A Model for School Culture Change

Beginning in June of 2018, Belen High School embarked on an aggressive grant program to “redesign” its educational environment, instruction, systems, and relationships. The goal coming out of summer was to make Belen High School a student-centered community consistently structured to provide the best opportunities based on relationships and trust. The feedback we received from hundreds of stakeholder surveys told us that our students wanted engagement, relevance of learning and content, a stronger voice in decision-making, an instructional staff competent in their instruction, and the feeling of being welcomed and valued at the school.

This was quite a revelation to the High School Redesign focus team. For the first time, we were possibly hearing directly from our stakeholders the reasons for the alarming proficiency and graduation rates we were seeing through our state reporting systems, assessment results, and school grades. It was clear to see, many of our students did not feel that Belen High School was a student centered campus.

As we have advanced through hundreds of hours of discussions, planning, research, and goal-setting for our “redesign” expectations, I have been consistently reminded that we have an area of our school that is already advancing many of the ideas presented to us by our stakeholders. This area, of course, encompasses the many programs of study present in our CTE system.

Belen High School is home to just under a thousand students. Our CTE department is comprised of courses supporting seven different programs of study. Within these programs, students are already engaged in hands-on or practical experiences. Students have great freedom in determining the types of projects they will complete, or the seeking of internships to advance their skills. Students find value in their work and our instructors support their growth through real-world interactions and modern expectations. Our students can be found in our shops and CTE classrooms during lunch, after school, and weekends. There are strong and meaningful relationships that support the expansion of our students’ self-confidence, independence, and trust in the systems in place for their learning, which, as we all know, leads to higher proficiencies and graduation rates. CTE and its foundational structures create the avenues for access and equality for students wanting to advance their learning.

CTE at Belen High School has already laid a foundation of the very ideas and goals we are seeking to establish throughout our campus as we navigate the “redesign” process. I am aware that for far too long the perception of our CTE programs on the academic side of the campus has always been that CTE is for “those other kids.” As we embrace the ideas of “redesign” we are beginning to realize that “those other kids” are already benefiting from many of the “redesigned” structures we are seeking.