New Mexico Secretary of Public Education Hanna Skandera surprised both her critics and her supporters by announcing her resignation effective June 20, 2017. Skandera was appointed by New Mexico Governor Susana Martinez more than six years ago. She served as a Secretary-Designate until 2015 because her appointment was denied in a series of partisan legislative committee hearings.
New Mexico teachers unions and Democratic members of the legislature primarily objected to Skandera because she introduced controversial teacher and student evaluation methods in Florida under then-Florida governor Jeb Bush. She planned to bring more stringent requirements to New Mexico’s public schools and did start some reforms. The most controversial reforms included teacher evaluation that depended at least 50 percent on student standardized test scores, with the remainder provided through classroom observation. Skandera reduced the 50 percent standardized test score to 35 percent after teacher and activist protests.
New Mexico is regarded as a high-risk state for children, with high poverty rates and a high school graduation rate lower than the national average. The state is ranked 49th in child well-being by the Annie E. Casey Foundation.
Other challenges faced by New Mexico schools include low participation in teacher training programs. Skandera instituted programs to increase teacher pay and provide merit-based stipend pay for principals and teachers, but these efforts were not completely successful.
Gov. Martinez said that New Mexico’s schools were better because of Skandera’s work. She said that Skandera took on entrenched special interests and teachers’ unions in her reform efforts. Skandera will seek other opportunities after her resignation. Deputy Secretary of Education Christopher Ruszkowski will serve as the acting secretary until a replacement can be appointed. Mr. Ruszkowski is a former middle school teacher and served as an administrator in the Delaware Department of Education before moving to New Mexico.