Local schools and universities need the business community’s help in providing career technical education opportunities, leaders said Thursday.
The Rio Rancho NAIOP Roundtable August meeting took place Thursday, the group’s first in-person meeting since March 2020 and its first outdoor meeting ever, at Haynes Park.
“We weren’t sure if anybody would show up,” quipped Bill Stanage of Wealth Management Group, one of the event’s planners.
About four-dozen attendees showed up to enjoy breakfast burritos, orange juice and coffee — and a quartet of speakers talking about career technical education.
CTE — career-technical education — has been in the forefront for Rio Rancho Public Schools in recent years, as there’s been a return to the past. Courses such as automotive repair, engineering, theater arts technology and culinary arts are available for high school students. There are dual-credit CTE programs through a partnership with Central New Mexico Community College in fire science, nursing, welding and medical assistance.
The increased focus on CTE, RRPS Superintendent Sue Cleveland said, “is not a new thing” as the district strives to move that curriculum forward.
“We really need your help,” she said, adding that partnerships are key.
That is why RRPS has connections with CNM and the University of New Mexico Health Sciences Rio Rancho campus, providing the next steps in the pipeline to well-paying careers — with hourly wages of $40 and $50 mentioned at the meeting.
Tracy Hartzler, president of CNM, which has had a campus in Rio Rancho since 2010, said it was important for skills learned in high school to “seamlessly transfer” to college, and that those in the audience were the experts who need to “guide where we are headed.”
Noting the nationwide nursing shortage — ABC News reported Friday there are 23,000 registered-nurse vacancies in Texas — Laura Burton, the program manager at UNM’s Rio Rancho campus, said the building is being renovated to better serve future nurses and health care professionals, and that enrollment in those programs has increased.
A virtual reality skills lab — the first for the university — is being installed there, too, resulting in improved “exposure and hands-on engagement for students,” she said.
Also, Burton noted in light of the pandemic, there’s a growing need for respiratory technicians, with UNM Rio Rancho able to “provide a good foundation for them” as students move into graduate courses.
Two local construction trade leaders told the group that they have challenges, but workers in their industry will find it very lucrative, especially with the current lack of manpower in the community.
Cleveland said the stigma of working construction needs to change.
“Kids are going to go where we value their work. … We want to get kids excited,” she said.
She added that she’s growing tired of seeing kids educated in high school in New Mexico “go somewhere else.”
“There is a big stereotype we need to get rid of,” said Larry Davis, RRPS’s new CTE director. “We need to market (CTE fields) as soon as middle school … re-branding it (and) taking it to those kids with enthusiasm. … Fractions make sense when you need a 5/8-inch socket.”
“Educators are really good at educating and constructors are really good at construction,” he said, and the construction field offers “endless opportunities.”
Hartzler said it’d be helpful to have those in the audience, if possible, participate and offer pre-apprenticeship programs and shadowing opportunities for students.
“Why are we spending so much to educate the workforce of other states?” queried Cleveland. “We need a dedicated revenue stream (from the state). … I think we’re at a really good point for moving CTE forward.
“We need a plan; we need consistent planning,” she added.
Haynes on hand at Haynes Park
Coincidentally, a recent Zoom NAIOP Rio Rancho Roundtable meeting had been about the city’s newest park, Campus Park, between City Hall and the Rio Rancho Events Center.
Thursday’s meeting took place at the city’s oldest park, Haynes Park, which had a special meaning for longtime NAIOP member Martin Haynes. The park was named after his mother, Zelda Haynes, who “went to work for AMREP, the master developer of Rio Rancho, in 1964 as the recreation director.”
Zelda Haynes continued in that position until her death in 1971, her son recalled.
“The building, swimming pool and park were under construction when she started working for AMREP, which upon completion, became the center focal point of the small unincorporated community,” he said in an email to NAIOP. “Many fond memories are tied to the park.”
One of his fond memories came out Thursday, as he recalled his mother driving him up the hill and his immediate impression had been, “Somebody’s out of their mind — nobody’s gonna move up here.”
On Thursday, with that rec center still there, he said, “It’s almost surreal.”
His family provided the coffee and breakfast burritos.