LOS LUNAS—The search is over.
After looking for a new superintendent, the Los Lunas Board of Education finally made its choice on Monday.
Arsenio Romero, Ph.D. currently the superintendent and chief executive officer of Deming Public Schools, has been named the new superintendent after a unanimous vote by the Los Lunas Schools Board of Education.
Romero will start his new job on Jan. 18, and his contract with Los Lunas Schools is for two years, and with a starting salary of $160,000.
“I am very excited about it. This is something that is … an amazing thing because I’m able to come back to the community I grew up in,” Romero said. “I’m very much looking forward to the great people in the community and the great school system. And I’m lucky to be able to be a part of it now.”
“I’m very much looking forward to the great people in the community and the great school system. And I’m lucky to be able to be a part of it now.”
Arsenio Romero, Ph.D.
New Los Lunas Schools superintendent
Romero, a Belen native, was one of three finalists for the position after the board slimmed down the candidate pool from 12 candidates down to three.
Romero — who holds a PhD in educational management from New Mexico State, an MA in educational administration and leadership from the University of New Mexico and a BS in elementary education from NMSU — was joined by candidates, Katarina Sandoval and Ron Hendrix, who were the other two finalists.
Romero’s 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.
Romero serves on the Board of Regents at New Mexico State University, his alma mater, after being appointed to the board by Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham in January. He also works as an adjunct professor at Eastern New Mexico, Western New Mexico and NMSU and has since 2015.
Since 2013, Romero has also served as a lead performance coach helping superintendents and principals around the state find ways to improve in their job capacity.
As part of the governor’s transition team, Romero helped with leading the response as a member of the COVID-19 State Taskforce. He also serves on the Racial Justice Central Committee for the state.
The other two finalists also have extensive backgrounds in education. Sandoval works for the New Mexico Public Education Department as deputy secretary of education, while Hendrix is the superintendent of Socorro Consolidated Schools.
“I know both of those individuals and they are amazing leaders in the state, and it’s really a testament to the great work and leadership we have within the state of New Mexico,” Romero said.
In total, three board meetings were held — one of which was a closed session where board members interviewed candidates — to decide on the new superintendent.
During the interview process, the board put together a list of 20 questions for the finalists. The questions were compiled from community members, staff and past superintendent interviews.
Some of the questions finalists were asked included: “Los Lunas Schools is currently 100 percent remote learning. What is your plan to prepare this district to return to in-school learning, and what do you view as your biggest hurdles?” and “What ideas and programs exceeding the normal day-to-day curriculum do you see incorporating that will benefit our graduation rates and college and career readiness?”
In the final meeting, board member Frank Otero made the motion to nominate Romero as the new superintendent “pending successful contract negotiations,” which board member Steven Otero seconded. The rest of the board voted unanimously to approve the motion.
The board then went into a closed session for about 10 minutes to discuss with Romero his new contract, before coming back out to address community members and again voting — this time to approve Romero’s new contract.
While the board of education found its new superintendent, it is also facing a lawsuit from the former superintendent Dana Sanders, who has accused the board of improper employment practices and retaliation. The lawsuit names board members by name, board president Bryan Smith, vice president Eloy Giron and Steven Otero.
Sanders, who worked as superintendent from 2014 up until earlier this year before being put on paid administrative leave, officially retired in August. During the transition, the board named Walt Gibson as the acting superintendent.
Despite the lawsuit, the board went forward with appointing Romero as the new superintendent for Los Lunas Schools, something Smith said will be remembered. “It’s been a day we are going to remember here in Los Lunas,” Smith said.
Smith acknowledged all three candidates were qualified to take on this job, but felt Romero was the best choice in the end.
Romero said his main goals is to develop relationships with staff, students and members from the community and to move the school forward in a positive way.
“I want to make sure that I do right by the kids, no matter where I’m at — in any part of the state. But I’m excited about Los Lunas just because it’s a great district and wonderful things happening there,” Romero said. “There’s great leadership, wonderful teachers and wonderful programs. And what I’m hoping to be able to do is come in and be able to make everything even better, and make this a district that is the model for the entire state and across the country.”
Romero understands it might not be the ideal time changing jobs in the middle of a pandemic, but said he’s ready for the work ahead. Romero said the goal is to get to a hybrid model at some point, but if that doesn’t happen he still wants to get special education students in the classroom.
“Now there’s some work to be done — we want to make sure that we have the surveillance testing in place. We want to make sure that we have our classrooms ready, and that we have the processes in place to make sure that when we do bring students back that they’re safe,” Romero said. “But one of the first things we can do is absolutely start looking at how we can start bringing back the small pods of kids that are in special education.”