Ryan Stewart

Ryan Stewart, took control of the New Mexico Education Department as it plans major reforms for a heavily Latino and Native American population. — (AP Photo/Morgan Lee)

SANTA FE, N.M. — New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham on Monday tapped a Philadelphia-based executive at a nonprofit devoted to improving opportunities for poor, minority students to lead the state’s Public Education Department.

Ryan Stewart, a regional executive director at Partners in School Innovation, took control of the state agency as it redraws its student testing, teacher-evaluation and school ratings systems and rolls out investments to extend classroom learning time for a heavily Latino and Native American population.

Lujan Grisham, a first-year Democrat, has made improvements in public education a priority. Last month, she shook up the education department by firing Education Secretary Karen Trujillo.

Stewart said at a press conference he was persuaded to take the job by Lujan Grisham’s description of a state poised for critical changes.

“There is an opportunity to take a state that to-date hasn’t yet fulfilled its potential, but that’s investing in it, where the Legislature, the governor’s office, the stakeholder community are all aligned,” Stewart said. “You’re going to have strong investment; you’re going to have strong support to make a difference ... for kids who traditionally the system hasn’t served well.”

Stewart previously led the Philadelphia school district’s improvement and innovation office and began his career as a middle school teacher. He earned a doctorate degree in education leadership from the Harvard Graduate School on Education.

The leadership change comes as the administration and lawmakers respond to a court order for the state to put greater resources toward public education, especially for children from impoverished households and families that speak a language other than English at home.

New Mexico is among several states where parents have turned to the judiciary to resolve frustrations over funding levels for public education and student academic achievement. A judge last year found the state was failing to meet its constitutional obligations to provide an adequate education.

Lujan Grisham signed legislation in April that increased annual spending on K-12 public education by roughly 16% to $3.2 billion — accounting for nearly half of state general fund spending. New Mexico public schools depend mostly on state funds for operations. — (AP)

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