The drive from the tall pines of Cloudcroft, N.M., to the Gadsden Independent School District in the border city of Sunland Park, N.M. is a stark contrast for some but Travis Dempsey saw it as an opportunity to take what he considered a well-run school district and incrementally improve student performance.

Then the COVID-19 pandemic hit and it turned his schedule of incremental academic achievement into an opportunity to lead a district-wide team of administrators to strengthen districtwide technological initiatives, establish rigorous remote academic standards, and insure districtwide health standards that are the foundation for his selection at the 2020 Superintendent of the Year for the New Mexico School Superintendent’s Association.

The New Mexico School Superintendent’s Association selected Superintendent Travis Dempsey as the Superintendent of the Year for this year and have submitted his name to the American Association of School Administrators (AASA) for consideration from New Mexico for the National Superintendent of the Year.

Superintendent Dempsey served as superintendent of the Cloudcroft Municipal Schools and currently is on his third year as Superintendent in the Gadsden Independent School District. His colleagues cited his leadership as President of the New Mexico School Superintendents Association, his leadership in continuing the excellence in student learning in GISD, and his unwavering support of New Mexico students in general as attributes that led to his nomination.

“We congratulate Superintendent Dempsey in being named New Mexico Superintendent of the Year and we are certain that he will compete well nationally”, stated Stan Rounds, Executive Director for the New Mexico School Superintendents Association (NMSSA), “Superintendent Dempsey exemplifies the quality leadership of our superintendents in New Mexico.”

“When the pandemic hit, I was so proud of the way our group came together. The administrators and teachers pulled together and I think we became a tighter team,” said Supt. Dempsey in reflecting on the reason he was chosen as the top Superintendent in New Mexico.

“I am so humbled to represent the body of superintendents who have nominated me and humbled that I am a part of that group. They are really awesome and they have taught me so much,” Dempsey added.

But a pandemic was a roadblock that Dempsey handled with confidence coming from a career in education that included teaching every grade from 4th to 12th, principal of Mountainair High, Superintendent of Cloudcroft Schools not to mention a summer spent teaching kindergarten which gave him undying respect and admiration for primary teachers.

The roadblocks put up by the Pandemic are the reasons why he says his team came together this summer to map out and craft a Re-entry Plan was not a top-down directive but rather a plan that was crafted by weeks of staff meetings, input from parents, and community and especially using the health data provided by the District’s Student Nursing Department.

“This year was so unique because we had the challenge of maintaining high academic standards online. We were all definitely under the gun. But I feel that as a new experience for our families and students we can build on that because it will integrate families to technology and continue to raise the tech skills of our teachers and communities.”

The challenge of connecting schools posed a tough problem to solve since many communities in the Gadsden ISD had poor if any connectivity to the internet. Now the pandemic made it vital that all families were connected.

What followed was a huge task Dempsey oversaw in the distribution of 8,000 Chromebooks and 3,000 hotspots to those families with no or sporadic internet services.

Nick Wohlgemuth, principal of Santa Teresa High School perhaps summed up the challenge and Dempsey’s leadership.

“Mr. Dempsey has brought a model of servant leadership to GISD that has been key to the accomplishments achieved during his time as Superintendent. He is always available to administration, teachers, and parents to listen to input and to solve problems. His brand of leadership is not one where decisions are made in a vacuum.

He consults with all stakeholders, including the student leadership council, the Equity Council, and Parent Advisory Council, to gain input as part of the process in making many of his decisions.

His "service first" approach is evident during his frequent visits to campuses for athletics and after school events. His first words when arriving are "can I help you with something while I am here?".

Here are some highlights Wohlgemuth wrote about Dempsey:

‘His desire to listen and collaborate, while leading has led to:

Consistent strong performance by students on statewide assessments district-wide.

The hiring of content specialists to support all core areas in secondary schools.

The hiring of additional staff to support bilingual and special education programs and students.

Increased collaboration and communication between central office, secondary, and elementary leadership.

Piloting a Blended Senior Year model of Dual Credit at Santa Teresa High School

The expansion of Career and Technical Education courses to Alta Vista Early College High School and Desert Pride Academy

Thoughtful use of budget resources to support instruction and improvement of facilities.

Significant investments in technology, from network infrastructure to student and teachers’ devices.

The transformation towards becoming connected through Google district

Moving from one high school campus with 1 to 1 student connectivity to all campuses 1 to 1 connectivity in 12 months

Working toward providing equity in internet access by making available WIFI hotspots for families

Mr. Dempsey is not afraid to provide the space needed for conversation, creativity, and collaboration for staff who are willing to work towards to goal of providing a high-quality educational experience for the students in the Gadsden Independent School District.”

Jennifer Viramontes, president of the Gadsden ISD Board of Trustees wrote that Dempsey reminded her so much of a quote from Leo Buscaglia:

“Too often we underestimate the power of a touch, a smile, a kind word, a listening ear, an honest compliment, or the smallest act of caring, all of which have the potential to turn a life around.” – Leo Buscaglia.

“As a Board, we are proud of these accomplishments: Chromebooks for all students, hotspots for thousands of our families, meals from buses, and weekly or bi-weekly staff & parent meetings. All these things were accomplished before other districts. He also works with 5 different board members from 5 different communities and is always ready to hear, help, and adjust to our ever-changing district. We could not have chosen a better person for the job as a district leader,” added Ms. Viramontes

Susie Yturralde, Associate Superintendent of Curriculum and Instruction says of Dempsey that he empowers all stakeholders in decision making from Gadsden Administrative Center personnel, campus administration, teachers, students, and parents - always keeping the students uppermost in any decisions that are made.

“He has lifted Gadsden ISD into the 21st Century in terms of technology, which has held us in good stead during this pandemic. Outstanding leadership in this journey through the COVID Pandemic. The organization and structure he created to develop operations through remote learning is second to none. This district is so far ahead of the other districts in the State in meeting parents' and students' needs .”

Rosa Hood, Director of Secondary Education said that Mr. Dempsey has demonstrated collaborative leadership, valuing input from all staff members.

“Our entire department feels that he has been essential in the construction of the Secondary Department to facilitate targeted instructional support for our middle school and high school teachers. His dedication to student success is evident through his commitment to facilitating teacher growth to ensure our teachers provide high-quality learning opportunities for our students; instilling the critical thinking and technological skills necessary for students to succeed during and beyond their experience at GISD.


Created By
Marco Perales


Luis Villalobos - Public Relations Consultant - Gadsden ISD - 915-422-8020-- USAToday.com