Claire Watkins, a friend of mine, devoted over three decades to education in Wales after relocating to Newport in the 1970s. She was appointed the headteacher of Maindee Infants School in the 1980s, where she encouraged bilingualism and trained other schools in the Joan Tough teaching methodologies. Under her leadership, Maindee Infants School became the first infant school to obtain the Schools’ Curriculum Award in 1982. The award was created by the Society of Education Officers and the editorial advisory panel of Education magazine to honor curriculum design and teaching.
In 1991, Claire joined the Gwent County staff development unit as an adviser to nursery and primary schools. By the late 1990s, she had completed the training program to become an inspector of primary schools for Estyn, the Welsh equivalent of Ofsted.
Houston, Texas, was the birthplace of Claire, the daughter of Emma (nee Vestal) and Emile Emmott, a banker. She acquired a BA in elementary education and English from Baylor University in Waco, graduating in 1963. After graduation, she relocated to California and wedded her childhood sweetheart, Alfred Hildebrand, who was studying at Stanford University, in 1964.
In 1967, they moved to Darmstadt, Germany, because of Alfred’s work, and Claire taught primary-level children at the American military school there. After two years, they returned to California, where they adopted Elizabeth and Adam. Claire’s children attended a preschool at Stanford University that was grounded on active research into child development by prominent scholars such as Jerome Bruner and Lilian Katz. Claire was significantly influenced by their work, and she later invited Katz to Wales as part of the continuing professional development of teachers.
Claire’s marriage to Alfred ended in divorce, and after meeting Richard Watkins, a Welsh rugby coach who was studying film at Stanford, she relocated to Newport in 1974 when he returned to Wales. They married but divorced in 1988. Claire worked at several primary schools in Newport, including St Julian’s Infants School, where she often spoke of her time, and Alway Infants School, where she served as deputy headteacher.
I encountered Claire at Maindee in 1988 when I was searching for schools for my children. I was so impressed with Claire that I offered to volunteer at the school for an afternoon every week. In the following term, a vacancy arose in the school for a reception class teacher, and Claire persuaded me to apply. She became a close friend and a mentor in my career.
Claire grew up in a Southern Baptist family, but she became a devoted member of the Quakers after being introduced to them through her husband’s family. She was also introduced to Community House, a Welsh Presbyterian church led by the Rev. Cyril Summers, while at Maindee. After retiring from teaching in 2006, she became a trustee of Community House when it became a charity.
Elizabeth passed away in 2020. Claire is survived by Adam, seven grandchildren, and four great-grandchildren.