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Kirk earns master board member certification

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Mona Kirk described herself as someone who always wants to try something different. That has led the Roswell native to a career in education that included teacher, principal and administrator and continues in her role as a member of the Roswell Independent School District board of education.

Mona Kirk, who represents District 1 on the Roswell Independent School District school board, was certified as a master board member by the New Mexico School Board Association. She is the second RISD school board member to receive the certification. (Juno Ogle Photo)

In December, Kirk was recognized by the New Mexico School Boards Association for achieving Master Board Certification, becoming one of only two board members from RISD to achieve that since the program started in 2000. Only five others from the association’s Region 6, which covers southeast New Mexico, have reached that accomplishment.

The NMSBA advocates for school boards in government, but also provides training for its 450 members in topics such as hiring and firing superintendents, school finance and securing bonds.

Kirk was appointed to the RISD school board in August 2016 to fill a vacant District 1 seat, which represents much of northern Roswell and Chaves County. She said it was then-Interim Superintendent Susan Sanchez who encouraged her to pursue the master board certification.

“She really encouraged me to pursue the master board member certification. I said OK. If I’m going to do something, I don’t give just a little bit, I totally immerse myself,” she said.

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To obtain the certification, a school board member must have first received the NMSBA’s Outstanding Leadership Award, which takes 36 hours of professional development training. Candidates for master board certification then complete several more classes and complete a practicum.

The practicum includes activities such as lobbying at the state or national level, serving on a state or regional task force, writing an article for the association newsletter and presenting at an NMSBA conference.

Completing the requirements takes about two years, Kirk said.

Getting the certification means much more than just receiving an embroidered blue blazer and lapel pin, however, Kirk said.

For the individual, it provides training in boardmanship. In turn, that benefits the board as a whole and the school district, she said.

“Sitting on a school board is not like sitting on any other board. You are an elected official and there’s five of you. You don’t have an individual voice. That’s what we call boardmanship,” she said.

“That’s the hardest thing for new board members to learn is boardmanship — where your lane is, staying in that lane, what’s under your purview,” she said.

“The more classes you take, the more you learn how to be a better board member and work with others and get the group as a united voice,” she said.

A board that has a united voice is a high-functioning board, she said.

“If the school board is united in high-functioning, they’re going to hire a superintendent that follows their lead,” she said.

That hasn’t always been the case in RISD, however, she said.

High-functioning school boards have superintendents with longevity, Kirk said, and can mentor staff from within the district to fill leadership positions.

“My goal is to get us there, one of my goals,” she said.

Kirk said the current RISD board is getting to that point, but the pandemic has made it more difficult to progress.

“We’ve had so much change. And in this pandemic it’s hard to attend anything together and get the camaraderie, that feeling of unity,” she said.

On the RISD board, Kirk has served in each office — president, vice president and secretary — and said her work with the state association gives her an additional viewpoint of how the board can function.

She has served as secretary for Region 6 and was elected its president in September. As a regional officer, she serves on the NMSBA board of directors.

“So I get to collaborate with all 89 districts and I see what high-functioning boards look like and what it takes to get there,” she said.

Working with other NMSBA board members has also given her a group of colleagues with whom to collaborate.

“If I ever have a question, I don’t hesitate to call Joe Guillen (NMSBA executive director) or one of my other board members or master board members throughout the state,” Kirk said.

“You build this bond with them because you see them so frequently,” she said.

Education has been the only career Kirk said she ever wanted, even before she was old enough to attend school, riding the school bus with her sister.

“Miss Wade was our bus driver and she would take me around the neighborhood on the bus, drop me off at my corner and then I’d walk home,” she said.

At the age of 4, she would dress up her dolls and her dog to be her students as she pretended to teach school to them, scribbling on a chalkboard in her room.

She graduated from Goddard High School and got a bachelor’s degree in teacher education and recreation from Eastern New Mexico University. Her first teaching jobs were in Magdalena and Aztec, New Mexico.

She wanted to return home to Roswell, though, and took a job as assistant director of the Yucca Recreation Center. But she wasn’t happy being away from teaching, she said.

In 1985, she became an English-language arts teacher at Mountain View Middle School and stayed there for about eight years. That started her rise through the ranks in RISD.

“I’ve never been one to stay in a position very long. I always want to try something different,” Kirk said.

She got a master’s degree in elementary administration in 1996 and became assistant principal at Mesa Middle School for about two years and then principal at Chisum Elementary School until it closed in 2005. She then became principal at El Capitan Elementary School for about seven years, followed by teaching elementary classes and managing the fine arts program at the Creative Learning Center.

Several years later, she was asked to take the position as principal at Valley View Elementary School when a new hire didn’t show up. She was there for three years, leading the staff in a monumental change.

“When I took over the school, it was the lowest-performing school in Roswell,” she said.

She made a promise to bring the school’s grade up to an A.

“And I did. My first year it came up to a B. My second year it came up to an A. We went from the lowest-performing school to the highest-performing school in Roswell. Tenth in the state. I was very proud of my staff,” she said.

She retired in 2015 but wasn’t finished with education.

“I knew as soon as I retired, I wanted to go on the school board. I didn’t want my career in education to end. Roswell is my home. I’ve lived here all my life and I love Roswell. I love RISD,” she said.

Kirk’s term representing District 1 on the school board ends this year. She said she is “looking very seriously” at running for reelection, but has not made a decision yet.

“I have a son, he’s a senior and will graduate, so I will have more time to dedicate if I do,” she said.

City/RISD reporter Juno Ogle can be reached at 575-622-7710, ext. 205, or reporter04@rdrnews.com.

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