Life falls into place for CUSD teacher

Robyn Echeverri, longtime math instructor at El Roble Intermediate School, is the 2019 Claremont Unified School District teacher of the year.

Ms. Echeverri, who is in her 25th year at El Roble, had an inkling something was up when she got to work and learned she was to attend the Thursday evening school board meeting, where the announcement took place.

“I kind of was told in the morning by mistake, and so I was kind of questioning it and piecing it together,” she said. “I was getting suspicious by the time we got to the meeting, and then I figured it out.”

Still though, she was thrilled. “It was very exciting. There was a nice group of people there to support me, so it was awesome.”’

The 50-year-old grew up in nearby La Verne, and graduated from Bonita High. She earned her bachelor’s degree from Cal State San Bernardino in 1992, and got her teaching credential from the University of La Verne in 1994. Then she hit the ground running.

“They did some interviews at University of La Verne for Claremont, and they called me and said ‘Hey, would you go to El Roble? They want to do interviews for a math opening,’ and I went, ‘Uh, okay.’” Ms. Echeverri recalled. “I went and did the one interview and I got hired. It was kind of a right place, right time thing.”

And there she’s remained for 25 years, the last 18 as chair of the math department. “I’ve lucked out ever since,” she said. “It’s an awesome place to be. I’ve been very fortunate.”

“I was so pleased,” said CUSD Superintendent Jim Elsasser. “She has been a leader in the district for implementing change to address new mathematics content standards and also an early adopter of one-to-one technology integration at El Roble. Through her quiet and humble personality, she consistently provides engaging instruction that motivates students to do their very best. We are extremely fortunate to have this talented educator part of the CUSD family.”

El Roble Principal Scott Martinez is also a fan. “I think it’s a very well deserved award, and long overdue,” he said. “She has been a tremendous leader at the school. She’s highly respected by the staff, by students, parents, and her peers. I just think she’s fabulous.”

Many of us flail about for years, even decades, before we find our place, our calling, our people. This was not the case with Ms. Echeverri. “I knew I wanted to be a teacher,” she said. “I knew that because of my mom.”

Her mother, Joyce Echeverri, taught for 41 years in the Bonita school district before retiring in 2000. Her late father was a principal with the Glendora district.

“So, it was in my family, and when I wanted to become a teacher I wanted to teach in Claremont and not Bonita, because Bonita was going through some issues at the time,” Ms. Echeverri said.

Her teaching style, honed over a quarter-century, has it’s unique quirks. For instance, one of her traditions is teaching the mathematical concept of probability through in-class poker and blackjack tournaments.

“I give them the prizes, so there’s no official gambling going on,” she explained. “They love it. So that’s always been a tradition that I’ve done, that the kids remember me by.”

The Las Vegas-style math lessons have been on hold the last couple of years, but will likely be reinstated this year.

“This year they’ve actually been asking about it again. So, this week after testing I’m probably going to do it, and it’s going to be a surprise for them because they’re finished with everything that I needed to get done.”

The kids learn another valuable life skill along with mathematical probability: to stash a little cash in case the roof falls in when they’re someday gambling for real.

“I actually teach them that,” she said. “I say, ‘Make sure you have at least $20 in your pocket when you go home to buy gas and get some food!’”

Now that the ceremonies are over—her peers recognized her at the El Roble staff meeting Wednesday—Ms. Echeverri is doing winner’s work.

“I have six essays I have to write,” she said. “And I have a resumé, an introductory letter, a biography, and a photo that I have to submit the county” for consideration for countywide teacher of the year honors.

If she’s selected there, she’ll be considered for a state, and then national honor.

“This is a great reward but I feel like I’m being punished with all this stuff I have to do!” she said. “So, I’m just trying to get done with that, but it’s like, okay, I want to enjoy my summer too!

“But it’s gratifying, because the kids have been coming and congratulating me, and that’s wonderful. It’s all about them. And they put my name on the marquee, which is so nice. I really appreciate it.”

Winning teacher of the year isn’t the only recent milestone Ms. Echeverri has enjoyed. She married Alex László, long-term sub at El Roble, last August. The now Ms. László-Echeverri hopes to be hired as a full-time English teacher at the school.

“It’s all falling together in place, nicely,” Ms. Echeverri said. 

—Mick Rhodes


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