The first time the Moriarty-Edgewood School District is holding its school board election in November sees two unchallenged incumbents, and a third incumbent who is with opposition for the seat.

Albert Chavez, Elizabeth Howells and Charles Armijo all currently sit on the school board and have terms up for election. While Howells and Chavez are unopposed for the Position 3 and Position 4 seats respectively, Armijo is facing a challenge from Cris Encinias for Position 2.

Armijo and Encinias were interviewed about their bids for a school board seat by The Independent.

Cris Encinias

Cris Encinias is running for public office for the first time, what he described as “my way of giving back to the community that’s given me so much.”

While he describes himself as an introvert, Encinias said he decided to run because, “I always heard that if you’re going to complain, you can’t complain unless you’re going to do something about it.” He said he has not regularly attended school board meetings, but has reviewed notes and minutes from previous meetings and set up a meeting with the district superintendent.

Cris Encinias

Encinias has a child at the high school, along with “various nieces and nephews.” One of the biggest issues he sees at the district is teacher turnover, which he said is “just horrible,” adding, “I see a lot of good teachers going to other districts.”

He questions why the district spends money “on certain things but not on other things,” pointing to a recent school trip in a vehicle with bald tires. “I know times are tough, but [that vehicle] never should have left the yard in my opinion.”

Asked what he would want to change if elected, Encinias said, “I don’t want to go in and burn any bridges down. I want to go in there and get a feeling on how everything is run and slowly move to changes—and there may not be changes, it may be a minor tweak to the system without any butting of heads.”

His priorities if elected would include getting the district’s ag farm up and running. He said he is a strong supporter of student programs including FFA, sports and music. “Anything to keep the kids busy,” he said.

Teacher retention, security and infrastructure are also priorities. Encinias said his experience in construction and building maintenance would be an asset to the board. “I know buildings. … It would be a major deal for me to see how these buildings are bing upkept, and what we can do to make these buildings go longer with less money.”

After spending some time away from the area, Encinias said he is looking to larger school districts. “I’ve been around a lot of good school systems, and I think Moriarty can head back in that direction. It’s going to take a lot of work, a lot of man-hours, but we need to start heading in this direction.”

Encinias continued, “The student is the most important thing for me. I’d like to see these kids be able to go into the workforce. We have a lot of good facilities—automotive, wood classes, welding classes.” He applauded those efforts but said the school district could go farther toward student job readiness.

“I just want you to know my efforts as a board member would center on serving all of the members of the community, not just the kids in my district,” Encinias said. “One child is no more important than the other.”

Asked if he has ever been convicted of a crime, Encinias replied, “Never. I think the last time I was pulled over was 20 years ago.”

Charles Armijo

Charles Armijo has been on the school board since he was appointed to replace Matt Page in 2013, in District 2, which stretches all the way to San Miguel County.

Armijo lives in Wagon Wheel.

His father served on the school board from 1972 to 1989.

When Armijo joined the board, student enrollment, and the funding that is figured per-student, were on the decline. One of Armijo’s first votes was to join the Yazzie Martinez lawsuit that said the state was not providing sufficient funding to schools.

Charles Armijo

“The district was facing some big challenges with school closure. It wasn’t so much about closing the schools, it was a budget thing.”

Armijo said the district has been in survival mode, but now is turning from what he called a “10,000-foot view” to a more student-centered approach.

Communication, budget, safety and programs for students are high on Armijo’s list of priorities for the district. He also applauds the district’s commitment to industrial trades like woodworking, welding and automotive and says the district can do more.

“Communication is everything,” Armijo said. “No matter the conversation we’re having, whether it be budgetary, policy, safety—communication is always an aspect of those conversations. … I’m communicating anything and everything from the smallest detail to the big picture.”

Armijo favors working with higher education institutions so that students could graduate high school with training certificates that would make them immediately employable.

“We have to prepare our students for life after graduation, and so my vision is, they’re in our care. … The world has changed. … They have a lot more pressures. We sometimes pick on generations but the reality is it’s difficult in 2019 to be a teenager or even an elementary student.”

Training of school board members is important, Armijo said, noting that he recently won an award from the school board association the district belongs to for training hours. It’s possible to serve on the school board and still not understand some of the complex processes, he said, adding, “I take my board role and my board position very seriously, so I pursued as much training as I could.”

Armijo said the district is in transition, and said it has done a great job of preserving programs for students during the lean years, citing the music, art, new vocational shop and other programs. “We still have piano classes, we still have band,” he said. “You know we still have athletics, performing arts. A lot of other districts have not found a way to make it all happen.”

He added, “You can cut fast, but adding stuff, that takes time. It’s a process and it takes time.”

The district was the first in New Mexico to have all staff trained in recognizing trauma. “It’s the concept of the whole student,” Armijo said, adding, “Their physical health, their academic health, their mental health, their mental health, their mental health. … Professional development is the answer in training.”

Critical thinking and communication skills are also priorities for him.

He said the district also has a responsibility to teach life skills “for students who can’t advocate for themselves or whose parent’s can’t advocate for the student.”

One of his biggest points of pride in the district is the new vocational programs. “We are the envy of other districts—we have the most amazing welding lab, auto mechanics lab, you know, and this was all done through the generosity of our local community through general obligation bonds.”

Upcoming priorities include Wi-Fi on buses for those students with very long bus rides. “Right now we are wanting to bridge that digital divide and make it equitable across all socioeconomic landscapes.”

Asked if he has ever been convicted of a crime, Armijo answered, “No.”