JNE Principal Carlson 80 by GPrincipal Steve Carlson Reflects on Receiving the National Distinguished Principal for New Mexico Award

Principal Steve Carlson attributes his school’s success to his students and staff.

Judy Nelson Elementary earned an A on the New Mexico Public Education Department’s 2016 School Grade Report Card, while Carlson received a 2016 National Distinguished Principal Award for New Mexico from the National Association of Elementary School Principals.

“It’s an incredibly big honor … but it’s really not about me,” Carlson said about the principal award. “It’s more of an honor that speaks to the entire staff and the people I’ve had the privilege of working with over the years.”

Judy Nelson Elementary School exceeded the statewide benchmark on its 2016 School Report Card for school growth—its improved student performance and its current standing—as well as growth of its highest performing students, and for its opportunity to learn.

“The most important thing I can do is to make connections with students at our school,” Carlson said. “The most important thing we can always do is to get kids to want to be here. If they want to be here, now we can teach them.

“The principal is just one person who can go about making those connections,” he added. “The most important person is the teacher. But all of the staff in the school come into play: secretaries—obviously Judy Nelson—are very important in making kids feel welcome; cafeteria staff, bus drivers, all of us.”

Carlson becomes the fourth principal in 12 years from the Central Consolidated School District to receive the National Distinguished Principal Award: Don Hornbecker received it in 2013 as principal of Kirtland Elementary; Raul Sanchez received it in 2009 as principal of Ruth N. Bond Elementary, and Phil Kasper received it in 2004 as principal of Eva B. Stokely Elementary.

“It’s very distinguished. You’re representing New Mexico principals through the state of New Mexico,” said Hornbecker, who is now the District’s coordinator of elementary schools.

But Carlson prefers to be a face in the crowd.

“There are several people in the District who have received this award in the past. I feel like every one of them is probably more deserving of the award than me,” Carlson said at an Oct. 18, 2016 School Board meeting at Ojo Amarillo Elementary School where the District and School Board presented him with a certificate in recognition of his national award.

“The mentors in this room are people I think who are also more deserving. I am humbled and honored by such an award and I appreciate all of your support,” said Carlson.

He began his educational career as a math teacher in 1988 at Chinle High School in Arizona, followed by being a math teacher and basketball coach at Kirtland Central High School, and being an assistant principal in Bloomfield.

He had interned as an administrator at Grace B. Wilson Elementary and Kirtland Central High School, and applied in 2005 when the principal position at Grace B. Wilson Elementary became open.

“I have so many parents I have known as a teacher and as a coach whose children I get to take care of now,” Carlson said.

Judy Nelson Elementary (grades kindergarten through 6th) became a school in 2015. It combined Grace B. Wilson Elementary (grades 4-6) and Ruth N. Bond Elementary (grades k-3). Dr. Debi Tom is the assistant principal.

The school operates on the campus of the former Grace B. Wilson Elementary, while a new Judy Nelson Elementary School building is nearly complete on the footprint of the closed Ruth N. Bond Elementary, which was demolished.

The new Judy Nelson Elementary School campus is expected to open in January 2017.

Judy Nelson, who became the school’s secretary in 1967, retired after 50 school years in June of 2016. She now volunteers as a secretary in the front office.

Hornbecker said in an interview all of CCSD’s principals can be proud.

“We have a very good, unique group of individuals running the schools. All of them have different strengths. For me, I get to work with them all. They’re so full of neat ideas and things they want for their students and learning.”