Claude Albert Burkert, 87, Polytechnic Institute principal

September 30, 1996|By Robert Hilson Jr. | Robert Hilson Jr.,SUN STAFF

Claude Albert Burkert, a longtime educator and principal at Polytechnic Institute for 11 years, died Thursday of heart failure at Stella Maris Hospice in Towson. The Westminster resident was 87.

As principal of Poly from 1958 to 1969, he was at the helm when the school moved from North Avenue and Calvert Street to its current location at Falls Road and Cold Spring Lane. The school's engineering building is named in his honor.

His tenure during the 1960s involved tumultuous social changes, including integrating the school.

He had to deal with crowding and successfully returned the school to a single session in 1962 after six years of an extended-day program. With alumni and parents, he helped to defeat a 1966 plan that would have ended Poly's special status by making all city high schools comprehensive.

Barbara M. Stricklin, a teacher at Poly during part of Mr. Burkert's tenure, said he considered the 1967 move to the new location "his baby" and worked hard to ensure that the transition went well.

"He was involved in the planning of the building," she said. "And that sometimes meant taking home the blueprints at night and working on them on the kitchen table. He not only moved the physical stuff but the spirit of the school, too. He moved all of the intangibles that made Poly Poly."

A quiet, thoughtful man, Mr. Burkert was a stickler for details and had a deep concern for students.

He worked hard to ensure that few problems arose when blacks were admitted to Poly, a long process that began with a 1952 school board vote and continued into the mid-1960s.

"He just wouldn't let anything like race disrupt the learning process while he was there," said Jerome Ames, a former student.

A native of Southwest Baltimore, Mr. Burkert was a 1927 Poly graduate. During his four years at the school, he worked a full-time job -- from 4 p.m. to midnight daily -- pulling taffy at Rheb's candy factory on Wilkens Avenue.

Mr. Burkert was an outstanding halfback on Poly's 1926 state championship team, a charter member of the National Honor Society and a tutor in mathematics.

He graduated from the University of Maryland in 1933 and earned a master's degree there in 1950.

During World War II, he was a civilian instructor in the War Production Training Program, a ground instructor for the Civil Aeronautics Authority and personnel director of Standard Gas Corp.

He served on the Air Force Training Command Advisory Board from 1959 until 1965, when he received the board's Award of Merit.

His first teaching job was at Poly as a shop assistant from 1927 to 1928.

He taught shop from 1928 until 1958 at numerous schools, including Patterson High School, where he also coached soccer.

tTC In 1942, he returned to Poly as a teacher, soccer coach and business manager of athletics. He became a vice principal in 1953 and principal in September 1958.

In September 1969, after an excellent evaluation of the school, he retired, ending 42 years with city schools -- 28 of them with Poly.

He continued to serve Poly as an adviser and in alumni association activities, as well as continuing his volunteer work for several churches.

Services will be held at 11 a.m. today at Lemmon Funeral Home, 10 W. Padonia Road, Timonium.

His wife, the former Alice E. Cole, whom he married in 1933, died in 1991. He is survived by two daughters, Doris Galvin of Manassas, Va., and Shirley Schleunes of Cockeysville; six grandchildren; and six great-grandchildren.

Pub Date: 9/30/96

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