Knowing people by name is not an easy feat. The challenge becomes even much more daunting and difficult when there are 1,700 names on the list.
Not for East Union High School Principal John Alba who has the uncommon ability and knack for a top administrator to know so many people by name.
That caring and commitment for students, concern for their educational well-being, and stepping above and beyond the call of duty as a principal have been attested to many times in the last ten years at East Union alone. The latest was earlier this week when the Lancers’ entire student body and faculty put into words and action their admiration for the retiring principal during a surprise send-off celebration in his honor.
Leadership Team and Link Crew students noted, before presenting their principal with a plaque of appreciation and a framed photograph signed by the student leaders, how everybody is so impressed that the top administrator on campus knew so many of the school’s 1,600 plus students by name, clearly showing the “personal connection” he has with everyone on campus.
East Union’s English Department Co-chair and WASC Self-study coordinator Bradford Edom observed the same thing in these ringing words of endorsement. “I have worked in three schools in three states under five different principals, and I can state unequivocally that Mr. Alba is the most visible and approachable principal I have ever worked for. He strives to include his faculty and staff in the decision-making process, and thus empowers us to experience a true ownership state in East Union High School. He consistently drops by in classrooms to observe the quality of instruction, and the students both know him and feel they can approach him with issues that arise.”
Manteca Unified School District Superintendent Jason Messer also described Alba as a “student-focused school administrator” and an “exceptional relationship manager with a passion for youth.”
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Being a teacher and principal is always about the kids
“It’s always about the kids, absolutely,” said a visibly moved and tearful Alba after watching the cheerleaders’ rousing praises in action, listening to special pieces played by the Lancer band, and being serenaded by the school choir.
His teaching and administrative philosophy has always been to “make decisions on what is best for kids – always,” he added.
In fact, it is this special connection with students and always making sure someone cared about them which, Alba said, he will remember the most about his 10-year stint as principal at East Union. That, and “the enormity of the position,” being in charge of more than 1,600 kids plus 65 teachers and 30 staff.
But, “most of all, building relationships with students and finding what is important to them to build on to connect them to school,” he added.
It was all by dint of hard work, not magic, which produced the close working relationships and mutual respect he enjoyed with the students, faculty and staff – and vice versa. His regular work week involved a minimum of 50 hours. Working hard is ingrained in his work ethic. He also strongly believes that “being seen in the classroom, on campus, and performances and events” is part and parcel of his job as principal. Seventy percent of his job involved visibility, said Alba who described himself as a lifelong learner.
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Time to pursue hobbies and spend time with family
“Education has never changed in one sense: you get what you put into it. It is like they say, ‘the harder I work at something, the luckier I get,’” said the retiring principal who is now gearing up to embark on learning new fields of personal endeavor that he has always wanted to pursue. Being a photographer, for one.
“I have a passion for photography,” confessed Alba who is working on continuing “to work my way up to photographer.”
His other passion is being a fan of the San Francisco 49ers. He has been a ticket holder for The City by the Bay’s football team for 36 years.
He has an equal “love (for) the San Francisco Giants” as well.
On a more personal level, Alba’s retirement will now afford him more time to spend “with my parents as they grow older,” he said. That, and becoming “my wife’s full-time professional assistant,” he quipped.
His wife, Cindy, works in the office of the Livermore Unified School District. She already has one “teaching” job waiting for him at home – training a Boxer dog that she bought as a retirement gift for her husband.
She is also looking forward to enjoying more her husband’s culinary skills.
“He’s a good cook,” she revealed. She did not specify what type of cooking her husband specializes in but, she said with a small laugh, he can cook chicken “a million different ways!”
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Professional path that led to teaching and becoming principal
Before he worked in school administrative posts, Alba spent seven years teaching, mainly in junior high school, in Milpitas.
That teaching stint was followed by becoming assistant principal with Stockton Unified School District where he helped guide year-round education for 1,100+ K-6 and grades 4-6 students; co-administrator for Walter Brown Elementary School with the Turlock School District; principal at Silverwood Elementary School in Concord, and later at Glenbrook Middle School in the Mount Diablo Unified School District in Concord; division administrator for human resources with the Stanislaus County Office of Education in Modesto; principal for Orestimba High School in Newman; and assistant to the superintendent with the Newman-Crows Landing Unified School District, also in Newman.
Prior to becoming principal at East Union High School in Manteca in 2004, Alba worked with Modesto City Schools as associate principal for curriculum and instruction at Downey High School.
Alba received his Bachelor of Arts and Master of Arts degrees from the California State University, San Jose. His master’s degree was in Social Science. He received another master’s degree in Educational Administration from Santa Clara University. From California State University, Hayward (now East Bay State University), he received his credentials for Curriculum and Instruction, and Clear Administrative Services.