TOME — Los Lunas Schools hosted a back-to-school convocation for all LLS staff members that featured discussion from local workforce and higher education leaders and an introduction to the new superintendent.

The event was held July 31 at Valencia High School with panelists from Niagara Bottling, PNM, Wall Colmonoy, Fortis Construction and the University of New Mexico-Valencia Campus.

Deborah Elder, the district’s chief academic officer of instruction, accountability and innovation, said the panel’s insight is important.

“What kids need to succeed in life, is exactly what kids need to succeed in the classroom,” Elder said. “Each moment is an investment, and we are investing in their future.”

Elder facilitated the panel discussion and asked each representative what knowledge, skills and attributes they seek in new hires to be successful in the workplace or higher education. She also asked them what teachers can do to help prepare students for success.

Felina Martinez | News-Bulletin photos
LLS invited a panel of workforce and higher education leaders to speak at the convocation. From left, JR Tarin, Samuel Dosumu, Kristen Gamboa, Kurt Boehm, Laura Musselwhite and Florence Madrid.

Kurt Boehm, the Los Lunas plant manager of Wall Colmonoy, said initiative is the first step of innovation and that curiosity makes one successful both in and out of work. He said as employers they seek perseverance and integrity in employees.

Laura Musselwhite, the dean of instruction at UNM-VC, emphasized that reading, writing and mathematical skills are essential.

“If they’re not quite there, we’ll help them get there, but it puts them behind a little bit,” Musselwhite said.

She said being adaptable and able to work with others is a valued trait. Teachers can help students succeed by instilling in them a passion for learning. It  gives kids confidence and encourages them to be curious and become better critical thinkers.

Florence Madrid, the human resources manager of Niagara Bottling in Los Lunas, said communication skills are crucial and it’s important to encourage kids to ask questions and listen.

“When they’re listening, they’re learning,” Madrid said.

She also encouraged parents and teachers to give kids credit for things they are already doing that help to set them on the right track.

Kristen Gamboa, the former senior economic developer for the village of Los Lunas, is now the economic development director for PNM. She said good interpersonal skills are among some of the most important skills employers are seeking.

Gamboa said teachers can help students by connecting and introducing them to local businesses by having business leaders in as guest speakers.

“It helps that pipeline to be built for the workforce since there’s already that strong connection,” said Gamboa.

Samuel Dosumu, the chancellor of UNM-VC, said some of the most important attributes for higher education is to be present and independent. He also emphasized instilling accountability in students.

“Hold them accountable so they can stand up for themselves and own up to whatever happens. We all make mistakes, so it’s important to be ready to say ‘yes, I made a mistake, sorry,’ and move along,” said Dosumu.

Workforce development manager with Fortis Construction, JR Tarin, said showing up and showing up on time, prepared for the day, is sought for in potential employees.

Tarin said teachers can help prepare students for the workforce by placing importance on the idea that character counts.

“Being kind and instilling in them it’s OK to be different, and it’s OK for someone else to be different is so important,” Tarin said.

Los Lunas Schools Superintendent Ryan Kettler is excited to join the district and is looking forward to establishing relationships.

New LLS Superintendent Ryan Kettler, whose official start date was on Aug. 14,  took the stage to talk a bit about himself and why he was drawn to LLS.

Kettler was born in a small town in western Nebraska. He reminisced about his childhood and teen years, a majority of which were spent helping on the family farm.

“Small town has always been in my blood,” Kettler said. “I’ve heard nothing but good things from people who have lived in (Los Lunas), who have gone to school here or raised their families here, so when I saw the job posting, I knew immediately I wanted to apply.”

Kettler said he is excited to be part of the district and to contribute to raising the bar of instructional rigor and to help close achievement gaps so that every student graduates with the knowledge, skills and attributes to succeed in any path they choose.

Over the next 90 days, Kettler said he will work hard to establish a relationship of trust and collaboration with the school board and district employees and that he will be visible throughout the school district, engaging, learning and analyzing systems and structures in place.

The Los Lunas Schools Board of Education approved Kettler’s contract at the Aug. 8 board meeting. All board members voted to extend his contract to June 30, 2026.

The board also unanimously voted to extend Elder’s interim superintendent contract to Oct. 14 to provide for a smooth transition of leadership.

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Felina Martinez was born and raised in Valencia County. She graduated from the University of New Mexico in 2021. During her time at UNM, she studied interdisciplinary film, digital media and journalism. She covers the village of Los Lunas, Los Lunas Schools, the School of Dreams Academy and the town of Peralta.