Unalaska hasn't even hit peak summer, but Chad Eichenlaub is already preparing for the upcoming school year.
Eichenlaub is the new principal of Eagle's View Elementary Achigaalux. He was hired from a pool of about 15 applicants after spending two years as the high school's business education teacher.
KUCB's Laura Kraegel sat down with Eichenlaub to ask how he got started in education — and how he's getting ready for his first job as a principal.
CHAD EICHENLAUB: I think, like a lot of high school students, I had no idea what I wanted to do. That's how I ended up with the geography degree. I thought, at one point, that I wanted to be a city planner. I remember waking up one day and just realizing that it would be a lot of being in an office and reading through regulations. A lot of stuff I wasn't really eager to do. So I just started talking to people who I was familiar with, some of them being teachers that really encouraged me to go that direction and provided some opportunities for me to get some insight into teaching. Being in their classrooms, helping with other projects in the school. And I found out that I just had a passion for working with students. So I changed my major. Well, I stuck with the geography major, but added the teaching credentials. Took another year in college and finished that up.
KUCB: As part of that last year, you spent a semester doing your student teaching in Unalaska. What do you remember from that first experience on the island? And did you know then that you'd eventually be coming back as a full-time educator?
EICHENLAUB: I remember very vividly getting off the airplane. It was kind of surreal, and it was frightening because it was raining out. As you're flying into the airport, all you see is the cliffs on one side and I remember just being terrified. Getting off the airplane and looking around and trying to figure out where the airport was. It was so different than anything I'd experienced. Actually, I was fortunate enough to fly in on a home basketball game [day]. So before I went anywhere else, that's where I ended up going — back to the school. Just seeing the entire community in there, all of a sudden it made sense why town was so empty, why there wasn't a lot of traffic or people around. Because everybody was at the school enjoying a community event.
KUCB: That was probably a pretty spot-on, true-to-life introduction to Unalaska.
EICHENLAUB: Yeah, it was incredible. I think I met everybody that night. Never really knew that I was going to make it back here. It was always kind of in the back of my mind that I would love to come back. I didn't know if that opportunity would ever come up, but it did two years ago.
KUCB: You came back to work as the business education teacher, where you've had the chance to build up experience with the high school and middle school students. But now you're transitioning into this totally new role as principal of the elementary school. How did you end up applying for the job? Was it just a matter of timing with Joanna Hinderberger resigning?
EICHENLAUB: I always knew that I wanted to go into administration once I made the decision to go into education. As I started those education courses, I realized I had more of a passion for education maybe than I did for my subject matter. I really like looking at how students learn, how schools function. So I always knew that was something I wanted to get back to. And yeah, never had planned on taking a principal position in Unalaska. But the opportunity came up. I know it's an incredible school to work at. I'm just really excited to get the opportunity to work with those teachers and learn more about elementary education.
KUCB: With this being your first post in elementary education, how are you preparing? Is it going to be a big switch for you to go from the high school to the elementary?
EICHENLAUB: In some ways, there's going to be some big changes for me. In some ways, there won't be. One of the things I was fortunate enough to do early on in my teaching career was just get into as many classrooms as possible. So some of the stuff I use every day is stuff I learned from elementary teachers. Really learned the value of having the process down and having clear expectations for students and bringing some of those skill sets in. Obviously, in high school, there's some different content area. There's some other skill sets that I'm working with students on. But that'll be part of the fun — finding out where skills complement each other and where we can all learn from working with each other.
KUCB: You're talking about working with the Eagle's View teachers — getting into the building, spending time with them, just seeing how things really work there. Is there anything more that you have to do to get ready?
EICHENLAUB: One of the things I've been doing a lot of lately is reaching out to other colleagues that I know — from Montana mostly, but also from the state of Alaska — who are administrators. Some have made the transition from high school to elementary, so they've been in similar positions. Just picking their brains, getting an idea of what was a surprise for them, what would their recommendations be. I have a growing reading list for the summer. I'm going to really immerse myself in everything elementary education, as well as principalship stuff. I'm just eager to learn as much as I can about the position and the new role and start working with teachers in the building.
KUCB: The culture at Eagle's View is pretty vibrant. I feel like I've been there, and it's Friday morning music time with dance and song for the kids. Do you have ideas already about school culture? Are there things that you're looking to continue for sure? Things that you're considering changing up?
EICHENLAUB: It's still too early at this point. I've had some opportunities to get into the building, and I absolutely love the energy in the building. It's going to be a lot of fun. I don't know exactly what is going to stay or if there's going to be new ideas implemented. It's really too early, before I get a better sense of where the teachers are at and where the students are at.
KUCB: I know that it's very early days. But at this point, do you have any idea how long you plan to stay in your new role? Joanna Hinderberger was there for two years. Before that, Eric Anderson was at the school for almost two decades, with three years as the principal specifically.
EICHENLAUB: It's always difficult to say. I know that I plan on being a principal for a fairly big part of my career. It's something I've always wanted to do. There might be additional roles down the road that open up, but I think I've found a school that I'm really going to enjoy. [With] just the little bit of opportunity that I've had to be in there, I love the environment, the energy. The staff members are all passionate about what they're doing. You'd be hard-pressed to find a better building, I think, to start as a principal. So my plan is to be as long there as long as possible.