Shelby Perea, Albuquerque Journal Published 1:20 p.m. MT Feb. 22, 2019
Karen Trujillo faced some resistance when she began pursuing a teaching career.
While she was in college working to become a math teacher, she studied alongside engineers and others in STEM.
She was often encouraged to go that route, become an engineer and abandon teaching.
That was because of teaching’s reputation, she explained.
Trujillo, who has been in education for 25 years, is now secretary-designate of the state Public Education Department. She was elected the District 5 Doña Ana County Commissioner in November, but resigned weeks after taking her oath of office to take over the state education office.
On Thursday afternoon, she was at the Educators Rising New Mexico conference in Albuquerque, encouraging about 250 aspiring teachers to continue.
The native New Mexican addressed the rhetoric around teaching — the very reasons she was told to jump ship.
She homed in on salaries, saying many of the teachers-to-be were told that they wouldn’t earn a good wage. But she highlighted Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s push to raise base salaries to $41,000, $50,000 and $60,000 for the three teaching tiers.
She also encouraged the high school and college students to stay in the state and to take advantage of its benefits like the Lottery Scholarship.
“There is a lot of opportunity here,” she told the crowd.
She said the community’s perspective of the profession needs to shift in order to fill the many education vacancies in the state.
Trujillo knows the teacher vacancy crisis in New Mexico firsthand, having co-authored a report that looked at how many educator positions were unfilled in the state.
That report found that, as of Oct. 1, there were 740 teacher vacancies.
“You are going to fill those classrooms!” she told the crowd of students.
Trujillo told the Albuquerque Journal that there are plans to have someone at the PED dedicated to teacher recruitment, retention and research.
“Right now, there’s lots of efforts all over, and we want to center it,” she said.
Despite the lingering, negative view that has swirled around the teaching profession, Trujillo thinks shifts are on the horizon.
“I think that narrative of what it means to be in education, especially in New Mexico, is changing,” she said.
She told the students that efforts are in place to get them in the classroom, such as loan forgiveness programs.
And education is expected to look very different under the new administration, and with new money going toward education.
Changing systems like school grades, PARCC and teacher evaluations are part of an education overhaul that is underway.
Right now, PED is garnering community feedback on proposed alterations to school accountability in the state, including scrapping A-F school grades.
Trujillo told the Albuquerque Journal that revamping teacher evaluations will be next.
She said PED is reviewing NM Teach, the current evaluation system, to see what will be changed and what will be kept.
“It’s not going to be throwing the baby out with the bath water,” she said.
Trujillo said testing could be used in future evaluation, but that decision will be made after getting feedback from teachers. Trujillo envisions a test that focuses on students’ continual growth and also takes teachers’ professional development into account.
“It’s a really fun and exciting time to be where you are today. So, don’t let anyone tell you any different,” she told the Educators Rising group.