BELEN—There is a long lineage of educators dating back to the 1930s behind Lawrence Sanchez, the new Belen High School principal.

Lawrence Sanchez
BHS principal

“My daughter is the fourth generation to go into education,” Sanchez said.

He came to education a bit later than some, taking a teaching position at Belen Middle School while in his 30s. Sanchez, a fixture at BMS as a teacher and principal for more than 20 years, made the move to the high school this fall.

In his fifth year as an administrator, Sanchez received his license in 2010 but didn’t use it immediately. Earning his master’s was a bit of a journey for the educator — in 2007 was diagnosed with bone cancer which caused tumors on his spine.

Sanchez spent six months teaching and coaching from a wheelchair, deciding he wanted to do more, to do better.

“I was 44 and facing my own mortality. That’s when I decided to get my master’s,” he said. “I always wanted to get my master’s before I died; like most people I thought I had a lot more time.”

While working on his degree, Sanchez thought about the long-standing attitude of “it’s what we’ve always done.”

“My question was, ‘But is it working? What can we do better?’” he said. “We can always do something better. By working with the administrative team and teachers, we ask ‘How can we all work together to make this better?’”

One way to make BHS better is the ongoing high school redesign project. Sanchez said the plan is still developing but they hope to begin putting parts of it into action soon.

Last year, BHS was chosen as a pilot school by the state department of education to undergo a “redesign” aimed at increasing positive outcomes for students.

The high school began by getting feedback directly from students as to what would make their educational experience better. The key piece of information was direction to create paths for students to follow, whether they wanted to pursue college or a career, and focus on real-world skills.

“We are gathering information about how we can best help people,” Sanchez said.

In developing the BHS 90-day plan, the principal said staff has realized there is a need for what is called social-emotional learning.

“A lot of kids are coming in with needs that are more advanced than what they need to graduate this year,” he said. “Sometimes their basic needs in life aren’t being met. There’s a big push in the district to address that.”

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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.