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News from 2023-2024

Posted: January 3, 2024

APS Board Welcomes Three New Members, Elects New President

Astorga, Tome-Warito, Benavidez sworn in; Gonzales elected president.

From left, Board President Danielle Gonzales and new board members Ronalda Tome-Warito, Janelle Astorga, and Heather Benavidez

From left, Board President Danielle Gonzales and new board members Ronalda Tome-Warito, Janelle Astorga, and Heather Benavidez

The Albuquerque Public Schools Board of Education elected a new president and welcomed three new board members on Wednesday night.

Board member Danielle Gonzales, who was elected to the District 3 seat two years ago, will lead the board as its new president.

“I have spent my entire career in education, in education policy, specifically,” Gonzales said prior to being elected to the leadership position. “But I also began my career as a teacher on the U.S.-Mexico border, very intentionally working to teach English learners and to teach Mexican nationals and to help live into this ideal of education as the tool for advancing the American Dream, which I very much believe.”

She stressed that she has focused on educational equity, educational justice, and racial justice, is a parent to four school-age children, and is a proud product of APS.

New board members

Recently elected board members Janelle Astorga, Ronalda Tome-Warito, and Heather Benavidez, meanwhile, took their seats on the board after being sworn in. Tome-Warito was elected board vice president while Astorga was elected board secretary.

Tome-Warito

Retired New Mexico Chief Justice Patricio M. Serna, who administered the oath to Tome-Warito reflected on the magnitude of the moment.

“It’s my great honor and pleasure to make history here today with our new board member to be,” Serna said. “Ronalda Tome-Warito will be the very first Native American school board member in the history of the Albuquerque school board.”

Tome-Warito, an educational consultant and longtime advocate for children with disabilities and native students, was elected to the District 2 seat. She noted that her great, great-grandmother walked the Long Walk of the Navajos in 1863 and that Native children weren’t always welcome at APS. She said it’s vital to acknowledge Native American people and Native students within the district.

“I hope within the time in my term that we not only get to see a different lens of what it means to represent our children, all children, especially those of color, who have not only felt the traumas of what the schools have done, but I hope that with this new incoming member bringing another lens that we start to heal, and that we start to recognize that we all have a responsibility,” Tome-Warito said. “It will take everyone to make sure that this district does what we need to.”

Astorga

Astorga, who was elected to the District 1 seat at the age of 26, is the co-director of Learning Alliance of New Mexico. She is believed to be the youngest board member in APS history. She was sworn in by Judge Alma C. Roberson and used a Bible that belonged to her grandfather, who recently passed away.

“To my community, this is only the start,” she said. “We know that there are some things that we want to change, some things that we want to keep and support, and I hope that I am that voice that you all voted me in to be and that I make you all proud.” Astorga pledged to focus on equity and racial justice as a board member.

Benavidez

Benavidez, the leader of a disability advocacy non-profit and a former magistrate judge, was elected to the District 4 seat. She was sworn in by her husband, Bernalillo County Metropolitan Court Chief Judge Joshua J. Sánchez.

“I am committed to representing you with integrity, transparency, and a deep sense of responsibility,” she said. “And as we embark on this journey together, please remember the ideals that bind us, the principles of justice, equality, inclusion, diversity, and the importance of public education because they define the very essence of our democracy.”

She stressed that there is so much to be proud of within APS, but noted that “there are people who never miss a chance to criticize and find fault.

“I look forward to working alongside each of my fellow board members to demonstrate the excellence of APS and prove those pessimistic people wrong.”

Moving forward

Gonzales, the new board president, pledged her commitment to the five-year goals adopted by the board last year and to the guardrails and the strategic plan aimed at helping the district achieve those goals. The goals include raising third-grade proficiency rates in English language arts and eighth-grade proficiency rates in math by at least 10 percentage points and improving post-secondary readiness, which translates into getting students to take more advanced placement and dual credit courses, among other efforts. The fourth goal is to ensure that students have the skills, mindsets, and habits they will need to be successful in life.

Gonzales emphasized the importance of that fourth goal and also “working really intently to ensure that we’re building safe, equitable learning environments and focusing on school climate for our students.” She said she would also like to see a student on the board.

“The biggest decision that we’re going to make as a new board is going to be selecting our next superintendent,” she said. “And I am committed to staying focused on student outcomes, to choosing a leader who is focused on student outcomes, and then to supporting that leader and evaluating that leader to make sure we’re working collectively to improve student outcomes.”

Other leadership positions

Also at Wednesday night’s meeting, board members selected leaders for the board’s three standing committees.

Board member Crystal Tapia-Romero will continue to serve as chair of the board’s finance committee, while board member Josefina Domínguez will serve as chair of the Policy Committee. As vice president, Tome-Warito will chair the board’s Audit Committee.