Pojoaque Valley Schools' new leadership team, Assistant Superintendent Sondra Adams and Superintendent Dr. Mel Morgan. Photo by Tarin Nix with the Valley Daily Post
Pojoaque’s New Superintendent Brings The Best For The Best
By Tarin Nix
Pojoaque – There is a man in Pojoaque who believes classroom instruction and curriculum should never be hindered and teacher evaluations are only as good as the improvements they foster for instruction. A man that believes lunchtime is meant to eat with students and expulsion should be avoided at all costs. A man that believes the ‘team’ is more beneficial than the individual and anything can be positively affected through incremental change. That man is Dr. Mel Morgan, Pojoaque Public Schools new Superintendent and he is in it for the long haul.
With over 30 years in the public education sector, Morgan spent time at the State level and with school districts in Gadsden, Dona Ana and Santa Fe before coming to Pojoaque. As Morgan likes to put it, he has always had public education in his blood. His father was an, “outstanding school administrator in El Paso” and his mother, “a wonderful elementary school principal in El Paso.”
But Morgan’s path to becoming Superintendent wasn’t planned or anticipated when over two years ago, he was hired as Assistant Superintendent for Pojoaque. Morgan recalls many conversations he had with his former student and then Pojoaque Superintendent Adan Delgado. Morgan is very quick to point out that that he and Delgado were a team and he, “felt very comfortable with that.” So, when it was time to name Delgado’s replacement, Morgan wasn’t convinced it should be him.
However, Pojoaque School Board President Jon Paul Romero and Delgado both agreed Morgan was the right person for the job. “Morgan’s infectious presence and unique outlook on public education made him an ideal candidate but it was his unwavering commitment we witnessed during the two years prior that solidified his position as Superintendent and we couldn’t be more pleased,” noted Romero.
Morgan, who had never been a Superintendent, might have been wary about his ability to handle the new role but he never questioned whether he was in the right District. As Morgan tells the story, for years he looked for a District that mirrored an experience he had at Gadsden ISD. As he puts it, “It was a rural and a little old fashioned. Children said yes ma’am and no ma’am and they tried their best. They might not have had the best test scores but they tried.”
It was this same culture that Morgan found when he came to Pojoaque and the reason he will tell anyone who will listen that Pojoaque is the ‘best.’ Not the best in the region or in the State, just the ‘best.’ According to Morgan in Pojoaque, “the kids are remarkable. They are not the wealthiest students in New Mexico nor are they the poorest. They are humble. Our students and teachers give it their best shot and everybody cares.”
But the transition hasn’t always been easy for Morgan. When he took over the role, Morgan immediately experienced vacancies on multiple levels and has taken his time to fill the positions to ensure they are the right fit for the District. Morgan cites his optimistic but cautious approach to filling the role of Assistant Superintendent as the reason Pojoaque was able to hire former Santa Fe Public Schools administrator Sondra Adams with no objections from the large interview team. Morgan notes, “I never dreamed Sondra would do this with one year away from retirement and no kids in school but with her vast detailed experience, I am so grateful to have her.”
Excellent hires and a supportive School Board have been essential for the successful transition of Morgan into the role of Superintendent. Morgan brags a lot about the School Board and the inclusiveness he says is very rare of boards. Morgan recalls presenting to the board for over an hour and being awe-struck when the first time in his 31 years in public education that any board had asked how they could help further programs for the District.
It is this refreshing change for Morgan that has given him the ability to learn and grow as Superintendent and create learning opportunities for students at every level in Pojoaque. Morgan is extremely proud of the “Classroom A” that was set up for students who, for other reason or another, would be expelled from all public schools in New Mexico. Classroom A has its own rules and materials, goes from 9:00a.m. to 2:00p.m., and requires the students involved to do nothing but focus on credit completion. Morgan is unrelenting in his quest to guarantee every student has access to a quality education and strong foundation when they leave Pojoaque. Morgan notes that the students who are being expelled typically don’t want to go to school and he isn’t in the business of giving those students what they want.
According to Romero, “with an 85 percent graduation rate last year, 22 percent over the State average,” Morgan isn’t in any hurry to overhaul things in Pojoaque. “Our teachers here do their very best. It’s amazing to me what we have accomplished in this school district with regards to curriculum and the teacher evaluation system, none of it is perfect and we can disagree but when it comes down to it, we all just get along with it,” stated Morgan.
When asked what he hopes his legacy will be for the District, he is honest to tell you he doesn’t quite know yet. Besides striving to learn a fact about each of the 141 seniors to mention at graduation, Morgan isn’t the type to rock the boat but tends to want to make gradual changes over time. Two things Morgan is committed to continuing are the advancements in curriculum and curriculum design. His goal for the district is to ensure teachers have the materials they need for instruction and the curriculum continues to evolve past common core standards while staying aligned with the PARCC test students are required to take by law.
Morgan is adamant about not cutting classroom instruction on any level. He believes, “you can’t budget on the back of instruction in schools.” He also refuses to give up that which effects teaching and learning and for Morgan, learning happens from the football field to the math class. In Morgan’s view, “if the budget must restrict anything in the District, it won’t be at the cost of teachers and students.” Morgan is still moving forward with plans to build a new middle school and sixth grade academy through capital outlay money but insists that no matter what challenges the District faces, “we will have our curriculum and teacher evaluations because our teachers and students deserve that whether good or bad and we will continue to be the BEST School District.”