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Jeanette A. ‘Jean’ Kuhlman, former coordinator of English language arts for Baltimore County Public Schools, dies

Jeanette A. “Jean” Kuhlman shaped curriculum in Baltimore County schools for years.
Jeanette A. “Jean” Kuhlman shaped curriculum in Baltimore County schools for years. (Family photo / HANDOUT)

Jeanette A. “Jean” Kuhlman, coordinator of English language arts for Baltimore County Public Schools for 12 years, died in her sleep April 30 at Oak Crest Village Retirement Community in Parkville. The former Towson resident was 85.

“We were really good friends and I spent more time with Jean as a coordinator, because, like Jean, who went to Western Maryland College, me and my wife who went there were also English majors,” said Robert Y. Dubel, who was superintendent of Baltimore County Public Schools for 16 years before retiring in 1992. “She had a great love for literature and reading, and the teachers loved her for spreading her love of literature and reading, and that includes me. She also was a great insister of correct grammar.”

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He added: “She was a bubbly person with an infectious personality. Everyone loved Jean.”

Jeanette Alvina Kuhlman, who was known as Jean, daughter of John J. Kuhlman and his wife, Mildred Alvina Kuhlman, was born in Baltimore and raised on Wheeling Street.

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After graduating in 1954 from Southern High School, she earned a bachelor’s degree in English in 1958 from Western Maryland College, now McDaniel College, and a master’s degree in education with honors in 1965 from what is now Loyola University Maryland. She did additional graduate work at the Johns Hopkins University, Towson University, McDaniel and Goucher College.

Ms. Kuhlman began teaching in 1958 as an English teacher at Towson High School and subsequently taught at Parkville High School before being promoted in 1963 as chairperson of the English department at the newly opened Perry Hall High School.

In 1970, she was appointed acting supervisor of English language arts — also known as ELA — and two years later became supervisor. She was named coordinator of English language arts in 1975, a position she held until retiring in 1987. Despite a heavy workload, she continued supervising 90 classroom teachers.

Ms. Kuhlman’s vision and intellect as ELA coordinator honed and shaped curriculum for years, including revisions of existing curricula 7-12 and the initiation of the Gifted and Talented program.

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Under her aegis, the Baltimore County Public Schools’ Office of English published “A Scope and Sequence for Basic Activities 7-12″ in 1973, and in 1975 to 1976, “Assessing Public Progress in English 7-12,” which envisioned many trends in curriculum and student assessment.

Mary Cary, an English specialist, succeeded her.

“She was an amazing person and loved by so many people. She inspired the students and teachers that she taught,” Ms. Cary said. “The curriculum workshops that she instituted were a model not only for the state but the country. She inspired in all of us excellence when it came to teaching English language arts.”

Ms. Cary admits that succeeding Ms. Kuhlman wasn’t easy. “They were big shoes to fill,” she said.

She described Ms. Kuhlman as being “soft-spoken” and that she had the “fairness touch when it came to maintaining standards.”

“She was evenhanded, but you knew there was a lot of steel under that velvet glove,” said Ms. Cary, who left the position when she became the founding principal of the Carver Center for Arts and Technology in Towson, and finally an assistant superintendent for the Maryland Department of Education.

Jane Gordon, a former student at Perry Hall and a retired Baltimore County Public Schools principal and supervisor, wrote in a biographical profile submitted by Ms. Kuhlman’s longtime friend, Emily “Toni” Thon, that she was an “outstanding teacher who influenced generations of students and teachers to aspire to a better connection between an author and a reader,” and that regardless of the genre, “Jean Kuhlman knew how to create relevance to her students’ lives.”

“Jean was a lovely person who spent a lot of time in the classroom helping supervise teachers and students,” Dr. Dubel said.

Hank McGraw, a retired ELA supervisor who worked closely with Ms. Kuhlman, wrote, “She had a keen, insightful understanding on how to offer all students a challenging and meaningful program of study.”

Dr. Dubel admitted one day to Ms. Kuhlman that when he was reading such novels as “War and Peace,” it was difficult to keep all of the characters straight, and she advised, “Then write them down and keep a list,” he said with a laugh.

“She was such a super person and so well-liked,” said Ms. Thon, who retired from Perry Hall in 1995, where she taught physical education for 30 years.

Ms. Kuhlman’s professional memberships included the Maryland Council of Teachers of English and the National Council of Teachers of English. She had been vice president and president of the Association of Central Office Employees and a board member of the Humanities Institute and the Actors’ Conservatory.

She liked spending summers in Kennebunkport, Maine, and spending time at a condominium she owned in Bethany Beach, Delaware.

Ms. Kuhlman was an avid reader and especially liked poetry, Ms. Thon said. “In her Towson home was a living room, maybe it was 18 feet wide, and there were bookshelves everywhere filled with books,” she said.

Ms. Kuhlman liked attending the theater and concerts. She was a dog lover, and it wasn’t unusual for Ms. Kuhlman to walk her dog alone at 4 a.m. on the Goucher College campus, near her home in Towson, Ms. Thon said.

At her request, no memorial service will be held.

Ms. Thon is her only survivor.

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