October 3, 1988. Virginia Department of Education Richmond, Virginia.
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Q: How many years have you been in education?
(Streamed audio file of interview for this question using RealPlayer)
A: Since 1951.... So that would be about thirty-seven years. (Exact words of speakers that were erased from tape.)
Q: As a teacher, how many years have you been?
A: I taught for.... Let's see three and two I taught about five years.
Q: How long were you a principal?
A: Two years
Q: What was the school like that you were principal of? And please describe your typical work day.
A: The school was located in a very small village in the central part of Virginia in Bedford County. A little village on the James River. It was called the Big Island. It was a paper mill town. Yet, I can hardly call the village a town. But it was.... The primary business, the only business in the village was a paper mill so I was basically serving a blue collar community. The school was very small. Some where between five and six hundred pupils. It was what we called a comprehensive school in those days. Sometimes called a combination school. We did include, as I say, grades one through twelve. The high school portion was very small. We didn't have more than probably a hundred twenty-five or so students at the high school level. And yet, as you might expect, the high school itself was kind of a focal point of that community. The school itself was a focal point, but certainly the high school was. A great deal of interest in the school itself despite the fact that it was a blue collar community. Just a wonderful group of people to serve, and really at that.... Given the situation at that time, a great way in which to begin one's administrative career.
Q: Why did you decide to become a principal, and what events led you to a principal's position?
A: Well, I'll readily admit that I did not become a principal with the thought in mind that I was going to be a principal forever. That was not my objective in the education profession. I recognized it; however, as a necessary step on the way to doing other things. The superintendency wasn't an objective for me either. But the principalship I felt being a base level position, as it was, was just absolutely essential. That kind of experience was absolutely essential for me to obtain. I became a principal, I guess, a little bit earlier than I had thought that I might. I had been teaching in Bedford County, and for just about two and a half years when I married. And my wife, at that time, was teaching in Roanoke so we decided that we needed to find a new location for ourselves. So we wound up teaching in Campbell County, both of us. I was there for only a year. Toward the end of the year, the principal at the high school where I was teaching asked me if I would be interested in staying on in an assistant principal kind of role. It was really one of the first experiences that I had, I suppose, with business-industry cooperation because the Lane Cedar Chest Company, or whatever the company is called, was going to finance that additional salary for me to be assistant principal. There was none in the high school at the time. But I was offered at the same time the principalship at Big Island. And it was going back into Bedford County, and I felt that would be really the best situation for me at that time. I never forgot some advice though that the principal in Altavista gave me when I told him that I was going back to Bedford to become principal. And that advice was to "Go North young man". And it was really on the basis of that that my interest in Fairfax County really got started. And a couple of years then after being principal of Big Island I did move to Fairfax County.
Q: What was your school's philosophy and how was it developed?
A: That's a good question for this day and time. The best answer I can give you for Big Island High School in 1954 when I became principal was that the school didn't have a philosophy; a stated philosophy, a written philosophy. We thought we were doing a good job if we were able to open school every day. And have a fire in the furnace, and have the building warm. And have a place for the children to come to school. And while certainly instructional matters were of great concern to us, the biggest concern we had at that time was just providing a place for the students to come to where they could receive an education. I cannot tell you right now that there was a stated philosophy, in writing, for Big Island High School. There's no doubt in my mind about the hope and intent of the teachers on the staff to provide the best education that they possibly could for the students who were there, and under the circumstances which that education had to be provided. But I'm not going to go into a well stated statement of philosophy because it just didn't apply to Big Island High school in those days.
Q: How did you create a climate for learning and what leadership techniques did you use while creating a climate for learning?
A: Well, the biggest responsibility that I really had as principal in this regard was, as I intimated before, making sure that the proper environment for learning was maintained or at least as proper as possible. The building, for example, was a very inadequate building. The Home Economics department consisted of one little, small room downstairs in the basement area. The same was true of Industrial Arts. It was offered for only the boys at that time. The building itself was in a state of disrepair. We were fortunate if the custodian (cough-pardon me).... We were fortunate if the custodian showed up on Monday morning, and the building was warm. I can remember many, many occasions getting up early. Getting to school at four or five o'clock in the morning, and starting the fire myself to make sure the building was heated. So, I guess in the absence of any kind of assistance in managing the building.... I did not have a secretary for example. My major concern, as far as creating a climate for learning, was to make sure that those things that had to be done to provide a physical environment of comfort for the students was accomplished.
Q: Which leadership techniques did you find that were successful and what leadership techniques did you find that were unsuccessful?
A: I have always been a proponent of creating a situation in which those who work with me, for me, have an opportunity to participate in decision making. I fully subscribe to that. And I learned that early on, I suppose, at Big Island High School. It was clear that if everything that had to be done in that situation was going to be done, that everyone had to do their share. And with a small faculty it was very easy to involve that faculty in the important decisions that were related to the operation of that school. And that approach worked for me. I don't think that I would have been successful with any other approach. My predecessor had different ideas and was not successful with the ideas that he attempted to implement, as far as leadership in that school was concerned. And I learned from that. I learned, I suppose, what not to do because there was a feeling of dissatisfaction. And I don't mean to imply that he is totally responsible for that at all. All I'm saying is that the approach that was being used there was not successful. So I learned very quickly to involve the faculty. And I felt that not only did the faculty have to be involved, but the community needed to be heavily involved in the activities of the school. And indeed they were. The involvement of business-industry was much more limited than you would expect today perhaps. But there was some involvement because, as I indicated before, it was a paper mill town, and the company that operated the paper mill supported the school. So I felt that we had a participatory style that was effective at least at that time.
Q: What role did you play in community relations, Mr. Burkholder?
A: A very heavy role. I learned that if you're going to be a successful principal you have to be principal all the time. Twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. It doesn't mean that you're on the job all the time but you're principal all the time. I think the best decision that my wife and I made was that we chose to live in the community to begin with. We didn't have to do that. We could of lived where we grew up, as a matter of fact, and easily made the commute. But we felt that we needed to be a part of the community, and so we moved fairly close to the school. We were part of the community. We joined the church in the community. We participated in all kinds of community activities that took place then. We attempted to make the school building itself as available to the community as we could. And indeed it was heavily used. So I would say my role was not one of leadership in community activities, public community relations if you will. I felt that was the responsibility that was appropriately that of community leaders. But it was certainly one of heavy involvement with what was going on in that community.
Q: What do you think teachers expect principals to be?
A: All things to all people, I suppose, might be a rather short answer. I think teachers expect principals to be leaders. They expect them to be managers. But they also expect them to be more than managers. They expect them to be leaders in their schools, and rightfully so. They expect them to be defenders. And I'm not sure I agree with that all of the time. But when teachers have difficulty in dealing with particular students or parents they expect the principal to stand behind them. They expect the principals to be producers. They expect them to be deciders. They want someone who can make a decision. Who does not rely upon everyone else to come together in committee fashion, and make a decision. They want to be involved in those decisions. But they want someone, in the final analysis, who can make a decision, and stand on his or her own two feet. They want a principal to be someone who can work well enough with the community, with the Central Office. The Area Office if you're talking about a system as large as Fairfax County. And be able to get what they need. I don't know how else to say it. From the Central Office and the Area Office that will help their school to work for the improvement of their school.
Q: Mr. Burkholder, how did you evaluate teachers? And under that, what }'d like to discuss is, what do you think of career ladders, and what do you think of merit pay?
A: I evaluated teachers very informally. We didn't have an evaluation instrument that the county required. We didn't have an instrument in the school itself. We simply evaluated teachers very informally. And if teachers were doing an outstanding job we tried to recognize that. Sometimes in a more formal way, but particularly informally. If a teacher was not doing a very good job, then we were in a position then to take action. We didn't have to have the documentation, and the paperwork, and the kinds of things that are needed today in order to take action. We simply went to the superintendent as a principal, and said that we worked with this teacher all year long and he or she is simply not working out, and something needs to be done. And the next year the teacher would not be there. Now that's maybe not as defensible now as it might have been then. But that was the approach that was used, and I must say it was somewhat effective when it had to be used. What do I think of merit pay? I don't think there are many school systems in the country that can afford merit pay. I think that it's very costly to be able to pay teachers what almost any merit system might indicate they deserve. And that's a concept on which merit is based. I think it's true because we have so many very, very fine teachers in schools, in education today. I don't think that a system that is based on a limited percentage of teachers receiving merit increases will ever work because it recognizes only those, for whatever reasons, the system chooses to recognize. I think that it is very difficult to make a merit system work because we expect far too much of our evaluators. If we are expecting principals, and assistant principals to evaluate the people who work for them, then we are asking for the impossible because most of those people will have.... Well, in some schools the principal will have two hundred teachers that report to him eventually or her. As far as assistant principals are concerned, far less, but still twenty five or thirty or thirty-five teachers. And when we are talking about evaluating people for merit pay that becomes an almost impossible task. I realize that there are things that you can do that spread that responsibility. For example, the use of peer evaluation. I think that's a good way to go if merit pay is the direction in which a school system wants to go. I do think you have to take advantage of peer evaluations (bell ringing). Even that; however, creates problems of its own. Career ladders, I think career ladders are a good way to go so long as you've tied with that career ladder additional responsibility. I think it's very appropriate to have a scheme that begins with, let us say, a teacher aide, and a beginning teacher, and an experienced teacher. And perhaps a department chairman. However, the ladder might be set up. I think we have to be very, very careful in attempting to force that. And the experiences in Tennessee certainly demonstrate what I am talking about. But I think that a career ladder system can be made to work so long as each step of the career, the ladder system, does provide for an increasing amount of responsibility for the teacher that's involved. And I think that's essential.
Q: What techniques did you use to make teachers feel important?
A: Certainly, frequent communications with teachers is necessary. Telling them they're doing a good job. If indeed they are. Or if there is some particular aspect of a person's job that they have done well. They need to be recognized for that. I think singling out people who have done well in a particular area before their peers, before community groups is important. I think giving credit to the teaching profession for what's accomplished in schools is very important. And even though you don't single out individual people, except in the context of Teacher of the Year kinds of activities.... Nevertheless, teachers need to hear from the superintendent that they are important. That they are performing the major task in the school system. And I think that kind of recognition on the part of the Board, on the part of the superintendent, goes a long, long way. I do like to see such things as Teacher of the Year activities. I think they're important. We all know that such people only represent outstanding teachers. That's certainly understood. But it brings a recognition to the profession that is, I think, very, very important. I don't think you can.... Well, let me say, I think it would be unusual for someone to overdue recognition of teachers. And I think you continue to look for ways in which that can be accomplished.
Q: What is your philosophy of education? And what is your philosophy of teaching?
A: It's very hard for me to distinguish between those two questions. There almost one in the same. I think you begin by saying that you have to believe that all children can learn. Of course you have to begin with these students where they are. Of course you have to take into account their varying abilities. But you must believe that all children can learn. And if you don't believe that then you have to admit that there are children who do not belong in public school. clearly, there are children who may do better in other situations. But I'm not at all ready to admit that children who have not done well, have not made it in public school, that it's the fault of the child. I think it's the fault of the public school. I think we must educate all children to the fullest extent of their capability, and to the fullest extent of our capability to educate these children. I think we must always keep in mind that the schools belong to the community and to people. They're not schools that belong to the administrators or to the teachers. They belong to the community. And my philosophy of education certainly includes a feeling, a judgment that the community needs to be heavily involved in the operation of that school. But first, and foremost, and I suppose this is the reason I have trouble in distinguishing my philosophy of education from my philosophy of teaching, is that we need to remember that schools are there for the education of children. And that all children can learn. And that we have an obligation to educate them to the fullest extent of their capabilities.
Q: What is your personal leadership philosophy?
A: Oh, it's participative management. There's no question about that. I don't believe in operation by committee, but I do believe in the involvement of everyone. I don't know how else to express it. Everyone. Community, teachers, students. Everyone in the management of schools. I think there's nothing unusual about that. I think that's the kind of philosophy that most people try to follow these days. I think you make better decisions when you involve others. I think the time comes when you sit down, and make your own decisions. But you do that only after you have heard from other people, and you know what their judgments are, where they're coming from, what they have to contribute. I think you can do a much better job through that kind of approach. I do think you have to develop your ability to work with people. Everyone has that ability. It's developed more in some than in others. I think you have to learn how to use people properly. I don't think there is any pat organizational scheme, for example, that applies to a school system or to a school. You can draw a lot of pretty boxes, and a lot of pretty pictures. And sometimes they work, and some times they don't. And one of the main reasons or issues involved is whether or not you're taking advantage of the capabilities of the people who work for you. I don't care how it looks on a diagram. I want to take advantage of those abilities. And that's the reason, I think that whenever you have someone new to come into an organizational structure you're going to have some organizational changes because people have different abilities. And you can't take advantage of those abilities unless you're willing to make some organizational kinds of changes in which to do that.
Q: What do you believe it takes to be an effective principal?
A: Well, we have some pretty good evidence now that answers that question for us in the effective schools research. We know that it takes skill in oral and written communication, for example. We know that it takes skill in decision making. Takes skill in bringing about change in the school itself. We know it takes skill in ones interactions, as I've inferred before, with people like the superintendent, and leaders in the community, and business-industry. And helping to build up ones school. All of these things will not guarantee an effective principal because there are lots of other factors that impact on that. Personality clearly impacts, and other things that I won't go into here. But a person who has skills in all of these areas is very likely to be a pretty effective principal. And we know that from research that at least these skills are necessary.
Q: If you had to do it again what would you do to better prepare yourself for the principalship?
A: You have to put that in the context of time. If I was preparing myself now to become a principal I would want to have the kinds of experiences that principals now have. I would want to be in a situation where a principal would allow me to participate in the leadership that's necessary for that school. I don't mean heavy participation but as a very minimum you can.... You can learn how you schedule classes. You can learn how bus drivers :unction. You can learn the transportation areas. Is what I'm really trying to say. You can learn the cafeteria. Things like that. And the management of the schools. And you can learn on a voluntary basis. Ideally, you could serve as an intern in a school situation before you even become an assistant principal. I would.... I guess I would put it on the basis of participating through volunteer activities on my part. And then becoming an intern. And then becoming an assistant principal. And after I've done all three of those things I might think I would be ready for a principalship. If I had it to do again, as far as my experience at Big Island High School is concerned, I really don't know of anything much that I could have done differently. We didn't have assistant principals then. We didn't have internships. Those things didn't exist. The volunteer aspect would I spoke of I did do. I was in a school very similar to Big Island for a couple of years as a teacher. And that principal gave me many opportunities to participate. He welcomed them because he had the same problems I did when I became principal. So ! was heavily involved. And I learned an awful lot....
Q: How did you handle teacher grievances?
A: We didn't have any. We didn't have a grievance system. There wasn't any such thing. I'm not suggesting there shouldn't have been. I'm simply saying what was. Teachers who were unhappy with the principal would simply go in, and sit down, and talk with the superintendent about it. That didn't happen very often. Very seldom would that happen. But that wasn't out of the question. But that represented the grievance system. If the superintendent.... If the teacher didn't like the superintendent's decision, that was nearly always the end of it. Although the school Board was there, and the teacher could of course appear before the school Board. But if a teacher went that far, and the School Board still didn't resolve the matter to the satisfaction of the teacher, that was almost always the end of it. A court suit was just virtually unheard of. So we didn't have, certainly didn't have a formal grievance system. And the informal one that existed was seldom used.
Q: Did you personally ever fire a teacher?
A: Well, I'm not sure. I don't guess a principal or superintendent ever personally fired a teacher. Only a School Board can fire a teacher. I did on two occasions recommend the dismissal of a teacher. Yes, during the time that I was principal. I'm not talking about times after that.
Q: If so then.... If you did this, how did you handle the situation? Did you refer it, as you said, to the superintendent, and then the School Board?
A: Yes, as a matter of fact that's close to what happened. ln both cases, I satisfied myself that the teachers simply were not performing at the level that they should. In both cases the teachers were.... I started to use the term elderly, and maybe that's not too far wrong. They certainly needed to retire. And one teacher was really at a point where she was having difficulty staying awake in class. So this was not a situation which was a close call or a real question as to whether or not the teacher should continue. I think what the superintendent needed at that point was someone to take a stand, and say that this teacher really should go ahead and retire. And I took that stand with the superintendent. And he handled it from then on. To my knowledge the School Board never really got involved. I don't remember whether a teacher literally was dismissed or whether he or she agreed to go ahead and retire. But it was a situation that, absent the necessity for documentation, wasn't too different from what is necessary today. It certainly was different with respect to what you had to defend. The kinds of steps you go through for the grievance procedure, and all that. But it wasn't different in the sense for what you might be looking for or expecting from a teacher.
Q: Mr. Burkholder, how do you think we can improve education?
A: I think you improve education primarily by improving the teacher force, and the principal force. I think you do that through improving training to begin with; preparation program for teachers and principals. I think you accomplish it through the improvement of inservice activities, and programs after people are on the job. I think you improve education through making sure that performance of teachers and principals is what it should be. And being willing to recognize outstanding teachers. But at the same time, being willing to recognize that there's some teachers that don't belong in the profession, and taking the steps that are necessary. I believe if you do these kinds of things that the status of teachers and principals and teaching in general will improve. And if you can bring about an improvement in the way that the taxpayer, the members of the community, the parents view teachers and teaching, and the principalship, then you are going to improve the support that comes for schools. It's like a cycle. If you can get the wheel moving things will work out well. Because if you improve teaching you improve the support for the schools from the public. And if you get more support for the schools then you get better teaching. If you can get that cycle going, then you're going to see great improvements throughout the profession.
Q: What procedures should be used before a person is selected to become a principal?
A: Well, I could run down the familiar list of advertising positions, and receiving applications, and screening applications. And all of those kinds of personnel actions that are appropriate. And they are appropriate. And they are necessary. But what I would rather emphasize is the development of a cadre of people that are trained for the position so that you don't depend upon just the selection process itself to make sure that you have good people in those positions. I think you need to have a group of people from whom you can select that have already been trained or already capable in the principalship position. Or at least the potential is there, is what I'm really trying to say. And I think one of the good ways that you can determine that is through the use of an assessment program that has been developed by the Association of Secondary School Principals National Association. I think this is an excel lent vehicle. It's expensive, but it certainly seems to be working out well for a number of school systems. It's an in-basket, out-basket, to oversimplify, kind of technique that's used to identify these people. And then once they are identified you have your cadre from which you can select people. I do believe that the selection process of advertising positions, and so on, is important. I want to re-emphasize that because certainly you want to make the best choice that you possibly can for a position. And it frequently happens that you have people apply for a position that you had thought about or maybe they're coming from applications. And all of those kinds of personnel actions that are appropriate. And they are appropriate. And they are necessary. But what I would rather emphasize is the development of a cadre of people that are trained for the position so that you don't depend upon just the selection process itself to make sure that you have good people in those positions. I think you need to have a group of people from whom you can select that have already been trained or already capable in the principalship position. Or at least the potential is there, is what }'m really trying to say. And I think one of the good ways that you can determine that is through the use of an assessment program that has been developed by the Association of Secondary School Principals National Association. I think this is an excel lent vehicle. It's expensive, but it certainly seems to be working out well for a number of school systems. It's an in-basket, out-basket, to oversimplify, kind of technique that's used to identify these people. And then once they are identified you have your cadre from which you can select people. I do believe that the selection process of advertising positions, and so on, is important. I want to re-emphasize that because certainly you want to make the best choice that you possibly can for a position. And it frequently happens that you have people apply for a position that you had thought about or maybe they're coming from outside the area, outside the state. These people must be considered. But I would hate to see a system depend upon that process alone. They need to develop people from within so that when the vacancies come there is a group of people that's ready.
Q: As a principal what was you biggest concern?
A: Having the building warm and clean, and as attractive a place as we could for students to be educated. I hate to keep emphasizing that, but that was such an important factor at that time. I was quite frankly concerned about the staff too. I.... We had a dedicated staff. We had a staff that I think was probably as good a staff as we could have had under the circumstances of that time. Teachers, remember in those days, were in critical.... There was a critical shortage of teachers. So we were always concerned about getting the best people that we possibly could on the staff. So my concern there was really one of having the best staff that I possibly could under those circumstances.
Q: I know we talked about effective schools, but what do you think are the basic characteristics.... If you could give me a few characteristics associated with effective schools what would they be?
A: Well, I would identify the same ones that are identified in the effective schools research. The most important element, in my judgment, is the principal himself or herself. You have to have a strong principal. You have to have a safe and orderly environment in which pupils can learn. You have to have high expectations of those students. You have to have systematic monitoring and evaluation of student performance. You have to have strong community support, and I include in that business-industry area. And one thing I forgot too, is that you have to have a reward system for students. And there is nothing new there in what I've said. It's clear in the research. And if those factors are present you are very, very likely to have an effective school.
Q: What do you think of the testing procedures being utilized in the public schools today? For example, the MRT's, the SRA's, the SAT's.
A: Well, I think clearly a testing program is necessary. It is easy to overdo things in that area. I think we always have to be cognizant of what our publics are demanding. And right now our publics want to see results, in the form of test scores. Even though they may, in the judgment of many of us, be an overemphasis in that area. You can't deal with a problem of that kind by butting your head against the wall. You can't deal with it by saying to the public we don't believe that we ought to be doing as much testing as we are, and therefore we're going to discontinue our testing program, or we're going to cut back severely, You have to prepare the public for that. And until public attitude changes we're going to have to live with a testing program that is fairly extensive. What the public would really like to see right now in the testing program we can't give them. They'd like to see ability testing of students, and then they'd like to see achievement testing. And they'd like to be able to compare the two. And we just haven't reached that level of development of testing programs. I don't know whether we ever will or not. I'd like to think we would because I think that's a legitimate kind of a request from the public. But we have to keep the public educated presently to...so that they realize that that level of sophistication just isn't available to us in our testing programs now. So I guess we're in the situation where we often are. We have to look for that happy medium. We have to provide a testing program that will satisfy the public. At the same time, we have to provide a testing program that will assist teachers in determining where students are, and be helpful in the instructional program. A diagnostic kind of approach, as well as an achievement type of testing program. So its that happy medium I guess we are looking for.
Q: What was the toughest decision you had to make as a principal? And why was it so difficult?
A: I think the most difficult decision always is one that involves, that has the potential for involving people adversely. What that really says is anytime you have to recommend the dismissal of an individual that that's a very difficult decision. You may be impacting a person's livelihood. And I found that very difficult. Throughout my career I found it very difficult. It was a decision that obviously has to be made many times. But if you ask for the most difficult one as a principal, I think that was it.
Q: Did you consider yourself a manager of a building or an instructional leader or both?
A: I would have to say both, although I'm going to readily admit that as a principal I was more a manager of a building in that situation that I described than I was an instructional leader. I attempted to overcome that as best I could by involving myself in the instructional program. And with a small faculty that's not as hard as it might seem, despite the other kinds of duties that a principal would have. I do have to point out that there were expectations of principals at that time, as there are now, related to the management of the building, and the maintenance of records, and so on. Remember I indicated I didn't have a secretary. So those kinds of things had to take place. But there are ways of dealing with that. It was a total commitment.... A total commitment, I think of your time. And what that means is if you're going to be involved in instructional activities, some of the things that you might otherwise be doing at school you don't do at school. You do at home or you do after hours at school. You have to schedule your involvement in instructional activities or it doesn't get accomplished. And so I was able to do some of that. It was possible for our faculty meetings, many of them, to be devoted to instructional kinds of topics. I think we.... It was not an area that was forsaken but it was not an area that received the amount of attention I would have liked to have given it.
Q: What was your key to success as a principal? And what is it about your personality that allowed you to be the success that you were?
A: Well, I'm not sure I was all that much a success as a principal. I wasn't happy with the job that I did as a principal. I was a young man. I was learning. I had an awful lot to learn. I tried to learn quickly in the two years that I was there. So I'm not going to characterize those two years as being the success that I would like to have seen. I will say that whatever success I enjoyed I think was due as much to the kind of people that I worked with, and the contributions that they were willing to make. I said before, they were a hard working, dedicated group. We still have friends in that location that we visit occasionally. We had a wonderful experience there. And I just have to give that group of people credit for any success that I had. Plus (bell ringing) the kinds of experiences that I had had, that I mentioned before, in one other school where I had worked as a teacher, and had learned something about the administration of a school building.
Q: What was your code of ethics as a principal?
A: I can remember that, I think it was N.E.A. at that time that published a code of ethics. And maybe A.A.S.A. as well. I'm not sure. I never did feel much of a need to pay a whole lot of attention to a whole list of things that you ought to do or ought not to do as far as a code of ethics is concerned. I think all you have to do is just do the right thing. You do what you think is right. And I don't know what more you can do. You have to remember that there just is no right way to do a wrong thing. You have to make the decision that you think is right. And you have to make sure that it's, that it's a decision that impacts others in as non-negative way as possible. But I've never been one that tries to be too concerned about a whole list of things that you need to be worried about. If you follow the Golden Rule, and do what you think is right, I think you're going to be alright as far as ethics go.
Q: What was your experience in handling the civil rights issue?
A: We didn't have a civil rights issue then that we had to deal with or should have dealt with in the way we do today. We had civil rights problems. We just didn't recognize them unfortunately. We were still in the pre-integration days during the time that I was principal. We had two separate school systems in effective in the county so a result I didn't really deal with civil rights issues in the way that we do today. We certainly had what I would consider to be civil rights violations. The very fact that you had two separate systems based on race clearly is an issue, and clearly is not something that should of happened. But it is what existed. There were violations as far as sex is concerned too. It would have been unthinkable to have a woman as principal or even assistant principal in those days. And of course, it was absolutely, totally wrong. But in terms of how we dealt with those issues, we didn't. We unfortunately didn't even recognize it.
Q: Have you had any experience in handling the busing issue?
A: Have I ever! (ha, ha, ha) I began my career in education as a school bus driver so I know something about the transportation area. The problem that we had with buses in Bedford County in the Big Island area then doesn't differ too much from the problem that we have now, in the sense of trying to find drivers, trying to find people who could be relied upon. Trying to keep buses running that were much, much older than they should have been. scheduling the routes. All of that kind of business. The principal in those days was heavily involved in that. Not in maintenance of the building, but certainly in trying to find drivers, and scheduling the routes, and so on. That was just a part of the job. My responsibilities in that area, on one occasion, even went to the point of literally driving the bus myself. One afternoon when the hurricane came through, and we couldn't locate our drivers and so I just drove it myself. Fortunately, I had driven a bus so I knew how to do that. So I've had a lot of involvement in that area.
Q: What advice would you give to a person who was considering an administrative position?
A: I think first of all you need to be sure that that's what you want to do, and that it fits within your long range goals. And I do believe in a person having long range goals (knock on door). I know there are (interruption).... I know that there are people who have great difficulty in identifying what they want to be doing twenty, thirty or even ten years down the road. And yet I don't believe that it's wise to strike out upon ones career without having some plan in mind. simply recognizing though that that plan is going to change, and probably change many, many times. But I don't think you ought to be looking for an administrative position unless you have some idea of what you want down the road. But once you've reached the conclusion that that's what you want to do, then I would suggest that the prospective administrator look for somebody that they can work with that will give them a lot of help in getting started. Both on the volunteer basis, that I spoke of before, as well as on the mentor basis. And well it's more than mentor. On the employer-employer relationship basis. What I'm trying to say is I wouldn't apply for every assistant principalship position that comes up. I would pick and choose. I would select someone that I think I could work with well and then would hope they would select me to be their assistant principal. And it's not just working with well, it's learning from, in order to prepare oneself for the next position. I think that you should be careful not to apply for positions that don't fit your capabilities. And there are.... There are different kinds of assistant principalship positions. They may not have different titles always, but they certainly have different responsibilities, and different obligations. I've known people who applied for an assistant principal position because they wanted better salary, and maybe they want a little prestige. And even if they got the position they probably languished in it for a long, long time because it was not a fit. It was the wrong match. I think you need to know what is going to be required of the assistant principal position for which you are applying before you go after that particular one. I think another thing that you need to be very sure of is that you recognize not only the responsibility, but the job duties, and the kind of commitment that type of position will require. I've never known an assistant principal ship that didn't require long hours, weekends, nights, and what have you. And if you're going to apply for that kind of position, be ready for that, and be sure your spouse is ready for that.
Q: What suggestions would you offer to universities that would better prepare candidates?
A: Well, I'm a great believer in intern programs. They haven't worked very well in the educational profession. I still don't know why they won't or don't. It's probably because we haven't invested enough time, and effort, and money in those programs to make them work well. We wouldn't think of having a physician prescribe medicine for an ailment that he or she is diagnosed unless that physician has been properly trained. And if that training didn't include an internship on the part of that physician we'd be mightily disturbed about it. I think we ought to be disturbed about the fact that we don't provide those kinds of opportunities for our prospective administrators, instead of simply throwing them to the wolves as far as moving them into new positions are concerned. I'd like to see universities develop those intern programs with the cooperation of school systems. I'm not going to say that.... I'm not going to imply in saying that the universities are to blame for that situation occurring. The fact that there are very few internship programs. I think public school systems are much more to blame than universities. But I think we need that.... What I would say to the universities and colleges though, is you need more instructors who have been there. You need.... All of us need some theory but you need people to train principals and assistant principals who know what it means to have been in that position. If I can return to the medical profession once again, none of us wants a physician who has been trained by someone other than a doctor. I think there are certain things that ought to be emphasized more in training programs at the university level that are not emphasized as much, in my judgment, as they should be. For example, we talked earlier here a lot about effective schools research. We know what it takes to have a good school. But we don't find that emphasized at the university training level as much as it should be. Unfortunately, it seems to me, so much of our research, so much of our good research is done, and then it languishes in a file, and we don't take advantage of it. And that's true at the school level, the public school level, as well as it is at the university level. I think that we need to emphasize the evaluation of teachers at the university level much more than we have before. I'm not talking about the evaluation of instructors. But I'm talking about an emphasis upon the training of prospective principals in the evaluation of teachers. There isn't anything they do that's much more important than.... That is, we all know that teachers is the heart of the system. We all know that that's where the action is. We all know that we ought to have the very best teachers we possibly can in those classrooms. And how we going to do that if we have not trained our people, our administrators in the evaluation of those people, in seeing to it that we have the best that's available.
Q: Do you feel that Central Office policies prevented you from accomplishing goals you felt could have otherwise been obtained?
A: No, not in my experience as a principal. That simply was not a problem. I had a good relationship with the superintendent. Ii I hadn't had I wouldn't have stayed principal very long. But there wasn't any such thing then as a policy document. The policy was whatever the superintendent said it was at a given time. But in my case, maybe I was fortunate, I don't know. But not only did we have a good relationship, we had a good superintendent. And he knew enough about the situation to give school principals a lot of freedom, a lot of flexibility. There just wasn't any problem in this regard.
Q: What would you like to have spent more time on but other responsibilities prevented you from doing so?
A: Clearly instruction. Clearly that. It just troubled me greatly during my tenure that I wasn't able to spend more time there because despite the fact that we might of had a few problems on the faculty, we had a lot of potential on the faculty too that could and should have been developed. And without any question, that's the area where I would have spent more of my time if I could have.
Q: What are your feelings about the principal's responsibility for identifying and developing future school administrators? I know you touched on this. But. what was your approach. Did you have any specific people that you were a mentor to and can you discuss these experiences with me?
A: I really didn't have when I was principal. I was a very young high school principal. I was twenty-five years old when became principal. And I.... I'm sure that i learned a great deal more from other people than they could possibly have learned from me; certainly at that age. And I would have to say too, that with the particular faculty with which I worked, I don't really believe there was anyone who was interested in moving into administration or who should have moved into administration. Nevertheless, I'll be quick to say that I think that principals have a tremendous responsibility for identifying and developing future school administrators. If principals don't accomplish that task, then I don't think we have much hope because that's where our people come from. I'm fully aware of the fact that many community leaders want to see, as they describe it, all the good teachers stay in teaching. If that happens, I don't really know where we're going to get our good principals. That isn't going to happen. I'm not concerned about that. I think there will always be people who are interested in moving into the administrative ranks. We have to depend upon our principals .to train these people. To give them opportunities; leadership opportunities. Not just the mundane kinds of things I was talking about earlier, but real leadership opportunities. Sharing a task force of some kind, for example, or an important committee. Or involving them in instructional activities outside the realm of their current responsibilities. There's so many things that can be done that will develop these young people. And we have to depend on principals to do it.
Q: Over the past decade schools have become larger and larger with school populations at times exceeding :our thousand students. What do you feel is the best organizational arrangement in schools this large for administrators, teachers, and students?
A: I like the subschool arrangement. I think it's proved to work well. It enables you to take a large school and turn it into several smaller schools. And that provides so many opportunities. Not just for staFf leadership but...or a way of making sure that proper leadership is there. But it provides so many other opportunities for the students themselves that they wouldn't otherwise have; leadership opportunities. The opportunity to get to know other students, their peers better. So many things I guess, I could talk about. That kind of organization is, I guess, somewhat, comparatively new in the education field. }t's certainly not new in the field of business or industry. It's a very common kind of an organizational structure that has worked well there. And I just wonder why we've taken so long in education to come around to that as an organizational approach. } happen to be one that thinks it will work fairly well in smaller schools too. I don't think you have to have a large school to use that kind of a structure. The problem is, in most cases, we can't afford it. And so the advantages of that type of structure are lost. But I'm a great proponent of it. Ideally, I think buildings and larger buildings particularly ought to be structured, they ought to be designed and built to accommodate a subschool kind of arrangement. And I think that is happening more and more now across the state.
Q: What do you feel is the "ideal" size of a school for best administrative instructional leadership?
A: I don't think there is an ideal size. I think that depends more upon the staff, the community, the principal. So many factors that enter into that kind of decision. The ideal size in Fairfax County is going to be very different from the ideal size in Dickenson County. You'd have to take into account other factors. The ideal size may be the most efficient one financially speaking. Certainly that is such a major factor that has to be considered. You have the right personnel, the right.... You have a good teaching staff you're going to have a good situation no matter what size school you're in.
Q: All research points to the fact that excellent schools have administrators who are actively involved in leadership for educational expectations. What are some effective techniques or strategies which you have used.... You can't do it all yourself. You shouldn't attempt to do it all yourself. If you have staff, if you have assistance, then you need to learn how to use that staff properly. And it doesn't just happen. It's something that you have to learn how to do. And by that I mean you have to learn what they can do well and what you can do well. And you have to take advantage of those particular capabilities in the delegation of authority.
A: I think there are other things that I might mention though. I think you have to keep yourself well informed about what's going on in your school. You don't do that by staying in that principal's office. You have to get out in that building. You have to be involved. You have to be visible. You must know, and in many cases in some detail about what is happening in your building. And the way you do that of course is to work long hours. You get out in the building when you're there, and then you do your paperwork and other things after hours. And there is no other solution. That's part of what I was referring to earlier when I said commitment, total commitment. That's what's involved. I believe another factor though I ought to mention here is one of scheduling. You need to schedule your time. And you need to stick to that schedule as best you can. Obviously, there are times you can't do that. But if you don't plan ahead, if you don't determine that you're going to accomplish something on a given occasion, on a given time, you aren't going to get it done because you allow other things to come in its place. So you do have to schedule your time, and plan to make the best use of it that you possibly can.
Q: If you could use one or two word descriptions how would you prioritize your activities for most effective leadership?
A: I won't list these in priority order but I am going to have to be a little repetitive. Delegate, schedule, inform. Not just yourself but others. In other words, have a good public relations kind of program. I think that's very important. Visibility. Emphasis on instruction. I don't know how to get that to one word. Those are the.... Those are activities.... If you do those you're well along the way.
Q: I asked if you have served as a mentor. Did you have a model person you patterned yourself after? If so, please describe that person.
A: Over my career there are many people that I could identify as people who had particular characteristics that I wanted to emulate. I can't say that there was any one person that I ever tried to be like. And maybe that's good because we all have our faults. I did try to learn from everyone with whom I worked. I always felt that every one of my bosses had a great deal to offer. And my job was to pick and choose among their particular capabilities, characteristics, personality traits, and so on, those things that I thought I could and should emulate. Keeping in mind that you still have to be your own person. You have to do your own thing. You can learn from others but you can't do it sam coffey's way or Jack Davis' way or Bud Spillane's way. You've got to do it Jack Burkholder's way. You can learn from all these other people. But you can not, you should not, in my judgment, try to emulate them to the extent that you're going to do things exactly the way they did because that won't work. You pick and choose that which you can apply to your own self, to your own personality, to your own capabilities. So there wasn't any one person but there were many that I tried to learn from.
Q: What would you identify as the five most pleasant principal ship activities in which you were involved?
A: I enjoyed working with the faculty. Faculty relationships, if you will. And not just professional but after hours kinds of relationships. I was principal, as I had indicated, in a very small community so you get to know everyone well. And everyone knows what everyone else is doing and so on. But you enjoy the kinds of social relationships you have with these folks. I enjoyed the community activities. Watching kids grow, student academic growth. Especially in a situation such as that, is an area in which you can take a great deal of pleasure. And the same thing with professional growth. Your own as well as those with whom you work. Professional growth activities, I'm talking about, you participate in. Inservice activities. Most, not most of us, but several of us were involved in going after higher degrees at the time, and participation together was very enjoyable. And I loved the student extra curricular program too. I still enjoy that. There's nothing I like more than going to a high school foot ball game on Friday evening or a basketball game or a school play or a debate or whatever you might have an opportunity to see, and participate in. I thoroughly enjoyed that, and still do to this day.
Q: What were the five most unpleasant principalship activities in which you were involved?
A: Well, I already mentioned one. Teacher removals is always unpleasant. And always will be. student discipline is usually not fun. Something that's necessary, and quite often can be turned into a positive kind of an experience. But most of the time it's not fun. When you have to be involved in the operation and maintenance of the building, and the transportation system, and so on as much as I was that's kind of drudgery. Necessary to be done but not particularly a pleasant type of activity. Serving as your own secretary is not much fun either. Especially when you don't type (ha, ha, ha). It was always heartbreaking, in that situation which I was, to see students drop out of school. }t was a common occurrence. And I can remember more than once visiting homes trying to persuade students, persuade parents to require their children to stay in school. But the norm was to go to work as soon as you were able to, old enough to get a job. And that was, I guess, one of the most unpleasant things about the situation which I was. And one of the things we worked on the hardest.
Q: What in your experiences did you find most beneficial in helping you maintain your "sanity" as a principal?
A: Well, you get many rewards from being in education. You receive many rewards from being a principal. I don't care whether the situation is.... Whether it's one that I described or whether it's being principal of Robinson secondary school in Fairfax County where there must be 4,500 kids. I don't know how many are there this year. But there are many rewards associated with the job. Watching kids succeed. Watching teachers succeed. Your relationship with community leaders, members of the community. Your participation in school activities (bell ringing). All of these things are very, very rewarding. And if you keep positive aspects of the job in sight the negatives tend to go away. Certainly diminish. I never have.... I hope I haven't had any problem with my sanity. I suppose one could allow oneself to reach a point where you really ask yourself why you're in this business. And most of the time the answer comes very clearly. For some, where it doesn't come, I suppose they leave the business. And they should because it is one of those things that you really have to enjoy doing. if you don't enjoy then you shouldn't stay.
Q: if there were three areas of operations for administrators which you could change what would those areas be and why?
A: I would try to find some relief in some fashion from the long hours of work that administrators have to endure. I'm not at all sure that's possible because educators don't have a monopoly on that these days. Almost any profession, almost any job that pays a decent salary requires much more than eight hours of work per day. The eight hour day just doesn't exist very much anymore for many professions, for many jobs. Nevertheless, I would still like to change that if possible so that there would be some relief. Clearly, the area of salary and benefits is an area that I would like to see improved for administrators, for teachers, for both. It needs to be improved. We'll always have a problem in that area, and we'll always have to work on it. But we need to continue to work on it. I think the third area that I would mention is no less important than the first two. We find ourselves as administrators and as teachers, but administrators more so, I think, in a highly restricted environment. ln some respects maybe it's necessary. But there seems to be an ever increasing flow of governmental regulations, both federal and state. Of policies, regulations at the local level that are imposed by local School Boards. There is a freedom of operations that I enjoyed as principal that just doesn't exist anymore. Certainly, not to the extent that it did then. And if it were possible. I don't suppose it is. But if it were possible for us to get back into a situation where principals were able to function in an environment where there were less restrictions on what they were able to.... Although let me say on the ways in which they were able to accomplish. Then I think we would all be much better off. Schools would profit. Kids would profit. All three of those areas of change are going to be very difficult to accomplish.
Q: Since you were in the principalship prior to the implementation of PL94-142, how did you help students with special learning needs in your school?
A: Well, first of all, I'll have to say that all too many of students who fit that category were still "in the closet". They didn't come to school. We didn't have programs for those students. l's not to say we shouldn't have but we didn't have. We had some students who were in school who clearly had some real special needs. And I think that the kind of help that they received was the kind that an individual teacher was able to give to that particular student. My wife happened to be a teacher in the same school where I was principal. That wouldn't happen today either. But she had one such student in her classroom. And even today when we go back she never (cough-pardon me) fails to ask about that student. That student stands out in her mind. And I know it's because of the extra attention and help that she tried to give to that student. And I think that was true of all the teachers. Help wasn't there in the form of special programs. Not even in the form of special materials. }t was there in the kind of love and care that individual teachers had for those students.
Q: What were the major student discipline problems in your school when you were a principal and how do they compare with today's discipline problems?
A: Ha. No comparison. There is no question but what things were a lot easier from a standpoint of student discipline in those days. Smoking in school was a problem. But it was smoking tobacco it wasn't smoking marijuana that was a problem. Alcohol was virtually no problem. That's not to say the guys didn't have a beer at night some place out when they were cruising around. But in terms of alcohol being a problem in the school, in terms of students coming to school under the influence, that kind of thing. That wasn't a problem. We didn't have a problem that was related to sex or to aids or family life education. This kind of area at all. These kids grew up on the farm. They knew enough about family life education where you didn't have to worry a whole lot about explaining problems related to that. There were not, for the most part, problems related to respect for teachers that you have now among students. There were some problems in that area. But usually when you had that it was a problem of the teacher not of the student. So the discipline kinds of difficulties that we had just were so very different that we had. And the good part about it too, I suppose, was you could always count on parent support. Any time I needed to talk to a parent about the behavior of a child I had that parent's support. And you could count on some (cough- excuse me) changes being made as a result of that support.
Q: Do you feel that it is asking too much for the schools to deal with all of society's problems today?
A: Sure is! Far too much is expected of schools. society's different. Of course schools have to assume responsibilities that schools didn't have to assume thirty years ago. But you can't.... schools can not be all things to all people. The demands that are made upon teachers and principals today are just unbelievable in this regard. What I will call the disintegration of the family in America has put all kinds of demands upon the schools. It would have been unthinkable thirty years ago to consider having a class full of students half of whom had only one parent at home. That just.... That didn't.... When it happened it was not often. certainly not to the degree that it does today. The "latch key" child just didn't exist very much in those days. And all of the responsibilities that school have had to assume as the result of those kinds of changes just have created unrealistic burdens upon schools. I don't know where.... I don't know where you draw the line. You simply cannot say that we don't that we should not be assuming some of those responsibilities. But I think we need to look at each issue as it arises and make some judgments. Day Care is a very good example. Where the school's responsibility begins and the responsibility of the community and local government ends is a determination we have to make very carefully.
Q: Some people have suggested that in recent years there's been a "relapse" into the insensitivities toward minority students and minority appointees to administrative positions. Would you please comment on this from your own experience overall.
A: I'm not sure there's been as much of a relapse as some people feel that there has. I think that during the last twenty years or so we were in a situation where minorities had been discriminated against so much and so long that affirmative action programs were appropriate and were necessary. And I think have served a good purpose. I think we have reached a point now where expectations of minorities are the same as they are of the majority race in this country. I think that's appropriate. I think it has, at times and in some individual occasions, been misinterpreted. But I think it's been characterized by some as a relapse into some of the kinds of problems that we had twenty years ago. I think there's another factor that's operating too that some people have real difficulty in recognizing, That is that there are so many other opportunities that are now available to minorities that it is much more difficult to bring a high percentage of minorities into the school system. As I've gone around the state I've seen very little evidence. Once in a while you'll see a situation. But very little evidence on the whole of people not attempting to increase the number of minorities. And not only increase the number of minorities but increase the opportunities for minorities to move ahead into higher level positions. I've just seen very little evidence of that effort not taking place. I just think we have a real problem in the sense that every other profession, every other occupation is trying to do the same thing. And as a result, we don't have nearly as many minorities in education as we ought to have. Especially given the demographics of what's going to happen in the next decade or two with respect to the in creasing percentage of minorities. I think as far as students are concerned, I don't think we've ever.... I shouldn't say ever. Since the days of integration in Virginia, I don't think the expectations that we have had of minority students have been nearly as high as they ought to be. I don't think generally speaking they have been the same expectations that we've had for white students. And I believe we're going to have to really continue to work on that area.
Q: If you could change any five areas of United States education what would they be and why?
A: Any five areas of United States education- Well, I would certainly change is the training of teachers. This is not a question that's difficult to answer by the way. I just need to think for a minute. The reason it's not difficult for me is that we had a Commission on Excellence functioning in Virginia in 195 and "86" when I first came to the Department that developed recommendations for the improvement of education in Virginia. And I served as chief staff for that commission. So I'm familiar with their work and have no problem in adopting their recommendations and answering this question. One of the major areas they were concerned about was the training of teachers. They called upon colleges and universities to restructure education in Virginia. And this committee, an ad hoc committee has been working in this direction ever since. So training of teachers is an area that, in my judgment, needs revamping. And by revamping what we're really talking about is a greater emphasis on subjects, background and subjects being taught. As opposed to the methodology and the "how to" kinds of courses. That's just one aspect of training of the teachers; training of teachers. And I won't take time to get into the number of other aspects of it. I think that a great deal of attention needs to be given to the middle school area. It was called by one of the members of that commission an "educational wasteland". I won't go that far. But there's no question but what improvement needs to be made in that area. I'm not talking about teaching improvement. I'm really talking about program improvement. I don't know whether we've ever really done the job that we should do in identifying appropriate curriculum for middle schools and meeting the needs of the boys and girls that are attending middle school. That's a difficult time of life for them. And we.... That's the time in which the notions of drop out really begin to take place. And indeed drop outs sometimes and some cases begin to take place. We just really need to give a lot of attention to our middle schools. Another area that the commission was concerned about, and I would be also, is the area of disparity. Fairfax County is a very affluent area. Buchanan County is just the opposite. We're going to have to take measures that will insure those students in Buchanan County the same kinds of opportunities. As nearly as possible to insure it, as those students in Fairfax County get. And in Virginia it isn't happening right now. I'd be concerned about the area of illiteracy. We still have far too many students who are going through school, leaving school, even graduating from school who have difficulty in reading and writing. I'm talking about elementary reading and writing skills. It's happening especially in inner city school systems. But it's also occurring in other school systems. And we need to put a lot of effort, and attention, and resources behind that problem. And I think one of the ways that we deal with the middle school problem, and the illiteracy problem, and the disparity problem is through improved technology. Buchanan County isn't ever going to be able to afford the kind of education that Fairfax County can give to its students. But through the marvels of technology we can help Buchanan County. And we can do that through things such as the electronic classroom, through providing computers to schools. We can we believe improve instruction a great deal in many situations through a computerized approach. ln any event, we need to take advantage of technology in a way that we never have been able to before. I'm sure there are other areas I would change if I could but you asked for five so those are my top five.
Q: Do you think the perception of the taxpayer, i.e. public has changed within the last years in regard to education; the quality of education?
A: That's an interesting question. And a good question. The Gallup poll would say not very much. Most recent poll says not very much. But there's a very interesting thing that I have observed about Gallup poll questions related to the public perception of public education. And that is that the public's perception of schools on a global basis, a national basis is still not what it should be. Well, let me say it's not very high. And that's been true of the last I don't know how many Gallup polls. But probably, certainly since a "Nation at Risk" in 1983. But even before that which of course led to a "Nation at Risk". But the interesting thing about it is if you look at some of the other questions in the Gallup poll that has to do with the public's perception of the school that their children attend or child attends, you find they have a very high regard for that school. I think that in part what we're dealing with here is a perception that stays alive, won't go away that everybody else's school is in bad shape but mine's great. And that very fact though gives me. a fair amount of hope. Because if each locality is proud of its school, supports its school feels that its school is doing a good job then I think we can live with a perception that overall schools are not doing a good job. Because after all schools get their support, for the most part, from localities.
Q: Mr. Burkholder, the final question is, what have I not asked you that I should have?
A: (Ha, ha, ha) You've done a good job. (Ha, ha, ha) Oh, I really.... Nothing really comes to mind that I feel I need to add. I think you had a very thorough list of questions and I've enjoyed responding to them.
Q: Thank you so much.
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