Today is November the 20th 1995, this is an interview with Mr. Richard Ballengee of the Montgomery County School Board Office. We are going to be discussing Mr. Ballengee's experience as a school administrator for the oral history of the principalship study at Virginia Tech.
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A: Good morning.
Q: Um, I was wondering if you could begin by telling us a little about you family background, and maybe your childhood.
(Streamed audio file of interview for this question using RealPlayer)
A: I'd be pleased to. I grew up in the Blacksburg area; my father came here in the early forties to work at Radford Arsenal, and I'm a product of the Mongomery County school system, having graduated, ah, from all of the Blacksburg schools. I have a relatively large family with four sis- ters and a brother and we all live right here in the area with the exception of one sister who's in Florida. [Oh, laugh] I've been to a lot of places over the years but I've never found a place that I would rather be, right, than right here in Montgomery County. And after graduat- ing from Tech, doing graduate and undergraduate work there, I, I took a job, ah, in Christiansburg as assis- tant principal of Christiansburg High School, and ah, moved, ah, sort of along the chain of command and ah, became elementary principal and middle school principal, ah, Director of Secondary Education, and ah, had an op- portunity to retire early so I took early retirement four years ago, and I am now employed on a part-time basis as, ah, an instructional supervisor for Montgomery County and I supervise the vocational programs.
Q: That's moving right up. (laugh) Um, did you mention any- thing about your childhood, um, interests? Did you have any particular interests?
A: Oh, I didn't have any desire to be a teacher. I didn't have a desire really to, to get a college education. But having grown up in Blacksburg community with Virginia Tech right at our back door, it didn't take me very long, ah, to realize after I finished high-school, that ah, I needed to further my education. So, ah, Virginia Tech ah, enrolled me there and ah Ms. Lucy Crawford became my men- tor on the Tech campus and, ah, encouraged me to go into teaching. And, I've never regretted that. Probably had my life to live over again, I'd do the very same thing.
Q: Um, could you discuss your college education, and ah your preparation for entering the field of teaching?
A: Well, I didn't have any preparation for teaching, um, I started out in business administration thinking that that was the direction I wanted to go with my life and ah, got hung up on accounting for some reason and ah, ah decided that ah perhaps I should change majors; and ah, had an interview with Mrs. Crawford and she just completely sold me on the Marketing and Distributive Education program at Virginia Tech and when I completed the ah degree require- ments, then my first teaching assignment was as a dis- tributive education coordinator.
Q: And um, now Lucy Crawford, how did she ... do that? What kind of a person was she?
A: Ms. Lucy was a, a unique person, she had a varied degree in retailing and she was also head of the Distributive Education department at Virginia Tech, and there were about eighteen young men, I think one lady in our program and she took such a tremendous interest, in ah, all of her students, that I just could not help but not, but fall in love with Ms. Crawford and also with teaching. I couldn't wait to get that first teaching job.
Q: Well, sounds like she was a real motivator.
A: Yes, she was.
Q: Uh, how many years did you serve as a teacher, an actual teacher?
A: I was a Marketing and Industrial Cooperative Training teacher for four years, and had an opportunity to ... ah after I completed the Master's Degree, to leave the area, and when my superintendent realized that I was going to be seeking employment, ah, elsewhere, ah, he offered me a job right here, and this was what I always wanted to do, I wanted to stay in the area, so I took a job as assistant principal at Christiansburg High School with a ... a goal in mind to someday become principal [Goals, oh].
Q: Could you talk a little about the circumstances surround- ing your entry into the principalship? And I think you mentioned, um, sort of how that led, ah, to that, and the way you in which you were chosen to be an administrator.
A: I think teachers have to take an interest in all facets of the instructional program, a teacher who just, ah, concentrates on what goes on within the four walls of the classroom, ah, that to me would be a very boring occupa- tion, and, ah, as a classroom teacher I wanted to learn everything, now maybe I was different, I'm not sure. But I wanted to know how a school operated, and I wanted to know how, how ah, ah the principal dealt with discipline problems. I wanted to know all about, ah, record-keeping. And so I, I ah, volunteered to do a lot of the things at school that normally teachers don't do. And, ah, I think, ah, he saw some initiative there and made that recommen- dation that I become, ah, assistant principal. Of course my ... my opportunity to leave the area probably had something to do with that too, because, ah, immediately I was offered a job when a ... when they realized that I might be leaving.
Q: He must have had his eye on you. (both laugh)
A: Probably so, in more ways than one.
Q: Ah, and you also had mentioned James Earp, is that, ah, the gentleman's name?
A: Yes, ah James Buddy Earp was the principal at Christians- burg Highschool at that time, and a, a tremendous admin- istrator, and I probably learned more, ah working with Buddy Earp for four years as his assistant than I ever learned, ah, from textbooks and any other practical ex- perience I might have had; just a tremendous person.
Q: Yes, practical experience, huh?
A: Yes, and sometimes we learn from trial and error, fortunately, ah, Mr. Earp didn't allow me to make too many errors. (both laugh)
Q: Kept you right on track too?
A: Oh yes, oh yes.
Q: And you were at the middle school?]
A: When Chrisiansburg Highschool was built it was a brand new facility and we had to decide what to do with the old secondary school, the old highschool. And at the time, middle school had been mentioned, and I didn't know anything about middle schools, I did know a little bit about Junior High School, and when my superintendent asked me if I would like to be principal I had to say, "Tell me something about it." And, ah, he gave me a book to read called The Emerging Middle School. And when the new school was built, and the high- school became the middle school we went from four hundred students at the elementary level to almost eight hundred students practically overnight. And, ah, I became prin- cipal of that new facility, ah, in 196...1973, and I was principal there for seventeen years. [That's a good long dedicated...] (both laugh) People say that's why I, that's why I act like I do because I've been around middle school kids so long [laugh] Middle school young- sters, um, are full of energy. The entire curriculum is based on the social, the emotional, the psychological needs of, ah, middle-school children, and I'm real pleased that I was part of the development of that curriculum and the development of a program to meet the needs of that particular group of young people.
Q: Not just anybody seems to be interested in that age group.
A: Well, it's not for everyone, and we used to interview teachers for middle school, ah, one of my favorite questions was to ask the teacher: "Can you still think like a thirteen-year-old?" And, ah, not all teachers are cut out to teach middle school kids.
Q: Okay, yes ... let me ask you this: Could you describe your personal philosophy of education, and how it evolved over the years?
A: I don't know, I think, I think philosophy of education probably changes as often as new trends in education come along, and my philosophy has always been to assume responsibility for the success of every child. And I think kids have to be successful. I've never met a young person who did not want to be successful in school. And I think one of our, the, the major focuses of the middle school was to see that every child had an opportunity to be successful. And for those kids who weren't success- ful, I think sometimes you have to kind of force 'them to be successful. And I mean, and when I say that, I mean teachers have to do a lot of positive reinforcement, and particularly for kids who, um, may struggle academically, kids who may fall by the wayside. And I can assure you, by the time they get to middle school, you can identify kids who probably will drop out of school, and many times it's because the child has never experienced a lot of ac- ademic success. And our philosophy was; let's see that every child has an opportunity to learn and to be suc- cessful.
Q: You seem to be very ... flexible.
A: Well, you have to be, I think, in the, in the school bus- iness, and you have to treat all children as individuals, you can't just have a ... a set attitude or a set philos- ophy that's gonna apply to every child, and teachers at the middle school level particularly have to be flexible; you have to stay two steps in front of ... of the young people all the time, at all times, ah, their interests change, ah, kids want to experience a variety of learning experiences. Ah, they will be real excited about one thing one day, they'll drop it and they'll pick up the next thing that comes along. So teachers have to be on their toes and have to stay two steps ahead of, of kids, particularly at that level, it takes a lot of planning.
Q: I'm sure, that sounds like, it's a very challenging age, obviously. Um, let's see...I think you mentioned a young man, maybe you can tell me about a young man who, um, you had a particular experience.
A: Yeah, this ... this was a youngster who, ah, was a lot of problems in school for him, he was a discipline problem, there was hardly a day we didn't have to deal with this, this youngster, and I had, I had utilized every resource that I knew and we just could not reach, ah ... this child until it was revealed to me that he had had a trau- matic experience in his life. He had witnessed, um, two of his ah, ah, brothers ah, who were killed ... murdered, and we didn't realize that. And no wonder this child was angry, it's no wonder he was upset, and no wonder he was, ah, lashing out. And when I called a team of teachers together that taught him and we talked about what can we do to help this, this, ah youngster; what can we do to, to try to subdue this anger that he had. And it all boiled down to the fact he had never been successful at school. Ah, and we did everything we could, to get him to be successful and for the most part he was. We never did get him completely turned around but he ... right now he's a good citizen; and he stops by the school, or he used to, occasionally he'd stop by, ah, just to tell me how he was doing. And there were times that, ah, when he would tell, ah, me stories about where he had been, and how much money he was making and I, I thought maybe I could be his assistant (laugh)
Q: Wow, that must make you feel really great.
A: Well, I felt good about it. As I said, I don't know whether we ever got him completely turned around, but once we realized what his problem was, and I think so many times in public education we just don't take the time, ah, to realize what some of the problems that kids bring to school with them. And I've always wanted to put teachers on a bus, and just take them around the county and show them where kids come from and some of the places that they live and, ah, some of the hollers that they have to walk out of in the mornings to get to school and, ah, lots of times kids, ah, come to school, they don't have their homework and we don't realize that there may eight or ten other kids in the family and the kid's fighting for a place to sleep. He doesn't have the room to spread his books out to do homework. And, um, once you realize, um, what kids bring to school with them, some of the problems they have, then it's easier to ad- dress the problems and the needs that they have.
Q: Yes, sounds like a good way to look at it. Would you describe the instructional philosophy of your school that you set up; and telling how it developed and how you view its success.
A: Well, we, when we, we knew we were going into the middle school, we set up a team of sixty people: These were ad- ministrators and teachers, ah, to design a middle school and to develop a middle school philosophy. And we had, ah, two pure middle schools that were gonna be, ah, es- tablished in Montgomery County, and two combined schools. When I say combined, that's grades six through twelve. We wanted to establish a uniform, ah, program, so that every school would be offering the same thing and pro- grams would be similar. So we spent a full year, ah, discussing and analyzing what we wanted. And it, it took a long time just to develop the kind of schedule that we wanted, and what kind of courses that we wanted to offer. We wanted to be very careful that the middle school did not become a junior high school, or that the middle school did not become a miniature high school. And we, with that thought in mind, then we began to develop a philosophy and curriculum to meet the needs of this early adolescent child. We learned a whole lot about the so- cial, the emotional, ah, the intellectual needs of kids during that study and we tried to base the entire curric- ulum on those needs. The one thing that we didn't do, (both laugh) we didn't involve the community. Now think back on those days, how foolish that was that we didn't have parents serving on this ... this task force to study the middle schools. And that came back to haunt us a couple times, and we had to get the community then to buy into the middle schools; it took a whole lot of visita- tions and a whole lot of programs inviting parents in to explain the philosophy and what the middle schools were all about. And there was a lot of misconceptions out there from the community, and if we had just included them to begin with, our job would have been much more, more easy.
Q: Um, (laugh) so you got to start really at the very beginning to set that philosophy.]
A: Oh yes, yes, and middle schools were relatively new; there were only a couple of programs in the ... in the state. And we visited those programs, Louden County and Orange County, ah, we visited a school, ah, ah, down near Richmond. Ah, not to copy a program, but just to look at programs to get an idea of how middle schools, ah, should be set up.
Q: Right, and you were looking for a certain type of teacher, ah...
A: Yes, yes, we, we wanted, ah, we wanted teachers who were committed to middle school children, and when we moved from the high school, or when we moved the high school to the new school, we gave teachers an opportunity, those who wanted to stay and those who wanted to teach in a brand new facility. And I was very pleased that most of the eighth grade teachers elected to stay at the middle school because they like that age youngster. And of course then we picked up our sixth and seventh grade teachers, former elementary teachers, ah, to become part of the middle school team. I felt we had a very strong instructional staff because they were committed, ah, to that age level and understood the age level.
Q: And you got to interview all those (laugh)... Oh yes, oh yes (laugh). That's great. Um, what techniques did you use to create a successful climate there at the school for learning, would you say?
A: The one thing we had to do is eliminate all distractions and interruptions. And we made it a point to not make announcements, ah, and interrupt classrooms with intercom messages. And sometimes that was hard to do, ah, but, but we made an all out effort, ah, to do that. Ah, I didn't like a bell ringing every fifty minutes. We tried to eliminate the ... the bells but we were spread out in three different buildings and it was a little difficult to coordinate that, so, ah, we never did completely elim- inate the bell system, but I know that there were some schools around the country that had eliminated bells, ah, we never did succeed in doing that. [laugh] One of the things we did to try and create a favor- able climate for learning, for my part as principal, was to be visible. I wanted young people to see me every day. And I always made it a point to be in the hallways during class changes. Not just, ah, to supervise the students as they ... they moved, but to speak to them, and interact with them. And I usually carried a pocket- ful of pencils with Christiansburg Middle School written on them [laugh] and um, I'd ask a student a question; if they answered it correctly, I'd give them a pencil. And sometimes with sixth graders, the question would be, "Tell me the name of the principal of this school." (both laugh) I was only disappointed a couple times, the kids didn't know who the principal was. (both laugh) They could tell me the assistant principal because they interacted with ... with him probably more than they did with the principal. [So that was real special to get a pencil from him] Oh it was, it was, cause I thoroughly enjoyed that, and writing notes to kids; I still have young people, ah, tell me they have, ah, the note in their, their scrapbook that I wrote to them when they were in middle school, and it takes a little time to do that, but, ah, kids who do something outstanding, and if you ... if you notice in the paper they've done something in Scouting, ah, or some community activity, you write them a note of congratulations; if they made the honor roll, write a note of congratulations; coming from the principal, I thought that was very important; and it took a little time to do it, but, ah, it payed off. [Yes] And sometimes just writing a note of encouragement to a child that you know may be struggling academically or a young- ster who may have gotten in trouble, ah, and you had to discipline; just write him a little note, and encourage him to do better. [That should mean a lot] Well, I think it's important that kids leave school ... school feeling good about school. And there were days, I know, that we had kids that got on the school bus that sat down and they didn't care whether they came back or not. And that always troubled me, and particularly kids who may have gotten in trouble with a teacher, or maybe even a child that I had to deal with in a ... in a, a negative way because of a discipline problem. But I always tried to head that child off before they mounted the school bus to let them know tomorrow's another day. Come back and let's try again tomorrow [try again, laugh]
Q: Uh, could you describe successful, and any unsuccessful, experiments in climate building in which you might have been involved?
A: Well I mentioned the bell schedules, that wasn't as suc- cessful as I would like for it to have been. I think probably one of the most successful things we did, and this happened years after we established a middle school, was the restructuring. I was a part of that shortly be- fore I left the middle school. And now the middle schools have completely taken on a new face. Block scheduling, team teaching. We began to get into that and it was a very positive thing. And once teachers buy into it, and kids have, they're responsible for fewer teachers than they were under a completely departmentalized pro- gram. The youngster would come from the 5th grade into the middle school, and may have as many as six or seven different teachers. And they were accustomed to having one teacher in the elementary grades. Now that's a big adjustment. And now with the restructured program, and the teaming concept, a student coming into sixth grade will probably have no more than four teachers that works with the child during the course of the school year. And the teachers are able to interact more with the kids, do more guidance kinds of activities for them. And I think that was a very positive experience for us.
Q: It sounds like it. Um, you mentioned something about the dropout rate, also.
A: Now, the dropout rate at middle school isn't very high because the kids have to stay in school until they're sixteen years old; supposed to be seventeen. But so many kids will quit school in the early elementary grades and then wait until they're old enough to drop out, and you can identify those young people very easily. And that was one of the philosophies that we had at the middle school was to try to reach that child to keep them from dropping out once they hit the ninth or the tenth grade. And one of the ways we did that was to encourage success; kids who are successful in school will like school.
Q: Yes, alright, what kinds of things do you feel that, well that teachers expect principals to be able to do?
A: Walk on water maybe, no.
Q: I can see that.
A: Teachers expect ... teachers expect principals to be the instructional leader in the school. And teachers expect the principal to be visible; and to be in the classroom periodically. I think teachers want, ah, the principal, or the administration of the school to see what's going on in the classroom: They want to show off instructional techniques. I never had a problem with a teacher that would be nervous or upset because of a visitation by the principal, and so many of my observations were just walk throughs, maybe fifteen minutes. I could tell instruc- tion is taking place or instruction isn't taking place, And I would encourage teachers to let me know if some- thing special was going on so that I could stop by and at least be a part of it. And many teachers would, and they'd be very disappointed when I couldn't be there, be- cause if they'd planned something exciting that they want to share, certainly they want the principal to be a part of that.
Q: Yes, could you describe your views on what it takes to be an effective principal, ah, describing the personal and professional characteristics of the good principal.
A: Patience, patience, patience. I don't know, I think you have to develop that over a period of time, and what may be effective to me may not be effective to someone else. But I think principals have to take a personal interest in their employees; their teachers. If a teacher is out sick, I'm concerned about that teacher. If a teacher tells me they have a sick child, I'm worried about that sick child. Some principals don't take that kind of interest, I mean it's very businesslike approach, it's the management-labor attitude. I never saw that I was management, I was always a teacher with a little more responsibility. And I approached the principalship strictly as an educator, not as a building manager; not as the supervisor of that building; but as an educator with a little more responsibility. Um, I don't know what makes an effective principal. I think being accessible is so important, and I never wanted the telephone to ring at the school with a parent on the other end wanting to speak to the principal and not being able to reach me. I always felt that was very important and I didn't care if I had to be interrupted at lunch, or be interrupted in any other way. If a parent had a legitimate problem ... they need, they need to talk to the principal. And I always wanted to be sure that I was accessible to them. And some principals, um, I don't know, I call schools occasionally, and I can't (laugh) get them. And I know they're busy folks, probably much busier than they were when I was principal, but I think it's so important that principals, ah, be accessible to the public. And I think that's part of what makes, ah, an effective principal. And being accessible to the teachers; if a teacher has a problem they'll come to the principal, and they don't want to wait. And I think principals have to understand that, that you can't keep busy people waiting. And sometimes teachers just want a pat on the back. And I think we miss golden opportunities to reinforce good teaching behaviors. We expect it, but at the same time I think you have to, to reward it. And, just slipping a note in the teacher's mailbox saying "good job today" or "I enjoyed your class today, what an exciting presentation," they will work harder for you than if you say nothing at all. And if the only time you ever meet with a teacher is to review a problem with them, then that gets old in a hurry. And teachers ... teachers are human just like everybody else and they need that positive reinforcement; we all do. [yes, yes] We all need a pat on the back occasionally [We sure do.]
Q: You also mentioned something about site-based management.
A: Yeah, I didn't get too much involved with that when I was principal, that didn't come along until after I left. But, giving teachers ... giving principals an opportunity to make decisions at the site level. It's okay to have a central office that tells you how to run your school; we sometimes get caught up in that. And I think principals know better what goes on in their school than say, a cen- tral office administrator does. But we got into the site-based management concept; giving principals an opportunity, with their staff, to make decisions on how money is spent, with supplies and equipment. Well we gave them an opportunity to make decisions with respect to how travel allocations were used. They don't have to have a ... a request to, to this office to be approved for a staff development activity; that can ... that de- cision can be made at the school site, and should be. So it's working, I think, for the most part, ah, giving the staff, opportunity to make decisions that impact instruc- tion in that building, and to remove central office so much from the decision-making. We do enough of that as it is. Sometimes we even, I think we even ah, hinder the educational process because of, ah inadvertently or unin- tentionally, ah, interfering with the decision-making process at the, at the local school. [um-hmm]
Q: Well, um, over the last few years, a great deal of atten- tion has been given to the topic of personal leadership. What was your approach to leadership, and could you des- cribe some techniques which worked for you?
A: Well, I was afraid not to be a good leader. I always felt my job as principal was not only to provide the best instructional program at the school and to provide sup- port for the teachers, but also to make sure that prob- lems relating to, to my area of supervision or my build- ing, that those problems did not become a problem at cen- tral office or for the school board. And I was very cog- nizant of, of that and I can't remember but maybe one in- cident in all of my years, ah, as ... as an administra- tor, ah, where a complaint came to the central office that ... that had to be addressed by someone here. But, ah, even in that particular case, ah, all it took was a, all it took was a telephone call to me and the problem was resolved. This was one that got around me, and, ah, the parent had a complaint; instead of coming to the principal, went immediately to the superintendent of schools, and ah [skipped a few steps] Yeah, so anyway we got that resolved. The question of leadership. I don't know what makes an effective leader. I think I've given you some of the characteristics of being involved, ah, a caring attitude, ah, toward the people that you supervise, a love for children, and, and all of that will play into effective leadership. And if you have those characteristics you can't help but be effective. And you ... you can't be afraid to make decisions, and I probably tried to make too many decisions as prin- cipal without consultation. And sometimes those decisions would come back to haunt you. Yeah, I realized early on that any major decisions with respect to instructional programs or anything that's gonna impact on teachers, you better have some ownership, ah, in that decision other than just the principal. So I relied pretty heavily on staff, and, you know, after I got going in the middle school business, ah, to include the staff in major decision-making.
Q: Some principals hold the view that teachers and other staff are usually, ah, well-motivated and reliable self- starters. On the other hand, there are some principals who feel that they must closely monitor the activities of their employees to ensure that they are performing to standard. What supervisory approach did you customarily use during your career as principal?
A: When teachers come to us, we have to assume that they're knowledgeable, that they're committed, that they have a strong desire to teach; and most of them are. And I found during the course of my principalship, teachers liked to have involvement from the administration. The teachers don't want to be told how to teach, they already know that. I might can discuss strategies with them, I might, ah, can discuss including more students in participation, but as far as content and how its presented, I think teachers for the most part know how to do that. Though there are some teachers who once they get a job they quit looking for work. Does that make sense? Right, I think anybody could apply that to business or schools. [um hmm] You don't have to quit looking for work after you find a job. [laugh] And they sit back on their laurels after one year of teaching experience, and they never mature; they never get any better. And for that teacher, they eventually weed themselves out. I, ah, my philosophy was this as far as working with my staff: You know more about what you teach than I know; now you teach it. If there's a problem with your teach- ing, I will work with you. But you won't hear from me as long as you're doing an effective job in the classroom. We're going to work as a team and we're going to be a very effective school. But once the teacher takes the attitude that they have "arrived" as far as, ah, being a teacher, and they don't have to improve, they don't have to keep up-to-date, they don't have to do the things that are necessary to be effective teachers, then the princi- pal has to intervene. And that was my philosophy with not just with teachers, but cafeteria employees, ah, maintenance people, custodians. They know their job, and if they're doing their job and doing it effectively, they don't need the principal breathing down their neck con- stantly, but when there was a problem we would work as a team to resolve it. And there were times that I had to go through teach- er dismissal, those are ... those are difficult times, ah that, that's not easy to do, but some teachers need to be told. "You probably would be happier selling Avon than teaching school," and you cannot let a teacher continue who isn't happy in their work and the kids aren't happy either. And I think it's punishment for kids; I think you're doing children a tremendous disservice by keeping a teacher who only wants a job. And we're not in the business to hire teachers; we don't, we don't provide employment for people who want to teach. We provide opportunities for teachers to be effective and success- ful, ah, applying their trade, and that's teaching.
Q: Um hmm, that would be difficult, to be dismissing...
A: Oh, that ... that's trauma, that's trauma, sometimes it has to happen, but you have to give, you have to give the teacher every opportunity to get their act cleaned up so to speak. And this is a ... is probably a two or three year process, but once the teacher attains tenure, it's difficult. You have to have some pretty strong documen- tation, ah, to get, well say, get rid of a teacher, but to, to remedy the problem, and sometimes it means leaving the teaching profession which they probably should, should have done the first year after they taught and realized this isn't for me. That's the reason I like student teaching programs, ah, gives a young person an opportunity to decide then whether they want to pursue teaching. And if not they need to do something that they would be happier doing, and I've heard so many student teachers say "I can't wait to get my first job, I love it," and then there's others who will say "And I don't think this is for me," and that's the best time to discover that, not after you've been teaching five or six years and then you find out you don't like it, [no] but you got to hang on, and that's sad, that is sad.
Q: Yeah, did you have an experience, ah, a particular...
A: Yes, oh yes, oh, I, I hadn't been principal very long; and we had a teacher that was probably ten or twelve years experience; and, ah, she didn't like kids, she just did not like young people, and would say that privately, you know, in the confines of the teaching lounge, ah, and the cafeteria, or whatever, she would say she didn't like kids, she only worked for the money. And that was so ev- ident in her presentations in class, lackadaisical, no follow-up, ah, ah, just real diffi..., just hard on, on young people, and the kids resented it, parents com- plained, ah, I had, ah, met with her on I don't know how many occasions to point out some things that she needed to do to be more effective; and she just wouldn't, she just wouldn't listen, ah, so I finally had to tell her you got one more year, you have one more year and if we don't see some improvement you're not gonna be reemployed after this one more year. She got worse instead of bet- ter, so we had to cut her loose. And ... and, you know, there was weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth, but, you know, I don't regret that decision because I think we were doing a tremendous disservice, ah, to seventh grade youngsters by keeping this person employed. And I'm sure she's probably happy doing whatever she's doing now; she certainly wasn't happy teaching school.
Q: Yes, and you mentioned a man who was, I believe who, um, you had suggested another...
A: Yeah, yeah, (both laugh) Yeah, sometimes we hire people, ah, who have some experience in athletics, and I hate to think that we would hire a coach who had a teaching cer- tificate. We want to hire a teacher who wants to coach as well. Sometimes they, they get that backwards. And we had a young man, that we hired him, um, one reason we hired him, he ... he had the credentials plus he had some coaching experience and we were looking for someone who could assist us, you know, with coaching responsibilities so we gave him a job and it didn't take but just one year to realize he was more interested in coaching than he was in teaching. And we had to suggest to him then that per- haps he needed to get into another field. And, if, if he could have just coached football and nothing else, he would have been perfectly happy. But his primary job was teaching school. So we had to cut him loose ... well he cut himself loose, we just suggested to him that he would be much happier following another line of work. And, ah, sure enough he is, he's working in a manufacturing plant here locally now. I see him periodically and he's ah ... he's very happy doing that. He's not coaching but... [So it was a service to him also.] Oh I think so, I think so and sometimes you just have to, to say that during that tenure period. Once you let a... The best time to, to get rid of a teacher is before you hire them. Don't, don't hire them to begin with. But sometimes you hire a person and they don't work out. It's best to let them know. You know, don't drag it on out. But once you get past that third year then you have to have pretty good reason. And I never did just cut somebody loose and not give them a reason. You have to say, "These are the things that I'm seeing that you are ... you're struggling with," and suggest to them that perhaps, ah, they would be happier, ah, selling insurance, or, or doing something else.
Q: Um hmm, well, it's often said that the principal should be active in community affairs. Could you discuss your involvement with and participation in civic groups?
A: Oh goodness Margaret, I sometimes get so ... spread so thin with my involvement in the community. And, here was my philosophy when I started teaching school; if you're gonna work in a community, you should live in the commu- nity. I grew up in Blacksburg, I lived in Blacksburg, it would have been much easier for me to maintain a resi- dence there and drive to Christiansburg each day, but I felt that if I'm gonna teach in the Christiansburg area parents need to see me on the streets; they need to see me in the grocery store; they need to see me outside of school. And I felt very strongly about that, and I moved to Christiansburg and I have never regretted that. And I would encourage any teacher or administrator to live in the community where they work. As far as the involvement in community activities, ah, the community has done much for me. I think the com- munity has been as responsible for any successes, ah, that I've had as any effort that I've put forth. And I kindof feel like you need to put something back into the community. We had a superintendent that one time referred to it as putting back in the well. Well, I tried to do that with participation in civic activities, you know, serving on the United Way, ah, board, ah, participation in ah, Kiwanis. And I've been a member of the Kiwanis club for over twenty-five years now; was just inducted into their legion of honor, now which I'm very proud of that, and served as president of the Kiwanis, and I'm presently serving on the board of directors of the Kiwan- is. Um, the Isaac Walton League, which is a conservation group. I participate in their activities. I'm president of the Chamber of Commerce this year. So it seems like, ah, my, my responsibilities for civic activities just ... it, it's never-ending. In fact, I'm, I'm accused several times by my family as "Don't you know how to say no?" Well, the community has done a lot for me so if ... if I'm asked to serve, I usually try to. I served on the, the commission for the New River Valley Detention Home. That was an experience, and one that I enjoyed. Ah, I serve on the board of directors of the New River Valley Workshop which provides employment for young people, or, or for adults rather, ah, with handicaps. And, that's a rewarding experience. So, I'm involved in community activities, and I think that's important. I think it's important for principals to realize that they have to be a part of the community, and participation in community activities is important. [Yes] And you know it's not just important for principals, but for teachers as well. They need to be seen outside of school.
Q: Definitely. Which groups would you say have the greatest influence, ah, in the schools?
A: What? Outside groups?
A: I don't think there's any question that your, ah, Parent- Teacher Association is probably the most influential group of, ah, people, because they, ah, they speak out in support of and you go to, to the budget hearings, there's usually someone from, from county council of PTAs, or a local PTA unit who, ah, is speaking in support of budget- ing. I think though, the school board listens more to community organizations if they're speaking as a group, than for someone who may be speaking as an individual. [Oh] I don't think there's any one particular group other than maybe the PTA, ah, that has the ear of the school board or the school administration, as much. [Wow, that's good to consider.]
Q: Could you give your view on parental involvement in the schools, and describe how you interacted with parents and citizens who were important to the well-being of the school?
A: Parental involvement probably is one of the most diffi- cult things that principals have to, to deal with. The parents that you need to be there are the parents who never ... who never come. And the attitude of so many parents is that "You know more about teaching than I do, you teach my child. If you have a problem, you call me, and I'll help you deal with it, but otherwise leave me alone." Fortunately we don't have too many people who feel that way. There are some communities that we have a tremendous amount of parental involvement and then there are other, ah, communities or schools that the only time you get the parents there is when you're having an activ- ity involving their child. If they're in a performing activity, um, they'll be there, but come to a PTA meeting would be like pulling teeth to get some folks there. I encouraged ah, parental involvement though I didn't al- ways succeed. We tried to have coffee hour, and we'd send out maybe a hundred invitations, just pull them at random, and invite parents to come and have a cup of coffee and a donut and, just chat with the principal about anything they wanted to talk about, with respect, ah, to the school. And we had some very interesting discussions, ah, with those meetings. The only problem is if you have them during the day, you don't get too many parents because if you, if you'll survey, you'll find that most parents, both are working. [Right] And to come to an activity like that, they have to get off from work. So then we tried to schedule a few of those in the evening as well, with desert (both laugh) and, it was successful for the most part but the parents that came were the parents who usually came to all the other activ- ities. And the parent who didn't come, who didn't accept the invitation was the parent you just couldn't get there for anything else either. [Yes] But parental involvement is so important; I wish, I wish that parents could just understand that once a child leaves elementary school, the child still needs the parent involvement. And with many kids, once they hit middle-age (laugh) middle- school, and highschool age, they don't want their parents there, they don't ... they don't. Yeah, it's difficult to get them to take notices home. [laugh, Yes] But I wish parents could understand that it's so important to follow the child all the way through school and to be totally involved in the, in the educational process, and be involved in their activities; not just attending a ball game where the child may be playing ball, but to attend other activities at the school as well. [Right]
Q: Well there does seem to be a change in family structure.
A: Yes, there is, there is.
Q: Would you describe your approach to teacher evaluation and give your philosophy of evaluation?
A: Well, as I said Margaret, teachers know more about teach- ing than than the principal knows. They know more about content. I know very little math, and I can walk in a math class and sit down and tell whether learning is tak- ing place. I know enough about teaching to know whether the kids are learning. [Right] And my approach was, "You do your job, and you be effective at it, and you're gonna be successful. The, the evaluation process will reflect that. Of course, the evaluation can't be just what takes place within the four walls of that classroom either. It has to be the interaction with kids; the relationship with children; the relationship with parents; ah, the total involvement of the school. And so many times, at the bottom of the evaluation we'd have the number of classroom visits that I made, but also, I'd always make a comment at the bottom, this also reflects general super- vision and observation, ah, during the school year. And seeing that teacher in the hallway, seeing them in the cafeteria working with kids, ah, that has to be a part of the total evaluation process.
Q: Yes, not just a certain amount...
A: Yeah, and when you go into a classroom, you don't look for the negative things. Look for the positive. The negative things will jump out at you. [Right] Ah, but look for the positive things.
Q: And what about TESA?
A: Well, that was a ... that was a staff development pro- gram. It was sort of a three-pronged, ah, program. We spread it out over several years. And we had, ah, the TESA which was, what did I tell you that was, Teacher Effectiveness Student Assess... I can't remember what it was, anyway, (both laugh) it was, it was showing the teacher how to interact with all the students in the classroom. And some teachers without consciously being conscious of it would address only the kids who were close by; [Oh yes] without drawing in total participation from the back of the room, from the sides of the room, It, it appeared that there was sort of a "T," you look at the middle, and you look immediately to your left and right on the first couple rows [laugh] and kids weren't being brought into the discussion. And, ah, that was a pretty good program; it, it opened the eyes for a lot of teachers and helped to include all students in discus- sions. Ah, that and Assertive Discipline was another, ah, of our staff development programs. We also had a program on lesson planning; [um hmm] effective lesson planning and, ah, all of our teachers went through that. And it was a good program. Unfortunately, once you run the cycle, and you've picked up most of your ... your teachers, any new teachers that you bring on, you don't have that so it's difficult to bring them into the cycle again. [uh huh] But we might do that again in the ensuing years to have a county-wide staff development program. [Great] It's Teacher... hmm, I can't remember what TESA stands for. I'm drawing a blank here. Teacher Effec- tiveness Student Achievement, something like that. [Um hmm, encompasses all those areas] Yes.
Q: Well, there are those who say that central office poli- cies hinder rather than help the building-level adminis- trators in carrying out their responsibilities. Would you give your views on this issue, and if you had the power, what changes would you make in the typical system- wide organizational arrangements as the way of improving administrative effectiveness.
A: You're gonna get me in trouble is what you're gonna do. (both laugh) As a principal, I didn't mind central of- fice intervention, up to a point. You should look for- ward to visits from central administration rather than look out the window and see them coming and think "Oh, what do they want this time." And some principals have that attitude; some teachers have that attitude. They, they feel very threatened when someone from central of- fice comes. Ah, my philosophy as a central office admin- istrator is; my job should make, should be to make the job of the principal as easy as possible. I want to take some things off the principal if I can. Paperwork, I would rather handle that than ... than to send it out in- to the schools, because principals have enough to do just in the things that principals have to do every day with- out dealing with paperwork. I used to think, "How can I possibly read all these memos that come across my desk," and so many of them I had to respond to. And I thought, I used to think, "Do they have a machine at central office that just cranks out memos." Well, yes we did. Ah, we had every ... every area that had a supervisor, had to get their memos out. Ah, the assistant superintendent, superintendent. We finally decided there's an avalanche of paper out there that we don't need. Let's put together one bulle- tin; every week we send a little packet to the principal and it has all the information they need to know, with respect to memos. You'd be surprised at how many memos were eliminated when they didn't have to be written. And many times you can just accomplish something with a tele- phone call or a visit rather than a memo. Ah, it can be a hindrance if you over-supervise. I like to think that principals out there know more about their school than I possibly could know; let the principal make the decision. And I think most superintendents have felt that way over ... over the years. Let the principal make decisions at the school. They don't need our interference. If they need our help, they can, they can ask us. Or we'll hand off problems before they ever get to the school. My role as supervisor is to try to make the job of the principal easy. And anything I can take away from the principal, and do myself, so they don't have to do get caught up in it. In vocational education, there are reports, reports, and more reports. All of them have to have something from the principal. I say to the principal, "Give me your signature on this, I will take care of it," and they're usually very happy to do that.
Q: (laugh) I'm sure. you're saving them a lot of time if they can deal with other things. As you view it, what characteristics are associated with the most effective schools, and what features characterize less successful schools?
A: Well, an effective school is a, is a school where kids enjoy going to school. It's a safe school. It's a school where there is a very positive climate for learn- ing. An, an effective school is a clean school. It's a school that takes a lot of pride in its appearance. Not just from the administration and teachers and the ... the staff, but the students as well. You have to have owner- ship in that building. Teachers, students, parents, cus- todial staff all have to feel an ownership and a part of that building. And, and there needs to be a lot of pride in it. That makes an effective school, particularly a school that kids go to and feel good about. And unfor- tunately there's a lot of kids that don't feel good about their school. Now, that's an effective school. Just reverse that and you've got a school that isn't very effective; a school that doesn't care; a school that doesn't put stu- dents first; a school that, that isn't clean; a school that kids don't feel comfortable. It, it bothered me, it bothered me very much to hear a child say, "I'm afraid to go to the restroom." Ah, some bully; and you know that happens in elementary and middle school grades, a bigger kid will take advantage of a smaller child. We had to deal with that, and we dealt with it very effectively. And if there's one thing that I would, ah, discipline a youngster pretty strongly, it would be threats and intim- idations. Because you have got to have a safe and a com- fortable school for kids. Otherwise, ah, you've lost your effectiveness. A place where kids feel good about coming each day, and that starts, that starts right from the top administrator. And I wish that every teacher could understand that. When parents, when kids show up at the school building they bring to them a lot of problems that we're not aware of. And if we don't make t hem feel good about being there, ah, they're not gonna be successful. [Right] That's the reason it's, I think it's so important that we understand everything about a child, and you can't, you can't know what goes on in every home. But if a kid is coming in and they, they're sleepy, you know something's going on at home, This child is sleeping in class, what's happening at home? That, that came back to me, the kid says... And I, and I said to him, "Don't you sleep at home? Why are you sleeping at school?" he says, "I can't sleep at home cause I'm afraid to go to sleep." I said "Tell me about this. Why are you afraid to go to sleep at night?" He said, "Cause my daddy gets drunk every night and he comes in and he beats us up, and he said, "I have to be awake when he comes home." Well, we had to deal with that, we had to deal with it. And we don't always understand, we just don't always understand. We don't take the time, and we need to do that as teachers and administrators.
Q: Be sensitive to those things.
A: Um hmm
Q: Well, in recent years, more and more programs for special groups of students, ah, like the learning disabled and the gifted, ah, the non-english speaking children have been developed. Could you discuss your experience with, ah, special student services, and your views on today's trends in this area?
A: When I came to work for Montgomery County school, we had ones special ed program. It was in the basement of an elementary school, in fact, it was this building. This was an elementary school then. One teacher and about a dozen young people. Now we have teachers in every... I don't know how many special ed teachers we have now in the county. I'm sure that it has to be about 20% of our work force; our special education teachers, or at least that's what I've been told. And every program imaginable to meet the needs of young people, not only with, ah, handicapping conditions, but every other condition wheth- er it be emotionally disturbed, learning disabled, um, attention-deficit disorders. Ah, we're getting more and more of young people who meet the criteria for special populations. And we have the programs to meet those needs. We have made so much, much progress in that area, there, there is no need for a child to come through our school system whose need isn't met either by special edu- cation, or on the other end of the spectrum, with gifted programs. I know that we have people with gifted chil- dren who feel that we don't do enough for them. Ah, that is developing, and we have a gifted plan. We're doing probably more at the elementary level, ah, than we are at the secondary level. But we do have advanced placement courses at, at the secondary level for those young people to, to get the extra academic challenge. And I think we need to send this very strong message to teachers that you don't have to stick to the textbook. You can go be- yond the textbook in providing enrichment activities, and challenging academic assignments, ah, for young people with the, with the talent and the gifts to do that. I'm real proud of what we've done in the county to meet the needs of the disadvantaged, ah, special populations, as well as gifted too. When you consider what we had thirty years ago, and what we have now. The inclusion model is working. I know that not every teacher is pleased with that. But making those students with handicapping condi- tions part of the regular classroom, I think it's been a tremendous success. It takes a lot of effort on the part of the teacher to include that younger. Someone asked me not long ago, if inclusion was working for vocational ed- ucation. Well, we've never excluded a young person from vocational education. We couldn't tell any difference because every kid who wants into the vocational programs became a part of the program; we took them from where they were and took them as far as we could. And it, it was always part of our program to do that. And I think other school divisions looking at us for, as a model, can learn a whole lot about how to deal with effective, ef- fectively with special needs students.
Q: Yes, I understand they do come in and...
A: Oh yes, we've done a lot of national publicity with a, a HBO special on a child with Down's Syndrome that was made a part of the regular classroom. Takes a lot of pa- tience, and it takes a lot of understanding; and it takes parental as well as staff involvement to make it work. And it's working, it's working. Some teachers feel that the kids need to be in a special classroom, but why set those youngsters apart and treat them differently? They, I'm sure that there's probably some who will say, "Why don't you create a special school for them?" We don't need to put those kids in a special school; make them part of the regular school program and provide the re- sources for the teachers to work with them. And for the most part we have either a teacher's aide or a special ed resource person working with the teacher who has, ah, special needs students.
A: So it's working.
Q: It sounds very successful. It has been said that good leaders encourage their subordinates and peers by staging celebrations of their successes, no matter how small or insignificant. To what extent did you engage in this practice during your tenure as principal?
A: Well, we partied all the time. (both laugh) No, we didn't, but...
Q: No wonder they liked to work for you.
A: I think it goes back to the principal being involved in the personal activities of the staff. And your staff, the staff has to see the principal as a human being. Teachers have to see the principal as a human being. They have to see, ah, the principal as being a part of social activities. You can't just go around with a business-like face all the time. And we did, we had a lot of, ah, activities that involved the total school staff. Uh, we celebrated just about everything we could celebrate, particularly at the end of the year. And if we had a good successful year, teachers would come to- gether and we'd have a steak dinner. Ah, we, we'd do some things that, ah, teachers enjoyed doing, away from students. And then there were some things that we did with the students as well. I think one of the most suc- cessful programs we had was an academic pep rally. You know you always have a pep rally on Fridays, they're get- ting ready for the big ball game; get the students to- gether, and you cheer and yell, ah, for the ball team. And I thought, "Why don't we do that for academics." And we brought all of our kids together; we recognized the young people who'd been named to the honor roll, those who had perfect attendance, ah, and we cheered and we yelled and we encouraged, ah, other students, you know, to become a part of that. That was highly successful. That was a celebration that I thoroughly enjoyed. That sort of became a, an annual event and we do it a couple of times during the year, ah, just to recognize the kids who are successful academically, and to encourage others to be come part of that, that team. Ah, faculty meetings, ah, I always tried to hold in- formal faculty meetings with our staff, ah, provide re- freshments and, you know, I just felt that was very im- portant. Rather than come in with a, a stern face every time you have a faculty meeting just to talk about prob- lems. And, ah, we celebrated all of the good things go- ing on in the school; we mentioned them in faculty meet- ings; give teachers an opportunity to, to tell about the good things happening. So, ah, we celebrated, I assume we celebrated, ah, many of the successes that we had.
Q: Sounds like you did.
A: Social activities, ah, as far as the middle school, when I first began I thought well, why don't we save those so- cial activities for high school. Let's don't have dances and parties and things like that. Wait until they get to high school for that. I changed my mind after a while when I realized that school needs to address the social needs of young people. And we began to have, ah, periodic parties and teachers would come; and, ah, we'd have a good time and play games and dance and listen to music And usually they were after school, and ah, it was a lot of fun. It, it took some effort to organize that, teach- ers for the most part did the work, and acted as chaper- ones, and ah, I always enjoyed those.
Q: Sounds like a morale builder too, yes, that's great. Well, salaries (laugh) and other compensations have changed a good deal probably since you entered the, ah, profession. Could you go back in time to your early years as princi-pal and discuss the compensation system and your views on its development?
A: Well, we're never payed enough. Though at the same time, we have made such progress in that area, I don't think anyone can complain about starting salaries for teachers or what administrators earn. I'll be honest with you, I made as much money in the field that I was working in that I probably could have made in any other field. And I always felt, you know, we need more money, ah, we should be payed more, but at the same time, ah, we were being adequately compensated. I do a lot of, ah, recruit- ing for the school division, visiting colleges and uni- versities, ah, looking for teachers, and, ah, talking about Montgomery County schools. We're as competitive as any school division in this area with respect to salaries and if you add about 30% to the salary that we have post- ed, then that's the fringe benefits, with insurance, ah, paid, ah, life insurance, paid retirement, income protec- tion plan, sick leave days, ah, we, we're competitive in that respect. I don't know what else I can tell you about salaries, I guess if you're looking for big money, you should go into another field. There's some things that money just can't buy. And I think the satisfaction of knowing that you've helped a child along... I like to go to high school graduation. That's one of the most exciting things I attend every year. And see those kids walk across that stage and think, "Well I might have had something to do with that." Now that, you can't put a value on that. Or to have a youngster come up to you years later and say, "If it weren't for you, I'd never have made it." Oh goodness, you can't buy that. [No] You can't put a price tag on that. [No] So if we're looking for, for monetary compensation, perhaps school people should give up school business and go into some other business. [laugh] But I think we have made such strides in the past few years. [Oh yes] Particularly with teacher's salaries that...
Q: Right, and when you first started?
A: Oh, when I first started? It was pitiful, but no one else was making a lot of money either. I mean they wer- en't making that much money in the private sector. Ah, I quit a job making a dollar and fifty cents an hour on production at a manufacturing plant. I went to school and took a job teaching school, and I divided the number of hours that I put into, ah, one month. And I divided that into my take-home pay, not, not including taxes. I was making seventy-five cents an hour. I thought, have I got my economics here all turned around or what. But we have made tremendous strides. When I first started, the starting salary I believe was thirty-eight hundred [Wow] And, they payed me on a twelve month basis so I got anextra thousand dollars I believe it was, for working twomore months. So, my first job was, it was about five thousand dollars, and I think back on that, how did we makeit; how did, how did we live on that? But when you lookat the private sector as well, that was, that was competitive at that time. [That time, yeah] Ah, my fami- lywould say, "How in the world could you take a job mak- ingsuch a little bit of money?" Well, (both laugh) money isn't everything. [No, sounds like it has developed a longway.]
Q: Could you describe your relationship with the superinten- dent, in terms of his demeanor toward you and your school?
A: Well I've worked for, I don't know, how many have I worked for, ten, twelve? Ah, I've always had a real good relationship with the superintendent of schools. And, you have to work at that. And you have to be very sup- portive of the superintendent. Now I may not agree with his leadership style, and I may not agree with every de- cision that he makes. But he is the superintendent of schools, and when he waves the flag, I'll stand at atten- tion. I don't care who he is, he is the superintendent of schools. I don't have to agree with everything, but you'll never hear me second-guessing him or bad-mouthing him in the community. I just don't think that's a very professional thing to do. [No] And, superintendents have different leadership styles. And some have a hands-on policy where they want to be totally involved in the school. And some have the attitude, "You're the principal, you make the decisions, if you have a problem, you come to me and discuss it with me. But you make the decisions, and you be willing to live with your mistakes." I've always been fortunate that I had superintendents who had the attitude, "You make the decisions, and I'll back you up." And I like that, I like that. Mmm, and you know, not every decision you make is a popular one. But as long as you've got the superinten- dent saying, "He knows what's best for the school" or "She knows what's best for the school," and would be willing to stand behind you in whatever decision that you make... I've enjoyed that kind of relationship, ah, with my superintendents. I never had one that I didn't like. [That's great] Never had a superintendent that I didn't like, or, you know, I've had some I felt were personal friends, and I've had some who took a more business-like approach, ah, to the relationship, but I've always en- joyed a pretty good relationship with our superinten- dents.
Q: What about with the board of education?
A: Well that's something else. [laugh] I don't know, I've worked with, I've worked with school boards that wanted to get involved, they wanted to get involved in things they had no business getting involved in. And, it takes a little courage on the part of a principal to say, "I'm sorry, that's information I can't share with you." Uh, I've had school board members, ah, who have taken a very supportive stance toward programs. And then I've had, I've had school board members who probably didn't know who I was. I mean we may have people on the board now [laugh] that don't know my name, I don't know. Ah, you know, some, some are very aloof, and some are very, um, hands-on type people. They want to be in the schools per- iodically to see what's going on. Not to supervise, and not to second-guess, but to learn about the school system that they're making decisions with respect to policies. And I think it's important that school board members understand that their role is policy-makers. They're not ... their role is not to run schools. [No] And sometimes, ah, they come on the board with an agenda and the want to carry out that agenda, maybe even at a par- ticular school. [Oh] You have to be very careful about that, [Right, mmm] and tactful. [Yes, laugh]
Q: Would you describe some of the pressures that you faced on a daily basis and explain how you coped with them?
A: Trying to deal with the unexpected, Margaret. You know, you work a, a school that has, ah, fifty to sixty staff people, eight hundred kids; I was always worried that something might happen that I couldn't control. As I would arrive at school every morning, I usually said a silent prayer about the time I reached the school to please not let anything happen today that I can't, I can't handle. And ah, you know, sometimes things do hap- pen. Um, an injured child that you have to deal with, that you may have to, to get emergency services for, and that happened a couple times. A couple teachers over a period of time, you know, injured, ah, you know, falling on a ... falling down steps or something like that. And those are things that you, you live with, and you deal with as they happen. Ah, fortunately, I didn't have any, you know, real, major problems. I, I did have a couple kids that were injured. Ah, over a period of, you know, seventeen years you may have that. [Yes] Ah, but I al- ways ... the, the rumors that you might hear in the com- munity about ... particularly near the end of the school year, I remember one in particular, ah, and this rumor kept coming to me that there was gonna be a big fight. I, I said, how could ... why am I not involved in this? Why don't I know what's going on. And it was a percep- tion, it wasn't anything true. It was just a perception. Some kids had gone home and told their parents some things and then first thing you know, it's, you know, at the bridge party, and there was talk, at the backyard fence there was talk, you know, there was gonna be a big fight at school. And there ... there was nothing to base that on. [Right] We finally got to the bottom of it, but ah ... [laugh] I guess those kinds of pressures, the pressure of ah, having parents come in to school, you're, you're not totally prepared for. [Right] And sometimes parents will come to school angry. And you have to deal with that anger. And, ah, that was always difficult. I always felt that, ah, that was a strong suit, in that I could defuse people by listening. You know, parents can't always call their congressman, and they can't al- ways get in touch with their senator or, or their state representatives, but boy they can get, they can get in touch with that principal, and give him an earful too. [Yes] And whether people would call at night or if they just come to the school and be angry, ah, those were things I worried about. And a couple episodes where you know the parent was carrying a weapon, ah, that, that scary kind of things, and the, the threats. And you have to deal with it.
Q: Would you consider that your biggest headache?
A: Oh, that was one of them. I mean that, that happened several times over a period of, of years of experience. [Um hmm] But you never knew what to expect day by day. I knew that we had an effective school; I knew that we had a safe school; I knew we had a school kids felt good about themselves; I knew we had good teachers; but you just never know what's gonna happen. I don't know how principals now, with this thing about students with wea- pons. [Yeah] I can't imagine that. I just ... that's beyond me because I never experienced it. I just can't believe that kids would come to school carrying danger- ous weapons. Oh we had our share of pocket knives and, you know, things like that, that you, in the, in the course of a time, I collected a bunch of little things kids shouldn't have been bringing to school. But it was never a threat. And now as I understand it, the princi- pals have to be constantly on the alert. Drugs, I never had to deal with that. [Umm] Very few episodes that had to do with drugs. And now, ah, it can be a problem. I don't think it's a widespread problem in our school divi- sion, but I know that when you have a problem, it's a big problem. [Yes] And, ah, those are pressures that I wouldn't want to deal with now. I guess our share of pressures as a principal of a school, you know, is a breakdown of a furnace, and that happened. [laugh] Um, mechanical breakdowns; ah, any- thing that would disrupt a school day that you couldn't get lunches served. I mean, you know, you talking about pressure, you got eight hundred kids you need to feed, you don't have any heat to ... to do it with. Those are just things you, you dealt with daily, but there was that constant fear in the back of your mind that something's gonna happen that I may not be able to deal with. [Right]
Q: What would you say some of your, your toughest decisions that you had to make were?
A: Oh, I think curriculum wise, probably some of the tough decisions about, ah, adding programs, revamping programs, getting teacher buy-in, the team concept, ah, that wasn't something that just happened over night, that was some- thing that you gradually had to get into it. And ah, those were good decisions, ah, but it, it took a real selling job to get teachers to buy in. Um, I can't think of any real tough ones other than those that had to deal with... [the daily] yeah.
Q: What do you think the key to your success as a principal was?
A: I think the key to my success? Ah, probably having a very supportive staff. I tell people, and I don't mind saying this. Part of my success was because I had good secretaries. I had two secretaries that worked with me for twenty years. And I knew that they could handle probably... I had an assistant principal. I only had one assistant principal the whole time I was principal. Ah, Robert Dobson, tremendous person. And I knew that I could depend on him. He was responsible a whole lot for the success that I had as principal, and I don't mind saying that, at all. I've told him, I don't know how I could thank him any more, ah, for the work that he did. And just having a good staff. I go back to Christians- burg Middle School now, and I still have people there that I hired. And they always seem to be happy to see me, and I give them credit for whatever successes I've had. And I think my family too, I'd have to say a suppor- tive family. And my children didn't always understand because I wasn't there when I needed to be for them, but I always had time for other people's kids. Ah, you know, so a supportive and an understanding family. And ah, plus I had... we mentioned the superintendents. I had supportive superintendents, and I, I felt that they were responsible for a lot of my success. I, I give credit to Curtis Gray. Ah, he was acting superintendent at the time, cause he was deputy superintendent. He was always giving me encouragement and suggestions. And ah, oh there's so many folks that I can thank. I don't know, maybe a few personal characteristics; being a good listener, knowing when to listen and when to button it up. (both laugh) Having time for folks; mak- ing time for people; if I couldn't meet with them during the school day, I'd meet with them at night. Had a par- ent that says, "I just can't come. I said, "How about Saturday, do you work on Saturday?" "No." "Well, I'll meet you here Saturday morning." And be willing to do that. If you have a problem that you really need to address, be willing to be flexible. And I don't know how many folks do that now, but I thought it was important. [Yes]
Q: Principals operate in a constantly tense environment. Um, what kinds of things did you do to maintain your sanity? (both laugh)
A: Oh, I kicked the dog and the cat and... (both laugh) No, I'm kidding you. Ah, I like to get outside and work out- side. And, ah, being able to go to a little farm that my mother, my mother-in-law owns, ah, and chop wood, and do, you know, just get away from it. And, and you have to, you have to get away from it. And ah, I have a woodpile out in back of my house; I burn fire... ah, I have a wood-stove in my home. And, ah, I go out to the woodpile and chop wood, and you'd be surprised how much tension you can release just doing good physical labor. [That's right] Plus, you have to have an outlet, and you have to have friends. Ah, a principal that doesn't have a good friend that you can talk to occasionally. And it doesn't necessarily have to be another principal. Ah, and ah ... you have to have an outlet. A principal can't survive if you don't have an outlet for all the frustrations that you ... that you have. And probably the frustrations and the tension and the stress are probably greater now than it was, you know, back when I was principal. I say back, when it's only been four or five years ago. [laugh, makes a big difference] Yeah.
Q: Alright, if you could change any three areas in the cur- riculum, or overall operations of American schools, what would they be?
A: Oh, Margaret, that's a difficult question. From my view- point right now, the one thing that we need to do is pre- pare kids better for the world of work. And I don't care whether they're going to college or whether they're going to work, ah, immediately after high school. I think we have to infuse into our curricula some employment skills. Whether the child goes to college, gets a four-year de- gree; they're gonna enter the work force at some point. And we need to teach kids how to do a job resume, an em- ployment resume. Ah, we need to teach kids, how do you apply for a job. What do you do during the job inter- view? What's some of the questions that are asked in a job interview? What is it that employers will be looking for when you go to the labor market? When you, when you want a job, what do you think they're gonna be looking for? And I think those are important elements of the curriculum that we need to infuse. From the vocational standpoint too, we need to begin instruction at an early age; getting young people to start thinking about career decisions. And that can happen in the elementary grades. So many young people come out of school and don't know what they want to do; haven't made any preparations at all, other than maybe, "I want to go to college." Ah, but kids who enter college for... the national statistics say that for every two that enters college, one will drop out. And for that child who drops out, they enter the work force. And there may be people out there who are saying, "Well you're graduating people that don't know how to read and write." Well, it's not that they don't know how to read and write; they don't know how to read and write the right things. And employers will tell me that the first thing they do; they'll put a, put a new employee at a, at a keyboard terminal or a computer ter- minal and they can't read a computer printout. How much of that are we teaching in the schools? Um, and I think that's what we need to concentrate on. I know from sta- tistics that I've read and, ah, interaction that I've had with the business community that 80% of all the jobs available right now require some knowledge of technology, and that's computer skills. How much of that are we do- ing across the board for all students? I 'd like to see us require that, ah, keyboarding applications be, be tak- en as a graduation requirement. Before a young person leaves school, that they have those keyboarding skills. And what a computer will do; and some application of Word Perfect or Microsoft, or Lotus 1*2*3, some of those pro- grams. Because that's what they're going to be doing. If you look in the paper, look at the want ads, and I do, I look at them, because, you know, I may be looking for a job someday. [laugh] After this interview, I might be. [laugh] Ah, and practically every advertisement in the newspaper says "computer skills." And I don't know how many of our young people really have those skills. That's one of the things I would do as part of the curriculum. I don't think that there's anything that I would eliminate, but I think that there may be still a major emphasis on the things that we taught during the fifties. Andyou can't address the needs of the nineties, espec- ially when we're about to go into a brand new century and still use methodologies and content that we taught in the fifties and sixties. Ah, I addressed this with, ah, Eng- lishteachers at one time; I talked to them about commu- nication skills, and could we make that part of the Eng- lishcurriculum. And the comment was made, "If you try todo that, let us know, and we'll sell tickets to the fight, cause there's gonna be a big fight if you try to getus to put anything into the curriculum that, that we may... that may result in something having to be taken out." Because they said, "We can't add anything else." Well, my notion was, every child does not need the same doseof classical literature. It's good to have the ex- posure to; MacBeth, and Beowolf, and Chaucer's Canterbury Tales. And all the other stuff, you know, related to Shakespeare. I love Shakespeare. I can read Shakes- peare for pleasure. But you know, I have never had any- oneask me in a job interview, "Quote me some Shakespeare andI'll give you a job." (both laugh) [Yes] I think every kid should have an exposure, but not every kid needs the same dose. And teachers have a lot of, ah, "turf" attitudes, you know, [Yes] got to protect my turf. Fortunately we've had several teachers in the last two years say, "Why can't we infuse into our curriculum, communication skills?" And all it took was just that hint. We put to- gether a team to develop it. And now we have a communi- cation skills unit that's taught as part of the eleventh grade, ah, curriculum. And we're working on one for twelfth grade this year. And that's to give kids, um, opportunities to ... to have instruction on, "How do you listen effectively? How do you follow directions? How can you be better at that?" And teachers can do that in such things as, "How do you read a computer printout? And how do you, how do you put together a job resume? I think that's important, ah, for all kids. Even if we're working on applied academics, ah, that's one of the things I'm ... has been my focus for the last couple years. Ah, we started with applied math, not as a stand-alone program, but we have to teach math in such a way that kids see a connection between what they're learning and how it's gonna be applied later on. If they don't see that connection, it's, it's difficult to learn. Someone taught me a long time ago, I think it was at Virginia Tech, that kids learn effectively when they see the value of what they're learning. And I think sometimes we get so caught up in content that we forget that kids don't always see the importance of it. It's important to us because that's what we teach. [Yes] Ah, principals of technology, ah, which is a good hands-on physics class. Not too many kids take physics, onlyyour brightest youngsters take physics. Why not of- fera good hands-on course for kids going into vocational programs, particularly some of the engineering clusters likemachine technology and, ah, automotive technology, ah,printing, ah, graphics. Ah yeah, these kids are dealing in an applied class with gears and ratios, and there's things that normally are taught in a physics class, but it's a good hands-on program. [Wow] And we're trying to get that in. We have it in two schools right now. We're working to get two more schools, ah, intothe loop. So those are a few things I'm working on asfar as curriculum. Ah, I think we're doing ... our teachers do a real good job. They really do. We're going through curriculum revision across the board right now,ah, from kindergarten all the way through secondary school. With every program. And I think out of that is gonna come some real improvements in our instructional program.
Q: Wow, that sounds like a lot of good ideas. What sugges- tions would you offer to universities as a way to help them to better prepare candidates for administrative po- sitions.
A: Get more in tune with public schools. Ah, I have always felt that teacher education programs, ah, don't always know what it's like out there in the trenches, and being in tune with schools. Teaching teachers that kids are not always out there anxiously awaiting all of the know- ledge that, ah, you have gained, you know, in your teach- er preparation program. Ah, they may not be as excited about what you teach as you are. And I think teachers have to realize that. You know one of the things we do, we've tracked kids. Your better kids go into teacher ed- ucation programs; they've been in academically challen- ging classes; they've never had to be in classes with disruptive students or students who didn't have as great a desire for academics as they had. Then when they come back to us as student teachers, we don't want to place them in programs where they're gonna be uncomfortable, so we always put them with good kids, you know, academically oriented classes. And just as soon as they get the job, what do we do with a brand new teacher? We give them the most difficult teachers to teach ... ah, the most diffi- cult students to teach. Ah, and then they say, well, but they sure didn't, weren't like this when I was in school. Well, they never had to deal with, you know, kids like that in school. Not that we have a lot of problems, but, you know, teachers have to understand how you deal with students who may not have a full appreciation for school. I've conducted a couple seminars at Tech, and I al- wayslike to think, ah, the presentations I made for peo- plewho were going out to begin their student teaching experiences; be firm, be fair, and be friendly, the three F's. And then expand on those. But I think teacher edu- cation people have got to know what makes an effective teacher and teach it before they ever get out. We went through a period of time several years ago with teacher effectiveness training. And that was something I worked realhard at, at the middle school. We shouldn't have to teach teachers how to teach once they get out of college. Inever felt that there was a need to do that, but I think that you have to show teachers some of the charac- teristics of a good, effective teacher. I'm not sure the teacher education, ah, institutions always do that. More content oriented rather than "how-to" oriented.
Q: Alright, um, despite my best efforts to be comprehensive in my questioning, there's probably something that I've left out, I'm sure. Ah, what have I not asked you that I should have, or is there anything that you would like to add, about being the principal?
A: I don't know, I think you've covered the full gambit here this morning. Ah, I don't know, I think job satisfaction, ah, is one of the things that, we probably should comment on. A, a person who's interested in school administra- tion, you better know what you're getting into, and you better know that there are some problems associated with, ah, the administration of public school. And not all of it you're gonna be compensated for. There is a certain element of being associated with this ... this job of ad- ministration, that you may, you may feel lonely at times. You may feel that you've, you've got the whole weight of the world on your shoulders. But then there's that lit- tle something that will take place somewhere during the year that you say, "It was worth it. All the worry, the anxiety and the stress is worth it" Ah, that's job sat- isfaction, knowing you've helped a young person, or you've, you've even helped a teacher that may have been struggling. Ah, I don't know what else I could tell you about school administration other than of I had it to do over again I would do the very same thing.
Q: I really just want to thank you for, ah, talking with me today, and I really, I want to tell you, I really like your attitude, and I really believe we need more adminis- trators with your very same perspective.
A: Well thank you very much Margaret, you're very kind. I, ah, I've never regretted, ah, being a school adminis- trator. I just regret that I have reached the stage in my life that I'm not a part of all the exciting things that are taking place in education today. So, I'm gonna turn it over to the young people, and let them do it.
Q: Sounds like you're staying very busy.
A: Oh I am, I am, thank you so much Margaret.
Q: Thank you
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