Cecilia Estrada, retired 2003, San Diego Unified School District
Former administrator just couldn’t quit working. She developed parent education workshops, now runs learning center.

Teacher Talk
Cecilia Estrada sits with a laptop and colorful learning materials for children.

Former teacher and administrator Cecilia Estrada began her career in 1966 and tried to retire 37 years later. After a quick break, she ended up working for Price Philanthropies in San Diego. Now she’s working with students again—from pre-school to high school—as director of a learning center.

Can’t quit education

Estrada accepted a so-called golden handshake in 2003 when her district offered retirement incentives. “I wasn’t ready to retire then, but I took it. I wasn’t ready to stop working.”

She didn’t stay retired long. During this short break, Estrada bumped into an acquaintance, Sol Price, the founder of Price Club, now Costco. He and members of his private charitable family foundation, Price Philanthropies (formerly Price Family Charitable Fund), came to her school occasionally to observe the school’s business-oriented micro-society educational approach in the classroom.

“It just happened when I retired, I ran into him. I said, ‘Hi, Sol, I retired.’ And he said, ‘No you’re not. Come see me.’”

Estrada took a few months off to travel before accepting Price’s offer to work at his foundation. “I was not happy not working. It was so strange for me because I was working for so many years.”

She started working at Price Philanthropies 16 years ago, starting with developing parent education workshops for kindergarteners. “I did that for about five years and went to five schools and offered that program. It was very successful.”

She is now the director of Price’s City Heights Square Learning Center in San Diego, located in a mixed-use development. The center runs free Mommy and Me classes and preschool and provides homework help for older students.

Start of her career

Estrada began her career teaching second through fifth grade but spent most of her career—25 years—as an administrator.

After working in seven different school districts, she ultimately retired from San Diego Unified School District. Her husband was in sales, so they moved around with his job. She spent time in San Francisco, Texas and Arizona.

“I was a bilingual teacher and bilingual education had just started, so I could go from district to district quite easily. There weren’t a lot of bilingual teachers. I learned a lot from each district I worked at, and it made me a stronger teacher and a stronger administrator,” Estrada said.

She worked on her credential to become an administrator under a program for women and minorities at San Diego State University.

“I thought I would probably help my teachers more by going into administration than staying a teacher and keeping my teaching strategies to myself,” Estrada said.

How has the pandemic changed your work?

Estrada said the learning center uses Zoom for the preschool program as well as for discussion groups and games with the older students in the afternoon.

“I’ve been reverting back to lesson plans. When you have preschoolers for a half hour or 45 minutes, you’re planning every minute. It’s different when the kids are with you in the learning center. You can be more flexible in person. With the pandemic, I really have to be on. It’s a kind of discipline. I really enjoy that.”

What’s one thing you’re proud of?

Estrada said opening Cesar Chavez Elementary School in San Diego in 1997 as the principal was the highlight of her career. “As a teacher, you’re always saying if I had my own school, I would do this. I had my own school and I brought in my own teachers. We grouped into different committees—mission, school rules, schedules—everyone had something to offer. And we all did it together. That’s why I was so proud. We worked as team. I hired some new teachers, and they still tell me that was the best time of their lives, when we worked together like that.”

Another highlight was creating the learning center she runs today. “I’ve created a micro-society type program for the older students. We have a banking system, so they have responsibilities. If they clean the tables, then they are the table managers. All the students are managers and they have the feeling of management. Sweeping the floor, doing the whiteboard—they all have jobs. They’re doing their work and they get paid and then we have a little store. The students are building a team, and everyone wants to work and buy things at the store. For those who do things that are wrong or aren’t fair, we have a judicial system.”

She also loves working with babies. “The moms come when they’re pregnant and listen to music, and then they come back with the babies at three months. I get to see them when they’re older and more alert to what’s going on. I’ve been there for their first steps.”

Why did you become a teacher?

“I’m from Tucson, Arizona and I grew up in the barrio and I didn’t have any professional role models other than teachers. When I graduated from high school, I planned to be a hair stylist. I went to my counselor and he looked at my grades and said I should go to college. I was the first one to go to college in my family.”

Her choices at that time were nurse or teacher. “I’m glad I went on to become a teacher. I loved it. I learned something every year. But it’s a career where you can never rest. There’s no stopping when you’re teaching or in administration.”

Did you have a favorite teacher?

Estrada’s favorite educator was her third grade teacher, who later became the assistant superintendent of the district. “She was really good.”

“I had good teachers. Except for kindergarten and first grade. Those were tough years because I was just learning English and was punished by speaking Spanish on the playground. Maybe that’s why I never wanted to teach kindergarten. Now I’m teaching preschool.”

What’s one fun thing about you?

“I love to dance, like ballroom dancing. Of course, I walk a lot and I just love walking in different places and getting to know different neighborhoods and parts of the city. I love the ocean. I’m there all the time, watching the water go in and out on the sand.”

Tell us about your family

Estrada has been married for 52 years and has two daughters and four stepdaughters, living in New York, Arizona and California—all great places to visit, she said.

Plans for retirement?

Estrada says her husband keeps asking when she will retire for good. Probably next year, is her answer. “We’ve been able to travel a little, but our dream is to get an RV and visit the national parks.”

Her husband is still working. “I told him I wanted him to retire first so he could find things to do on his own. Since he’s in sales, he’s gone three days out of the week. Now that we’re sheltered-in-place, this is the first time we’ve been together 24/7. Now I’m not afraid to retire. We’ve learned we really enjoy doing things together and I’m looking forward to spending more time together.”


Teacher Talk is a series of profiles on California teachers and other educators. To be considered for a future profile, please email Communications@CalSTRS.com, with Teacher Talk in the subject line.