By Kim Shanahan, Executive Officer, Santa Fe Area Home Builders Association
An opinion column recently authored by me and published by the Santa Fe New Mexican elicited a number of personal thanks for bringing up a neglected subject in the local debate on secondary education reform.
In it I lament the complete abandonment of a construction trades career track for high school kids. Such a program would be based on sustainability principles and have plenty of hands-on repetition to hone practical skills. It has been years since an honest-to-goodness, career- focused construction trades program has existed in our schools.
Our town has hundreds of construction trade business owners in their 30s and 40s who will testify they couldn’t have done it without Vo-Tech, then alive and flourishing on the South Campus of Santa Fe High. The only remnant left of that thriving program is auto-body collision and welding.
At a recent joint meeting of Santa Fe City Councilors and School Board members on the subject of “World Class City/ World Class Schools,” I got a chance to speak early during the public hearing portion. I summarized the column and suggested I also spoke for those not there that night, but were working every day on every jobsite in town. A lot of heads on the Council and Board nodded in agreement with what I had to say.
Unbeknownst to me at the time, over a dozen speakers followed me at the podium, most with shaky voices to sing the praises of Chris Corriz’s auto-body collision and welding classes at Santa Fe High. Every current student (and many former ones) said it was those classes taken all four years that kept them in school – and was the only reason they didn’t drop out. It gave them their career path.
It was an emotional and passionate defense of trade-based education by those who benefitted the most. It was a moving and effective moment that changed the tone of the debate. It made me wonder, however, the length of a testimonial line if the non-existent construction trades students, an industry employing thousands in our community, had been present. Compare those thousands of jobs to the dozens in auto-body repair and the need to resurrect residential construction trades education is obvious and urgent. Lend your voice to the urgency – our community ignores this crisis at its peril.