Bloomfield superintendent earns top honor at statewide conference
Kim Mizell earns award from New Mexico School Superintendents' Association
BLOOMFIELD − When asked how much the nature of a school superintendent's job has changed since she took over the top position for the Bloomfield School District seven years ago, Kim Mizell barely pauses to stop and think.
"Exponentially," she said emphatically. "It really has, with COVID and the layering of accountability and reporting when it comes to federal dollars. … Expectations are very high. It's really just trying to manage those increased expectations on top of doing your regular job."
Mizell apparently has managed to navigate those issues well, as she is preparing to enter her eighth year in the superintendent's office in Bloomfield. She also just earned the Superintendent of the Year award from the New Mexico School Superintendents' Association and the New Mexico Coalition of Education Leaders during the group's annual summer meeting in Albuquerque.
Mizell, who just finished her term as president of the NMSSA, was named one of four finalists for the award before earning the top honor. The selection was voted on by the state's 89 school superintendents. The award included a plaque and a $500 check.
"It's just really nice to be recognized by your colleagues," Mizell said, adding that she was surprised and humbled by the honor.
To illustrate how turnover-prone superintendent jobs have become in recent years, Mizell said there were 56 superintendents in New Mexico this year − more than half the total number − who had been in their position for less than two years. A total of 40 of them were new to their job this year, she said.
"If you don't have a majority on the school board supporting your programs, your days are numbered as a superintendent," she said, describing the reality of the environment.
Mizell attributed her longevity in Bloomfield to several factors, including having a supportive community and school board, as well as a lot of hard work, which she said was something that extended to her staff.
"It's a matter of staying focused on what we have to accomplish," she said. "I have amazing cabinet members and other people who support this work. I give them all the recognition."
The last two and a half years have been especially challenging, Mizell said, referring to the issues presented by the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as the adoption of new social studies standards by the New Mexico Public Education Department and some parents' dissatisfaction with those.
But Mizell said she believes part of the reason she has been able to retain the support of parents and school board members for a comparatively long time is the fact that she is a Bloomfield native and has deep roots in the community. That has helped her establish a level of trust with those folks, she said.
The state's superintendents have learned to stick together and support each other, she said, describing how they came up with a platform outlining their needs before the last legislative session. Thanks to some intense lobbying and a unified message, "We accomplished 90% of our goals," she said, including securing pay raises for teachers.
Mizell said she believes her district has made significant strides over the last seven years despite seeing its enrollment shrink because of an economic climate that has led many families to relocate.
"I'm proud of what we've accomplished in Bloomfield," she said, citing the district's 86% graduate rate – a figure that holds up across all ethnic groups.
The district also has taken big strides in regard to adding advanced placement classes and reading programs, while its athletic programs remain highly competitive across the board, she said.
But much work remains to be done, Mizell said. Still on her to-do list is initiating a program that provides affordable, quality housing for new teachers − something that would help keep the district's classrooms fully staffed, she said − and the creation of additional career technical programs that would address the nation's growing infrastructure needs. Mizell said that includes classes in plumbing, electrical work and welding.
The teacher housing program is something she has been focused on for a long time, she said.
"It can be big," she said of the difficulty of getting such a program off the ground. "But I think we have a way to do that. I've always wanted to do it, but having the money is a challenge."
Mizell said it is getting programs like that off the ground that allows her to continue to find a lot of job satisfaction after seven years.
"I enjoy working with the people I work with," she said. "I spend more time with the people in the office than I do at home."
Mike Easterling can be reached at 505-564-4610 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Support local journalism with a digital subscription: http://bit.ly/2I6TU0e.