LAFAYETTE — What Gina Cahee enjoys most about her job as principal of Green T. Lindon Elementary boils down to a simple act: hugs.

“I enjoy the hugs every day,” Cahee said. “I do. The appreciation and to know that every day is different. Every day comes with a challenge.”

In August, Cahee begins her ninth year meeting those challenges as Lindon’s principal.

For the past two years, the Youngsville school has maintained a four-star rating based on state accountability standards. Cahee attributed the four-star label to her teaching staff and high expectations placed on students.

“We believe that they can do it,” she said. “I think it’s high expectations I have for all the students. Even those that are struggling, they’ll do well. Teachers will go the extra mile to work with those children.”

Cahee is the regional elementary school principal of the year. The distinction places her among seven finalists for the state elementary school teacher of the year honor and among 18 administrators for the state’s top principal award. Winners will be announced by the Louisiana Department of Education on July 22.

The regional honor has been an exciting hallmark in her career, she said.

“There are so many other great people who are finalists,” she said.

Cahee is a 1990 graduate of Southern University with a degree in elementary education. She also earned a master’s degree in administration and supervision.

Within her first four years of teaching, she was named a state finalist for elementary teacher of the year.

After teaching for five years, she took a nearly three year break from the classroom to work as an educational issues liaison to U.S. Reps. Cleo Fields and Chris John.

She returned to the classroom for another two years before moving into her first administrative role as an assistant principal at Milton Elementary/Middle School.

Her experiences in the classroom drew her to her new profession, she said. She saw the change as a way “to be able to touch the lives of more children.”

Cahee described her leadership style as creative and hands-on.

“I’m very engaging,” she said. “People feel comfortable with me. A lot of times people feel intimidated by leaders in any profession. I feel I run a school where my teachers feel comfortable talking to me, students feel comfortable coming to talk to me and so do the parents.”

She takes pride in the environment fostered at Lindon between teachers, staff and the families they work with — child and parent.

Her open door policy and focus on parental communication helps build on that family atmosphere.

That includes the good news and even the not so good — like the infestation of fleas in the school’s portable buildings in 2006, she said.

“I think if you constantly keep the lines of communication open and let them know what’s going on, they’ll be more receptive,” Cahee said of her interaction with parents. “I’m proactive at letting them know about issues at the school.”

She credits her family for their support: her parents, Shirley and Roy Young, her husband, Gerald, and their two children, Rivers and Princeton.

Cahee said she and her husband realized another dream four years ago: the opening of their child-care center — aptly called Principal’s List.

“I wanted to develop a center where the children were going to be ready for kindergarten because I would see so many kids going into kindergarten who academically were not prepared,” she said. “I want our kids to be on the principal’s list when they leave the Principal’s List.”

The business was built for about 80 children, but within its first year, an expansion was necessary to meet the demand.

“I think it has grown because of the staff and the curriculum,” she said. “I’m truly blessed. I’m really busy. My husband is a partner with me. I have two great directors that also run it. That way I’m able to be at my job and give it 100 percent.”