LAS CRUCES, N.M. (AP) - Karen Trujillo, school superintendent for New Mexico’s second largest city of Las Cruces and a former leader of the state Public Education Department, was hit and killed by a minivan while walking her dogs, police said Friday.
Word of Trujillo’s death spread quickly through Las Cruces, prompting tributes on social media. Many state lawmakers paused during legislative meetings to remember Trujillo.
“This is an unimaginable loss,” Sean Barham, the school district’s chief of staff, said in a statement Friday. “Dr. Trujillo embodied selflessness and demonstrated it daily. At every roadblock, she found a way to move forward. She drew upon her many years in the classroom to be a champion for educators and an advocate for students.”
The district said efforts were underway to establish a memorial scholarship in Trujillo’s name.
The death of the 50-year-old longtime educator was confirmed by Las Cruces police. They said the driver of the minivan stopped Thursday and was cooperating with investigators.
Trujillo led Las Cruces Public Schools during the pandemic and a during a cyber attack that crippled the school system’s computer systems, the Las Cruces Sun-News reported.
Trujillo “made a significant impact on the young women and men she taught, counseled and led for decades across different roles,” New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham said in a statement. ”She leaves behind an unfinished legacy of credible service in New Mexico public education.”
Las Cruces City Councilor Gabriel Vasquez called Trujillo’s death “a tragic loss for our community, our students, and the state of New Mexico.”
Trujillo started working as the Las Cruces superintendent in late 2019 after being abruptly removed as state public education secretary by Lujan Grisham, a Democrat, after only six months in that position.
Lujan Grisham at the time cited a lack of progress on sweeping education changes. Trujillo told the Sun-News she “felt like I did everything I could to turn the table about changing the conversation of what education and educators are in our state and how much they deserve to be valued.”
Trujillo started her teaching career in Las Cruces in 1993 after receiving bachelor’s and master’s degrees in mathematics education from New Mexico State University. She taught at Las Cruces High School for two years before pursuing her Ph.D. She also taught in Silver City and Truth or Consequences and served as an administrator at New Mexico State University.
Trujillo had been a newly elected Dona Ana County commissioner for just 27 days before the governor named her to the state post in January 2019. She ended up moving back to Las Cruces where the school board selected her to replace the superintendent who had resigned.
Trujillo was married and had three children.
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