November 24, 2017
School & Youth
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  • After 43 years as an Anne Arundel County educator, administrator and mentor, Kate Gilbert retired in September.
    After 43 years as an Anne Arundel County educator, administrator and mentor, Kate Gilbert retired in September.
  • Kate Gilbert (sitting, in the blue dress) recently announced her retirement after 43 years of serving Anne Arundel County Public Schools.
    Kate Gilbert (sitting, in the blue dress) recently announced her retirement after 43 years of serving Anne Arundel County Public Schools.
  • Kate Gilbert (second from the left in the back row) was joined by the other AACPS assistant regional superintendents in celebrating her retirement.
    Kate Gilbert (second from the left in the back row) was joined by the other AACPS assistant regional superintendents in celebrating her retirement.

Beloved Educator And Architect Of Chesapeake Cluster School System Retires

Judy Tacyn
Judy Tacyn's picture
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October 19, 2017

Kate Gilbert’s family, friends and coworkers had long told her that when the time to retire would come, she’d simply know. After the end of the 2016-2017 school year, one of Anne Arundel County Public Schools’ longest tenured professionals finally understood what they were talking about.

“It’s really hard to leave after 43 years,” said Gilbert with an audible lump welling in her throat. “But I just knew this was the time.” With that, just prior the start of the new school year, the beloved regional assistant superintendent retired from the Chesapeake cluster’s education system she loved for more than four decades.

Gilbert began her illustrious career in 1974 as a language arts educator at Lake Shore and George Fox junior high schools. In 1976, she taught language arts at Windmill Point and Chesapeake Bay middle schools.

Chesapeake Bay Middle School (CBMS) originally opened as two schools in 1974: Windmill Point Middle School and Bayview Middle School. Though Gilbert was not in a leadership role at that time, she believed that the two schools would best serve Pasadena students by addressing the growth along the Mountain Road peninsula.

“There were a few challenges associated with operating two schools within the same building because the schools were almost totally unique,” recalled Gilbert. “A distinct administrative team and counseling staff ran each building with just a few teachers assigned to work on both sides of the building. The only shared space was the cafeteria, which had a motorized wall to separate the two schools. The cafeteria also served as the auditorium, so there were times when the wall was opened and one of the schools used the entire space for an assembly or large parent meeting.”

In just her third year teaching, Gilbert remembers the opening of Windmill Point Middle School as an exhilarating time in her career.

“Everything was brand new and state of the art, and we were ushering in a concept relatively new to AACPS: middle-level education,” said Gilbert. “We reported to school two weeks early in August of 1976, where we were trained in the middle school philosophy and created the standard operating procedures required in a new school.”

Although about 600 students attended each school, Gilbert said the faculty was able to learn the names of nearly every child in the building. That relationship is common in elementary schools, but somewhat unusual in middle school because of the larger student body.

“We were a young, energetic and enthusiastic team,” said Gilbert. “Our principal at the time, Walt Bruso, had been the principal at Lake Shore Junior High and had hand-picked his staff. He was a forerunner in the field of distributive leadership and included his teachers in the myriad of decisions required to get a new school up and running.”

In 1981, the two schools were combined under one administrative team and the faculties merged. Shortly thereafter, the facility became Chesapeake Bay Middle School. Over the years, the school increased in size until reaching an enrollment of 1,900 students around the year 2000. Since that time, enrollment has declined to around 1,000 students, and a portion of the building is now used as a county resource center.

After just more than 20 years in the classroom, Gilbert joined the CBMS administration team in 1996, and later served as assistant principal at Corkran Middle School, principal at Old Mill Middle South, director of middle schools (supervising half of the county’s middle schools, including CBMS), and ultimately holding the position of regional assistant superintendent for the Chesapeake and Old Mill regions and then Chesapeake and North County regions.

“I am most proud of the opportunities that I have had to open doors for young educators at the onset of their careers and for those seeking to become administrators,” said Gilbert. “My greatest joy has been seeing former CBMS students who have become teachers in their own classrooms around the county. I am thrilled that they have become educators and gratified to know that my colleagues and I were able to share with them our love of teaching and learning.”

Gilbert’s passion for middle-level education is as evident as it is impressive. In the early 2000s, she served on a Maryland State Department of Education committee that made recommendations for statewide middle school reform and co-chaired an AACPS committee that recommended the current schedule to the superintendent.

Most recently, Gilbert worked with a group of AACPS leaders to guide a “return to our roots” campaign in middle-level education. The mission of the group is to address the specialized needs of students of middle school age, which were sometimes overlooked in what Gilbert calls “the era of high-stakes testing.”

“I will always remember working with my colleagues about 10 years ago to convince the superintendent to close middle schools for one day in October so that we could take our 1,800 middle school teachers to the Association of Middle Level Learners (then NMSA) national convention in Baltimore,” recalled Gilbert. “Most of those teachers had never attended a national conference. It was an amazing endeavor!”

Gilbert may be leaving an office, but not the friendships she made over the years. “The teachers who I met on my first day of work at Lake Shore Elementary School are my friends today,” said Gilbert. “We were young and over the years matured together.”

She also praised her former colleagues in the Office of School Performance, especially the other five regional assistant superintendents. “They are rarely recognized for their work in connecting the policies, programs and curricula developed at Central Office to the work in each and every school in the county,” she said. “They are the glue that holds the organization together. They are dedicated risk-takers always willing to laugh, but tough enough to tackle even the thorniest of situations with grace.”

Gilbert keeps in touch with several former students, most notably Rachel Amstutz, the principal of Bodkin Elementary, and Wendy Warner, a physical education teacher at Millersville Elementary.

With just two months of retirement under her belt, Gilbert said some days she still can’t believe she doesn’t have to go to work, and she is enjoying “seeing the inside of her home during the daylight hours, spending time with family and trying new things to see what sticks.”

“I know I’ll be involved in something sooner than later,” said Gilbert. “I am now a believer in ‘when I find it, I will know it.’”

 

Colleagues And Pupils Remember Kate Gilbert

Bodkin Principal Rachel Amstutz

As my seventh-grade language arts teacher at CBMS, Mrs. Izzo (then) inspired a love of reading. We reunited when I became an assistant principal at Sunset and Millersville, and she was my regional assistant superintendent. She remembered me immediately at the interview as a former student and she quickly became a mentor. I have the most immense respect for Mrs. Gilbert because she always prioritized students and their needs, she pushed us to excellence, and always advocated what was right for our students, schools and school system. Importantly, she also used humor to help in stressful situations to help us take a step back and then respond appropriately. I am forever indebted to Mrs. Gilbert for her ongoing and long-lasting role in my life. Her passion and influence greatly shaped CBMS, the Chesapeake cluster schools and AACPS.

Chesapeake Bay Middle Principal Mike Dunn

Kate always gave insightful, great advice. She is a genuinely funny, warm person but not afraid to be vocal. She wanted the Chesapeake cluster to be the best cluster in the county. It’s no secret that Severna Park is the most high-performing cluster in the county, but she felt the demographics were similar to Broadneck, and she said we should have just as many kids getting scholarship offers, scoring high on tests and getting admissions to their college of choice as Broadneck.

She focused on what was best for the students. We’d have meetings where [principals] would talk about the lack of air conditioning or “we don’t have this resource,” and she would say “no excuses.” She focused on what was best for the students, and everything else was just wallpaper.

Chesapeake High School Principal Steve Gorski

I owe a tremendous thank you to her for helping me develop into the leader I am today. She helped me get this position when [Frank Drazan] retired. The morning she sat down and told me I was the acting principal, we just talked about being myself. She said I’m not just warming a seat for someone else. I could do what I needed to do to make the position my own.

When you’re having a bad day and things are coming at you 100 miles per hour, she was a great calming voice to say, “Let’s slow down. How can we attack this problem?”


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