Today is Friday, June 20, 1997. We are at Bedford Primary, located in Bedford, Virginia.This is an interview with retired principal, Mr. Zack Black.
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Q: Let's begin by talking about some of your family background, your childhood interests and development, birthplace, your education, and so forth.
(Streamed audio file of interview for this question using RealPlayer)
A: My name is Zack Black. I grew up in Pulaski, Virginia. I started elementary school at what was called Clairmont Elementary at the time. I went 1/2 a year there and then we moved into town and I started to go to Jefferson Elementary which is a closed facility now. It was a wonderful old building and a great place. But you know times change and facilities change with it. I went to elementary school through the fifth grade there at Jefferson then the crunch hit. It was after World War II in the forties or early fifties. When I was in the sixth and seventh grade we all went to school for four hours a day. I was lucky those two years. I drew the 8:00 am to 12:00 pm shift and I had my afternoons free those two years which was great because I hung around the high school when the athletic teams were practicing. That's where my second home was. Then I went to high school. I started high school downtown in Pulaski at the old high school. I went there for three years and then they took Clairmont Elementary School and added onto it and made a new Pulaski high school. I finished my senior year at old Pulaski High School - "Up on the Hill" - as we called it. It was about a two and a half mile walk to and from school. If you lived in the town of Pulaski you could not ride a school bus. They only transported county kids. So we had to walk and if you got caught on there you did not go back on one, I can promise you that. The discipline as you know was quite different in the fifties, as you well know, than discipline today. So if they told you not to do something it was best that you did not do it cause if you did and got caught you paid the price greatly.
Q: Could you discuss your college education and preparation for entering teaching?
A: It was real odd. My desire was to become a professional baseball player. I turned seventeen in February when I finished high school because we only went four years. The year I was a senior they put the eighth grade in in Pulaski County. I was really waiting to turn eighteen to go into the military service because my parents would not sign for me to go. They signed for my other two brothers. Why they wouldn't sign for the baby brother I don't know. But that was the decision they made. They would not sign. I was sitting on the porch after cutting grass one day and this station wagon drove up with Wingate Junior College written on the side of it. A gentleman got out and he said, "I understand you play baseball." I said, "Yes, sir. I love to play baseball. It is one of my favorite things." He said, " Well, I want to talk to you." Well, what had happened is that a gentleman that worked at a clothing store there in Pulaski had gone to Wingate Junior College himself. He was a gentleman from Newberne, North Carolina, and he had come to watch all the ball games I had played in. There were about three of us there that he had invited this guy to come talk to us. So as it worked out the opportunity came for me to go to school. I probably could not have gone if I had not gotten some scholarship to play ball to go. I went to Wingate Junior College. I spent two years down in Wingate, North Carolina. It is now a four year school. It's a Baptist related school. It's a great place and a good school still today. It has grown tremendously. But the two years I spent there were great. You know the first year you go off to college you are involved in alot of things, it's different. I was just an old country boy growing up in Pulaski, Virginia. I met alot of great people there and that is when I decided to go into teaching. I thought that's what I wanted to do if the opportunity of playing pro ball did not transpire. You always have to have a "backup." I'll be honest with you, education and teaching was my "backup." I am not ashamed of that at all. The opportunity was presented to play ball to get the education to later fulfill this thing of becoming a teacher and move up through the ranks and become a principal. After that I stayed out a year and worked. It was real odd when I finished at Wingate Junior College I still owed them money - which alot of people did. They went on and gave me my associate degree and I worked the next year and paid them off. I started saving money to go to Concord College because I had been accepted over at Concord. So I worked a year for the rec. department in Pulaski and went to Concord College in 1958 and finished there in 1960. I was fortunate that I was able to finish it in four years because when you transfer alot of times it is not easy to do that but I finished Concord with a double major. I had a major in health and physical education and a major in social sciences.
Q: Were you still playing baseball at this time?
A: I was still playing ball the whole time and in the summertime I was playing semi-pro baseball in Pulaski. I started playing semi-pro baseball when I was fifteen years old and it was a real experience. I was mighty young to be playing with alot of guys as old as they were and I was playing in a league with guys who were playing pro ball and had come back home and were playing. So I learned alot. All of them were good teachers. They were willing to help a young fellow, you know, improve himself. After I finished at Concord I applied for a job in Pulaski County which is my home county. I applied for a job in Wythe County and I had applications in Florida, Ohio, South Carolina, and North Carolina, you know...all around. I had finally ended up taking a job in Wythe County, Virginia. I had a job offer at about three places in Ohio. I had three or four in Florida...I had three in South Carolina and three in North Carolina and one in my own home county. But I took the one in Wythe County because of the fact that there's not many people that come out of college and become head coach immediately. I was offered a head football coaching job and basketball at Rural Retreat High School in Wythe County...a small rural school. I taught three subjects, was athletic director...I had done it all. It was a good experience because it prepared me to organize myself and my time to give a certain amount of time to everything that had to be done. When you've got three subject preparations, US History, US Government, and World Geography...plus athletic director, plus coaching football and basketball. They hadn't had baseball there for years. The second year I talked to the principal and we started a baseball program at Rural Retreat High School in 1961 1962. It was real odd, there were great kids that would really do what you ask them to do. You always have some bad experiences ... that happens all along. But those kids really worked hard. When I went there they had not won a football game probably in forty or fifty ball games, you know way up there. I don't remember now the number off the top of my head because that was a long time ago. The third year I was there we were co champions of the district in football and we won the baseball championship.
Q: I need to throw a question in here since you turned things around like that ... how? How were you able to turn those kids....it was such a dismal....
A: I think I was able to turn them because the first summer I went in there I probably had about twelve seniors who came out for football that year and three of them stayed with me...three out of the twelve that were seniors. It was just hard work. I am a firm believer and I still believe this today...maybe I'm wrong...maybe times have changed too much, I don't know..but I believe that if you work hard enough at something ... and my job was to convince those kids to believe in the system that I was putting in and they did. They believed it. I think that one of the proudest things about those kids was the third year when we won the championship every Thursday we would work about an hour on doing nothing but returning punts and kickoffs and covering punts and kickoffs. That year those kids returned nine punts for touchdowns and two of them were called back for clipping penalties. Seven of them counted and they had pride. They took pride in being able to say that...
Q: They did some of the little things that some other teams over look.
A: A basketball coach probably influenced as much as anything in that respect. It was Adolph Rupp of Kentucky, and he said that you run the same play 500 times and if it doesn't work you run it 500 more. I think that stuck with me. I've had baseball coaches that I played ball for who did the same thing. It's the little things that win the ball games (that is) if you do them.
Q: Please tell us what got you interested in the principalship, administration and where you served.
A: Well, let's go back, Jim, and let's put in as a teacher I served three years in Wythe County at Rural Retreat High School and then I moved to Orange County High School in Orange, Virginia and I was there for one year in the teaching field and coaching. I came to Bedford County in the summer of 1964. That was the year that Liberty High School opened. There had never been a school before. Those kids that came into Liberty had gone to school at Bedford High School, Montvale, Big Island, Boonsboro, New London...those were basically the schools that fed into Liberty at that time.
Q: So New London fed all the way over to Liberty?
A: Yes, we went all the way from Montvale to the edge of Lynchburg because Forest used to go into Lynchburg. Lynchburg is now what used to be Forest. You talk about Hawkins Mill Road and those places down in there. They all came to school at Liberty High School. I taught and coached at Liberty High School for four years. When we first moved here our son was born in November 1964. Later on we had a daughter born in August of 1969 but as anyone will tell you the main reason I started looking toward the administrative end was the financial end. I had a family. I was going to University of Virginia getting my masters degree. I went up there every night for two years. There was a group of us that went two summers. I ran into a little bit of bad luck because the last summer I had to go into the hospital and I lost six credits so I had to come back out and finish that up the next year. But those things happen. That's just part of life and those things happen. Preparation for being a principal...after serving at Liberty High School from 1964 to 1968 I was offered a job as assistant principal of Bedford Elementary and Primary School . The two schools were together. That was in 1968 and I served as assistant principal but I spent most of my time at the primary school. There were two assistants. I went back and forth . After the first year I spent most of my time here.
Q: What year was that again?
A: 1968 was when I became principal.
Q: Now 1968 was around that time when we're talking of integration in alot of areas in the south.
A: We had gone through that at the high school level the year before I came here. I will say that Bedford County integrated our schools as smoothly as any area in the south. I think, Jim, it was the superintendent, his name was Forest Frazier and the people who were on the school board and the administrators that were in position at that time, had sat down and really come up with a plan to make it work. It started out as a freedom of choice. The kids could go if they wanted to and so we started that when I was still at Liberty High School we started to bring alot of those kids in. And they were good kids... they were great. They were the kids that wanted to succeed. That made it easier and then when we did do the total thing it went a whole lot smoother. I think because of the preparation laid down by the gentlemen who were in charge.
Q: Isn't that so often the key in this field, though (planning and preparation)?
A: Planning and preparation is the key in anything you do. That's just like teaching and coaching, if you don't plan for it, it's not going to work out.
Q: Now, you started as principal here then and I need to point out that the school we are now sitting in is Bedford Primary and now I am principal here which makes it really interesting for me. How long were you here then?
A: I was assistant principal from 1968 to 1972. Yes, five years. Then in the year 1972-1973 they split Bedford Elementary and made Bedford Elementary and Bedford Primary. Bedford Elementary was grades three through seven and Bedford Primary became grades K through 2. At that time we had to put three second grade classes up at the elementary our first year. The first year we had eight kindergarten, eight first, and eight second. And then as, you know, those kids moved up enrollment decreased a little bit they were able to put every thing here K through 2. I don't remember what year that was whether it was the next year or two years down the road.
Q: Now in looking back Bedford Primary is technically on the sight where the old Liberty Academy was.
Q: In fact there are still steps sitting up there. About when was it that they razed that?
A: Probably '68 or '69 they finished tearing down what remained of this because this was when the Primary School was built on this pile of land at that time. So it was all around that time, give or take a year or two. Memories don't always serve you well. You kind of forget some of those kinds of things and all you can remember are the good things that happened. It's a ...
Q: That's the way it ought to be anyway. Let's get into the principalship now and talk a little bit about techniques and your feel for it. What do you feel were the techniques that you used to create a successful climate in the schools you were in. You know there are obviously, like you said, sometimes things are successful and sometimes other things are unsuccessful.
A: Okay, well, you know, I think everybody has to have their own style of doing things. You cannot be somebody else. You can read in books and you can go to classes and learn and you can pick up things from other principals. But you still got to adjust to the style that you are. I have always been a people person. That's me. If you ever talked to anybody that knows me that's one of the things they would tell you about my characteristics. I love people and I would love kids, totally. I don't care how bad they were, how good they were, how clean they were, how different they were...they are a kid. So my style was to try to surround myself with good teachers. When I say good teachers, they are teachers who are dedicated to what they are doing, they believe in what they are doing, they believe in what we are doing as a school and they believe in what the system is doing. And if they believe in it...that was my job as an administrator to convince them what's best. If they believe in it and you've got the team of teachers who are dedicated and let's not forget, I don't care what principal you are, or what school you are in... I want a good cafeteria manager and I want a good secretary. Because they sure do make the job alot easier for me as a principal or any principal that is in the business.
Q: I think you would hear everyone echo that or say the same thing.
A: My key simply is to surround yourself with good people. Give them the opportunity to learn and make a few mistakes and you back them wholeheartedly, even when they make the mistakes. Don't criticize them when they are out in front of other people if it's a mistake. You get behind closed doors and say, "Hey, look, could you maybe not have done this another way? Think about it. You could have done this, instead of that." All you are doing is teaching. That's what you've been all your life. You have been a teacher and that is what administration is. They call it administration. I guess I always would go back to Dr. Sewell down at University of Virginia and he said the simple definition of administration is "the art of getting things done." I believe that.
Q: It's an art. It's an art.
A: I believe that. I believe that gentlemen had done alot of different things in his life and he was one fine teacher.
Q: Well, you've reflected a number of times on people who have made positive influences on your getting into the field. If you were advising a person who is considering the principalship, or jumping from that teacher level to the administration level, what would you...what would that advice be?
A: Okay, the first thing I would ask them is real simple. Is this what you truly want to do? Is this something you are willing to give your life for? Now that might not sound exactly right, you know, "willing to give your life for it", but let me explain that. When I say "willing to give my life for it," I mean, is it something that you will stand for? The principles, what I am talking about principles now are the principles of good character, a moral person, whatever. Is it something you are going to stand up and defend when you have to defend it because somewhere down the line you will have to defend your position as an administrator. It might be to the superintendent. It might be to the school board or it might be to your citizenry - those parents of the children who come to your school. Somewhere along the line you are going to have to defend it. So my first thought is, if you cannot do that, if you think you can't do that down the road, then don't go into administration. If you are not committed wholeheartedly, full blast, it's a 24 hour a day job, seven days a week... I remember the first superintendent I went to school to work for as an administrator he said, "You're mine except for two hours on Sunday when you go to church." And he was right because you do so much... you've got those kids there during the day, and you've got those teachers there during the day, but after they leave and on the weekend is when you do other things that have to be done to make you successful in the job you are doing. So be committed. If you are not I'd say, "Don't do it!"
Q: Mr. Black, there are those who argue that the principal should be an instructional leader and those that suggest that realistically that person must above all be a good manager. Would you give your views on this issue and kind of describe your own style.
A: Okay. There is not question that the principal has to be an instructional leader. What is that dimension of an instructional leader? To one person it might be one thing to somebody else it might be something else. To me it goes back to something (I said) earlier... Yes, the principal is the instructional leader. That, again, goes back to that art of getting things done. The part that you are getting done there is the educational part for the children. And, yes, in my mind that's got to be 70% of that 100% of the time that you are supposedly going to give to your job position. You are going to have to be a manager. That's the other 30%. To me, that's that percentage that you do at night and on the weekend. So really, in essence you are giving 100% of your time to the kids, children, and the staff during the week, during the day, and you are really giving 100% of the time at night and on weekends to that management part of the job. So really you are giving the system 200% of your time. You are just doing it at different hours of the day and night. And my style was, again, I don't care what you say, I could not be the best instructional leader in the world. I might not know all there is or you need to know about teaching phonetics, but I got somebody on my staff who does. So I am going to use them... and if they succeed and they teach other teachers to succeed with it... hey, I've done my job as a principal.
Q: It's been said that there is a home-school gap and that more parental involvement in the schools is needed. Would you give your view on this issue and would you describe how you interacted with parents and with the citizens who were important to the well-being of your school?
A: Yes, there has always been a gap. There was a gap when I went to school, when you went to school. There was a gap when I was a teacher. There was a gap when I was an administrator and I am sure that you say it is still there today. It's one of the hardest things in the world to try to convince people ... I don't like to use terms, but the kids who are not average or above let's put it that way. They come from backgrounds who they might have a one parent family, alot of them live with grandparents, their homestyle is not like other folks homestyles. So they are at a disadvantage already due to that fact. So how do you get those people involved. It is awful hard but alot of those people are working two jobs. I'm still a firm believer in going to the house and talking with people. I did alot of that when I was an administrator. Like I can remember times when kids, I am sure it's different today, but first day of school was over I'd have fifteen to twenty-five kids sitting out there in the cafeteria we didn't have record one on. And so by knowing the community and by knowing people, I started going around and I'd say, "You look like a Payne." I said, "You Constance's sister?" So I'd put that one over here so I could deal with it later. I knew where to go, I'd have to go home to get the information but I knew where to go. I'd go through the whole thing. I'd get the ones weeded out that I could distinguish who they are. And that was the first school - home relationship. Now I know it's different today. They get all their shots and get all the stuff done but we had to take them to get shots. I had to do everything that had to get done for this child. My main objective was to get it done as quick as possible, to get them into the building, and get them started and then we finished doing the other things we had to do.
Q: It's interesting that you mentioned it because the other side of the coin is I hear people arguing, "Well, that should be their responsibility." But I agree with you that sometimes to get those kids where they belong you gotta jump in.
A: Yes, it's their responsibility but that kid is not at fault. He can't go to the health department to get a shot. He doesn't know where his birth certificate is if he has one. They might have but a hospital thing where the doctor signed it and you gotta get that from that parent into order to go to the health department to get a form and more than likely you are going to fill the form out and then you're going to get the parents to sign it so you can send it off the get the birth certificate. So don't judge the kids and punish or mistreat the kids for something they have no control over. So just go and do it. Start establishing the home and school relationship and maybe someday you'll get some of those people involved. I'm not going to say that you are because there is no easy answer. I don't believe anybody can tell you a set way that they are going to get those people involved in our school system. They ought to be writing the book right now.
Q: Were there some things you saw while you were here that got the parents out may more than other things.
A: Well, you know yourself. The only way you're going to get parents involved is to have kids doing things and if you can have programs with the kids involved then they will get there. And some of them will get there and some of them you might accept and some if they ever set foot in there will be if their child is in some kind of difficulty and they have no choice and they have to come. You just keep talking with them and make yourself known in the community. Get out in the community and be seen by those people. If recreation programs are going on, go down and watch those kids play and you might see those parents there where you might not see them at school.
Q: So maybe that might be their next step.
A: And you start talking to them and maybe the next step they might come to the school then to see what their children are doing. It's just people oriented and communicating with them as best you can and there's no set answer. I wish there was.
Q: As you view it, Zack, what characteristics are associated with the most effective schools? What features characterize maybe some of those less successful ones?
A: Okay. Characteristics of an effective school. Now it goes back to my basic philosophy of surrounding yourself with those good people. Those people who know what their doing, believe in what they are doing, are committed to doing it, and are loyal to the total group and the total school being successful. Not just them each as an individual but as a group. I really look back sometimes and think the most successful teachers that I worked with not only as a principal and as a teacher, but when I was going to school myself were those teachers who believed in teaching the basics. Now when I say basics we are talking here about a primary school right now, the basics of learning to read and the basics of mathematics. I remember teachers who would drill those kids, drill them, drill them, drill them. It's hard work. I don't think anything in life that you get is worth a whole lot unless you work to achieve it. School is the same as a job you are in. My job today is that I work with recreation. But still I believe in hard work to reach, plan, and get to the point of being a good recreation program for all the citizens of Bedford County. And our rec. program in Bedford County has grown so it is unreal. It is just like the schools have grown so because we are getting more people and more people in. So I think that effective school is that teacher who is willing to be dedicated to teach the basics and see that it is instilled in their children ... those basics things that they will later use as they go on through their education. And if they get the basics, they are going to be successful.
Q: Since we are sitting here in a primary school where you once were the principal, describe for me the pros and cons of this K-1 or 2 or 3 structure versus what we see so often now - K-5 to 6.
A: I am going to talk about the pros first. This was a unique situation. Like you say, you won't find many schools like this any where in the United States of America. To me when you got kindergarten, first, and second grade students, I don't care what anybody says that is when they are the most susceptible to learning. They are at that age where they can be influenced by that teacher that they have each and every day. And with the small range of ages between them they can be good influences on one another. Flipping over to that con side I think that once you get older children in with those younger children, they can be bad influences because they have been through the system. They know the "ins" and "outs" of the system, let nobody kid you. Especially those kids who are not there to be your good students and to get an education. They are there because they have to be there. Society says you will go to school and they have to be there. They know all the bad things and they can have a bad influence on these younger kids.
Q: So in some ways you are eliminating those factors in a regular elementary school where we may lose some kids before we ever get started.
A: Unique idea, wasn't it? Maybe the educators of the world could think about that. Maybe they could do some studies and see what....what I am trying to say here is that it was a unique situation. Those kids were great. I can remember, and if you talk to any teachers who worked for me, we would have an assembly in a cafeteria, we'd set them on the floor. I don't know if you still do that or not. I would walk in to that assembly when all the teachers would have all those kids in there, I would walk in and all I would ever do is raise my hand. I never had to say a word and you could see them (get quiet).
Q: They encourage each other - early peer pressure.
A: Because they knew that is what I wanted soon as I raised my hand, that was their signal. They'd zip it and it was my turn to talk and they were learning to share. They were learning to share right at that point in time. I think with young kids it's much easier to do that because as kids get older, they start getting... as the old people used to say, "sot in their ways" or the proper English is "set in their ways." Then I can remember my parents and older people talking how that person being "sot in their ways." They were exactly right. And you know those people didn't get through school. They had to stop when they were in sixth, seventh, or eighth grade or ninth grade because there wasn't any eighth grade then.
Q: In recent years, Zack, there have been more and more programs for special groups of students, like Gifted and Talented, Special Education programs, non-English speaking programs that have been developed. Discuss, if you would, your experience with student services and your views on where the trends have gone today.
A: Okay, before we begin let's go back to my own self. The reason I can speak a little about this is if I were starting school today, myself, I would be an LD student. I reversed numbers. I reversed letters. I could look at "gril" and say "that's girl." I might look at 37 and I might tell you it's 73. But when I add it up I am going to get the right answer but I had those tendencies. Again, alot of that hinges back on my own life. I came into the world when I was seven months instead of nine. I had alot of problems when I was young with pneumonia and alot of things. So I have always been a fighter all my life, but I never, ever, developed a dominate side until I was made to develop a dominate side. I can still....today, I can write left-handed or write right-handed. My left handed is not as good today as it once was because in school, back then, they didn't want you to be left-handed. You became right-handed. I could kick a football either hand, I could hit a baseball either hand. I could hit a baseball either side of the plate, but as I got older my father said, "You're faster, you're a better hitter from the left side" and that was an advantage in that particular sport. So by not developing a dominate side and having LD tendencies they would have classified me right off as being an LD student. Today, they will pull you out and work with you in small groups. It wasn't true when I was in school. You were in the regular class with the regular teacher who had no training in special education, LD programs, or any of your special services. They didn't have that training. They were trained to be a teacher. So they would teach you the way they knew how. So you adjusted to that method of teaching and you learned. Today, I am a poor speller because of that fact. I am not a good speller. But, I'll tell you what...I can find that word in the dictionary because I had teachers that said, " If you don't know how to spell it, you look it up!"
Q: You see, you developed the determination and the skills to learn how to cope on your own.
A: I had to. I had to. Because if I hadn't, I never would have graduated from high school. I would have never made it. I would have brought, like alot of other guys I saw with that same tendencies, drop out of school because they could not cope. I guess I am lucky because I had parents who believed in education even though they only went to the seventh grade. They still believed in their seven children getting a good education. And I was the first one... actually the second one that went to college... and graduated from college. I had a brother who went to National Business College. He graduated in the business end and he had a great job. Only two of us out of seven went to college. Our parents believed in it. My dad read everything he could get his hands on. I could never remember a time when he sat down that he didn't have a newspaper or magazine. That developed my desire that I wanted to be able to read. I wanted to know what he was reading about. So, like you say, you learn to cope. I firmly believe that alot of LD kids can function within a regular classroom. I really believe that. Now when you get to your breakdowns in your special ed kids, like mentally educably retarded, you know, all those. Some of those are never going to be able to function in a regular classroom. Some of them are so you are just going to have to take and look at it and the ones you can blend in that regular classroom you need to blend them in there.
Q: So it is - where can you best meet their needs.
A: That's right. That's right. They are the kid. They are the student and it is your job to educate them to the fullest. When I think about education, alot of people think about how you have to get through this book here and this book here and to this point. To me that is not education. Education is where you get them and you take them as far as they can go. And that would cover your gifted and talented, too. I can remember, we had a group of kids here.... there were probably somewhere about 30 or 40 kids. Five of them were probably truly gifted and talented and the others were just high achievers - motivated kids. Those thirty to forty kids - I can remember - when they left here in the second grade, they had almost completed the second book of the third grade in reading. And in math it was almost unreal what they had accomplished, in fact, the teachers had taught them things that wasn't even in the curriculum for second grade students. We had an individualized mathematics program at that time and those kids had just "glitched it." And fortunately we had some parents who came in and helped with that program because we would have never been able to have done it... a teacher by herself. We could never have kept everything graded. Those volunteers would come in... they'd spent most of their time checking papers of these kids who could do that. So that was blending gifted and talented students with high achieving kids. Then in turn we'd take those kids and let them work with kids who were slow in math. And they did a better job teaching those kids than we as teachers because they could relate to them. They could say, "Look, do that! You can do it!" And because they said it... it was different for a child saying it than an adult saying it to them.
Q: Most systems presently have a tenure or continuing contract system for teachers. Will you discuss the system at the time you entered the profession and comment on the strengths and weaknesses of such a system.
A: When I entered teaching in 1960 the first administrator I worked under was an old retired military man and he was "hard-nosed" - no question about it. It expected his school to be disciplined, his students to be disciplined, and he expected the teachers to maintain that type of discipline in his system. It is hard to remember back...I think continuing contracts a little bit after I entered the profession in 1960. Maybe '62... I can't remember. So actually what you were working under a system if you produced they would hire you back for next year. If you were doing the job that they were expecting of you they hired you back the next year. To me, I think the continuing contract system is a good system as long as the administrator, the principal, the school board, and the superintendent will back that principal in the decisions he needs to make on his staff - his personnel. Example: I remember a young lady we carried as a kindergarten teacher, back in the mid-seventies. The young lady was a personable person as you would ever want to meet. She was a good person, but somebody had led her to choose the wrong profession. I don't know any other way to say it. She was not a teacher and I think the main reason she wasn't was because she could never, ever get that discipline within a classroom or have control of what she needed to do with those kids in that classroom. During the evaluation process I set her down and we talked (and I said) "look you're going to have to do" this, this, this, and this in order for me to recommend that you be rehired. And she was in the second year, so the third year was the magic year. So she came back that third year and she was not able to do those things. She and I sat down probably January or February because it was getting close to that time when we were going to have to make that nitty gritty decision and I told her, I said, "Look.... I think the world of you. You are a good person, but do you want a personal opinion from me as far as what I think you should be doing?" She said, "What?" I said, "You would be great in sales. I don't care what it is you choose... that area....somewhere in sales." That girl went to work for Ralston Purina Chow and was very successful. But, the key is, that administrator having to make that hard-nosed decision and have the backing of the school board and the superintendent to agree with, "Hey, that's it."
Q: When you made that recommendation after discussing it with her you went above. Did you get the support?
A: I would have, I think, but I didn't have to in that particular situation because she took my piece of advice and like I said she has been back through this area on numerous occasions and she always stops, calls me, or if she has a chance to come by she comes by the rec. department to talk to me.
Q: That's interesting, because that's not a tough...I mean, excuse me, that IS a tough situation to get through.
A: She spent four years going to college and two years already at teaching, six years of her life. She said, "Nobody has ever said this to me!" I said, "I really don't want to have to say this to you, but that's the way I feel and that's what I believe." She said, "I know you're going to say what you believe." She said, "I've seen that!" She'd seen me battle with the school board. So she'd seen that side of me. And then I had another one. A second grade teacher. A super girl. Again, she could never, ever get herself organized to do what she needed to do. But yet there was one area that she was strong in. She could take kids with a physical aspect and do great things with them. Talked with her, again, like I did the other one and cut it shorter. And yet another success, thank God. She went to work at Lynchburg Training School, working with special needs kids in the physical part.
Q: Again, did you direct her to think about moving in that direction?
A: Yes, I said physical therapy. I told her, "You ought to be in physical therapy. You are great with that." I said, " You could do that with kids or adults or anybody, that's why I said physical therapy."
Q: You know these interactions you've had with these people again come back to your philosphy, and that is, you try to lead people to where they will be most successful even if it can be an unpleasant change.
A: Even if it's in some other field, that doesn't make any difference.
Q: There are those who argue that standardized testing can provide a way to improve instruction. Please discuss your experience with testing and provide us your views on its effect on the quality of the instructional program.
A: Okay, standardized testing. I think it should be done because it gives the administrator and the teacher a starting point of where these kids are, what they are capable of doing, what they know, and what they don't. Now don't get me wrong. I'm not saying to set your curriculum up to teach to that test, okay? What I am trying to say is, you take that test information, you look at it, make your curriculum fit your style of your teachers, the knowledge of your students, and then set that goal that you want to try to achieve, and then you teach toward achieving that goal not toward doing well on the standardized test. If you do this and achieve that goal, they will do well on standardized testing because you taught them those basic skills and once they've learned those basic skills and they've learned to transfer that knowledge, that comprehension ... once they learn the basic knowledge and they can comprehend what they are reading, then they can take that basic knowledge and answer that comprehension question. So, yes, I think standardized testing is good. I know we did it. Like you said, you know, first we did the metropolitan, then we did the...oh the names...I don't remember the names now. And even with kindergarten kids, entering kindergarten I can't remember the name of what we used to use...
Q: Some kind of screening device?
A: Yes, a screening device... we used... and I'll never forget, another principal and I went to Louisville, Kentucky... we drove to Louisville, Kentucky to take a class all day one Saturday, that did that testing and I ... the names, like I said, the names I can't remember now. But, yes, I think you got to know what the kids can do in order to set that goal of where you need to take them to. You've got to have a base and I think that testing is a way to get that base. You know there are other ways but it's harder, it takes longer, it takes more effort and time probably on the administrators and teachers part to get together the information of "this is what they are" and "this is what we need to do."
Q: That's what that holistic approach, which we seem to have gone more to... although we're coming back again to a more standardized testing...
A: I.. you know... I am not saying what's right, and what's wrong... to me I think reading, the sight approach - the old "look say" as they called it - a combination of "look say" and "phonetics" I think is the answer to kids learning to read. I basically didn't learn phonetics until I became a principal at a primary school. It was being used by teachers and that's when I started to be able to learn to read phonetically. There's nothing wrong with that. We were taught the way we were taught by the people ... that the methods that were used at that time were the accepted methods and there was nothing wrong with that. They did a great job! I mean... I don't care what anybody says... you find a dedicated teacher... I don't care what method you use... it's like they are going to "will it" into the kids until the kids learn what they are teaching them because they believe in it so much.
Q: (As I mentioned to you earlier, this is the school that I am now a principal at and you once walked these halls as well.) Take a minute if you would and describe what your typical work day was like. How did you spend your time? Maybe, what was the normal number of hours you put in in a weeks time.
A: A typical work day... I am an early morning person. I would always try to be in the building at 7:00 am. Sometimes it was earlier than that. I would come in, I would just kind of walk through the building to see ... we had a night custodian who worked at that time... I'd kind of walk through to see if he had done all that he needed to do, if the building was ready, you know, to receive the children. I'd do that and then go into the office and kind of look at what I had laid out for the day and forget it. Some days you got to do what you had laid out, but most of the days there were interruptions that came in that you never, ever achieved what you had but you still ... that's what you were working toward. I met every bus that came in, every day. As those kids came off the bus I would greet them. I'm one of these people that today I don't know whether you can... I could survive in education. I am a "hugger." Anybody that has ever known me knows ... and I am still a hugger to this day. Don't get me wrong ...it was an emotional thing with my teachers... hey, I'd put my arm around them and say, "Hey, you did a great job!" "You're doing great. Keep up the good work." I grew up in that kind of family and that has never changed. They'd just have to lock me up if they wanted to because, you know, they can call it sexual harassment.... that's a bunch of garbage. You know, I'll never forget... a long time ago, I was sitting on a porch at my house when I was a kid. My father, my mother, the preacher, and cousins, brothers, sisters, and my father and the preacher were having a discussion. And the preacher was discussing about lusting and this kind of stuff and that dancing was a sin. And I loved to dance. I did when I was a kid and I still do today. I love to dance. I opened my mouth when I should not have and said, "No, dancing is not the sin." I said, "God said in the Bible to dance." I said, "The sin is when you have lust in your heart with that person you might be dancing with. Then that is the sin." And my father after the preacher left, he said, "Son, you are exactly right. I agree with you wholeheartedly. But don't you ever interrupt again." I said, "Yes, sir! I do understand." If I did I would have been upstairs to get that razor strap if I had ever done it again. He gave me my warning. But, you know, when you work with people, and you are people oriented and your life is dedicated to seeing the best come out of the school that you are the principal of, you are going to have this contact with people and you are going to... rejoice, be sorry together, whatever and emotions are a part of that and we all handle emotions differently, and deal with them differently. Again, I go back to my philosophy and the way I was raised... I am a hugger and I am going to make everybody feel as good as I can. You know... I've picked them up when they didn't want to come into the building and when they didn't want to go to school. I'd pick them up and I'd be carrying them down the hall and I'd have them kick me, and everything else. I said I'd keep right on hugging them and tell them, "Hey, look. I love you. We are going to do this. Now stop kicking me. Don't kick me anymore." And I said, "I know you don't want to do this, but," I said, "it is my job to see that you do it and I love you. But you are going to come in here and you are going to cut this crying out and you are going to behave." And you'd be amazed the number of kids that would respond to that and I'd think first off it might have been... hey they look up to this adult world and come into this big building and they look up and say, "Hey, yeah, I'm afraid. I don't want to go in there.
Q: Yes, their looking for some security.
A: So... my way of giving it to them was to keep hugging them and keep talking to them. I'd tell them, "Hey, we love you and we are going to have a good time before this year's over with." And most of the time it worked out. I can remember very few kids that it didn't work with.
Q: Let me ask an offshoot of that and I think it's a shame where we have come... away from that but... You and I both know how important that was here at the primary level, what about later on.
A: I think it's still important later on. I've taught at the high school level. That's where I started. I taught the terrible two's the second time around - the eighth graders - a transition period in their life, when I first started. Now it's coming on down to sixth graders and seventh graders. Times have changed. If we don't get them on the right track at that time, if we don't do it early when they are in primary school and the early elementary grades, if we don't get them there, we have lost them. And, yes, they still need that hug, they still need that pat on the back, and they still need to be disciplined. I don't think in all the years that I worked in education - for thirty-one years - I think every kid that ever went through the schools where I was teaching or administrator expected to be disciplined. I think now the discipline has changed today because of what society says, pardon me, because of what our court systems say, what our state legislatures say, and what parents say. Parents want you to do the disciplining for them today - alot of them - and yet they don't want you to discipline them the way you feel they need to be disciplined. And that is sad. I think that is one of the saddest points that has happened in education in our country...is that ... we have gotten to the point where these psychologists and etc. .....
Q: You were talking about understanding and disciplining kids and those who really have an inside track. Talk more about that.
A: Back to that point. I firmly believe that teachers and administrators, once they get to know their children and their facility they know what type of discipline is best. And I understand, don't get me wrong we always want to work towards self-discipline because that is really only kind and the best discipline there is, when we can self-discipline ourselves and we have to teach children to do that. That's best. But I think teachers and administrators spend alot more time today with some of these children than their parents do or their family does. You know. Back when I was growing up if you were not disciplined by your mother and father you were disciplined by your brothers and sisters. If you did something that was not an acceptable thing within that family, your older brothers and sisters would take care of the discipline themselves if mom and dad wasn't around but most of the time mom and dad were and they would take care of it. I can remember when I first started school one of my older sisters took me to the classroom. My mother and daddy had to be at work. My sister took me. She read on the list that this is the class you'd be going in and when it was time to go into the class that is where I went. And if I had not done what I was supposed to have done then my older sister would have taken care of the situation later that day and she'd have taken care of it for my mom and daddy. So the people who know discipline, you alot of people study it, and write about it. But they are not always the expert. They've sold the book. Yes. I sometimes wish I had kept a record of everything that ever happened while I was in the educational system because I could have written a book myself. But I never had the time because I was busy doing the other things I have felt were more important. And I think teachers and principals can discipline kids in a proper way to get the best out of them in that setting for them going to school.
Q: Alright...we got off onto some interesting topics there after we got the kids... after you met them at the bus everyday and basically how you made them feel like...come on in to a safe and secure place. Let's continue to walk through that day... a typical day.
A: Okay, then once class took in you know I'd deal with whatever might be dealt with the secretary. Some of the things she could do for me. I'd say, "Would you take care of this" and then I'd lay or set the others aside that I might have to deal with a few minutes later in the day. Then I would start going around to the classrooms. I would go through every classroom, every morning... even after I got them off the bus... I'd still go through and kind of say, "How are you doing? What did you do last night?" Again, trying to make them feel secure..."this is the place you need to be, we want you here." You know, "this is where you need to be." And then I would probably do that up ... then I would go sit in an individual teacher's room, do some evaluation type things in the morning, maybe a couple depending on what I needed to get back and to handle, you know. Then I'd come back and if I had phone calls to make, I'd do those things my secretary couldn't do. I would do those things then. By this time it was ready for lunch and I was in that cafeteria every day they came through there. Every day that I could be, I was in there. Again, I was talking to them and making them feel like they were an important person. And I probably in the cafeteria zeroed in on the kids who needed it the most. Those kids whose home life weren't the greatest. I'd go sit down with them and say, "Can I eat lunch with you?" "Oh, yeah! Come on and sit down." We'd sit there and talk.
Q: That's a valuable time, lunch time. Who was monitoring the kids?
A: Those teachers sat with those kids and the kids were basically monitoring themselves. Because that was the way we tried to design it. What's a little noise, especially at lunch time. If you had family at home and you sat down at the table and everybody yakking...
Q: Put a hundred adults together...
A: Same thing. They need that time. they need to unwind a little bit. But when you go back in the afternoon and get back to those basics again they can handle it. And then as the day stretched on I'd go back into the classrooms again in the afternoons or I might sit in the office and write on things that..you know... things that needed to be done. That administrative part... that paperwork part. And then as they dismissed I'd see them off again. And basically... five o'clock... sometimes four thirty and the reason I'd say sometimes four thirty is because I'd sometimes wait until the buses made their last rounds and they got people off. I knew what time every one of them should have been done and the reason some days I might have left at four o'clock at that time in the mid- seventies I was doing alot of high school basketball officiating so I traveled alot to officiate ball games. I'd travel to anywhere from Charlottesville, Danville, to Galax, Wytheville, Virginia. That was something. It was my outlet from what I did earlier in the day. And every administrator and every teacher needs an outlet. I don't care what it is, you need an outlet.
Q: That leads me to this next thought and that is that principals do often work in an intense environment and I was going to ask you what kinds of things did you do to maintain that sanity over the years and one of those was obviously officiating.
A: Basketball officiating... I did football officiating and in the spring of the year it was golf. That was my outlet in the spring and summer time and still is today. I'm working the recreation field today. And my outlet is... I don't officiate like I used to but golf is basically my outlet now. I could be so frustrated and bent out of shape but when I start hitting that golf ball it is a different world. Strictly enjoyment.
Q: If you had to do it all again, what kind of things would you do better to prepare yourself for the principalship? Would you describe your feelings knowing what you know now about entering the principalship yourself... looking back.
A: Okay... I probably first off would have done it a little differently when I starting working on my master's degree. At that time even though I was working on my master's degree I wasn't really taking all the quote - unquote education classes for administration because I still... at that time wasn't sure this was what I really was going to stay at. Was this really what I was going to continue to do. Because I still had that in the back of my mind that I might want to go into college and teach and coach in a small college situation at that time. So I would probably change that instead of trying to force myself to make a decision sooner - what is it you really want to do at this time, rather than the two things, narrow it down to one. If I had then I would have concentrated more on the master's level in all the areas of education and administration classes rather than the basic ones. Okay... now don't get me wrong... but the basic ones gave me the groundwork I needed to be a principal. And quote - unquote all classes are great, I have nothing against professors but you don't learn it all there. You learn it when you get back on that job from day to day and they know that. They understand that. So I would have made that decision sooner. I probably would have maybe gone on and continued to get a doctorate degree. The reason I stopped at the doctorate degree when I did ... I was working on one at VPI, I had some great teachers up there... I enjoyed those people very much... was the fact that I had a brain aneurism and also plus the fact that the last years I taught I went back to the classroom and just taught. Probably I would have dedicated a little bit more time to that and maybe went on and got more classes in that area but I just decided that with my health, it was best to make that decision at that time so that is when I dropped out of the doctorate program. It was nothing to do with not liking it, nothing to do with anybody I had as instructors, it was just the decision I felt I had to make because of the health decision at that time.
Q: But looking back there are no regrets that you headed in this direction and followed up in the principalship?
A: I had no regrets with what I have done in life at all. The 31 years I have spent in the education field were great. I've met alot of great people, good people, dedicated people, and I learned alot from those people. You know, that's just like when I used to really be into the coaching wholeheartedly, my wife would say, "Why are you always watching these college football games," or "Why are you always watching these pro football games?" I'd say, "Carol Sue, I don't watch them for entertainment, like somebody else does. I'm watching them to see if I see something that I can use." "Oh." It was hard for her to understand that but ... I was always looking and I was always talking and if I thought something was good I wouldn't hesitate putting it in immediately. And that is the same thing with being a principal. You surround yourself, you go get the classes that you need to get but I think of all the times of working on the master's degree and working on the doctorate degree I learned as much in that car driving to Charlottesville, driving to Blacksburg, sitting around eating a sandwich and a drink in the student union. I think I learned as much in that atmosphere as I did within the classroom itself. And when... it all goes back to my basic philosoph of life... if you surround yourself with good people you are going to learn and you are going to be successful. And I think the people I surrounded myself with made me be a success. Not so much on my part ... as the people I was associated with and those people who were dedicated doing the job and doing it to the best of their ability.
Q: Well, we'll wrap things up now but I want to thank you for doing this. Like you said, it's probably something you needed to do for a long time
A: I haven't talked this much in God knows when.
Q: But listen I do want to sincerely thank you for taking the time not only to help me out by doing a requirement, but you have given me some inspiration to keep working at it.
A: If I did that ...I have a simple philosophy of life and I have shown it to kids, I've shown it to teachers, I've shown it to groups that I will go speak to now around town... anybody that asks me to come speak I will go speak. I don't care whether it's a church group... I don't care what it is. I made a decision back when I was laying in a hospital bed and they said, "We might have to put you on an airplane to Canada we might send you to get an operation"... and the man... the MAIN man pulled me through that and the bleeding stopped all on its own and I never had to have that operation. I said then whatever somebody asked me to do I will do. My simple philosophy is JOY. And I'm not a big religious nut or anything like that. I try to live a simple kind of life but it's Jesus, Others, and Yourself. That's my philosophy, sir.
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