An Ode to Southern New Mexico and Efren Yturralde

provost-dan-howardAs I eat my first salad of the season with greens exclusively from the garden at my home, I cannot help but reflect on the things I like best about living in southern New Mexico. Near the top of the list, of course, is the weather.  The wind blows hard every now and then, but who cannot appreciate our long, temperate fall and spring, our brief winter, and our crispy, but livable summer?
The Organ Mountains are a constant presence, providing all of us with a keen sense of north, south, east, and west, and ceaselessly surprising us with new hues of gray and purple.  The sky is big and so is the land, spoiling us with spectacular vistas and making many of us feel claustrophobic in the greenery of the East.
But for all of its natural blessings, it is the people of southern New Mexico who truly make the region special.  I could go on at great length about the warmth and openness of the diverse array of people who have made southern New Mexico their home, but today I will focus on one person who exemplifies the spirit of the region – Efren Yturralde.
Mr. Yturralde is the superintendent of the Gadsden Independent School District.  It is a poor district, yet its schools are among the highest performing in our area.  For example, in 2016, GISD had a four-year graduation rate of 86%, higher than every other school district in the county, and Gadsden High School led the district’s comprehensive high schools with a graduation rate of 88%.  Recently, Desert View Elementary was recognized for achieving the greatest improvement in the state on standardized test scores, and two elementary schools have been designated federally as Blue Ribbon Schools. 
How has Mr. Yturralde fostered such excellence?  By setting high expectations and making it clear that there would be no excuses.  He understands that with the proper support and good teaching most students can be successful, and he has hired and retained teachers who share his belief in the potential of the district’s students. 
I have the pleasure of regularly meeting with Mr. Yturralde; indeed, we had a breakfast meeting this week.  Our conversation, as usual, centered on his school district and how to improve its already close relationship with New Mexico State University.  Upon parting, I could not help but reflect on the accomplishments of this remarkable man, and what a privilege it has been to spend time with him. 
Southern New Mexico has many treasures, but it is its people, such as Mr. Yturralde, who truly elevate the living experience and make this the Land of Enchantment.
With all best wishes,


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