La Verne Magazine
"Education in La Verne"
Caheque Leads Students Beyond 'Eckstrand' Mile
by David Serbin
photography by Ian Gratz
Hand in hand, step by step, with the eagerness of a child, Principal
Albert Caheque leads his Eckstrand Elementary School students toward the
field of opportunities that lie ahead. As he accompanies three of his students
to a game of kickball during recess, Caheque tries to keep an eye on the
rest of the playground to ensure the safety of others.
Confidence. It can be seen in his face and heard in his voice. Although
Albert Caheque is beginning his first year as principal of Fred Eckstrand
elementary school, his confident demeanor belies his newness to the position.
Caheque accepted the position at Eckstrand after spending a year as
assistant principal at Roynon Elementary School. He quickly discovered a
difference between the two positions.
"As an assistant, I shared in the responsibilities with the principal,
Susan Brown," he says. "As a principal, I have a lot more responsibility,
and no one to share it with. The decisions are all mine, and that is a challenge."
Although he has been either a teacher or an administrator for 11 years,
Caheque did not think about his current profession until after receiving
his bachelor's degree. He graduated from Pioneer High School in Whittier
and then went to Whitworth College in Spokane, Wash. "I wanted to study
at a small liberal arts college," says Caheque.
"I had an opportunity to take a bus tour of the Whitworth campus,
and I liked what I saw. I was eager to explore the country, and this gave
me the chance to do so," he adds.
Caheque received his bachelor's degree in therapeutic recreation, and
spent 18 months working with handicapped adults. He enjoyed what he was
doing, but eventually found that he desired a more structured setting.
Therefore, he returned to California and obtained his teaching credential
at California State Polytechnic University, Pomona (Cal Poly Pomona), and
later a master's of education and administration from California State University,
San Bernardino. Since Caheque wanted to pursue counseling, he received a
credential in pupil personnel services at the University of La Verne.
He began his teaching career in the Bassett Unified School District
in La Puente, where he met his wife, Lisa Raigosa. He was a teacher and
counselor before taking a position with the Bonita Unified School District
as a counselor at Chaparral Continuation High School. There, he assisted
Dennis King, the school's current principal, in developing a program for
at-risk students in the seventh, eighth and ninth grades.
"This program was designed for students who were not making it
in a regular school environment," says Caheque. "It is an alternative
to their dropping out of school or being expelled."
A combined setting of instruction and counseling with the students and
their parents enabled the teenagers to get back on the academic track. After
a few semesters, the students were ready to re-integrate into the regular
"We not only helped the students, but we helped the parents as
well," Caheque says. "Most of the parents did not know how to
cooperate or how to help their children. Parents are grateful that they
and their children get a second chance."
After a successful tenure at Chaparral, Caheque accepted a position
as assistant principal at Roynon. He says he is eternally grateful to principal
Susan Brown for the opportunity to learn about life as an administrator.
"I feel lucky and blessed to have a mentor like Susan," Caheque
says. "I still call her for advice. I learned a lot from her."
Brown believes Caheque will be a tremendous asset to Eckstrand. "He
is an incredible person," she says. "His interpersonal skills
with parents, students and staff are exemplary."
Brown praises Caheque, saying, "He has the ability of being directive
and, at the same time, he is caring and nurturing."
A year later, the opportunity to become a principal became available
to Caheque. He believed his experience at Roynon and his previous background
as a counselor gave him enough confidence to apply for the position.
"I was surprised and shocked when I learned I was confirmed for
the position," he says. "Then, I was scared. But I knew I had
the qualifications, so fear gave way to confidence."
Dr. John Rieckewald, superintendent of the Bonita Unified School District,
feels Caheque is the best candidate for the position. "I feel his commitment
to education and desire to provide the best learning environment for all
students is in line with the direction I wanted to see the District move
in the coming years.
"In the short time that Albert has been at Eckstrand," Dr.
Rieckewald continues, "he has already brought community back to the
school, helped form a PTA and encouraged parents to be active participants
in their school."
Though he had been away from the elementary school environment for 10
years, Caheque felt he could return with determination. Armed with confidence
and a solid background, he prepared himself to take over at Eckstrand, which
is located just northeast of Antique Row in Old Town San Dimas. Still, he
experienced some moments of trepidation.
"I think it was easier for me to walk down the aisle [when marrying
Lisa in April 1997] than to walk into my new office," Caheque laughs.
"But I could not have asked for a better reception. Everyone has been
supportive and helpful."
Rather that calling all of his 610 students and 30 teachers to an assembly,
Caheque went to each individual classroom to meet everyone at his new school.
"I wanted our first meeting to be informal," he says. "I
spent about 15-20 minutes at each classroom. It took me a couple of weeks
to complete my visits, but I was able to accomplish a lot more that way."
Caheque also remembers his first meeting with the parents. "I told
them who I was as a person and my background," he says. "I expressed
my elation at being a part of the Eckstrand community, and I invited them
to help create a vision for the school. We are not there, yet, but we are
gradually getting to that point."
With a strong understanding of diverse cultures and the development
of strategies and techniques, Caheque knows what he wants to accomplish
in his first year as principal. "A lot of educators are seeking to
bring rigor to their curriculum," he says. "Public schools need
to give a product to the students. We need to give them concrete basic skills
and develop their character."
Caheque's bride is an assistant principal at El Roble Intermediate School
in Claremont. That helps when Caheque goes to his Pomona home at night.
"We talk a lot of shop," he says. "Lisa understands what
I am going through from her own experiences. We have a lot of mutual empathy-we
inspire one another."
Knowing that the slogan of BUSD is "Preparing Students for the
21st Century," Caheque looks forward to the day in which Eckstrand
will join the computer age. "We are hoping to be networked and hooked
up to the Internet by mid-year," he says. "We want to use current
technology to enhance the students' learning.
"We are getting ready to align ourselves with the district's goals,"
Caheque says. "When we accomplish that, we can better set our own vision
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