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March 16, 2006

Chief of deaf school says time to enjoy life

From: Press-Enterprise - Riverside,CA,USA - Mar 16, 2006

RETIREMENT: Harold Kund, who's dealt with complaints and a protest recently, cites his health.

12:17 AM PST on Thursday, March 16, 2006

By ROBERT P. MAYER / The Press-Enterprise

California School for the Deaf, Riverside, Superintendent Harold Kund announced his retirement Wednesday at a time when the school is in turmoil.

Kund, 63, cited health reasons and a desire for more leisure time for his decision to leave the school where he's worked for 30 years, the last five as its superintendent.

"I've been preparing for it for a long time," Kund said. "I just really believe that if all you focus on is work, you're losing a large portion of your life."

The school -- one of two public deaf schools in the state -- serves deaf students from throughout Southern California.

Kund's announcement coincides with a period of upheaval that includes the firing of the director of instruction after less than a year on the job, student protests, high employee turnover, and staff complaints of poor communication and intimidation on campus.

The recent incidents have prompted Kund's boss, Ron Kadish, the state administrator in charge of special schools, to leave his Sacramento office and spend time at the Riverside school to evaluate and address the problems.

"(Kund has) served this school well in a variety of roles," Kadish said. "This school needs new leadership, new direction, and a full-time superintendent, so I support his decision."

Kund's health problems kept him increasingly away from school.

Kadish, now in his second week at the Riverside school, said he's confirmed problems of poor communication and intimidation.

"This school has tremendous potential," Kadish said. "But I think some of the systems are broken and out of control and they haven't been tended to properly and they need to be dealt with."

Kadish said he begins an immediate nationwide search for a replacement, a challenging task given the national shortage of qualified leaders. Kund will remain on the job through the end of the school year.

"Quite frankly, these jobs are quite complex and quite demanding, and many individuals aren't interested in them," Kadish said.

He won't rule out an internal replacement, but no one has expressed an interest in the position, he said.

Kund arrived at the Riverside school in 1974 from the Illinois School for the Deaf, where he started a part-time job during college.

"I found it so intriguing and I was able to pick up sign language very rapidly," Kund said. "I just had a natural ability for it."

Since becoming superintendent in 2001, Kund said he tried to improve conditions for the 500 deaf students at the school.

He said he increased the proportion of deaf teachers at the school to 65 percent, up from the 30 percent when he began his position.

In addition, he said he's put more deaf people in leadership positions around campus, as well as developed a centralized student counseling center.

But the tension that plagued his predecessors tripped him up as well, he said.

Rachel Stone, the school's first deaf superintendent, was fired in 2001 after 18 months. She was accused of creating an environment hostile to hearing teachers and staff.

Kund attributed part of the problem to a cultural battle between the deaf and the hearing at the school.

"Every group has their own agenda and if you don't meet their agenda, they attack," Kund said.

He said he looks forward to embracing his hobbies of fishing, reading, traveling and spending time with his grandchildren.

"I just think it's time for me to go enjoy my own life," Kund said.

Reach Robert P. Mayer at (951) 368-9455 or

© 2006, The Press-Enterprise Company