Las Cruces Public Schools Superintendent Karen Trujillo was struck by a vehicle on Edgewood Avenue in Las Cruces Thursday evening, Feb. 25, and died a short time later at MountainView Regional Medical Center. The two dogs Trujillo was walking at the time were seriously injured in the accident and were transported to a local veterinarian’s office, the Las Cruces Police Department reported.
Trujillo, 50, was appointed interim superintendent in September 2019 and the LCPS Board of Education made the appointment permanent in February 2020.
She won a contested Democratic primary in June 2018 and was elected to a four-year term on the Doña Ana County Commission in November 2018. She resigned that position in January 2019 when she was appointed secretary of the New Mexico Public Education Department. Trujillo served as NMPED secretary until July 2019.
Trujillo grew up in Santa Fe and moved to Las Cruces at age 16. A graduate of Mayfield High School, she earned a BA in secondary education, a master’s degree in mathematics education and a Ph.D. in curriculum instruction, all from New Mexico State University.
Trujillo began her teaching career in Las Cruces in 1993, according to her LCPS biography. She taught math at Las Cruces High School for two years. In 1997, Trujillo started teaching GRADS and social studies at Cobre High School. She was also a RETA coordinator in the Bootheel region of the state through Western New Mexico University. After receiving her Ph.D., Trujillo moved to Truth or Consequences in 2000 to teach math at Hot Springs High School for three years, while also continuing to work at NMSU with the RETA program and eventually Mathematically Connected Communities (MC2). In 2004, she returned to Las Cruces with her family. She served as the administrator at Las Cruces Catholic School 2006-10 and also worked at Alma d’Arte Charter High School. From 2010-18, Trujillo worked at NMSU in various capacities, teaching courses, working with educators, writing grants and conducting research. During that time, she started Educators Rising NM and the Southwest Outreach Academic Research Lab and served as the interim dean for research.
Trujillo is survived by her husband, two daughters and a son. Her father is former county commissioner Gilbert Apodaca.
Here are thoughts about Trujillo from people who knew and worked with her:
- LCPS Board of Education member Teresa Tenorio: “I’m wading through the anguish of losing our captain. Dr. Trujillo is now a legacy, a legacy of compassionate collaborative leadership for youth and education. She was brave, respectful, brilliant, and strong. She was a leader and team player, employing the strengths and knowledge of those around her, inspiring others with the high standard of excellence she held for herself, and driven by the bright internal guiding force of Great Love. With both awe and a natural concern, I witnessed how she managed under the tremendous pressures placed upon her. She never stopped trying; she never said I can’t. She was the leader who said, ‘WE WILL.’ Dr. Trujillo had a great work ethic, attentive to the little details and able to not only visualize, but communicate and amend the bigger picture as needed. Dr. Trujillo took the time to listen to me and respond promptly to my questions. Through my privileged access, I witnessed a true leader, one who rose up, took charge, and steadied a big ship through turbulent times. She was a leader who met every challenge as an opportunity to learn and grow. She was a leader whose compass pointed towards excellence and the greater good. She was a leader who considered and cared about every student, employee, and community member on our journey. I recognized the vibrato in her voice during a recent radio interview because she had just found out we had lost another employee to Covid-19. She cared for the names, faces, and talents behind every statistic. She was great with numbers, but even greater with people.
“I am honored to have worked and learned with Dr. Trujillo in my role as one of her board members. I am at peace with my last communication with her: ‘I support you.’ I am devastated by the tragedy that took her from us. I grieve with my whole being and send my love and condolences to her family and friends blessed to have known her best. Querida Karen, descansa en poder y paz. Dios la tenga en su gloria.”
- State Rep. Doreen Gallegos of Las Cruces: “I am shocked and heartbroken that we have lost one of the most dedicated public servants in this community and to many of us a dear friend. Karen Trujillo exemplified the best characteristics of a public servant who loved being a public school educator and felt deeply about the value of a public education system. Her knowledge and leadership will be sorely missed. I extend my condolences to her family and will pray that love and faith will guide them through this terrible time.”
- Former LCPS Superintendent Stan Rounds: “Last evening the public schools community lost a Champion for Children, Dr. Karen Trujillo, who was tragically struck and killed while walking her dogs. As I informed the New Mexico superintendent family of the loss of one of our own, I was moved by the support and love expressed by everyone who called and texted back in shock and sorrow. We hold her wonderful family close in our hearts and prayers go out to them. Rest in Peace friend!”
- Doña Ana County Clerk Amanda Lopez Askin: “Like all of you, I am devastated by the loss of my friend and colleague, Karen Trujillo. What I’ll remember most about Karen was her always apparent love and pride in her children .... and always making a point of asking about my little one. I share the collective grief of our community and send my condolences to her grieving family.”
- State Rep. Angelica Rubio of Las Cruces: “Late last night I was alerted to news of the passing of our fierce leader and friend, Dr. Karen Trujillo. I am heartbroken. Shortly after the announcement was made for statewide school reentry, I reached out to Karen asking her how I could support her. She said, ‘I have a plan.’ ‘We’ll be ok.’ She always had a plan, and yes—we will be ok, because of the mark she’s left on all of us. Now it’s up to us to follow through— that her commitment to all of us isn’t forgotten. My thoughts go out to Karen, her family and all of you who love her deeply. Rest in power, Karen.”
- Las Cruces City Councilor Gabriel Vasquez: “Our community, students and state lost an important and vital leader and public servant in our community yesterday. A caring, thoughtful and dedicated educator gone too soon. Wishing understanding, rest, and healing to the family of Dr. Karen Trujillo. Her contributions to Las Cruces will always be honored and remembered.”
- Doña Ana County Humane Society Executive Director April Anaya: “I think our entire community can come together to agree that no one worked harder for our kids than Dr. Karen Trujillo. Her leadership was without a doubt collaborative in nature, forming partnerships with nonprofit organizations throughout the community that allowed everyone to come together and bring their strengths and services to the table to better serve our youth. She will be missed now more than ever, at a time when we desperately need her leadership and vision. Dr. Trujillo, we cannot thank you enough for giving your heart and soul to Las Cruces’s kids. You left quite a legacy and our community is better because of you. Prayers and strength to her family and her LCPS family during this tragic time. Rest In Peace.”
- Community Foundation of Southern New Mexico Executive Director Terra Winter: “When you open your phone, in the morning, to catch up on the world around us you never expect to see a friends face beside tragic news. Her face graces the local news, multiple Facebook posts and Twitter feeds but it brings tears to my eyes. To lose a colleague, an advocate, a kind smile from across the room, and a friend is just gutting. Karen - you are and will always be held in our hearts and minds. Bless the Trujillo and Apodaca families. You invested your own dollars and passions with my team and I hope that each day we can go out and be a good neighbor - like you. You will be missed but let us all walk in your leadership, your love for this community and your endurance to make things just a bit better for the person beside you.”
- Fred Fernandez of Las Cruces: “I saw her breaking up in the last board meeting when she was announcing the deceased employees names. I think she will leave a legacy like no other superintendent in Las Cruces Public Schools. Example, My kid received a few months ago a handwritten letter by Dr. Trujillo congratulating him of being on the top 3 tier of students at his school. I have never heard of any Superintendent talking the time to do something like this. May she Rest In Peace!”
- Las Cruces Bulletin Publisher Richard Coltharp: “I remember Dr. Trujillo talking to a group of high schoolers in the Greater Las Cruces Chamber of Commerce Junior Leadership class a few years ago. They were gathered around, in an informal setting, and Trujillo’s sole focus was on those students. She genuinely wanted to hear their thoughts and concerns, and understand their needs. Because of her passions, the students were also very engaged. She had lots of work to do, and was eager and excited to do it for these children of Las Cruces.”
- Lynsey Kalson, Bravo Mic Communications: “She was a good woman, and hearing her LCPS family mourn her shows that even if you didn’t agree with her, she was bringing our district together for the first time in a long time.”
- Lucas Herndon, Las Cruces: “I’m struck by the sense I have returning home this morning from walking my dog. We’re not guaranteed any moment and it’s hard to live a life balanced in the now but preparing for the then. Still hard to fathom the news about Superintendent Trujillo this morning. Hold your people close.”
- Friends of the Organ Mountains/Desert Peaks: “We join with our community in the grief and sorrow we all feel on the tragic passing of Dr. Karen Trujillo. We had the very good fortune to work with her on a number of occasions. The care and heart she approached her work with made our community a better place in ways we can’t imagine. Our fondest memory of Dr. Trujillo was when she joined us on the hike with Sen. Heinrich pictured here. This is a real loss. Our thoughts are with her family during this extremely difficult time. Rest in Power Dr. Trujillo.”
- LCPS Deputy Superintendent of Teaching, Learning & Research Wendi Miller-Tomlinson:” I’m grateful for the life and friendship of Karen Trujillo. My heart goes out to her family. May her passion for education live on through the Las Cruces Public Schools community.”
- Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham: “This is an incredibly painful and shocking loss for southern New Mexico, for Las Cruces Public Schools and for our public education community statewide. I am stunned and saddened almost beyond words. Dr. Trujillo was, above all else, committed to New Mexico students, and she made a significant impact on the young women and men she taught, counseled and led for decades across different roles. She began her teaching career in Las Cruces almost 30 years ago, and her classroom experience informed her later administrative and advocacy leadership roles, and I know so many are proud to have known her as a colleague and friend. She leaves behind an unfinished legacy of credible service in New Mexico public education. The suddenness of her loss is a reminder, for all of us, to make as much meaning out of each day as we can. My prayers are with her loved ones, with her family and friends and the many students and educators and parents whose lives she touched.”
- Lt. Gov. Howie Morales: “Love, respect and condolences to the family of Dr. Karen Trujillo. As a state we mourn the tragic loss to the community and educational extended family. Karen's impact and legacy is filled with so much admiration to all who knew her. Karen had a compassionate vision expressed in her artwork as an amazing math teacher, NMSU leader, County Commissioner, PED Secretary, Superintendent, Educators Rising leader, voice of the Hatch Bears sports programs and personal friend.
Karen shared her time and experience helping me start and complete my PhD program as well as offering solid advice continually. May the heavens open up the eternal curriculum of a life well lived and shared providing service to others. We love and will miss you.”
Below is an excerpt from a Las Cruces Bulletin article written after Trujillo was elected Dona Ana County Commissioner in 2018.
Trujillo, director of K-12 outreach at New Mexico State University, has “a big connection to the district” she hopes to represent on the Doña Ana County Commission.
With one daughter attending Hatch High School (where her husband is girls’ basketball coach), another daughter who is an HHS graduate and a son who followed in his mother’s footsteps as a graduate of Mayfield High School, Trujillo said she drives commission district five every day.
Her father is former county commissioner Gilbert Apodaca, and her parents continue to live in the county’s North Valley.
The North Valley, she said, “hasn’t had a voice on the commission to advocate for the needs of that district.” Instead, the commission has focused on southern Doña Ana County, Trujillo said.
Trujillo grew up in Santa Fe and moved to Las Cruces at age 16. She has a BA in secondary education, a master’s in mathematics education and a Ph.D. in curriculum and instruction, all from NMSU.
As a commissioner, Trujillo said she will be an “advocate for access.”
The county is “a big place,” she said. Infrastructure and transportation are vital to help connect county residents to the services they need. Without public transportation, she said, many in rural parts of the county wouldn’t be able to attend classes at NMSU and Doña Ana Community College in Las Cruces, or to access health care and other services.
“They need to have options,” Trujillo said.
She wants the county to conduct a needs assessment to determine the viability of a passenger-van pilot program to better connect residents in northern Doña Ana County with the services they need.
Nonprofits, businesses and all three school districts in the county also need to have “louder voices” in county government, Trujillo said
Solving these issues requires bringing people together “to come up with a solution,” she said, including state legislators and New Mexico’s federal delegation.
Elected officials “are the county,” Trujillo said, and “have to set an example of how to communicate with each other.”
They should honor county employees for the good work they are doing, she said, recognize excellence and elevate the level of pride employees feel in working for the county.
“You have to lead by example,” Trujillo said.
County Manager Fernando Macias “brings a level of calm and professionalism” to the county and is providing a vision that “elevates the status of the county, she said. “He listens. He has high expectations of himself and the people under him.”
“A lot of economic development is taking place” in northern Doña Ana County, Trujillo said, with a focus on agriculture. Spaceport and eco-tourism offer additional opportunities, she said.
The area “wants to stay rural,” Trujillo said. Along with making sure children have access to higher education, they also should have the option to “work on dad’s farm.”
“Let’s support what we have,” Trujillo said. “Let’s elevate and highlight economic development in the district.”
The county needs to be “very focused” on the way it uses Stonegarden funds, she said. “What’s the vision? What’s the mission?” If it doesn’t align with the values of the county, Trujillo said, the grant should be rewritten so that it does, or the county should refuse the grant and look for other revenue sources.
Trujillo said she supports consolidation of county fire districts and a county-wide internship program like the one in place at the NMSU fire station.
“Let’s bring everyone in the room,” she said. “We’re going to have this conversation. We’re going to figure it out.”
In the last eight years, Trujillo has competed in a triathlon, acted in two plays and published a book of poems and a play.