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Q: Information that's kind of biographical. First off, my name, of course, for the records, is Craig Rowland and you are George Atwell.
(Streamed audio file of interview for this question using RealPlayer)
A: That's correct.
Q: And the date, of course, is November 14, a holiday here. And one of the first things I need to find out from you. Your experience, was that in Loudoun County?
A: In Loudoun County.
Q: During what time period, were you administrator in Loudoun.
A: Well, I was principal of Loudoun Valley High School from 1965-1970. And I was an elementary principal at Hamilton Elementary School from 1961, I'd guess, to 1969.
Q: So, back then, of course, Loudoun,...of course, this really is starting to change a whole lot in Loudoun. I go out to Leesburg once in a while, ...
A: It's changing quite a bit. I guess in those days we had two high schools and now we have four and we're building another in a couple of years. Probably nine or ten thousand students, maybe not that many. (Inaudible) 14,000, closer to 15,000.
Q: The purpose of this, of course, is for the archives of the oral history project at Virginia Tech which is an ongoing thing. I think that at last count there were sixty tapes, interviews already made. So, each time a class goes through, some are added to it. But I know that Dr. Carlton said he was getting a transcribing machine. Some people do it themselves, some people hire it out. Basically, to continue with some biographical information, where did you grow up? What's your hometown?
A: I grew up in Loudoun County, graduated from the old Leesburg High School, which no longer exists. Some people have asked me " have you spent all your life in Loudoun county?" and I say no, not yet, I haven't.
Q: It's beautiful country out there. I ride the bike trail there quite a bit. It really is nice. You can see a change from real urban settings to something more rural. It's beautiful, especially in the fall and the spring. Which college did you graduate from?
A: I got my bachelor's degree from the University of Maryland, in 1955, I guess it was. I got a master's in educational administration from what is now James Madison University which was still Madison College in those days, and then graduate work at VPI, UVa, Columbia University, University of Michigan.
Q: I have a sister who is older than I am who went there when it was still Madison College. I remember going up there. Now I have a nephew there and it's like two different worlds up there.
A: In the early 1960s about the only men students were in the graduate program. There were very few men students on the campus.
Q: Where did you get your first teaching job?
A: My first teaching job was in a Loudoun County high school. I taught business subjects - business math, general business, bookkeeping, business law, economics, senior math. In summer school I taught U.S. history, U.S. government, world geography.
Q: Wow. The whole gauntlet there.
A: Almost everything but home economics and Latin.
Q: How long were you in the classroom?
A: I was in the classroom at County I think for five years. And then I moved on to Hamilton Elementary School, I was principal there. And in those days, it was a small school, we had about 200 students, grades 1 through 7. That was before the middle school had come on the scene and I was require to teach half a day. So I was principal half a day and teacher half day. In the teaching there, for four or five years, we did some team teaching with the classroom teachers. And I taught as far down as fourth grade. Some of the teachers didn't like to teach math or he didn't want to teach geography or something. I was assigned the seventh grade and I would go down and teach fourth grade math. And they would come up and teach, maybe maybe seventh grade English if that was their strong suit. And I did that all the way through, fourth, fifth, sixth and seventh grade. One year I had a difficult situation in first grade. I couldn't find any teachers. Those little kids that year, just had a tough time. So, one of the things I did in my half day that I wasn't supposed to be in the classroom, I would take reading groups out of the first grade, bring them up to my office and work with them, and try to see that they didn't get too far behind. That was interesting, it was a lot of fun and, as a matter of fact, I still have parents today that I run into to who thank me for doing that in order to help their kids along. So I kind of claim that I taught from the first grade all the way through. One year I taught school budgeting for VPI Telestar graduate students. So I have taught from first grade all the way to graduate school.
Q: We've kind of covered some of these things I was going to ask you about: before you got started in administration, we've sort of covered that; the schools at which you worked. So, when did leave Loudoun County schools?
A: I retired from the central office last July, 1987.
Q: What did you do up at the central office?
A: Well, when I left the high school in 1970, I guess, I went into the central office as Director of Business Finance. I held that title until 1978 or 1979. Then I was given the title of Assistant Superintendent of Business and Finance. I retired as Assistant Superintendent [of Support] Services.
Q: I see, you've kind of done a little bit of everything. Truly rose through the ranks completely.
A: Really, my bachelor's degree was in accounting and business administration. I came into teaching through the back door. I liked it. Did all my course. Spent a year and a half to upgrade my certificate, at that time. In those days you could get a collegiate certificate, which meant that you had a college degree. Then if you had nine educational hours, you were called a collegiate professional. That was what was needed, at that time, to get on the regular pay scale, and then you could move on from there. I like it and stuck with it. I spent thirty-one years in the school system, in the public schools, and enjoyed everyone of them.
Q: That's great. That really... I know because the reason it really struck home with me is because I know the gentleman who was here before Dr. Spillane, Mr. Burkholder. He had been somebody who had started out, when he was out in further parts of Virginia, he started out as a bus driver. Of course, he had to come up through the classroom and, as a matter of fact, supposedly I taught in the same classroom as he did at Bush Hill Elementary. I could claim some of, a little bit of that. But then he rose all the way up through the ranks to Superintendent. It's always interesting to see that. Because I could tell a big difference between yourself and a Dr. Spillane, somebody who came from outside, they have a little different feel. It can be a strength and a weakness.
A: I know Dr. Burkholder, I worked with him a little bit over the years. Of course, being next door in Loudoun county back over the years we had opportunities to work together, and Jack Davis, Mike Cahill and I traveled to a lot of national meetings together. As a matter of fact, his wife one of our elementary principals, just prior to their moving to Richmond. (Inaudible)
Q: Well, being so close, and a lot of these people have been around the County and done higher level things for a long time.
A: And there's Eisenhower, he's in personnel. I never worked too much with him, I think a time or two we called each other over an application, or . . . I never drove a bus. That was one thing I never did. I cooked, in the . . . When I was elementary principal we only had one cook. The cook was about sixty, and my cook was out sick a couple of days. As an administrator, we always had to keep an emergency meal on hand, so hot dogs and baked beans were the order of the day when cook was out.
Q: Wow. That's something different than it is now. I tell you. It surely it. I guess the next question I'd like to go to is why did you decide to become a principal?
A: Quite honestly, in those days it was financial. The teacher scale topped out rather early and if you wanted to make a little more money you had to either drive a bus or become a principal. I guess I decided to become a principal. I guess I decided to become a principal. I liked administration. When I was a high school teacher, the principal there gave me some extra duties. I enjoyed that.
Q: I guess having the business background and so forth was a lot of it.
A: I really didn't put that part of it into much use until I got into the central office. But, as a matter of fact, the Superintendent that hired me to teach knew that I had an accounting background and one of the extra jobs that he gave me during the summer was auditing the school books, each of the internal activity books. That had never been done to that point. A couple of school principals have asked me to do that for their own satisfaction and protection. The Superintendent hired me to do that during the summer and I did that for five, six, seven years, anyway. Until I went into the high school and that was a 12-month job. As an elementary principal, it was only a nine month job..
Q: It's like a teaching contract?
A: Yes. I think we were paid--oh I forget now--it was something like an additional twenty dollars. No, I guess it was an additional $5 per month per teacher. Then, when I started as a high school principal the number of teachers figured into the pay scale.
Q: Now, I think, it's pretty much set by what everybody else does what in the county, and so forth. I know that at one time it was the number of students. Now they've changed that some because of the proliferation of special education, so it's now how many people you supervise. It's kind of going back to the number of teachers.
A: Well, in public education those sorts of things repeat themselves about every twenty-five years.
Q: It seems to, doesn't it. I was wondering if you could describe for me your typical workday. How did you spend your time on a typical day?
A: I lived nine miles from the high school. And that nine miles was about a 12-15 minute drive. That gave me time to think of everything I wanted to do that day. That same drive back home in the afternoon gave me time to think of all the things that didn't get done. A typical day, . . . Bill Soul who was Chairman of the Education Department at the University of Virginia for many years had a little monologue about a typical day for a high school principal. Always started the day with how many substitutes did I have to have that day. I didn't personally get the substitutes, one of my assistants did that but I always wanted to know who was in the building as a substitute, as well as what staff members were not going to be there. Reviewed the schedule of the day particularly if it was Friday, activity schedules, pep rallies, buses leaving early for game trips, or something like that. I always wanted to be near the front of the building when buses were coming in. Sometimes you could tell what your day was going to be like by the attitude of the youngsters when they got off the bus. Checked in with the cafeteria, made sure that they made deliveries that day and no problems had to be solved there.
Q: I hear you basically saying a lot time just seeing that everything was in place.
A: That's right. My head custodian, my maintenance person, he arrived in the building about 5:30 or 6:00 every morning. Were we going to have any heat problems that day or any water problems or whatever. Checking out the building. I always liked to walk the halls in that time between when the students first started arriving and the first bell. Just made myself visible. Had a student transfer from McLean High School, I was standing in the hall one morning, and she came by and said, "Gee, you know, it's nice to put a face to the principal's name. The high schools I've been in in the past (maybe you'd better strike that - that was 20 years or more ago) the only thing we knew about the principal was a voice on the PA system." I had somewhere in the neighborhood of 1,000 students in grades 8-12. I always wanted them to know me. I never got to know the whole thousand of them, of course, but it helped to know. And being in a rural community like that I knew a lot of their parents. And teachers come by and say, "I've got this little problem, what do you think I ought to do about this?" You just make yourself available. Then I would make the announcements, during home room period.
Q: You never played sheriff. (That's right.) You mentioned, when you were describing a typical day, you talked about the assistant principal. Did you happen to have assistant principals with you?
A: I started with an assistant principal at Loudoun Valley, and then, before I left, I had two.
Q: How did you utilize these people? What kind of things did you have them do?
A: Well, we tried to break it to some degree with one that worked with teachers in the curriculum area, instruction and program, and one that worked in the administrative side of it, the buses, cafeteria, substitute teachers. Primarily the discipline, but discipline had to be handled at the moment. If any of us were busy, the other one would take up the slack and handle the discipline problem and have them come into the office. We shared ball games and night events, although I tended to be at most of them. Areas like that when I had two assistants--which everyone would like to cover dances, whichever one would like to cover the ball games.
Q: So you basically shared almost all responsibilities.
A: They're are a little bit more specialized now. There is an assistant for instruction, and for . . .
Q: Some places do break it like that. Of course, now here in Fairfax they have what they call the administrative aide who does a lot of the day-to-day operational type things, so it does change from county to county, and of course, from town to town. The next question I have for you is what would you consider your leadership philosophy or style.
A: I guess my style was one I've already said. I tried to make as few rules as possible because every rule I made, I had to enforce. I only made rules where I felt it necessary. As much hands off as I could with the staff. We didn't have as formal an evaluation system then as we have now, so I did a lot of my observations in the hallway. You can tell a lot about what goes on in the classroom by just casual observance. As far as the instructional programs were concerned, I wanted my band to be just as strong and as popular as the football game. I wanted my debate team people . . . they got state AA state championship one year, for me. I wanted a well-rounded school. I wanted the kids to have fun. We tried to have as much fun as we could. Sometimes, . . . Having youngsters of my own -- one is just graduating from high school now and one has been out quite a few years -- they put a lot more on the kids, requirements are much stronger, the graduation requirements are higher than they used to be, the pressures of getting into college are greater than they used to be. In my mind, I'm not sure that's all good. I'm not sure that high school kids ought to take college courses, advanced placement courses. My own kids have done it, but my daughter is a now a senior. Yesterday, for example, we got home from church, and I said what are you doing this afternoon, and she said "Homework, what else." Every free minute is spent on homework. She's taking advanced placement. She's taking honors. She is trying to have fun with some things, but the times not there.
Q: There's not as much time to be a kid.
A: That's right. Absolutely. And I think there needs to be a place for that in high school. But anyway. I wanted strong teachers, I wanted teachers who understood kids, teachers who worked with kids, I don't think there ever was a youngster I came in contact with in high school that could say I did not give him a second chance here, from a discipline point of view or whatever kind of problems they had. I think every youngster deserves a second chance. And I suspended as many as needed suspending. I tried to make it an environment that was pleasant and yet productive.
Q: Next question -- let me check my counter here to try to keep pace where I'm at - kind of deals along the same lines as philosophy, but a little more specific than that. How did you motivate teachers to perform better, to get on more committees, or how to motivate people in general.
A: I don't know. I guess maybe I never really thought of any kind of particular style or manner or method that I would use. It would depend on the individual. I had sixty-five to sixty-seven teachers, sixty-seven individuals just the same as kids are individuals. With some teachers, just casual comments about the casualty kids this year, that it is going to take a little more attention. We've been over the records and you know what they are. They are going to try to hide a little bit this year. There was one teacher that the only way that I could motivate him was because he was a retired army officer and I had to tell him one time that he didn't get to be a colonel in the army by disobeying orders, did you. He said no. I said, "Well you ought not to start disobeying orders now. Because I've just given you an order to do what it is I want you to do that you aren't doing." So it ranges the whole gamut.
Q: The pat on the back to... the other...
A: A pat on the back, that's right. There were a number of teachers that, for example, I asked them to stand out by the doors during the five minute bell ringing time. As I walked up and down the halls, there were some that were out there every morning. They deserved a comment, a good morning, or whatever. There were a couple of others, on occasion I had to go into the teacher's lounge and say, "hey, you're supposed to be down in front of room so-and-so.
Q: How did you feel about that when you had to do something like that?
A: You'd rather not, but it comes with the territory.
Q: How about with motivation as far as curriculum innovation, getting people to change what they're doing, to the new way of doing it, or a new style?
A: Again, as you develop a sort of a style for the school and, it has been said I guess in about every course I've taken over the years, that after a short period of time, the school does take on the personality of the administrator. After a while there are teachers who, in each department--I had a couple of teachers in the math department might come in and say, "We'd like to try this." O.K. fine. Let's go over it. What are the merits; what are the disadvantages. Try it. Other teachers would see that work and that would be one method of doing that. Then after we'd tried it, and we saw that it worked for those teachers and those students, the next year it might be, all right, I'd like this for the whole department. I encouraged my teachers to bring new ideas to me, just as working with the students, the student government, or the senior class. Have you got some new ideas; let's take a look at them. I was always one to say, if something looks good, we'll try it. If it doesn't work, we'll drop it.
Q: This sounds like something that trickled up from the teaching ranks. Was there anything that came from the central office; where they said, this is what you should be doing now. Do you take a different approach with that, or are you kind of the same way.
A: Well, I guess it would depend on what it was. If I didn't particularly agree with it, that was reflected in my attitude also.
Q: How hard it was put?
A: Even though we were a small school system at that time, we had central office instruction people who were involved with things. Then, we principals had the opportunity to participate in a state principals association, national meetings. It's one thing I give a lot of credit to Loudoun for, we were given the opportunity to do that. The second year I was a teacher, I had the opportunity to attend what was then the Virginia Education Association annual convention which included administrators. It was a big meeting, at the end of October. Everybody who had the opportunity looked forward to going. We were fortunate, in that respect. Teachers were given the opportunity to participate in meetings and conferences; to bring back ideas and encouraged to share them, as well as our central office people. The new math, for example, was coming into being when I was an elementary principal. We looked at some of those things and decided that we wanted to go slowly. And we did. And I'm glad that we did. Now, the swing of the pendulum, it has gone back to, everything is basics now. Let's get back to the basics. I like to think, in some instances, we kind of got too far away from that. As I said earlier, about every 25 years we come around full circle.
Q: Seems that way doesn't it. I was wondering about your decision making process. How did you go about making decisions. By decisions, I mean some of the larger decisions that you had to make.
A: One of the things that I wanted, let's say if it involved a particular student who was having a serious problem. I always talked it over with my assistant principal and the guidance counselor, and other teachers. I tried to talk to the people that were involved regardless of what it was. If it was a grading problem, that the parent had called in and felt that the student had not gotten the proper grade, then obviously the teacher was going to be involved in that. I wanted to know both sides, or every side of the story. If it was a problem in the athletic department, I wanted to hear what my coaches had to say, or anyone who had some input had to say. Then, the buck stops here. We make it and move on.
Q: Was there any kind of...I know you go to colleges and so forth and they have these models and so forth. Did you ever look on the Ivory Tower as some way to formulate a decision, or did you just kind of go with instinct?
A: Sometimes. I always felt, and still do, that if I can't learn something from somebody who knows more than I do, then I haven't fulfilled my day. And I don't care who that is. I don't care whether it's a professional person or someone who works with their hands. If they are doing something I can't do, I ought to be able to learn something from them. And I think role playing, going through the models, I think its good. You don't learn all the answers that way. A lot of the answers come from the seat of your pants, once you're . . .
Q: It's so quick, so fast, you don't have time to sit down and assign numbers to all the variables.
A: But I think I learned one thing though. Very seldom is there an occurrence that requires an immediate decision, a snap decision off the top of your head. Even when a teacher came and said that we've got a couple of kids in a fight down there on the other end of the building, I didn't often run. For two reasons. One, I never felt that two kids were really going to hurt themselves that badly. Two, when I was running, it created excitement, everybody else got excited. Had an incident one time, my assistant principal was standing in front of the office, talking to a teacher I suppose, then I saw him walking up the hall towards me rather deliberately, but not rapidly. And he walked up and said, Mr. Atwell, I believe we have a problem. I said what problem. Don, if we've only got one today, that's great. What is it? So and so teacher just choked whatever the boy's name was, down room, whatever it was. Really? Hurt him? Well, he's got finger marks around his neck. Well, let's go take a look. To make a long story short, it was an unfortunate situation that developed, as most times when you have a serious confrontation. I always thought that when a teacher and a student . . . chances were very good that it was a bad student and a bad teacher. Good teachers, in my opinion, never really had serious problems. They knew how to handle them themselves. As it turned out the mother boy (and the boy had done something that he shouldn't have done, and obviously the teacher shouldn't have done.) and the mother wanted to lynch everybody, right on the spot. She went to the superintendent. He worked with her a little bit, and he called me that night to stop by his office the next morning on the way to school, and he said I don't believe I can do anything more. It's all in your hands. You'll have to . . . .
Q: You'll have to figure this one out.
A: I'll have to figure that one out. Thanks a lot. But we worked it out. I really wasn't planning to recommend the teacher. This was in April or May, and I wasn't planning to mention the teacher for reappointment anyway. The parent . . . I wasn't going to fire him that day, but he wouldn't be back next year. So we kind of straightened things out. Those were the kinds of things that happened. Again, I never found that any problem came up that required my running down the hall or making a snap decision. Always took a minute or two to think things through.
Q: I was wondering, if I mentioned the words like power or authority in relationship to the principalship, what comes to your mind?
A: Well, I have always thought that the principal of a school needs to have authority within the guidelines of the central office administration. Whether it is discipline, curriculum, instructional program, working with teachers, don't put me in charge of something if you are not going to give me the authority to make it work. Don't give me something to do and then tell me you are not going to let me do it.
Q: How about with - there are always different levels of authority. I guess it goes back to that other question we talked about earlier, about philosophy and so forth like that. Generally people only allow themselves to be . . . to have authority over them. Did you ever run into anybody who actually very much resisted yourself. How did you handle that?
A: Oh, sure. In the one instance with the retired army colonel, I had to speak his language, get his attention with what he understood. If a situation developed where we obviously were not going to live with each other's quirks all the time, a change had to be made. Some of this goes back to what I said earlier. I guess, I had kind of a hands off approach. And I've always done that even when I wasn't a principal, when I was in the central office: payroll people, book keeping people, maintenance people, transportation people. Trying to get the right person to do the job. All right, here's your job, you do it. You don't need me breathing over your shoulder every day. Can't do it. Give yourself a chance, but can't do it. I'll replace you with somebody else. To me, I think it worked.
Q: So you got the right person in the right place and let them go with it?
A: Let them go. If they've got ideas I haven't had, fine; let's do the job the way it needs to be done. If I've been doing it this way, and you come along, and look at it and say, hey, I can do it better over here doing it another way, a short cut. I've got a better method. Fine, that's your job.
Q: How did you deal with the ineffective teachers?
A: Got rid of them.
Q: How did you go about doing that? I mean was there a procedure.
A: Tried to work with them. If it was a new teacher, just coming in at the beginning of the year, it didn't take too long to begin to realize that that person was going to have some problems. By the first of November, you pretty well had got your mind made up or at least I did. I tried whatever was available to help the teacher. I spent many hours working with teachers, my job was to help not to hinder, asking them to work with other teachers, asking the central office people to come in and work with them. Then we had either made some progress by January or February, or we hadn't. If we had made some progress, why going.
Q: So long as they were working hard and trying to improve you felt you could stay with them? Did you ever run into a situation, you kind of touched on it earlier when you talked about the first grade situation, where you kind of went through several different teachers, maybe not with one particular grade level, but maybe 3-4 different teachers at a time where you just, for some reason or another, you lost several of them.
A: Well, of course, in a high school you go through a lot of pain for that. I think one year I had somewhere between fifteen and eighteen new teachers added in sixty some. That kept me on my toes, probably kept all of us on our toes, to see who to needed the help most, the ones that needed more help, and so on. Finally with some, in terms of time, in March or April, certainly along in there in order to be fair to everybody, we'd call them in and say, you know, we've done all these things that we think are necessary, at least we can do. We've asked you to be certain things, for whatever reason at the time, and you haven't been able to do that. After a certain number of words, we are going to have to have a parting of the ways.
Q: Thanks for bearing with me on the technical part. I guess the next would be as being a principal as far as an organization of the school goes, I know you had a typical tenth grade English, eleventh grade English, etc., but as far as how you organized the school as far as committees and other little things that need to get done...was there a need for that? How did you handle that?
A: From time to time there were several things that required committee work, depending on what the subject was. You tried to, or at least I tried to involve, not everybody under the sun, but a nice workable a group that tried to cover all the bases. There were times when I put the committees out there and let them do everything they could do and bring the bring a report back to me, and it was still my decision to make. A technical decision. We went through the evaluation, the southern association high school evaluation, one of the years that I was there. Of course, that was the year before the [self] study. An awful lot of time was spent preparing this other study which I guess, as I look back on those things now, that may have been, probably was, the most valuable part of going through the evaluation process; in committee for a three or four days, and we spent x number of hours, observing, where, in the first place you get best Sunday suit on and then come in . They go through their checklist, write up their report, a few months later you get it back, the school board reads it, and nods, and that's the end of it, by and large.
Q: That sound like the relatives coming to visit, right?
A: Yes. Well, I've been on those visiting committees. I've been one or those that went in for 3-4 days and tried to . . . but anyway. . . .
Q: Did you have a model person or a mentor that you kind of styled yourself after?
A: I guess the first principal I worked for in Loudoun County High School was a man that involved himself in everything which I tried to pick up on, because I thought I should note everything. He worked hard; he put in the hours that were necessary to do the job. His style was a little bit more dictatorial, I guess, as an administrator. I think that that sort of thing comes out of your personality as much as anything else. Your personality dictates the kind of person you are. The first superintendent that I worked for was an educator in the old time sense of the word. When he took over the Loudoun County school system, in 1914 I guess it was, he had about 104 schools, essentially many of which were one-room schools. There were 7-8 high schools. When he retired 40 years later, there were 24-25 elementary schools and one high school because of the consolidation. There used to be a saying around the state when he was superintendent that the state of Virginia ran the school systems in the state, but Oscar Henry ran the school system in Loudoun county. I guess in forty years, you can do things like that.
Q: There were, of course, were quite a few people throughout the state that had been in that position for a number of years. That's quite a tenure there.
A: Mr. Woodson down here, was here for a long time. He was going about the same time as Mr. Henry. Mr. Quarrels over in Winchester. They were people that I thought did things correctly, they did them right. They used good common sense, there judgment was good. And I hope that I came somewhere close to that. .
Q: I hear from yourself a lot of times that you you would check with a lot of people and see what they're thinking and get a lot of different ideas. Where those people along the same lines.
A: To a degree. I can't ever recollect either one of them making a decision, particularly where I was involved, where I didn't know what the decision was going to be before it was made. As I have told people whether in school, in church, or anywhere else, don't surprise me. I don't like surprises.
Q: You don't want to pick up the phone and get blasted off your ear?
A: Some things don't always work out that way. Where you have the opportunity, don't surprise me, don't blindside me.
Q: I can imagine. I tell you, there's enough of that going around without anyone conspiring to do that to you.
Q: Let me talk more about schools in general. What do you think are the ingredients necessary to make an effective school?
A: Good teachers. I used to tell my teachers, and maybe I shouldn't repeat this because I'm not sure I really need to now, but in my early years, I was guilty of saying that I could take most anyone and put them in a room with the outstanding students and the students will learn. It takes a good teacher to take the less than outstanding students and have them accomplish things. A lot of times, and I tell the school board when then get off on sewer line, right of ways, color of brick to put in a new building, what kind of equipment to put on the school bus, and say it's all in the name of educating boys and girls. Because that's the purpose. That's why we're all there. And I told my payroll people that; I told my bus drivers that, I told my cafeteria staff that, I told everybody that has ever worked for me don't ever forget the reason that we are here, and that's the boys and girls. If you loose sight of that, if the payroll department thinks they have the most important job in the school system, and start messing things up, they don't need that. Good teachers and knowing why.
Q: The purpose there. Okay. What advice do you give to somebody who's just entering, say, administration.
A: Hang loose. I don't know. I've given advice. It's such a broad area that you're talking about. I have told the classes that I've taught, the school finance or budgeting VPI at George Mason, the more informed you are, the better administrator you're gonna make. In my school finance classes, we talk about a lot of things that aren't directly related to finance, and I know they are taking other courses, too, but the more you know, about the whole school system, the better administrator you're going to be. If you're an elementary principal, you need to know what's happening in the middle schools and the high schools. A high school principal needs to know what's generally, basically, what's happening. Everybody needs to know what's happening in special education. Everybody needs to know what's happening in vocational schools. Everybody needs to be aware of the big problems faced by the school board. The teacher who isn't informed on why the school system is asking for a bond issue isn't going to help. An administrator who doesn't understand the local taxing structure isn't going to be of any great benefit at budget time. And these people should know, because a lot of parents are going to ask them questions. Do we really need this bond issue? I don't like this tax increase; why is the school board asking for what translates into x number of cents increase on the tax rate. You need to be able to help.
Q: So, being informed is probably one of the most important things. Along that line, because you're talking about communicating with other people, every work place has an informal network. Did you use the informal network to your advantage, or how did you deal the informal network?
A: Somebody would sidled in and said, hey, do you know what's going on? Tell me what's going on. I would evaluated that information based on the circumstances, who was involved, and sometimes I didn't know, and yeah, I needed to know. Now, if it involved an individual and that individual said, how did you know about this, who told you, I'd say that's not important. The important thing is, do we have a problem? How do we get that problem solved? However, I found that out, I'm principal and I'm supposed to know these things.
Q: Ordained. OK. That's a good point because what I'm hearing you say is that it's not so much to deal with the blame and who's going to do this or that, but just take some action. Let's not point any fingers, let's just deal with it. That's good advice.
A: It always worked.
Q: Two part question. I'll go through the whole things and then I'll come back and cut it down for you. What were you happiest to be leaving at retirement and what were you most reluctant to leave? So I guess the first part is what were you happiest to be leaving behind as an administrator, the part I guess you didn't like the most about the job.
A: The obvious answer is having to deal with the problems although there are some problems that are challenges. One of my staff members used always to say, this is no problem it's an opportunity. I guess at some point, . . .
Q: Especially when it's the fiftieth problem of the day. You have enough opportunities.
A: There were some things, particularly in dealing with youngsters, I always thought youngsters were a challenge to a degree, maybe more than just to a small degree. To keep them between the fence posts, heading in the right direction whether it is what they are studying, whether it's a discipline problem, home problems. People are the same, whether they're a six-year old in first grade or somebody ready to retire from the classroom. Some of the problems are going to be the same. They're people, they're human beings. Each one is a dealt with a little bit different, recognizing the strengths of the individual and helping them with their weaknesses.
Q: The problems are problems were the kind of thing that you enjoyed.
A: I always enjoyed being in the middle of things, where decisions were being made. I wanted to be where the action was. I guess one of the reasons, too, I said money. That was one of the reasons I went into administration. I think the thing I missed and always have missed is the association with the youngsters. I would much rather have been a classroom teacher all my life than having to make the decisions to go over into administration now. Maybe I'm talking a bit out of both sides of my mouth there. Boys and girls are the school system. I enjoyed teaching and always have enjoyed teaching. Teaching a class at George Mason, I thoroughly enjoy it. Absolutely looked forward to every one of them. Because, as you can probably tell from my talk, I don't have an awful lot (inaudible). But I still work with young people. I have a teenaged daughter. I teach a Sunday school class of young adults. I work with college fraternities because I enjoy seeing young people move from one step to another and hope that there is some improvement as they go along. I told my high school when I left, they gave me a party, I wouldn't take anything for the experience of having been here nor would I give one thing to repeat it.
Q: That's pretty good, I like that. That's real good. I guess my final question is is there anything that I haven't asked that maybe I should have?
A: One of the things that I thought you might ask was some of the differences I've seen over the years, not that they're important. Everybody sees change take place. Some of it's good; some of it's bad. One of the things that I used to tell my principals when I was in the central office, one of the responsibilities was the internal activity fund, school bookkeepers, the principal, the whole . . . among many other things. You don't want to read about it on the front page of the local newspaper.
Q: Let is slide by and everybody else will find out.
A: If you're thinking about doing something and you don't want it to be headlines on the front page of the paper, then you're going to have to . . .
Q: Let me ask you this along the lines of maybe some things we didn't cover. When you talk about changes and the way of things still come. What do you think about merit pay or career ladders?
A: I have two thought about that. I think people ought to be paid--regardless of what profession or job--I think they ought to be paid what they're worth on some scale of amount. Now, how do you determine that? We are so locked in, I think, in public education, as a result of what's taken place over the however many years previously, I don't know how we're going to break out of it. I feel that merit pay is attainable. Number one you've got to have enough money to go around. You can't say that 10% or 2% or x number are going to get it. That'll kill it at the very beginning. The goals for that merit system have got to be clearly understood and they've got to be attainable. And you've got to have some kind of effective appeal procedure. Because what kind of a system do you have if you've got somebody who says I should have gotten and I didn't get. You've got to give somebody a system that can review that person's appeal and make a decision that most everybody is going to be happy with. You are not going to make that person particularly happy if he didn't get it. But at least you have to have something that will make them feel they were fairly treated. They might not agree with it, but they got a fair shake in talking to somebody. One of the biggest complaints I've heard from teachers is that just as teachers and everybody else has their personality, the administrator has his personality, too. I guess none of us should really want to be put into a spotlight of evaluation. It's just human nature that we don't want to. So when it happens, you are naturally going to have a certain defensive attitude towards it. Teachers don't want to be evaluated by principals because they know there are personality conflicts in some instances. Teachers don't want to have the principal the sole or major part of the evaluation. Some teachers are not going to want to be evaluated by their peers. Some don't think they want to be evaluated by an outside source. It's a little different than some of the other professions that the results of an individual's accomplishments, skills, aren't so readily visible. If an attorney goes into a courtroom and loses a case, that's obvious. If a surgeon loses a patient on the operating table, that's obvious. But if a teacher loses a kid this year, it may not be obvious for three of four more years down the road. There are inherent differences in that profession as opposed to other professions which make it that much more difficult. I think it's attainable, but it's not going to be easy getting there.
Q: I'd like to thank you for taking time out to come and see me here. I know you have many things to do, so I don't want to hold you up any longer. Myself, I know I have to get back to work. Thank you.
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