Under Skandera’s leadership, expectations and results have climbed in New Mexico

Hanna Skandera announced today that she is stepping down as the leader of New Mexico’s public school system. In her wake, she leaves not just a record of accomplishment, but a model for what leadership can look like.

Hanna unfailingly put progress for students first, and the results of that commitment are clear. Under her leadership, New Mexico’s public school system transformed from one lagging behind the nation to one that is experiencing remarkable growth across every objective measure of student success. Her six-year tenure represents the most impressive of records for a state education leader.

Since Hanna took office in 2011, high school graduation rates in New Mexico have increased eight percentage points to an all-time high of 71 percent. Graduation rates for Hispanic, low-income, and English learner students have risen even faster. Alongside rising graduation rates, more students are enrolled in Advanced Placement courses today than ever before, thanks to an incredible enrollment growth of more than 90 percent since 2010. And PARCC results are up, showing that thousands more students are on grade level. This progress reflects Hanna’s belief in the value of setting high expectations for our students, and in the importance of providing them with opportunities for meaningful growth.

During her tenure, Hanna has also overseen an intensive expansion of educator support. Over the past several years, New Mexico has launched a dozen new initiatives supporting teachers, and transformational mentorship programs like Principals Pursuing Excellence are producing real results in the state. These efforts have transformed the landscape in New Mexico, and both teacher and school evaluations have increased significantly over the past few years. They are no longer change efforts — they are part of the fabric of New Mexico’s schools now. That kind of sustainable system is a mark of great leadership. Her departure therefore comes at a natural time, and allows a future leader to build on her work. (Christopher Ruszkowski, who has served as Hanna’s deputy and is part of our Future Chiefs program, has been named Acting Secretary by Governor Susana Martinez.)

Indeed, Hanna’s vision and unwavering commitment to putting children first have fundamentally changed the conversation about education in New Mexico. Today, the focus in New Mexico is on student learning and progress, rather than on adults. Her partnership with Governor Martinez to reorient communities toward this vision of kids first provides a model for how state education Chiefs and governors can work together in a way that delivers for our children.

Hanna’s passion for reforming educational opportunities for students in her state has also made her a valued board member of Chiefs for Change. She has been part of the fabric of Chiefs for Change since its inception, and her vision for a diverse community of education Chiefs has guided our work over the years.

For all of us who know her via our work together at Chiefs for Change, she has been more than just a force for clarity and excellence — she has also been a good friend who cares deeply about the lives of her colleagues and about paying it forward by supporting and mentoring the next generation of leaders, including the talented folks on her own staff.

Like the rest of the Chiefs for Change community, Hanna knows that ensuring the success of our children is essential to our future. During her tenure, she set and surpassed aggressive goals for improving student achievement. There is still work to be done in New Mexico, but she helped turn around the state’s public school system and set it on the right track. She exits office with a long and successful record that will continue delivering results for New Mexico’s students for years to come. The work she led in New Mexico is an inspiration — and it should serve as a model for other state leaders.

By Mike Magee | CEO, Chiefs for Change