Anderson leaves his mark on Los Alamos

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By Carol A. Clark

Expressions of appreciation for retiring Los Alamos Public Schools Superintendent James Anderson have poured into the Monitor from colleagues, community members, civic officials, business leaders and members of New Mexico’s Congressional delegation.

“Our town has been blessed to have Jim Anderson all these years,” said business leader Roger Waterman. “We have a lot of problems in this town but the quality of education is not one of them and that doesn’t happen by accident.

“It takes a lot of people and strong leadership at the top. I think the school system and the medical center are amongst the last two benefits left in this town that attract new families to move here and Jim is a big reason for this. He has high morals and a high committment to quality products. I think he’s a very talented man.

“I wish I was as good at what I do as Jim is wonderful at what he does. He has been on the board of the Family YMCA for 10 years and contributed so much to our youth. I’m sorry to see him go but happy he’s leaving on such a high note. I love the man.”

July 31 is Anderson’s official retirement date and will actually leave his post June 14, after 14 years on the job.

“I’m pretty much at peace with the decision, which wasn’t a quick one,” he said during an interview Thursday. “I don’t know what it’s going to be like but I’m looking forward to giving it a try and see if I can be successful at it.”

Anderson is used to living a very active life. “I probably go to more meetings than just about anyone in the world,” he said. “I’ve attended more than 1,000 school board meetings over the years and that’s not one of the things I’ll miss. I’ve interacted with more than 50 school board members – 17 in Los Alamos.”

Anderson plans to get involved in volunteer work in the community and through his church, he said, and he and wife Andrea plan to stay in Los Alamos for a while before moving near family in Reno.

As Anderson looked back over his years with LAPS, he recalled first moving to Los Alamos to take the helm of the school district July 5, 1994.

“I rolled into town in my 1973 red Corvette with my golf clubs strapped on the trunk,” he said, laughing. “I looked like a cross between Route 66 and the Beverly Hillbillies.”

Significant accomplishments are always done in a team effort, Anderson said, adding that he “had a hand” in the creation of two important foundations.

The LANL Foundation, which began several years ago, he said, and more recently the LAPS Foundation.

“The LANL Foundation has done a lot of great things,” he said, adding that the LAPS Foundation is going to do a lot of great things.”

“Another incredible opportunity for me and one that’s very, very unique is the work we did with the DOE and the congressional delegation to maintain our funding ($8 million) and ultimately get legislation passed that perpetuates that funding out into the future,” Anderson said. “That process was something that was both a lot of fun and high stakes for the district.”

The continual improvement journey the district’s been on has been really positive, he said, adding that what he did was to get out of the way, be a bit of a cheerleader, and let others get it done. “I think a good leader tries not to be an obstacle,” he said. “A good leader lets his good people do what they do well and I’ve been lucky to have very good people around me.”

Anderson also described feeling good about the transfer of the A-8 and A-15 land parcels to LAPS.

“I think that happened because the congressional delegation saw us as an entity that would do something with those parcels,” he said.

Another source of satisfaction for Anderson is the record of six bond and referendum elections that will have raised more than $52 million for the district since 1995.

“An accomplishment like that takes a lot of people working together – and some of those people have been involved in each campaign from the beginning.”

Anderson was honored as Superintendent of the Year in 2006, which he called “a highlight for me because it’s a recognition by my peers. It was a culmination of a real priority on my part to have positive relationships with other districts in the state. That was because the politics of us getting the $8 million can be an irritant and I think we’ve done a lot to basically set that aside.”

Piñon Trails and working with the Housing Authority to provide homes for teachers and staff was important to Anderson, he said. He also mentioned the districtwide energy education effort and its positive effect, saving utility costs and actually turning money back to the schools this year.

“The Trinity Project has been like a marathon,” Anderson said. “Hopefully, we’re on mile 24. I’m going to be gone when it hopefully comes to fruition, but of all the people currently working on it I think I’ve been here the longest.”

The positive relationship that exists between the schools and the county isn’t always the case with municipalities and school districts, he said.

The relationship the district enjoys with the Family YMCA is another source of pride for Anderson. “I’ve been sort of confused as to why some people don’t see that it’s good for our employees and it’s good for the kids – a win-win situation,” he said.

Anderson praised Los Alamos National Bank as a generous community partner.

“I worked with LANB and helped secure a $500,000 donation through the trust fund for the high school track project,” he said. “They were also very instrumental in encouraging us on the Baldrige quality program and provided some of their key people to help us write our applications. They are always there for the schools.”

Anderson described himself as being really blessed to be in Los Alamos.

“I think I was meant to be here for a reason,” he said. “I also think the district is blessed to have someone like Mary McLeod to take over. She won’t skip a beat.”



U.S. Sen. Pete Domenici, R-N.M., praised Anderson and sent him fond wishes from Washington, D.C. “Dr. Anderson has been instrumental in seeing that the Los Alamos schools provide quality education,” Domenici said. “It has been a pleasure to work with him to try to implement his vision for a school system that meets the sometimes unique requirements of a community like Los Alamos. I, like the people there, appreciate his years of work to tap into the best possible resources to create the best schools possible. Although the school district will certainly miss his leadership, I believe he is leaving a solid foundation for even greater educational growth and development for students and the entire community.”

Sen. Jeff Bingaman, D-N.M., sent his congratulations from Washington, D.C. “Dr. James Anderson has done a tremendous job during his tenure as the head of Los Alamos Public Schools,” Bingaman said. “I congratulate him for all his good work, and I wish him well in his retirement.”

U.S. Rep. Tom Udall, D-N.M., said, “For 14 years, James Anderson has been a tireless and effective advocate for Los Alamos students, families and teachers. He is a top quality person, and he helped build a top quality school district. James recognized Los Alamos’ unique challenges and potential, and he used the city’s strength to produce an educational system that became a state and national model. We owe him a lot, and I know Los Alamos joins with me in wishing him well.”

New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson praised Anderson from the state capitol in Santa Fe. “I want to thank Dr. Anderson for his many years of service and commitment to the students and community of Los Alamos,” Richardson said. “The district’s many achievements, honors and accolades, as well as its reputation as one of the finest school districts in the country are a legacy he can be proud of.”

Los Alamos County Administrator Max Baker said, “Jim has successfully led the public schools for many years and that leadership will be felt long into the future. He has been instrumental in locking the annual $8 million grant from the DOE, and has negotiated the long term lease arrangements with Los Alamos County, which will provide additional revenues for school operations. While these ‘business accomplishments’ are significant, he has always put the quality of education for the community’s children above all other decisions. We wish him well in his well deserved retirement.”

Los Alamos Fire Chief Doug MacDonald said, “Jim has been a tremendous asset to the community, the fire department and of course the school system. Jim strengthened existing relationships and created many new relationships in his leadership role with the schools and our community. I thank him for all he did for us at LAFD, wish him well in his new life journey after LA Schools; we will certainly miss him. Good luck!”

Los Alamos Public Schools Foundation Executive Director Joanna Gillespie said, “I have greatly appreciated Jim’s enthusiasm for the Los Alamos Public Schools Foundation. He has been a constant proponent for helping the community to understand that the public schools are everyone’s responsibility. Jim’s perspective always seems to be about what is very best for the teachers and students, and to that end he would speak about their needs with such passion that it makes me proud to be raising funds for our district.”

LAPS Curriculum Coordinator Kate Thomas shared her observations of Anderson’s leadership: “He has always been an excellent boss because he always expects the best of everyone, including himself. Because he expected the best, a person in his employ always wants to perform excellently.

“He has always ‘shown up’ in all situations – he always sits at the front of the room and engages in the work of the group. He models what he expects his leaders to do.

“There has often seemed to be a sixth Los Alamos school board member – the Congress of the United States. He has effectively networked relationships among all Congressional decision-makers to raise awareness of the unique needs of Los Alamos Public Schools. His efforts, abilities and institutional knowledge in the area of national politics are special qualities other superintendents aren’t required to possess.”