BY MAIRE O’NEILL
Six candidates for the Los Alamos Public Schools Board seats attended the League of Women Voters of Los Alamos virtual candidates’ forum Wednesday evening. This year’s school board election campaign has been more partisan then any in recent history, however only one Republican candidate, Rick Mooday, attended while Paul Jaramillo and Nickole Aguilar Garcia cited prior commitments and submitted statements to be read. Participating in the event were:
District 1/Pinon: Ellen Specter (unopposed)
District 2/Chamisa: Antonio Jaurigue
District 4/Barranca: Rick Mooday
District 5/Mountain: Erin Green
Questions and answers from the forum may be viewed at https://my.lwv.org/new-mexico/los-alamos/article/watch-video-candidates-forum-laps-board-and-unm-la-advisory-board or https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QstSgUmME_Q
Specter said she has lived in Los Alamos for almost 25 years and has served on the school board for almost five years – two years as president and two years as vice president.
“Several core values have informed my decisions. One is protecting vulnerable students. For example I champion policies to protect and support transgender students and immigrant students. Another is collaborations that help structure our limited funding,” she said. “County Councilor Sara Scott and I spearheaded the plan for the County to provide shade structures for outdoor classrooms for every school site during the pandemic.”
Specter said last but not least is supporting teachers and staff.
“During the past five budget rounds, staff have always received raises, even in very lean years, totaling 19 percent in that time. This was not common practice in the recent past,” she said.
Specter chose to use the remainder of her speaking time to speak to voters in other districts.
“As you decide on your vote for school board, I urge you to ask yourself the following questions: Which candidate is likely to ask hard questions without devolving into divisiveness and putting partisan politics over what’s best for children? Who has already shown commitment and leadership in LAPS by being on the board, PTO leadership, district committees and the like, or even by being here tonight. Who relies on evidence-based sources and science for decision-making? For example, when a candidate participates in a large indoor gathering without a mask – that matters. A well-functioning school board that focuses on what is best for our students and our teachers is so important. Please make your choice with this in mind,” she said.
During her closing comments she said voting is important even for those who don’t have a contested school board to vote for.
“There are three seats open on the UNM-LA Advisory Board for you to vote for. I will be voting for Alissa Grissom, Laura Woodring and David Hanson,” she said.
She also urged voters to vote in support of the Schools Mill Levy.
“While bonds pay for new buildings, this funding pays for things like new playgrounds, technology. Without this it would be near impossible to continue to provide laptops or iPads for every student. And the pandemic showed us how important this is,” Specter said.
Jaurigue mention that he and his wife, Tammy, have three children, all currently in the district, a second grader and fifth grader at Chamisa Elementary and a son in seventh grade. He said as a U.S. Navy veteran of nine years and having traveled the country and around the globe, he has learned a great deal about how the differences in humanity are a strength.
“My military experience has also taught me how to navigate regulations and procedures as well as conflict among people who hold different priorities. Since leaving the Navy, I’ve obtained a Bachelor’s degree in Nuclear Engineering Technology, as well as a second Bachelor’s in Philosophy and I’m currently about four months away from completing my MBA which has only expanded my ability to navigate complicated budgets as well as maximize potential within an organization,” he said.
Jaurigue said he is currently employed an operations center supervisor which he said demonstrates the ability to lead and communicate effectively.
“Since moving to White Rock seven years ago, I have been a consistent volunteer for the school district and various events in Los Alamos. As an active parent in the schools with strong relationships with the educators, I’m in a position to help our district thrive. There’s rarely a school event that I don’t attend as a volunteer or as a participant with my children, from fundraising efforts to helping with dances and field trips,” he said. “Most recently, I helped the PTO raise more than $4,500 with a community yard sale at Chamisa. Similarly, my family’s involvement in other events in our County such as sports and clubs helps me to form connections with other parents and teachers, expanding my ability to represent the community’s interests.”
During his closing comments, Jaurigue said he wants to put a fresh perspective to the school board, a voice that reflects the needs, desires and perception among the educators, parents and students.
“In the past year and a half, this pandemic has shown me how important it is for our district to have a voice that is in touch with the community. I’ve been present to listen to the complaints, fears, and ideas of the educators and parents that have otherwise been ignored by the county,” he said. “Rather than only focusing on test scores and pushing the educators to their limits, I plan on listening to what educators need in order to promote actual learning among students rather than rote memorization.”
Jaurigue noted that in recent years, studies have shown that happier children perform better.
“With active communication that I can bring to our district, we can all perform better,” he said.
Boerigter said he has been on the board for four years and has been in Los Alamos for 29 years.
“Let me just say that I was in Antonio’s shoes a long time ago when my kids were at Chamisa and Chamisa-bound. They are now 31, 29 and 27. I have a long history of service to Los Alamos Community and leadership here. I think that I can continue to provide that leadership and experience to the school board especially as we face some of these more challenging decisions that are important and strategic for our community and for our schools and for our children in the next several years, including decisions for hiring a new superintendent, for building of the Chamisa School, and for strategic usage of other facilities and resources that the schools have including for example the North Mesa Housing Project,” he said.
Boerigter said he has an absolute passion for education and is a strong and vocal advocate for education as “the single most transformative element in our society to help bring society up and bring it together”.
“I’m a believer in public education. I myself have a Doctorate degree, my wife was a chemistry teacher for 29 years and it turns out all three of my kids are working on advanced degrees mostly in medicine,” he said. “Just a little note on Chamisa, and Antonio, when you listen to the PA system in the auditorium there – hey, I put that in when my kids were doing a play and I couldn’t hear them very well. Most of you know me. I’ve been around Los Alamos for a long time.”
During closing comments, Boerigter said he has been on the board for four years and brings a lot of experience both in the community and on the board and that he has a passion for education.
“I think that my role on this board will be to ensure that we keep a long view in mind, that we take those board actions that will ensure that strategic resources are available for our teachers and our students for years to come,” he said.
Mooday noted that he has been in Los Alamos with my wife, Teddie Sue, for about 23 years and that he has four children, three of whom through Los Alamos Schools and are “beneficiaries of the great school system that we have here”. He said one is a junior, two are in the medical field and one is in college.
“I’m running specifically about my core value and my platform’s really about improving our school system. I’ve seen trends of things that have concerned me a little bit. I think current boards and past boards have done the best that they can. They’re all, the current board and prior – filled with serious individuals with a corrective vision for where we want to get. I don’t feel that we’re making progress sometimes so that’s one of my main platforms,” Mooday said.
He said he agrees that the major work on the docket for the board is the hiring of a superintendent.
“That’s the most important – really the only employee – the superintendent will run the schools for us and it’s the most important thing the school board does,” he said.
Mooday noted that he has a background in the U.S. Navy having spent 10 years in naval aviation. He holds graduate degrees in Chemical Engineering and has been “at the Lab for all kinds of stuff like just about everybody in town here”.
“I’m a firm believer in education. Like I said, I believe that the most important work that’s done in Los Alamos, people think it’s the Lab – it’s not the Labs, it’s probably the schools. They’re going to be cleaning up our problems for many years to come and they deserve the best that we can give,” he said.
During closing comments, Mooday said he wanted to make a comment about “the divisive political nature of this race” and that he wanted to thank everybody for their “sincere efforts through all of this”.
“There’s a lot going on. There’s much discussion about Critical Race Theory that has happened in the past and I just wanted to make a comment. Looking at the social studies plan for the state of New Mexico, in that document the words ‘identity’ and ‘group’ are mentioned 185 times in the k-12 social studies program. The word ‘freedom’ is in there once, the words ‘Declaration of Independence’ is in there twice, the Bill of Rights is mentioned three times,” Mooday said. “You can see from this meeting these kinds of discussions seem to be a lot about separation and division and groups and safety which has nothing to do with safety. It has to do with an absence of adversity. I’m here to return the course of this school district in a better direction, help transparency for parents and help them get better involved.”
Colgan said the reason she is running can be summed up in two words – “The Kids”.
“I’m not here to promote a political agenda. I’m running to do what’s best for the kids. As a parent, a coach, a girl scout leader, A Sunday School teacher, a classroom volunteer, a PTO president, and as the current Los Alamos School Board president, I’ve been deeply involved with LAPS and our community for the last 15 years. As a nurse and a local college professor, I bring the experience, knowledge, training and commitment necessary to lead our district during this critical time,” she said.
While serving on the school board over the last year, she said she has demonstrated a deep commitment to the education and well-being of all Los Alamos Public School students.
“Although I am the parent of five children in the district, my decisions while on the school board have always been based on what’s best for the district as a whole,” Colgan said.
She noted that the school board will soon be selecting a new superintendent.
“If elected to the school board, I’ll be able to evaluate our candidates and work with a new superintendent utilizing my experience of having worked with our last superintendent and our current interim superintendent. I will continue to bring my nursing, teaching and community experiences to complex decisions that the board must make while always keeping in mind the welfare of all the students, teachers, and staff of LAPS,” Colgan said.
During closing comments, she called the LWV forum a great Los Alamos tradition and said she was very proud to be part of it. She reiterated that she is not running to promote a political agenda.
“I’m here to do what’s best for our students, our teachers and our staff. I’m running to keep them all safe, and healthy and in school. This can only be done by following evidence-based science. Once elected to the school board I will continue to respect, value and encourage the involvement of Los Alamos parents, students and the community. I will seek the knowledge and the expertise of our district’s teachers and staff whose services are absolutely essential to LAPS and I pledge my continuing dedication to you,” Colgan said.,
Green said she is running to keep her appointed seat on the school board representing District 5.
“I was unanimously appointed to that position in July by the current board and it has been my pleasure ever since. My values are social-emotional welfare, and keeping kids safely in school as we continue to weather the COVID-19 pandemic. I look forward to working closely with my fellow board members as well as school administrators to explore sustainable support for teachers as well as equitable practices that benefit every single student,” she said.
Her youngest child is a first grader at Mountain Elementary and her oldest is homeschooled, Green noted, adding that she has been dedicated to education for her homeschooler for six years.
“I founded and directed an educational forest school cooperative. I have been an active girl scout leader for five years and a leader of two troops that serve girls in White Rock, Los Alamos, Espanola and homeschoolers throughout . I served for four years as the chair of a religious education committee at the Unitarian Church as well as a Sunday school teacher. I’m also a consent educator with Strong In Nature, a Los Alamos nonprofit that serves the community in education on sexual and domestic violence prevention as well as teen dating violence,” Green said. “In my role as the chair of the Los Alamos County Racial Equity & Inclusivity Task Force, I am fortunate to lead the effort in examining equity and accessibility in our County. As a bi-racial individual, I am uniquely qualified to be a bridge in our diverse community. I am currently a graduate student working towards a Master’s in Mental Health Counseling. I’ll be practicing in practicum next summer and hope to graduate in the fall.”
In her closing comments, Green encouraged residents of District 5 to vote for her.
“I know that our schools already have a strong foundation in safety and healthy schools initiatives and I’m dedicated to building those same initiatives for all students, no matter what their background. Every single child deserves to feel wanted and safe so that they can thrive academically. Frederick Douglas said, ‘It is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men”. I am dedicated to the children. We will nourish strong children with emotional safety, social safety, COVID-19 safety and physical safety,” Green said.
The following statement from Paul Anthony Jaramillo who is running in District 2, was read by Ellen Mills:
Statement from Paul Anthony Jaramillo,
First of all I would like to thank you for the opportunity to provide a statement and apologize that I was unable to zoom in tonight due to a prior commitment. Despite the rumors that I intentionally avoided this forum is blatantly false. It’s a forum I would have loved to be involved in it just happened to be scheduled at a time I was unable to partake.
I chose to run for the Los Alamos Public School Board because I have been involved in the district for the past 4 years before COVID as a Special Ed Instructional Assistan and a district-wide substitute.
It is a high priority for this district that we perform as a cohesive unit including board members, district personnel, staff, teachers, and community members. It is essential that we effectively communicate across all areas, establishing and maintaining trust and common goals.
We must also ensure that methods of accountability are in place, such that each member of our team understands his or her responsibility and that parents, children, teachers, administrators, staff and school board members can fulfill these responsibilities effectively with the students first by sticking to traditional classroom teachings of Math, Science, Language Arts, Social Studies etc.
I will come to this position with an open mind and the objectivity necessary to perform all the functions of a school board member including hiring a qualified superintendent. I am willing, eager in fact, to devote the time and energy that this community deserves in fulfilling my duties as a member of this board.
I have so much more but I am limited with time.
God Bless you all as we move forward for our students for a better future.
Mills also read the following statement from Nickole Aguilar Garcia who us running in District 5:
Statement from Nickole Aguilar Garcia
Unfortunately, due to a prior commitment I am unable to be in attendance tonight. I am excited about the upcoming school board election and I am committed to be a positive voice for students, parents, and teachers. I am a Los Alamos native and attended LAPS from kindergarten through graduation. I am married with four children at LAPS, a senior at LAHS and three children at Mountain Elementary. I work at LANL as a Staff Operations Manager. I have Bachelor’s degrees in Psychology, Human Resources, and Organizational Leadership and Development from the University of New Mexico and a Master’s Business Administration from New Mexico State University.
My key platform issues for the school board are:
1. Education Quality and Curriculum: Data from NM PED and confirmed by LAPS administration shows LAPS reading proficiency at 57% and math proficiency at 47%. Academic improvements should be at the forefront of our schools, especially since data shows the majority of students experienced learning loss due to the COVID pandemic.
2. Special Education resources, as well as recruitment and retention of qualified staff. 3. LAPS Superintendent Search: this person should possess excellent leadership skills, ability to engage students, staff, parents, and the community, fiscal responsibility, and have educational goals that will help our diverse and unique schools thrive.
4. Reviving/improving the work study and trades/vocational programs at the high school. 5. Support of extracurricular activities and athletics.
In response to Melissa Goldman’s question to school board candidates: I have read all of the current policies regarding support for LGBTQ+ students and I feel our schools have done an excellent job instituting good supportive policies as well as providing positive programs and initiatives. I am certainly open to any suggestion for additions to policy and/or supportive resources.