BELEN — A new school year starts on Wednesday, Aug. 14, for Belen Consolidated Schools students, and it comes with new learning opportunities and a tweak to the schedule.

Next Generation science standards

Diane Vallejos, Belen Consolidated Schools superintendent, said district personnel are very excited to implement the Next Generation science standards this year, which will be embedded across the curriculum.

Superintendent Diane Vallejos
Belen Consolidated Schools

“These new standards bring in aspects of math, history, engineering and writing,” Vallejos said. “It’s very cool and we are excited for our students.”

To help with the transition to the new standards, the district has named Chelsey Servantes as its dedicated instructional coach for Next Generation at the elementary school level.

Early release days

The district is implementing early release days on the first Wednesday of each month, with the exception of January due to winter break.

“This will give teachers time to collaborate, plan, analyze data, share best practices and take part in professional development,” the superintendent said. “We are being as systematic as possible with the early release, so we’re going to try it on Wednesdays and see how it goes.

“We are encouraging parents to take advantage of students being out of class early by scheduling doctor and dentist appointments.”

New website and app

By early September, the district will have a new website that is optimized for mobile viewing, as well as a new app to alert parents and students about district news and emergency situations.

“The app will have push notifications that you can opt in to, and there will be a news feed similar to Twitter,” Vallejos said.

Another advantage of the website is it will allow information to be posted there and on social media platforms simultaneously.

“Right now, there’s a lag of about 10 minutes, so parents are seeing the information on Facebook before they get the School Reach notification, which has caused some concern,” the superintendent said. “This system coordinates the posts.”

The new website will also be ADA compliant and have accessibility features for people with hearing and visual impairment.

Rio Grande Elementary

The new Rio Grande Elementary is almost complete and should soon be occupied.

There has been a small hitch in regards to flood insurance, Vallejos said. When the building was designed and engineered three years ago, the district was told the planned construction elevation was sufficient to meet FEMA standards for building in a flood plain.

“Now we’ve been told it’s too low,” she said. “It’s in a special flood zone due to the varying height of the terrain in the area.”

The school, which is about two miles from the Rio Grande, now might not be eligible for flood insurance under current FEMA standards.

The superintendent said the district is working with the city of Belen to get a waiver so the building can be insured for flooding. The building will be insured in all other ways, Vallejos said.

“The building is safe, stable and ready to open,” Vallejos said. “We have a few corrections to make in the cafeteria, but we are anticipating students being in there when school starts.”

Administrative staff changes

After eight years at Belen High School — two as athletic director and the last six as principal — Rodney Wright is moving over to the district central office as the assistant superintendent of academics.

In that position, Wright will oversee areas such as curriculum and instruction, bilingual programming, English Language Acquisition, home-bound student instruction, text book adaptation and career technical education.

Wright said the move was a great opportunity.

“You always hope the decisions you make and the interaction you have with people — students, parents and staff — are positive and influence them in positive ways. This will give me an opportunity to have broader influence,” Wright said “I get to work with a lot of people who are very knowledgeable and I’m looking forward to learning from them.”

Belen Middle School principal Lawrence Sanchez is moving to BHS to take the top position as principal. Belen High assistant principal Jamie Romero is taking the helm at BMS, while assistant principal David Jimenez will remain at the high school.

Other changes to the district administrative staff include the elimination of the director of school improvement position due to funding shortages. Vallejos said the cost of the position was split between the district’s operational budget and federal funds from the Title I program.

The district’s instructional facilitators are paid from Title I funds, and since they follow the teacher’s pay scale, when teacher salaries increased their compensation went up as well.

“We didn’t have the funding for the salary increases and half of the school improvement position, and there wasn’t money in the operational budget to pay the entire salary for the school improvement position,” the superintendent said.

The job duties of the school improvement director will be handled by Valeyria Gauthier, who is now the director of federal programs, a move up from coordinator. Jennifer Herschberger is now taking on extra duties as the director of assessment and accountability, a transition from assessment coordinator.

Vallejos said both those positions had been directors in the past and been reclassified as coordinators under previous administrations.

The move from coordinators to directors resulted in a pay increase for both women from a base salary of $66,000 to $85,000. Coordinators and directors are contracted to work 235 days. Gauthier and Herschberger will report directly to Wright.

Herschberger, who has been with the district for more than 20 years, is the daughter of Belen Board of Education president Jim Danner, who was elected to the board in 2017.

Vallejos said while the board of education sets and approves the annual cumulative budget for administrative positions, the superintendent sets the salary schedule.

“I don’t know that Mr. Danner has seen the salary schedule — he hasn’t asked for a copy — and I don’t know if he is aware of the individual salaries,” she said. “Our intent is to develop a system in which all the necessary duties are completed in an efficient manner.”

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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.