Longtime Belen educator, administrator to retire

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After 32 years with the Belen Consolidated Schools, Curriculum Director Geneva Nixon was bid a fond “aloha” by her coworkers last week.

In keeping with a long-running joke that has lasted for seven years, Nixon was the guest of honor at a surprise luau complete with authentic Hawaiian hula dancers.

Julia M. Dendinger-News-Bulletin photo: The honored guest at a surprise luau celebrating her upcoming retirement, Belen Consolidated Schools Curriculum Director Geneva Nixon, left, was gifted with a forever lei by hula dancer Cindy Heffner, right.

Always a vocal advocate for students, Nixon has never sought the spotlight, so it was a good thing the luau was kept under wraps.

“If I had known about it, I would have found something to do in Albuquerque,” Nixon said with a smile.

Margaret Mikelson, a curriculum specialist who has worked with Nixon for two years, helped organize the event.

“Hawaii has become something of an inside joke,” Mikelson said. “I have Hawaii Friday in our office every week, so this was perfect.”

The Hawaii tie-in goes back to when Nixon started working at the central office seven years ago.

“I always joked that if there was a really good professional development opportunity, I would make the sacrifice and go to Hawaii,” Nixon said. “So, I guess now that I’m retired, I need to go.”

Mikelson said Nixon, who is leaving at the end of June, will be greatly missed.

“She was a wonderful boss; she was patient and treated everyone respectfully,” she said.

Before joining the administration at the district’s central office, Nixon spent 18 years in the classroom teaching at Belen High School. She served as co-principal and assistant principal of the high school, as well as the activities director for a time. Nixon also spent four years as principal at La Merced Elementary.

But no matter what her role, Nixon was “very much student-centered,” said Belen Superintendent Ron Marquez. When he began working for the district, Nixon was the activities director at BHS.

“She wanted to hold a presentation for the students in the gymnasium but needed the skylights covered to darken the interior,” Marquez said. “I said ‘no.’ Somehow she got it done.”

When asked just how Nixon blacked out the skylights, he paused.

“I’m not sure I’m allowed to say,” he said holding his poker face. “She never broke the rules but she always got things done. Everything she did was for the benefit of the students. She led by example.”

Early in her career as a teacher, Nixon often sat on different committees that worked on and reviewed the district’s curriculum.

“We always considered what they call rigor. What are we teaching and how can the kids get the most out of it?” Nixon said.

Even though she spent all of her teaching time at the secondary level, Nixon said the years as an elementary school principal were invaluable.

“I needed that time as an elementary school principal; I needed to know the curriculum for kindergarten through 12th grade,” she said. “As curriculum director, you can’t just focus on one level. You have to see the big picture that will move a student from kindergarten through to a high school diploma. As the director it all comes together.”

Her teaching experience focused on the social sciences — college-bound English for juniors and seniors, honors and advanced placement English, American and world history. Nixon wrote the advanced placement world history curriculum for the Belen district. She even stepped out of the box a few times and taught a black history course and a Bible as literature course for a few years.

For most people, curriculum is just a difficult word to spell, but it is much more for Nixon.

“When you really look at it, it’s at the heart of what we do in education. It’s all about teaching something,” she said. “This job (as director) is about making sure the teachers are teaching information at the appropriate grade levels and focusing on the right benchmarks and lessons.

“There is a lot of information out there and you can’t be all over the place. If you are teaching U.S. history, you better make sure you’re talking about U.S. history, not Russian history.”

She will miss the people she works with, Nixon said, but she will continue to miss the students.

“When you are teaching, you are involved; you know all their names. Even just going to administration, I missed them,” she said. “When I go visit classrooms, I’ll watch the teachers and think, ‘I can do this again.’ Once a teacher, always a teacher.”

But when Nixon began her student teaching, she wasn’t sure she had chosen the right career path.

“I told my sponsoring teacher I wasn’t sure I could do this. She was a great leader and councilor; one of the greatest teachers I have ever known. She told me I could do this, I could teach these kids,” she remembered. “She told me, ‘You have to let them know you like them alright.’ One day she left me alone in the room, but before she left, she said, ‘Have a conversation with them. Just talk to them.’”

So Nixon told the class she thought she had some information worth sharing, and if they would give her a chance, they might learn something.

“Then the biggest guy in the room nodded and said, ‘Yeah Miss, we’ll work with you.’ And I never looked back.”


-- Email the author at jdendinger@news-bulletin.com.