Just seven years ago, Ryan Parra was walking across the stage getting his high school diploma.
Next month, he’ll be walking across the platform inside the Rio Rancho Public Schools boardroom to take his seat at the table as the District 4 member. District 4 is in the far southeast part of the city and no other candidate signed up to run, making Parra a shoe-in.
The 24-year-old, 2008 Rio Rancho High graduate will be the youngest person to ever serve on RRPS board.
Although new to the political game, Parra said his age should be viewed as a positive thing. Parra said serving on the board gives him a chance to help the community and dip his toe into the political water.
“I’m excited and I hope one day to be a career politician or a political activist, so this really is like the first day of a new job to me,” he said. “I would be lying if I said I wasn’t intimidated. Politics isn’t a young man’s game. If it was, you would see many more people my age running for political office.”
Parra is studying political science at the University of New Mexico and is a co-founder of the Rio Rancho Alliance. The group has both liberal and conservative members who advocate for more economic opportunities in Rio Rancho.
“To be honest, it started as a college project,” he said. “Originally, its only purpose was to discuss news events and report on issues within Rio Rancho … Very quickly it grew and, before I knew it, I was standing in front of the city council asking questions about economic development.”
Parra succeeds two-term board member Divyesh Patel, who decided not to run again because he has to travel for his job.
Parra was born in Florida but has spent most of his life in New Mexico. He said he loved his time at Rio Rancho High, where he was in student government and active in other school activities. As a student, he said he was able to see the “best and the worst it had to offer.”
The district, he said, could do a better job of including electives students suggest.
“Adding courses which students find appealing would increase student involvement in the education system,” he said. “And, by adding the programs students request, we have a better chance at introducing students into math and science programs.”
The district, Parra said, also needs to do a better job of communicating with students. He said other districts have a much more active interaction with students, and that is one of the biggest issues facing the RRPS board.
“I know from experience, as well as hearing from students, that there is little to no student-body-to-school-board interaction,” he said. “I think if we want to grow and keep current, good student/board relations is a must.”