All three Santa Fe Public Schools Board of Education incumbents in Districts 1, 2 and 4 plan to seek re-election in the Nov. 7 race, and one will face two challengers, following the Aug. 29 candidate filing deadline.
The school board’s five volunteer members serve four-year terms, and set the annual school district budget and develop the district’s educational policies.
Carmen Gonzales, whose career as an educator included elementary school classrooms in Albuquerque and college lectures at New Mexico State University, is seeking re-election in District 1 after winning her initial bid against two-term incumbent Steven Carrillo in 2019.
“I’m excited to be running again,” Gonzales tells SFR. “There’s so much going on right now, and so many good things happening in the schools. It’s exciting to be on the board right now.”
District 1 borders Santa Fe’s downtown and South Capitol areas, including Acequia Madre, Atalaya, Chaparral, E.J. Martinez and Wood Gormley elementary schools, Early College Opportunities High School, Mandela International Magnet School and Santa Fe High School.
During her last campaign, Gonzales focused on low enrollment at certain schools in her district, dedicating herself to preventing the closure of these schools.
“Before I was actually on the board, I met with a group of parents from Acequia Madre, which is one of my schools,” Gonzales says. “They wanted to make sure that I knew they didn’t want the school closed. So, I was going to do whatever I could to help with that.”
Gonzales says the board’s undertaking of what backers dub a “reimagining process” will find solutions to declining enrollment.
She also spoke of the board’s accomplishments through using American Rescue Plan Act funds to further career and technical education, in which she hopes to engage more students.
“When I was a kid growing up in Santa Fe, my parents knew lots of people. When I needed a job, they just called somebody, and I got a job,” Gonzales, Santa Fe High Class of 1966, explains. “That’s not the way it is today, so I really wanted to give the students a step up.”
Sarah Boses, an oncology nurse elected in 2019, will campaign to retain District 2′s seat and, as of press time, she’s also the only member facing a challenge on the ballot. Patricia Vigil-Stockton, vice president and CFO of Stockton Mechanical, is also seeking the post, along with Cerrillos saddlemaker John T. McKenna.
District 2 surrounds unincorporated communities south of Santa Fe, including Amy Biehl Community School, El Dorado Elementary School, Desert Sage Academy and Capital High School.
Boses, also a Santa Fe High School graduate, tells SFR she has applied her background as a nurse to promote a “mentally, physically and emotionally” healthier learning space.
Boses says the district has improved conditions for staff, citing recent educator wage increases, the board’s decision to have the district pay a higher percentage of health insurance premiums and the early childcare center as important milestones.
“I think that those are things that really help with recruitment and retention, and that was absolutely one of my priorities when I ran four years ago,” Boses says.
When focusing on curriculum, Boses says the board identified middle-grade education as a “weak spot,” but adds that SFPS’ work-based learning programs have provided more opportunities to middle-grade students.
“We should keep building on that,” Boses adds. “Figuring out how to do some really intentional reimagining around middle grades and keep students engaged in the public schools from pre-K through graduation, I think, is really key on the list for me.”
Vigil-Stockton, a former administrator for Calvary Chapel Christian Academy, has been endorsed in the nonpartisan race by the Republican Party of Santa Fe County.
A former SFPS student from first through ninth grade, she notes New Mexico’s lagging score in child welfare as a major concern and tells SFR her priorities include curriculum and safety. She says she aims to improve student outcomes through evaluations to stop children from being “passed through the system” if they are not academically proficient.
“I held my son back in third grade, and it made a tremendous [difference],” she says. “My decision and the teacher’s decision to do that, it helped him so much to get through school.”
Vigil-Stockton says she would like to see more Santa Fe parents involved.
“The 14th amendment of the United States recognizes parents have a fundamental right to direct the upbringing and education of their children. Let us stand up for our faith, freedom and family,” Vigil-Stockton says in a campaign video uploaded to her Facebook.
John McKenna, who operates McKenna Saddlery as a trained saddle-fitter, was the last candidate to enter the race.
McKenna, who spent 12 years teaching at Catholic high schools in his home state, says his motivation for running this year is to give back to the Santa Fe community.
“I’ve seen the graduation rates; [New Mexico is] one of the lowest in the United States,” McKenna tells SFR. “I thought, I’ve got some input I could give that might be helpful, especially coming out of the private school system.”
McKenna moved to New Mexico in 1997, teaching at St. Pius X High School in Albuquerque for two years before spending another two years substitute teaching at SFPS.
McKenna hopes to make improvements in the school district’s budget if elected, citing his experience working with Catholic schools he says were run “on a shoestring budget” but boasted high graduation rates.
As a former teacher, McKenna says he also wants to advocate for teachers: “I’m big on teachers, and trying to get them as much money as possible, and to try to get the most effective teachers we can.”
Additionally, McKenna wants to focus on diversity-related school policies if elected, noting the recent debate over allowing the Fiesta Court to remain in public schools. McKenna says he wants to “balance all the diverse groups in Santa Fe in terms of how we educate them, and give them a consistent education” by showing respect for Native American, Hispanic and Anglo students’ cultures alike.
Roman “Tiger” Abeyta will be running for re-election this year, although this is his first school board election, as he was appointed to represent District 4 in July 2022 when former board member Rudy Garcia resigned.
“The district I represent—the school board’s District 4—we’ve traditionally had a hard time getting people to participate,” Abeyta tells SFR.
District 4 encompasses Santa Fe’s Southside, including César Chávez, Ramirez Thomas and Sweeney Elementary Schools, Nina Otero Community School, Ortiz Middle School and Capital High School.
The Capital High graduate and former Santa Fe city councilor says the working-class nature of Santa Fe’s Southside means most residents don’t have the free time or resources to devote to running for office.
Abeyta, who works as Chief Professional Officer of the Boys and Girls Clubs of Santa Fe/ Del Norte, says he wants to get more community members involved in the schools, noting strides the district has made with community organizations, such as the district’s recent partnership with Apple Creative to promote digital literacy, digital equity, and coding and creativity.
“I would like to see that continue to grow,” Abeyta says. “They’ve done a good job working with out-of-school providers like the Boys and Girls Club.”
When it comes to the challenges the district faces on enrollment, Abeyta says he wants to see more study, and notes each school needs to have its population “right-sized.”