Steve Pearce

Steve Pearce speaks at an event in Socorro in 2016.

Could the apprenticeship program run by the Deming school district be a model for the rest of the state?

U.S. Rep. Steve Pearce, the Republican nominee for governor, believes it can be.

“So electricians, plumbers, carpenters, construction jobs of all kinds, truck drivers, welders, EMT, nursing, all of those things are currently being taught in apprenticeship programs in Deming, New Mexico, in the school system,” Pearce said during a recent visit to Socorro. “They’ve been doing it for 20 years. They are well defined on how it looks and works. They’ve got 1,440 students, and they’ve got 1,050 in apprenticeship programs. Twelve percent of their kids are actually going to go to college.”

Coming up with an apprenticeship program for schools statewide is one of Pearce’s main platforms as he campaigns in the race to succeed Republican Gov. Susana Martinez. He faces Democrat Michelle Lujan Grisham in the Nov. 6 general election, with early voting starting Tuesday.

“When we don’t give them (students) a direction, a certain number of them end up in trouble, on the streets, and you just get wasted lives. When you start drifting at that age, you have bad things lying downstream for them. So let’s give kids help to get on a productive pathway.”

Pearce believes the apprenticeship program helps in two areas: education and job creation.

“The apprenticeship program will do a lot to stabilize the education system because many of the problems originate because kids don’t understand why they are there,” Pearce said. “They cause problems for the other kids. If we have apprenticeship programs, they begin to see their purpose in school. They begin to see the life ahead of them. They see that they do have opportunities, and people who see opportunities and hope ahead of them are more productive than what we’re seeing right now. Right now, they’re diminished. If you’re not going to college, you’re told that you’re not ever going to succeed in life. Skill trades are tremendously important in every state, but they are equally important here.”

Pearce said jobs are there for students who participate in apprenticeship programs.

“Right now jobs are out there,” Pearce said. “We don’t have people to fill them. Everywhere I go, people are telling me they can’t find workers. We can expand our economy significantly if we simply have the workers to do it. I see the skill trades as important to that. When I was at Los Alamos Labs last year, they said they seemed to be in danger of not being able to fill the mission. Not because they couldn’t find nuclear scientists, but they couldn’t find electricians to fix the wall sockets.”

Establishing an apprenticeship program isn’t Pearce’s only plan for education.

“Our schools are not functional to a very high level,” Pearce said. “The first thing we need to do is get back to business and let our teachers teach. People think this sounds simplistic, but the truth is they’re day is dominated by other stuff. They say 60 to 70 percent of their time is dominated by other stuff, discipline and doing the other things that are required. If you’re only teaching 30 percent of the day, you’re not going to be competitive with the world. Let our teachers teach. If you’ve got kids with problems, take those kids out of the classroom. Have specialists deal with them. That’s how we free our teachers up to teach. Getting the problems out of the classroom is fairly easy to accomplish.”

Pearce also believes in giving superintendents more control over matters that affect local school systems.

“You can’t run a centralized education system,” Pearce said. “Centralize planning seldom works and it’s not working here. We have 89 school districts and each one of them is different. Let local superintendents make decisions for their area and have PED (Public Education Department) make sure we are strong in reaching our benchmarks.”

Polls have shown Lujan Grisham holding a slight lead.

But Pearce said he has seen positive signs, including when he’s campaigned in traditionally Democratic areas in the northern part of the state.

"The response we’ve received, everybody’s looking for answers,” Pearce said. “Everybody’s looking for leadership and vision. They sense that in me.”