Serving the High Plains

TPS staffers weigh in on next superintendent

About a dozen employees of Tucumcari Public Schools weighed in on what they want from their next superintendent during a special board meeting.

Many ideas were voiced during the March 4 session, but a consensus emerged of wanting someone who is invested long-term in the community and not someone who views Tucumcari as “a stepping stone” to another school-administration job.

The board ultimately will pick a replacement for superintendent Aaron McKinney, who retired in January after 18 years at the helm.

Interim superintendent Dave Johnson said after the meeting the district received a total of eight applications for the position. He and administrative assistant Veronica Hernandez were awarded stipends to guide the search.

Johnson has said he hopes to have a new superintendent seated by April or May.

After hearing opinions from staff, the board convened behind closed doors for 1 hour, 45 minutes to review the applications. It took no action when open session resumed.

The board has a regular meeting on March 11 (after the Quay County Sun’s deadline) and likely will schedule another special meeting in late March to discuss the position and possibly interview top candidates.

The Quay County Sun filed an open-records request to find more information about the applicants.

Middle-school teacher Bryan Dunlap, echoing the thoughts of several staffers at the meeting, said he wanted a superintendent who is invested in the community and doesn’t view the post “as a stepping stone” to another school district.

Dunlap also said the superintendent must serve as a bridge between schools and outside stakeholders.

“We have to try to come together as a community and not have an us-versus-them mentality,” he said.

Elementary school principal Tonya Hodges said she concurred with other staffers that the next superintendent needs to be “even-keeled,” has the community’s best interests at heart and holds an attitude “that our ideas are important.”

Board member Matthew Pacheco asked how they would rank investment in the community and experience.

High school principal Nicole Bright-Lesly said she would value community investment higher. She said experienced superintendents tend to “come with their own set of ideas,” for good or ill.

“Experience comes, trust me,” she said. “I’ve been there.”

High-school staffer Jan Klinger said the next superintendent needs to insist on more consistency in rules between schools.

Several staffers voiced worries about the district losing more students to online schools.

Dunlap and others said the district needs to offer more elective courses other than sports.

“We’re not producing well-rounded students anymore,” he said.

Board President Heather Gonzales agreed with offering more electives, especially in the middle school.

“That’s where students are beginning to find themselves,” she said.

Mesalands Community College interim president Allen Moss, who attended the meeting, said he wants more of a partnership between the college and TPS.

A few staffers said they wanted to know what the superintendent applicants thought of the state’s plan to expand to a five-day-a-week schedule, compared to the current four.

Deanne McKinney, director of special education, asked what the board would do if it lacked suitable applicants.

Pacheco, drawing from his experience in running his dental office, said he would “wait until I get the right person.”

“We don’t want someone that can break us,” he added.

Johnson said the next superintendent should be confident enough to perform his or her duties but be outgoing enough to consider opinions from the community.

“There has to be that balance,” he said.

Pacheco said he heard from three residents who want the new superintendent to be more involved with boosting the district’s athletic programs. He said the new superintendent must consider academics, as well.

“That’s not what we’re looking for, just one thing,” Pacheco said. “We want something more well-rounded.”

Pacheco asked staffers how long they would want the new superintendent to commit to Tucumcari. The consensus was a minimum of five years. They said just two to three years lacks continuity for the staff and district.