LAPS' Dean to retire

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Education > She has been assistant superintendent for three years

By Tris DeRoma

After 42 years of helping children as well as her fellow educators rise to their full potential, Los Alamos Public Schools Assistant Superintendent Paula Dean is retiring.

“It will be very nice to have some time for other things,” she said. “As I told Gene (Dr. Gene Schmidt, LAPS superintendent) it’s like starting in a new life path. In my letter I also said I will be looking over my shoulder to see how the Los Alamos Schools are doing.”

She said her immediate plans are to take a brief time out before looking for the next opportunity, whatever that may be.

Dean came to New Mexico in 1998 and started her career with LAPS as the director of Curriculum and Development.

She then spent a brief stint in Santa Fe as an assistant superintendent. She then became principal of Barranca Mesa Elementary for four years before becoming assistant superintendent for the past three years.

“I worked in many districts over a very long career (Dean was a teacher and principal in Illinois before coming to Los Alamos) and this is the best functioning district I was ever in,” Dean said of the Los Alamos School District. “I was very happy to get back to Los Alamos.”

Dean said she always wanted to be in education, even when she was a child. “Pretty soon the other kids didn’t want to play with me, because I always wanted to make them the students and I always wanted to be the teacher,” she joked. “I think I always had a knack for it.”

Her colleagues agreed.

Schmidt said in a written statement that he accepted her retirement Monday morning with “great reluctance.”

“She is so dynamic and so energetic, she has brought so much to the district in terms of helping us improve our academic achievement,” Schmidt said. “When you lose people with that kind of passion you always say ‘boy, those are hard people to replace.’”

He also said that Dean’s accomplishments were many. Besides helping the district boost its rate of academic achievement, Schmidt said she also has helped to forge stronger ties with the University of New Mexico-Los Alamos, and has been “instrumental” in developing the district’s dual credit program. Schmidt also said her familiarity and skill in implementing the state’s “Common Core” curriculum (CC is a program that develops deeper understanding of the concepts behind English and math), has been recognized by the state.

According to Schmidt, she also did much to promote the professional development of the district’s teachers. “I believe all these things will be her lasting legacy for many years,” Schmidt said.

School Board President Kevin Honnell called Dean an “insightful and gifted educator, one who cares about the success of every child.”

Honnell also credited her with helping the School Board stick to its priorities.

“While it’s easy for a board to get bogged down in matters of finance, construction, and policy minutiae; Paula, through her insightful monthly curriculum reports, has tirelessly worked to keep our eye on the ball — that is, on the academic performance of our schools and students,” Honnell said.

Outgoing School Board Member Melanie McKinley wished her well in her retirement and called her “one of the smartest people I ever met.”

Outgoing School Board Vice President Dawn Venhaus described Dean as a hard worker with a great sense of humor.

“She always gave 110 percent with a great sense of humor and encouraging words,” she said.

Dean had some advice for teachers, as well as the person who may eventually take her place.

“I think that anyone who becomes a teacher does so because of their love for children,” she said. “But I also think the job takes a tremendous amount of discipline and focus to do the job well. For the person who follows me, I hope that they find something in this position that is orderly, focused and refreshing in the same way that I found it.”

Dean said she plans to finish out the rest of the school year. Schmidt said he will look to hire a replacement by May, starting the search within the district before looking outside for someone. He also said another option that’s being considered is a possible restructure of the administration, a move that will involve conversations with Honnell and the new school board vice president who has yet to be named.