Frustration with the Santa Fe Public Schools is palpable, and has been rising for the last year. Budget woes make for an easy culprit. The district faces an unknown shortfall—the figure, according to the district, could range from $4.1-$5 million, depending on budget decisions made by the current Legislature.

But while the fiscal crisis is real—for the schools and everyone else—it's also chronic.

Also not new: The district's academic struggles. The district has only three schools currently meeting federal standards, and its high school graduation rate hovers at an unacceptable 60 percent, according to the state.

What is new, however, is the uptick in community awareness and involvement. The school board's decision last spring to close Larragoite, Kaune and Alvord elementary schools, followed by its now-reversed decision to consolidate Acequia Madre with Atalaya, galvanized parents and community members. Contentious and divisive meetings on the issue revealed in the interstices the opportunities the district has for greater transparency in its decision-making and broader involvement by the community to carve out real reform and improvements.

SFR interviewed the seven candidates seeking the tough job of serving on the school board, and asked them to characterize the district's administration, to evaluate how the district allocates its financial resources and to brainstorm how they would move forward.

SFR's picks were made with an eye toward those candidates who believe that significant change to the status quo is needed for the Santa Fe Public Schools. All expressed commitment to finding ways to promote smaller learning environments for Santa Fe's students, and greater community involvement and transparency.

Voters can signal their commitment to the schools by turning out to the polls. Three seats in Districts 1, 2 and 4 are up on Feb. 1 and the winners will join Districts 3 and 5 members Barbara Gudwin and Frank Montaño to steer the schools in what will hopefully be a new and inspiring era for local education.

District 1 (Chaparral, EJ Martinez, Kaune, Piñon, Capshaw and Santa Fe High)

SFR Pick: Steven Carrillo
Incumbent Mary Ellen Gonzales faces two challengers for District 1. Both Carl Luff and Steven Carrillo bring impressive ideas and energy to this race. Luff is a certified public accountant, whose service on the district’s Audit Committee and as chairman of Partners in Education demonstrates his commitment to the schools. We were most impressed, however, by Carrillo’s passion in his campaign, and his focus on reform.

Carrillo has a variety of ideas for improving efficiency in the district—from cutting administrative costs to improving actual energy efficiency. He also questions the top-down administration of school policies, and believes the schools themselves need more autonomy. The parent of a public school student, Carrillo places the emphasis in the educational discourse where it should be: on students and teachers, stakeholders who need a voice on the board. While incumbent Mary Ellen Gonzales is knowledgeable about the district, we do not believe she is sufficiently critical of its shortcomings, an important factor that will be needed to oversee meaningful change.

District 2 (Acequia Madre, Atalaya, El Dorado and Wood Gormley)

SFR Pick: Glenn Wikle
Melissa Coleman, Donado “Cove” Coviello and Glenn Wikle all are vying to replace board member Richard Polese, who is not seeking re-election. Coleman, an active Atalaya Elementary parent, is knowledgeable about and committed to the financial and academic challenges of the district. Coviello has an unabashed “take no prisoners” attitude to politics in general that always makes for a lively discussion, and should be commended for his emphasis on increasing voter turnout. 

Wikle, however, is the full package. He's an active and knowledgeable parent, who also possesses a big-picture view of the challenges and possibilities for educational reform. He seeks to evaluate how the district allocates its money and resources, with an eye toward "working smarter." Most importantly, he has identified "complacency" as one of the greatest challenges the next board needs to vigorously counter with new ideas and guts.

A founding board member of Tierra Encantada Charter School, Wikle also has worked as a science mentor in the schools. We believe his diverse experience with the district, complemented by his vigor to reform expectations, makes him the best choice in this competitive race.

District 4 (Agua Fria, César Chavez, Sweeney, Ramirez Thomas, Nye Early Childhood Center, Ortiz and Capital High)

SFR Pick: Linda Trujillo
Lawyer Linda Trujillo is actually unopposed—a previous candidate, Jason Romero, dropped out and has endorsed her. Romero’s name, however, will still appear on the ballot. District 4 voters should definitively choose Trujillo on election day, as she is the only candidate and an impressive one. Trujillo’s focus is on the need for greater community involvement, and a desire to transform schools into the center of the community. Trujillo has worked with AmeriCorps and Head Start, as well as in several top administrative positions for the State of New Mexico. Her commitment to re-envisoning schools as a community resource strikes the right note during this time of strife for the schools, and her professionalism will help enhance the actions of the board itself.