A Belen Eagle by way of Los Lunas Schools is soaring to the top of the New Mexico education world.

Arsenio Romero, Ph.D., superintendent of Los Lunas Schools, has been named the secretary-designate of the New Mexico Public Education Department by Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham on Tuesday, Feb. 21.

“This is something I’ve definitely been wanting to do,” Romero told the News-Bulletin Tuesday of the appointment. “I try to go where I’m needed.”

Arsenio Romero, Ph.D
N.M. Secretary of Education designee

Romero was hired as Los Lunas Schools superintendent in December 2020 and took over the helm in January 2021. He was one of three finalists for the job.

Before he officially takes on the new role of PED secretary, Romero has to be confirmed by the New Mexico Legislature, a process he hopes to complete before the session ends in mid-March.

Romero, a Belen native, said he has “a lot to learn” about his new position, and plans to spend a good deal of time with PED staff.

“There is important work to be done. There are a lot of vacancies within PED and we need to make sure we’re supporting our districts,” he said. “The first thing is to do that, fill those positions, and support the kids of New Mexico.”

Even as the designate, Romero said part of his responsibilities include making sure the governor’s vision for the state becomes a reality during this year’s legislative session.

“I’ll be working during the second half of the session to make that happen,” he said.

Romero will be the fifth PED secretary appointed by Lujan Grisham since she took office in 2019.

According to an Albuquerque Journal article from last June, the governor fired her first education chief, Karen Trujillo, six months into the job, and her second pick, Ryan Stewart, served about two years before stepping down to care for a sick family member.

Former secretary Kurt Steinhaus, her third appointment to the position, finished his last day with the department on Jan. 27. Mariana Padilla, the Children’s cabinet director since 2019, took his place.

Romero told the Los Lunas Board of Education Tuesday he will be retiring from public education after a 27-year career.

A special LLS Board of Education meeting will be held at 2 p.m., Monday, Feb. 27, to discuss the board’s next steps in light of Romero’s pending retirement.

As he transitions to secretary, Romero said there are several people with the district who can jump into the role of superintendent on an interim basis.

“I am really proud we have amazing people in Los Lunas. I wouldn’t be doing my job if I wasn’t getting people ready,” he said. “The board has a big decision. It needs to keep people moving forward and there are great people in Los Lunas who can do that job.”

He was part of the governor’s transition team, led the statewide initiative on COVID response as a member of the COVID-19 State Task Force and currently serves on the Governors Racial Justice Committee.

Romero was appointed to the Board of Regents at New Mexico State University, his alma mater, by Lujan Grisham in January 2020, a position he said he will be able to keep.

“We are in the middle of some big things I want to see through,” he said.

Romero’s education experience includes at Deming Public Schools, Roswell Independent School District as an assistant superintendent (2015-2017), Las Cruces Public Schools as an assistant and executive principal (2001-2014) and as a teacher in different districts in the state and also in Arizona — including a stint as a teacher in Belen Consolidated Schools from 1997-2001.

A Belenite at heart, Romero said community members will still see him around since he lives in the Hub City.

“Right now, that’s where I’m going to stay,” he said. “Who knows what the future holds.”

Romero grew up in education, starting in Belen Consolidated Schools in his mother’s classroom.

“As I got older, I wanted to be a teacher. As I got better as a teacher, I wanted to help other teachers. Then, as a principal and superintendent, I wanted to continue to help,” he said. “I am always looking to give more back to the state I love.

“I hope at the end of my career, I have a positive influence on the state and every child in New Mexico. This is the biggest thing I’ve done so far,” Romero said. “I always try to go where I’m needed and the timing was right. I’m going to take this on and together we can do great work — the unions, fellow superintendents, our partnership with the pueblos an charter schools — I’m looking forward to all of this.”

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Julia M. Dendinger began working at the VCNB in 2006. She covers Valencia County government, Belen Consolidated Schools and the village of Bosque Farms. She is a member of the Society of Professional Journalists Rio Grande chapter’s board of directors.