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The Hartford Courant
A New Attitude At Prince Tech
By MELISSA PIONZIO, Courant Staff Writer
February 9, 2004
Laura Fuentes Vega breezed through the busy hallways of A.I. Prince Regional Vocational-Technical High School on a recent wintry morning, greeting students, checking schedules and directing them to their proper classrooms.
"Good morning, how are you?" she asked as they hurried by. "Hat off, please ... where are you off to? ... how is your mother?"
Vega was named principal of the city's only technical high school after the retirement of its longtime director, Silas Shannon Jr., last year. Her constant presence in the school's hallways, classrooms, technical shops and labs are part of a daily routine Vega has instituted among her administration and staff.
"It's what we call a four-by-four. The administrators go in different directions, direct students to where they should be going," she said. "It saves a lot of time and energy."
Since the beginning of the school year, Prince Tech students were met with several changes. Vega was their new leader, and two new vice principals were on the scene to welcome them, along with a new discipline policy and course selections.
"She's doing good," said senior Christine Wint, who considers Vega a confidant. "It's been more strict, but it's gotten better. There hasn't been as many fights."
As at many schools in the city, Vega and her staff face the task of raising the achievement levels of their students as well as meeting the requirements of the federal No Child Left Behind law.
Prince Tech was among the first eight high schools in the state to be identified last year for failing to meet the federal accountability standards. But Vega said she has faith in her own abilities and those of her three vice principals and more than 75 teachers.
"We face many challenges today in education and taking on this job as an educator is a very meaningful task," Vega said. "It helps a great deal to have the input of these professionals to do the work effectively."
Vega, who has a doctorate in curriculum and instruction in bilingual and bicultural education and reading from the University of Connecticut, began her career as an educator in 1979 in Santurce, Puerto Rico. Since then, she has taught almost every grade level, designed curriculum, coordinated programs, led committees and workshops and served as an administrator.
"My soul is really as an educator and teaching," Vega said.
As Vega and her three assistant principals, Hank Weiner and new appointees Lois Sharpe and William Chaffin, spoke of their plans for the school, they were so in tune with each other it was hard to see where one educator's thoughts began and another's ended.
"We all have our strengths ... strong contributions to make," Vega said. "That's the beautiful mix that comes together here ... the spices that they contribute to this pot."
After attending an out-of-state educational seminar last year, the team implemented a "No Nonsense Policy" for student attendance, tardiness and discipline. All staff members, from Vega to the maintenance crew, are responsible for carrying out the new policy, which cites clear expectations and consequences for students and teachers. Under the policy, four tardies to school equal one unexcused absence, 20 tardies mean five days' absence and a letter and phone call home, and 32 tardies equal eight days' absence and a conference with parents or guardians.
Teacher presence in the hallways as students pass is now mandatory, and students must be informed of the consequences for being late. Students are now required to carry an agenda planner, which lists their course schedule, bathroom or other breaks and which staff member gave permission.
"I think the discipline is much better than I've seen in the past," said Rose Givens, a department head in the computer-aided drafting shop. "Laura has a real knack for pulling everyone in together as a team."
According to data compiled by the administration, daily attendance was up slightly this year and tardiness has decreased by about 40 percent so far. There were more suspensions this year than last, but fewer incidents that merited suspensions.
"There are always discipline problems that we deal with, but that is adolescence at its essence," Vega said.
Senior Rashawn Morgan knows firsthand how Vega relates to students. After several suspensions over the last year, the 18-year-old was nearly expelled.
But Vega worked with him and helped him see the importance of staying in school, he said.
"She's cool. She kept me in here," Morgan said. "I guess she wanted to see me graduate."
Natasha Perry, also a senior, said she has seen many changes over the last few months.
"Now it seems that things are coming together ... things are being enforced," Perry said. "Any problems you have, you can go to her and she solves them right on the spot. She is right up front with her ideas."