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ECECD hires Lela Wendell as new Director of Policy, Research, and Quality Initiatives Division

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Press Release


November 28, 2023


Micah McCoy
Communications Director
(505) 629 – 9575  micah.mccoy@ececd.gov.nm

1120 Paseo De Peralta
Santa Fe, NM 87501

SANTA FE – Today, the New Mexico Early Childhood Education and Care Department (ECECD) announced that it has hired Lela Wendell to serve as Director of the Policy, Research, and Quality Init

iatives Division. In this role, Wendell will lead the department’s 

policy and research efforts, continue to improve the collection and analysis of early childhood data in New Mexico, administer the quality improvement and rating system for child care providers, and continue to expand degree, credential, and professional development supports for early childhood professionals.

“Lela brings a deep and diverse set of skills, expertise, and experience to the ECECD executive leadership team,” said ECECD Cabinet Secretary Elizabeth Groginsky. “Lela will be instrumental in advancing the state’s initiatives to improve the quality of early childhood programs and services for families, young children, and the people who care for and educate them. I am thrilled she chose to come back home to help us build a world-class prenatal to five system for New Mexicans.”

Lela brings over 17 years of state government experience, working at both the Arizona Department of Economic Security and Department of Child Safety. Her career has included program administration, finance and business operations, and coaching lean thinking and practice. Most recently, Lela served as the Assistant Director for the Arizona Department of Economic Security’s Division of Child Care where she was instrumental in the implementation of a $1.3 billion child care infrastructure plan, which sustained the child care network and supported the wellbeing of Arizona’s families by increasing access to high-quality care. Lela is committed to improving outcomes for children and families through systems-level changes centered around the lived experience and strengths of communities.

Lela was born and raised in Albuquerque along with her older siblings. Her parents owned a small restaurant chain in Albuquerque that was in operation for over 50 years. Lela spent weekends and summers working for the family business, where she learned the importance of hard work and serving the community. After graduating from Albuquerque Academy, Lela moved to Arizona for college where she earned a Bachelor of Science in Economics, a Bachelor of Arts in Italian, and a Certificate in International Business from Arizona State University. She returned often to visit her family and friends, and always had it in her heart to return to serve her home state.

“As a native New Mexican and early childhood professional, I have been following the investments New Mexico has made to improve the lives of children and families,” said Wendell. “Growing up here, I was instilled with a deep appreciation for our state’s beauty and richness in cultures. With these historic investments, we are ensuring that communities have the infrastructure and support to care for our most precious resource, our children, in a way that is an honest reflection and celebration of our beautiful diversity. I am honored to be coming home to join Secretary Groginsky and the ECECD team that is leading this important work.”


Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham launched the New Mexico Early Childhood Education and Care Department (ECECD) in 2020, making New Mexico among the first states to consolidate all early childhood programs and services under a single cabinet-level agency. Under this administration, ECECD has led the nation by expanding access to free New Mexico PreK, overseeing the largest investment in early childhood infrastructure in state history, and implementing cost-free child care for a majority of New Mexico families. Learn more about how ECECD supports children, families, and the early childhood professionals that serve our communities at nmececd.org. On Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram as @NewMexicoECECD.
The New Mexico Public Education Department partners with educators, communities and families to ensure that all students are healthy, secure in their identity and holistically prepared for college, career and life. Currently, NMPED serves about 320,000 students in 189 districts and charter schools. Find an abundance of resources for administrators, educators, families and students at New Mexico Public Education Department (state.nm.us) or follow the NMPED on Facebook and Instagram.
The New Mexico Higher Education Department was established in 2005 and oversees the state’s public and tribal colleges, universities and special schools. It also oversees adult education and literacy programs statewide, manages state-funded financial aid programs and capital projects for higher education institutions, provides college readiness services via the GEAR UP program, and grants state authorization to private colleges operating within New Mexico. For more information, visit hed.nm.gov or follow us on FacebookTwitter and Instagram at @NMHigherEd.