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ABQ Free Press Forum: Candidates Discuss Mayor’s Role In Education

ABQ Free Press Forum: Candidates Discuss Mayor’s Role In Education

Should the mayor be involved in the public education system?

As everybody seems to now know and agree on, education is a key to economic development and growing the city’s economy. A growing economy requires a well-educated and prepared workforce.

But the Albuquerque Public Schools recently got some very bad grades from the state regarding how well its schools are performing. So we asked the mayoral candidates what they thought the mayor’s role should be in public education.

Five candidates answered the question and their full answer are below so you can decide for yourself where they stand on this issue.

Question: Should the mayor of Albuquerque be involved in the public education system? If not, why? If so, why? And to what extent?

Brian Colón

Albuquerque’s next mayor MUST be involved in the public education system. Education is the absolute foundation of any successful community, and it is time we prioritize the development of Albuquerque’s next leaders. The National League of Cities said it best, “…a skilled and educated workforce is increasingly vital to a community’s economic vitality.”

As the mayor of Albuquerque it will be my goal to significantly improve our educational system and make our community competitive with cities across the country. Our students need the skills to compete for jobs, and it is the community’s job to prepare them for the ever-changing work environment. I am the product of public education and succeeded because my community filled in the gaps.

Our public education system is something I hear about everyday. My wife, Aleli, has been a STEM teacher at the International District’s Van Buren Middle School for the last 18 years.

My commitment to an improved educational system was stressed earlier this year in my mayoral campaign’s announcement speech. Education is one on the three main policies, along with public safety and economic development, which underscore our Safe City/Smart City strategy to help #LiftUpABQ.

As mayor, my involvement will begin by working directly with APS and immediately appointing a CEO, a chief education officer, who reports to the mayor’s office. The CEO will be the direct conduit between the City of Albuquerque, APS, CNM and UNM, along with other education systems in our metro area.

The mayor’s office must work directly with the APS superintendent in reforming policies within the district. We can no longer accept incremental change and ineffective policies.

Mediocrity in education is unacceptable. The City of Albuquerque writes a check to APS with two commas in it annually. The mayor deserves a say in our educational system to insure young residents achieve their maximum potential.

We need to visualize an educational system of tomorrow for the City of Albuquerque. The mayor’s office can exhibit and exercise leadership through support of public schools, assist with effective alternatives for students who struggle in traditional school settings, help increase high school graduation rates, and promote college access and completion.

We must change the players at the table, demand innovation, and strive for excellence to create a first-class educational system that engages our students and provides them with skills needed in the 21st Century. Albuquerque families deserve no less.

Michelle Garcia Holmes

Yes, we must strengthen the workforce through education. We have high unemployment, high poverty, a shrinking population, and limited education, which all present barriers to building a strong workforce.

We must prioritize education in our city and workforce development as well. We must improve our graduation rates, improve our vocational training, and foster communication between colleges and employers.

While working with the Attorney General’s Office we established a great relationship with our law school to foster an internship program every summer. We brought on about a dozen law students to work alongside our attorneys who worked on anything from water law to criminal prosecution.

This program created a platform for our attorneys to foster relationships and teach young future attorneys about their field. I would like to see more internship programs that collaborate with our business, healthcare, and tech communities to encourage our high school students to get a head start on what fields they can prosper in.

Tech jobs are forecast to be the fastest growing job sector in the coming years. Its reported there are 1,000 jobs open in Albuquerque in information technology, manufacturing, retail, and research and development.

We need to re-tool our local schools, colleges and universities to meet the demand. We need to focus on technology, energy, biotech, nano-tech, and information technology. These fields will provide jobs for the future.

As mayor, I will work closely with the high schools, UNM, CNM and encourage our tech community to start recruitment early and partner with these educational institutions. We need to work with APS and focus on adding more technology classes in both high school and college and strategically align our city as being an innovative city. Albuquerque’s economy will grow if our young people carry the skills to succeed in the workplace.

Gus Pedrotty

Yes, because the mayor represents the city and of course the city should be involved in the public education system. The city’s involvement already has checks and balances in place, so a sway in leadership could never overhaul the entire educational system.

However, city leadership should be involved to directly cooperate city resources with academic needs. Economic development, community services, parks and recs, as well as health can all be addressed in and help the public school system  and these programs can gain better engagement and success by being accessible.

One concrete example of my plan is to offer a modest monetary stipend to teachers to offer one after school club a week. This could be in an area they are passionate about, unstructured time for play and alternative growth, or to fill classroom needs. This small act of city engagement in education goes a long way in fostering teacher’s passion areas, keeping kids engaged in school and out of trouble, and improving our school ratings.

We always want to make decisions based off of expertise, and the mayor should always be advised by experts in communities and fields they deal in. That is similar for education, and the mayor should not be able to act unilaterally but instead be a focal point for community needs through oversight of invested funds that cooperate with the city’s greater goals.

One such example would be summer programs that create a code-literate generation, or bolstering ESL opportunities through already existing refugee programs offered in our community. At the end of the day, education best serves the future and our budget when it is cooperative and a city should be a conduit for new cooperation that builds a better tomorrow.

Ricardo Chaves

I want all of our children to succeed, both in high school and after high school. But our school district is failing them with a 66 percent graduation rate. Other than to inspire our youth to strive for excellence, as mayor, there’s not a lot I can do about education.

APS has their own billion-dollar budget to work with, and the funding coming from the city budget is minimal. But as mayor, I’ll keep funding for after-school programs in the city budget, like the YMCA, and the Boys and Girls Clubs, which have a proven record of helping kids achieve a 97 percent graduation rate. It seems to me that the public school system can learn something from this!

I’ll also encourage the school district to follow my example on the city side and cut waste and bureaucracy, and put that money back into the classrooms, where the learning is being done.

Tim Keller

Yes, absolutely, but we need to get beyond the usual rhetoric of “talking to, splitting up, evaluating, working with, partnering, etc.” when it comes to APS. We cannot wait any longer, and must actually take action.

As mayor, I will step up for kids and invest in education programming to supplement all that is missing in APS. I will work to establish a wide range of extracurricular and enrichment activities that will support our children in public schools after school and over the summer, including nutrition and health care for parents, and arts, science, tech, music, sports, science, coding camps and others to support kids.

Knowing that the earliest years of a child’s life are the most important, I will champion and broaden the good work being done at many city-run early childhood education programs.

We must also recognize that far too many of our young people are leaving. We can turn this around. Let’s actively encourage our best and brightest to stay or return home with partnerships between City Hall, research labs, and universities that offer real career paths for young people.

Wayne Johnson

No answer.

Dan Lewis

No answer.

Susan Wheeler-Deichsel

No answer.

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Dennis Domrzalski is managing editor of ABQ Free Press. Reach him at dennis@freeabq.com.

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Dennis Domrzalski is managing editor of ABQ Free Press. Reach him at dennis@freeabq.com.

Latest posts by Dennis Domrzalski (see all)