RANCHO SANTA FE — Just about everyone has a favorite teacher who made a real difference in their lives. For many who went to school in Rancho Santa Fe, that teacher is Lindy Delaney.
From science teacher to superintendent of schools, Delaney has been a fixture for nearly 27 years and this much-loved icon is still making a difference in young lives. In fact, it is difficult for her to walk around off campus without being continually stopped and hugged by former students or their parents.
On a recent day, parent Madeline Jaelet stopped Delaney to update her on her son Kelsey who recently graduated college with a 3.8 grade point average. Jaelet gives Delaney much of the credit for preparing him.
“She taught him the things he needed to know for college. She gave him a sturdy foundation,” Jaelet said.
Michele Homan also stopped Delaney that day, telling her about sons Jordan and Tristan who always give credit to her for teaching them study habits and for providing a launching pad.
“She was hard. She made them do their homework, but they got a good foundation,” Homan said.
Delaney takes it all in stride. It’s just another day in the district, but she acknowledges she has been extremely lucky.
“I can’t think of anything else I would do with my life,” she said. “I think I have the best job of all the superintendents in the county.”
In addition to her superintendent job and because of budget considerations, she also serves as the middle school principal, a job she enjoys.
Delaney knows a lot about kids. She is a middle child in a family of seven with a twin sister who is a first grade teacher in Orange County. From her parents, she learned her work ethic, her father a manager for FedEx and her mother a homemaker.
Her parents asked that their children put themselves through college, although they would help with books and other supplies. Five of the seven finished college, she said.
Delaney, 53, a native Californian, first went to Fullerton College and then to Chapman College where she earned athletic scholarships in basketball and volleyball.
Her aim was to become an athletic trainer, even taking an internship with the then Los Angeles Rams, but she soon realized that education was her real calling.
Her first job out of college was teaching at a Catholic school, where she learned about how a school can be a close knit community.
A few years later, she was hired in Rancho Santa Fe by R. Roger Rowe, now the schools namesake, when the school had 80 students.
“I told him I wanted to make the school a community like the Catholic school,” she said. Rowe was like-minded.
Along with teaching science, Rowe taught her about school administration a subject in which she later earned her masters degree.
She said he established the high standards of the school that remain today.
“There is a high rate of accountability. I know that. The parents know that and the students know that. That is the common thread,” she said.
Rowe remains her friend and mentor. When she is in a quandary in how to act on a certain situation, she still turns to Rowe, she said.
She said the best advice he has ever given her is to be mindful of who owns the school.
“He said to remember the school does not belong to you, it belongs to the community,” she said.
Good advice, she said, for someone who is always on the forefront.
Delaney said she hires only top notch teachers, whom she calls A-plus teachers from her own scale and she expects them to remain on top of her alphabet.
“I am tough. I have to be,” she said. She was promoted to superintendent in 2004 after a stint as interim superintendent.
She said the realization of the gravity of the job came to roost minutes before presiding over her first board meeting. The board at the time bolstered her courage by telling her they were behind her 100 percent.
“They are wonderful people,” she said. It has not always been a smooth ride, however.
Over the years there was controversy over if or where a new school should be built. There was a bond failure and much disappointment for Delaney. But, when the community got behind the new school, she was elated.
Still, as with any construction job, things didn’t always go as planned. When things got too crazy she would tell her staff, “I’m going for a walk,” she said.
During the walks she would see children, which helped her to remember why they were building a school.
“We were building a school for the next generations, the little ones,” she said. The new school opened in 2010.
Delaney said she is grateful her office is on the new campus.
“I am glad when I look out the window I see children. I would hate being in an office downtown somewhere,” she said. “I’ve always enjoyed working with children. They keep you young and you don’t really have to have a bad day when you’re with them.”