She started her career in education while working as a stewardess for Pan American Airways in the late 1960s, filling in as a substitute teacher at Los Angeles schools when she wasn’t flying around the world.

But after 45 years with the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District, Jadeane “Jady” Von der Lieth is prepared for landing.

Von der Lieth, who has held several positions in the district, serving as preschool psychologist for the last 25 years, is set to retire at the end of the school year.

One might expect some turbulence in a career spanning nearly half a century, but Von der Lieth said she rarely faced significant bumps. As her daily tasks and job sites changed over the years, she always looked forward to working with new children and staff.

“I don’t think I had many challenges,” she said. “I woke up every day looking forward to my job … There were days when I felt like there was not enough time to do everything I wanted to do — I think that is just something we all feel.”

Von der Lieth worked with special needs children and adults from ages 3 to 22, collaborating with families and staff to address their diverse interests and needs.

Sara Woolverton, the district’s special education director, said Von der Lieth has helped children whose parents were previously her students in the district.

“Jady has for many years been the cornerstone of the SMMUSD early childhood special education team,” said Woolverton, Von der Lieth’s supervisor. “She has been an influential and much-valued member of our SMMUSD staff, respected by peers, beloved by parents and valued by the community.”

Von der Lieth started as a SMMUSD teacher in 1970 after moving to Southern California from Florida, earning a master’s in education and a visual handicaps credential from Cal State Los Angeles.

She was involved in education research during her stint at the former Madison Elementary School, where RAND Corporation in 1973 installed an interactive classroom television system that allowed students with visual disabilities to communicate with their teachers. She worked on a series of RAND reports for the federal government about the students’ challenges.

Von der Lieth served as a resource specialist and educator at Will Rogers, Edison and Roosevelt elementary schools as well as at Olympic High School, where her colleagues honored her as teacher of the year in 1989.

“I was able to see the changes in education,” she said. “I am grateful that I was able to work with incredible professional people and build long-lasting relationships with them.”

She continued her own education at Cal State Northridge, staying in the district as a bilingual psychologist. She is currently the preschool psychologist at the Lincoln Child Development Center, a role for which her teaching experiences prepared her.

Thanks in part to Von der Lieth, the district now has nine programs serving preschool children.

“I was part of a school culture that promoted learning and professional growth,” she said. “My goal was to be part of a team working together to create a positive and supportive learning environment for our children and families. I was never disappointed.

“I have been so impressed with my preschool team and what we have accomplished.”

In retirement, Von der Lieth won’t step away from her field entirely. She might fill in as a substitute preschool teacher, and she’ll consider consulting opportunities with private agencies and Culver City-based Westside Regional Center.

But she’s also looking forward to more free time for family gatherings and personal hobbies. She’s married with four children who went through the SMMUSD system and five grandsons, including one who is enrolled in a district preschool program. She hopes to read and travel more and improve her Spanish skills.

“I want to wake up every morning and take the time to decide what I want to do that day,” she said. “Every day, I want to make a small difference. I no longer need to make a living, but I want to live life, try new things. But most of all, I want to enjoy my family and friends.”

Von der Lieth said she often felt like a student as she worked in education because of how much she learned along the way. On the cusp of retirement, she said one particular lesson stood out.

“I realize that people who want to change the world do not need to be part of a large group,” she said. “They just need to find a cause they believe in and never stop fighting for it.”

Contact Jeff Goodman at 310-573-8351, jeff@www.smdp.com or on Twitter.

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