I have been lucky enough to have worked for Hartland Schools for 23 years, beginning as a special education teacher at Farms Middle School, then as assistant principal at Farms Intermediate school, and finally as principal at Lakes Elementary (13 years and counting!) Previously, I was a special education teacher for Redford Union Schools. I received my Bachelors Degree in Special Education, Masters Degree in Learning Disabilities, Specialists Degree in Administration…all from Eastern Michigan University.
I have been happily married for 37 years to my best friend Rick (known to family and friends as “Smitty”). We have two daughters, Joanna Sussman (33 years old, married living in Detroit, and expecting her first baby-and our first grandchild-in December), and Leah Utzman (30 years old, married and living in Lewisville, Texas). Both girls grew up in this amazing community (we have lived here for 32 years) and went to school from kindergarten through twelfth grade in Hartland. The education they received in our district, I believe, helped them to become intelligent, independent, and amazing women, of whom Smitty and I could not be prouder! We are also proud to claim their husbands as our “sons” and are thrilled that our girls both found such supportive, caring men to spend their lives with. Smitty and I, in our limited spare time, enjoy reading, golf, spending time at our “little slice of heaven”cottage up north, our goofy dog, Cooper, and of course, following our beloved Red Wings and Tigers!
Some of my most memorable moments in Hartland include:
- Interviewing for the principal’s job at Farms (when Ore Creek was built and Farms was transformed into a 5th-6th grade building) one week after I had back surgery. I don’t remember a whole lot of what I said and I didn’t get the job but I don’t blame the back surgery, or anything else for that matter. I was asked to be assistant principal there and two years later I came to Lakes as principal, which is where I was meant to be…it is truly “home” for me.
- Dressing up in all of the crazy costumes for events, fundraisers, and Halloween - including Cat in the Hat, the ultimate Tigers fan, Scooby Doo, Thing 2, and the list goes on and on. I have so much fun trying to convince the kindergarteners that Mrs. Smither stayed home and whichever character I am portraying is the substitute principal for the day. They are too smart though…they know it is really me!
- Having the opportunity to get my picture taken with the Stanley Cup several years ago, and taking two of my “hockey boy” fourth graders with me so that they could have that experience as well.
- Holding the record for giving the longest school presentation at a Board Meeting two years ago (hey, Lakes has a lot of great things going on!), and I still get grief (friendly jabs of course) for it at every board meeting since.
I am still here, because there is no place I would rather be!! I love that I have a huge family of staff members, students and parents and that I get to interact with them every day. I love that I get so many hugs and high fives, and that I have the opportunity to positively affect so many little lives. I love working with a staff that is dedicated and committed over and above any expectation that I could ever have. I am passionate about Lakes Elementary and about Hartland Schools, and my years of experience here have filled me with so much joy and a constant desire to continue to learn and grow and be better at what I do than I was yesterday.
I know that there is no other school district that has what we have here in Hartland. I hear it every day from new families that come from other districts. There is a warmth and a passion that is felt by all who work here, go to school here, and send their kids here. We care about our students and making sure that they succeed in all that they do. We make connections with our kids and families and are there when they need us. Hartland is truly something special, and I am proud and blessed to be a part of it.