A Mom Away from Home: Ms. Melissa Kirchberg

After 20 years, Assistant to the Dean of Students Ms. Melissa Kirchberg is retiring
Known as Bishop’s “school mom,” Assistant to the Dean of Students Ms. Kirchberg is retiring after 20 years at The Bishop’s School.
Known as Bishop’s “school mom,” Assistant to the Dean of Students Ms. Kirchberg is retiring after 20 years at The Bishop’s School.
Summer Hu

Paper stocking cut-outs with her advisees’ faces on them, a thank you card from two former students, and snapshots of her advisory at homecoming and retreats carry the memories of Ms. Melissa Kirchberg’s 20-year-long tenure as Assistant to the Dean of Students, marking the close of her time at the School — and the beginning of the next stage of her life. 

“When you get to the point in your life when you know you’re getting ready to start a new chapter, it’s hard but exciting at the same time,” Ms. Kirchberg said. That mix of emotions is what makes her departure so “bittersweet,” she explained.

Her deep connections with the faculty is one of the reasons why her retirement is “bittersweet.” ​​Dean of Students Ms. Michelle Shea noted that she’s always the one organizing the birthday celebrations amongst the faculty. “I turned 50 last year, and [Ms. Kirchberg] found pictures of me from every era of my life here and printed them out in color and put them all over the place,” Ms. Shea said. “She’s incredibly thoughtful, and she’s never too busy to care for someone,” Ms. Shea added. Ms. Kirchberg said, “We have an incredible student center team supporting the students and we also like to celebrate birthdays, one of my favorite things to do besides singing happy birthday!

When Ms. Kirchberg received a job offer to work at Bishop’s in 2004, she couldn’t resist. After owning a painted clothing business for fifteen years, then owning a snack bar (called the Snack Shack) near the Mission Bay Little League fields for four years, directly working with kids at a school was something she always wanted to do. She initially came to Bishop’s to help out part-time. “That [era] lasted about one week, until I became full-time,” she said. She was then officially named the Assistant to the Dean of Students, the first person to ever hold that position. Ms. Kirchberg quickly became the “school mom,” as Ms. Shea described her.

“If you need something or want to talk, I’m there for you. If a teacher needs something or wants to talk, I’m there for them, too,” Ms. Kirchberg said. She is known around campus for being the keeper of lost items, sending out witty “Lost and Found” emails with photos of a strange assortment of items collected around campus. “Today, we are highlighting a fine collection of items – Jewelry, wallet, Invisalign, Airpods, glasses… I do know for a fact I could get big bucks for the red laptop case – everyone wants it,” Ms. Kirchberg wrote in one of her emails. And if students forget their dress uniform, Ms. Kirchberg always has a spare set of clothes. 

Ms. Kirchberg is even a mom to the adults on campus. She recalled the time when Event Team Member and Audio Visual Coordinator Mr. David Gore told her that his father was turning 47. “I was like, ‘Oh my God, I’m older than your dad, I could be your mother.’ And ever since then David Gore has called me ‘Mom,’” she said. 

She takes care of [people] through their bad choices. She takes care of everyone through everything.

— Dean of Students Ms. Michelle Shea

While Ms. Kirchberg’s position requires her to enforce some rules like uniform violations or address questionable behavior, she is never perceived as a cold disciplinarian. “It’s hard to have the title of someone who enforces the UVs and hands out infractions and still be a loved figure on campus,” said senior and Kirchberg advisee Jared LeTourneau. “Ms. K is both.”

“Being part of the Dean of Students office, we deal with students who make mistakes, get in trouble,” Ms. Kirchberg said. “We want you to be honest, accountable and communicate. We want you to learn from your mistakes and succeed. These are life lessons and better to get them out of the way before you graduate. I have to admit, detention with me is not all that bad. Students usually help me with a project I have or sometimes we sit and talk.”

“She loves people at their best and worst and marks no change in the way that she treats people,” Ms. Shea said. “We are not our worst choices, and she just lives that… She takes care of [people] through their bad choices. She takes care of everyone through everything.” Religion and Ethics Department Chair and Ms. Kirchberg’s close friend Dr. Regina Ballard has known her since 2003. From Dr. Ballard’s perspective, Ms. Kirchberg’s “Her deep and compassionate understanding of how kids think” is her largest impact on campus.  

Her desk, the center of her work, is where she “takes care of everyone,” and today, is one of the hubs of the student center. But it wasn’t always that way. On her first day at Bishop’s, Ms. Kirchberg had a temporary desk in a hallway outside the women’s bathroom, as there wasn’t any open space at the moment. “I got to know a lot of girls,” she said, laughing.

As Assistant to the Dean of Students, Ms. Kirchberg has a variety of roles, helping keep everyone organized, giving out the occasional uniform reminder, and, of course, locating your lost items with her well-known, witty lost and found emails. (Summer Hu)

But the location didn’t deter students at all. Ms. Kirchberg distinctly remembers a group of tenth graders that would sit on the floor near her desk and talk with her. Those kids ended up making her office their hangout spot until the day they graduated. “It was a really special time,” she said.

Now, her desk is currently located in the hallway leading to the nurse’s office, and has, as she put it, “anything a child could possibly need.” Her desk is not only the place where students go to retrieve their missing left AirPod, a lost retainer, or a piece of jewelry. “I have supplies and candy and safety pins and tie-sticks and whatever you need,” she said.  

Yet one of Ms. Kirchberg’s favorite parts about Bishop’s is watching kids grow up from the time they started in sixth or ninth grade. “Getting to know them and then seeing them as seniors and watching how they develop over the years warms my heart,” she said. Ms. Kirchberg distinctly remembers one student, Kareem Hamdy ‘11, who was very shy when he first started at Bishop’s. As he grew up, Ms. Kirchberg watched as he emerged from his shell, eventually becoming the lead in the school play, Forum. It was moments like these that only heightened her love for her job and the School.

Ms. Kirchberg will also be missed by the group of seniors who serve as both her first and last advisory. Two years ago, when their first advisor, history teacher Ms. Karri Woods, was out on maternity leave, Ms. Kirchberg filled in that role — and she has been with them ever since. Jared, at first, didn’t know what to expect. Because of COVID, he hadn’t really gotten to interact with Ms. Kirchberg before, and he admitted that the only thing he knew about her was that she enforced UVs. But that perception quickly changed. “The very first day of advisory, she walked out of her office holding a massive platter of freshly baked cookies and a massive smile on her face,” Jared said, and “after about ten minutes with her, I could tell she had instantly won the approval of every single person in our advisory.” 

Ms. Melissa Kirchberg will be graduating from Bishop’s alongside her senior advisory, which served as both her last and first advisory. (Melissa Kirchberg)

Another one of her advisees, Dylan Navarrete (‘24), also recognized her “kind heart.” He explained, “I think her biggest impact is undoubtedly the air of positivity that she brings to the community,” He added,“Sometimes things get tough, but Ms. K always does her best to cheer everyone up with her contagiously awesome spirit.”

Her connection with her advisory is apparent, with Ms. Shea calling her an “advisory extraordinaire.” Ms. Kirchberg described the group as a family. “We look after each other. We take care of each other. And that’s important,” she said. 

“Ms. Kirchberg has had such a massive and positive impact on my life,” Jared explained. “I have stopped in her office nearly everyday even if it is just for a brief chat since she became my advisor. She has been like a second mother to me, and I could not be more thankful that she stayed to be our advisor,” he reflected. Fellow senior and Kirchberg advisee Joy Udinsky noted that Ms. Kirchberg has taught life lessons like lending an ear to a friend who is hurting. “A bit of compassion goes a longer way than I thought,” she said.

Now that both the students and Ms. Kirchberg are reaching the end of their time at Bishop’s, fond memories of advisory games and simply the conversations she’s had with the group have come rushing back to Ms. Kirchberg. 

“I’m a senior. My advisory are seniors. Whom I love! And we’ll all go out together,” Ms. Kirchberg said.

As she’s preparing to move onto the next chapter of her life, Ms. Kirchberg is looking forward to having more time to focus on her first love — art. In the past, she owned a clothing company for 15 years that focused on adding hand-made art onto clothing items. She currently has an art studio in her house, where she loves to paint. “I hope to do a web page or do some classes in my studio,” she said. She also looks forward to spending more time with her three grandchildren: Curren, Beatriz, and Goldie. 

From the beautiful campus to the everyday interactions she has with students, Ms. Kirchberg will miss many aspects of Bishop’s. “There’s so many layers to the things that I love,” she said. However, it’s the relationships she’s built over the years with faculty, staff, and students that Ms. Kirchberg will treasure the most. “Thank you for the memories!” she added.

Ms. Kirchberg concluded with a piece of advice: for students to “enjoy your life” and “find passion,” two things she found through Bishop’s. “I truly love my job,” she said, “There’s never been a morning where I’ve been like ‘Ugh, I have to go to work today.’” Each morning, Ms. Kirchberg drives down the hills of La Jolla and looks at the ocean.  “I wake up, and the sun is shining. Life is good.”

During retirement, Assistant to the Dean of Students Ms. Melissa Kirchberg plans to spend more time with her three grandkids and focus on her passion for art.
(Melissa Kirchberg)
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