Superintendent submits resignation; Willden cites ‘philosophical differences’ with some school board members as reason for stepping down

Willden cited “philosophical differences with a few of the board members” as the reason he decided to leave. He would not discuss specifics but said his decision to step down came up in “only the last few weeks.”

“I had gotten another job offer I had been thinking about and had been trying to decide what I wanted to do for a few weeks,” he said.

Willden submitted his resignation during a special school board meeting Monday, during which the board was holding the first of two public hearings about the district’s 2013-2014 budget. Willden will stay on the job through June 30.

Willden, who began his Raton superintendent duties in 2008, has accepted jobs that will move him and his family to Artesia in southern New Mexico. He will head up the Pecos Valley Regional Education Cooperative, which serves the communities of Dexter, Hagerman, Lake Arthur, and Loving. Willden will also be the executive director of the Southeast New Mexico Educational Resource Center, which includes 11 districts that came together to “improve their math and science achievement,” he said.

Asked about what he saw as accomplishments during his Raton tenure, Willden noted Raton High School increased its graduation rate by 20 percent and a health care career pathways program was started. The district landed $225,000 in outside funding for that program.

He added, “Our finances have been able to stay in the black” without the district having to seek emergency supplemental funding from the state. “Money was tight but the district had not been operating with an unbalanced budget,” he said.

The school district has started advertising for applicants for the superintendent position. The advertisement seeks a person who has or is eligible to obtain a New Mexico administrative license and prefers an individual with three or more years of experience as a superintendent or assistant superintendent. The board set a deadline of June 10 for applications.

Board Vice President Jimmie Saccomanno told The Range the board would like to hire somebody as soon as possible “so that whoever is chosen will have the time to get oriented and get started before the next school year is in full swing.”

She added, “We are losing a lot of people in general to retirement, moves or resignations, so it is going to be a period of transition with everybody.”

Willden said he and his family will miss Raton and “our many friends. Our family will miss Bill Fegan and the family we developed at the Shuler Theater (where his wife Gail spent much time involved with stage productions). We have many friends in the community and it’s going to be hard to leave them.”

Willden’s departure comes just as efforts were underway between the district and Virgin Galactic to introduce an aerospace career pathways program into the district. Willden has been the key figure for the school district in dealing with Virgin Galactic officials regarding the program since the idea for it came up last year.

Bruce Jackson, vice president of trade controls and expert strategy for Virgin Galactic, told The Range the company has “no comment at this time” regarding how Willden’s departure could affect those efforts. Jackson, one of two Virgin Galactic representatives who recently visited Raton, said the company has not “had the time to visit with Dave” or “had the time to process” Willden’s decision.

Board president resigns
The Raton school board accepted another resignation at Monday’s meeting as board President Anne Litchfield stepped down because she is moving from the area.

Litchfield, who was first elected to the board in February 2011, is moving to Albuquerque.

Litchfield admitted it was difficult to step down. “It was quite an amazing experience,” she said of her time on the board. “I learned a lot and I’m really glad to have worked with all the stuff I could. I’m very sad that I have to leave.”

Saccomanno said the board is still in the process of determining how to fill Litchfield’s position. The board is already seeking applicants for a position that became vacant when Michael Anne Holland was recalled from the board in late April. The deadline for applications for that position is Friday.

Saccomanno said the board is considering its options on how to fill Litchfield’s seat, including whether to include the individuals who apply for Holland’s former seat in the consideration for Litchfield’s seat. The board also is considering whether to extend the deadline for applications or handle the two positions separately, Saccomanno said.

“My goal is to make (the process) as efficient as possible,” she said.

The board is scheduled to meet Tuesday to review applicants for the position Holland vacated and consider board reorganization, given that Litchfield’s resignation leaves the president position open.

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