Goodman: Be Careful When Choosing New Mexico's Next Education Secretary

Dec 16, 2018

Credit peter goodman

Commentary: It felt like sitting down to a great meal and finding someone's tooth in it, or like getting to know someone then hearing him or her make some racist remark. 

I was pleased with the election results. We needed a more progressive governor; and when I talked with Michelle Lujan Grisham I liked her immediately. 


Thursday I read that Stan Rounds was under consideration for Secretary of Education. That sparked memories of spending many hours looking into many complaints about Rounds, the superintendent of schools here until mid-2016. 

There are complaints about most anyone with any power, anywhere.

But most of what I'd heard about Rounds checked out. He was a “my way or the highway” type; and his way appeared to involve appointing or retaining too many employees for the wrong reasons. One apparent example was MacArthur Elementary while his fiancée was employed there.

He also seemed to bristle at the very idea a newspaper columnist might be investigating him. Teachers and administrators were fearful of talking with me – sounding like workers at private companies I investigated as a lawyer, and like Doña Ana County sheriff's deputies more recently. The fear level shouldn't be so high in a school system.

Rounds has his fans. Folks seem to either love him or hate him. Some think he'd be a great choice for secretary of education. Others say he'd be the worst choice ever. 

I can only say that for a lot of the people involved in education in Las Cruces, there'd be a huge whoosh as the air went out of their enthusiasm for the new state administration.

I called school board member Maria Flores to ask how likely a Rounds appointment was. She didn't know. I asked for her thoughts on the position. “I'm looking for a visionary. Someone who would take us into a new model with a more progressive and more inclusive view. Education is not a business. It's not about making money. It's about teaching students and showing them how to be successful in the world. I don't think that is his vision.” Ms. Flores also taught for a couple of years during Rounds's tenure.

Flores makes a good point. Personal failings aside, no one could accuse Rounds of being a visionary. He's an administrator. An accountant. Even if all the complaints I heard about him were bogus, he just isn't what we need in this position now.

I don't know who else is under consideration. I'd want someone who was experienced as a teacher, had some overall vision for education here, had a demonstrated record of leading others and listening to them, tended to maintain control without unnecessarily hurting morale, and was responsible as to budget. Most of those are not Mr. Rounds's strong points.

I also looked back at my own columns [see links below]. Those confirmed that many sources gave consistent accounts of Rounds's alleged favoritism and bullying. As I wrote then, “I've also heard the fear in people's voices, a fear that has no place in a well-run organization. One person, declining to comment, said that the walls had ears, adding that someone could be listening outside the door. 'I can't afford to lose my job for answering your question.'”

Would Rounds's management style torpedo morale in the PED – as it reportedly did here? I don't see a pressing need to take that risk.

[Hate to rehash old problems; but these were recent (less than three years back), were obviously relevant, and reflected his character and a management pattern and practice -- not an atypical moment of inattention or an accident.  (And I held back on one point, one that particularly appalled me personally, because the source, whom I know and trust, would be immediately apparent if I wrote what he told me.)  Searching Stan Rounds takes you to this set of earlier columns mentioning Rounds, including:

Dodgeball Anyone? [26 January 2014] concerned morale problems at Desert Hills Elementary;

Teachers Allege Favoritism and Bad Management [7June2015];

Are Bullying and Favoritism Undermining Las Cruces Public Schools [12June 2015].