Both the Los Lunas and Belen Boards of Education recently announced their annual Student Achievement Awards, sponsored by the New Mexico School Boards Association.

Out of the 219 total number of recipients, the Los Lunas Technology Department received the Los Lunas Schools District award, and Belen Superintendent Lawrence Sanchez received it in his district.

Every year, the participating boards of education across New Mexico nominate recipients for the award who “have played an important role in improving student achievement in their local school district,” according to the award criteria.

During an April board meeting, Los Lunas Board of Education president Eloy Giron virtually presented the award to the district’s technology department “in recognition of their tireless efforts to ensure that every student and staff member have the technology needed to ensure success in the classroom, in the office and at home. There are not enough words to express our appreciation for all you do.”

Los Lunas Superintendent Arsenio Romero said the department deserves the award not only for the work they did to get students online and learning during the COVID-19 pandemic but for all the work they also did prior to the pandemic.

“I just want to take this opportunity to personally thank everyone in the department for all the work that they do, not only now during the pandemic, but every day,” Romero said. “They are an intricate part in making sure that our students have a 21st-century education, especially during this pandemic. We could not have gone one day without the support of all these individuals making sure that our schools continued to function whether they were in the classroom or whether they are at home.”

He added the district now has a 1:1 environment, which means every student and teacher have a device that can access the internet for educational purposes. The thousands of devices the technology department accounts for serve roughly 8,600 students and more than 650 teachers.

“From day one, that was first and foremost with us going forward with this district, we wanted to make sure we had up-to-date devices and get them in the hands of our kids and continue the learning, absolutely doing an amazing job,” said Claire Cieremans, the district’s chief financial officer. “You can get the devices in the kid’s hands, but first you have to make sure that they’ll have (internet) access in their homes or at out school sites.”

She also acknowledged the hard work of Mike Good, the Los Lunas Schools director of technology, in making that a reality.

“We typically do our job in the back closets and we are very, very often in the background — a lot of us even prefer it that way,” Good said. “However, this particular year, we were really called out to bring our product front and center, so to speak. We were forced into an environment where we had to go 1:1 without much of a choice.”

Belen Consolidated Schools Superintendant Lawrence Sanchez  was recognized in the administrator category for improving student achievement in the district.

Submitted photo
Former Belen Board of Education President Lisa Chavez, left, and Vice President Aubrey Tucker, right, present Belen Consolidated Schools Superintendent Lawrence Sanchez with the New Mexico School Boards Association Student Achievement Award.

“It was a complete surprise,” Sanchez said. “I attribute it to email overload. I did get the press release but sorted it into my ‘later’ box. Everyone did a good job keeping it a secret. I feel blessed and honored. It was a complete surprise.”

Sanchez said he didn’t know that he’d done one specific thing to earn the recognition, noting that getting the district in a good position to continue educating students during the pandemic was a team effort.

“When this all started, I was at Belen High School. This fall, we were ready to go and that was not by any means me. It was me initiating conversations but I really attribute the success to the staff at BHS,” he said. “We were anticipating going back over a year ago in April. We knew things wouldn’t be the same and knew we needed to start planning.”

Sanchez said he started having conversations with assistant principals David Jimenez and Rhonda Martinez, who began looking at data, the science and anticipating what was needed at the school.

“We would have to be ready to be for full remote and it couldn’t be what we just did (for the end of the 2019-20 school year.) Packets wouldn’t continue to work. We asked, ‘what can we do better?’ We said we’re not going to use multiple platforms so we decided on Microsoft Teams and we were going to get good,” he said.

Starting in April 2020, the district leadership team met regularly and continued through the summer, finalizing plans for the 2020-21 school year.

“They worked for free. I wasn’t able to pay them. They put in the work and when August 31 came, we were ready to go,” Sanchez said. “There were those people who took the time to get out of their comfort zones. They put that aside for the betterment of the students.

“It’s exciting when a community — and BHS is a community in itself — when people put kids first, it’s amazing what they can accomplish. The only difference between then and now is I do that on a district-wide level. We have the people who can accomplish 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.

Makayla Grijalva was born and raised in Las Cruces. She is a 2020 graduate of The University of New Mexico, where she studied multimedia journalism, political science and history. She covers the village of Los Lunas, Los Lunas Schools, SODA and the town of Peralta.