LOS CHAVEZ–Since her first day at Dennis Chavez Elementary, Principal Andrea Montaño said she knew she was needed and wanted at the school.

Andrea Montaño
Dennis Chavez Elementary principal

“I’m enjoying the kids and community; there are really awesome kids here,” Montaño said. “I’m really enjoying my time at Dennis Chavez Elementary.”

Montaño served as interim principal at the school last year before taking the position permanently this year. This academic year marks her 25th in education, 15 of those spent in the classroom.

Montaño received her bachelor’s degree in elementary education with a focus in social studies from New Mexico Highlands University, and her master’s degree in educational leadership in 2004 as well.

Teaching mostly second, fourth, fifth and sixth grades, Montaño has served as an assistant principal and principal in the Belen Consolidated Schools district, but said taking on that type of leadership role at the time wasn’t right for her family.

She worked as an individual education program facilitator with the district and for five years and was a mentor teacher for first-year teachers.

“I mentored teachers all throughout the district, and was a volleyball and swim coach for Belen High School. I’ve worn a lot hats,” she said with a chuckle. “From first time I was a principal about eight years ago to now, I feel so much more prepared — just from the last two jobs and an IEP facilitator and mentor.”

A BHS graduate herself, Montaño has a long family tradition in education from her parents to in-laws to aunts and uncles.

“I come from a long line of educators, coaches and administrators,” she said. “In my teenage years, I loved working with kids. I worked in the summer recreation program, as a life guard and taught swimming lessons.”

A high school volleyball player, Montaño wanted to coach. While she has worked mostly at the elementary level, Montaño coached swimming for 15 years.

Her classroom experience and previous has prepared her well to support teachers, the new principal says.

“To give them what they need so they can do the ultimate job of teaching kids in classroom,” she said. “I am working on our school culture to make sure that aligns with supporting teachers.”

Every day at work is different and energizing, Montaño said.

“Every day when I go home, I feel like I accomplished something or several things,” she said. “It’s very fulfilling.”

As principal, Montaño is leading her staff in deep dives into reading date to pinpoint areas for growth and better ways to focus the district learning plan on those areas.

There is daily computer lab time so students can work on iStation, which is tailored to their reading level and serves as a kind of intervention so they can practice reading skills.

“I’m seeing the need for reading fluency. We have a school-wide ‘drop everything and read’ initiatives,” she said. “This gives students time to read for enjoyment — more time with books. Time to read and practice and see new words.

“It’s giving them actual time to sit and read, to learn to enjoy it. So they can take their time and they’re not hurrying.”

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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.