Interview with R.C. Batterton


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Q: Could you tell me about your college and your training?

A: Well of course I graduated from college in 1940 from the University of Kentucky with a degree in geology, Bachelor of Science. I intended to be a geology teacher.

Q: What made you change your mind and go into education?

A: Well, Europe was at war and we appeared to be going that way. I was an honor graduate and I was selected to a regular commission in the Marine Corps. Seeing the way things were. I joined the Marines as a second lieutenant and went to England with the American Embassy Guard. And then war was declared by the U.S. because of Pearl Harbor. Then I went to the Pacific and stayed throughout the war in the Pacific. I fought with the Marines and then when the war was over, I was lieutenant colonel and I went back to see what I would have to do to be a geologist. The answer was to start all over because it had changed so drastically. So then I decided to stay in the Marines. I stayed in the Marines twenty-six years. Then I went into education.

Q: Did you go in as a teacher or a principal?

A: I went in as a teacher. It was by pure accident.

Q: Could you elaborate on that?

A: I was having dinner with a friend who had retired about the same time as I had from the Marines and he was a math teacher at Fauquier High School . And this was three days before school began. And he said, "Why don't you go into teaching?" I said. "I'm not a teacher." And he said, "Well. that's all you've ever done in the Marines, except during combat." So he said, "Go see the superintendent." So I went to see Ryland Dishner who was the superintendent of Fauqier County. And he said, "Well, I've got one job left and you're welcome to try it. If you like it after two weeks, we'd be glad to have you. If you don't why we won't have anything to hold you. We'll let you go." So I said. "What is it?" And he said, "Special education." And I said, "Well , what is that?" And he said, "Well you'd be teaching the mentally retarded." And I said, "Well , how many?" And he said,"Fifteen." "Boys or girls?" He said, "They're all boys except for three girls." I said, "All right, I'll try it." And special ed had just started in this area. And it worked out real good. And I enjoyed it and I had a pretty good set of boys and girls.

Q: What year was that?

A: And that was 1966...1967 I believe it was by then.

Q: What school?

A: That was Marshall Intermediate School in Marshall , Virginia in Fauqier County.

Q: Were they sixth, seventh and eighth graders?

A: I believe they were intended to be. And I taught there for three years. And then I moved to Clarke County because we had always been associated with horse activities and we were coming over here all the time. So we decided we might as well move here. So we moved over here and there were no job openings for special education because it had just begun here. too. So I was asked if I wanted to be an assistant principal at the high school. And I said, "Well . I suppose." And I took over the job as assistant principal at Clarke County High School .

Q: How long were you assistant principal?

A: And that was for a year. And then the principal decided he wanted to retire, that was C. E. Miley. I applied for the job as principal and I was retained for that job.

Q: How long were you principal?

A: And I was principal for nine years.

Q: Would you describe Clarke County High School when you took over in 1979?

A: Well, it was a school of about six hundred students, and I believe thirty-six teachers. It was nine through twelve, a traditional high school. The integration, of course, had taken place a few years before, and they were still having their problems. The percentage as a rule, as I recall that first year, was twenty percent black and eighty percent white.

Q: Did you have a lot of problems with the white children accepting the black children?

A: Yes. I had it both ways really. But it wasn't out of hand. We didn't have the problems that we read about or heard about in other schools, but the feelings were there. Occasionally we would have tensions, high tensions. but as time went on it grew less and less. But we had an interesting time then. As you recall, the attitude of education ... authority versus students was confused. That's one good way to put it. No one really knew how to turn because that was the Vietnam days, too. Students dressed any way they wanted to. rebelled at all things. So we tried some of the newer ideas. We had an open school , open classrooms, well I don't mean physically. I mean from the standpoint of functioning. Students didn't have to go to classes if they didn't want to. If they missed school, there was no real impetus to retain them. It was a pretty free and open atmosphere. We even had a lounge for students similar to junior college and community college.

Q: What was the philosophy behind that?

A: The philosophy was at that time that with a free school, you would have more attention, willing participation than you would in a rigid school. And we tried it for a year. And it didn't really work. But it was interesting and the students found out the same thing--it didn't work. And they wanted to get back to regulation and control . So we gradually tightened everything up on succeeding years until about four years later we went back to a totally traditional school.

Q: How did you create a climate for learning after Clarke County High School went back to the traditional?

A: I think one of the things that created the best climate was we had mini-courses, where we instead of having general science we broke science into the specialties: geology, biology, botany, that sort of thing where a student could get more of the interest that they were directed toward. And the same in English, we had the mini-courses in English. At that time, I think it helped. Of course, change always takes place. As time went on. we decided then and everyone else came to the same conclusion that the mini-courses were not the best idea.

Q: Did the students get to pick the classes they wanted to take?

A: Yes. it was all voluntary.

Q: What role did you play in public/community relations?

A: Well, of course I was a member of numerous clubs like the Ruritans, the Chamber of Commerce, and active in church work.

Q: Did you have a P.T.O.?

A: P.T.A.? They had one, but P.T.A. is, as you probably know, in the high school is negligible. Practically all that I know of never really took hold and for some reason, no one really gets involved with their sons and daughters in the P.T.A. in high school.

Q: What do you think teachers expect principals to be?

A: Well, I think they expect them to be leaders and to direct and manage. They want somebody that they can go to and that's going to use initiatives to move things along.

Q: How did you evaluate teachers and what techniques did you use?

A: I think I evaluated two or three ways. One was to you can't help but evaluate teachers on the basis of control in the classrooms, their discipline, and then of course, the other way is to in observation is to see how they present their work and how they involve their students and generate interest. Q: Did you have a specific form to fill out?

A: We did, BUT I found that forms really didn't matter a whole lot. In the end, that you make notes as to things that were good, things that were bad, generally from memory. The key was to have an immediate conference the same day in order that things were fresh in mind to the both parties, the teacher and the principal so they could talk about it intelligently.

Q: How often did you observe teachers?

A: I would say on the average, teachers that needed observation were observed twice a week. Teachers that the principal determined that were not necessary to observe frequently, maybe once a month.

Q: What do you think it takes to be an effective principal?

A: Well, one quality you have to have is to stay calm and not get overly excited and you have to have a great ability to be quiet and listen. You have to be extremely careful not to take a positive side in issues until it's been well thought out.

Q: What pressures did you face as a principal?

A: I think the greatest pressures were trying to balance the problems that were generated between the students and the teachers and the parents and the school board and the superintendent. In other words, the principal is conducting a round robin game. He has to balance issues to maintain some semblance of harmony. At the same time, he has to be able to take a stand. So you're constantly, as a principal, going from one to the other, balancing.

Q: Did you ever feel like you were caught in the middle between the teachers and the school board?

A: Yes, that happens. No way out of it. Many times I would agree with the teachers, but I couldn't let them know it because I knew what the will and the wishes were of the school board and the superintendent.

Q: How did you handle teacher grievances and did you ever have to fire a teacher?

A: Yes, I had to fire one teacher. Fortunately, the others were sort of encouraged to leave when they were not up to par. One teacher I had to fire because she simply never was prepared properly. It came to the point I had no choice.

Q: How did you encourage teachers to leave without firing them?

A: I indicated very clearly my displeasure and what they've done and what their Performance was. I really didn't believe that they were cut out to be teachers. Sort of comments and direction that they took as fairly good advice. And really it was "pert-near" self-evident to them.

Q: How do you think we can improve education?

A: Well, I must say I kind of agree with the editorials that I've read that we would perhaps have better teachers if we had less of the so-called education courses and more of the general arts and sciences or more well-rounded education with more depth than some of the education courses which I remember taking which I didn't feel really did me any good except that they were required.

Q: Did you know that they're thinking about changing the certification requirements?

A: Yes, I've read some of those.

Q: Are you in favor of them?

A: I think so.

Q: How do you think principals could be better prepared or trained?

A: Well, you know, people always think of their own experiences. And rather than someone else's. I always felt that a principal would be better able to handle his job if he had done some other kind of work in an executive capacity rather than in totally education. That's probably because, having been a Marine, I felt that I had a lot of managerial experience that I didn't have to find out because I had already experienced means and methods for managing.

Q: Do you think a principal should have taught before he goes into administration?

A: I definitely think that. I think it makes all the difference.

Q: Did you have an assistant principal at Clarke County?

A: Yes. I had one.

Q: How did you handle the assistant principal?

A: Oh. I hate to say this, but I gave him everything to do that I didn't want to do.

Q: What were those things that he did?

A: Well he had to do all of the electronic management, all the announcements, all of the knowing how to run the equipment. He had to make all the arrangements for the assemblies in the auditorium and setting everything up. And he had to do or make all the arrangements for graduation ceremonies. He handled, as most assistant Principals do. 95% of the discipline.

Q: Did he do observations also?

A: A few. but a very, very few. I always considered that as a chain of command, that he as an assistant principal was administrator primarily and not in the command chain of principal-teacher.

Q: As a principal, what was your biggest concern?

A: I suppose my biggest concern was personal relations and I'd have to say that goes along with discipline.

Q: Can you elaborate on your discipline procedures?

A: Well, I found that talking to the parties involved was real important. you get their views and at least to hear both sides. Then I felt that the punishments that were prescribed had to be followed as a general rule with few exceptions.

Q: Did you have a set discipline plan?

A: Yes.

Q: Could you elaborate on your discipline plan?

A: Well, it was pretty routine. It was very much like other schools, detention, we encouraged teachers to keep students after school in their own classrooms, rather than to pass it on to the detention of the school at large. Because we felt that really enhanced the teacher and we backed that up. But the majority of teachers prefer -- in high school, you know - prefer not to do that. They have considerable work to do so I didn't force it, but I tried to encourage it. And the ones that seemed to do that, seemed to have better discipline. Whether they did or not, I'm not sure.

Q: Did you feel that teachers didn't want to stay after school?

A: I think that was part of it, yes. And I can't blame them.

Q: What was your biggest headache while you were principal?

A: I don't remember any one that was paramount, but I think the biggest headache for all principals in those times was the problem with race relations. Much more so than is the case now.

Q: Were there any minority principals at that time, or assistant principals?

A: Not in, well we had in this school system we had one black assistant principal at that time. Now we have one black principal.

Q: How about any women principals or assistant principals?

A: We had none then, and I don't believe we have any now.

Q: How about supervisors?

A: Yes, we had several supervisors.

Q: What do you think of career ladders for teachers or merit pay?

A: Well, I think career ladders are important, because there should be some feeling like you're gaining in seniority besides just the number of years. Merit pay sounds awfully good, but I think it's next to impossible to administrate.

Q: Do you have any ideas on how career ladders could be administered, or merit pay?

A: I think that would help the most from the standpoint of pay for work and effort would be to pay not minimum stipends like are prevalent today for extra duty. but to pay what the job is worth. meaning a considerable amount of money for extra duties over and above norm duties. But for merit pay, I think it would boil down to who the principal liked. And that many times might be unfair.

Q: Do you think personal feelings would be involved?

A: There's no doubt about it.

Q: What do you think of the Standards of Quality established by the state school board?

A: I think that's excellent. Always has been.

Q: How do you feel about the testing procedures, for example the SAT's?

A: I think it's a means of measuring. I think there are a lot of bright students who don't do near as well as they should because of our tests.

Q: Did you have classes at that time to prepare students for the SAT?

A: Yes. we had classes and I think it helped, not as much as you read about, but I think it helped a few points.

Q: Was there any computer testing?

A: No computer testing at that time.
Q: What was the toughest decision you had to make as a principal?

A: I think the toughest decisions I had to make were those that involved the firing or encouraging teachers to leave.

Q: Were you a manager of a building or an instructional leader?

A: I don't think that there's any doubt about the fact that I was an instructional leader.

Q: What was your key to success as a principal?

A: Well, I like to think it was personal relations. I believe that I had a very good rapport with everyone. students and teachers with few exceptions of course.

Q: What is it about your personality that allowed you to be successful?

A: Well, one thing, I've always tried to smile and be friendly and be open to talk with everybody and no one had to have an appointment to see me. That sort of thing. Always free and available.

Q: Are there certain qualities about being a principal that they're not going to teach us in college?

A: Yes.

Q: What are they?

A: I think judgment can't be taught. Judgment has to come from inherent abilities and personality and experience.

Q: Could you tell about the times you hired teachers and how you were involved in the process?

A: Well, as principal, of course I interviewed all and then I had the department head to interview the applicant as well and in some cases, in small departments, I had one or two or three teachers to interview in a group. And then I would take their considerations. I don't recall ever having any conflicts with our decision.

Q: Did the superintendent or assistant superintendent send people to you?

A: The assistant superintendent usually had all the applicants and then would channel them over to the high school.

Q: What advice would you give to a person who is considering an administrative position?

A: Well, I think one thing they would have to be prepared and should be to attend practically all activities. Which means they're not going to be home very often and because the mere presence indicates that they're in control and also indicates that they're interested. The fact that they're interested means that other people are interested and it sort of carries down the line.

Q: Would you enter administration at the principal level if you had to do it over again?

A: If the teachers could get as high pay as principals, I would prefer to be a teacher. But. well, I think teaching is fun, I mean there's pleasure and you enjoy it and it's stimulating. And you feel like you're really accomplishing something. As a principal, you're really not involved in the teaching process very much. Although you're supervising it. encouraging it, and directing it. And it's not the same pleasure. There's the pleasure of challenge and diversity, but there's not the pleasure of dealing directly with students and seeing their performance and growth.

Q: What aspect of your professional training best prepared you for the principalship?

A: By professional training, I presume you mean in college.

Q: What were you trained to do in your administrative courses?

A: Well, I think to be a principal , you have to be flexible and you have to be able to accommodate many different activities and facets and keep them sorted out. So I think that if you have a background of either other jobs or work. and other pressures, that then when you become a principal, you're better able to cope with it and handle it than someone who has. you might say had a sheltered life, and all of a sudden they're graduated as an administrator and become a principal.

Q: Did you feel that central office policies prevented you from accomplishing goals you felt you otherwise could have accomplished?

A: I felt that there were times when the central office imposed on the responsibilities of the principal.

Q: Could you elaborate on that?

A: Well, I thought that when you are given an objective to accomplish and then were told what to do to accomplish the objective, then that's the wrong way of handling it. And I think that principals should be left alone once they're given a job to do so that they can either make it or not make it.

Q: What consumed the majority of your time as a principal?

A: I think the majority of the time consumed was concerning reports and administration.

Q: What would you have liked to have spent more time on. but the reports prevented you?

A: Well, I would have liked to have spent more time as a supervisor of instruction. But there just wasn't time to do it.

Q: What do you feel is the ideal size for a school for best administrative and instructional leadership?

A: Speaking of the high school, I think the optimum size of a high school would be five hundred.

Q: Could you tell your reasons behind that?

A: Well, you would know every student. In the four year time, you would know all of them. In four years you'd know every senior personally and with five hundred, you'd pert-near know every student in the school. Plus you'd get a real personal knowledge of your teachers, cause you'd maybe only have twenty-five. And you can have really nice control and rapport with that small a school.

Q: Do you feel that knowing each student personally is important?

A: It is very important.

Q: How do you feel about schools today with a thousand students in an elementary school?

A: I think it's too much like a factory. I just don't see how there's hardly any personal feeling except in those stars, the star athletes, the star students, and everybody else is just blur.

Q: What do you think the students are missing?

A: Well, I think they miss having the relationship with an authoritative figure that can help them in the future.

Q: Did you have a model you patterned yourself after?

A: Not in the school business, no. I have always had a model of a leader in my Marine experience. And he was my regimental commander during World War II.

Q: Did you carry some of that over into the principalship?

A: Yes.

Q: What do you consider the five most pleasant principalship activities that you did?

A: Well, let's see. Well, I think one, of course, there's always the direct connection that you have with the activities related to your outstanding students, such as your National Honor Society, and the Key Club, and that sort of thing. And then, I think my personal satisfaction was the forensics. the public speaking, the extemporaneous poetry reading, and that sort of thing. I enjoyed that and I suppose I enjoyed athletics as a broad activity. Perhaps the track more than the other sports. I enjoyed the science department more than the others probably because of my science in college and I took an active interest in all the science departments, particularly in geology. I had a particular interest with the English department because I appreciated the terrible load that they carried and tried to help them in every way possible.

Q: What were your five most unpleasant principalship activities?

A: Well, probably the most unpleasant is controversy with parents and then the next most unpleasant were confrontations that did occur sometimes with teachers and then the other most unpleasant occurrence were racial problems. What's that three? And then I guess would be seems like always meeting deadlines. That's five of them I think.

Q: What were you happiest to leave when you retired? What is the thing you missed the most when you retired?

A: Well, the happiest thing to leave was meetings, deadlines, reports, and disciplinary problems involving parents and students.

Q: What is the thing that you didn't like to leave when you retired, the thing you missed the most?

A: I think the thing I missed the most, and still do, were the daily mixings with the students, mostly. And secondly were the daily mixings with the teachers, personally.

Q: Did you have the same assistant principal the whole time you were principal?

A: Yes. I was very fortunate. I had the same one and he's still there.

Q: Can you describe some of the qualities and characteristics he had that made him an effective assistant principal?

A: Well, he was consistent and he was dependable and he was loyal and he worked hard and he never missed work.

Q: What are the characteristics of the superintendent that you found most effective?

A: Well, that's difficult. I suppose I knew where he stood on everything. There weren't any surprises.
Q: Who was the superintendent?

A: Wade Johnson, he's still there.

Q: What helped you as a principal to maintain a sane attitude?

A: Well. I think my background. more than anything.

Q: Is it the discipline of being a Marine?

A: Well, I think I had learned to. sort of not let things get me down and tomorrow's another day and that feeling that there's always something worse.

Q: Can you take us through a typical work day at Clarke County High School, from the time you arrived until the time you left?

A: It's been a while... Well , I suppose the first thing I would do is look at my calendar and see what things had to be done. And I would start with whatever I felt was immediate. Of course. it never worked out because there's always something happening to throw it out of kilter, like the furnace wouldn't work or the janitor didn't show up and that sort of thing, and the lights would go out. Nearly always there was some sort of emergency and there I would be. I would usually try to visit one class in the morning and one in the afternoon and even though many times it was only momentary, and then I would nearly always have some kind of report that I was working on, either a report or a letter. Frequently, I had to write letters or at least make notes on a form letter for discipline. Then, of course. I'd usually have discipline to deal with of some sort that the assistant principal had passed on. Usually have a teacher or two that have some problem they want to talk to you about. And then, of course, comes lunch time when you check on lunch and see now the dining room's going. And as a rule, nearly every day you'd have to go up to the central office for something. And in the afternoon, usually was the time to check on athletics and the phys. ed. Of course, after school, there was most of the time, there was some kind of meeting, if not with the central office, it would be with the teachers or with a student group. And, of course. throughout every day, the principal was in the hallway a good bit of the time.

Q: Why is that?

A: Well, I think presence and to also know what's going on...where the teachers are, where the students are and if the students are where should be.

Q: As a principal how did you find out what was really happening? What was the most effective way to find out?

A: I think by being out of the office and in the school mostly. I was not in the office much. I was in the school, throughout the school, all the time, and I guess I would spend about fifteen to twenty minutes of every hour, as a rule, in the office, and the rest of the time was in the building. Pretty hard for anyone to miss me, I was there.

Q: Did teachers come to you with problems?

A: Most of them did. There were some who didn't. Most did.

Q: Was your retirement because of administrative burn out or age...?

A: Well, I just decided it was time, I mean I was, I didn't retire from the principalship, I moved into the central office. And I stayed in the central office until I was sixty-five.

Q: What did you do in the central office?

A: I was administrative assistant to the superintendent.

Q: What were you duties as administrative assistant?

A: He had me running a number of committees. And I did for him like my assistant principal did for me. I did everything that he and the assistant superintendent didn't want to do.

Q: I didn't realize that. I didn't realize you were in the central office.

A: Yeah, I was there for pert-near three years.

Q: Is there anything that I didn't ask you that you would like to tell me about?

A: I don't think so. I think we covered it pretty well .

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