Back to School
With the first day of school just around the corner on Wednesday, Aug. 3, the Belen Consolidated Schools superintendent says the district is ready to meet the needs of its students, as well as turn focus back to school safety.
One big issue the district is hoping to tackle is supply chain issues, specifically in student nutrition, said BCS superintendent Lawrence Sanchez.
“Like a lot of our favorite, local restaurants, we had shortages and supply chain issues for food and supplies. Last year we had issues with sporks, for instance,” Sanchez said. “We’re all using the same vendors.”
To help alleviate that problem, and put the district on the same level of purchasing power as larger districts such as Albuquerque Public Schools, BCS has joined a co-op with other districts similar in size, with similar needs.
“We’re hoping by joining these co-ops we can avoid some of these supply chain issues,” the superintendent.
He noted that while shortages of sporks can be inconvenient, sudden food changes can be very detrimental to students with dietary restrictions. Sanchez said the district’s student nutrition services departments puts out weekly menus ahead of time, and students and parents plan whether to eat at school or bring a lunch.
“If a family sees something on the menu their student can eat one day and doesn’t pack a lunch, if there’s a last-minute substitution, that student might not be able to eat lunch that day,” Sanchez said.
For the last two-plus years, districts have been focusing on COVID safety, the superintendent said, but as life has shifted back to mostly in-person interactions, other areas of safety will be revisited.
“Events around the country and locally have made it very apparent we can’t just focus on COVID safety,” he said. “The Big Hole fire worried us a little.”
In April, a bosque fire scorched more than 900 acres, sweeping through the bosque and moving rapidly toward La Merced Elementary in the city of Rio Communities. The fire didn’t make it to the school, but students were evacuated by bus as a precaution.
“We recognize we do a lot of drills — fire drills, active shooter drills — but we don’t do wildfire drills. How do we evacuate a school that’s in the path of a wildfire? We can’t evacuate on foot because we’re not out running that wildfire,” Sahcnez said.
Each campus offers different challenges, with elementary students needing to possibly be evacuated by bus at elementary schools versus the high number of students at Belen High School.
“On any given day, you could have 1,200 to 1,300 people at the high school. That’s a little easier to leave because many of the people there drive, but it’s still a big volume of humans to move out,” he said.
To address that concern and others, district administrators have been meeting with municipal and county first responders, fire departments and law enforcement agencies.
“We’ve been bringing them in and talking, so that no matter the situation, we can respond in a quick, effective, timely manner,” Sanchez said.
During the worst of COVID, protocol was to have doors and windows open to help with airflow, but that is contrary to typical safety precautions at a school
“I think we can do both, but we need to revisit what we’re doing,” the superintendent said. “I really want to thank all the agencies who are working with us. It’s really cool to sit there and see all these people working together for the safety of our kids. I get chills. It’s awesome.”
With the closure of H.T Jaramillo Elementary this year, students have been reassigned to different schools according to the new attendance boundaries. Students and staff from Dennis Chavez Elementary, which serves kindergarten through sixth grade students, will be using the Jaramillo campus for the next two years while the Los Chavez DCE campus is partially rebuilt.
Rio Grande Elementary will serve kindergarten through third grade students starting this fall, becoming the new sister school to Central Elementary, which is fourth through sixth grades.
To help with the reassignment of schools, all BCS school sites are holding an orientation for parents and students.
“Because of all the movement, we wanted kids to be aware of what their campus looks like,” Sanchez said.
Julia M. Dendinger began working at the VCNB in 2006. She covers Valencia County government, Belen Consolidated Schools and the village of Bosque Farms. She is a member of the Society of Professional Journalists Rio Grande chapter’s board of directors.