Interview with Henry Edward Bizzell

March 30, 2000

Today’s date is March 30, 2000. I am interviewing Henry Edward Bizzell, in his home in Lexington, NC.

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Q: Many people would find it interesting that a high school dropout retired as a high school principal. Would you begin by describing your family and school background.

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

A: I was born in 1926. I was the only living child in the family. My parents had two other children who died at birth. My mother always saw that books were in the house and she was avid reader as I became. I had pleasant experiences all through elementary school and junior high school. I felt as though that I achieved at probably above average. I reached high school and my teacher insulted me in class. It made me … it upset me quite a bit and I immediately walked out of her class. I was most pleased when I read her obituary in the paper. My only comment was I wished it had of happened sooner. My parents attempted to get me assigned to a different classroom. The principal did not think this was feasible and I simply refused to go back into the lady’s classroom. I was sixteen at the time. So the war had begun a year prior to that in December … well, not a year … December and this happened in the … early in the year in 42. I had a cousin who was eighteen said he was going to join the army. And I don’t know, it sounded like a good like a good, good thing at the time. I went into the army. I inventually wound up in the second infantry division, 38th regiment and sent to Germany. I was wounded … well, celebrated my 19th birthday up in the middle of the Sigrid Line. I was wounded February 11, 1945. I spent better than six months in hospitals having operations both in France and in England, returned to the United States and I went through rehabilitation for an extended time. I was released from the Army in 1946 and had no idea what I wanted to do. I tried many different jobs; retail, construction, most anything that was available. But I never did find anything that really interested me. In February of 1949, I was made aware that I could take a test and the high school that I graduated from would give me a diploma if I passed, which I did. I immediately enrolled in High Point College under public law 16 for disabled veterans. I graduated from college in 1951 by going in the summer and carrying a very heavy load in college. I carried 21 semester hours some semesters.

Q: Since you’re beginning to talk about your college education, focus on how it prepared you to enter the field of teaching or how well you feel it prepared you to enter the field of teaching.

A: I went to college with the idea in mind that I would take business administration. I was fortunate enough to have a science teacher, Dr. Ben Hale, and a history teacher, Dr. Deskins. I was … I was so excited by learning and the way that these gentleman made education so interesting to me. I had a change of heart and a change a mind and I knew that I wanted to have the same experience. I was most fortunate in being able to do my student teaching at the high school that I had gone to. I feel as though I had a very successful experience in my student teaching and was excited at the prospect of maybe doing a … teaching myself. And, I was able to get my teaching certificate and I was … the door was open to me quite frequently in many different areas (?) very pleased about.

Q: Switching gears a little bit now to more of your views on education. There has traditionally been a commitment in the country to the principle of university free public education. Can you give your views on this principle?

A: Well, I firmly believe that everyone should have an opportunity to have a free, excellent education. I do not think that this should be weakened by the elite of our society being able to pull out of supporting free education for everybody. I feel as though education is the primary source of developing good citizens and leadership within our population.

Q: Can you describe for me your views on what it takes to be an effective principal?

A: To be an effective principal, I think basically you have to have a sound philosophy. I do not know of anything that later in years prove to guide me more than what I consider to be a sound philosophy of education. You have to love children. You have to respect many different methods of teaching. There is no one method that I have seen that would be effective for all children. Teacher and principal must recognize this and the principal must recognize and give to a teacher leaway to use many different approaches. I know of no one single method or technique that would be effective at all times. The principal must see that the teacher has whatever materials and tools are necessary for them to be most effective. The teacher must know that they can explore many different areas and they must feel free to try many different methods and know that they have the principal’s support in these.

Q: The principal has to answer to a lot of different people. What types of expectations are held or were held for you as a principal by your school board, the school community, superintendent, teachers, students, others? Can you kind of describe how those expectations differed from group to group?

A: This varies from everyone that you’re dealing with. School community per say, of course basically they expect the children they send to you to be treated fairly and to be educated to the best of their ability. School boards, it varies. It’s very difficult to say a board looks for this or a board looks for that. All to often the board’s main concern is to keep expenses down. The superintendent, he expects you to operate where the school community and the board is satisfied and with not bombarding him with problems. Teachers, teachers basically wish to be respected which do the students. Teachers expect to have materials, equipment and tools so they can do the job. Many teachers want to be left alone and not too much guidance. Which … and others seek out assistance and help. You have to be able to deal with all of it.

Q: What were some of the pressures you faced as a principal on a daily basis and did these pressures change? You were in administration for quite a number of years and through a lot of different things. Did those pressure change over the course of your career and what sort of things did you do to cope with those pressures?

A: My job as administrator in the beginning was very early in my career. My second year in education, I was made building principal. There was a district principal that I was responsible to and, of course the superintendent of the board and all others. But I was the building principal of a small school. There was seven grades with six teachers. I taught the seventh grade and … full-time and of course I was also responsible for the administration of the school and seeing that the children arrived safely and were taken home safely. There was a job of seeing that the buses were on time, that the buses had drivers and that the students of course … [Inaudible tape] Later, I was a principal … an assistant principal at a union school. This was grades one through twelve, very large union school. We probably had 25 schools buses. As an assistant principal, I was fortunate to be working with one of the strong, stronger principals that I every associated with. My responsibilities increased each … as he saw that things that I was able to handle. And he was, encouraged me in assuming more. And I certainly do appreciate it. It certainly helped me in later years. I moved to a different system and as principal I was under one of the top superintendents in the state within the … also, this was the system that I had gone to when I was younger. I was there in elementary school. And I was there in high school and I received my diploma from the school there. This superintendent called me into the office and asked was I interested in being a principal at Brentwood Elementary School. And I said I would certainly like to think about it. And he said, "Well, here’s the keys. I want you to go over there and see that teachers have everything that they need to do the job and don’t bug them too much." I guess that was about as good as advice as I’ve ever had.

Q: After Brentwood, you were named the principal of what had been the system’s black junior school. I believe that was 1969. Can your discuss your participation in the racial integration of schools as that principal?

A: Brentwood Elementary School parents had been admittedly against integration. In fact, they hired a lawyer. The community itself hired a lawyer and attempted to fight this integration. I feel as though the fact that I had been very successful at Brentwood School encouraged the superintendent to assign me to the junior high school. And I must say there were two others, two other junior high schools in the system at that time. Griffin, having been previously the all black school, probably had the most successful integration of any of the other schools. I think one of the primary reasons were that the black student felt as though that was their school. They were home. So, no problem. And some of the students that were sent in to Griffin Junior High School, white students, of course all of Brentwood students came there. The community that I had lived in with my own children were placed in the district. My son, Brad, had been assigned later to attend there. Even though he did not attend because I was hired in another situation. The integration within our school, in my opinion, went very well. Basically, because I was able to get additional equipment and materials into the system. The students, the white students, many of them knew me very well, felt as though I would certainly treat them fairly. And I feel as though before I left there, I had won the confidence of the black … of the majority of the black teachers within the school and students. I made myself very visible. I was always out into the classrooms and in the halls. Anyone could stop me at any time with any problem that they had. It wasn’t an easy job. And I certainly had my apprehensions. But I was very pleased in the results that came about.

Q: What were some of the toughest decisions you had to make as a principal?

A: The toughest I ever had to make as a principal was to tell a teacher that I would not be able to recommend them for re-election the next year. Teachers, of course, were on a year to year contract.

Q: There are some who argue that the principal should be an instructional leader and those that suggest that the principal should be a good manager. What are your views on this issue and in what dir4ection did you lean?

A: I guess basically, I would … I think basically your primary function, of course, is to be an instructional leader but to be such you have to be a very good manager. You must have organizational, organizational strengths. You must be able to have planning strengths. You must look ahead. You must know your teachers. You must know your students. I feel certain that I had very strong managerial skills especially in organizing and scheduling areas to be used, rooms to be used, acquiring those materials and so forth. But, you also have to be an instructional leader leading teachers into areas of where they can see outstanding work being done and leading them into equipment that they could use more efficiently. It’s just hard to separate the two. I think you have to be careful that you dispense only what you feel as though is the best way of doing something because the principal never has all the answers. And a principal becomes much stronger if he can recognize strengths in other people on his staff and share those ideas with his complete staff.

Q: Can you describe how your involvement with civic groups such as the Rotary Club impacted your job as a principal or how it was connected with your job as a principal?

A: I was in different civic organizations, different schools. I know I was first in the Lion’s Club as an administrator. There was an awful lot we did in the community there. My organizational skill was often called upon for projects and setting up areas to be worked with. I think a … next area of civic organizations, I was in the Rotary Club. In there, there was many community activities that we took part in. I was able to get the Key Club, which is a junior Kiwanis member, into one of the local high schools where my daughter was going. And she is most pleased with that. Later, I was … my last few years in education, I was in the Rotary Club. This was basically a club of most of your city leaders. They had considerable political influence within the city and within the school system.

Q: How did you foster relationships with the parents of your students in the various schools?

A: Well, it varied considerably. I know that Colfax Union School, a school that I was at for some time, I was in charge of athletics. And we had no gymnasium. We had no bus for transportation to the various schools. So I had very close relationships with the parents and the community in seeing that the students were able to get to the events and back home. While they were having building construction at this school, they tore up our baseball field. And, I along with the parents and the students and other organizations in the community, we were able to build a baseball field and carry on with the season. At other schools, I feel as though a relationship with the parent is good. I think it will strengthen you school. And the parents feel as though they are a part of what is happening. And if a parent knows what you’re doing and why you’re doing it, you will find that you have their full support.

Q: The biggest part of your career was spent in High Point City Schools, the superintendent, Dean Pruitt, I believe. Can you describe your relationship with him?

A: I have the greatest respect in the world for Dr. Dean Pruitt. He was a leader. He was a friend. And he supported you in whatever you did. And he saw that you had whatever you needed to do the job. He was the finest man that I ever had any contact with at that level in education. Somehow he knew who was able to do a good job with the school system. He sent some of the finest teachers that I have ever had any contact with. I never had as good a group of teachers both instructionally prepared and willing to really put for the effort for the students. And he hired basically all the teachers. I guess one of my proudest moments was one summer when he passed that responsibility to me for hiring some teachers that I needed at my school. It made me feel very proud. In comparison to other … other superintendents that I had worked with, there are some that are basically nothing but politically and their one aim is to not spend all the money allotted during the year. If they are able to return some of the money not spent, they feel as though they have had a successful year. And then you have superintendents who wish to micromanage. In fact, they don’t … in some smaller systems they don’t have enough to do and, of course, the high school is the ideal spot for them to play principal without the responsibility. I have been unfortunate to work with such a superintendent. But, basically, you keep your mouth shut and do the best that you can under the circumstances and keep your eyes open for an opening somewhere else.

Q: At the other end, now, as opposed to the superintendent, looking at your assistant principals; what roles did you really look for for your assistant principals and can you describe an assistant principal who you really consider to be very effective and helpful to you? The question we had just asked, I had just asked was for you to describe for me what you consider to be the role of an assistant principal and also to describe an assistant principal with whom you’ve worked who was very effective.

A: I feel as though the proper role for the assistant principal is to assume those responsibilities that his principal has assigned him. And of course, this would vary from school to school. It would vary from staff from to staff. And it will vary according to the assistant principal’s greatest strength and also what areas that the principal feels as though is not quite as important as other roles. The most effective assistant principal with whom I have worked … he had the characteristics of assuming whatever role was asked of him. He gave full support to the philosophy of the principal. He was willing to assume any task that was asked of him whether it be organizational or whether it be instructional.

Q: Can you describe how special education students were served prior to and immediately after the passage of the Education for All Handicap Children Act in the early 1970s?

A: In many rural settings, special ed. students were not served at all. If the child could not function in the classroom, and there were many in the classroom who could not function very well, the parents either kept them at home or the teacher would give them some simple task in the back of the room. Not all systems were as such. The High Point City system, which was well ahead of other systems within the state, took action to serve some of these students in special settings. After the Education for All Handicap Children in the early 70s came about, there were considerable improvement. Special teachers were hired and the class size was very small. We still did not serve all children who were handicapped. A facility … many of our facilities the children could not even get in if they … on their own. If they were in wheelchairs, there were only certain floors that they could be on. You would plan their education where they could get all their classes on one level. And, of course, that has changed considerably since I have left education. Schools have taken it upon themselves to put ramps, in two story buildings, they have moved in and placed elevators. So, things are moving in the correct direction.

Q: What would you consider to be your greatest strengths and also any weaknesses you might have had as an administrator?

A: I guess impatient would be my greatest weakness. If I see a problem, I wish it corrected immediately. And I come to find out in education, that is not how it absolutely works. But, I still feel as though that when one sees a problem that needs to be corrected, it’s useless to sit back and wait to see if it’s going to improve on it’s own. Generally, it does not. My greatest strength I guess it would be the willingness, willingness to see that there are many different ways to educate. I have known principals who would go into the classroom and there was only one way that they felt as though teaching could be done; only one method, only one technique. And I think as a result, many of the wonderful ideas that teachers have on their own could be shared by the complete staff and make your staff much stronger. I have teachers as such and I’d invite our staff to go visit these teachers, see what was taking place in the classroom, the way things were being used. I would consider that my relationship with teachers as probably my greatest strength and my impatience with a sorry teacher as my greatest weakness.

Q: Kind of following up on the good relationship that you had with your teachers, where there things that you did to kind of celebrate successes either of individual teachers or of your staff as a whole at times during your career?

A: To the greatest extent, I tried to do this in faculty meetings and taking tours of the teacher’s classroom, pointing out specific practices, specific utilization of materials. I had one teacher who came to me and wanted earphones and a player, recorder. And she wanted all of her students … now this was in the first grade. She had a group of ten or twelve that she was working with in reading groups. And she would give these students earphones and their books and recorder. And the child could follow in the book and hear over the recorder what was being said as she would read the stories to the children. And I consider this most effective. And I took many of the teachers down to see how she was doing this and the tapes that she would make on her own, having the students as such while she worked with another group. And I felt like this was strong management, an instructional method. And, of course, the next thing I knew many of the teachers wanted the same things within their classroom. And, I was fortunate to be able to get them. And, of course, for a number of years I was fortunate to have the outstanding teacher of the system. Each year each school was given an opportunity to nominate a person. And our group would always … could always find one without any problem who deserved such a recognition. And we would, all together and find out and observe and see the things that she was doing and we would write this up and we would go to the dinner where these teachers would be recognized. And as I said, we were fortunate to have two during my ... I believe, seven year tenure at this school … from a system that had probably fifteen or sixteen elementary schools. Our teachers won the outstanding teacher of the year. And, of course, our parents would come in at the opening of the school, closing of the school and have a quite a banquet for our teachers. During certain holidays of the year, they would always come in to have special cookie trays and so forth in the teacher’s lounge for our teachers. So, we were very proud of our teachers.

Q: You became a new principal in at least three different schools. I think of Brentwood, Griffin, Asheboro High School but I guess also your very first principalship at New Market. So, four different schools you became the new principal. What were some of the first things you did in each one of those schools that led to your long-term success at each of those schools?

A: At Brentwood Elementary School, I guess I was very fortunate. I followed a teacher, a principal. She had been a teacher and then became a principal. She was definitely of the old school. She ran us all at school. I guess the teachers looked upon her as very tough, a person who gave very little freedom and had quite a few demands. I guess what made me successful, I attempted to do what superintendent … Dean Pruitt had told me. I got all the materials that they needed and I didn’t bug them. The fact that I was willing to see that everybody had anything that any other school had. They had been kindly looked over and nobody speaking up for them. At the associate superintendent’s office, where materials were acquired and requisitioned, I became good friends with the purchasing manager of the system. And Mr. Jones saw that I had whatever I needed. I don’t think he had ever been approached by the previous principal. Of course, I felt as though I had the best teachers in the system. In fact, they taught me more about education than any other experience, I guess, than I had before. I saw were learning really took place. And even to this day, there is no level of education, in my opinion, that’s more important than the grades K-3. I feel as though the foundation for all future learning is firmly established at that level. And if it isn’t firmly established there, I think that the child will have a much difficult … different road to hoe. The next school, I guess in the order of things, was Griffin Junior High School. And, of course, that was a difficult task in that many of the staff were new, many of the students were new and I, of course, was new. The school PTA was in financial trouble. The athletic equipment had been stolen during the summer from the school. Many of the windows had been broken. And, we were quite busy getting things in shape before school opened that year. But, the purchasing agent, the superintendent, the maintenance department were all very helpful to me. First thing I did in going into this new system, this being a black community, which I had not served before. I had had black students at Brentwood School. And, I did have contact with some black parents. I was familiar with the black principals within the system. There was one who had the same last name as my mother. So I felt kind of close to him. Mr. Yokely was a good friend. His wife was also. His wife taught in the system. She was a music teacher. So, what I did, I went to Mr. Yokely and told him that I had been appointed as a principal there at Griffin. And, he lived within three blocks of the school. And I told him I wanted to meet some of the parents and some of the business leaders. I wanted them to know me and I wanted them to know that they … if they had any questions or any problem, I wanted them to feel free to come to me. Mr. Yoakly did that. As a result, I feel as though I had laid the foundation to be success there. My next school was Asheboro High School. I was fourth principal, I believe, in a matter of three years. It seems as though no one had been in control the previous three years. Financial support was not the greatest. And, there were many different problems within the school. That was probably the most difficult school that I went into during my tenure as a principal. I wanted to move very slowly within the system. At the end of three, two weeks, I still had students sitting on … sitting outside the guidance office without a schedule. The previous year, it had been done by computer. And, of course, everyone blamed the computer. I immediately joined the two guidance personnel, brought in a secretary and we … to get the students into classes immediately. And the first assignment I gave to the guidance people, was to go through all schedules to see this sort of thing did not happen again. And by the second semester, we were able to get in students in classes on the first day of the second semester. And from there, it was just one thing after another. But, I think with the beginning of the second year, everything settled down, classes were even. The first year there, classes were all out of proportion. You would have thirty-five in some classes and ten in another class. You’d have … scheduling was atrocious. And, of course, that was simply mechanics which was easily over, overcome. I think we were able to get things into our library. We doubled our library expenditures. We doubled our instructional materials expenditures. The money was allotted into different areas in such a way that where education was important. They had the materials to do with. We had basically outstanding teachers without any direction. There were four or five groups that seemed to move just in their own direction rather than in the direction that all of us needed to go in. We were able to pull together and come out with a group that I felt was doing an excellent job, that I was fortunate to be there with them.

Q: As my father, you never either really encouraged or discouraged me from going into teaching or administration. But now that I’ve been teaching for thirteen years and am about to move into administration, you seem pleased with, with both my choice to be a teacher and also with my choice to move into administration. Why to each of those?

A: Nobody should go into education that does not wish to be there. I have seen too many people that did not like children. They did not like teaching. And, they had no business in the classroom. Many of them did more harm than they did good. I was pleased when you made your decision to go into teaching. You, of course, on graduating from college went into business, some amount of administration. I was pleased with that. But when you made the choice to go into education, I was thrilled. I thought you had the qualities and knowledge to be an excellent teacher. You certainly were able to see evidence of good teaching and bad teaching all your life; the people that you came into contact with, the time that you spent in the schools with me in the summer time. As I said, I was pleased. And, of course, if you remember, I encouraged you to go into elementary education. But that would have been a couple more years of schooling. So, you settled for high school. But, when you went into administration, you seem to enjoy the thoughts of going into elementary education. And, I felt as though that the only thing that would be as satisfying as elementary administration would be elementary teaching. So, you certainly have the knowledge, the training, the ability and the desire to work with young folks. And you will be an asset. I have no question about that. I think you’re an asset to our family so I’m sure you will be an asset to any school you’re in.

Q: Is there anything about your career as an educator, a teacher, a coach, a principal that I haven’t asked you, that you would like to get on tape to be held in perpetuity?

A: Nothing that we have not already discussed on many different occasions. You have a basic knowledge of my philosophy of education. And like I told you, when I was taking philosophy in college, I thought it was the most useless thing in the world. Before I finished with education, I found philosophy is the thing that determines what type of educator you will be. You need a sound, you need a sound philosophy based on the welfare of the child. That’s the only reason the school is there. The school is not there for the superintendent, the principal, teachers. The school is there for the children. Don’t lose sight of that. I thank you, Brad.

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