Principal of the old New Windsor Middle School, Jeff shares his memories of the school and Carroll County.
LYNN WHEELER: Hi, I’m Lynn Wheeler here, interviewing Jeff Kemal, who was the principal here at the old New Windsor Middle School. And we are now in that building, which has been renovated for the next century to be the library headquarters. And we are delighted to be talking to you, Jeff, and sharing your memories of this wonderful community and this school. Tell us how you first came to Carroll County.
JEFF KEMAL: Well, my wife and I are both from western Pennsylvania. And I was raised in Pittsburgh. North side of Pittsburgh. My wife went– was from a little town called Indiana, Pennsylvania, where Indiana University of Pennsylvania is. And that’s where I did my undergraduate work.
We met one summer. Then we got married. And we came to Carroll County because it was the only place that we interviewed for jobs, that we both got jobs in the same school system. So that’s why we came down to Carroll County. And my wife had never been here.
She’d never seen the place. I came down and interviewed. She was interviewed up in Pennsylvania. And she’d never seen Carroll County at all, or Westminster. And so when we moved in, we got in late on Friday night, and I told her I’d take her for a ride on Saturday morning.
And Saturday morning, we got up and we rode down Main Street, and got to Railroad Avenue. Came across two tractors pulling hay wagons full of hay in front of us. Of course she started crying, and saying she wanted to quit and go back. I told her we couldn’t quit and go back, that we had to stay, because we signed a contract. Now we cry because we don’t see those same hay wagons and things on Main Street anymore.
And we’ve been here now for 41 years. So this has been a great place. We raised two children here. We now have grandchildren that will be going– one’s in high school now in North Carroll. And our youngest two will be going to school in the Carroll County system, which we feel is a very, very, very good school system.
LYNN WHEELER: That’s wonderful. Where did you teach when you first came?
JEFF KEMAL: My first job was at Sykesville Middle School where I taught Social Studies. And I was there for two years. And I left teaching after two years, and went to work for a pharmaceutical company. But after one year of realizing that I wasn’t a very good salesman– and we decided to come back. And we chose to come back to Carroll County.
And once again, we both got jobs. Only this time I moved from Sykesville Middle School, where I taught for my first two years, to New Windsor Middle School. And that was my first experience at New Windsor.
LYNN WHEELER: Uh uh. And tell us about that experience in the school.
JEFF KEMAL: Well, it’s kind of interesting because Sykesville Middle, the same as New Windsor Middle was, an old high school. In fact, more than a high school. There were elementary, junior, and senior high schools. Now Sykesville was a little bit larger than New Windsor. And the building, I think, was little newer, and a little better shape.
So when I first came, I remember looking at the school, saying wow. And I taught my first two years I taught sixth grade Social Studies. And then my second two years here I taught in the eighth grade history class or social studies. And that’s when I became– during that period of time I want to Western Maryland, now McDaniel College, and got my master’s degree in administration. And moved into administration as Assistant Principal. And move from here to East Middle School.
LYNN WHEELER: Well now, one of your principals when you were here, Buzz Lambert, reports that you were a very, very creative teacher. And you created a solar heating system for your classroom because it was so cold.
JEFF KEMAL: Yeah. I don’t remember exactly how we did that. The kids participated in that a lot. And we were down on the bottom floor, down on the route 75 hallway. And right by the doorway, and the entrance for the kids came in the bus. And it was chilly.
I wish I could remember exactly how we did that. But it worked. It helped a lot. And Buzz said he was my principal here for four years before I moved on. And a very good administrator.
I learned a lot from him. I was very fortunate to have a lot of good administrators I worked under. Ed Schilling, who was the superintendent. Bill Ecker who was the superintendent. Buzzy Lambert, Don Reck, who I learned an awful lot from.
LYNN WHEELER: Well, he certainly was delighted to have you on the faculty. Well, what was your impression of the community when you first came here?
JEFF KEMAL: Well, it was kind of rural for me. Like I said, I grew up in the north side of Pittsburgh. Not used to farm country. I remember driving out here, coming down Route 31, coming pass all the farms back in those days. And the cows and the sheep, and other types of animals out there grazing and everything. And of course, I was always going against traffic, because people from the New Windsor area, and Union Bridge area were going towards Westminster.
So it was a very scenic route. A very delightful ride in the morning. And of course the community itself was much more rural. There weren’t as many shops, there weren’t as many restaurants, and things of that nature. But it’s a very, very nice community. Very low keyed, fantastic group of people to work with.
LYNN WHEELER: And you had students who worked on the farm?
JEFF KEMAL: Oh yeah. As a matter of fact, I’ll never forget one day, a gentleman coming and knocking on the door– can’t remember his name right now. But saying he needed to have his two sons to help him go out and pick cotton. Not cotton. Go out and pick some corn. Because the corn harvest was getting ready.
Of course where I went to school, no one even knew what that was. It was kind of interesting. But we let them go. The kids– a lot of them were 4-H kids. Involved in the 4-H, and things of that nature. Very interesting and nice community.
LYNN WHEELER: Yes, that really is interesting. Does that differentiate this school from the others where you had worked? The rural nature of it? Other things that differentiated it in your mind?
JEFF KEMAL: Yeah, that was the main– although like I said, Sykesville at the time, when I first came, was a little more rural than what I was used to. But not quite as rural as the New Windsor, Union Bridge area. And of course, Taneytown– when I was in Taneytown, it’s a little larger also. And although there’s still some farming out there too. So there’s farming all over Carroll County.
Not as much today as there was, but still a lot of farming. So the communities were kind of similar, but there were– the people in this area were more rural than urban. Especially my move from Westminster to become a principal at New Windsor Middle School. Coming from East Middle School– much more rural people out here.
LYNN WHEELER: Well, tell us some of your memories of the students that went here, some of the specific memories of students.
JEFF KEMAL: Well, we had quite a diversified population. Students that were very, very well behaved. I remember one day walking down the hallway towards a sixth grade area, and a woman came in the door with her two children. They were looking at the house in the area, knowing that this would be the school that they went to. And they wanted to see what the school was like.
And I said, can I help you. I told them who I was, that I was a principal. And they said yeah. They said, we would really like to visit the school, but we wanted to come when school was in session, not closed for today. I said, well, it is in session.
She said, what. She said, it’s so quiet. I said, sure. I said, come here. I walked on and opened up Mrs. Case, who was a sixth grade language arts teacher.
Opened up her door, and sure enough, there were 25 to 30 kids in there, working very quietly and very hard. And went to Mrs. Harrison, who was a social studies. And went to all the doors and opened them. And all these kids were just working so quietly that she just couldn’t amaze– she was just totally amazed at how quiet they were, and how attentive they were to what they were doing. And that’s the kind of kids we had for the most part. Like any other school, we had some kids that there were problems, but nothing like I’d seen at other schools that I worked at.
LYNN WHEELER: That’s really wonderful. Now you had some pretty good athletes in this school. Isn’t that right?
JEFF KEMAL: Yeah. Craig Green was a very good athlete. You know, it goes back a long way. I can’t remember a lot of names. Because I’d also referee football. A lot of the kids then, they went to Key High School and I’d referee their football games.
They had a lot of good athletes that went to Key. And then later on as the district changed– when I first came to New Windsor Middle School as a principal, we basically drew kids from Union Bridge and New Windsor. Down towards Taylorsville, but not in the Taylorsville area. More in the Medford area. And up Union Town Road area.
But then there was some redistricting done, and we started getting kids from the Taylorsville area, and also some from the Middletown area that had normally gone to Northwest Middle School. So we got a different type of population. So the school– it changed in that respect, that the districting changed. And we got kids from other areas.
LYNN WHEELER: Now Jeff, you opened the new middle school? Tell us about that experience.
JEFF KEMAL: That was fantastic. It was very difficult. We had a very good committee here of the faculty, a number the faculty. Mrs. Zepp, who is a media specialist, Mrs. Patch, who is a phys ed teacher. A couple other teachers who I don’t really remember right now who they were, but there’s like five teachers on the staff with me.
And then the people from Central Office who were in the building area that built. And the neatest thing about it was I got to travel a little bit. And go to other school districts. I want to Frederick County. I went down into Virginia to Harrisonburg, Virginia. Not Harrisonburg.
I can’t think of it right now. But it’s not that far south of DC where they’re building a new middle school head up into Pennsylvania. And I got to go to these different places, and sometimes the supervisor– like the Phys Ed supervisor would go with me. Or the home economic supervisor, and a tech ed supervisor would go with me and look at these places. And we got to put all these ideas together.
And we took ideas from all these different schools and put them together. One of the things I remember the most was when we built the new school, we had the gym, and then a two-sided stage, and then a cafeteria on the other side of the two-sided stage. If we had a small program, we would use the cafeteria. If we had a large program, we would use the gymnasium as the auditorium. But the stage opened to both sides.
And the expansion of the technology departments having computers in all the science rooms– each student– each pair of students had a computer in the science room that they would do their lab work on and things on in the computer lab. And of course today it’s even more great as you go in the new schools. But it was a really nice experience getting to build my school.
LYNN WHEELER: What was it like when you actually had to close down this school and move in there?
JEFF KEMAL: For a lot of us, it was very difficult. When Mr. Lambert was here, initially back in the early ’70s, we had a lot of the same faculty that when I came back as a principal, a lot of the people still here. Mr. McCurak in the sixth grade. Miss Black in the sixth grade. Mr. Guysbert seventh grade.
Mrs. Moore up in the eighth grade. Mrs. Blueball. A lot of the same faculty that was here when Mr. Lambert was here. In fact, some of them are still at the new building. I know Mr. McCurak and Miss Harrison still work there.
Mr. Chromer, our Phys Ed teacher. One of the things that I’ve always admired about New as a middle school, was the faculty. When I came as a teacher, very energetic faculty, very student-oriented faculty, loved to have the kids involved in things they did. Just a very good faculty.
And when I came back as the administrator, as the principal, it was the same way. And it helped me as an administrator to have people like that working for me, and working with the students because they were so child and student-oriented. And wanted the best for the kids. So a very good faculty. And like I said, a number of them are still working there.
LYNN WHEELER: Yes, that’s wonderful. Thank you very much, Jeff. It’s wonderful to have this history of the New Windsor school area. And to know what wonderful schools and teachers and administrators we have in Carroll County Schools.
JEFF KEMAL: I’m glad I could come. I’ve been by the building a number times. And seen the outside. I have never seen the inside. And I walked in the door, and thought what? And they all there?
Back in the old days, those steps down at that hallway and this hallway, you could get a little tired walking up there after lunch, going all the up to the third floor. Now there’s an elevator. So that was really neat. And just a change as I walk through and looked at some of the things like my old classroom. Down the sixth grade, and my old classroom upstairs in the eighth grade.
And as I was telling the cameraman earlier, this office that we’re sitting in now, we could have put my secretary, my assistant principal, and me in the same size– I mean, we were all would have been in this one area. So it’s really changed. And I think you’re going to have a wonderful, wonderful facility to work out of.
LYNN WHEELER: Well thank you. We realize just being here in this brief time that how much it means to the community to have saved this wonderful building. So we’re glad to be part of that.
JEFF KEMAL: Well we’re glad. Me and my wife and my buddy said we’re glad to see it put to some good use after all those years.
LYNN WHEELER: That’s wonderful. Thank you so much.
JEFF KEMAL: You’re quite welcome.