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Recognizing three CCPS veterans with Richmond award for excellence in leadership

Three longtime Charles County Public Schools (CCPS) staff members recently received the James E. Richmond Excellence in Leadership Award.

Linda Gill, Ed.D., executive director of schools, Meighan Hungerford, director of elementary education, and Kathy Kiessling, director of student services, were given the honor by Board members at the June 11 Board of Education meeting. 

The award was established in 2013 to honor CCPS staff members who exhibit high standards of excellence and leadership. The award is named in honor of  former longtime Superintendent James E. Richmond, who spent his entire educational career with CCPS. Former Board of Education Chairman Col. Donald M. Wade, who passed away June 1, 2014, launched the award to recognize Richmond when he announced his retirement plans in 2013 after serving four terms as superintendent. Richmond passed away April 24, 2024.

Learning through fun
Gill began her career with CCPS in 1990 as a second-grade teacher at Dr. Samuel A. Mudd Elementary School. “I loved being a classroom teacher,” she said. She worked at Dr. Mudd for a while before transferring to C. Paul Barnhart Elementary School. “I spent a lot of time getting to know students and understanding the standards that students needed to learn — figuring out how to teach so that it was easy to learn,” she said. Gill played games with her students, they sang songs, told jokes, solved puzzles — all with the goal of learning something new.

Gill went into administration in 1998 becoming an assistant principal at Dr. Gustavus Brown Elementary School, then moving to Daniel of St. Thomas Jenifer Elementary School before being named principal at Walter J. Mitchell Elementary School where she stayed for eight years. She was principal at Jenifer for two years before taking on the role of executive director of schools. 

Marvin Jones, Ed.D., chief of schools, said he and Gill’s careers tended to mirror each other’s. They both taught for eight years, they were assistant principals at the same time, elementary school principals at the same time and interviewed for the executive director of schools at the same time. Then they both got the job. “We have been thick as thieves,” Jones said. “And while I don’t know what Dr. Gill’s middle initial J stands for, I wonder if it stands for ‘Johnny on the Spot.’ Because this is who she is. Dr. Gill is clutch in the truest sense of the word. Meaning that whatever it is, she can be counted on to come through.”

Working in education is not a 9-to-5 job. “There are educators working 12-, 16- and 18-hour days,” Gill said. “They work on the weekends at their kitchen table and in the car at their kids’ activities. And for many people, their career is a family affair.” Gill’s husband has chaperoned a field trip when there weren’t enough parent volunteers signed up, her children have been called in to move furniture, deliver supplies and make copies for the school system when it was short staffed.

Gill plans to spend more time with her family in her retirement, travel and catch up on things she’s been putting off by learning new things. “I think 30 years creeped up on me a little bit,” Gill said. “At 30 years, I enjoyed my job and enjoyed helping people improve their skills.”

The family business
Hungerford’s grandmother, mother and aunt were teachers. “I spent a lot of time as a child playing with their leftover teaching materials and honestly, I feel like it runs in the blood,” she said.

Hungerford began her career with CCPS in 1987 as a teacher at Wayside Elementary School. When Wayside closed in 1987, she moved to the newly opened Dr. Thomas L. Higdon Elementary School where she worked as a classroom teacher from 1988 to 1997. “I absolutely loved the challenge of finding ways to help children understand things that challenged them,” she said. “To me, there was no greater joy than watching a child’s face light up with understanding.” The family teaching tradition lives on. Hungerford’s daughter, Morghan, was an elementary school teacher before becoming a CCPS assistant principal.

Hungerford spent a year as Higdon’s reading resource teacher before taking the role of the school’s Maryland School Performance Assessment Program (MSPAP) resource teacher. She had the same position at Walter J. Mitchell Elementary School for a couple of years then moved to Indian Head Elementary School as its instructional specialist.

In 2006 she was hired as the coordinator of elementary instruction at the Jesse L. Starkey Administration Building and from 2010 to 2013, Hungerford served as the CCPS elementary reading content specialist. She was acting director of elementary education from 2013 to 2018, becoming director of elementary education in 2018 until her retirement in 2023.

Kevin Lowndes, chief of teaching and learning, found out how valuable Hungerford was to have on his team when he arrived to CCPS from Montgomery County Public Schools a few years ago. “Mrs. Hungerford has been an incredible resource and support,” he said. “Mrs. Hungerford is a go-to person for Charles County Public Schools history. She knows everything about the county, and anytime I might fall into a pit hole, she always reminds me of the dangers ahead. I truly will miss Mrs. Hungerford.”

Of the many hats she’s worn in CCPS, “all had unique challenges and benefits,” Hungerford said. “Being a classroom teacher was — on a day-to-day basis — the most rewarding.” Being a member of instructional learning team (ILT) allowed her to share ideas and talents with a broader group of peers while seeing growth and success schoolwide among staff and students. The same can be said about being a director.

“I guess being a director was my favorite,” she said. “I had the chance to be an advocate and offer support across the entire elementary level, and hopefully made a difference for students and teachers, as well as the system in general,” she said. 

Hungerford and her husband are planning to relocate to Mount Pleasant, S.C., but intend to visit Charles County often. One of the things she’ll miss is the excitement that zipped through the school system when snow was in the forecast. Especially how students and staff “went crazy with anticipation” waiting for the announcement that schools were delayed or — better yet — closed for the day. “Now I’ll look forward to Kim Hudler, [elementary reading content specialist], keeping me well informed in the event of snow,” Hungerford said.

Good counsel
When her children were young, Kiessling was looking for a career that would give her the freedom to be with them as much as possible. She studied political science in college with plans to go on to law school. She had been a paralegal with the U.S. States Attorney’s office, but with young kids, that career would probably eat up too much of her time.

Teaching would free up summers and get her on a schedule like her children’s. Kiessling earned a teaching certificate and taught social studies at Matthew Henson Middle School for a year before moving to Mattawoman Middle School when it opened in 1995. She taught a year of Advanced Placement (AP) world history at Thomas Stone High School before deciding to go into administration. Going into administration wasn’t her first choice.

“I wanted to be a counselor,” Kiessling said. But after looking at how the training and practicum schedule was laid out at the time; it didn’t fit into her life easily. When her husband suggested she could probably do as much good and have opportunities with an administrative degree, Kiessling went back to school at night and changed paths.

She took a job as an assistant principal first at Mattawoman before moving to the role at John Hanson Middle School. She was named principal at Hanson and next at General Smallwood Middle School. From there, she segued into the role of CCPS director of student services.

Despite her initial reservations about going into administration, it was Kiessling’s favorite role in her 30-plus years in education. “I truly appreciated working closely with the kids and their families as an administrator. I felt my biggest asset was in working with the more challenging students. I was able to form relationships with not only them but their families,” she said. “I felt very comfortable working with kids who were having difficulties emotionally and behaviorally and being able to help them.”

As the director of student services, she was able to continue working with students and families. “It’s kind of in that wheelhouse,” Kiessling said. “It’s where I feel most comfortable.” It makes sense given that Mike Blanchard, Psy.D., CCPS supervising psychologist, described Kiessling’s leadership style as “compassionate and approachable.”

Kiessling and her husband plan to travel and spend time with their three children, eight grandchildren as well as her parents who live near the beach in Fenwick, Del. Kiessling said she’ll miss the people of CCPS. “It’s bittersweet. I will always think fondly of CCPS,” she said. “At every school I have worked at and here at central office, there are amazing people who are so skilled and talented at their jobs and professions, and I respect them immensely.”

Kiessling said she has met hundreds of people throughout her career who work for the school system who are dedicated to students. “Their goal and their mindset are really to support kids,” she said. “Those are the people who make such a huge difference in the system. I truly believe we have so many of those people in this school system. It makes me proud of CCPS.”

About CCPS

Charles County Public Schools provides 27,765 students in grades prekindergarten through 12 with an academically challenging education. Located in Southern Maryland, Charles County Public Schools has 38 schools that offer a technologically advanced, progressive and high-quality education that builds character, equips for leadership and prepares students for life, careers and higher education.

The Charles County public school system does not discriminate on the basis of race, color, religion, national origin, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, age or disability in its programs, activities or employment practices. For inquiries, please contact Dr. Mike Blanchard, Title IX/ADA/Section 504 Coordinator (students) or Nikial M. Majors, Title IX/ADA/Section 504 Coordinator (employees/ adults), at Charles County Public Schools, Jesse L. Starkey Administration Building, P.O. Box 2770, La Plata, MD 20646; 301-932-6610/301-870-3814. For special accommodations call 301-934-7230 or TDD 1-800-735-2258 two weeks prior to the event.  CCPS provides nondiscriminatory equal access to school facilities in accordance with its Use of Facilities rules to designated youth groups (including, but not limited to, the Boy Scouts).