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Martinez picks reformer as public education head

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By Sue M. Holmes

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — Gov.-elect Susana Martinez has made her pick for New Mexico's next public education secretary — a woman who led school reforms in Florida.

Under former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, Hanna Skandera implemented reforms at middle schools and high schools aimed at improving accountability and giving incentives for high academic performance while ending social promotions. Martinez said reading scores in Florida schools went up dramatically.

Bush, in a statement released after Skandera's nomination to New Mexico's top education job, called her "a passionate, effective advocate for improving student achievement."

Martinez, a Republican, pledged during her campaign for governor to end social promotion, give merit pay to the best teachers and raise standards.

"There is no place more in need of major reform than our public school system," Martinez said. "We will no longer throw more money at a failed system and expect different results."

Skandera, of Dallas, said she has a passion to ensure children receive a quality education.

"Where we embrace innovation and put students first, incredible change is possible," she said.

But Skandera also cautioned it will take patience, hard work and long-term commitment.

"Nothing gets done quickly when you're going for real change," Skandera said.

New Mexico's education secretaries have traditionally come from inside the state. But Martinez said she extended the search outside New Mexico as well because "it was important to us that we were getting the best and the brightest to take on this challenge."

Skandera met Martinez's goals of having a proven record of reforming failing schools and being able to challenge the status quo, the governor-elect said.

Skandera also has been a senior policy adviser at the U.S. Department of Education, education undersecretary for California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and education policy adviser during Sen. John McCain's 2008 presidential campaign.

Both Skandera and Martinez said they want to send more education dollars to the classroom, despite a tight state budget.

Martinez's incoming administration already is reviewing state agencies for waste and inefficiency, including the administrative budget for education. "But we're going to make sure we protect core services for the most vulnerable and that we hold the spending that is necessary in the classroom," she said.

"The classroom is what's most important, not the administration," Martinez said.