Diamond Valley's new team

It was a hard decision for Becky Rugger to leave Diamond Valley School. She loved the children, the staff and the community. She would not have traded the time she spent in Alpine County for anything. However, seven years ago, when she left Meneley Elementary School, her dream was that one day she would return. Late this summer, the principal of Meneley resigned and the position was offered to Becky.

With about two weeks before the start of school, Alpine County District Superintendent, Lisa Fontana, asked Howard Bennett and Cris Etchegoyhen, both retired educators with whom Lisa has had a long association, to fill the role of principal as a team for one year. Lisa thus avoided the crisis of a last-minute search; she and the school board now have the freedom to seek candidates at their leisure.

This is the third time Howard Bennett, who retired in 2008, has returned to work, but not because he finds retirement dull. A practical southern Ohio farm boy, he enjoys, among other projects, his 35-year involvement with the restoration of Virginia City's first Presbyterian Church where he is also the organist.

Howard was a social studies teacher at Whittell High School for 24 years. He was then Carson Valley Middle School's vice principal before returning to Whittell as principal. At Douglas High School he was co-vice principal then joined the Western Region Professional Development Program.

His chief passion is coaching, mentoring and supporting administrators and teachers. He is especially interested in establishing good relationships among the teacher and student populations and between teachers and students. Over the years, he has developed strategies to save students from collapsing into boredom by keeping them actively engaged. He finds frequent, short observations of teachers followed by a debriefing of the highest value.

For Cris Etchegoyhen working in Alpine County is coming home. Cris and her brothers used to spend all their summers in a summer home in Woodfords, built by their grandparents in the '30s. In the early '70s Cris' father, Hilary Cook, the bow-tie judge, had the opportunity to move to the county as superior court judge. Her parents built a house across the street from the summer home and live there still. Cris went to school in the rock school on the hill in Woodfords. Later she worked at Coyan's Cones and Markleeville General Store. She now lives in Minden.

Cris started her career as an aide at Carson Valley Middle School while she was studying for her teaching credential. Her first teaching job was at Douglas High School where she taught English. She was vice principal and later principal at Gardnerville Elementary School. She has worked as a teacher trainer at the Professional Development Center, as a district curriculum coordinator, and as an educational consultant. Cris has also taught writing classes at university level.

Howard and Cris have served together on various committees and communicate well. It is beneficial to have both a male and female in the role of principal especially when they complement each other's strengths; Howard's background is mostly in secondary education while Cris' is mostly in elementary. They describe the team as a synergy. Each will work three days a week, overlapping on Wednesday. Neither of them requires a benefit package. They do not have an agenda to change anything in their year at Diamond Valley but will be moving forward what Becky Rugger has already put in place, to make the school safe, productive and happy. They intend to be visible to the children, interacting with them in the classrooms, helping sometimes with playground duties and possibly accompanying them on field trips. They stress that the more they work in cooperation with parents the more the children will grow.

The new principals express huge appreciation for administrative assistants, Susan Price and Dawn Riddle, without whose guidance they would have been lost. It bodes well that one comes away from an interview with Cris and Howard smiling and energized. We shall miss Becky Rugger for her kindness and sense of fun (and for many other reasons!) and we welcome Cris and Howard, as we eagerly anticipate the year ahead.


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