Kalin's the retiring sort

Planner: The veteran Howard County education official, a man of few words and many facts, looks back on a long and sometimes contentious career.

April 27, 2001|By Tanika White | Tanika White,SUN STAFF

Of the Howard County school district's 8,600 employees, Maurice F. Kalin may be one of the few who knows that deer nibble on the grass behind school district headquarters in the still and peach-colored moments of daybreak.

As associate superintendent for planning and support services, Kalin begins his days early and ends them late. The hours between are never so peaceful as the scene from his window at dawn, full instead of numbers, problems and parents who love to hate him.

And so, after 38 years in education, 27 in the Howard County school system - and the past 16 of those in the district's toughest and most thankless job - "Moe" Kalin is calling it quits, effective June 30.

Over the years, community members and co-workers alike wondered who was the man behind the curtain of seriousness. Kalin reveled in his privacy, but upon announcing his retirement a week ago, he agreed to an exclusive interview with a Sun reporter.

"I don't want to sit at APFO [Adequate Public Facilities Ordinance] meetings. I don't want to sit at redistricting meetings. I don't want to fill out open-enrollment forms," Kalin said yesterday.

As he approaches age 61, he said, he has weighed the long hours and the stress against days spent fishing and evenings with his wife.

The Chesapeake Bay and Bushy Park Elementary School Principal Nancy Kalin won.

"On a good day, I may not see her until 6:30 at night," Kalin said. "I just don't want to do that anymore."

Arriving from the Jackson, Mich., public schools in 1974, Kalin started here as director of research and development. He was promoted in 1985 to assistant, then associate superintendent for planning and support services.

It is in that last job that Kalin has made his mark. As the "redistricting czar" - in charge of drawing district boundary lines, sending neighborhoods of children to new or different schools - Kalin made hundreds of families angry every year.

Although he was responsible for myriad tasks - such as the capital budget, printing and duplicating, book processing and computer repair - it was redistricting and Kalin's involvement in other hot topics, such as open enrollment, that earned him the nickname "Dr. Death" from some parents.

It didn't help that Kalin's straight-as-a-rod demeanor underscored the sobriquet.

Parent Courtney Watson said she remembers that the first time she met Kalin, he looked a little "too much" like his nickname, in a black turtleneck and black slacks.

"He answered our questions quite exactly, no more information than we asked for, no less," Watson said. "He stated the facts. ... Always the facts."

`Loosen up!'

Even former Superintendent Michael E. Hickey, who worked with Kalin for 16 years, sometimes found his right-hand man a little stiff.

"From the very beginning, I felt like saying, `Come on, Moe, loosen up!'" Hickey said. "It was hard to get him to smile. He didn't say any words that he didn't have to say. I appreciated it in the respect that he was a counterpoint to me, but I also felt at times he tended to see things in terms that were too serious, too black or white."

The "Dragnet" routine wasn't a facade. Although he enjoyed his work, serious is who Kalin is.

"I think the stuff that goes on in here is serious stuff. What we talk about is the future of 44,000 students," Kalin said. "I come here each day with that point of view. I get very serious about serious stuff."

Growing up in a housing project in Cleveland and then on a 200-acre farm in rural Ohio, Kalin learned self-reliance and then the value of hard work and discipline.

He recalled a time when he played football for Fairmont State College, but to wrestle - which was his love - he needed to drop from 197 pounds to 157. He ate boiled eggs and orange juice three times a day until he lost 40 pounds.

"You do what you have to do to get what you want," Kalin said.

That hard-nosed attitude often came off as arrogant to parents who approached Kalin to discuss emotional issues - "Why can't my son go to school with the children in his neighborhood?" "Why are the schools so overcrowded?" - and received emotionless answers.

"People that did have dealings with him didn't like him because it appeared he always had his mind made up and it didn't really matter what you said," said parent Glenn Amato.

Kalin said he believes that parents might not have liked his decisions but would be hard-pressed to argue with the way he treated them.

Hickey said parents' impressions' of Kalin might have been true in Kalin's early years. But, over time, the associate superintendent's edges softened.

"He really began to change, at least in the last five years," Hickey said. " ... He would come and say to me, `Maybe we've got to loosen up a little.' I think he heard a lot more of their grief than they thought he did."

Hickey and others, including Kalin, give a lot of credit to Nancy, his wife of two years, for the change.

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