Reflections From Retiring Superintendent Dr. Kurt Steinhaus

Dr. Kurt Steinhaus at a celebration last Thursday at Sullivan Field where staff, students, family and community members had an opportunity to thank him and wish him well. Photo by John McHale/ladailypost.com  

By CAROL A. CLARK
Los Alamos Daily Post
caclark@ladailypost.com

  • “I am so grateful to Dr. Steinhaus for his lifelong dedication…” –Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham

Los Alamos Public Schools Superintendent Dr. Kurt Steinhaus is retiring Saturday, May 28. He has been at the helm of the local schools for more than six years as part of a career that spans 45 years. 

Dr. Steinhaus first began serving as a YMCA summer camp counselor in Los Alamos. He went on the serve as a music and computer science teacher, department chair; director of education and community programs at Los Alamos National Laboratory, New Mexico Public Education Department Technology and Data bureau chief, director of Licensure and Accountability and deputy secretary, Governor’s Education policy advisor.

During this school year, his role became more important than ever due to the pandemic:

  • adjusting to change while being creative and innovative for the benefit of students and staff;
  • listening to and utilizing extensive staff, parent and community feedback;
  • meeting an expanding set of requirements from the state;
  • addressing budget challenges; and
  • reviewing the science in making tough decisions about in-person learning and keeping people safe.

During his tenure as superintendent, every staff member has received a cumulative 17.5 percent raise in base pay.  

“One of the areas for which I am most proud is building strong and effective teams, hiring people who are smarter than me, and supporting individual growth,” Dr. Steinhaus said. “There is a culture of listening first, working together and accepting different opinions.”

Here is a concise summary of recent accomplishments under Steinhaus’ leadership:

  1. Student well-being, student achievement, and staff excellence and well-being – Even during the pandemic, he has figured out a way to provide districtwide leadership aligned with the LAPS Strategic Plan, eight focus areas and Thrive Goal by: a) sharing the “why” and explaining the moral reasoning, not just the policy or constraints, b) reinforcing positive behaviors in new ways and being clear about the specific actions needed at this time, c) responding with more empathy and timeliness to staff and parent requests while further building the LAPS network of support and community trust; d) “lightening the load,” whenever possible; e) finding new ways to measure and track successes; and f) being understanding of individual fears and challenges. He said, “It can be exhausting to treat everything as an emergency and to keep our energy level dialed up; thus, every week, I set aside time for team members to regroup, reflect and relax.”
  2. Communications – With a more personal approach, Steinhaus has streamlined communications to focus on audience-specific messages. The new Parent Newsletter is read every week by over 4,000 people. In addition, invitations to Town Hall sessions this year went directly to students, parents and staff. The interactive format, recorded sessions, and use of Zoom combined with Google Meet was a risk that worked and “paid off” with positive dividends.  The pre-work to answer questions in an FAQ, pre-register for one of 10 breakouts and record sessions were some of the key success strategies. “We took a calculated risk and tried something new. It worked. Our Town Halls seemed to result in a calm across the district and even the community,” he said. 
  3. Budget – Even with an LAPS budget cut of $1.7 million in the 2020 Special Legislative Session, Steinhaus has been successful at increasing resources in the classroom and streamlining administration, without reducing effectiveness. In meeting budget challenges, he has worked to identify new revenue sources from the state and Los Alamos County. “This year, we secured over $2 million for K-6 plus to establish elementary summer school (outside learning, hands-on, field trips, and fun activities), legislative appropriations for construction, outside learning structures, and funds to pay for online software,” Steinhaus said.
  4. Leadership – Steinhaus said that during this time, he believes that it is more important than ever to provide reliable, calming and steady leadership from the Superintendent’s Office and across the district. “I am pleased to report that we have stability in LAPS leadership. Our one new Principal, Brian Grass, has been well-received and is doing an excellent job. The District Leadership Team is functioning as a diverse and highly-effective decision-making group,” Steinhaus said. “My role in providing leadership at the statewide level has expanded to include new ways to work with our elected officials in the New Mexico Senate and House of Representatives. Yesterday, I participated in a constructive Zoom session with Sen. Mimi Stewart, leader of the Senate (she used to have an adversarial relationship with the Los Alamos Schools).
  5. Facilities – On-time and on-budget major construction projects include Duane Smith Auditorium lobby, Topper Freshman Academy, Los Alamos Middle School cafeteria, Barranca Mesa, Mountain Elementary, and the High School Field House. “We have already begun working on education specifications for spending over $20 million at Piñon and Chamisa. Thank you Los Alamos voters for supporting our local bond elections,” Steinhaus said.
  6. Online Learning – In less than six weeks, Steinhaus provided the leadership and staffing needed to stand up two brand new schools, the Los Alamos Online Learning Academy and the Topper Virtual Academy. Start-up challenges were addressed, staff were realigned and are learning new skills, and most importantly, students are learning. 
  7. Community Partnerships – Successful work with surrounding communities, Native American pueblos, the Lab, County, LAPS Foundation and local organizations.   

“Bottom line: I have put my heart and soul into the Los Alamos Public Schools,” Dr. Steinhaus said. “This is my school district and I care deeply about the community as well as each and every employee.”

As a lifelong learner and educator, Dr. Steinhaus said he has had three personal goals for serving LAPS:

  1. Serving as an effective mentor-leader in the Los Alamos Public Schools has been one of my goals for the last three years. This work has included developing a theory of action to achieve rapid, meaningful improvement in our schools. Regularly, I use data to set strategies, assess progress, and inform decision-making at the district and school levels.
  2. I regularly look for opportunities to add to my collegial school improvement network in Los Alamos and improve the education in New Mexico as a whole system. In my role as a school district superintendent, I am looking for new and innovative ways to demonstrate sustainable impact on the teaching and learning process. This includes learning how to transform school culture and foster high-quality instruction. 
  3. Developing new skills to support teachers, school principals and district leadership has led me to focus on creating the conditions for meeting the rapid change and innovation necessitated by COVD-19. I want to improve my ability to establish achievable expectations for instructional quality in remote, hybrid, or in-person learning; develop more effective teams; translate information into innovative action; and generate deep engagement among school and community stakeholders.  

“Thank you for the opportunity to serve as superintendent of the Los Alamos Public Schools,” Dr. Steinhaus said. “I am honored and sincerely appreciative.”

Jennifer Guy has worked alongside Steinhaus as assistant superintendent before recently being appointed acting superintendent and spoke of how much she has learned from him.  

“Kurt has been an outstanding leader for LAPS and mentor for me,” Guy said. “He has been a hands on administrator that has taught me the value of shared leadership and collaboration. He has a genuine love for the Los Alamos community and dedication to the students at LAPS. Staff and students have thrived under his watch.”  

Debra Larson has served as executive assistant to Dr. Steinhaus and shared her thoughts on his leadership.

“Someone once said, a good leader raises the bar for others, but a great leader inspires others to raise their own bar,” Larson said. “Your incredible leadership skills have helped each one of us to truly THRIVE at our own level, by encouraging, teaching, guiding, mentoring and walking beside each and every one of us, like a father would his own child. You have earned the title of ‘District Dad’. I have grown so much under your leadership and am constantly adding more “tools” to my professional toolbox. Thank you for everything. It’s been an honor and privilege working for you and with you. Thank you!”

Several state officials expressed their gratitude to Steinhaus and wished him well in his retirement including New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham.

“I am so grateful to Dr. Steinhaus for his lifelong dedication to serving the children and families of Los Alamos and the students of New Mexico,” the governor said. “His passion for education and storied career of service and teaching has made a true impact for New Mexicans in his community and across the state, and I congratulate him on a well-deserved retirement.”

New Mexico Public Education Department Cabinet Secretary Ryan Stewart commended Dr. Steinhaus.

“Dr. Steinhaus is a true institution in New Mexico public education. His long career included 11 years at the Public Education Department, where he helped develop the state’s technology plan. He’s also largely responsible for launching our pre-K program while serving as an education adviser to then-Gov. Bill Richardson,” Secretary Stewart said. “His varied experience at so many levels gave him a scope of knowledge unique in this profession. I didn’t know Kurt until these last two years, but in that time, he’s been a steady friend and partner as the Los Alamos superintendent. He will be missed, but everyone at PED wishes him well.”

New Mexico Public Education Department Deputy Cabinet Secretary Gwen Perea Warniment calls Steinhaus a personal mentor.

“Dr. Steinhaus will be missed not only for his leadership within Los Alamos, but for his consistent advocacy for schools and districts across the state,” Perea Warniment said. “As someone I consider a personal mentor, I want to thank him for his wisdom over the past three years.”

Sen. Leo Jaramillo worked for Steinhaus for several years in the Community Programs Office at LANL.

“Dr. Kurt Steinhaus has meant so much to the Los Alamos community and northern New Mexico as a whole! I want to thank Dr. Steinhaus for impacting the lives of so many students, teachers and staff including mine!” Sen. Jaramillo said. “You have been a great mentor and friend. Congratulations on your retirement!”

Rep. Christine Chandler thanked Steinhaus for a job well done. 

“Kurt Steinhaus was uniquely suited to lead the Los Alamos Public Schools: he grew up here; was educated here; became an accomplished teacher and educational leader at the state level,” Rep. Chandler said. “All of these incredible attributes combined to make Kurt an outstanding superintendent. Thank you, Kurt, for your dedication and commitment to our students!”

New Mexico Land Commissioner Stephanie Garcia Richard spoke about her time working with Steinhaus when she served in the New Mexico House of Representatives.

“It was gratifying to know that I had the ear of Dr. Steinhaus and the hard-working LAPS board during my time in the legislature,” Commissioner Garcia Richard said. “His efforts to ensure that the district always had the resources they needed was commendable.”

Local officials also shared thoughts and expressed their gratitude and best wishes to Steinhaus including LAPS Board President Melanie Colgan.

“Dr. Steinhaus, your exceptional qualities have inspired us in so many ways. For that, we cannot thank you enough,” Colgan said. “You will be remembered not just for the things you’ve accomplished as the leader of our school district, but also for your tact, care, compassion, resourcefulness, and support. You have worked so hard  and accomplished so much, and now it’s time for you to kick back and enjoy it. On behalf of LAPS and the school board, I wish you good luck and success in all of your future endeavors. Happy retirement, Kurt!”

LAPS Board Vice President Ellen Specter is immediate past president of the school board. She commended the fact that Steinhaus is leaving the district on solid ground.

“Kurt’s legacy as LAPS Superintendent includes many accomplishments. One of the most important is establishing the Healthy Schools Initiative and ensuring we all view decision making through the lens of student and staff well being,” Specter said. “Kurt has also done a tremendous job of growing leadership from within the district. Because of this, his well deserved retirement will be a transition, but it’s not a crisis.”

Los Alamos Public Schools Foundation Executive Director Jenny McCumber described Steinhaus as a model of leadership. 

“Dr. Steinhaus has served our school district tirelessly for many years. He is a model of leadership who isn’t afraid of hard work, faces adversity with optimism and constantly seeks to improve the way things are done,” McCumber said. “Thank you for always maintaining your focus on what was best for our students, Kurt. I can sum it up in one word: Thrive. I think all of us will think of Kurt Steinhaus whenever we hear that word.”

UNM-Los Alamos Chancellor Dr. Cynthia Rooney congratulated Steinhaus.

“Thank you Kurt for your leadership of LAPS and your support of education in our community,” Dr. Rooney said. “You have helped students, teachers, staff, and others ‘thrive’ even during challenging times. Jim Collins, author of Good to Great, and other books, has stated, ‘For, in the end, it is impossible to have a great life unless it is a meaningful life. And it is very difficult to have a meaningful life without meaningful work.’ Thank you for your commitment to meaningful work in our community. Congratulations on your retirement and best wishes on your next adventures.”

LANL Staff Director Frances Chadwick commended Steinhaus for his efforts at the schools and within the community.

“Kurt has been a tireless servant to the entire Los Alamos community in so many ways. He is passionate about education and about enriching the community as a whole. Many families have seen the benefit of his expertise as superintendent for our outstanding school district,” Chadwick said. “We at the Lab have valued his close partnership with us and he will be very much missed. We wish him the very best in retirement.”

LANL Community Partnerships Office Director Kathy Keith also commended Steinhaus.

“Kurt’s commitment to supporting students, teachers and the whole community of Los Alamos over many years is remarkable, and he leaves a legacy of teamwork, dedication and inclusion,” Keith said. “His leadership, especially during the challenges of the last year, will be greatly missed and I wish him all the best for his well-deserved retirement.”

Los Alamos County Council Chair Randall Ryti extended retirement wishes on behalf of the Council.

“On behalf of the County Council, I wish Dr. Steinhaus all the best in his retirement. He has been a strong community leader for many years and leaves a legacy of many accomplishments,” Ryti said.

Los Alamos County Manager Harry Burgess also wished Steinhaus the best.

“I have appreciated getting to know Kurt during his tenure as School Superintendent as well as in his prior role with LANL’s Community Programs Office, and wish him well in his upcoming retirement,” Burgess said.

Los Alamos Police Chief Dino Sgambellone spoke about his partnership with Steinhaus on safety programs for students and staff.

“Kurt has been an excellent partner with the police department regarding school safety,” Chief Sgambellone said. “His support of the School Resource Officer and Safety Town programs has allowed us to maintain positive relationships with our youth while improving youth safety at the schools and within the community at large.”

Los Alamos Fire Chief Troy Hughes spoke about meeting Steinhaus shortly after moving to town.

“Yes, Kurt was one of the first people I met when I moved to Los Alamos. We met during early morning workouts at the LANL wellness center,” Chief Hughes said. “He was then and continued to be a wonderful community ambassador. We will miss his community focused leadership. The best of luck in retirement.”

As her husband gets set to retire, Jo Beth Steinhaus expressed how proud she is of him and how much she is looking forward to all the possibilities the future holds for them.   

“Wow! So impressed with Kurt’s work ethic through the years!” she said. “Kurt and I have said many times that we are good at working and not so good at playing. I think we will figure it out and enjoy some ‘play’ time. This new chapter of our lives is going to be exciting!”  

Daughter Valerie Steinhaus said she is looking forward to celebrating with her father. 

“So proud of my Dad and all he has done for the schools and community!” she said. “Love you Dad, can’t wait to go camping with you and celebrate your many years of hard work!”
Son Kent and daughter-in-law Katy also shared their thoughts about Steinhaus, “He has always worked very hard and it’s really amazing to see that his work positively affected so many people.”
The school district held a retirement celebration for Dr. Kurt Steinhaus last Thursday at Sullivan Field where staff, students, family and community members had an opportunity to thank him and wish him well.
Dr. Kurt Steinhaus said he and his wife love Los Alamos and intend to continue living here and volunteering in the community.
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