In the summer of 2020, Christine Vang was selected as the new principal of Central High School – the first Hmong-American ever to fill that position.
What ensued was a year like no other, with school on hold for months during the lock down, followed by online learning and a partial return to in-person learning with the hybrid model.
She said, “After so many months of disruption, we’ve all gotten un-used to the traditional experience of high school. There are usually rituals and routines, schedules and expectations. We know that our students want to be here. They are eager to come back into the building to see their friends and their teachers, and to return to the more traditional experience of high school.”
Strong equity vision
Vang has deep roots in the St. Paul Public Schools. She graduated from Como Park Senior High School, and went on to earn her bachelor’s degree and elementary school teaching license from Concordia College.
She earned her master’s degree in education, an administrative license, and a superintendent license at St. Mary’s University and Mankato State University. Prior to becoming principal at Central, Vang was a teacher, assistant principal, and principal in the St. Paul Public School District for 25 years.
She said, “I feel very fortunate to be part of the Central High School community. It was the right time for me to transition to this school. I make it a top priority to build strong relationships with staff, students, families and the community, so that we can close the achievement and opportunity gap for all our students. It is because of this priority that I felt the calling to work at Central – it was something I simply could not ignore.
“The pandemic has made this a very difficult social-emotional time for young people. The challenge of providing excellence in education right now is really raising the demands of principal leadership.”
Collaboration is key
There are eight counselors and four social workers employed at Central High School. Vang said, “Their role, like all of us who work here, is to wear many hats in supporting our students. They provide academic support, but they also provide a great deal of social-emotional support. Now, more than ever, we will all be collaborating in our goal of being present for Central’s students.”
The pandemic has impacted teaching and learning in significant ways. Vang said, “We have worked extra hard to understand how to fill in the gaps. How can we help students make up lost credits? We offered extended day credit-recovery programs last year. We’ll be working with our district to provide those same opportunities this year, under the extended day program. There will be online opportunities for credit recovery, too.”
Central High School has experienced a number of serious incidents of student violence since 2015. The school district issued a mandate this summer to eliminate SROs (School Resource Officers) in the schools, as some believed their presence was increasing tensions that led to student violence.
While critics might say that the current restorative, non-punitive approach to student discipline is too soft, Vang disagrees.
She said, “Being non-punitive does not mean there are no consequences. Being restorative does not mean being soft. I believe that setting high expectations and holding everyone accountable is important. We will get to that point when we have good relationships with our students and their families. We need to create a supportive, welcoming environment for everyone. Because Central is a Restorative Practice School, we strive to embody and practice these values.”
Raising proficiency for all
“As an educator, I am driven by the success and growth of each student. I don’t see my work as a job but rather as a calling to help all of our students find their voice – and to be part of creating a more equitable future.
“I view education as a lifelong learning process and I will continue to learn much about our Central building, students, families, community and staff for many years to come.
“I believe that students are at the center of everything that needs to happen in education. This belief drives all of my interactions with students, staff and families. I am eager to share my experience as an instructional racial equity leader, my belief in life-long learning, and my child-centered approach to supporting students.
“The work is hard and it will continue to be hard, but as long as we stay firm in our purpose, we can close the achievement and opportunity gap together and raise proficiency for all.”