St Hilda's Collegiate School principal Melissa Bell will
start a new chapter in her life next year after announcing
she will resign as principal at the end of this year. Photo
by Craig Baxter.
There were tears at Dunedin's St Hilda's Collegiate
School yesterday as principal Melissa Bell unexpectedly
announced she would resign at the end of this year.
The 41-year-old was diagnosed with an aggressive form of
breast cancer last March, but she went to great lengths to
reassure staff and pupils during a special assembly yesterday
that her decision to resign was not connected to her health.
After surgery, 12 rounds of chemotherapy and five weeks of
radiation treatment, Ms Bell returned to full-time work last
October, and her doctors had since given her a clean bill of
During her treatment, she turned the adversity into an
inspirational life lesson for her pupils by sharing details
of her illness, treatment and emotions, in a bid to give her
pupils the tools to deal with breast cancer if they
experienced it in later life.
''I guess the experience has probably taught me that you
can't assume anything about what the future holds, and you've
got to do what you really want to do, when you want to do
it,'' she said.
''I don't put things off now.''
Ms Bell said the decision to resign had not been easy, and
her announcement had left many staff and pupils in tears
Although she loved doing the principal's job, it was
''all-consuming'', and she was finding the weeknight and
weekend commitments left her little time for family.
''It's challenging as my boys get a bit older. My sons are 12
and 13 now, and it feels like they need me more than ever.
''I've got that precious window of time with them before they
move on and become adults - I want to make the most of that
When she was appointed principal, she told the board she
would do the job for five to 10 years.
''This will be my seventh year. I feel like I've done what I
came to St Hilda's to do.''
Her heart was still in education and she hoped to continue
working in the profession as a teacher.
''It will give me the best of both worlds. I'll be able to
teach and still spend more time with family.''
Board of trustees chairwoman Nicola Williams said the board
was grateful for the long notice period Ms Bell had given,
because it gave time for a considered search for a new
''She's been a tremendous principal,'' Ms Williams said.
''She's left the school in such a good space.''