For 28 years, Christina Wright has taught the children of the Belen School District — and she has taught the teachers as well.
To say thanks for the wisdom she has shared, teachers in the district are holding a reception for the retiring educator from 2:30 p.m. to 4:30 p.m. Wednesday, May 22, at Rio Grande Elementary School.
“If it wasn’t for Christina, I would have quit teaching after my first experience,” said Marie Garcia-Shaffner, former Belen superintendent. “I was just out of college and so fearful. I had had a bad experience during my student teaching in Albuquerque.”
Wright and Garcia-Shaffner were hired at the same time to develop a district-wide kindergarten program.
“Christina was more than a co-worker and a friend. She showed me the importance of teaching. As my mentor, she taught me how to teach,” she said. “She was the beginning of what we have now as teacher-support for our young teachers.”
Since their first meeting in 1973, the career paths of Wright and Garcia-Shaffner have been intertwined in the Belen School District.
Wright was a kindergarten teacher until 1985 when she became an school librarian. In 1989, she left the junior high library to become principal of Jaramillo Elementary School. In 1995, she transferred to Rio Grande Elementary, where she served for one year before becoming the district’s special-education coordinator.
She filled a position vacated when Garcia-Shaffner was promoted from special-education coordinator to director of instruction. In 1998, when Garcia-Shaffner became superintendent, Wright moved into the director of curriculum position and has remained there until her retirement this June.
“She made you understand that teaching is not giving out facts and having the students give them back on tests, but it should be to train children to be adults, with life skills and knowledge of where to find information, who can problem solve,” said Pat Fleming, a special-education teacher at Rio Grande Elementary who was hired by Wright in 1989.
“She taught us about learning and teaching styles. Not all children learn the same way. She worked with her staff to find what each individual’s learning and teaching style is, then matched them with the students,” Fleming said.
“She made the teachers aware (of) why fellow staff members don’t look at things the same way and problem-solve the same way. We transferred that knowledge to teaching our students.”
Through the years, Wright’s contributions to the Belen School District have been many. A few reported by the teachers included her developing the Write to Read lab, Science Kids Kits, Fantastic Friday, toy library, an after-school program for needy families, Parents as Partners, parent nights, enriched math summer school and early prevention of school-failure testing at Jaramillo Elementary.
While she was at Rio Grande Elementary, some of the programs she developed included integrated-thematic-instruction brain research, life skills curriculum and parent-teacher conferences the first week of school to allow parents to share with teachers their goals and concerns about their child.
“She was instrumental in getting counselors in the elementary schools,” said Royceann LaFayette, counselor at Rio Grande Elementary. “She believes you nurture the whole child and, without it, learning is not going to take place.”
“Christina knows the ropes on how to get grant money into rural schools,” Fleming said. “Her grant writing has brought the district millions of dollars.”
An example of that contribution is the grants brought to the district for 2001-2002, which equal $874,935.
“The programs the grants support enhance what we are doing,” said Patsy Castillo, a teacher at Rio Grande Elementary and a recipient of the Milken Family Award. “The programs impact the students directly or through the quality of teaching that is being provided.”
For many teachers in the Belen system, Wright is more than a professional mentor. She was their teacher as well.
Teacher Casey Goodson said she even taught him to tie his shoes when he was a kindergartner in her first class.
“She was my kindergarten teacher in 1975-76,” said Ken Zamora. “And, when I applied for my first teaching job, she hired me as the sixth-grade teacher at Rio Grande Elementary.”
Zamora said it is true — everything you ever need to know, you learned from your kindergarten teacher.
“And, fortunately for me, it was Christina Wright (who) … was there, introducing me to the world of education,” he said.