SANTA FE, N.M. (KRQE) – We’re less than a week out from the start of school for many New Mexicans. With a new secretary taking over the New Mexico Public Education Department, we wanted to see what his plan is for the new year. Navigating the first, fully-in-person school year since the pandemic began is no small feat, but Dr. Kurt Steinhaus says he’s ready to work — and listen.
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“We are educators,” said Dr. Steinhaus. “We know about teaching and learning and human behavior, so we’re going to stick to our knitting and we’re going to look to the scientists and professionals in regards to advice.”
The former Los Alamos Schools superintendent will take over as the state’s Public Education Department secretary as Ryan Stewart leaves the department this month. Just a week after major announcements from the PED when it comes to a COVID-safe return with vaccines and masks, Steinhaus says he’s not interested in making any drastic changes but does want to make sure districts across the state take every precaution.
“We’ve got to get the kids back in school. In-person learning for most of our students is absolutely essential,” said Steinhaus. “We’ve got to make school safe for in-person learning so we don’t have to close the school down because of COVID or any other reasons so we’re implementing all the safety measures that we need.”
Beyond COVID, Steinhaus has long-term goals of revamping New Mexico’s education system — something that has seen gaps in the past as students fall through the cracks. However, he warns that it won’t be a quick fix and rather than slapping a band-aid on the state’s problems, he wants to gradually heal them.
“If you look across the country, the states that have been successful, they’ve done it over a 3-, 5-, 7-year period. It’s such a big challenge, it’ll take several years. That’s one part of it,” said Steinhaus. “The other part of it is for the finances and the professionals to catch up with the goals. There is no just simple fix in education.”
Steinhaus says he’s kicking things off by focusing nearly a billion dollars of federal funding to help students catch up, using before- and after-school programs and high-quality tutors. With the funding in place and support from the legislature, he says it’s a new dawn for education in New Mexico.
“If you take all those things together, this is the year for New Mexico and I want to help make that work,” said Steinhaus, referring to the projected changes as a ‘flywheel.’ “It’s something that’s hard to get started but once you get started, it keeps rolling. I want us to make this year the year where we get the flywheel started.”
Dr. Steinhaus says another big goal as he takes on this role is to get more New Mexicans as mentors to students. He wants to make sure every student has someone checking in on their schooling and well-being.
“Make sure every single student in New Mexico has at least one adult that’s paying attention to them on a day-to-day basis,” said Steinhaus. “If they’re getting nutrition and getting dressed for school and getting good sleep. Getting some homework done too.”
As for now, Steinhaus has not changed the mask guidance made by the PED last week. Still detailed on their website, anyone in an elementary school is required to mask up, regardless of vaccination status, while middle and high school students and staff who are unvaccinated or don’t provide documentation of full vaccination are required to wear a mask.