“I Would Only Leave For a School I Thought was Special”

Puente will bring energy and excitement to AA


Courtesy of King's Academy

Shortly after Albuquerque Academy Head of School Andy Watson announced his impending retirement, a vigorous search for a qualified leader to take his place was well underway, led by the Board of Trustees. Once the applicants had been narrowed down to three, the student body, faculty, staff, and parents became involved in the process. A series of question and answer sessions and interviews with the applicants took place on campus, and soon a school-wide debate over who would serve the Albuquerque Academy and its mission the best ensued. Eventually, the Board, taking into account input from the Academy community, decided upon Julianne Puente to be Albuquerque Academy’s new Head of School (HOS).

Ms. Puente, a graduate of Cornell and Columbia Universities, worked at her former high school, Hackley School in Tarrytown, New York, as a teacher, administrator, and soccer coach for 14 years. She left the school after being recruited as the Deputy Headmaster, Dean of Students, and Girl’s Soccer Coach for the King’s Academy, a private school in Mabada-Manja, Jordan that she helped establish in 2009. As both a teacher and administrator, Ms. Puente has strong relationships with many of her students, some of whom she has stayed in touch with 12 years after teaching them. Puente has made “deep friendships” at King’s Academy, and she said, “I would only leave for a school that I thought was really special. And that’s how I felt about Albuquerque Academy.” Ms. Puente has been a fan of the Academy –in particular its mission, its commitment to diversity among students, faculty, and staff, and its unique programs like Experiential Education, Commitment to Service, and the DOT Garden — for over 10 years. She knows the transition will be difficult, but “the thing that is making it palatable is where I’m going.”

I can’t think of a better chance to take than on a kid.”

— Julianne Puente

Pondering her future adjustment to life in Albuquerque, Ms. Puente joked that she might find herself standing on the path that stretches from the lower to the upper campus at seven or eight at night, asking herself, “Where is everybody?” As a faculty member working at a boarding school, Ms. Puente lives at the heart of the King’s Academy, ending her day around students at 10:30 to 11:00 PM, and starting it at 6:00 AM at the gym. Although nostalgic about her students and life in Jordan, Ms. Puente lit up suddenly when she discussed her future as Head of School at the Academy. During the selection process, she felt as though “it was meant to be.” She was warmly received by the community–with students, faculty, and parents sending over 60 letters and dozens of emails–and she felt comfortable “meeting all the wonderful people there.” Now, she is excited to learn the ins and outs of the Academy, or as she calls it, the “Academy Charger language.” The key, she says, to getting to know the students as well as maintaining a role as an administrator, is to “be genuine, to be transparent, and to follow through.”

She stated that, during her second year as the Head of School, she would consider teaching a class in one of the humanities, because of her love for teaching and connecting with students. Ms. Puente said, “I can’t think of a better chance to take than on a kid.” She is committed to getting to know students and hearing their opinions, and although she is not “omnipresent,” she joked, she will be sure to “be methodical about trying to meet with groups of students” as soon as she arrives on campus. At King’s, Ms. Puente has relationships with her students that are beyond surface level. She said, “I know their stories. I know their families. I get to see them at their very best, and perhaps sometimes when they’ve made mistakes.” She plans to form these connections with students at the Academy as well–although she knows it may be challenging due to the large student population–because “when kids know that you genuinely care about them, or love them, really, you can handle any issue.”

Ms. Puente, despite having heard about various topics of discussion at the Academy, is adamant about not entering her role with an agenda. Rather, she is excited, she said, to organize “barbecues or teas or whatever it is that we do at Academy.” Here, she will ask students, parents, and faculty to “give me my marching orders, tell me what we need to do and why. And I might push back a bit and come back to you.” When asked about what she would do to increase school spirit, she gave a variety of examples of ideas she had implemented at Hackley, such as Friday Night games for breast cancer awareness, having a cookout at games, or having the orchestra play pop up concerts in the quad. By the end of the interview, it was apparent that Ms. Puente plans to use her past experiences working with kids in many different aspects, to be a passionate and caring leader for the Academy. She said, “I’m not saying it’s going to be easy or I’m not going to make mistakes, but I feel embraced, ready, and excited to be there.”