"You absolutely have to be the lead person, you are the educator.  So when you move from the classroom to the boardroom... or the classroom to the big room, in an educational setting or an administrative office, your role is not done. You are still teaching."- Karen Sanchez-Griego, PhD

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My guest today is Dr. Karen Sanchez-Griego, Superintendent of the 'To’Hajiilee Community Schools District on the Navajo Nation, in New Mexico.  Karen previously worked with The New Mexico Public Education Department as Assistant Director of Educator Quality, and Assistant Superintendent of Curriculum and Instruction with the Arlington Public Schools, in Arlington Virginia. Karen also served as principal, assistant principal, high school and middle school teacher, with the Albuquerque Public Schools.  Karen was instrumental in the development of one of the first Small Learning Community programs in New Mexico and in the country.  Karen was selected as one of New Mexico’s 20 Women Making a Difference in Education; and was selected as a recipient for the Governors Award for Outstanding New Mexico Women.

About The Conversation

Karen has been an educator for approximately 20 years.  She comes from a family of educators, and grew up in a small rural community in New Mexico.  Her family was influential in her becoming an educator.

The experiences she has had throughout her career have led her to start writing a book on women and educational leadership, to be read by both men and women.  Karen has served as Superintendent in the Navajo nation for three years. 

  • At first she found the District's system very complex and difficult to navigate. 
  • The district is guided by both BIA and Dept of Education regulations, making it challenging.
  • The culture of the district when she arrived was "top down" and that required a lot of listening and observation.
  • Working with the school board can be difficult at times. 

Karen reflects on the power of mentoring and support for leaders as they move into leadership positions.

The 3 Pillars:

  • Scholarship"Your role as a teacher never ends."  Karen works to gain a broader perspective to learning.  She and her team make the time to learn together
  • Leadership: "We lead in the space that we occupy."  She brings her heritage to the work.
  • Agency:  She believes in mentoring students, colleagues, and those she supervises, helping them own who they are.

Karen's challenges include,

  • a lack of support for ethical behavior, 
  • the fear people have to do the right thing, and, 
  • a lack of interaction with other leaders in their districts.

Resources Mentioned

  • You can reach Karen Sanchez-Griego, PhD via email at:  griego.k62@gmail.com
  • The District Leader email:  podcast@disrictleader.net
  • You can subscribe to the District Leader podcasts on iTunes

The Sponsors
This episode is being sponsored by
audible.com, where you get a FREE audiobook download and 30 day free trial at www.audibletrial.com/districtleader, byIsagenix, one of America’s leading health and wellness companies, and by Wiredprofiles.com, Education’s Daily Digest.

Additional resources
You can reach Luis Valentino on Twitter, and on Facebook, at

Episode 004: Karen Sanchez-Griego, PhD