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Former Washington County schools chief Claud E. Kitchens dies

November 18, 2008|By ERIN CUNNINGHAM

o Obituary

WASHINGTON COUNTY -- Claud E. Kitchens, who served more than a decade as superintendent of Washington County Public Schools, has died.

Kitchens was described by former co-workers Tuesday as a Southern gentleman with a Southern drawl to match who cared about students, the school system and his community.

Kitchens, who had been in poor health lately, died Monday night at the age of 79, said his son, Tom Kitchens, a Smithsburg High School teacher.

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Kitchens would have been 80 years old next month. He lived in Hagerstown, and had four children with his wife of 59 years.

"He was about the best friend you could ever have," Tom said of his father.

Kitchens was a teacher and administrator in South Carolina before taking the local superintendent post in 1973. After leaving Washington County Public Schools in 1986, Kitchens took the post of Maryland State Department of Education deputy superintendent of schools. He remained in that position until 1990.

Kitchens recently began writing a weekly column that ran on the Opinion page of The Herald-Mail.

Paul W. Bailey, a current School Board member who was an administrator during Kitchens' tenure, described Kitchens as a "real people person" who had a "Southern style" to his relationships -- perhaps perfected during his years in South Carolina.

"Folks were folks," Bailey said. "People always felt comfortable with Claud Kitchens."

Bailey was the principal of Smithsburg Middle School for most of Kitchens' tenure, and said his focus always was on students.

Kitchens would either begin or end most School Board meetings by asking, "Are we doing the best we can for kids?"

Kitchens was so devoted to students and their endeavors in and out of the classroom that he even would attend Smithsburg football games in the rain -- watching from the school's greenhouse, Bailey said.

B. Marie Byers said Kitchens was the reason she served 30 years on the Washington County Board of Education, beginning in 1970.

Byers, of Hagerstown, now is president of the board of Discovery Station at Hagerstown, and said she uses Kitchens' philosophy in her work there -- "Everyone counts, and everyone is a learner."

Byers describes Kitchens as one of her best friends, and said he was a people person who built solid relationships with everyone. During his time with the school system, Kitchens knew everyone from administrators to the bus drivers and garage mechanics and always took time for everyone, Byers said.

Margaret Trader, a former Washington County Public Schools teacher and administrator, received her first administrative appointment while Kitchens was superintendent.

Trader, who now is chair of the education department at McDaniel College in Westminster, Md., began teaching locally in 1972 before becoming vice principal at North Hagerstown High School. She also served as English supervisor and acting director of curriculum during Kitchens' tenure.

Trader says her career would not have been the same without Kitchens' guidance and mentoring in her early years as a teacher. She was a new teacher, just beginning her career when Kitchens nominated her to a post with the Maryland State Department of Education.

In that role, she spent three years designing content and instruction in what was the precursor to current state assessments.

"His nominating me for that ... was a tremendous opportunity for me in my career," Trader said. "I was under 30 at the time ... on a team with people who were at various stages in their career."

Ed Stenger of Williamsport served as principal at Clear Spring and North Hagerstown high schools during Kitchens' tenure with Washington County Public Schools.

"I thought he was a gentlemanly, polite, fair and reasonable person to deal with," Stenger said. "He would listen to what you had to say. He would try to accommodate you when he could."

Stenger and several other former co-workers said they had enjoyed reading Kitchens' recent columns in The Herald-Mail, called "Classroom Reflections."

Terry Masters of Halfway described Kitchens as "laid back." Masters served as principal of Clear Spring High School for the last years of Kitchens' time as superintendent.

Masters said that on one occasion, a parent was upset with a decision that Masters made. He said Kitchens spoke with him about it, and the two "talked it out."

"It was a good conversation," Masters said. "It was all resolved."

Fairview Outdoor Education Center

Ten new schools were built during Kitchens' tenure with Washington County Public Schools, including the Fairview Outdoor Education Center, which Bailey requested be named after Kitchens. Bailey made the request during a School Board meeting earlier this year.

He said Tuesday that a standard waiting period after the request has been made has passed and that progress should be made on that request soon.

"I regret we didn't get the outdoor school named for him while he was alive," Bailey said.

Washington County Public Schools Superintendent Elizabeth Morgan spoke of Kitchens' death during Tuesday's School Board meeting, and described the outdoor school as his "special project."

Morgan said during Tuesday's meeting that officials are taking steps to try to name the Fairview school for Kitchens.

"I think many, many students have benefited from that program because of Claud Kitchens," Morgan said.

Kitchens also was a member of Morgan's Rotary Club, she said. Kitchens also volunteered his time driving people with cancer to and from their radiation or chemotherapy treatments through a local American Cancer Society program, Bailey said.

"He was an excellent educator who really cared about people and made a definite contribution to the community and to the school system," Morgan said during an interview Tuesday afternoon.

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