Principal says he hopes a second vice-principal will be in place by start of fall semester
La Jolla High School’s new vice-principal, Cindy Ueckert, says she is eager use her background in special education to help better meet the needs of all students at La Jolla High — particularly those who require more individualized instruction.
“Much of what I’ve learned in special education I really think I can bring to the table for the whole school,” said Ueckert, who began her career with San Diego Unified School District 12 years ago, as a special education teacher at Morse High School in Southeast San Diego.
“A lot of the things that work for special education students can also work for general education students,” Ueckert said, noting that, like special education students, some pupils in the general student population may learn differently than their peers, and require more individualized instruction.
“Let’s say they’re a very visual learner and they need some visual supports in the classroom,” Ueckert posited. “That is something we can work with and provide for that student. … In special education, you develop a certain kind of flexibility with looking at different ways you can teach and bring instruction to students.”
La Jolla High School Principal Chuck Podhorsky said Ueckert’s experience helping develop individualized education programs, or IEPs, is one of the strengths that made her a desirable candidate.
“Whether you’re co-teaching a class for students with special needs or just looking at kids across the board, that’s the kind of teacher training we want to do — for teachers to better understand individual differences,” Podhorsky said. “We want to help all teachers have that lens.”
After working at Morse High for two years, Ueckert got involved with the district’s Trace program, an educational support network that helps young adults with mental and physical disabilities ages 18 to 22 transition from high school to adult life. She worked with the Trace program until last fall, when she was hired as a project resource teacher for the district, supporting special education teachers in Scripps Ranch and La Jolla.
Ueckert fills one of two vice-principal vacancies left by the departure of Anne McCarty, who accepted a position as principal of Lafayette Elementary School in San Diego, and Will Hawthorne, who takes the reins this fall as vice-principal of Pershing Middle School in San Carlos.
“I (recently) worked quite a bit with Anne McCarty,” Ueckert said. “I’ve been pretty active with Muirlands and Bird Rock this year and also with La Jolla High School … supporting special education teachers and also administrative teams. I think it’s very exciting to start building a team altogether (at La Jolla High). The timing is wonderful.”
When it comes to discipline, Ueckert said she believes in making sure students have clear behavioral expectations. For each student who requires disciplinary action, she said she tries to look deeper for behavioral patterns, to see if there is something else going on in the child’s life that may be triggering the behavior, requiring attention or intervention.
Ueckert received her masters in special education from San Diego State University and, in 2013, her administrative credential from SDSU.
Born and raised in San Diego, she graduated from Monte Vista High School in Spring Valley, and resides in Santee with her husband, two young children (a 5-year-old daughter and a son in second grade) and two dogs.
“I’m an animal lover,” she said. “We have a German shepherd, Max, and a miniature pinscher, Peanut. We like to go camping and spend time outdoors. We also do archery as a family.”
Ueckert enjoys classical British literature, and cites Jane Austen’s “Pride and Prejudice” as a favorite book, though in movies she said she prefers edge-of-your-seat thrillers.
Principal Podhorsky, who joined the staff at La Jolla High last year, said a panel consisting of himself, one parent, one student, two teachers and the area superintendent interviewed Ueckert, and will continue interviewing candidates for the second vice-principal position.
“We surveyed the Muirlands (Middle School) parents, our parents, the community and also our teachers — and from that we had a list of some really important criteria that we believed we should be looking for,” Podhorsky said. “We kind of went through the (candidate) pool with that lens. Cindy (Ueckert) also came highly recommended from the places she had worked for … and we knew she knew the needs of our community.”
Podhorsky noted that Superintendent Cindy Marten makes all final hiring decisions.
“Hopefully, we’re lucky enough to get a candidate in front of us who wants to be here that has all the great skills we’re looking for to move our school forward,” he said. “I anticipate to launch the school year with a second (vice-principal) … but if we don’t we’re going to continue (our search).”