By J.M. Brown
Carol Kitchens' memories of Catholic school aren't typical.
Instead of complaining about tough nuns, strict rules and required uniforms, the principal of Moraga's Campolindo High School said attending Catholic school in her native San Francisco actually made her love school.
"They were wonderful teachers — that was their life," Kitchens said. "They were very good role models. You had a respect for them. I just had teachers who loved learning, and they gave me that energy and passion."
Those qualities have endured through a career of more than three decades, and the 58-year-old Kitchens was recently named California's 2009 Secondary Principal of the Year by the Association of California School Administrators. She will be presented with the award at the association's November leadership summit in Sacramento.
Campolindo was recently named one of California's Distinguished Schools, and the Acalanes Union High School District has the highest API scores — a measure of academic performance and growth — of any high school district in the state in 2008.
Dennis Regalado, director of the district's adult and alternative education programs, said he nominated Kitchens for the award because "I know how dedicated she is and how hardworking she is."
Regalado, who has known Kitchens for 14 years, said she is laser-focused on maintaining high academic standards for the school while also developing its visual and performing arts programs and supporting its athletics department, which has spawned several Olympians who participated in last year's Beijing games.
The best utensil in Kitchen's pantry, Regalado said, is her sense of humor. He said she lightens the mood just enough to make staff and students feel at ease and want to achieve the highest aims for the school.
"She creates a sense of family, and anybody who knows her knows she has a great laugh," Regalado said. "She has a great sense of humor and is very personable, and that comes across with the students."
Kitchens said she is honored to have received the award.
"When you work hard and people recognize that, it makes you feel good," she said in a recent interview. "This is a great community. They really support the schools."
Kitchens received her bachelor's degree from San Francisco State and earned her master's degree in education leadership at Cal State Hayward. She taught in Piedmont schools for 17 years before becoming dean at a school in Pleasanton.
She came to Acalanes 14 years ago, and was assistant principal at Campolindo for five years before becoming principal at the 1,400-student campus in 2000. She served a stint at Harvard University's program for principals and went to Argentina on a Fulbright Scholarship.
Kitchens is married to Richard Kitchens, a vice principal in Piedmont schools, and has two daughters, Susannah and Caroline Levy, who graduated from the University of Arizona.
Despite all of the challenges facing educators this year with record-high state budget cuts, Kitchens said she is having just as much fun at school as she always has.
"I enjoy students so much," she said. "There's something about that excitement, when that new freshman class comes in they are so cute and so excited. I get to watch these students grow."