By Karen Billing
The front office at Del Mar Hills is losing two members of its administrative staff to retirement in June. Saying goodbye to the Hills are Principal Susan Fitzpatrick and Linda Mettling, the school administrative assistant who has been in the Del Mar Union School District for 21 years.
“I was just passing through and I hope I made a difference in people’s lives but Linda has made a career here and has impacted hundreds of children. She’s such a positive and warm part of the culture here,” Fitzpatrick said of Mettling.
Fitzpatrick said when she informed the staff that both of them were leaving, one teacher said she could handle another principal but “couldn’t take Linda leaving.”
“Linda Mettling is the heart of the school,” Fitzpatrick said. “She always has a smile for anyone walking in the door, she has a tender loving heart, she’s very sentimental and she loves kids. ... She’s downright lovable.”
A district-wide celebration is planned for Mettling on June 8 at En Fuego restaurant in Del Mar at 4 p.m.
Mettling came to DMUSD from working at a private school in Lakeside and from running recreational programming for students with special needs and every age group from children to senior citizens. She started in the district when there were just two schools, the Hills and the Heights.
“I’ve seen a lot of changes in the district, it’s gone from this little tiny place and mushroomed into a big district,” Mettling said.
When she came on board she was the assistant director of the after-school childcare program at the Shores office, keeping watch over kindergarten through sixth-graders and employee infants and children.
It was a busy time and Mettling decided to switch gears and become an office assistant, first at Del Mar Heights for two years and then coming to Del Mar Hills.
“It’s been a good fit,” said Mettling. “Del Mar Hills is a small school and I like it that way, I like getting to know the parents and families…It’s been a really good place to be. It feels like coming home.
She loves children, so she enjoys all the “little ones” that come through the door. She loves to watch them grow from registering kindergartners to sixth-graders moving on to their next adventure — it’s part of the reason why promotions are among her favorite Hills memories.
“Every promotion is the culmination of another year that was special,” Mettling said.
She also loves watching all of the Hills productions, seeing what they have accomplished in music and art. She just snuck away last week to watch a show put on by the fourth-graders.
“They’re so well rounded here and they’re going to be great little people when they go out into the world,” Mettling said.
Mettling said it’s going to be hard to leave but she is ready to have some time to do some things she’s wanted to do. She hopes to take some classes, travel and spend time with family and friends.
Although Fitzpatrick was only at Del Mar Hills for two and a half years, those years were packed with amazing experiences, she said. She said she’ll always remember the children first but so much about the Del Mar Hills community is memorable.
“The staff focuses on innovation and excellence so they were a delight to lead. The parent support and the level of commitment they have to education was inspiring,” Fitzpatrick said.
Mettling said that Fitzpatrick has been a “breath of fresh air.”
“She brought great leadership to the school and she always kept positive through all that went on here (with the possibility of school closure). It was a hard position to be in and she handled it all very well,” Mettling said.
Fitzpatrick’s retirement is capping a 19-year career in education.
“I don’t even remember when I didn’t want to be a teacher,” said Fitzpatrick. “There was never anything else that I ever considered.”
She got her first job teaching third grade in Colorado in 1970 but she left in 1972 to raise her family. When she returned to the workforce, she was working as a controller in an Orange County law firm but she wasn’t content, so she followed her “heart’s desire” back into education.
She moved to Riverside in 1994, starting out as a substitute teacher and went on to teach every elementary grade but kindergarten until 2006.
Asked if she regrets missing out on teaching kindergarten, Fitzpatrick smiles and said when the school day gets “yucky” or stressful, she always finds her way to the kindergarten classrooms.
“There’s always such joy in kindergarten and in kindergarten I’m a celebrity — they still run up and hug you,” Fitzpatrick said. “I got my kindergarten fix after all.”
After receiving her master’s degree in education administration, she got her first principal position in Vista in 2006 before coming to Del Mar Hills in December 2008.
In her retirement she is considering a possible professorship at a university or education consulting work and she is carefully mulling over a vacation spot.
She said that while it is hard to pass the baton to a new principal, she feels she is leaving the school in a good spot, no longer fearful about the school closing and moving forward on a positive path.