Valley principal writes swan song

With rosy cheeks, curly blonde hair and a fresh, chic attitude, Cris Etchegoyhen seems too young to retire. But the 50-year-old Douglas County educator says she's been planning retirement for a while.

"I keep thinking of all the things I haven't done, that aren't done," she said. "But I always thought I'd retire around 50."

Principal Etchegoyhen was in her office at Gardnerville Elementary School on Monday. After 27 years with the Douglas County School District, she said it's simply time to move on.

"Jacques (Etchegoyhen's husband and high school sweetheart) also weighed in on the final decision."

"Gardnerville Elementary School is an amazing family. Everyone is willing to go the extra mile and stick up for each other. It was a great place before I came and will continue to be great after I leave," she said.

"We graduated from Douglas High School in 1976, and we went to college together at UC Davis," she said.

As an undergraduate, Etchegoyhen studied everything from nursing to engineering, but it wasn't until she got a gig teaching Latin at a Davis high school that she found her true calling.

"My Latin professor found me the job," she said. "I didn't have any teaching credentials, so I was under the direct supervision of the principal."

Etchegoyhen enjoyed teaching so much she began taking education classes. After graduating in 1981, the couple moved back to Gardnerville. Jacques got a job with Mack Land Cattle, and Cris became a playground aide at Carson Valley Middle School.

"I worked on getting my Nevada teaching credentials," she said.

For a while, Etchegoyhen oversaw the CVMS detention program.

"That was the flip side of the coin from teaching high school Latin," she said. "It was a lot of supervision and tutoring."

The following year, Etchegoyhen student taught at Douglas High School under Keith Roman, now a school board member. She then taught English at the school for four years.

"Teaching high school kids was so cool," she said. "Because they'd make all these intellectual connections and discuss the big ideas."

In 1988, Etchegoyhen filled a vacancy at the professional development center in the basement of the district office in Minden. For eight years, she taught teachers about teaching.

"It was a neat experience; I got to work in all the schools and in every grade level," she said. "I knew every teacher in the district."

In 1996, Etchegoyhen completed a master's degree in education leadership. After a brief stint as a vice principal, she became the school district's curriculum coordinator.

"It was right when we started developing competencies, before No Child Left Behind, when there was nothing coming down from the federal government," she said. "I brought the idea of 'critical content' to Douglas County. I worked with teams of teachers to find common, critical things students should learn in each grade."

In 2002, Etchegoyhen brought all of her experience to Gardnerville Elementary School as its principal. She said both her husband and son had attended Carson Valley's oldest school, and that it was her turn.

"It was what I wanted," she said. "A chance to work with kids and teachers and bring everything I had learned together in one place."

Etchegoyhen said her biggest achievement was developing critical content standards and seeing their implementation in the classroom.

"It's not perfect," she said. "Sometimes the surface things are the hardest, fitting it all in, prioritizing."

Etchegoyhen said she plans on traveling, spending time with her grandchildren and exploring new career paths.

"I can't sit around and do nothing," she said. "I'll probably keep my finger in the education pie. I may volunteer for organizations that help the community."

Etchegoyhen said she'll miss the people she works with most.

"People are always the most important thing," she said. "It's the hardest thing saying you're retiring. There's no real end point. Every year brings a new class, and that's life."


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