LL teacher leaving career for the Navy

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Being an educator has been the most rewarding career for Sundance Elementary School sixth-grade teacher Aletha Grugan-Redd, but she can’t afford to stay.

Deborah Fox-News-Bulletin photo: Sundance Elementary School sixth-grade teacher Aletha Grugan-Redd joined the U.S. Navy and will start her military career in January. She has been with the Los Lunas Schools for five years, and an educator for 10.

“I’m not making it financially,” Grugan-Redd said. “That’s the bottom line.”

Even after 10 years as a teacher, Grugan-Redd’s salary isn’t making ends meet, so she has been forced to look for a different job, she said.

She has been accepted into the U.S. Navy, and will resign her position at Sundance Elementary on Dec. 31, and start her military career mid-January.

As a tier-two level teacher, she would need to become nationally certified or get her master’s degree, and submit a dossier in order to reach tier three and become eligible for a pay raise.

Grugan-Redd said she has been working toward her master’s degree at New Mexico Tech, but the dossier or the process of becoming nationally certified, are both time consuming and costly. In fact, national certification costs $5,000.

“I would go from $40,000 to $50,000,” she said. “But $40,000 isn’t really what I make. I bring home about $900 every two weeks.”

Other teachers like herself have been forced to abandon the education field for more lucrative positions, she said. One teacher she knows has gone into nursing, because she couldn’t survive on her teacher’s salary.

Money is taken from their gross salary for the mandatory educator’s retirement fund, and insurance premiums have gone up every year without any salary increases, Grugan-Redd said.

“I love this career, and, I don’t mean to brag, but I’m good at it,” Grugan-Redd said.

“She is a stellar teacher who has a passion for everything she commits to,” said Sundance Elementary Principal Mildred Chavez. “She is organized, positive, dedicated and energetic.”

Military service was something Grugan-Redd was interested in as a high school student, and she found out she isn’t too old yet at 34. The cut off age to enter the U.S. Navy is 35 — 29 for other branches of the military, she said.

“The Navy will pay for my master’s and doctoral degrees in science and education, as well as help pay my daughters’ college tuitions,” Grugan-Redd said.

When she took the Navy’s intelligence aptitude entry test, she scored 99 percent, which opened up several job options for her, including the advanced electronics computer field, which is what she chose.

Grugan-Redd will be trained to repair, maintain and operate 2-D and 3-D radar and weapons systems on board Navy aircraft carriers and at Naval bases, she said.

“It will probably be one of those two,” she said. “Once I get in there and start doing the schooling, they’ll place me in one of those two specialty areas.”

She’s also looking forward to being able to visit her parents, Thomas and Marla Grugan, who live in Pennsylvania.

“My father is really proud of me. I’m the son he never had,” she laughs. “But my mom is scared. She’s glad the Navy seems to be the safest branch. I’m not going to be on the front lines of any war.”

Grugan-Redd and her husband, Scott, are looking forward to the travel they couldn’t afford otherwise, and her friends all tell her enviously, “Take me with you,” she said.

The Navy offers a higher starting salary than what she currently earns, plus stipends for groceries and utilities as well as free housing and benefits, she said.

“All of these things will essentially double what I make right now,” Grugan-Redd said.

“I hate to say that I am doing it for the money, because it’s a lot more than that, but money is a huge factor,” she said.

Scott, a Los Lunas native, is an auto CAD draftsman. He was laid off from a position at Sandia National Laboratory a couple years ago, but got a job at Energy Control Incorporated in Rio Rancho, but the recession forced them to lay off workers, too.

He was lucky to find a job at Walmart, Grugan-Redd said.

The rise in property taxes added an extra $100 to their mortgage, so the couple recently moved in with Scott’s parents, Bob and Judy Redd, just to make ends meet, and were forced to sell their own home before their credit was ruined, Grugan-Redd said.

She hasn’t bought a new car in seven years, and the family goes without a lot of things most families consider necessary, such as cable television.

Last summer, the sixth-grade elementary school teacher worked three jobs to pay for car repairs and dental work she had been needing.

“I’m really, really going to miss teaching,” she said. “It’s been very fulfilling.”

After graduating from training in August, Grugan-Redd will rank as an E4, or petty officer third class and receive another pay raise. After six months, she’ll be eligible to try to get an E5 or apply to officer candidate school, where, after more schooling, would get a huge pay raise, she said.

“She’s an ambitious young woman who has always followed her dreams,” said Chavez. “She will be successful wherever she ventures. The Navy is lucky to have her on board.”


-- Email the author at dfox@news-bulletin.com.