by David Serbin
photography by Summer Herndon
It is not just a motto, nor just an idea. It is a reality. When administrators for the Bonita Unified School District answer the phone, “Bonita Unified School District … leading students into the next millennium,” they are exemplifying the goals of John Rieckewald, Ph.D., district superintendent. His motto is an integral part of his vision for the year 2000 and beyond.
Heading the troubled district in July 1997, Dr. Rieckewald (pronounced RICK-Wald) knew what he was getting into and welcomed the challenge with open arms. He says he does not like to job-hop. “I took this job with the confidence that this would be the final job of my career, not my next job. “I am a very stable person,” he says. “I don’t like to change every couple of years. That is why I am planning on ending my career here.”
A 26-year veteran of the Hacienda-La Puente School District, Dr. Rieckewald was assistant superintendent in that district for the past nine years. He sought a smaller district where he would be able to make a larger impact on its programs. “I am committed to making a difference,” he says, “and I want to have more fun. I want the quality of our programs to speak for itself.”
Dr. Rieckewald knows there are many challenges in preparing students for the next millennium, and feels his leadership skills and ability to restore confidence to its programs will make BUSD a stronger and better-quality school district.
A member of the education profession since 1971, Dr. Rieckewald received his bachelor’s degree in sociology from Westmont College in 1969. He later earned his master’s degree in counselor education from the University of Southern California, then completed his doctorate in educational administration at Claremont Graduate School in 1985. He rose in the ranks at Glen A. Wilson High School in Hacienda Heights from vocational guidance counselor to assistant principal, principal, finally assuming district positions in the Hacienda-La Puente School District in 1989.
Dr. Rieckewald was assistant superintendent in various departments and later succeeded the incumbent superintendent. But he believed something better was waiting for him. “I believed that a door [of opportunity] had opened here [at Bonita],” he says. “I firmly believe that God put me in this job for a reason.”
One factor that convinced Dr. Rieckewald to accept the position was the incredible parental support within the district. “The parents know that we need to challenge our children to do better scholastically,” he adds. “We need to raise their expectations and reach higher goals. School has to be their first priority.”
High-quality programs are just part of Dr. Rieckewald’s vision for the future of students, teacher and administrators within the Bonita district. He looks to making all aspects of the educational experience a joy for those involved.
“I want to make teaching in the Bonita Unified School District fun again,” Dr. Rieckewald continues, “People do not celebrate the good things that are happening here, and they need to do that.”
How are Dr. Rieckewald and his staff helping Bonita’s students prepare for the 21st century? Areas scrutinized concern the minimum requirements for graduation and helping the District set goals for students while helping them develop career paths.
Meanwhile, the Bonita District is also looking at the way students learn. “We need to know what fits best for the students,” Dr. Rieckewald says. “We need to look at all options. Do we need to extend the school day? Should all students go to summer school? Do we need to develop an alternative method of education? All of these aspects are clearly important.”
Education in the 1990s needs to go hand-in-hand with the newest technology, according to Dr. Rieckewald. He says that, only two decades ago, teachers and libraries were main sources of students’ information. Currently, computers and the Internet have become key instruments in learning.
“Students and teachers need to have computer skills and know how to use them,” he says, adding that he is especially proud of the computer laboratory at Roynon Elementary School.
Dr. Rieckewald has seen much change since he began his tenure as superintendent. “When I took over in July 1997, I had to re-establish trust in the position,” he says. “Nobody knew where to go with a question or a complaint. Now, people are beginning to feel a lot better about themselves and the District.”
He adds that seeing the enthusiasm within the District is satisfying. “I knew there were good people here, and better communication and harmony is starting to show,” Dr. Rieckewald says.
Susan Brown, principal at Roynon, agrees. “There is more cohesiveness and more unity in the District. We are all headed in the same direction now,” she says.
Though he is quite pleased with the changes and improvements which have taken place thus far, Dr. Rieckewald knows there is much more to accomplish.
“I need to get more involved in both the La Verne and San Dimas communities,” he says. “I need to get out to the schools more. I need to be more accessible and generate more community support for our schools.”
This vision and optimism may indeed enable students to enter the 21st century well-educated and well-prepared.