NEW MEXICO (KRQE) – Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham announced changes in the leadership of the state’s Public Education and Public Safety departments Thursday. In a news conference at the Roundhouse in Santa Fe, the Governor announced Secretary Ryan Stewart is stepping down as the PED Secretary and will be replaced in the interim by former Los Alamos Public Schools Superintendent Kurt Steinhaus.
The Governor’s Office also announced Thursday its appointing a new secretary-designee for the Department of Public Safety. Jason Bowie, a deputy chief for Rio Rancho Police, will take the role as the head of DPS.
During Thursday’s announcement, PED Secretary Stewart said he was making a “family first” decision, resigning to be closer to his father who is ill with a medical condition. Stewart is expected to continue to work with PED in a consulting role.
“I’m incredibly sad to be leaving at this point,” Stewart said. “(I’m) also, incredibly encouraged knowing that we have such dedicated and strong, incredibly visionary person taking up the mantle and making sure that New Mexico and the students of New Mexico have everything they need at their hands to thrive and succeed in the future,”
Stewart’s replacement marks the third different cabinet secretary the Governor has appointed to the position. Her first choice, former Las Cruces Schools Superintendent Karen Trujillo was fired in June 2019. Stewart had been in the role of education secretary since August 2019.
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With just weeks away from the start of the school year for many New Mexico districts — and changes to the public health guidance when it comes to mask wearing and vaccinations — the change in education leadership in the state could put all of the recent guidance up in the air. While Steinhaus didn’t detail what changes he’ll make, he says he’s ready to get to work.
Stewart’s successor, Steinhaus retired from Los Alamos Public Schools in May 2021. Thursday, he said he was “all in” for the new position.
“The short range goal is to jump on the energy of the first day of school,” Steinhaus said. “I would like not only the first day of school but this whole year to be the year of literacy for New Mexico public education, and when I talk about literacy, I’m talking about culturally relevant that respects history, that respects the traditions of our schools and I’m going to invite every single school, every principal in New Mexico to create a theme of literacy of that year.”
Steinhaus says he also has middle-range and long-range goals while in the position. His middle-range goal is to use the newly approved millions in federal money to see improvements in areas like tutoring and home visits, while the long-range for the next three years is to become first in the U.S. in three areas, including student and staff well-being, academic achievement and marketing for educators to come to the state.
In the Department of Public Safety, Bowie will replace interim DPS Secretary Tim Johnson. Johnson will return to his previous role as Chief of New Mexico State Police (NMSP.) The previously acting NMSP Chief, Robert Thornton will return to his previous role as deputy chief within NMSP.
A career law enforcement officer with Rio Rancho Police, Bowie, 49, spoke of hoping to help law enforcement leaders in the state earn more community support for police, as he experienced in Rio Rancho.
“(Support for law enforcement) is not coincidental, its from all the hard work that the men and women of the police department do,” Bowie said. “On a national level, those things that get thrust to the forefront are those officers that are bad actors or doing things that they’re not supposed to be doing, and I can tell you it disappoints law enforcement leaders as much as that young officer working out there on the street because that young officer that’s out there working and doing exactly what they should be doing day-in, day-out is also disappointed when their reputation is for a lack of a better word, smeared.”
Bowie had a message for law enforcement in the state. “To young officers who are just starting out their career, and those people who might be considering joining law enforcement, I’m here to tell you you’re absolutely loved and supported, you’re absolutely needed, but that love is not unconditional, we expect a lot from our police officers, we expect accountability, we expect accountability.”
These are two of many cabinet secretaries in Gov. Lujan Grisham’s administration to step down in recent months with key roles during the pandemic. Kathy Kunkel retired as health secretary in the middle of the pandemic last year. Dr. Tracie Collins, who replaced her, stepped down earlier this month to return to the University of New Mexico. Earlier this year, the state’s Workforce Solutions secretary, Bill McCamley, also stepped down from his position after a year of tackling unemployment in the state during the pandemic.
At the end of the news conference, the Governor also announced plans for another “surge” of NMSP officers coming to the Albuquerque metro-area soon. NMSP’s last surge placed 50 extra officers on the streets of Albuquerque in May 2019, shortly after the shooting death of UNM Lobos baseball player Jackson Weller.
Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham declined to set a timeline for the next surge or say how long it would last. She said to “expect an operational plan very soon,” while also promising 50 officers would again be apart of the next surge.
“50 officers, placed in areas that can really have an impact,” Governor Lujan Grisham said. “Also (expect an operational plan) evaluating the things that were perfect, the things that weren’t perfect, the things that have to be improved to make sure that arrests and bad actors are being prosecuted and held in exactly in the way that we intend for them to be.”
Governor Lujan Grisham said the latest surge is happening with the support of the Albuquerque Police Department and Albuquerque Mayor Tim Keller. The city hasn’t made any public statements yet about the upcoming operation.