We are interviewing Mr. Emanuel N. Catsoules from the Youngstown City School District, Youngstown, Ohio.
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Q: Thank you for doing this Mr. Catsoules.
A: You're welcome.
Q: (laughter) First of all, would you begin by telling us about your family background, your childhood interests and development, birthplace, elementary and secondary education, and family characteristics; special things about yourself.
(Streamed audio file of interview for this question using RealPlayer)
A: Well, my parents were immigrants from Europe, from the country of Greece. They were born and raised on the rural island of Kytira, which is off the southern coast of Greece. And my father immigrated to the United States, as a lot of people did at that time because of the conditions, economic conditions on the island. If there were more than one or two children in the family, they usually found the older brothers and sisters, especially the brothers leaving for America, Australia and other countries that held more promise for economic success. My father left and came here as a boy of 14 years old. Then when he was established he came to Youngstown and became an established businessman. He went back to Europe, to the island and met my mother and married her and brought her over here. My mother was one of nine children in the family. And whenever, in those days, it was possible to marry off a daughter, one less mouth to feed, it was done readily. However, it was a closely knit family and I recall as a child where my mother would often miss her family and many times on the verge of tears, and actual tears. So there was that separation, especially during the war, and my mother hadn't seen her mother hadn't seen her mother for over 35 years. And finally she went back and saw her mother. So it was one of those kinds of things with Europe being devastated by the war and the separation and the rejoining when it was possible. My fondest recollections while I was a child, I think, stemmed around the close-knit family that we had. I have two brothers who were a year apart and I recall many of the happiest times we had, when we were home at night with my mother. My father was always working; very rarely was he home. But we were very closely knit. Every morning before my father went to work, he would line us all up and give us his pearls of wisdom for the day_
A: _ and our daily allowance for the day and we wouldn't see him until the next day. He had a candy store, downtown Youngstown. And from that era, that period of our history, I think we learned a lot of the, I think, good traits, the characteristics. I think we gained the timbre that was necessary to be successful in life, as we hope that we have been. My father was a very hard worker. He worked, like I said, from dawn to dusk. And when he got established and was able to relax, he unfortunately got ill. And we didn't have too much of that close relationship. Except that we respected him a lot, we talked to him a lot, but our real attachment was with our mother. And she did everything she could to see that we were educated, that she instilled the right things in us and as a matter of fact, we were so closely knit, we, my brothers and I, didn't go to school without knowing English. We just knew Greek, we spoke Greek in the house, and that was it. So we went to Elm Street School. I'll never forget it, it was kind of a cultural shock to get into that situation without knowing English.
A: We readily learned English. It didn't seem to be a big problem after the initial shock. And we went on to graduate from high school, we all went to the north side schools in Youngstown. We went to Elm Street, then we moved to the upper north side and then we went to Harding and then from Harding we went to Hayes and then to Rayen. Basically that was a public school career. And I enjoyed all levels of education. I was class president of my class, as I recall I was chief scout of the sixth grade, the safety patrol, I was the head of the paper drive and there were a lot of good times involved. There were some hardships at times, but it was a positive situation for me.
Q: Okay, from that then would you go on and talk about your college education and preparation for entering the field of teaching; and how many years you did serve as a teacher and as a principal.
A: I started my college career by going to the University of Illinois. I went there because I had cousins at the time going to school there and we got along well. We like each other and thought "Well, lets all go the University of Illinois together." So we did. My intention at the time was to go to law school. And my undergraduate work was aimed for law school. And I majored in political science. I received my bachelors degree in 1956 and I was accepted at Ohio State University Law School. And I found out shortly after arriving at the law school, that I just didn't seem to want to continue in that area. And I just stayed there about a quarter, not even two quarters. It seemed to me that I was not where I wanted to be or needed to be. And I began considering education, which I got into and seemed more comfortable with it. And I went on, got my teaching certificate and began teaching back at my alma mater, at Rayen School. And that was in 1962. Soon I'd taught four years, in the meantime I was doing my graduate work. I received my master's degree from Kent State University in 1964. And my first administrative job was at West Branch in Mahoning County system. I was assistant principal at the high school. And I stayed there two years and had an opportunity to come back as assistant principal at Rayen. And I did so. And then from assistant principal at Rayen school I went to the principalship. And a few years later, I think it was 1974, I was transferred to Chaney High School as principal. And then in 1978, I was selected as superintendent and wound up my career as superintendent of schools in 1992.
Q: Quite a career. (laughter)
A: (laughter) In the meantime I had done some other things. I taught at the university _ Youngstown State. I taught in the social studies department, political science department. I was in the city council for ten years, I was third ward councilman _ eight years; two years as president of council. And I ran for mayor, unsuccessfully. And that was about the end of my political career. And that was done while I was principal at Rayen school, and assistant principal at West Branch.
Q: Any political aspirations in the future?
A: Not in the immediate future, no I think I've had enough of public life for the time being. I think I'm ready to get away from it for a while. But I'm not saying in the future it won't happen.
Q: We're going to focus a little bit more on your principalship. We'd like for you to talk about the circumstances surrounding what motivated you to enter into a principalship and something unique, something that stands out that happened while you were principal.
A: Well, I always was the type of person, from the time I was young, that was always getting qualified and prepared for that next rung on the ladder. It just seemed like it was second nature to me to do that. And for some reason I set my sights on a principalship, and I think part of that was due to the fact that I appreciated all the principals that I was exposed to as a child from the various school levels. I seemed to always wind up doing things for principals or heading up this or doing that and I was asked to do these things, maybe it was because they recognized leadership qualities, I don't know. But I was always preparing for the next rung on the ladder. And to me the highest rung up the ladder was, most of the time, was the principalship. And I wanted to become a principal. And it wasn't very long before I did become principal. I was in the classroom four years then had an opportunity to go to the West Branch school district. And I enjoyed it immensely, I really did. And it was more than disciplining, and more than the routine things we look at an assistant principal as doing. It was also a lot of conferences with kids and talking about their curriculum that they're undertaking, their personal problems, a lot of other things other than strictly school-related situations. From the assistant principalship that was a situation where I just couldn't wait to become a principal. And it happened rather quickly. I was assistant at West Branch two years, came back to Youngstown and was assistant principal there for four years _ at Youngstown Rayen. And then I became principal. And I seemed to flourish in that position personally, I felt that was a very rewarding experience, more than the superintendency where you are constantly on the front lines doing battle. You had some of that as a principal, but I found that you could be as decisive as you had to be and yet maintain good lines of communication with everybody. It was rather confined as opposed to the superintendency; you could control a lot of things a lot better than you could in the superintendency. But fortunately, or unfortunately, there was another rung to climb_
A: _ and I prepared for it. Not ever thinking that I was ever going to do it. But the opportunity came in 1978. As far as some highlights in the principalship, I had a good experience at Rayen. I related, I thought I related well to the kids, the faculty, but I think my most gratifying moment came at Chaney, when I was principal there. That was 1974, when I was assigned there and I recall there was a tradition, in the spring at Chaney, where the kids just routinely picked a day and they "cut". They tried to keep it secret, but of course everybody knew about it.
A: And I was concerned about the safety aspect of it. The parents came to me and they expressed their concern about the upcoming "cut" day, as we called it. And I said "Well, let's give it a try." And I felt the best way, as I always did, was to confront the situation up front. And at that time all the seniors were in the homeroom, in the auditorium. And I went to them and I talked with them directly about, and I told them what my concerns were, that it wasn't one of selfishness, it was for their safety and I appealed to them to think about their parents and what kind of a destructive effect a disaster could have on their families, their life and that type of thing. And believe it or not I felt immediately comfortable because they felt that I was taking the time to explain to them exactly what my concerns were, not dictating to them and before long I had their full attention and I told them the rest was up to them, and I hoped that they would heed the appeal that I made to them. And much to my surprise, I was walking out of the auditorium, they clapped. And I said "Well that's a good sign."
A: Next day there was perfect attendance. It seems for the senior class. I think that was the most gratifying moment. There were many others, on an individual basis; kids that had personal problems, that I felt I helped and was able to straighten their lives around and some of them still visit me. I get annual visits from one young man, another one from a young lady who is now married and has children. So those are the gratifying moments that I think I look back on and say, "Well, it was worth it."
Q: When you look back a few buildings where you were principal at and would you take a walk through your school describing it to parents and any unusual features of the building.
A: Well, Rayen school comes to mind immediately. That's the alma mater that I attended as a high school student, and taught there. I spent most of my life in that building. And of course the most unique aspect of that building, as anybody that works in the system or has been exposed to it _ it's the large halls. The halls are very very wide and another unique aspect of it is the ramp system that goes from the first to the second to the third floor. And Rayen was always a spacious school, nice auditorium, and although it is an old structure. It was, I think dedicated in 1926, 22 or 26, 22? It has, from standpoint of modernization, been neglected. However, it's a sound structure, well maintained, taken care of very nicely by the maintenance staff. But at the time it needed new windows, which it has since has gotten. And a new gymnasium was added to it. So it's a very functional building. Very very appropriate for the needs of the kids, with some modernization. So, it lent itself to making those, not so costly, modernizations.
Q: Okay, would you describe your personal philosophy on education and how did it evolve over the years.
A: Of course when you get into education, and you don't have to be an education major to discuss education and zero in on the basic concept of education, whether you're a student, teacher, support staff person, no matter who. The purpose of an education is to give the student the opportunity to develop himself or herself to the fullest extent possible. And I think if we all reminded ourselves of that periodically, it would keep on track. And I think we would improve our techniques constantly if we just kept that in mind. It's simple philosophy, but it's very applicable and holds true now as it did many many years ago. And I think that's what we're all about is to make that possible.
Q: What experience and events in your professional life influenced your management philosophy and please discuss these events and what your management philosophy is.
A: I was heavily influenced by, again my parents, some of my teachers seemed to take a personal interest in me. I can recall in elementary and also in high school levels where some teachers saw qualities in certain kids, and they would, maybe, take a little more interest in whether they felt they needed the extra help or really they genuinely liked them and wanted to associate with them a little more. And those teachers taught me a lot from the standpoint of their techniques. The principal at Harding school; I can recall being an office monitor and how she would talk to kids, and how she would let them talk and explain to them what happens. Much like the requirements of due process today.
A: And it wasn't hickory stick type of discipline or philosophy. And I can always recall instances like that. I can recall being reprimanded once for talking in class, but I wasn't disciplined severely. I was asked why I do it and so forth and so on. What I'm getting at _ my parents were the same way. They always wanted to talk things out they didn't want to come down hard on people, but once they determined the problem, they saw that we understood what the problem was then they would come forth with whatever punishment they thought was appropriate, but it was not until after that initial conversation took place. So I think I was influenced by my parents and various levels of educators; and of course your college career does a lot for you. And I always felt that that was the right style, although you get, people like to attribute other things to you, but I think basically I felt I was the type of person that wanted to get input, I wanted to get an understanding, I wanted to get other people's thinking before we made any major decisions, whether it was as at a high school level as an assistant principal or principal, or at a superintendency. And I think basically it worked pretty well.
Q: Part of this question, and you've answered some of it, but I still want to ask part of it. What kind of things do teachers expect principals to be able to do? Describe your views on what it takes to be an effective principal, describing the personal and professional characteristics of the good principal. Certainly you've answered part of that. (laughter)
A: You definitely have to be open. I can recall starting the faculty advisory committees in each of the schools in the Youngstown system. I can recall principals, more than one, that were more dictatorial in nature than I thought they should have been. And as superintendent it doesn't take long to get the feedback. So I began the faculty advisory councils and made them mandatory and I didn't structure the their individual membership except to tell them that the teachers were to get the majority of the appointments on that committee; the principal was to get the minority appointments from the standpoint of numbers. And it seemed to work a lot better in the schools where the principal saw the value of them. However there were still some problems. I think it's essential that you give an opportunity for teachers to express themselves on a regular basis and not only express themselves, but also express themselves in a manner that they feel comfortable with _ not intimidated and not wanting to shy off or back off of exactly what they felt. The have to feel that they're not going to be reprimanded or reprisals are going to be taken if they criticize. And I think the same is true of the students. You can be a strict disciplinarian as long as you are a fair disciplinarian. And if you give students the same opportunity to explain to you what the problem is what their feelings are have them understand that you are sensitive to their considerations, you can do almost anything you want that's fair. So I think that's a keystone, a cornerstone, in anybody's success or failure in any administrative post.
Q: Can you remember one bad incident and share it with us where maybe your approach didn't work and you had to try an alternative approach; is there one nightmare story you have? (laughter)
A: I could recall several incidents. One that comes immediately to mind is a student that always_ things that we've talking about _ the openness, the sensitivity, the willingness to talk just didn't seem to be working. The student would defy authority whether it was the custodian or the classroom teacher, let alone the assistant principal and principal. I was assistant principal at the time at Rayen. And I would call this young man in whenever he was referred to my office and spend an inordinate amount of time with him but nothing seemed to really help. He would always leave in a burst of anger, or he would have very sarcastic things to say. So I decided "I'm not going to lose this one." I haven't lost any that I am aware of. Maybe that disagreed with me, but this fella doesn't even want to take time to talk. So I visited his home, and sure enough that's where the problem was. He had a mother that was a prostitute, and he was the mother's servant whenever she was entertaining. And he had personal complications, as it turns out he was a homosexual and I don't think that didn't seemed to help the situation, seeing his mother in a heterosexual situation. And being her servant, serving the booze up the steps and things like that. So he knew I was coming, I'd made an appointment with his mother and he ran away from home that evening, just before I got there. Several nights later he was found by a relative and brought back. I went back to the house and he went on a tirade about how he hated his mother and what she was doing and she was sitting there listening. So I felt that nothing much could be resolved that evening, so I tried to get the school psychologist to work with the kid, and it helped, some, but still it was very very difficult. But I found that shortly after that second visit, he began coming in to the office. Apparently there was a trust built, a trust built on the simple fact that I cared, enough to go to his house and see the mess that he was surviving it. And from that point on it was uphill. He graduated and went to college and he's a dietitian at St. Elizabeth's hospital today. So you see, just that small little demonstration of concern, just go out of your way a little bit, and that visit, especially that second one to his house did it. And there were other situations; kids that were suicidal; had one kid who lived up in the ceiling of Rayen school because he didn't want to go home, and the only way we found out was because we found crackers and papers on the auditorium floor. We looked in his background and it was a situation where after I visited again _ the parent, the single parent family was disciplining the student by getting hot utensils and burning his back. Spoons, knives, forks and you could see all the tattoos on the back. So we turned that one over to the legal authorities, and from that point on that kid began doing better at school. Today he's a graduate engineer working for the Montana state highway department. He visits me once a year. Those are the types of things that make it all worthwhile.
Q: If you were (unintelligible) involved with somebody getting into administration, what would be some initial advice you'd give that person?
A: They have to do a lot of soul searching and see if they have the characteristics that it takes, especially in today's atmosphere. Comparatively speaking it was relatively easier when I became a principal. Although those were the dangerous years, the late sixties, early seventies. But today it's even more crucial that they take inventory of their personal strength characteristics and desires. If they're doing just to get in the limelight or it's a promotion and salary, that type of thing, it's a big mistake. I think it's crucial today, especially in the era of accountability we find ourselves in. Where more and more the principal is looked upon for the various types of leadership, whether it's leadership in making people staff, support staff to do their best. Whether it's testing of students, you'd have to be very accountable. Unless you have these characteristics we've been talking about, the basic requirements, you're not going to be successful. You're just not going to be. I think it's crucial that they make sure that this is what they want to do. If they have any doubt about it, maybe they want to try it, they have to be able to recognize when they have to get out, gracefully, before they ruin their careers.
Q: There's some (unintelligible) the rule the principal should be the instructional leader and others that suggest that realistically the person has to be a good manager. So would you give your views on this issue _ whether it's more instructional leadership or more managerial?
A: Well, it should be more instructional, than it should be managerial. The assumption should be, should be, that when students come to school they're adult enough, especially at the high school level, where I've had the experience, to know the basic rudiments of behavior and so forth, but unfortunately that's not reality. Especially in inner cities, in the urban centers. So I found, and still is even more true, that more time is taken doing the managerial function than the instructional function. And I don't think that time is going to allow, in the urban centers, for much to change in that area. Especially, not only because of the routine problems that principals face with kids and their families, because of legal requirements, the due process procedures and all the paperwork that's necessary. So it's almost, I've almost come to the conclusion that depending on the school district, maybe the individual buildings involved, I think you're going to have to find a leadership in two people _ one in the managerial function, one in the instructional function. Wherever possible I think it's only right that the building principal, that building lend itself to only one principal. The same person should do both, because you have that difference in philosophy you could get into trouble. I think it needs to be welded together. But I think we're going to come to the point, if we haven't already, in some areas, in some major urban centers, that you need two people. You need a person to do the instructional work, the curriculum; and one person to do be the manager.
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; and which community organizations or groups had the greatest influence in your experience as a principal.
A: The principalship is heavily, I want to say in many cases, burdened by that requirement. I think it's good that principals get into their own neighborhoods and show leadership and interest, but there are so many agencies and so many organizations that vie for that person's attention that not only does he or she have to give up time during the day, in this era of accountability and an era for demand of accountability, but also in the evening. So, as the principal you find yourself having very little time for yourself, and if you don't learn to manage your time and say no where you should, you're going to find that you're going to be out most of the evenings of the week. So I think it's important though to gain the confidence of parent organizations, civic organizations, church organizations, wherever the good of the child is affected. Kiwanians, that type of situation, and there are many of them. And if you do your job as a principal (unintelligible) the community you're going to find a lot of your time taken up there. And there was another part to that question.
Q: Which one, when you were principal, (unintelligible) it's impact or influence on you?
A: When I was a high school principal, I found that on the north side, the Rayen school district, the Northside Coalition was a very influential group _ a very positive group. There were individual people who were negative, but as a whole the group was very influential. And they were positive in the sense that they did not invite you to their meetings to work you over verbally, but to find out what the problems were and how they could assist and help. And I always appreciated that group. The Kiwanians, I recall the Kiwanians were very good from the standpoint of helping a lot of our troubled kids. They would take them to various activities, whether it was Cleveland or Pittsburgh, or sporting events and other situations. The Rotarians were another good group, and the other groups that catered to handicapped kids. All these folks were essential, I think, to the full development of our kids because we can't possibly do everything that they were doing.
Q: It's been said that there's a hung school gap, and that more parental involvement with the schools needs to be developed. Would you give your view on this issue and describe how you interacted with the parents and with citizens who were important to the well being of the school?
A: There's no question that it's essential, just as there was a letter in The Vindicator last Sunday. We seem to be attacking the problem from the standpoint of the school. And once the student has arrived there, why the problem should be attacked with more emphasis in getting that child to go to school prepared properly, and that's where the problem is with the home situation. I would say 99, if not more, percent of our problems in public education centered around students was the lack of proper preparedness to go to school. That means family disruptions, there's a whole host of situations that the kids find themselves in and teachers and administrators have to deal with. So there's no question in my mind that it's an essential aspect. More and more there's a need for that communication with the home. But the unfortunate part of is that you go to the home and it's empty; there's nothing there to speak of. There may be one parent, but don't get me wrong, I've seen a lot of good kids come from single parent families, but that is not the general case. Most of the time you find the sole parent working all kinds of hours trying to eke a living so that their child could eat and have clothes and so forth; and very little home supervision, very little. By the time the mother and the father get home, they're tired, they don't pay much attention to the academics, the homework. There are no newspapers in the home, no magazines, no library cards. So as a result you're going to have that gap not only in learning development but you're going to have the development of discipline problems. I found that the more contacts that teachers and administrators made with the home, the more successful they were in the classroom. And it's still is not to my satisfaction. There has to be an effort made at the family unit. And certainly, our solutions today of throwing money at the family unit hasn't worked. There has to be developed a program of parenting that gets these parents from a very young age and more money has to be spent in expressing the importance of caring and sensitivity to the kids _ their needs and supervising things. The sooner that's done, I think we'll see better experiences in the schools.
Q: The focus is going to change a little bit here now about pay for administrators. And your thoughts on career ladders, differential pay plans between administrators at the same level and merit pay. And would you give your views on these issues and discuss any involvement you've had with such approaches?
A: I think we all recognize the popularity of always bashing administrators and their wages. I think one of the most difficult times in my career as superintendent came every year in the spring when we had to make recommendations for administrators and their salaries and so on and so forth. It was a time that I hated because, board members are among the most guilty, so to speak, those that come from backgrounds of not appreciating and knowing what it takes to become an administrator; the human weakness of not wanting to see people to make too much money. Let alone their own personal training or lack of. And certainly it's not popular with people in the community, when you see joblessness and you see administrators making 30, 40, 50, 60, 70 thousands dollars a year. So, that was always a struggle, that was always a problem. However, I think that there has to be, (unintelligible) a gap between the administration and the classroom responsibilities. To compare administrators to private industry, generally speaking, throughout the United States, they're underpaid. Now as far as the merit pay situation is concerned, I do not think it's a workable situation. I think it's got a lot of merit, but when it comes down to it, it's too flexible. It lends itself to abuse. All too often, experience has shown that it is very political in nature; and if you know the right people you get the merit pay, and if you don't. It's been used as a weapon to discourage people and to get them out of administration. So generally speaking, I would say although it's, on paper, a good concept, one that motivates, one that gives incentive to do better _ in practice, it just doesn't work.
Q: A good deal is said these days about teacher grievances, would you give your views on the desirability of such procedures and describe your approach to handling teacher dissatisfaction.
A: Well, I think you're dealing with two fronts here. I have found that when I deal with teachers on a personal basis, and the union is not involved, there seems to be a more reasonable approach, a more reasonable discussion, a more reasonable conclusion to problems. But I think through the years, the unions have become a profession themselves, instead of being a support situation, a situation that they come in to being when there is a severe problem that needs their attention. It's become a big business, so to speak. And as a result of that, teachers are put in a position, whether they believe in the union philosophy that they're going to abide by it, because they'll going to ostracized, they'll be looked down upon by their colleagues. So you see a lot of going along to get along. Not that unions for teachers haven't served a good purpose. I think it's because of unions that they have a decent salary. But, in the areas of grievances, I think there are a lot of things that are grieved that could be resolved without grievances. That takes up a lot of time, it takes up a lot of money. In many instances you find a lot of people working as union representatives on a full-time basis, they look for more help, as a result they look for more things to do. So in many ways, I think the unions are starting to go just beyond what they should be doing. And as a result this forces school districts to get into more personnel to try to get the work of education done. Because if the superintendent's time or assistant superintendent's time is taken up with these things, other things have to be let go. So they find themselves hiring other people to take care of labor relations. So I think it's time the unions looked at themselves and took inventory and found out exactly where they're going.
Q: Would you discuss teacher dismissal and your involvement in the dismissal of any teachers?
A: I've been involved in several teacher dismissal cases. And in each of these, I think there were three, during my 14 years as superintendent, the teachers withdrew or resigned during the hearings, the formal hearings involved or when the charges were brought before them and they consulted their attorney or attorneys. So we never had to go through to conclusion, but I could see where if we had to it would be very costly, it would be very time consuming. But contrary to popular opinion, a lot of people get down (unintelligible) after tenure. You can teachers dismissed that are not doing their job, and those that are doing their job deserve the protection of tenure, as far as I'm concerned. And if principals do their jobs from day one, especially when those teachers are first hired, and they're evaluated, evaluated honestly and properly according to procedures, there's no need to even think about getting rid of tenured teachers. But unfortunately there are too many principals that want to be good people, popular people and they do not do an honest job at evaluation. And when they find themselves in a situation with a teacher in their building they want to get rid of, they try to get them transferred, pass them on to somebody else. And that's the bad part of teacher tenure, when you let those things go to the point when you have to look at a tenured teacher for dismissal. It doesn't have to be that way.
Q: Would you discuss what you feel the role of an assistant principal is.
A: Unfortunately in urban centers, most of the time, if not all of time of an assistant principal time is taken up with discipline. Normally, in the exposure that I've had, there's only one person handling discipline _ two people, the principal and the assistant. Whenever possible, the assistant takes the lion's share or all of it, because of the principal's demand in other areas. Wherever possible, I've tried to include the assistant principal especially in the off months, from the standpoint of kids not being in the building _ whether it's the spring or summer months. In non-disciplinary areas _ master schedule building, getting teacher inservice situations organized and executed. But unfortunately during the school year there's very little time for that, it's primarily discipline. I think the first line of discipline is the teacher, and if the teachers were doing their job, not only trying to settle things in the classroom, but calling the homes, visiting the homes wherever possible, and that has to be (unintelligible) for the safety of the teacher. I think if teachers took more responsibility in that area, I think the time that the assistant principal has to be spend would be minimized. But the reality is that generally speaking, most teachers do not want to deal with discipline problems. They just turn them over to the office.
Q: That brings us to a little more detail on the next question. As you view it, what characteristics are associated with the most effective schools and what features characterize with less effective ones?
A: I think, the tone of the building is set primarily by the principal. I feel that the principal does many of the things we've talked about _ is open, the door is open to criticism, is open to suggestions as these councils where teachers can express themselves. You've got a situation where teachers become more receptive to the leadership of the principal; and the assistant principal has to be the same way. The downtown supervision has to have the same attitude. In other words, if you can get all the people that connect with the classroom teacher, the focus then becomes learning. You're going to find that the teachers relate a lot better than if you don't have those components in place. I think there are other things. I think, far too often, the principal will use the excuse "well, we don't have the money, we can't do it. We can't buy that material." You have to have some element of boldness. "Okay, so we'll get you the money." So you call Kiwanis, you call the Rotarians, or you call other organizations that are willing to buy that particular _ . You have to give of yourself, you have to stick your neck out, you have to exert yourself a little bit more today than ever before, because of the monetary considerations to get the teachers the supplies, the materials that they need. Get the chaperones that are needed to do the things that are essential in the building. I think a principal has to stick his or her head out once in a while; be more of a risk taker than most of us are willing to be today; to maybe short-circuit some bureaucratic policy to get things done effectively. So, I think an effective school where learning takes place, has to have those leadership qualities with the principal, emanating down and then it seems to click in and everybody's doing what they're supposed to be doing in concert with one another. And of course it'll boil over into the classroom.
Q: With schools, in recent years more and more programs for special groups of students: LD, gifted, talented, non-English speaking, have been developed. Please discuss your experience with special student services and how you view their effect on the curriculum, are they important, and where the trends are going in the future.
A: Well there's no question that these programs are important, the law aside. I think it's unfortunate, a sad situation when you have to be dictated by law that you have to do certain things with kids, when education tells you it's necessary. It's prioritizing money, is what it's doing, by putting it in law. The separation of these types of students from the norm, to various degrees, is essential, there's no question in my mind. It's interesting to see that today the philosophy seems to be changing, mix everybody together. I'm not sure that's going to be a good way of handling things. I also feel very strongly that whenever a child ready, a child should be mainstreamed as soon as possible, so that that child can get a sense of normalcy, a feeling of normalcy. Not only the academics of it, but the personal growth and function involved. I think it's essential and I think it should be continued and I'm seeing on the horizon, another one of, I call it a fad again _ there's a group of fads in education that come and go, and the children are the guinea pigs unfortunately, and we're going to see more and more special ed., in my opinion, fading out 'cause I see, what I'm reading and the same with bilingual classes, even though it is written in law. I think it's a mistake, not only are you going to hurt those children themselves that are in these classes, but you're also going to hurt, I think, those other students that are more advanced and more capable of being challenged further by devoting more time to them and their needs. Many years ago, recognized that there are differences in kids and they should be treated more uniquely, now we seem to be going backward to days when everybody was in the same classroom. We're going to, I think, lose a lot kids that way.
Q: Now the next three or four question you've already answered. Because we talk about salaries and tenure and things you've already talked about. Now I'm going to change this question. This question talks about when in the past decade schools have become much larger, but the enrollment in our district, where've you said has predominantly gone down. How did you handle school closings and do you think in the future we will have to attend to more school closings or is our enrollment at a good point?
A: We've had to deal with school closings periodically in our school district . When I became superintendent, a lot of buildings had already been closed in years previous to this. When I became superintendent in '78, I think it was two years later we closed five or six buildings. And it took a lot of work, it took a lot of research, it took a lot of good judgment to determine just how and where we should close these buildings. Because not only do you have the physical facilities, but you also have the law, racial balance and all these other considerations. As of last year, when we looked at it, I felt that we could not justify another closing. I think we're being close to being able to, because I understand enrollment has dropped another five or six hundred? There'll be time for another earnest look at the situation again. I feel that buildings should be closed whenever possible, because although you don't save a whole lot of money by closing buildings, you do save administrative costs, maintenance costs. But when you look over the total budget, it's not really that much of a savings. So you, one should not be anxious to close a building at the cost of a good curriculum. So I think we should be mindful of that and be able to, although have a decline of a significant number of students, also let the public know that our needs for additional classrooms for special ed. or whatever else is needed is a must. You just can't take children and divide them by the number of classrooms, and come up with the teachers and classrooms needed. So I think, whenever a school district feels comfortable in closing some buildings, they should close them, but not certainly just to appease the public, and appease the taxpayers. That's one of our responsibilities.
Q: Traditionally, there has been a commitment in this country to the principle of universal free public education. Would you give your views on this concept and indicate your feelings on the practicality of such an approach in this day and time, and especially versus the voucher system and the new trend to move away from public schools.
A: I feel that, universal public education is proper and we need to continue that concept. We need to try to educate everybody, as I said, to the best of their ability. Whether it takes bilingual education, whether it takes special ed., whether it takes gifted, I think that's a must. And as far as the (unintelligible) education, I'm definitely against it, the voucher system and whatever else they come up with for political purposes. And that's what happens, and public education is a victim of the political process. I call it prostitution of one's self for political gain and that's exactly what's happening. The voucher system, a lot of the spin-offs of the voucher system call it what you may, they're nothing but an attempt to destroy public education. Whether it's deliberate or not, but the result is a destruction of public education. You're going to find more and more the urban systems being compromised by these attempts. You're going to find that a lot of the people that support voucher systems, are people that have ulterior motives, and they're not coming out and upfront and saying what those motives are, a lot of it is racial, a lot of it is not, religious, they claim that it is, tax credits and so forth. So I think, the public school system is essential for the welfare of the nation.
Q: With that, the educational system today in America is really being picked on an awful lot by the media. Do you think that's justified? Some of the bad publicity.
A: Well, I think the large urban centers are the victims of this more than any other school districts. And the media has to learn that it's more than looking at tests, and getting the results and then saying "This district is no good, and this district is good." I think the sooner, especially the electronic media, let alone the print media, make it a point to become proficient, make it a point to learn what education is all about and not look for the sensational story and headlines, and become more positive in their approach. I don't think we'd have any problem with them. We continue to compare Youngstown with all our suburban school districts, Canfield, Boardman, Austintown and so forth, where there is more affluence, there's more stability, there's more family unification. So the right comparison there would be with other large cities. And I think, one'll find that through the years, Youngstown has held it's own pretty well. And there's always room for improvements, but when you compare constantly with schools that are not on the same playing field as Youngstown public schools or other urban centers, you're going to find that that is actually a destructive force. You're going to find that kids themselves are going to pick up on these reports, hear them on TV, and get down on themselves, their self-esteem suffers, teachers' morale goes down, and it permeates the school system. So I have my doubts as to the validity of those proficiency tests, the need for them, and in our case, in the urban centers, they're more destructive than they are positive forces.
Q: Given the presence of administrative complexity, all of these things we've talked about, if there were three areas of administration that you could change in order to improve the efficiency and the effectiveness of educational administration, what would they be?
A: Well, I've always been a proponent that an administrative job would be a lot easier from the standpoint of (unintelligible) holding that position. If teachers in schools, at the college level were taught some practical situations like school law; I think if teachers knew about school law and a general sense of what it was all about, they wouldn't be leaving their classrooms unattended, they wouldn't be out in the hall talking to another teacher, the things that give rise to what I call "a nickel and dime discipline problem" let alone the sever ones. It would make the administrators job much easier. I think that is something that should be done, and as I understand it there aren't many colleges that teach school law to the classroom teacher, they teach it to prospective administrators. I think there's a gap in the inservicing there. I feel that an another positive step would be to actually sit down with candidates for the principalship, or any administrative job. And as I mentioned before, put them through a battery of tests, put these people through a battery or microscope, looking at their characteristics, looking at their sensitivity, looking at their ability to lead, looking at their (unintelligible), what did they accomplish during their careers, what indicated their value of success in those (unintelligible). And that's (unintelligible) the principalship, or not to them, show them what their chances for success are, not in the way that you can't cut the mustard, you're interests and abilities lie someplace else. I think that has to be done. I think the principals, administrators have to be given more of a voice at the policy level, and at the state level than they are. You have the powerful teacher unions, in Ohio primarily the OEA in other states the AFT units that seem to dominate the legislature, seem to be the most effective lobbyists. And when it comes down to administrators, it just seems that through the years my experience has been _ they toss us crumbs, but the lion's share of listening belongs to the teachers, and the teachers' unions. Except when the unions become very unreasonable in their approach, then they'll listen to administrators, and they'll do what's right for administrators but not because of the ability of the administrators to affect their thinking. That has to be developed.
Q: Would you describe your relationship with the superintendent in terms of his general demeanor toward you and your school when you were a principal?
A: Let's see. I was under three or four superintendents. I found that they were all decent people to talk with, but I also found that they were from another era, some of them. They were used to the era of sitting in their offices and being more dictatorial I think, than was necessary, and that devised other problems like the teachers unions and so forth. Nice people, but I think the times were calling for another type of person, another person who had those sensitivities and qualities to understand _ an openness that they didn't have. I can recall another superintendent brought into the district with a rural philosophy, never had any exposure to the urban center, and as a result just couldn't possibly survive and didn't survive very long. I think in urban centers, and Youngstown is no exception, one needs to get somebody with the urban experience, hopefully somebody that they know has been "in the vineyards" so to speak, and has a track record to be examined, locally and not rely on references, not rely on visits to the school districts, and be able to indicate some possibility of success. So I think it's paramount that in urban centers today, that happen. This business of going out of the district and finding people that just, you rely on references and you rely on visitations _ it doesn't work in my opinion. I think more of that has to be done. My relationship, I always adjusted my activity, my running of buildings to, of course, please the superintendent, whether I felt the superintendent was right or wrong, I was always the person that did what he or she was expected to do. Whether I felt it was the right thing to do or not. There were a couple of times where I drew the line and I put my job at the block. And I could have been dismissed. But I felt that there was a point where you have to live with yourself and if you do something that you can't live with yourself, then you shouldn't do it. And I found myself twice in my principalship career doing that. Fortunately, (laughs) I survived, and you need to be able to know that you owe your allegiance to your superintendent, and that whether you agree with that person or not, you do what you're told. If it's a matter of conscience, a matter of a definite right or wrong, you have the ability also to say "Okay, I'm putting it on the line." So basically, my experiences have been good with the superintendent.
Q: Would you discuss your general relationship pro and con with the Board of Education, and comment on the effectiveness on school board observations in general?
A: Boards of education in my opinion are a necessary evil. (laughs)
A: Necessary because the law, the law says one must have a board of education. I feel that although I have worked with many good board members, very enlightened, educated and with those kind of people you like to have boards of education. But I've also found that most of the time you get people on the board of education that are politically motivated, that are in there for personal selfish reasons, that because of certain wins they've had they're able to influence others on the boards to swing policy towards that direction. And I can't say that I've run across, at least that I was able to see, the corruptness on the part of board members, other than maybe personal corruptness. I found that most of my time, unfortunately, was taken in trying to keep an equilibrium with the board. You have people that were concerned about one board member having a little bit more information than another one, or I had occasion to call one board member more than another, you have all this petty situations that the superintendent has to deal with. You cannot possibly satisfy seven board members in an urban center_
A: _ and say that you are not going to eventually erode your usefulness in their minds. It's really disgusting to know that a lot of their basis for disgruntlement with the superintendent is other than educational. It's based on some of the things we've talked about, it's based on not hiring people that they wanted you to hire, not doing the favors that they want you to do. However, I want to hasten to say that there are many good board members, and they do have the education of the children at heart. But unfortunately, in my opinion they're rare. They're not as numerous as one would think. So as a result, I found myself catering to board members in ways that I shouldn't have to, from them standpoint of trying to keep them together, keep them glued, keep them on-task, keep them from getting influenced by other people, because the potential is there for board members, if you get the right person in there, to gel into a political machine. And if you cannot keep that from happening you're going to have a lot of problems. So all too often boards of education are obstacles to good education, and not positive forces. On an individual basis there have been many good board members I have served with, but on the same hand many don't belong there. But unfortunately, name recognition is often what gets them reelected, their ability to be part of the political machine. And as a result of that, oftentimes education is handicapped by that type of a board.
Q: You were a principal during the sixties, so would you discuss your participation in the handling of civil rights situations and describe your involvement with any type of bussing.
A: We were under a desegregation case at the time, when I was a principal. I recall for a period of time there, we were in court accused of assigning students and teachers on a segregative basis. And when I became a superintendent in 1978, the case was finalized just before I took office. And they found us not being guilty of segregating students, but guilty of some segregative practices with teachers. And I had to unravel that in a (unintelligible) formula. There were a lot of vicious civil rights issues with students during this time, strictly in that area, underground newspapers, demonstrations. I can recall the influence that was coming from so-called civil rights groups in the community and influencing the students. For example, trying to take over assemblies and freedom of speech and type of thing, demonstrating in cafeterias. But I always found, although there were exceptions, and there were a few times that I missed and didn't judge things, as perhaps I should have. Whenever you were able to get the confidence of kids, they would tell you ahead of time what was coming down. And if you had that ability to (unintelligible) you could almost diffuse any situation. Whether it's taking the student's from the standpoint of leadership, negative leadership, and dealing with them. Whether it's talking with them or putting them on ice for a while, I seem to be able to be successful in doing that. I can recall as an assistant principal, the principal didn't have that ability to relate to the kids and talk things out, so they found themselves, we found ourselves in a situation where they were demonstrating in front of the building, when all they really wanted was to be able to discuss the situation. And I found whether you come down for them on their side, or not, the fact that you've taken the time to discuss and sometimes then they'll turn around in their thinking and even if they don't turn around in their thinking, at least we had our day in court. So we had a lot of those things, the influence especially from the community, in some pockets of the community, where militancy was the word of the day, trying to get kids to demonstrate in buildings, throw their food on the floor, disrupt assemblies that type of thing.
Q: Just before you retired you were involved in the lawsuit against the state, for the inequitable funding?
Q: Could you talk a little bit about that?
A: Yes, as it is now, the accident of birth determines the amount of money is going to be behind a child's education. If you come from a poor southern Ohio town, you may have five, six thousand dollars a year behind your education, or even less _ two, three thousand dollars a year. You go up to Beechwood or a little further north and you have upwards of 11, 12, 13 thousand dollars behind your education. Money isn't everything but it sure goes a long way to purchasing, not only materials and supplies, but getting good teachers with advanced degrees and then facilities that are adequate. This is throughout the state of Ohio, as has been the case in many many states. So there was a coalition that formed that said "enough is enough," the legislature has the responsibility for doing it is not doing it. Because, for example here in Youngstown, the same legislator that represents us also represents the suburban areas. And that person is not going to do anything in the state legislature to take care of Youngstown when the effect is maybe in the minds of the legislator and his suburban areas, the Robin Hood effect is going to take money from them and give it to us. So these politicians are going to do what it takes to maintain their seats. So as a result, legislators will not do anything _ and whenever we got them together they told us "We're not going to do anything, we're waiting for you to do and tell us what we have to do." And they openly admit it. So the leadership by the state superintendent has been lacking for a many many years from the standpoint of doing the same thing. Because although the state superintendent will go to the legislature and say what is needed, and demand what is needed and what is right for education, especially Dr. Walters, who I think, did is the best in this area, they turned deaf ears to him. So as a result the state superintendency wasn't effective enough to remedy the situation, so the only thing lift was the courts. So for a couple of years now, this organization has been growing, a lawsuit has been filed, and basically it's saying that the accident of birth should not determine the quality of a kid's education. So that's where we are. What we're saying is that the state has to come up with a statewide uniform system of taxation; a progressive tax; a new income tax; let the money be funneled on an equal basis throughout the entire state, giving the extra emphasis to areas where there is a needs for exceptional learning for example, your urban centers have a concentration of poor, people who come from a deprived situation, you have a concentration of special ed. in the urban centers, so you need to do something extra for those folks, but basically make it more equitable. Get away from the heavy reliance on the property tax. That's a regressive tax, and in the urban centers that's what's happening. More and more the property tax is not producing revenue. So it's placing more of an emphasis on equity, the progressive state income tax is what's doing it.
Q: Now that you've retired, is your role in that, have you ended that or are you still involved?
A: No, I'm not involved anymore. I'd like to have been, but I don't see the situation lending itself . They wanted me to stay on, the board members wanted me to stay on. But I though, "unh-unh, the atmosphere isn't right for it."
Q: I know how difficult it is to start a project and then retire_
A: That's one thing I really enjoyed doing. No, the atmosphere wasn't meant for me to continue.
Q: Could you give some thoughts on the organization of central office with regard to services for principals? Because you are known as someone who supported administrators, all administrators. And as a principal, the organization of central office, and I know we have gone through some times when there were some thoughts on reorganization of central office to provide better services to principals. Any thoughts on that?
A: Well there's no question that support services are essential, no question. That's why when we were constantly told to cut back the administrative staff, not only because of the monetary situation, because people don't like administrators to make too much money. But how to be as innovative as possible to maintain these support services. So years ago, when the dictate came down to get rid of coordinators and supervisors on a wholesale basis in the curriculum department, we brainstormed and came up with a curriculum specialist idea. Although that's not the most ideal situation, at least it salvaged the bulk of the services those people were doing. They couldn't do a lot of things that they were doing, like evaluations, you couldn't expect them to burn the midnight oil like they were doing, doing all those extra things. But we were able to salvage a lot of the services to the schools. And it came to the point, where we were whittled down to next to nothing from the standpoint of existing. And the board finally realized that if were going to continue having support services, we've gone as far as we can. So it stopped there and I found some years peace as far as that was concerned. Although there were a few attempts here and there. It's essential that principals and teachers have support services. The principals are the instructional leaders, but they don't have the expertise in all the areas, all the disciplines, they're generalists and there are times when in-depth knowledge is necessary on a constant basis, and who can offer it but the central office.
Q: Principals and administrators operate in a constant state of tenseness and the environment is tense with all the problems and complexities we have today. What kind of things did you do to maintain your sanity under these stressful conditions?
A: You're right in describing the situation. As far as myself, personally, I learned to leave as much as possible at my office when I left and was able to involve myself in other things _ whether it was my children or here at the house, whatever it took. But you never really let go; there's always that board meeting coming up that you're thinking about, there's always the unfortunate need to maneuver and even manipulate people and board members to try and get the right thing done. And there's always that constant pressure on you that you can't leave at the doorstep, so to speak. So I found myself, doing as much as I can to (unintelligible) in recreation, but even when you come home at night there's always the social obligation, the civic obligation, so you don't get away from it totally.
Q: Would you give us an overall comment on the pros and cons of administrative service and any advice you wished pass along to today's principals?
A: As far as the principals are concerned, they need, and I can't emphasize it enough, to find out about themselves; and what they're made of; what they can offer kids; what they can offer people that they're going to lead. And do everything they possibly can to discover about _ they don't know anything about themselves and about that particular job until they really get into it, but there are indicators that they can look into _ personality traits, are you tolerant, are you sensitive, they can find out about those things; and those are essential, can they be open enough. You don't have to be in a principalship very long to find out that those are the things you need to find out about yourself. I think they also have to be able to determine, as we said before, that if they felt they made a mistake _ to get out of that area and find that particular category of education that they could be successful in. I encourage that to happen, because more and more people are shying away from administration. But I'm not at the same time going to call for a wholesale enlistment of principals and make the situation worse. One of our problems is that we do not have the right type of people getting into the principalship. They have to be convinced that there is some indication of success. And I encourage people to find those things out and enlist themselves into the principalship. That's one of the main components of education, next to classroom, is the principalship is the most important position. As far as the superintendency goes, the last five years of one's career should be considered for the superintendency. Then if you wan to go on, fine. But to try and do it like I did it, for 15 years, so to speak before retirement, you're put in a position where if you're not successful, where is there to go? Do you become a principal again then, do you become assistant principal, a classroom teacher? Your choices are somewhat limited. But the principalship is a different story. And I encourage a lot of people that if they've taken inventory, that if they've taken the trouble to find out about themselves to do it.
Q: Well, despite our best efforts to be comprehensive with our questions _ (laughter) I'm sure we've left something out. Is there anything you would like to say before we close out? I don't have any other questions.
A: Nothing, but to emphasize that education is the most important profession that anybody could involve themselves with. It's not only self-satisfying, and that you find that you have given and contributed to society more than any other mode of work or way of making a living. However, it's a very very important and critical and important profession to get into, and if people will take inventory and find out about themselves, and if they have those qualities, I couldn't think of a better profession to get into. And even, you find that a little bit more the principalship even gives that much more opportunity for people to affect education than the classroom teacher, although the keystone or cornerstone is the classroom teacher. The policy formation, the way education goes, the way it lends itself is determined by the principal. So I think that's important for people to understand. It's not just a way of making a living. It's a great way of making a living if you are qualified.
Q: Thank you.
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