ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Steven Michael Quezada doesn’t have a degree in education or a diploma from a college or university. He claims no political or government experience, and, as his major professional accomplishment, he cited being an “actor in a critically acclaimed TV series” and a multiple recipient of the New Mexico Hispano Entertainers Association Comedian of the Year Award.
With that background, Quezada, 49, will take a seat on the Albuquerque Public Schools board after last Tuesday’s election, in which he ran unopposed in District 5.
What Quezada does have is the experience of growing up and living on the West Side, attending schools there and watching his own kids go to school there.
He also possesses the type of name recognition that garners attention both locally and nationally.
That’s because Quezada — perhaps better known as Steven Gomez from the hit AMC series “Breaking Bad” — is an actor and comedian who hobnobs with Hollywood types.
Quezada said in a recent telephone interview, before heading out on location for another day of shooting in the series’ final season, he has a passion to help youngsters realize their potential against all odds.
It’s why he decided to chuck his hat into the ring when APS created a new board seat west of the river.
His well-known name, however, is what may have led other potential candidates to abandon their plans to run for the position, which irritated some residents.
“I was pretty disappointed no one else ran,” said April Arviso, a member of the APS board redistricting committee.
The fight for more representation for the growing West Side was a difficult one, she said. “So if there would have been two more candidates running, that would have made a nice debate,” Arviso said.
Jerry Worrall, president of the West Side Coalition of Neighborhood Coalitions, said “I was surprised we didn’t have more candidates. I think it’s a big disappointment.”
He said local organizations should have played a larger role in making sure there was at least one more candidate. “We should have been more proactive,” Worrall said.
Quezada said there wasn’t much he could do about the lack of competition, but he would have welcomed a challenge.
“People say I’m just doing this for the publicity,” Quezada said. “I don’t need publicity. I’m on the No. 1 TV show in the world. The last thing I need is publicity.”
But that is exactly what he’s gotten, receiving national attention for his decision to seek the board seat.
And that may not be such a bad break for APS, he said.
“If I can bring some national exposure and some national attention to our struggles here in New Mexico, then that’s a good thing,” Quezada said.
His goals include trying to fix what he sees as what’s ailing APS, he says. And that boils down to too many students in each class, not enough classrooms and not enough opportunities for students to achieve career goals. He’s also a big supporter of charter schools.
“For me, the big thing is money,” Quezada said. “We need more teachers with smaller classes, and we need more choices. Is that too simple? I don’t know yet. It seems like it would be easy.”
Coaxing more money out of the Legislature to build classrooms and to hire more teachers would have the added benefit, he said, of helping to stimulate the local economy.
It’s a formula, Quezada said, that has a chance to succeed.
Overcrowding and disenfranchised students are issues particularly relevant to his district, he said.
Quezada should know because, until recently, he lived in the same neighborhood near Pat Hurley Park near Atrisco and Coors all his life.
“I went to Lavaland Elementary and Adams Middle School and West Mesa,” he said. “It’s cool that I get to represent the area that I grew up in.”
From Worrall’s perspective, continuing to drive up the graduation rate tops the list of issues.
And the move to turn West Mesa High into a “community school” providing a range of services beyond education needs to be watched closely and emulated at other schools if it succeeds, he said.
“We need to pay attention to it,” Worrall said. “If it works and helps students graduate, we should consider doing it at middle and elementary schools, so we can get across the importance of staying in school and getting a high school degree.”
Quezada sees keeping students engaged and caring about their education as key.
The father of two daughters, as well as two stepchildren with his wife, Cherise Quezada, he said he saw his children blossom when they started attending the Public Academy for Performing Arts, a charter school where he has been a longtime board member. Those types of choices should be made available for more students who may not be cut out for traditional schools, Quezada said.
In working with children at Youth Development Inc., as well as teaching acting classes to gang members, he said he’s seen how important it is to give young people confidence and something to believe.
“When you show these kids that they matter and that people care what happens to them, it changes them,” Quezada said.
He had to undergo his own transformation after he was arrested on DWI charges several times about 15 years ago. Quezada said that was a result of his own battles with confidence problems and working the club scene as a comedian.
“I changed my life,” he said. “The laws in New Mexico have helped me, but I think the laws should include treatment.”
As for his career plans once “Breaking Bad” wraps up its final season of taping, Quezada said he will seek more weekend gigs to pursue his comedy career and hope to land roles in movies or TV shows that are filmed in New Mexico.
“I want to be here for my children,” he said. “That’s what it’s about.”