inclusion and equity
- Has experience handling teacher burn out, solving complex budget problems
- Enthusiastic, approachable, ethical, committed to system-wide fairness, and aligned to a servant, or shared-leadership style
- An ambassador for the district, embraces, engages, nurtures, grows strong partnerships with leaders in business, social supports, nonprofits, throughout the district
- Robust comprehension of various student needs
Our stories may be republished online or in print under Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-ND 4.0. We ask that you edit only for style or to shorten, provide proper attribution and link to our web site.