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Retiring Principal Made Briggs a "Real" School

NORWALK, Conn. — Retiring Briggs High School Principal Alaine Lane has always had an open door policy, which means most days, students stream into her office asking for academic and personal advice. In fact, during TheDailyNorwalk’s interview with Lane, four students popped their heads into her office. They needed information about their credits, wanted to tell her something that happened to them or just stopped by to say hi.

“It’s these private conversations that I’ll miss the most,” says Lane, who is retiring after nine years of leading the school.

Teeka Langrin, who graduated Monday with 24 others, will also remember her many conversations with Lane. “She’s a godmother to everyone. She’s always trying to help you. You’ll never find a person like her. I don’t want her to not be in my life anymore,” Langrin says of Lane.

Briggs, with 115 students, is Norwalk’s alternative high school for kids who have behavioral challenges. Formerly known at the Center for Vocational Arts, it was founded as a trade school in 1934.

Lane says her impression of the school when she arrived was that it was “the orphaned third high school.” During her tenure, she says, her mission became to turn Briggs into a “real school,” one with an academic program based on the same curriculum and textbooks as the other high schools in the city. Both Norwalk High and Brien McMahon refer students to Briggs for truancy and disruptive behavior. After a stint at Briggs, some students transition back into their original high schools.

For many of her students, Lane says, the other high schools are too big. “Here there are few enough students for us to know each one of them and give them one-on-one attention.”

Her goal, she says, is simple — graduation. Bearing this out is the stack of spreadsheets sitting on her desk that track each student’s credits toward graduation. “I call it their ‘credit history.' I am constantly going over them with students.”

Lane has also made career readiness a priority. She helped start the school’s partnership with Norwalk Community College. This collaboration introduces the students to certificate programs and helps them to start earning college credits. "They have to become ready for the workforce." With the participation of the art teacher and funding from grant money, she has also put a focus on creative expression and art. For example, students learn to become docents at the Aldrich Museum of Contemporary Art in Ridgefield.

Lane has shared her guiding philosophy with her staff. “I accept kids for who they are. I believe every student wants success. But they have behaviors that aren’t working for them. Our job is to teach them different behaviors.”

And there's more than redirecting. “You have to catch kids doing something right and build on that,” she says. “We are always jumping on them for doing something wrong. But we have to flip that. My job is to take disenfranchised young people and turn them into people with confidence who will be successful in life. A lot them don’t feel like they have many opportunities."

Early in her career, Lane decided she wanted to teach kids with behavior challenges. “I’m the person who wants to get up in the morning and teach the challenging kid,” she says. “They are somehow more interesting and more honest.” Lane prepared for the challenge with degrees in special education, English and administration.

"I've never seen someone who cares so much about kids," says Superintendent Susan Marks. "She tries to reach every child and help them turn their lives around."

Lane is excited about Briggs' new principal, Marie Allen, the current assistant principal at Ponus Ridge Middle School. “She can finish my sentences. She’ll be great for the school. She’s high energy, really cares about the kids and will take the school to the next level.”

Post-retirement, Lane, a resident of Clinton, plans to teach a class at NCC and return to her early love of writing. “Over the years, I’ve called myself a story collector. Now I’ll have the time to write my stories down.”

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