BY MAIRE O’NEILL
Los Alamos Public Schools Supt. Kurt Steinhaus is retiring later this month following a 45-year career centered around multiple aspects of education.
His father is a physicist and his mom was a social worker. The couple decided to come out west from Maryland to Los Alamos for two years and that two years turned into a lifetime because the loved it.
Steinhaus said he was born in Los Alamos and that it was a wonderful place to grow up.
“I think my education career started in high school when I was hired by the YMCA to be a summer camp counselor. That summer I was in charge of a small group of four year olds and we hiked and did activities. I found out I really love that role as a teacher,” he said.
When attending Los Alamos High School, Steinhaus was a member of Olions and participated in speech and debate.
“I really enjoyed music; I played the French horn in all-state. So I looked around and the best music school in New Mexico was Eastern New Mexico University and they gave me a scholarship and I went there and got a degree in Music Education. I did my student teaching at the Los Alamos Middle School. The band directors at the time were Jan McDonald at the high school and Jim Young at the middle school,” he said.
After graduation Steinhaus was hired to teach music at Alamogordo, which he said was a great place to teach.
“It was a one-high school town like Los Alamos and the high school band was called The Pride of Tularosa. I taught at the high school in the morning and drove out to Holleman Air Force Base and taught in the middle school there in the afternoons,” he recalled. “At the end of my first year of teaching, my boss pulled me in and said, ‘Kurt, we’ve got somebody named Jo Beth Glascock that applied to teach here and she graduated from the same college. Do you know her?’ I said to my boss, ‘Yes I know her very well and she doesn’t know it yet but we’re going to get married this summer’. She was just shocked.”
Jo Beth was going to school and majoring in music and she moved to Alamogordo and was hired to teach music there. The couple’s two children, Valerie and Kent, were both born during the 11 years they were there and Steinhaus said it was just a great place to teach and that he really enjoyed it there.
“Then the Public Education Department was looking for somebody that was good at data and I always was somebody that enjoyed working with math, numbers and data and I thought I could spend more time with my kids if I worked with PED because a band director at Alamogordo worked all summer long and weekends,” Steinhaus said. “The PED hired me as their assessment and data management guru and I got promoted eight times in 11 years. That gave me a chance to work on every floor in that building and I learned all kinds of stuff. It was a great place to learn. While I was there the University of New Mexico cohort program offered a grant to get a doctorate in education and so I applied. This program required me to be in some educational leadership[ position while you were working on your doctorate so I applied and got accepted and three years later, out of my cohort of 21 I was the first to finish and my fellow students thought that was because I was the best student but it wasn’t. It was because I need closure. I just needed to finish. As a part of working at the PED, I was assigned to be responsible for developing a state technology plan.”
Part of working on the technology plan involved working with Sandia and Los Alamos National Labs. Steinhaus ended up applying for a position and becoming an employee in 1988.
“I was in charge of student programs; I enjoyed that considerably and it was much better than teaching or working at PED. After 11 years at the Lab, the director told me the governor had asked for some loaned executives. He said, “The governor wants an education person – would you be that person. You know how things work in the state, you know the legislature’, and I said, ‘gosh, how about I drop down there every other Friday’,” he said. “Well, that lasted about two weeks and I became a full-time employee in Gov. Bill Richardson’s office and I was the governor’s education policy advisor. It was to be temporary and I was just going to have fun with it. Who wouldn’t like to be in a governor’s office.”
Steinhaus said he got all kinds of assignments from Governor Richardson.
“The governor invited me into his office one day and was waving this piece of paper and he said, ‘Steinhaus, this Pre-K thing is all messed up, and I don’t even know how to spell Pre-K, but you go fix it. And I didn’t know anything about early childhood education and all I said to him was ‘Yes, sir. I’ll get right on it’. So it was my job to research what Pre-K was. I had to write a bill. I had to present it to the legislature and it was my job to get it passed. By one vote, we got Pre-K started in New Mexico with a little old measly $3 million and now it’s about a $60 million initiative,” Steinhaus said.
He said he knew the legislature pretty well and that that they could get one year’s worth of funding.
“But to be able to get it recurring every year, I needed to be able to show them some hard numbers from research. The top university for research about Pre-K was Rutgers University and I got the legislature to appropriate $300,000 to hire them to do a research report about what kids took Pre-K and what kids in New Mexico didn’t, and did they learn more. A year later, I was back in front of the legislature with this research report that showed tremendous gains for New Mexico kids that got Pre-K. And that kind of put in on a launch pad to keep it going,” Steinhaus said.
When a new governor was elected, Steinhaus returned to LANL . He said he was really fortunate because the timing was perfect. They had an opening for their Community Partnership Office so he became director of education, economic development and community giving.
“Part of Community Partnerships was starting the Math and Science Academy and that’s still going today. It was designed to help tribal goals and public schools across Northern New Mexico. Originally, it was math and science but we ended up just focusing on mathematics. That’s a great program,” he said.
As a part of his education work, a couple of school board members at the time approached him saying they were going to have a vacancy and they wanted him to be the superintendent of Los Alamos Public Schools.
“I said I was very interested but would prefer to apply and compete like everybody else and not be appointed to the job. So that’s what happened. They hired a company and I applied and went through the application process and yesterday, May 4, was my anniversary date. That was seven years ago. It’s been a great run for me,” Steinhaus said. “I felt prepared for the job and I think it worked well for me because of the people around me. I also had a lot of support from the school board.”
At the very first school board meeting, Steinhaus was asked what the board could do to help him succeed and he responded that he wanted to help the board to write a strategic plan and set some goals that they would hold him accountable for.
“That served really well. We still have that plan and every month I report to the school board about what we’ve accomplished on that plan,” he said. “There were a lot of people who had been here for years and knew their way around and they helped me out so I really feel fortunate. We’ve had a really good quality school board over the last six or seven years and that’s really important for a school district to have stability.”
Steinhaus’s daughter Valerie has a master’s degree in Software Engineering , son Kent is a civil engineer and daughter-in-law Katy is an electrical engineer. He says this makes family get-togethers pretty nerdy.
“Jo Beth is a retired elementary school teacher. She’s my hero because she’s been retired for about 10 years and is really good at it,” he said.
Steinhaus said one of the areas for which he is most proud is building strong and effective teams, hiring people who are smarter than he, and supporting individual growth. One of his goals for the last three years has been to serve as an effective mentor-leader.
During his tenure the community witnessed several major construction projects at LAPS, including the Duane Smith Auditorium lobby, Topper Freshman Academy, the Los Alamos Middle School cafeteria, Barranca Mesa Elementary School, Mountain Elementary School and most recently, the Sullivan Field House. Educational specifications are being developed for some $20 million to be spent on Pinon and Chamisa Elementary Schools.
“I am very proud of the fact that while I was superintendent, every staff member has received a cumulative 18 percent raise in pay,” Steinhaus said.
During this last school year, Steinhaus feels his role as LAPS superintendent became more important than ever due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The district had to adjust to change while being creative and innovative for the benefit of students and staff. He needed to listen to and utilize extensive staff, parent and community feedback while at the same time meeting an expanding set of requirements from the state, all while addressing budget challenges, including a cut of $1.7 million for LAPS in the 2020 Special Legislative Session.
“We also had to review the science in making tough decisions about in-person learning and keeping people safe,” he said.
Steinhaus said he is honored and sincerely appreciative to have served as superintendent of Los Alamos Public Schools.
“The bottom line is I have put my heart and soul into the schools. This is my school district and I care deeply about the students and the community as well as each and every employee,” he said.