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Person of the Week
Sandra Preneta Loves Sense of Community at Montowese Elementary
Sandra Preneta shifted from an assistant principal role at North Haven High School for the past 14 years to serving as the interim principal at Montowese Elementary School for the 2020-’21 school year. (Photo courtesy of Sandra Preneta)
It is no surprise to Sandra Preneta that found herself working in the field of education as becoming a teacher had been her dream since she was a little girl. Sandra did indeed fulfill that dream, teaching for several years before her former principal, Patricia Brozek, suggested she pursue administration when she returned for her sixth-year certificate.
“I remember being very young and playing school and knowing teaching was my passion, but thanks to a wonderful mentor of mine, I was encouraged me to go into administration,” says Sandra. “I definitely credit her with pushing me into administration.”
Sandra began her career teaching in a private K-8 school before spending six years teaching middle school in Wallingford and then six years as a Spanish teacher at North Haven High School. After getting her sixth-year certificate, Sandra first served as an administration intern with North Haven High School before becoming dean of students. Over the 14 years, the title of that role evolved into assistant principal.
“When I moved from middle school to high school, I knew I’d found my home,” says Sandra. “I worked with a great team there for 20 years and never imagined myself anywhere else.”
Just as she had never envisioned herself in an administrative role, another opportunity recently shifted Sandra’s career again. Over the summer, Sandra was approached by the superintendent and assistant superintendent about serving as the interim principal at Montowese Elementary School when Kathryn Russo took maternity leave. Though she had never considered a move to elementary school, she was excited to have the opportunity to lead a school as principal.
“After 14 years, I started to think was I ready for my own school and when they came to me and asked if I’d interested, I jumped at the opportunity,” says Sandra. “I never imagined I’d fall in love with elementary the way I did. A lot of that has to do with the fact that it’s an amazing community with a students, parents, and a strong staff that I was fortunate to inherit. Montowese is a very special place.”
There were several adjustments for Sandra to make as she not only moved from assistant principal to principal, but went from working with 9th- to 12th-graders to working with kindergarteners through 5th-graders. At the high school, she was one of three assistant principals, working with one-third of the student population, giving her about 350 students on her caseload.
“Throughout the time I’d been there, we had really changed our practices to consider ourselves behavior managers rather than disciplinarians,” says Sandra. “We focused on restorative practices and building positive relationships with students who may struggle or have challenges. It was a spin from the traditional role and it worked very well for us, but being in that role for so long, I wanted to be part of a school and not be the person who always had to manage behaviors.”
Sandra enjoys interacting with the young students at Montowese and getting to know families at drop-off and pick-up time. In her new role, she has taken on many responsibilities, such as supporting teachers and staff, working on the budget, communicating with families, and of course, managing COVID in a school building.
“We’ve been adjusting to the needs of the community and what’s put in front of us that we can’t control,” says Sandra. “It’s been challenging, but not in a way that stresses me out, because I find it rewarding to be able to be a problem solver at a time we really need that. My focus is on building relationships with staff, children, parents, and the community, so there’s a sense of safety rather than feeling the chaos that’s out there.”
As much as Sandra now enjoys her role in administration, she hasn’t left the classroom behind. Since 2013, she has been an adjunct professor in the education department at Quinnipiac University. Sandra teaches a course on methods and runs an internship seminar course for soon-to-be certified teachers.
“It allows me to still be in classroom and share my experience as an educator with future teachers,” says Sandra. “I always let my students know that I come with the prospective of 20-something years as educator, but I don’t necessarily have all the right answers, so it’s a great opportunity to learn from them as well. It’s really important to stay current and who better than future teachers to learn from?”
Sandra isn’t the only one in her family at Quinnipiac. Her daughter, Olivia, is a senior there and will be graduating with a business degree and then pursuing her MBA. Sandra’s son, Alex, is earning his master’s degree in cybersecurity while working full-time.
Sandra and her husband, Michael, live in Durham. While Sandra went to high school in Wallingford, she spent her early school years in Spain where her parents now live.
“We love to travel and go back to Spain often to see my family,” says Sandra. “My heart is split in half—I consider myself a Spaniard and a U.S. citizen and I love both countries.”
Sandra counts herself lucky to call two places home and she not only enjoys living in the area, but working there as well. Throughout her years with North Haven Public Schools, Sandra has seen how closely the schools and administration work with other town departments.
Though she misses her colleagues and students at North Haven High School, Sandra is looking forward to the rest of the year as interim principal at Montowese Elementary School.
“There is such a sense of community in North Haven and you get to know everybody—it’s a very supportive community and that makes a difference,” says Sandra. “There’s a place in my heart for the high school that will never go away, but they’re in great hands right now with an interim who took my place and is doing a great job. Montowese has embraced me and that has really helped this transition for me. They’re the hardest-working people and care about the kids so much.”
Jenn McCulloch is the Correspondent for Zip06. Email Jenn at .