After 11 years at the helm of the Saugus School District, Superintendent Judy Fish is going to work in a little more music, hiking and maybe a return to the classroom herself when she retires in June. She’ll also get to spend more time with her three daughters and five grandchildren, despite an already-packed retirement plan.
Fish came from the Palmdale School District, where she had worked for 23 years. A native of England, she moved to Canada when she was 4 years old and by age 19, had begun her career in education, teaching third and fourth graders.
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“Sometimes the parents weren’t sure if I was the student or the teacher,” she laughed.
Asked what drew her to education, she said her own encounters as a student drove her to be a good example to others.
“I think the good things you experience and bad things that you experience as a student yourself, you think ‘I’m going to be like that teacher and make sure students have a better experience than I did with this teacher.’ All my life wanting to help others has been a key piece to me; the challenge of solving problems, helping others and making connections.”
As she’s watched the district grow and change over the last decade, she admits that the recent state budget cuts have proved the worst time for her and her staff.
“Having to close a school is by far one of the most difficult things to do,” she said. “Closing a school and laying off teachers. It weighs heavy on your heart and you don’t sleep at night, knowing you’re affecting people’s lives.”
While there have been difficult times, Fish said that good times have more than outweighed the bad.
“When I can make things happen for people, whether it’s the district, or whether it’s a child or an administrator or a student, it’s that part where you feel you’ve helped somebody or (make) something happen. For example, making West Creek happen, working with the board to make a school with a music focus, which of course, is my passion – the simple issue of doing something good for a child.”
Fish’s passion for music is causing her to do some heavy lifting recently, as she has taken up learning to play the cello.
“Part of me is considering going back to school to get a music degree,” she said. “I’m thoroughly enjoying learning a new instrument. I used to play the oboe, so this is the first stringed instrument I’m learning.”
She also enjoys hiking and casually mentions traversing continents as easily as others pride themselves in completing a walk through the park.
“I love to hike in different parts of the world and the country. I walked across England with my sister, and walked New Zealand, I actually cycled across Austria along the Danube,” she said. “I used to kayak as a kid in Canada, and have recently gotten back to kayaking in Lake Casitas.”
No one has told Fish that retirement might be a time to slow down. She seems to be revving up for several new adventures.
One of the things she intends to continue is serving her community. She has served on the Henry Mayo Newhall Memorial Hospital board and the Child and Family Center for a decade and hopes to continue helping them toward their goals.
“I really still want to be part of the community in terms of giving back,” she explained. “I’ve made a lot of friends and connections through the years. I hope to stay involved with the Performing Arts Center Advisory Board and promote arts and music things in the community.”
Fish is a self-described “Opera Addict” and will travel the world to experience opera.
“There’s nowhere I won’t go if there’s an opera or a singer that I want to hear in a production. I go to NewYork to the Met for the weekend, of course, Los Angeles and San Diego, or Paris, London at Covent Garden, wherever there’s great opera and I can fit it in.
“Music in general is a passion of mine, but opera in particular, it has all the art forms in it, it has the dance, the singing, the composition, the stage sets and costumes, it has everything.”
Why retire now? Fish said that required a two-part answer.
“One is that two years ago it might have been more ideal for me, but that was when we were in the worst of the budget cuts and it was just not the time to say “bye, carry on.” I felt a real need to stay and see the district through the worst of it. The other is that I turn 65 in January and life is short.”
Finding a replacement for Fish will start with a planning meeting next Tuesday night to discuss the timeline of the search, but she won’t be involved, as that is a board decision. She plans to remain available via phone if the board – or her replacement – has any questions.
“Once the new superintendent is in place, I need to get out of the way.”
“I want to say how much I’ve enjoyed my tenure here in the district and what a passionate, dedicated board we have,” she added. “They are really here for the right reason. I know the district is in good hands. It was a fantastic district when I came here and I think we have good people, good leaders in place and they’re going to continue to get better.”