Interview with Larry Bond


This is February 23rd, 2000. I am speaking with Mr. Larry Bond, in the library of Rockbridge Middle School, on his experiences as a high school principal.


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Q: Would you begin by telling us about your family background, your childhood interests and development, please?

bond audio (Streamed audio file of interview for this question using RealPlayer)

A: OK, I came from a broken home, reared by an aunt and her husband. I didn’t live with my biological father and mother very much at all. My childhood interests centered around hunting, fishing, and athletic activities. My elementary education began in Sullivan County, Tennessee. That’s the Kingsport area where I was born. My first year was at Sullivan Elementary. My second year was at Fort Robinson Elementary, and then we moved back across the line into Virginia and I then finished my elementary and secondary education in Scott County, VA.

Q: Would you discuss your college education and preparation for entering the field of teaching, and how many years did you serve as a teacher, and how many as a principal?

A: My college education began at East Tennessee State, easy teasy. I wasn’t really prepared for that experience, and I came from a family that — their financial stability wasn’t the greatest in the world. So my college education was interrupted several times so I could go back to work, and I earned more money. I started out in a pre-engineering curriculum. I was selected as part of an experimental group of about 25 fellows to accelerate that program. I was not successful in that program primarily because of the mathematics. As part of that program, I was required to take Chemistry and Biology and after I got into my Biology part of that curriculum, I had a professor there by the name of Dr. Moore. And he was one of the best teachers that I ever experienced. He was a great fellow. And I decided that I wanted to be like Dr. Moore. I wanted to be a teacher and I wanted to teach Biology and he became my mentor. And that’s when I decided to go into teaching. So I switched my curriculum to Biology. After about two years of school at East Tennessee State I ran out of funds, and I dropped out of school, went to work in the state of Washington. I was out nearly a year and then returned and I went back to school for another year at East Tennessee State. I ran out of funds again, and went to work as lab technician for Tennessee Eastman Co., a subsidiary of Eastman Kodak in Kingsport, Tennessee. And I worked there for 13 months, and during that 13 months I was married to my wife. After about 13 months of working at Eastman, I had an opportunity to go back to school. Eastman had promised me during the course of that 13 months that they would give me a straight 3-11 shift so that I could go to school during the day. And they never did come through on that promise, and the last time I requested the straight 3-11 my foreman made a very serious derogatory statement to me about my request. I went back to East Tennessee State and visited with Dean Mercer, the Dean of Men over there, and told him the story, and he told me to come on back to school, not to worry about the money. He would get the money. So I went back to school as married student. I had a NDEA loan plus Uncle Linden Johnson had a program for impoverished Appalachian students. And I worked in the Biology Dept. and earned like 80 dollars a month. I was the herbarium, herbarium — I can’t even say it. I worked in herbarium — herbariumist -- took care of the plants out there, took care of all the plants out there. And stayed there until I graduated. And was accepted for graduate school, and by that time my wife was pregnant with our first child, so I had to give that notion up for a while, so I went to teach. I graduate in the middle of year and started out teaching at Smith County, VA, and I finished the year in Smith County and taught through the summer in Smith County, and then went back to Scott County at Nicholsville High School, that school don’t exist anymore. We had a total of 98 students in high school. Senior class the first year there was the biggest class, I think it had about 25. I taught two years at Nicholsville High School, was accepted as an NSFL at the University of Nebraska in botany, started going to school there in summer institutes, and then moved to Lexington, VA to teach Biology at Lexington High School. Taught for about 12-13 years at Lexington High School. I taught Biology. I taught Mechanical Drawing, I got that certification when I was in pre-engineering school at East Tennessee State. I taught a little bit of US History, that was my minor. And taught some of the first Special Ed. classes while I was there. Finished up my Masters degree, Master of Science in botany and zoology at the University of Nebraska. When Mr. VanDandy at Lexington High School, he had the, he and all his administrators had to go to a — to a week long administrative conference, and he chose me to be the administrator in charge during that week he was gone. And that’s when I got interested in school administration. That’s the end of that story.

Q: Take us on a walk through your school, describing its appearance and any unusual features of the building.

A: The school where I was principal, Rockbridge High School, was a school designed for about 500 students. Unusual features about it was, it was built on three levels. One could enter at any level from the ground, which made an interesting building in many respects. One of the positives with a building designed that way was the quietness, because of the different levels. It segregated the noise from one part of the building to another. So the building actually seemed to be quieter than it actually was. Some of the disadvantages to it was the handicap accessibility from inside of the building. One student was a wheel chair student and in order to go from the upper level to the cafeteria he had to ride his wheel chair around the building on the outside, which he could very adequately do at about 90 miles an hour. John Snarr, and he would fly down these sidewalks and around the building. Sometimes it would scare you to death to see him going around the corner on one wheel. Building a ramp from the upper level to the second level was not possible because the ramp would have to go across classroom doors and would make them inaccessible. Eventually, we put in lifts for students with wheelchairs and we finally put in an elevator to go from the second level to the first level. But we didn’t have that advantage when I was here. Facilities were fairly good. The school is located in a rural area. We were often referred to as the "school in the cornfield". That was good about students not slipping off from school, because there wasn’t any place for them to slip off to, in one respect. In another respect, because of its isolation particularly during the nighttime when people weren’t around it was quite frequently vandalized.

Q: Would you describe your personal philosophy of education and how it evolved over the years?

A: I strongly believe that all children can learn. Not all teachers can teach all children, but all children can learn. One of the stories I tell to illustrate this is a story of George, a TMR student at Rockbridge High School. Had an IQ of about 44, non-verbal. George’s mother died, and he was living with a stepmother and father, who quite frequently used chemical stimulations, had a difficult time keeping a job. George’s older siblings left home, joined the service, or whatever as soon as they graduated from school. We had a community service program with our TMR population, and George was assigned to a local motel. And George went into that motel, and learned how to fold sheets and towels, and wash clothes and where to store them. And then George learned how to load them in washers, take them out and put them in dryers. And then George learned how much detergent and how much bleach to add. And finally George learned that whole operation. The guy that trained George quit. When the new guy came in, George trained the new guy. And eventually, after George finished school, he was hired by this motel. And though he had an IQ of 44 and George was non-verbal, George became the principal bread-winner for his family, and took care of his family. And I always use that as an example. In the speeches I’ve made in 25 states, I’ve told George’s story about how all children can learn. And I sincerely believe that. I think the problems, the difficulties we have with students with lower ability, and particularly those students that are lower achieving, is not necessarily because of abilities. It’s that we don’t know how to teach them. If all teachers understood the methods, the means, the strategies, the attention-getting devices that are taught Special Ed. students, if all teachers knew what Special Ed. teachers know about teaching, we wouldn’t be worrying about SOLs.

Q: Would you describe the instructional philosophy of your school, telling how it developed and how it evolved?

A: That’s a really good question. One of the projects I began working on when I came to Rockbridge High School, one of the first projects I began to work on was to sort kids by ability. One of the things that I thought was extremely important, particularly in English, would be to get the students in 3 ability groups — the low group, the average group, and the accelerated kids. And it took me 2 or 3 years to be able to accomplish that, but I finally did. And I was right proud of that achievement until the day that I walked into an English classroom, it was a C group of kids, and during the visit made some observations. And in about 2 minutes I knew I’d made a terrible mistake. Those kids were not going to achieve any more than was expected of them, and we did not have high expectations of those kids in that class. So it didn’t take long for us to dissolve that, and to put everybody into English classes, it didn’t make any difference if they were going to college or not, everybody needed and deserved the same instruction. So, I learned from those experiences that you — for students to achieve, their expectations really have to be raised, and all students have to be taught with the same pedagogical, and economic determination, not just certain segments of the population, but all students need to be taught that way. And that’s the philosophy that we operated on under the rest of my tenure at that school, and we were able to see a significant advancement in achievement in students. We saw a significant decrease in the number of dropouts, we saw a significant increase in attendance rates, absentee rates went down, we saw a significant decrease in the number of short-term suspensions, and we saw a significant increase in our state test scores. We had to do some extra help, extra time with some students in order to accomplish all that, but we were able to do it. We also had to raise expectations of the teachers. They had to understand that teaching was just not for the college prep kids. They had to teach all kids. And that faculty embraced that notion, they worked extremely hard, and as a team we worked together, and we were able to make significant changes for the better in the school as a result of it.

Q: What experiences/events in your professional life influenced your management philosophy?

A: There’s probably not any one particular thing, but as one assesses what you’re doing, and you realize your mistakes and you want to prevent making those mistakes again. And you take counsel with the professionals around you, and you take counsel through professional development opportunities for administrators. And you keep learning and finding ways to overcome the mistakes, and you keep assessing what is lacking in your school, and plan programs and implement programs, and follow up on programs and continuously assess and evaluate what’s happening. And not be afraid to try things and they may not work, and if they don’t work you just have to say, "They don’t work," and you just have to try something else. And you always have to keep your faculty on board with you while you’re doing that. The faculty must have a good understanding of who you are and what your are and why you’re trying to make these changes. And about 15% of the faculty will go along with you without much question at all. About 35% of the faculty will go along with you if you can give them — show good reason for what you’re doing. Another 35% will go along with you if you don’t give them any other choice. And you can expect about 15% of them not to be with you at all. So, that leaves you 85%, and you can effect some pretty significant changes with 85% of the faculty.

Q: What kinds of things do teachers expect principals to be able to do? Describe your views on what it takes to be an effective principle, describing your personal and professional characteristics of the "good principal".

A: I’m not really sure, not all teachers expect principals to be able to do the same things. Teachers don’t always know and understand the big picture. Often times, a teacher’s view of administration is limited only to their own teaching experiences and not what has to go on in the total operation of the school. And some teachers don’t hesitate to criticize and lend advice to principals and others of the faculty, and members of the community and sometimes even students on what the principal ought to be doing. I think it’s important for the principal to let the faculty know what you’re thinking. Let the faculty know that this is something you’re trying, it is something that might work, we hope it will work, and if it does, why, we’ll continue to implement; if it doesn’t, why then, we’ll try something else. But if the faculty generally knows that you as a principal are an instructional leader, that you’re addressing problems and concerns, that you as a principal can demonstrate that the things that you’re trying implement is having a positive effect of the achievement of students, the faculty generally will go along with you and will appreciate your efforts. And if you’re a manager instead of a leader, and if you’re just keeping the books and making assignments and doing that sort of thing, then in my opinion that type of person is not going to effect a lot of change in the school where the achievement of students really needs to be advanced.

Q: As a follow-up question, would you describe the expectations, both professional and personal, that are placed upon principals by their employees and the community during your period of employment, and how those expectations might differ from today’s situation, if they do.

A: The expectations by my employers were high. The kids-in-the-school’s achievement was very, very low — the lowest in the county. Attendance rates were horrible, dropout rates were horrible. The onus was put on me to turn that situation around. I had very high expectations of myself. Teacher’s expectations when I arrived were very low. And the reason for that was because the expectations of the kids was very low. The general philosophy of the children were, "I’m just a dumb old country boy and girl, don’t expect a whole lot out of me. If I can come to school at least150 days a year for 4years, and breathe on a mirror, I’ll get a diploma and be out of your hair." And we had some very, very painful situations in implementing those changes. We had students who reacted very violently against the school. We had some very serious vandalisms — thousands and thousands of dollars worth of vandalism, we had drive-by shootings, we had numerous break-ins with equipment destroyed. For the first two or three years, it was a very difficult situation. As we began to get control of the situation, as we began to deal with individuals, and as the law enforcement agencies and the commonwealth attorneys began to prosecute — some of the — catch them and prosecute them, the faculty began to appreciate the work that was being done, and they were willing to ratchet up their expectations of students. And after about two years, things began to change significantly. But it was a tough time for the first two or three years. The community had low expectations. The expectations of the community and the parents was not much higher than the kids had. I had one parent to call me one time, this was my first year at Rockbridge High School, to call me and said, "Now my boy’s been over there four years, this will be his fourth year, and you just go on and graduate him now." I said well I’ll be happy to look up his transcript. Well I looked up that kid’s transcript and out of 4 years he had missed over half of the years, half of his days, he’d missed over 90 days of his first three years and he’d only earned one credit, and that was freshman PE. And that father got real upset with me when I called him up and told him that boy wasn’t going to graduate, and he called the superintendent and the school board. Of course the superintendent and the school board backed me on that. A lot of the community and the parents had expectations of this school being what their school was, remembering their experiences in schools when they grew up more in metropolitan areas and they kinda expected this school to be that. Rockbridge High School was a consolidated school, consolidated students over a large geographic area, over half of Rockbridge county, and many, many small communities and Rockbridge High School never was a community school. It was not the center of a community, it was too far from Walker’s Creek, it was too far from Montebello, it was too far from Irish Creek. The folks in Fairfield and Brownsburg came closest to making it a community center and those were two separate schools that combined to make this school, and there was a lot of rivalry between those two communities that had lasted — I came in 1983 and the school consolidated in 1960 -- so after 23 years that competition was still in existence. So, it never was a community school, and people who came into the area after all that, and didn’t understand the dynamics of the greater community — of the Rockbridge High School service area -- couldn’t understand why this school couldn’t be like the schools where they came from. It became a difficult situation.

Q: A: great deal of attention has been given to the topic of personal leadership in recent years. Please discuss your approach to leadership and describe some techniques which worked for you and maybe and incident in which your approach failed.

A: I don’t know, I always had some pretty definite ideas where I wanted to go. And sometimes trying to get people to follow you where you wanted to go was not as simple as it may look. I kinda looked upon myself as — I’d probably best be described as a benevolent dictator. I had some definite ideas and notions that I always sought council with faculty and there were some key folks on the faculty when I was here. Mrs. Sue Burger was one that I went to frequently because she was a very seasoned, veteran teacher, a very bright lady. And her husband was a school administrator, and she’d been in the system many years. And she was a big help. But I always liked to counsel with all faculty. We didn’t always take a vote on things and do what the majority wanted. I had to decide it, because ultimately I was in the hot seat, I was the one who had to take the heat for any poor decision. So, it was my decision in the end. But I always liked to hear other versions and advice, council from faculty and from parents. We had a parent advisory committee, and through the years there were several people on that advisory committee that gave some very, very good advice. And I found it important to listen to, some of it. And then some parents took that being on the advisory committee as being a mandate that they were the ones who were supposed to run the school. And when they found out that that wasn’t their responsibility it caused a little friction. It’d get you in a little political hot water every now and then, but as administrator you had to be prepared to take that. Probably, the biggest mistakes I made was to make some steps, to make some changes abruptly without discussion, without asking what do you think. Sometimes my mistake was making assumptions. I know one of the big mistakes I made was when we made an attempt — well one of our first attempts to raise expectations of students, we wanted to raise expectations of students first, and that was a mistake. The expectations of the teachers had to be raised first, and then the students. Another mistake is not keeping at your right elbow at all times the guidance counselor. Make sure that your guidance counselor is on the same page with you. And make sure that your guidance counselor understands your philosophy. They can sit there and nod in agreement with you, and then when they get those kids behind that little closed door, they say, "Mr. Bond is fixing to do this, but I don’t think he ought to." And I had guidance counselor one time that was doing that. And it was undermining everything that we were trying to achieve in raising the expectations of students. So, needless to say, we had to change guidance counselors as a result of that, after I found out what was going on. Those are a couple of examples of things that you learn the hard way.

Q: Cultural diversity is a topic of great interest and concern right now. Would you discuss the nature of your student body and comment on the problems, challenges, and triumphs in which you participated while serving as principal.

A: You know, on the surface at this school, at RHS, folks would think we had a pretty homogeneous mixture of students, and that’s an assumption that I had. And I was wrong. It’s true that there wasn’t a great diversity in racial background, but cultural backgrounds there was big diversity and this falls back on what we discussed about the school being made up of folks from different communities. And the cultural backgrounds from the west side of the county were different from the east side of the county. And then the folks from Brownsburg and Fairfield had a different philosophy about what education was and what they wanted for their students. So, it made for a pretty doggone heterogeneous group, not only in cultural backgrounds, but also in student achievement. It was a very, very interesting school. We always had less than, I think it was less than 2% racial and ethnic backgrounds. The whole time I was here we had one, two of Asian descent. Probably in any given school year we didn’t have more that four or five Afro-Americans, and the rest were primarily white, rural kids. And depending on the community they came from, depended what they aspired to be, and whether they wanted to go to college, what they wanted to do. It was an interesting group of kids.

Q: There are those that argue standardized testing can provide a way to improve instruction. Please discuss your experience with such testing, and provide us your views on its effect on the quality of the instructional program.

A: I think an assessment is very important. And I think a good standardized testing program is important. If you use the data, if you analyze the data, and use it just to take the test and store the test away somewhere, it’s not much benefit I don’t think. Sometimes it’s used to decide which classes kids could take, or this, that and the other. I think it is a better indicator of the quality and level of instruction kids are getting. It’s not only an indicator of structural methods, but it also may be an indicator of the curriculum that the teacher is teaching. I think from that aspect of it, it can be a real benefit to the school if the principal takes the time — the principal and/or the assistant principal, guidance counselors take time to sit down and analyze the data, and graph it out. I always like to graph it out and hand it out to the faculty, hand it out to faculty and let them see. When I was assistant superintendent at Wythe County I did that for each school. I had a county-wide average of scores, and then I had their school’s average scores so they could see how they stood against the county, other schools in the county. And if they were below average, well then we had to have some discussions about maybe why this was happening and develop some plans to try to change that. So I think assessment is good, but I think you have to collect some base-line data, and I think you have to follow it over a number of years. I firmly believe it can be useful if you use it in that way. But if you’re just taking standardized test scores because the state requires it, and then putting it in the file cabinet and forgetting about it, it’s a waste of time.

Q: Describe some of the pressures you faced on a daily basis. Explain how you coped with them, and then describe your biggest headache or concerns on the job, and possibly the toughest decision you had to make.

A: The toughest decision you have to make is who’s going to be cheerleader. I think some of the things that make a principal’s job tough isn’t even related to instruction, it’s related to athletics and extra-curricular activities. Little Suzie didn’t make the cheerleading team and then you have parents to appeal that. Or Junior’s not getting enough playing time and that coach ought to be fired. You have kids with some fairly serious discipline problems that you have to take care of, and parents, of course, are going to disagree with whatever you do, and appeal that, and you have to work through all that. You have little girls coming in, and this is one of the toughest ones, you have little girls coming in and says to you, "Somebody said that somebody said that somebody said that I was a bitch." And I bet if that happened one time, it happened a thousand. And trying to unravel all of that and trying to find the truth, and trying to have even-handed discipline with all students is a very, very time consuming job. Most of the time during the day, during the day, the principal’s job is putting out fires. During the evenings the principal’s job is mostly administering athletics. So that leaves holidays and weekends to get the important work done. So it’s a long tough job. There’s no time off. I guess some of the tough issues is when a student comes up at graduation and has a 69.75 grade point average and the teacher decides he’s going to fail and not graduate. And you have parents appealing that grade, and you have to sit down with the parents and teacher and try to work out a solution to that where everyone’s going to be somewhat satisfied. When a kid can no longer benefit from an education in your school, when it’s time to cut that kid loose. And those are decisions that can’t be taken lightly. There’s some tough decisions in personnel selection. I can remember several occasions when you have three or four candidates for a job, and all the folks are pretty equally qualified. And which one do I recommend for this position? You have some really, really tough decisions sometimes deciding when a teacher has to go or any other member of the staff has to go. It’s not always cut and dried for you, black and white. If it was, it would be a lot easier to do sometimes. It’s not an easy process. So decision making is a big deal processing this, and none of it, none of it can be taken lightly. You have to be able to think about what the immediate effects of your decision are going to be. But you also have to be a visionary and be able to see if I do this, what effect is this going to have three, four years down the road from now? And you have to have some vision to be a good decision maker.

Q: Discuss your professional code of ethics and give examples of how you applied it during your career.

A: Being completely and totally honest is number one. And being fair, treating everybody, all the players, that would be the students, and the parents, and the community, and the faculty and staff -- even the community you have to be fair because the community sometimes would like to use the facility and for instance, you say yes to one community and then another group comes along and wants to use the facility and you may not particularly subscribe to the notion of this particular group and you say no you’re not going to use it. And they say well somebody else can and we can’t, and why? If you’re going to do that, you better have some good sound reasons, and be prepared to answer those questions. It has to be based on something rather than your personal biases. Fair to all students and that can be a very, very difficult task especially when two students get in an altercation. Are both kids equally guilty? Was one student provoked? Was one student having to defend himself? Was one student attacked? What are all the facts? I used to spend a tremendous amount of time trying to find the truth. Getting back to being honest, you’ve got to be honest. You’ve got to be true and honest to yourself. You’ve got to know what your own limitations are. You’ve got to be true and honest with your faculty. I didn’t like to play head games with the faculty. I kinda liked to be up front as much as I could with the faculty. There’s some privacy issues sometimes that prevent you from being as forthright as you would like to, but for the most part I tried to be honest with them. I tried to be honest with parents, and sometimes that would get you in a lot of trouble, because sometimes being honest with parents got them hearing things they didn’t want to hear. Trying to be honest with students and that was frequently the case. Students weren’t interested in honesty. They were interested in hearing things that suited them. And sometimes you had to work out compromises. When I came here, for instance, senior skip day was a big thing and it was one of the things that I told seniors if they skipped, they were going to be punished for it. There’s no school sanctions for skipping school. And so, to overcome the students losing that day and displaying their disappointment in some negative way, we organized some special trips to Washington DC, Busch Gardens, or something like that, something that still had some educational value in it, but something that students could enjoy together and doing together. And that worked out real good, but the truth was that there wasn’t going to be a senior skip day. And that’s not what the seniors wanted to hear.

Q: If you had to do it all over again, what kinds of things would you do to better prepare yourself for the principalship, and would you describe your feelings knowing what you know now about entering the principalship yourself if given the opportunity to start anew.

A: I think I would take things less personally, and I wouldn’t be as defensive.

Q: What suggestions would you offer universities as a way of helping them to better prepare candidates for administrative positions? Maybe comment on weaknesses in the traditional programs for the training of administrators.

A: A lot of the things the universities offer now are extremely important. I think the weakness in secondary and probably middle schools is that teachers are not adequately prepared to teach all students. They can teach the good students, and then we have specially prepared teachers to do special ed., and then we have specially prepared teachers to teach the gifted. Those kids on the achievement scale who will fall somewhere between special ed. and the average achievers are becoming a significant number. That is a large number of students that we’re not preparing in both academics and vocational education and technical education. And I would maintain that one of the reasons why we have such a difficult time teaching those students is that we don’t know how. And principals are supposed to be the instructional leaders and when teachers are having difficulty teaching those students the principal is the number one person who has to be able to make suggestions and need to maybe demonstrate to the teachers how to do these things to remediate the situation and principals aren’t capable to do it. Most principals are not instructional leaders and that is what universities need to work on, making principals instructional leaders. Now you can take anybody and make an athletic director out of them, they could keep books. You can get people to do the discipline, but the whole purpose of school is to advance the achievement of students, to educate students, and that ought to be the focus of the administration.

Q: It’s often said that the principal should be active in community affairs. Please discuss your involvement with and participation in civic groups and other community organizations. Which community organizations or groups had the greatest influence?

A: Probably the Ruritans had the greatest influence. For me, there are not too many community organizations, but the Ruritans and First Aid crew are the ones that I was most active with during my tenure as principal. I think it’s important that principals somehow be involved with as many of those community groups as possible, if not — you know you can’t be a member of all those groups. There’s just not enough time to be able to serve in all those groups and then do your job as principal. I think it’s important that the principal have some key contact with those groups and be able to visit those groups or meetings as much as possible and tell the story of what’s going on at that school. And you know just answer questions. You know people hear everything, and most of what they hear is not true or half- true and sometimes it’s good for those organizations to get the truth straight from the principal.

Q: Would you describe your approach to teacher evaluation, and give your philosophy of evaluation.

A: My philosophy of evaluation is to improve instruction. I found it very difficult to get a true picture of what’s going on in the classroom by one formal classroom observation. I did one formal classroom observation, announced in fairness to the teacher. But I also think it’s important that the informal evaluations, the visits going into the classroom and sometimes just making an observation of three or four minutes, just kinda getting a snapshot at that moment, what’s going on, and then over time you put the snapshots together and you have a composite of what’s happening in that classroom. I think the historical record of a teacher’s instructional methods is more important than what’s going on -- what they can do at one particular time. I think it’s extremely important that teachers understand learning styles and teaching styles, and that during a lesson, or while teaching a concept or principle or even a unit, that their instructional methods matched all learning styles. So that they would teach kids democratically. Everybody would have an opportunity to learn the concepts and principles a way that they are most comfortable with learning. I think it’s extremely important that they do that. I also think it’s important they do that so that they can develop stronger coping and adapting abilities for students. But an evaluation you got to do, and you’ve got to document, document, document, document. If you’re walking down the hall and you step in Mrs. Grundy’s room unannounced for two or three minutes and you make some mental notes, as soon as possible jot down your observations and drop it in the file. And with the opportunity of Mrs. Grundy seeing what you’ve written any time if Mrs. Grundy wants to see it. And then get a composite of those visitations and see what it looks like.

Q: As you view it, what characteristics are associated with the most effective schools, and what features characterize less successful ones?

A: All kids are taught with the same pedagogical and economic determination. All kids are taught style. And all kids are provided a caring and nurturing environment. If you can do those three things kids’ achievement is going to advance. Things that are negative is demonstrating to kids that I don’t care. I don’t care about you. And that can be demonstrated in several ways: putting kids in ability groups is one way that we clearly demonstrate, we clearly say to kids, "You’re not as important as these kids over here in this group, so we’re not going to do as much for you;" making teachers aware of teaching to the "T". Research would indicate that the kids who sit across the first couple rows of seats and down the middle, seem to get more attention than the kids outside the "T". And making sure that teachers, no matter where a kid sits in a classroom, that they get the attention that they need and that they deserve. But I think another extremely bad thing that happens in the teaching profession is, is when teachers get to the point that they think that their instructional method is THE method of teaching. If you get it, you get it. If you don’t, you don’t, and it’s not my fault.

Q: Please discuss your style of personal management, that is, what approaches you employed that contributed to the effectiveness as a manager.

A: I don’t know, I don’t much like the term ‘manager.’ Manager is subtopic of leadership, is a subheading under leadership. Someone who leads is someone who takes people where they don’t necessarily want to go, but they will go with you. Managing is keeping everybody happy, or not making waves, or keeping the status quo. I guess my style was that, here’s what I’m thinking, what’s your notions on this, I want to try this, it might work, and it might not but let’s see where it goes. If enough people tell me that I would be ill advised to continue with that, or to do that, why then that’s something I have to listen to. That’s something I have to take into consideration very strongly. But the principal must be a leader. There’s more to being a principal than a manager.

Q: It’s been said that good personnel leaders encourage their subordinates and peers by staging celebrations on their successes. To what extent did you engage in this practice during your tenure as principal, and to what extent did it improve morale and organizational effectiveness?

A: I don’t know that I 100% agree with that philosophy. Probably it’s right, but I haven’t been convinced. I think we’re paid to do a job, and our job is so important that we can’t afford not to do it any other way, except for well. So doing well is kind of, should be the norm for us in the profession. And then on the other hand, teachers sometimes never know the influence that they’re having on kids and it may be many, many, many years, lots of years can pass before they ever get any personal gratification for a job that they did. You know, they’ll run into a student they had ten or fifteen years ago, and then that student will tell them how much they appreciate what they did. Sometimes it’s ten years down the road, so maybe, you know, maybe there ought to be more celebrations, maybe there ought the be more congratulations. That might have been one of my weaknesses, but our faculty did not do a lot of celebrations. One thing that we did do, we were a pilot sight for a reform in education programs sponsored by the Southern Regional Education Board of the Virginia Department of Education. And we had considerable grant funds and there was a summer institute, and during the final four years or so that I was here at this school, we were able to take a portion of the faculty every year to one of these institutes. One of them was in Tulsa. I think one of them was in Atlanta. They were in different places across the country, and they were real, real good institutes -- summer conferences. And then a couple times we did our own workshops off campus. We did one down at Doe Run Lodge one time, and we invited all the faculty to participate in that. And it was hard work during the day, but we had plenty of time to play hard in the evenings, had cook outs and that sort of thing. We tried to show our appreciation to the faculty that way. But I don’t recall doing a lot celebrating for the job that we were supposed to do to start with.

Q: Some principals believe that teachers and other staff members are, in general, well motivated and reliable self-starters. Others feel that they must closely monitor the activities of their employees. What approach did you customarily use during your administrative career?

A: Those teachers and staff members that were reliable and self-starters I didn’t have to monitor as much as I did those that who weren’t self-starters and motivators that needed extra help. I tried to give those teachers more advice, more help, and more suggestions than the others, and sometimes I would use the ones that were really motivated and doing a good to help out some of the others. A little peer tutoring among the faculty. Sometimes those self-motivators appreciated it, and sometimes they didn’t.

Q: Would you discuss your general relationship, pro or con, with the Board of Education and comment on the effectiveness of school board operations in general?

A: I guess with me it was hot and cold. There was things that I did that the school board appreciated, and I’m sure that there was things that I did that they just as soon I didn’t do. I would guess for the most part that the relationship was good. I had a fairly healthy respect for the school board. I had a healthy respect for the man that hired me as an administrator and entrusted that responsibility upon me. Like teachers who don’t understand the role of the principal, I don’t think principals appreciate the role of superintendents and assistant superintendents until they’ve been there. As a principal it was my goal to make Rockbridge High School the best it could possibly be, and in trying to accomplish that, I didn’t always take into consideration that the superintendent and the school board had two other high schools that they had rules, regulations, and policies for. And I had to operate under the same guidelines that they did. I didn’t always appreciate that. That’s something I probably regret and didn’t understand. And I don’t guess I tried to understand it. Sometimes, infrequently, there might have been a board member who didn’t understand his or her role as a board member and interfered in one way or another. And sometimes that interference was positive for us. But most of the time my relationship with the board and the central office was good. And one of the things that I greatly appreciated about the school board and the two superintendents that I served under was when we got that grant, which was sizable, we had $150,000.00 awarded over, I can’t remember how many years it was, a five or six year period, something like that, and they didn’t mess with it. They let us develop our own program, and let us experiment, and let us try, and let us fail, and let us succeed which was really good because they could have said, "Hey, you are going to have to share all this money with the rest of the school division." And they didn’t do that. They allowed us, and I appreciated their trust in me, for allowing me to do that.

Q: Since you have now had some time to reflect on your career, I wonder if you would share with us what you consider to be your administrative strengths and weaknesses.

A: I guess my administrative strengths were I had a lot of energy. I was completely and totally devoted to the task. I had good vision. I knew where I wanted to lead the school. And I had a good working relationship with the faculty. I guess my weaknesses, sometimes I wasn’t tolerant enough. When you’re implementing things that would initiate change, sometimes it didn’t go as smooth as I would like or as particularly as fast as I’d want it to. And I think one of my greatest weaknesses was not being able to see or understand that in public schools — public school is like a sloth. Making changes is a process that takes a tremendous amount of time as compared to what you could do if you were a CEO of a company. A CEO of a company can have a vision, and he can go in and say, "Starting tomorrow, we’re going to do this," and the change is immediate. And that doesn’t happen in public schools. It’s something that has to evolve over time. And I think one of my greatest weaknesses was intolerance of not being able to move fast enough to get things done fast enough.

Q: Would you give us an overall comment on the pros and cons of administrative service and any advice you would like to pass on to today’s principals?

A: Well, you have to be completely devoted to the task. You’ve got to have good vision of where you’re leading. You have to have a good understanding of human nature. You have to love people -- adults and children. You have to have a pretty thick skin because you’re the person in the arena. You’ve got school boards on one side, the superintendents on one side, the students on one side, and the parents on one side — the parents and the community on one side. So you’re the person in the middle and the things that you do are not always going to be appreciated by everybody, and you’ve got to be able to understand that and accept it. Don’t take things personally, and don’t get too defensive. But keep your eye on the goal, that your purpose is to advance the achievement of the students — all students, every single one of them -- not just the college prep kids, not just the gifted kids, and not just the special ed. kids, but those kids in the middle also. I guess that would be my advice. Have a lot of energy, and be ready to put in what ever amount of time it takes to put in. And I was very fortunate in that my kids were going to school here at the time, for a good portion of the time that I was a principal here. And I had a very tolerant wife that spent a good many hours here at the school with me, and I can’t remember the number of nights that we spent a picnic dinner on top of my desk, and spent time together as a family right there in my office. It’s a very, very difficult job, but it can be an extremely rewarding job. In some places it can even be rewarding financially. There’s several localities where that may not be the case, but in some places it’s not only professionally rewarding, but it’s also financially rewarding.

Q: Well that brings us to my last question, and despite my best efforts to be comprehensive in the questioning, there's probably something I’ve left out. What have I not asked you that I should have?

A: You’ve hit it all. You’ve hit curriculum and instruction. You’ve hit school and community. We’ve talked on school plant and facilities. We didn’t talk too much about transportation, and that can be an extremely important part of the overall operation of the school. We’ve talked about school personnel. We didn’t talk about finances. Probably we ought to talk about school finance. That is both the internal budget — that is the school budget of the revenues coming in the school’s check book from athletic events, from the athletic department and the Coke machine and the concession stands and the sale of magazines and fruit and all of that, and clubs and curricular activities.

Q: Was this a site-based management while you administrator here, or no?

A: We were given an allotment in various budget categories from the school board office, and we had to operate within that budget, but it was primarily up to me to decide which departments got how much instructional funds. And then I left it up to the department what it was that they needed. And we kind of did that as a team effort. We’d get the department heads together, and we’d sit down and kind of divy up the instructional funds. You know. It didn’t take near as many funds in, for instance, English and/or social studies as it did in science because of lab materials. It took a lot of money in the art department because art materials and supplies, it took a lot of, and it was expensive. Agriculture shop was another one that required a lot of funds, though there was a special allocation for that. We didn’t have to divvy up the academic instructional funds for that. You know, one of the big arguments always occurs in the athletic budget because the football team is the primary revenue for all of the athletic department and you had to take funds from that to furnish girls basketball, volley ball, or track which are non-revenue sports. And when you’ve got an athletic director that’s football coach you have to come to an understanding that we’re going to use football funds to supplement these other sports. It’s not all going to go back to the football program. And another thing you have to be very, very careful about is you don’t run any of these programs in red. When I came to Rockbridge High School the yearbook was tremendously in debt and had committed itself to another indebtedness for the upcoming yearbook that would have put us in the hole about to the point where we could have never come out. So, I had to make some tough decisions there. Number one, I had to get a new yearbook sponsor, somebody who could produce a yearbook that wasn’t costing students $50, $75 a piece. And when they get that expensive nobody buys them and you’re committed to so many copies. And if you’re committed to 100 copies, you sign a contract for that and if you don’t sell 100 copies, well then you have to eat the rest of it. Sometimes the athletic directors get a little overzealous and get you in the hole. I had one, one time, that went to a sale and called me back and told me he spent $3,000 on equipment. And I told him, "That’s fine, I’m glad you did that, now you meet me in my office first thing in the morning and we’re going to discuss how you’re going to raise the funds to pay for it." And so, he was there first thing that morning, the football and the assistant principal, who was the athletic director, and they had had time to develop a plan on how they were going to raise the money to pay off that $3,500 debt. And they did it. To their credit, they did it. It’s an extremely interesting job. I wouldn’t have traded my years of being principal for anything. It’s something I really, really enjoyed. But when I moved on into an assistant superintendent position, I was really ready for that. And that’s another role that I had in education, and also really enjoyed. And I was extremely happy as a teacher.

Q: What about as a consultant?

A: As a consultant, and I did quite a bit of that as an assistant superintendent, and have worked in several states, and have really enjoyed that for the most part. As a consultant, where it gets unpleasant is when you get sent to a location where folks don’t want to be consulted, and that’s happened a couple of times. One time was in a northern state where the teachers were very strongly unionized in the American Teachers Federation. Their philosophy of education and my philosophy of education was not even in the same world. Or at least during the question and answer session at the end of my speech -- the president of the association and the shop manager, shop steward, lead me to believe that we just weren’t in the same ballpark. But it’s also the only time that I ever went out, that when I got back home I received fan mail. I got fan mail from folks explaining to me that they appreciated the things that I told them, and that they wished that it had been possible that they could have spoken up during the meeting. But being in the union, that that was not possible and they wanted me to know that not everybody felt like the union president and the shop steward. I went to another situation in this state where the faculty and the principal felt like -- I was sent there by the central office, I was hired by the central office to go to this school — and this school felt like they had already arrived and knew all the answers, and no one was better. And there was no room for council or advice, and I was very happy to get out of that situation. But most of the situations I’ve been in to have been very, very interesting and very pleasant. One time I was in a situation in Omaha, Nebraska on Super Bowl Sunday and that wasn’t too good because everybody wanted to get out of there and go watch the football game, but that didn’t have anything to do with what we were doing. It was just the fact that they didn’t want to be there on that particular day. That was, I guess, kinda bad planning on somebody’s part, about having that particular regional conference at that time. I’ve had a lot of opportunities to do writing and editing of textbooks. I really enjoy doing that. I’ve learned a tremendous amount from it. And still continue to do a lot of writing, particularly in vocational education curriculum. As a matter of fact, today I have taken an electronics curriculum, electronics/technology and I’ve been copying it on CDs for distribution.

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