LL Superintendent Bernard Saiz retires


On Monday morning, to the astonishment of the Los Lunas Board of Education, Superintendent Bernard Saiz submitted his retirement notice.

News-Bulletin file photo: Bernard Saiz retired from his position as Los Lunas Schools superintendent this week.

“We were stunned,” said Los Lunas Board of Education President Charles Tabet.

Saiz has held his post for the past five years and has two years remaining on his current contract.

Board secretary Georgia Otero-Kirkham said she was surprised that Saiz decided to retire at this time.

Saiz’s retirement is set for Aug. 5, and he is currently taking some of his accumulated vacation time. The remaining 50 days of vacation time will be paid to him in his final check, but by giving his notice, he has forfeited any salary from the two years remaining on his contract.

In a phone interview, Saiz said he wants to leave while he still has the vitality to enjoy retirement.

“I’ve seen so many people that wait until the very end to retire, and then they only have a few years left to spend enjoying life with their family,” Saiz said. “I was in a good position where I could retire now. I’ve still got a lot of energy to do things. I don’t want to be one of those people who wait until the end and only have a couple of years left.”

It was while he was on a vacation in Hawaii with his family that Saiz realized he hadn’t spent enough time with his wife, Deanna, an academic coach in the district; and their children, Stephen, and Kristen, both who attend Los Lunas schools.

“During those 26 years that I was an administrator, they sacrificed while I devoted my time and attention to my career and other people, and other people’s kids,” Saiz said. “It’s time for me to give them part of myself now while I’ve still got years left.”

It might surprise some to learn that Saiz started out as an art and language arts teacher. However, early on in his career, he was encouraged to go into school administration by Frank Jaramillo, the principal of Socorro Middle School, where Saiz was teaching at the time.

Siaz has been a school administrator for 26 of the 29 years he spent in education. He has worked for Socorro High School, Socorro and Los Lunas middle schools and was the Los Lunas School’s director of personnel before becoming the deputy superintendent during former superintendent Walt Gibson’s administration.

In June 2009, Saiz was appointed to the superintendent position after Gibson retired.

At the time, the economy was tanking and the district was about to experience $11 million in budget cuts, Saiz said.

Two years later, four board member positions were vacant and the superintendent soon had a new board. Following that, came new state and federal education reforms.

Tabet said these are difficult times in education because of the controversial teacher evaluations, changing to Common Core Standards and preparing teachers and students for new standardized tests.

“Mr. Saiz brought the district through a very difficult time in education,” said board member Shaun Gibson. “He assembled an excellent cabinet and managed to bring growth in a really tumultuous time.”

The board and the superintendent had their fair share of battles, Gibson said, but for the most part, “the district is in a really good place, both financially and making gains in test scores because of Superintendent Saiz.”

“I am going to miss the job, but it’s more the people,” Saiz said. “In particular, I’m grateful for the camaraderie and loyalty of my cabinet and assistant superintendents Dana Sanders, Claire Cieremans, Ron Williams and Brian Baca; my immediate support staff, Karen Wolfe, and many of the directors and principals. I don’t think we could have got through these past few years without the lion-hearted courage they exhibited, and their dedication to improving the school district and their individual departments.”

Saiz has a knack for surrounding himself with knowledgeable people and gaining their loyalty, Otero-Kirkham said.

“I liked working with him and I think he did a fantastic job,” Otero-Kirkham said. “His cabinet is at the top. We benefitted from the result of an administration that worked well together — that’s due to Mr. Saiz and his influence on his cabinet.”

With the district in good shape, it is a good time for Saiz to retire on top, Tabet said.

A native of Los Lunas, Saiz’s ancestors date back to the 1700s. His father is the late Eddie Saiz and his mother, Mildred, is alive and kicking, he said.

He has no plans to leave Los Lunas, but mid-life is often a wake-up call and the 52-year-old has had his share of health issues.

“Over the years, particularly the last five years as superintendent, I’ve let myself go,” he said. “I need to get myself healthy again.”

Saiz is looking forward to starting an exercise program and getting some rest and relaxation, but eventually may go back to work in education and apply for another superintendent job, he said.

“For years, I’ve wanted to work on my Ph.D., but I never had the time because I devoted so much time and attention to my career,” he said. “So, I may go back and work on my Ph.D.

“I love the history of the Southwest, and of course my first calling was in fine arts, so I may do something along those lines, but I think for right now, I’m just going to recover, rest, recuperate and then we’ll see what direction we go,” he said.

Saiz’s advice to the next superintendent is to always keep the end objective in sight.

“Never, ever waver from what is the right thing to do, regardless of the political pressure that will be put on you,” he said.

Speculation arose when the board tabled an extension of Saiz’s contract at a special meeting on June, 17. In the past, the school board has offered a year extension in the second year of the superintendents’s three-year contract.

“We tabled it because we just didn’t have a chance to review it,” Otero-Kirkham said. “But I don’t know that we weren’t going to extend his contract. I felt certain that I would have voted yes.”

The meeting was called to discuss the superintendent’s goals from the 2013-14 school year, and whether or not he met them. The board then voted to approve awarding Saiz with $20,000 of incentive pay stipulated in his contract for meeting his goals.

For the past two years, the board assigned Saiz one big goal of raising student performance at every school, Tabet said.

“We unanimously agreed to give him his money for the rest of his contract for this past year for meeting his goals,” he said. “We hold $20,000 from his contract every year, and if he meets his goals, he gets his full contract, and if he doesn’t, he gets $20,000 less, but he did meet his goals.”

“He took it on and we got the progress,” Gibson said. “I’ll be honest, I think it was a more difficult goal.”

Currently, assistant superintendent Dana Sanders is in charge until an interim superintendent is put in place, said Tabet. The board will meet in executive session at 6 p.m. tonight to discuss Saiz’s retirement and select an interim superintendent.

Board members Sonya C’Moya and Robert Archuleta could not be reached for comment.

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