This is an interview with Norm Bradford, Educator for Fairfax County, most recently retired from Madison High School as Principal. During his tenure some of the outstanding awards that he was given was The Washington Post Distinguished Education Leadership Award. He was also named Fairfax County Administrator of the Year.
Q: Mr. Bradford, I appreciate very much you taking the time to share with us your experience as an administrator in Fairfax County and again thank you for taking this time to share with us. if you could tell us how many years you've served in education up until this point.
A: John, I served 28 years in the Fairfax County Public School system, eight as a teacher, thirteen as an assistant principal, I think seven as a principal. Yes, seven.
Q: What prompted you to go into education as a career?
A: I fell into education in somewhat of a vicarious manner. I came home after the Korean War, out of the service, and went to work for a year at a local electrical power company. And, I was up a pole one day with a gentleman who had been climbing electrical poles for seventeen years and after we had made a hook up - it was in 3,600 volts - as a junior class lineman I had to start down the pole before he could make that final hookup, and when I started down the pole I looked back up and there was a tremendous illumination and what had happened was the senior class lineman had jabbed his pole in 3,600 volts. At that point, I realized there was a better way to make a living than he was experiencing - and came down, took my hooks off, put them on the back of the truck, came home and called my former high school football coach and said lets go to school.
Q: Well that certainly is an interesting way to get into the process of education, but one which I am sure we are grateful you did. As a teacher, I know you served in various positions, what events lead you to pursue the career of administration from the teacher's role.
A: I think the thing that I observed from some of the principals I worked under, was the lack of sensitivity on their part and I felt as though, if I had the opportunity perhaps I could do a better job. I, too, was always concerned with meeting students needs and felt as though there were times and situations where the principal was more concerned with his or hers, their, self image than with the kids and that's what we in education are supposedly all about - educating children - and I didn't see that in my younger years with all my principals. That was kind of a driving force - a challenge to get in and do better than I was observing.
Q: As a leader of a school unit, you attempt to create a climate for learning - What ways did you find unique to the Norm Bradford style that you would say you used to create that climate for learning?
A: I think, the things I have tried to do over the years, John, was to first of all and foremost let the student be the focal point of the entire educational process. I have two things that were paramount in my administrative years. The first was that I wanted every child in our building, every student in our building, to feel good about himself or herself; and secondly, I wanted that child challenged so that when they graduated or left us to go to another school, whatever the circumstances were; they had a good self image and felt as though they could achieve if and when they wanted to achieve. One of the things I learned a long time ago is that all of us learn at different rates and we will learn when we are ready to learn and not until then.
Q: Dealing with the public and the community, and school district is certainly an important role of the principal. What role do you find most effective and how do you find is the best way to handle public relations and community relations within the school?
A: John, I found that by maintaining an Open Door policy, by being available, by being there to hear the concerns of the students and the parents and the community leaders, including the business institutions; that if you compiled all that they were saying and would listen, that you could use all aspects of your school community, for the betterment of the school. To me it was always important. I had a very active parent advisory council when I was principal, it was always important for me to know what the mothers were talking about at the mushroom counter at the local grocery store on Thursday morning and that came back to me in many many ways. And, that was in some way a barometer to say our PR was working how well we were being perceived. What the kids were talking about at the dinner table and I used that as the barometer to judge what was going on within the school environment.
Q: I know you served as a principal in many different areas, the last school was Madison High School which was a strongly knit community based school. Did you find much difference there from another school that you served at that did not have that strong community identity. Vienna, Virginia and Madison High School go together and are in one and the same. Are there differences in dealing with those different types of situations? How would you asses those [differences]?
A: Yes, yes, there is a difference. John. The difference is that James Madison is Vienna's High School. The parents demanded a quality educational program and that they were willing to give endlessly of their time, financial assistance or whatever the school needed to bring that about. There was a strong self identification with the parents, kids, and Madison community. Madison had a well-defined school boundary. For the most part the kids were homogenous in the sense that they looked forward to coming to Madison they wanted to be at Madison, they fought to get in at Madison because of long standing traditions. Other schools that I have been in have boundaries that were not well-defined, boundaries in a sense that the parents truly believed in what was going on in the school and that there was a strong supporting role in behalf of the parents. if the parents couldn't believe in it, then it was impossible for the kids to believe in it. If a kid comes into the building in the morning not caring if she or he is there then you sense it in the instruction program that the kids do not get into the program, the learning aspect. That's the difference between Madison and a number of school that I have been in over the years. Kids came to school at Madison truly because they wanted to come there. I'll give you an example. Madison has the lowest drop out rate than any in Fairfax County, and has the lowest vandalism rate than any in Fairfax County, and has the lowest suspension rate than any in Fairfax County. Those things may not mean much to an outsider, but to a building principal and a faculty and to a community they mean a great deal because it means the kids have taken ownership of the building and want to participate in what is going on in the building. That's the difference.
Q: Part of that success though has to be from that type of leadership that is given to them from the top; certainly community and students wishing to be there certainly is a strong positive as far as running a building goes, but there has to be something that you bring together, tie that community and those kids together to a common focal point. Was there any particular strategy you used each year, a focusing point or goal of the year, that you might have had the entire school base work towards?
A: John, I think part of that, and I'll get to answer your question, a part of that was the way I attempted to bring into the faculty a feeling of self worth, into the students this feeling of self worth. I constantly preached and used the term 'Positive imagery. For example: If I were in the automotive shop, Just walking around seeing what was going on in the instructional program, and I saw a kid working on a car, one student working on a car, he might be down under, he might be working on a ball joint something like that, I would stand or watch with him and engage him in a conversation and I always made it a point that when I left there, I complimented him on doing a good job. Little things like that mean alot to kids and it takes a little time. I think as I walked throughout the building during the instructional day, I would see kids doing things. I would compliment them, would ask them what have you done good today for yourself and Madison High School? Kids come to expect that, and the thing that I learned about the third year I was a principal, I had been in assembly and on the PA complimenting the kids, working with them, and praising them, and building them up and seeing the results coming in their test scores - improving in their test scores - improving in their grades overall - seeing a drop in the absentee rate - some very positive signs and I remember one young man in a vocational course I was in, talking with the students addressing them with an issue, of which I long since have forgotten, but I do remember what one young man said to me. He said you really like being number one. I said I didn't know there was any other way to be and he said we kind of sensed that. That was coming from a student that was no way, would I say, involved in the academic program. He wasn't off to college he was just trying to survive but he bought into that program because what we were doing in the building. I kind of followed that kid through high school and he did very well, in fact, he is off and running. He probably will make more money than I'll ever make.
Q: You obviously have some very strong ways to draw students out and become active in their growth. Did you find working with teachers any more difficult? Did you use any strategy to help teachers set expectations and goals for themselves? How did you involve them in that process?
A: I did an assessment the first year I was at James Madison on teacher expectation, not expectations of students but of teachers expectations of themselves and the thing that I found there teachers did not have a good self image of themselves, and so we set about to change that. We changed that - made an effort to change that - in a number of ways. I started praising people. I started working with people, got people laughing at themselves where they had been afraid to laugh at themselves. Called in a number of speakers to speak on the power of positive speaking and positive imagery. We initiated some programs within the building. One of the things we did proved a tremendous value to us. We had the faculty advisory council and our department chairpersons at Madison were elected by the department not appointed by the principal. We gave the faculty a large degree of responsibility for input into budget matters, into master schedule. We got the social clubs very active. We just did a number of thing, John, in that manner. I think the bottom line was that we were trying, for the most part we were successful here, we were attempting, I'm going to say, we did create an atmosphere where people wanted to come to work. They might not have looked forward to come to work on Monday morning but by Tuesday they were back in gear and I think for the most part people really enjoyed being at Madison. We had very little turn over. I think in the seven years I was there we only had one teacher in seven years transfer, so it became a family is what it is. We instituted some programs through the social clubs, faculty advisory council, through the humanities club, which was made of the faculty. Made us a family.
Q: Certainly sounds like it. What do you think teachers expect from administration? What do you think they expect a principal to be?
A: I think it is probably a multitude of things that the teacher expects of a principal. I think foremost in any teachers mind is that they expect a principal to be competent, knowledgeable, not only the instructional issues and instructional program but also in other issues that relate to education. I think teachers expect from the principal a high degree of flexibility in the sense that they are willing to hear what the teacher has to say, hear their suggestions, be able to implement their suggestions, be able to weigh what the teachers are saying. I think teachers expect a principal to be fair in his evaluation. Let me insert something here, John, before I loose it. A long time ago I learned something and it came back to me when I became a principal. I used it in my dealings with the parents, teachers, and students. I always called it the Four F's. Dealing with people, I was always FIRM, FAIR, FRIENDLY, and FORGIVING, and I ran my school in part using those four F's. Those four F's probably did more for me in my relationships with my students, and teachers than anything I could have used, or any acronym I could have ever dreamed up in any of my dealings. There was another thing too, John, that I did which paid me big dividends; I could honestly sit before you and say that in all my years in education where I was dealing with teachers, I never once lost my composure. I may have lost it when they left the office and I may have gone back and beat my head on the desk with my fist, but I never did I demean, castigate or say anything that was not FIRM or relevant to any issue about a teacher or about another teacher in front of a teacher. I always tried to be extremely professional with a teacher as a human being. I also realize that on any given day any of us can have a bad day. I've never lost sight of that. I've had times when teachers have come into my office and literally explode, jump up and down, and I sat and took it and honored it and didn't react knowing full well in one or two days, they would be back saying they were sorry and were wrong, thank you for not coming down on me for my action. I guess what we really created was a family atmosphere and I was the patriarch and head of the family, and they became very comfortable with that.
Q: With your Four F's that you eluded to and also the mention of the family type of atmosphere, if you had to sum up a philosophical statement for your education would those two things fit in there and would there be anything you would add?
A: Yes, they definitely fit in there, I would say for the kids. I've often given alot of thought for my personal philosophy of education. I think for the students I always wanted to create ... create an environment where no student in the building felt as though he had been cast aside and did not count. I wanted every student in that building to be challenged, to be worked with, to feel as though he belonged there, that we wanted him there and felt that he did have something to contribute. That was pretty much my personal philosophy for education. I had a sign, John, under glass on my desk that I looked at every morning and probably was the last thing I looked at every night when I left. It was a picture of a young man and the caption on that picture said, I know I am somebody, because God makes no junk.That sums up my philosophy and I looked at it every morning when I came in. So come hell or high water, I didn't care how great the problem, when that young man or young lady came in, that picture was there in front of me and I always knew that there was some good in that young person in front of me, even though he may have done something I could have rung his neck for and come down on him really hard. I just kept that in the back of my mind.
Q: In your years of teaching and as an administrator you have seen alot of changes come about, come down the pike, as far as the evaluation process of teachers go. Today we are seeing merit pay performance evaluation and career ladders being implemented in our school system studied in others. What do you think or suggest change other than the new system we are coming back? How do you feel about performance evaluation, merit pay, career ladders?
A: I think there are alot of eyes in the nation and school system that are watching Fairfax County very closely. Merit pay, of course, is not new, tried in a number of instances where it has been successful, where it has been less successful far out-numbers the successes. I think, Dr. Spillane and his particular program under the Skillful Teacher, I think it has merit and will work. I think there are some wrinkles that got to be ironed out, but I think it is like anything new, John, and when we try to attempt to implement in education by change, teachers, educators in particular, are reluctant to change, and I think anytime that we attempt to bring about change and move people out of what I call a degree of comfortability you heighten or increase anxiety. What we are experiences now in the county is that influx or of anxiety. This too shall pass. I've been in education long enough. I remember about twenty years ago when Fairfax County first implemented teaching by objectives a totally new concept. I remember the anxiety we all went though when that edict came down from on high. Gosh, within two years there was no other way to do it. We were so comfortable with it. Merit pay may take a little longer to implement and catch on but there is no doubt in my mind that it is the new way in the future, it is here to stay. If it takes merit pay to get teachers in the the ranks back into the ranks of the professional, at a professional level, receiving a professional pay, there I can't do anything but endorse that because I have long believed them to be deserving. I have thought long and hard in my tenure not only as a teacher but also as an administrator to improve the lot of teachers. The quickest way and the best way that I know how to do that is to pay a teacher for a teachers work. I don't think a teacher should be overly concerned with it, afraid of it. I'm a firm believer in the system. I'm a firm believer in it and I think it will work.
Q: To change gears for a moment, effective school leadership is obviously no mere accident. It's well planned, coordinated attempt on the administrative staff to provide an environment which is conducive to learning on the students part and also to create an environment where teachers are anxious and interested to come to school every day. What is your personal leadership philosophy and why did you find it effective?
A: John, I guess my leadership philosophy is Someone once said to me you are a benevolent dictator and I guess that best describes me. The thing that all of us have to realize is that the principal, spelled with a capital The is held accountable and its good to assignments, delegate, if you will issues to be dealt with, concerns to be met but the bottom line is that the principal is held accountable. When the superintendent calls up, or the chairman of the school board, they do not say, I want to speak with the assistant principal or to the director of guidance, they say is he or she in? Aside from that I found most of the decisions that were made in my tenure, as the head, being the administrator, were made in consultation with my assistant principals and maybe even with the chairperson, and with whoever has the answer needed to be addressed and the answer to come forth. I attempted to share responsibility but at the same time I never wanted there to be any doubt in the students' mind, in the faculty's mind, or in the assistant principals' mind, as to who was in charge and who would make the final decision. .
Q: Obviously, all the decisions that would be made in a day in a secondary school can not be made by you. The ultimate decision, as you stated, is yours, but they all can not be made by you at any one time. Your assistant principal, guidance personnel, department chairpersons are all responsible for making those decisions. Let's focus on the assistant principal for a moment, what did you look for in an assistant principal that you would bring on board in your program?
A: First of all, I wanted someone who was literate and could have and intelligent conversation. Secondly, I looked for someone who had an expertise and knowledge in those areas where I felt I was short in. For instance, I knew I needed help in foreign languages. My background was limited, so when I hired an assistant principal, someone to work with foreign language, it was important to me that I hired someone who had a background in Foreign languages. We attempted, John, to bring in by looking at the big picture, bring in to the family someone who could work with the existing crew. We didn't want an oddball there. Sometimes when I interviewed I had an assistant principal in there, just in case I wasn't picking up on something of course the final decision being mine but I attempted to involve a number of people in the interview process. It's extremely important that an assistant principal be one who can carry on in the role of principal when the principal is tied up, one that is not afraid of making decisions. It needs to be someone that the building principal is comfortable with and knowing that he or she is going to make decisions and knowing that you do not have to worry about the decisions they make. So, when I was going through the interview process, I used to ask some questions, for the most part allowed me to get an inner look at people as to how they would react in crisis situations; what their thinking was about human relations, how they would deal with explosive situations, questions of that nature. So, when that person came aboard I was comfortable with them. I guess in the years I was a principal, I got to hire five or six assistant principals. I always wanted to hire people. I could see in them the characteristics they would need to display if and when they became a principal. I never wanted anyone in as assistant principal role or an administrative aide role, who with proper training could not become a principal. I never wanted it to be a dead end job.
Q: I am sure there were times when you were faced with the situation where you had to work with people you did not hire yourself may have been there in the existing situation. If a principal - lets even expand it to a teacher - was not being a contributing member of your team; what steps would you take to bring this person into the mainstream of your school community?
A: Oh well, the first thing we did, John, was to attempt to get them to buy into our policy of positive imagery, getting them really involved in the mainstream of teaching or administrating. If they were exhibiting qualities of poor teaching, of which there are many, at that point through the evaluation process, if they were not proving their worth as a teacher in particular, at that point we brought in the correction expert, area administrators, we started on evaluation process either those people got up off their duffers and started teaching or we suggested strongly to them that they might want to seek another source of employment because they were not being fair to he kids. Because the primary role of a teacher is to teach, and it is pretty hard to effectively teach if you are not in touch with yourself and feel good about yourself. I remember one situation where I had one person, who will remain nameless, and when I got there I was told this person was not out from behind her desk in four or five years, this person is a foreign language teacher, someone who should be very dynamic and energetic by the very nature of the course and it took about a year and a half, but there were some poor teacher qualities taking place, poor instruction strategies and all the other negative things we can think about a poor teacher, at that point that person chose to leave the teaching profession. There is NO room in the teaching profession for those who are there because it is a place to be. A teacher must be a teacher in the sense that he or she just gives endlessly of themselves, of their time, of their energies, and the bottom line is for the betterment of the student and the learning process.
Q: How did you handle teacher grievances?
A: John, in seven years as a principal I never had a teacher grievance. I did have one gentleman, one teacher who happened to belong to both of the teacher unions and he was concerned about a teaching assignment and the representative heard my side of the story and we showed it was black and white, and his representative sided with me indicated to the gentleman that he was wrong in what he was about to grieve, so the following afternoon he brought in his other union representative and he told him that same thing and that was as close to a grievance that I ever had. It's hard, John, to get into a grievance when you are under the Four F's: Firm - Fair Friendly - and Forgiving.
Q: Looking back, would you have any suggestions to a school system as to how - or how the education process as it stands - how can we improve education? Are there things that you can think of that we can build upon, that lay groundwork up to this point? How would you go about improving the educational program?
A: First thing that we have to get away from, John, is the thing the bigger the better. More really becomes less. To me the ideal school size is a 1,600 student body not a 2,400 one 2,500. I've been in a situation where I had 3,200 students at one time and the mere congestion in the halls does as much to deny the education process as anything we do. So I think there is a need for a re-education in the student/teacher ratio in certain classes not true in all classes but in certain classes. I think we've got to take a good look at what we call learning strategies or format learning. One of the things that I learned over the years, I read it in the books but never had observed, and I had the opportunity to observe that all of us have different learning styles and if you take a teaching style that does not match up to a certain type of learning style you can create what I call a synergy, where one and one do not equal two but equal something less and what I mean by all that is that you've got to match teaching style with learning style and for too many years with the educational process in the United States we've not done that. Kids learn at different rates. Teachers teach with different mannerism and different ways so we've got to take a good look at that. There is a program out now, there is a whole new strategy out now, that deals with that format and talks about left brain - right brain learning techniques of style and how you teach to that learning style. I think the other thing that we have got to take a look at is the role of the school itself - I eluded to awhile ago - more is less - there has got to come a time in the American educational system where those who are in charge of the educational process has got to deal with the fact that the American schools can not solve all of the evils of American society and as the years went by in my educational time I kept seeing more and more and more being heaped upon the schools - for the schools to deal with. You know a classic example, we are now in the county being faced with the pre-school, for a better term - babysitting - for both parents are working out of the home in order to keep the family viable in it's operational unit. Who do they turn to, they turned to he school where we will offer day care centers and that is sweeping throughout the nation. That is not just unique to Fairfax County. That's just one of the little changes that I have seen where more is becoming less. We have upped the graduation requirements. More requirements, less time for the kids to be into the electives. The students are very in tune to this, they know what the colleges are looking for. In some ways, John, I am almost sorry I will not be a young man twenty - twenty years from now with a plumbers license because I think the electricians, plumbers, and mechanics in the next few years will be making the big money because nobody else will know how to do it. We'll know some foreign language, know upper math, have advanced writing in composition, but I wonder who is laying the floor that is holding this table up and put the roof - the trusses on this building we are sitting in. In my opinion, in part, that is where the big money will be made in this country. I well perceive that day is coming when you will pay the plummer sixty or seventy dollars just to walk into your house and we are paying forty dollars an hour now. We are bringing that on ourselves.
Q: You seem to make a distinction between the technical preparation and practical application for students. Would you like to see education get back to more practical? We are in the day of the computer, the day of high tech development and you talk about plumbers and electricians people who work with their hands, tradesmen. Is there a place for the expansion of that program in education today?
A: By all means - we've got to, we've got to take a good look at the vocational aspect of the American educational process. Through here in the county where 82% to 86% go on to higher education, colleges, we are probably not as in tune at this point in the process as much as some of the mid western states - agrarian belts and industrial belts across the nation. But I think we have got to take a look at the effect that the college and universities in the demands that they are making on the high school students, what the fall out or back lash is going to be on our American youngsters years down the road. There is a definite need, there is a definite place for vocational education in the American school system.
Q: Teacher preparation in our colleges is a program that we've seen decline steadily throughout the years. What things are necessary to see a turnabout in that trend and how can we implement that to attract more qualified personnel, people that would not have considered education four or five years ago? Will do it today but they need some incentive, some change in the preparational system in the college.
A: I think education in the last fifteen years has had some bad PR, bad publicity. We face a crisis in education - reports about what has been written about education, so I think, John, bearing in mind the negative vs the positive and for the last six years the only things for some of the information in front of the general public has been totally negative - now I read a change in the tide and I read some good in the field of education. Interestingly enough what the reports said what they demonstrated and what they showed, or perhaps things that were wrong with education but I won't buy into the concept that they were destroying that education. I think the American education system has attempted to take a good look at itself in the last few years I've seen some very positive thing take place now. I think one of the biggest things I'm seeing that I'm certainly appreciative of is the image of teaching in itself is improving and becoming much more positive, and m ore of a wholesome word around the dining room table within the American family. I think we went through two s within the last few years that I observed - one we went through the of the sixties where we were going to save the world with America - Sixties - Seventies movements - the hippie movement - if I might use that term, and then we reversed and the pendulum sung back, the clock came back around, and we went the opposite direction and we decided maybe we better start at home fixing things here in America.So what we have attempted to do here is to correct what have been labeled the evils of education. I'm not so sure they were evils. You and I have experienced a very progressive educational system, so what the authors named as the evils of education, in all probability you and I have never experienced it. So, I really have personal problems when I attempt to discuss issues of what is wrong or what was wrong in the American educational system. I think with all the reports that have been written monies that have been appropriated, starting back to the Lyndon Johnson with the Great Society, I think the American educational system is in good shape. I think the young people will turn more and more to education. I read now, I just read this morning where there is NOT a national shortage of teachers as we were told there was going to be five years ago. When you read all these reports, who do you believe? What is really going to happen? That's all I can say on it.
Q: You've just been hired as a superintendent of an average sized school district in the state of Virginia, what would you look for in hiring the principal of your new high school that you as superintendent are going to open? What are the qualities leadership-wise, personal values, which you look for in the individual you are going to chose to be the leader of your new high school?
A: For that person to have a thorough knowledge of educational issues, of the curriculum which was unique to my community and my school district. I would expect that person to present himself or herself in a most professional manner. I would want him to have strong convictions and believe in the educational process, and some how or another, through the questioning process, I hope to attempt to find out if that person is really interested in his students.
Q: As a principal you face alot of headaches and concerns - is there any one single area, any one single area that was constantly a headache for you? Things that you had to deal with on the day-today bases that always presented problems for you and how did you deal with those, if you did have them?
A: Yes, John, there are a number of those, I guess the biggest thing that I was concerned about, I always wanted to be sure if we were really - REALLY - meeting the needs of the students there in the building. My thinking was ten years out. I always knew when I dealt or talked with a student that where he was today he or she was not going to be there ten years from today, so my thinking had to be such that you were attempting to help them deal with what is to come out there where ever that is. I guess that was my biggest concern. And to that I attempted to address myself by reading the latest literature that I could get my hands on, attending seminars, hearing some of the renowned educators in the nation, attending universities, taking courses, just trying to assimilate everything I could which would help me to assess how well I was dealing with and preparing the students for what is out there. That was my biggest concern. I knew I had my assistant principals and department chairpersons to be on instructional strategies and techniques. We had two curriculum specialists who were keeping us up to date, friends in education keeping proper courses in front of us that colleges were mandating as the kids needed to get into colleges of their choices and along with that comes the aspect of constantly keeping your teachers motivated to do their best to challenge those kids to impart that learning. That was my biggest concerns, I guess. I guess some people worry about if the spaghetti is hot in the lunch line - that was never really a concern of mine because I hired the best cafeteria manager that could be found, then I knew the spaghetti was going to be hot in the lunch line. Those are some of the things you just deal with.
Q: To continue with that thinking for a moment, lots of testing procedures take place in the school - Standardize Test, SAT'S, College Boards - are there any assessment tool that would help you ensure these students would reach a five to ten year goal and where they would at that time? Additional how do you feel about the assessment tools we have today? Standardized tests?
A: One of the things that I did that paid us big dividends and I wish I were going to be around long enough so I could assess it and get some reliability to what I am about to say. We had a Career Center, a fine Career Center, and I afforded much money into that program so that our students had exposure to the latest information that was available pertaining to careers and what careers had to offer. We had career days, brought in guest speakers, we had a shadowing program. Our students actually went out and observed. If they wanted to be a lawyer they went out into a law office and they shadowed them for an entire day. If they wanted to be policemen, a doctor, whatever we had that program set up so those kids had that exposure. That program excelled, I believe will pay those students who participated in it big dividends, gave them all on-the-job training even though it was for a short of time. The other thing that we did is that we attempted to keep our faculty appraised as to what the latest trends were in the job market and what prognosticators were saying would be available to the students ten years down the road. We held seminars with parents, mini back-to-school nights for the different grade levels, we had the parents come in and talk with the students, guidance counselors, guidance directors, career counselors, and myself. We held a Business Night where the businessmen came in, sharing things with the students. What we tried to create a little arena so the kids could get some first hand information as to what was going on outside the four walls they were surrounded in and protected by.
Q: The standardized tests as we know them today are ....
A: Are necessary evils, John.
Q: Are they ineffective predictors?
A: NO, they are fair, as much as I hate to say it, they are fair predictors. I think the thing they determine and what they allow the colleges to do is to assess a young man or young woman where they are at that time and how well they will do in their particular college at that time based upon the scores that they received on the test at that time. The big factor is and the one thing that I know of any educational tool that has been invented yet or to come on the market - there is no tool that measures or addresses the motivational factor. Which goes back to something I said in this interview, hopefully I said in this interview; if you cause a student to feel good about himself or herself and they have a self image learning can come at any time. Sometimes it doesn't come until we are late in life. You know there is an old adage about growing up and what am I going to do, that is true with students too because we all mature at different levels.
Q: The State School Board for years has established standards of quality. How do you feel about them and do you see them as the area you strive for or merely the ground work to build upon?
A: Standards of quality are good, John. Take the Commonwealth of Virginia, they are a tool that create a cohesiveness. It is a vehicle which will cause a district, that perhaps is financial strapped or would rather spend its monies on some other aspect of society, to adhere to what the state legislature and the school board have mandated. So in that sense, when you compare a rich county and a poor county should be adhering to the standard of qualities which gives the citizens in that particular locality the same - hopefully the same education - that they are getting in the rich county. So what it creates is a normalcy across the state. So, yes, they are a very good things, and it is good that they update them every so often.
Q: As a principal you are faced throughout the years with many difficult situations and difficult decisions to make. Is there any one situation or set of circumstances that you found to be most difficult? What was it? Possibly the toughest decision you had to make as a principal and why was it so?
A: I think, John all the years I was in education the most difficult decision I had to do was to recommend a young person for expulsion before the school board. Knowing full well that the case was strong enough and the facts were in that school board in all probability would uphold that decision, so it weighed heavily on me. But the school board in its role passed the policy, like forbidding selling of drugs on campus, and this young person had been involved in it, had been observed, and we had a solid case that he had in fact been selling drugs. There was a part of me that thought long and hard about that, because I know the value of education and I know by the young man being removed from the school system that he was being relegated to, in all practicality, a form of life that the American tax payer and society in general will have to deal with him at a much later date. That was a hard decision. It was a fair decision one that the school board expected of me. John, I guess I share that and I always remember back in the fifties in this county the school board had a policy that if you were caught smoking on school grounds, that on the third offense you were expelled. I had a young friend, he and I were in school together and I saw him get expelled as a sophomore in high school, never to return to the system again and I often wondered whatever happened to him because his education had been denied him. His family was poor, he had no place to go, they could not afford to send him to a private school so in all probability he is not or never was allowed to become as productive a citizen. And when I was dealing with this young man in the particular case, I could see that young man's face and I'll never forget it. What he went through as a young man when they terminated his education. But you have to deal with the seriousness and the effects of drugs on all the people he was selling it to, you had no choice.
Q: You stress the worth of the individual. It is obvious your concern for each individual is great, and what that certain individual does in life is important to you. At the same time the individual's actions in the school, in the school setting, sometimes impacts upon the majority. The situation that you just discussed weighed heavily on you at some point you have to consider the effects on the whole. Do you think a balancing act between the worth of the individual and the growth of the group to be something difficult to maintain?
A: I did personally, John, but I really shouldn't have been. You've got to look at the overall good. Public education is to serve all students and that is what parents pay the taxes for and you soon come to realize as the principal, that you are there to serve all the students and every one and then there will be one perhaps two that the school system can not serve so it the adage of the rotten apple in the barrel - it's got to go or it will contaminate the whole. It still is a difficult decision, it still, it's not an easy decision to make because you are dealing with a human being. If you remember I told you about the little picture on my desk: I know I'm somebody, because God does not make junk. It's a difficult decision but as a building principal you are there to serve the mass and you have to deal with it. You have to get your thinking in tune to that. That's how you deal with those particular situations.
Q: As a principal you served both as building manager and instructional leader. What's the balance in your career between those two broad categories?
A: The hardest question you've asked. Your primary role as a building principal is to be the instructional leader, that's number one. Then comes the building management. You can maintain a building that is clean for health purposes, hopefully a vandalism free building. You need to see that all the little amenities that go along with a quality education program are kept workable. You need to know in the back of your mind that your teachers are working to capacity, that the cafeteria manager is producing a quality product. You need to find out and deal with any situation where the kids are not getting to class on time. You even need to see if the buses are getting into the building on time, you need to be on top of the discipline. While it is extremely important to maintain good discipline. So that management role is so close to being the number one priority, that there is a wee little difference, but a building principal needs to never lose sight that he or she is the instructional leader in the building and that is the most important thing. That's the key to a successful educational experience.
Q: Given a choice between dealing with administrative details - purely administrative details - the actual running of the building and walking the halls as the visible administrator, what role would you take and why?
A: I'd walk the halls and the reason I would walk the halls is extremely important. Those students, in particular those students know who you are, what you are, and what you stand for, everything else falls in place. As I see it, of those two, that walking the halls would be the major role that I would undertake.
Q: Pinpoint, if you can, I do not consider this an easy question, but one that needs to be asked. You've been a very successful principal and leader of young men. Think if you can as to what the keys to that success has been, Toot your own horn if you would like. Give us some insight on your feelings as why you have been a successful leader of young men and young women in your career as an educator?
A: The second hardest question you've asked. I guess the underlining thing behind most of my philosophy has been the Golden Rule I've always accepted the fact there are times in their lives, to use the old adage - boys will be boys and girls will be girls - and not to expect that causes some administrators alot of problems. I think what probably did for me and allowed me to be an effective administrator was the fact that down deep I believed every student in that building had alot to offer and alot to give and in many cases were really looking for some solid direction from someone who was not afraid to reach out and to be able to say to that person -'Hey, your OK we'll work it out - get your nose in a book because tomorrow will be different than it is today.' So my whole thrust in dealing with young people was to merely again, and I'll beat it to death in this interview was to get the student to feel comfortable with themselves, feel like they had something worth contributing, they were worthy, they were appreciated and that they were going to be dealt with fairly. If you take a students and you mix them all up and you get a heterogenous grouping which we had in our school system in our school district and if you show no favoritism and provide an equal opportunity for all, then most who participate in that process will learn to appreciate that. I think once that students learn to appreciate that they are going to be treated fairly and equally and each are going to be given opportunity then it is amazing, truly amazing what students can do in productivity. I think the thing, John, I tried to do was to create a relaxed, positive atmosphere where a student knew if he had a bad day that he was not going to be crucified and that seemed to work for us.
Q: Beyond the six day in a high school there are a great number of activities and events that are offered to the students. What is your philosophy on extra curricular activities? How did you deal with them as a part of the educational process?
A: They are an extremely important part of the educational process. So many of the attributes in life are learned through participation in the co-curricular and extra curricular activities. I encouraged, personally, every young man and young woman to be involved in some type of program. At one time we ran a survey, and out of 2,000 students we found we had 1,646 students, number comes to mind, that participated in one or more activities within that academic year. I think there are alot of values that can be learned by participating in the Spanish Club, Chess Club, to freshman football, all the programs that go on within the school. It's a viable part of the educational process. It is as needed and contributes significantly to the overall effectiveness of any school philosophy or any school program. I think it is a vehicle that provides for an area where a teacher can allow herself or himself to be seen in an entirely different light than as an academic person. And I encourage our teachers over the years to vigorously give of themselves in their after school programs:In the interest of improving, strange as it may seem, their instructional program and I don't think I ever had negative results.
Q: We've seen in the last couple of weeks in the newspaper the discussion here in Fairfax County of going to a seven day. With the increase graduation requirements, some of our programs such as the fine arts, music, some of the elective classes have decreased in enrollment because of these increased requirements. What is your feeling on the seven day? If adopted how do you think it will impact the students of today?
A: John, we had the seven day in the county until, I believe it was the year 1962, when we went from seven to six. There are two ways we can go about that. We can either lengthen the school day a full hour or take five minutes off each and still meet the state requirements if you will. I think if we lengthen the school day on a minimal bases allow that seventh , I think there are some advantages to it. I see some disadvantages if we lengthen forty five, fifty minutes in the length of the day because I don't see that much difference in the argument as to what was good and why we eliminated the seven day in 1962. What I'm hearing now as to why we should lengthen the school day was good then certainly must be good now, the kids haven't changed. The demands that are being made on the kids time has changed so there is the issue that is causing us to address this issue. I have to have to make some hard decisions pertaining to taking an elective vs. taking another accelerated course or perhaps an Advance Placement Course. There are kids now who say I would love to participate in band but I can no longer participate in band or choir or stings or athletics because so much demand is being made on my academic work. There are pros and cons, John, and it all depends on which side of the ledger you are on. Sure. if I were a parent and had a student that was truly gifted and talented in the accelerated program, I would probably welcome the seven day. If I am not in that category I would probably say Boo - Humbug - I'm not in favor of the seven day. It is a matter of personal interpretation. The bottom line is that the seven day will afford more students the opportunity to take elective programs and perhaps some more advancement programs, but that is a decision that is strictly up to the individual and the parent.
Q: To an educator who is considering a career in administration, can you think of several bits of advice that you can give that person before he embarks upon an administrative career? How could your experience help someone adjust from a teacher to administrator?
A: I think the first thing we've got to do - any would-be administrator has got to be sure he really wants to be an administrator. The hours are long - 70 hour work weeks - 3-4-5-6 nights out a week are common until 10:00 and 11:00 at night. You've got to look at where you are. Will that process in relationship to where you are with your family. I can only address it from the high school scene because I have not been at the elementary or intermediate level, but I will admit to you that the price you have to pay for being a successful high school principal is one that needs to be looked at. See, I would tell you that success does not come without it's price - and its price in most cases is your family because the school board will expect you to do a quality job, that's why they've hired you in the first place. The parents expect the principal to be at all functions because the function that their child is involved in is THEE most important function in the building. So they expect you to be there and I assure you the first time you miss a choral concert or a play that when you walk in the building the next morning a cast member or student will want to know where you were last night. They don't want to see the assistant principal. They don't want to see an administrator. They expect the principal to be there. In order for you to be there you must make a commitment to that process. So if you are a married person with a family you need to have a good strong relationship and a good solid marriage in order to fulfill the commitment that is expected of you. I would further say the would-be administrator that he or she should have a strong belief in the value of an education. Not self educated, but education in general where you can see the betterment of society in the educating of the masses.Then I think you have some decisions to make. It's not easy to have everyday the responsibility of 1600 to 2400 students or more, and to have to deal each and every day with a number of their parents, and perhaps 100 to 150 faculty members and the entire cafeteria staff and all the other support service personnel that a building principal must deal with to run an effective school. I think a would-be administrator has got to ask of himself or herself - do I really want to have that many bosses or people to deal with? Each one that comes into that building to deal with you in many ways thinks of himself or herself as your boss. They are a tax payer and you are a public servant and that price is heavy. I've had everything in my tenure from parents who came in and thanked me for working with their student, to looking up to three policeman saying there is a man outside with a gun trying to get to you. So you've got to weigh all aspects of what you are dealing with, but the underlining factor is that you've got to have a belief in the educational process and you've got to really want to serve your fellow man. I don't know what else I can add to that, John.
Q: That sums it all up real well. With the constant pressures that are on you as a high school administrator - we hear today alot about burn-out, stress. On a personal note how do you unwind? How do you deal with the stress of an obviously important position? What things did you find effective in being able to go home and then get back up in the morning and come back fresh, recharged, ready to go and go back that night to attend another one of those night meetings that may not have been foremost in your mind, but was important to you because it was important to your kids? How did you relax? How did you get away?
A: I'm not so sure I did, John. I think it's the price you pay. I kept a calendar one year for my area superintendent and I averaged a 72 hour work week. 11 remember going one stretch of thirty-seven night meetings in a row. And it was 10:00 - 10:30 before I got back into my home and when I say that was athletic events, choral concerts, Chamber of Commerce meetings, which I was expected to be at - Optimist Club. All the citizen organizations that you are expected to do in some way you are representing the chair that you fill. I did attempt to surround myself with good people, strong faculty so that they in many ways took alot of pressure off of me by making many decisions and I would be comfortable in the decisions they were making. Some people play golf, some people fish, some people hunt, some people play cards, some people go to the symphony. I don't know. There are nights when you drag in and you wonder how you hit the front door to your office the next morning, and you make three or four decisions by that time the old adrenaline is flowing again and you are there for another school day. I think it is important that one be able to unwind.
Q: If you were able to start up your own set of administrative responsibilities, organize your own high school develop responsibilities of your own as the building leader; what would be your ideal administrative organization given the type of person you'd want in each job, personality, the background, education of those involved, what type of organizational set up flow chart would you use?
A: John, a few things come to mind depending on the size of the school would determine of course what the set up I had. If I were in a school with 2,200, and the school was built for a subschool concept, I would go with the subschool concept. I am a big believer in that and am very comfortable with that; but only in a school that is designed for the subschool concept. In a school of 2,000, 2,200 or less, I am a believer in the old egg crate system. I want the principal, then I would have an assistant principal to be disciplinarian, and all other assistant principals will deal with the instructional program. This is not to say that the disciplinarian is not to have some instructional responsibilities because he or she would. In my experience over the years has been that the old egg crate system where all the assistant principals come together and share the instructional strategies and responsibilities, pays big dividends for the instructional program, curriculum, because by doing that you are drawing the expertise that each one possesses and you can play back and forth and gain alot of information from each other that will prove to be useful in the implementation of the curriculum. I'm just an old believer in the old egg crate system. Seems to work well.
Q: I know you have worked under the subschool concept. As a subschool principal you are responsible for the instructional program. You are responsible for discipline. You are responsible for the day-today decisions. The ninth grade principal and the eleventh grade principal might deal with problems differently. Did this create any concerns or problems within that system? And how did you deal with those?
A: Hal Hal I must admit to you when I got to my last assignment they were in a subschool concept and it all hit me very hard the second or third month on the job. I had two brothers, one was a tenth grader the other an eleventh grader. They both did the same thing, violated the school policy; the tenth grader got suspended and the eleventh grader didn't get anything. Explain that to a parent! I lost that one needless to say, but I can assure you the following year we were no longer in the subschool concept. What had caused that was that I had two different individuals dealing with the issue in a different manner. Both had different social values. One saw it as a major issue, one saw it as a very minor issue and you just can not deal with students in that manner, that's an inconsistency in a school system and the school system can not afford that. If you are to have a subschool concept then you all have got to play on the same flute - the same tune has got to come out across all four grade levels. A subschool concept is only as strong as the building principal as to what his or her policies are and how he or she dictates that into his subschool or her subschool system. Overall I am of the opinion that the old traditional system probably affords more equality and fairness on disciplining issues than does the subschool concept because in most cases you only have one person with subordinates supporting, one handling the discipline issues.
Q: Both setups, the egg crate and the subschool set up, did you find the responsibilities you gave your subschool principals differed? If so, why and if they didn't differ generally what responsibilities would you delegate to your assistant principals?
A: Well, the thing that I found in the subschool concept is that you've got very little input in the instructional program, because the subschool principals were tied up in disciplining students. It seems to me that our curriculum maintained status quo and did not grow. It was there we gave it lip service, but nothing good came out of it and the curriculum is too large and to diverse for one person to maintain and embellish and bring about change and do all those things that we do with the curriculum. I found that in the subschool concept that too much time was spent on house chore duties and not instructional chore duties. Remembering that our primary purpose is that of an instructional nature.
Q: As a building leader, you sometimes serve as a go-between. I'm sure you are sometimes torn from both sides being staff on one hand and central office personnel on the other hand. You are in some respect that middle man between faculty and staff. I'd like to focus on the central office at this time and see if there are any particular problems that you faced in your time working with them or implementing policies they wanted implemented and what was your relationship with the central office and how do you feel you worked within that frame work?
A: John, I had a very good relationship with the area superintendent. I can honestly say to you that in the years that I was the principal I only remember one phone call and that merely was to check on something that one of my assistant principals was working on a discipline case and she wanted a clearance, a clarification on the issue. I think that relationship is what the building principal makes it. If the phone is ringing off the hook from disgruntled parents, irate parents, then the building principal may expect to have an adversarial relationship with those offices.
Q: As an administrative leader of a fairly large high school what consumed the majority of you time? How was your time spent?
A: Well, John, hard question!
Q: Let me rephrase that for a minute. Are there any aspects of the job that you felt was more time consuming or took time away from another aspect that you felt you would rather be doing or that was more important to you? Was there something that you had to do that made it difficult to perform the function of administrator as you see it?
A: I think the necessary, let me emphasis that the necessary paper work that a principal has to go through with all the reports to the different levels and different agencies, certainly robbed from me the time I'd have liked to be in the classroom and the halls with the teachers and the students. I kind of resented that. I saw it as a necessity, something that needed to be done and there were time lines that needed to be met because there was someone else who needed that information to make their deadline. But I always resented that so I think it was one of the things that principals have to be aware of divisions, and area superintendents needs. I guess the other thing, John, was just the general overall management of the building, even through there was an overall disciplinarian, there were times when I, as the principal, needed to be involved in those disciplinary decision. It's interesting that is a cyclical thing. I came to find you go through the first two or three months with minimal distractions, minimal, they reach a crescendo in March, first of April, that's your worse time then it will start to back down and there will be less toward spring. I always resented the fact that I would have rather been out there seeing all the good things that were going on in the building. I guess the paper work and dealing with certain discipline matters, attending meeting out of the building were distracting. I used to dislike going to meetings but would rather be doing something else.
Q: The paperwork takes an ever increasing amount of your time, administrator's time, is there any way you found useful in moving that paperwork from the in to the out tray and getting you back to the type of administrative work that you preferred.
A: Yes, yes, I only allowed that to infringe, and I don't want to mislead you in any last statement, I only allowed that to infringe on my time on a minimal bases. With assistance I farmed a good deal of that out. I had a little form called reports to do or things to do. I had to date it, who it was assigned to, who it went to, when it was to be completed and was completed, how many copies were sent, if there was a copy in a folder, I farmed out many of the reports to the assistants who had the responsibilities, or they requested that information. They were doing it daily, where as I would have had to research it. If I needed information on funds left in the textbook account, to give an example, I went to the assistant principal who pulled it off the computer and said, here it is; rather than have me trying to research. I think, how you use your administrative staff can greatly effect the significance of the reports and how much of the time they take from you.
Q: Is there one area in education looking back that you would like to go back to and have some more input some more of your expertise, having had almost thirty years in the classroom and administration. Any one area you would like to focus on and put some time back into, but throughout your tenure other responsibilities and administrative responsibilities kept you from doing so?
A: I don't believe so John, I think I have been blessed by serving under two very, very fine administrators and I have learned a great deal from them. And the thing that I often found was that in a crisis situation we as human beings revert back to how we were taught or handled in a similar situation. I often give thanks that I had two very fine principals that I served under as their assistant principal. Those experiences carried me through alot because immediately I'd have a flash back as to how it was handled.
Q: What advice would you give to a person who is considering an administrative position?
A: John, I think the most important ingredient would probably be that the administrator have an abundance of common sense. He or she needs to be able to make decisions on common sense. He or she needs to have an appreciation of the fellow human being. They need NOT go into this business if it is self serving because they are going to be greatly disappointed. They need to have a commitment to society, and I guess as important as any of those attributes to be really understand self and comfortable with themselves, because they are going to take some shots, and unless you can stand the heat, as President Truman said, don't go in the kitchen unless you can stand the heat - it's too late after you've accepted the job so you need to evaluate along those bases. Of all the educational courses and all of the book learning, and all of the theory, and all of the strategies, the bottom line is you need to possess, use, display, common sense and be courteous to people. It's pretty hard for the parent or student to remain or stay disgruntled with you or in particular the school system if you have done nothing but been courteous and displayed gentlemanly practices. That's hard to beat and will carry you a long long way. The other thing I might add to that, John, is when you're wrong you need to admit that you are wrong, and when your teachers are wrong and something is not going right it's not the teacher was wrong but the principal who needs to accept the responsibility for that and let it be your fault and not so much the teacher's fault.
Q: There certainly are so many pleasant activities, pleasant opportunities in a principalship. Think about those for a minute and relate to us if you will some of those - one or two - on the pleasant and unpleasant side in other words; what are you happy to leave behind now that you are retired from the high school and what are you sorriest to be away f rom?
A: Well, probably I can easily say I'm happiest to leave the long hours behind, that's the biggie. I think that would be the primary thing I leave behind the long work week and the long hours, that takes its toll. The thing I will miss most will be the kids, working with them, working with the student who comes from the wrong side of the track, really struggling. I think the greatest enjoyment I received each year came on graduation day when I would see a student coming across the stage to receive that diploma, to shake my hand, one that had been a hellion and who had fought us all the way through and yet we of that wise mind prevailed and eased him through the educational process so he can become a contributing member of our society. I'll miss that. I'll miss the closeness with the students and teachers and the sharing. I will miss the comradeship with the many many friends, many of them former students. I will miss that feeling of contributing and knowing that there were a number of people who were depending on me and I say that not in a self serving way or wanted it interpreted as such, but I think all of us need to feel as though we belong and contribute. Now I face retirement, as I go out of the school system, having retired as a principal still finishing up in the deputy superintendent's office, already I have sensed what I am doing and what I am all about is not nearly as contributing or what I was to some people in my role as a principal because there I was really making a difference felt as though I was making a difference. So, I will miss that and mostly I will miss the Friday night football, Tuesday night baseball, Wednesday plays, choral, band concerts, and all the things that make up the school day and school environment. I will miss the students, the noise. Some people say you are crazy to say you'll miss the noise. I'll miss the noise because when there is noise there is vitality and that is a sign of life. I miss that now and have come to realize that. I will miss being around people. .
Q: In your tenure in Fairfax County, Mr. Bradford, you have touched a great many people's lives both the young people that you've worked with, colleagues, that you've taught and served under and been a leader of - is there any one thing I haven't asked you or any question you might have or want to contribute at this point before we go ahead and put an end to this interview? I want to be real honest with you in that I have thoroughly enjoyed this interview. It's been, actually nothing really new to me because I have known you for twenty years, and have come to know your philosophy and thoughts fairly well. I happen to be one of those students you touched many years ago and I just want to say up front that I appreciate the opportunity that I have to share with you and others that will use this information in time the experiences you have had. Is there any question that I should have asked you?
A: John, the only thing that comes to my mind and I thought as we were talking it flashed across my mind. What was the ideal teaching situation and to me the ideal teaching situation is coaching, because I know of no other situation where a coach can teach, immediately evaluate what he has instructed, make changes, and them implement. I wish all educators, all classroom teachers, could experience what our athletic coaches, instructors and physical education teachers experience every day of their lives because to me that is the ideal teaching situation. I don't know what else, John, I could add to the interview. I'm only sorry in some ways that age has caught up with me and this thing of retirement is facing me and I have to deal with it, but I've enjoyed the many years that I have had in the educational system. It went by very quickly too quickly as a matter of fact and I would say to any would-be educator, young administrator, teacher that if you are going into education you want to 90 into it as a servant and be committed to serve your fellow man not going into it for selfish reasons cause it will not serve you there. Thank you.
Q: Thank you, Mr. Bradford. I appreciate you taking the time to air you ideas and thought with us today.
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