Interview with Jack Carnahan


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

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

A: I was born in Warren and grew up here and went to Warren City Schools. I went on to Bowling Green State University for my undergraduate degree. I taught two years in Newton Falls, Ohio, as an 6th grade elementary teacher. I was drafted into the army, served almost 2 years and worked in industry for 2 years before I went back into education. I think I can say that I was raised in a very loving family. I am sure that's an important fact, but I had the support of my family all through these times.

Q: What brought you back from industry into education?

A: Ok, while I was in industry, I had a hard time getting a teaching job when I got out of the army, and so I worked at Packard Electric for 2 years. In the meantime, I started my masters degree on the G.I. Bill. I think always with the intent that my first love was teaching so that's how I got back here.

Q: Would you discuss your college education and preparation for entering the field of teaching?

A: I graduated from Westminister.

Q: How many years were you a teacher?

A: Ok, I was a teacher a total of 6 years; 2 years in Newton Falls; and 4 years at McKinley School in Warren.

Q: So you went from that right into this?

A: Yes, in fact at that time there was a cadet principalship, cadet training, which I thought was really well done, and so I served as a cadet at Tod Avenue School. Then at the end of the year when I was appointed as full-time principal that happened to be when Alden and Secrest Elementary Schools were built and ready to go, and so I was appointed Principal at Alden School, which was great experience to open a brand new school.

Q: I didn't realize that?

A: Yes, that was tough.

Q: What other schools were you in during your time in Warren?

A: From Alden I went to Emerson School, and spent 14 years there as principal, and then to Horace Mann School where I spent my last five years.

Q: Did you notice a lot of differences between the schools?

A: Yes, it was interesting because there were differences. Alden was a great experience for a beginning principal because, it was a lower socio-economic area and then moving from Alden I went to Emerson which was middle-class or a little above middle-class, and then back to Horace Mann which was again back in the lower socio-economic area. The time I was there at least probably 60% were minority kids.

Q: It's probably about the same now, maybe a little bit higher right now, but not to much different? Did you have any other positions in the district?

A: No, strictly teacher and elementary principal.

Q: Would you talk about the circumstances surrounding your entry into the principalship, what caused the move from classroom teacher to principal?

A: At that time, in the history of the Warren City Schools, things were really booming, as far as student population, and so they were building new schools in Warren, and they needed elementary principals. That had been my desire to try to be an elementary principal, and so I applied and was accepted and went into the cadet training program.

Q: It's been awhile since we've been booming and building?

A: It's very interesting then because, if I remember right Secrest and Alden Elementary Schools were built with money received from a windfall from I think it was Republic Steel at that time had expanded, and so the tax money that came in the Board was able to build those 2 new schools without any tax money and without asking for any additional taxes.

Q: It was a luxury. Now their asking for abatements.

A: Yeah,

Q: Would you describe your personal philosophy of education?

A: In thinking about personal philosophy, I think that my own education as a student mainly dealt with that is in junior and senior high school with large group instruction, and then I started to teach, that's mainly how I started to teach regardless of whether it was teaching reading or what, whatever the subject was, and of course as an elementary teacher I had to teach all the subjects, but I think that as time went on, it didn't take very long for me to see the value of trying someway to individualize instruction, and the first big move came for me when I was cadet principal of Tod. The Board decided that we should start teaching reading throughout the city of Warren by grouping students according to reading achievement. So that's what we did, and I was in on the ground floor of that. Without the elementary supervisors help the principal ended up working with the teachers, dividing up all the kids in the school. Based on what information we had on reading achievement, which is good experience. Some of the teachers at that time resisted this as you can imagine, but it didn't take long for them to realize that this was the up and coming thing and I realize that was a long time ago, but it was big step. I guess what I'm saying is that in my philosophy I think that the main thing that I developed was realizing the importance of trying to individualize instruction. The importance of trying to do that regardless of what subject your teaching. I know that's easy to talk about, but tough to do, but it can be done to a certain degree in my opinion.

Q: We're still trying to do it. We're on the wave of the future, every student has their own I.E.P. in place.

A: It's something still very vivid to me getting in on the ground floor.

Q: What grade level did you teach?

A: Most of the time 6th grade. I think it was a year or two I had 4th, but the majority of the time was 6th.

Q: Did you have a hard time in transition from 4-6 to working with kindergarten and first grades?

A: Yes, that is, that's kind of difficult, but I think the quality of the teacher is most of them are so great that I worked with that they made it easy, because they would help. They knew when a principal needed help about trying to understand possibly the younger kids. Yes, it is a little difficult, but you jump in there and you just do it.

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

A: I think my main thrust with leadership was first of all the principal has to be the instructional leader. There's just no doubt about that, he or she has to lead, and I think what were leading is a group of professional teachers, who want to be a part of a professional team, and so I tried build on the strength of the teachers, which is also easy to talk about and kind of tough to do at times, but that's what you have to do, because I think that in doing that then any weaknesses that the teacher has will also be strengthened, because when they start to succeed in one area, with their strengths, they think the weaknesses are brought up real soon. I think my approach was kind of a team approach to these things and I always like to talk about, if our building is not the best building in the city, then let's make it so. If it is, in your opinion, one of the top buildings then you are going to be determined to keep it the like that, anyhow, it was the team approach, I think that's what I want to say.

Q: Did you use techniques like staff meetings to develop team?

A: Yes, I think the staff meeting is very important, stating your philosophy, and hearing what the philosophy of the school should be based on the consensus that comes out of those meetings. Also, I like very much grade level meetings, because I think you can zero in on the problems that exist at that grade level curriculum and otherwise, and I had a grade level coordinator in each grade level, and he or she would work with me closely on trying to reach certain objectives.

Q: If you were advising a person who is considering an administrative job that, what would that advice be?

A: Well, I guess based on the good experience that I thought was principal in training or the cadet principalship training. I think I'd probably say to somebody; Can you get on the job training before you actually take the job on? I think that kind of training is invaluable because I know some principals had to take over buildings immediately, which I can understand, but it makes it more difficult. There are enough problems without being thrown into that without some training before hand, and I think the principal, if were talking about the principalship, and I suppose with any job, but with the principalship I think people, being a teacher, for example, and not a principal or have not had experience as a principal has to realize all the responsibilities connected with the principalship. For example, you're the budget director, you're the counselor, the everybody. First you are the instructional leader, you're the public relations person, you are in charge of all parent groups more or less, because you're their top advisor. They come to you for everything, which is fine. You're the father confessor in a sense, you're the disciplinarian, and its endless, but that's what makes it so exciting also.

A: The challenges are there and there are many, many, challenges everyday. They are calling in you for your leadership in all these areas, which puts you on the spot, but to me it is very exciting. Yes most of it was enjoyable, because you were helping students and teachers, and parents.

Q: Wearing a lot of hats, that would be tough if you hadn't done that.

A: It's scary at first, because it overwhelming, and with the problems of today I think that your time is taken up so much by certain types of problems. Disciplinary problems, I'm sure, but then you don't have time for these other things so the hours that you spend at home catching up on certain things, of course, paperwork always seemed to increase most every year. So that's another thing, its a different type of paperwork than you have as a teacher, altogether different, but it has to be done anyhow. There's just many facets.

Q: Did you see an increase in state mandates over your period of time?

A: Yes, that's what I'm talking about, yeah. I think probably most of the increase in paperwork came from the state requiring this or that more so than local.

Q: It is 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.

A: That's an excellent question and I think in my opinion that the educator should be more involved with community affairs than they are. At least in my time I think we should have been more involved. As far as I was concerned, the church has been kind of where I put most of my extra time. That's just the way its been in my life. I also at one time was a member of the Elks, and I worked with the Red Cross a little bit. I'm a Warren Sports Hall of Fame Trustee, I was president of the in those days what they call the Tri-County Principal Association, I was a member and privileged to serve as president of that for a year or so, and I belonged to a local Stock Club, but mainly most of my extra time was with the church activities.

Q: Describe the ways in which you interacted with parents and other important citizens who were important to the well being of the school?

A: That to me is extremely important in the success of a school, and one of the things that we, two things come to mind that we thought were very successful. One at the one school was like an ethnic thing where we had parents bring in food to serve the kids in small sampling of the ethnic food. We fed the whole school at noon one day with all these different types of ethnic foods in a very full gymnasium full of groups of parents. Which was a first at that school it just went over real well. It was kind of a different approach. The other one that comes to mind is for special activities with parents was Career Day, and that is having different business people and professionals throughout the community come in and talk to the students about what their careers entailed. They answered questions and so on. I have to mention, of course, about the PTA. PTA is very, very important, and I know it's a struggle. It's increasingly a more difficult struggle to involve parents in school, and one of the main things we did to was to have parents come in and tutor students. I don't think a principal can talk about parents without saying that, at least in my experience, that if the parents are involved, and they see what's going on in a school you're going to have their support at the ballot box. There's just no doubt about it. You want them to be a part of the school, and feel that it's their school. You want them to come to that school feeling good about what's going on there, and working with the teachers and the administrators. Just being a part, to me that's a very important part of the operation of the school. The more you get the parents involved, in my opinion the better.

Q: Were you able to have active PTA's?

A: Yes, most of the time the last years that I was working, it just became more difficult because there seemed to be more single parent families, and with the parent working and just finding it more, and more difficult to involve parents in PTA meetings or in any other way. It's a real battle, but I think the lesson is that you just keep trying because there are parents out there and some of them that are reluctant to help out. Once they get started even the smallest job, once they get started most of them like being in the school, and being around the students. Even at the elementary level anyhow.

Q: I think some of them even at the secondary level. If they are not intimidated by the system once they get involved you've won them.

A: I think that some of the parents pretend to be critics, if the school could involve them, I think lots of times that changes their ideas around considerably. It really does, because they really start to see and appreciate what the teachers are doing. What the schools doing with these kids.

Q: Would you discuss your approach to teacher evaluation and give your philosophy of evaluation?

A: Ok, I never enjoyed evaluating any teacher. I shouldn't say that, in trying to be fair, it was mainly always in the back of my mind and I think I want to say first off that when most of us through our teachers, think about our first year of teaching you probably would want to forget. So, I always felt that I wanted to lean over backwards for the teachers, the beginning teachers and help them as much as I could. The idea of downgrading them or thinking they shouldn't come back the next year really did not cross my mind because the idea is to help them and in fact I never loss a first year teacher. Now after that there were a couple that did not pan out, but I just, I felt that the first year the ones that were poor were not there poor, and I wanted them to have the second year to try to improve, which 99% of them did. I like to approach evaluation with the teacher and myself setting the goals ourselves, that is, with my guidance I guess. Mainly with the teacher carrying the ball though decide on what they should work for in improvement in that classroom as far as their teaching skills are concerned. That would be the goal for the year, and maybe more than one goal, and I found that if they really went after those goals and showed improvement its amazing how the other part of their teaching improved. I tried to encourage them to make suggestions to help them achieve those goals, of course, but they all seemed to appreciated that, and I think we kept the goals, not making them impossible. In other words, making them reachable, but then you go from one plateau to the next, and that was my approach. I liked, we had when I was an administrator, we had different types of teacher evaluations, in fact we changed it several times which was ok. The one I like best, was like I just stated to honestly look at what the teachers thought was their weaknesses, then if we would agree then we go from there.

Q: Did you sense over your time that unions became more involved in the process as it became more difficult?

A: Yes, I think I know what you mean, because some of the forms that we had to use I didn't particularly like. Now that doesn't mean they weren't good. That's just my opinion, but certain forms were ok, but some of the forms, some of the qualities we had to look for I thought were unnecessary, as far as what made a good teacher. I guess that's what I'm trying to say. I liked to zero on things that I thought were important, teaching techniques rather than teaching skills and judged them through those not some of these other things that I thought were unnecessary, but I do think that in my experience that the forms that we had to use, the tools were certainly improved from when I first started to evaluate teachers. Because I think that if they boil down to what I was just talking about. They got rid of some of that other unimportant things.

Q: Would you discuss teacher dismissal and your involvement, if any, in such activities?

A: Just one, that doesn't mean that some of the poor teachers that might have been dismissed later on in their careers. They didn't happen to be in my building. They could have been dismissed from another building, but I only had one teacher who I had to recommend not be rehired. This person, I think came to the conclusion by the end of the second year under my supervision, that happened to be a man, that he was not just was not suited to be a teacher. He had very poor classroom control. He did not come particularly prepared to teach. He didn't get along to well with the parents involved. There were several things, but nice enough gentleman, but just not, and he left teaching I understand, but I'm sure he went into something else. That was the only one that I had as far as actual being in on a dismissal.

Q: Was that a union issue?

A: Well at that time it wasn't yet. That's a good question, no at that time, I'm trying to remember, but I think, he voluntarily went on with his life out of education, and it was not a union issue. Whether it was because he didn't want to make it one or whatever, but things were handled properly.

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

A: Ok, I think every effective school that I have ever been in whether it happened to be mine or anybody else's. The first impression when you have is when you walk in the building if it's unkept, the bulletin boards and what have you, there is an atmosphere about the building that I think hits you in the face. The way that you are greeted in the office and the friendliness of the building. The atmosphere that prevails like what I mean by that, I think the demeanor of the kids. The learning that you see going on in the building regardless of what room you step into, and that type of thing tells you a lot right away. When you see kids sitting around rather disorganized and not particularly focused I think that tells you something. Not that's not going to happen once in awhile, but I think overall. I think you can tell by when you talk to the teachers there's always something about the building that's clicking. To me there's something about the attitude of the teachers. Interaction with each other and the way that they interact with the kids of course. To me that's, you know without seeing any records, any achievement results, these are just things that I think it is different with secondary schools, it would be very interesting when I would walk in there, I've been impressed with many of them about what I see just going in and out.

Q: That first impression is a lasting one.

A: Yes it is. It's surprising what you remember when you first walk into a school building.

Q: I imagine with all of the buildings in the district you get that sense right off the bat. Would you describe your relationship with the Superintendents over the years?

A: They all have their styles, just like principals have their styles and teachers, but I think that they as a group ar just very professionals. There were some that I felt more comfortable with than others of course, as far as approaching them and talking over problems with them. A principal of course likes the Superintendent to listen to their problems and then make suggestions that most of them having been there as principals so you know they have had those problems before maybe talk with them. There wasn't one that I thought wasn't very professional, and very supportive. I do want to say that I think that certain central staff serving under different Superintendents, some were more helpful than others. I think that comes from the direction of the Superintendent. I think that the principal needs help from the central staff on many, many occasions, which we always appreciated when we got it, but I felt that certain Superintendents made sure that they help came, and it wasn't particularly delayed or it wasn't put aside. Because when a principal needs help usually if its serious enough of a problem, he wants help now, not a week or a month from now. I realize people are busy at the central office we all know that, but still I just feel that some Superintendents might have pressed a little harder that's a principals view of course.

Q: Was there a supervisor that you directly worked with from central office?

A: Yes, my time as principal we had two different elementary supervisors who were both very good, and the principals really relied on them because that was there first person that they would go to for help. When you're talking about first year teachers, you like the elementary supervisor to come in and work with those first year teachers, which they did, and which is a great help. It helped take part of the load off the principal, not that he wouldn't help that first year teacher as much as he or she could the help was very much appreciated.

Q: Would you discuss your general relationship with the various Boards of Education?

A: Ok, I don't think I ever met a principal who didn't, wouldn't welcome a Board Member to come to school. If they have any questions, or if they just wanted to observe, answer questions or whatever. I would have liked to have seen more of them, the Board Members come to the school and visit some of the certainly did, but a lot of them hadn't. Once again, most of the Board Members that I had been acquainted with were very, very, concerned about the schools problems, and you know were just very professional people. The one thing probably that school administrators don't like is when Board Members start to be administrators of sort, that is not their position. In fact I saw very little of that in my time, because for what its worth, Board Members and I'm sure most of them anymore, in most communities they are instructed or they take training sessions to go over what their jobs are. What responsibilities they have and that means to set policy and not some of these other things that they really shouldn't be into.

Q: Could you describe your work day?

A: Most elementary schools that I was at, you know you get there usually before anybody else, and then you get home later than most anybody else. So probably the working day as far as hours are concerned was from 8:00 o'clock at least until I probably got home at 5:00 p.m. most days, but some days depending on the situation of course you put in a lot longer days than as I mentioned earlier. A lot of the paperwork you just can't get at. You can't get behind the desk to get things like that done then you have to bring it home. When you start thinking about how you spend your day as a principal, unfortunately, I don't know what percent of the day, but at least half the day I'm sure anymore at least in my last years was spent working with students that were having problems one way or the other. Either instructional problems, learning problems, or discipline problems, being absent from school the whole range. Talking with parents in connection with these problems. Trying to get in touch with them in some cases when you can't get them to come in. You have to go out to them as far as the parents. You don't do that at night you do it during the day in extreme cases. When you get there in the morning teachers want to see you about various things. So, probably working with teachers you would like to spend more time with them, but I know everybody knows this, but you are with the kids a large percentage of the day either for good reasons or bad reasons. When you do run into student problems you have to spend the time with the parents to help solve some problems some of your day is taken up with that. When I first became principal it was emphasized in the classroom that you are there as instructional leader. So that's what you should be spending your time on. That's nice in a textbook, but it just doesn't work that way, and so you have to take other times, and that's why sometimes you get home late because you ask certain teachers to stay and a lot of them would stay because you have to get at things after the kids have gone. A principal's time is spent a lot of time in meetings, that is PTA and every parent group, planning activities, social activities and everything. I don't know how well I answered that, because the interesting question is that when you try to analyze how much time with kids, parents, and teachers, and paperwork or other personnel problems within the school concerning other members of the staff. You know like custodians, secretary, noon aides, and so on.

Q: In really a non-structured kind of day.

A: Like I think you said it earlier every day is different. Which is the nice part about the principalship, because you're not going at the same thing, there's nothing boring about it's rather exciting.

Q: What was the normal number of hours per week you put in?

A: It would probably be at least a 50 hour week minimum. Probably more than that many times it depends on what time of year too, because of paperwork due, more meetings and certain calls you had to make after school ,and all kinds of things.

Q: Please discuss your professional code of ethics.

A: That's one that really made me think, how could I put in words my professional code of ethics? Because it's something to be honest that I never really thought too much about I just went about it. I don't know whether I'm answering this right or not, what you define as professional code of ethics, but now you stop me if I'm wrong. What I'm saying is I think that the reason that I went into teaching is because I always like being around kids. I just always liked to be around kids, and I kind of liked to elementary age a little better. I tried to approach how I would treat them or deal with them the same as teachers. I think from my christian background that I want to treat them the way that I would want to be treated, so when I would talk with a kid I tried to think of that kid kind of as my own son or daughter. I wanted to come through that way, which is very difficult at times, but I wanted to and as a teacher I knew how I wanted the principal to relate to me as a professional, caring person. That's kind of how I approached, I think my job as an administrator with adults or students based on treating them fairly and honestly. I guess I wanted them to think of me as being obviously concerned about them, I was hoping they would think I was honest and straight from the shoulder you know. I didn't want to be playing any games, and I think sometimes I probably came on a little blunt, because I got to the point pretty fast, sometimes I think they knew where I stood that way.

Q: If you were consistent that way, maybe it wasn't a firm code of ethics, but it was more of a moral way that you dealt with things.

A: Yes, When I tried to think about that question I think that's how I approached it. I wanted to deal with people that way whether it was in the school setting or not. I guess that's what I'm trying to say.

Q: Most probably do that without the stated code with a moral foundation this is the way we treat people.

A: I guess I thought that was just the most important thing to establish with them. John, I heard a person say the other day, this happened in a church setting, that if you really care about the person that you're working with that they take that and build on it, that's what I'm trying to say, they build on that. When I was working with teachers I handled kids, because I tried to build on. I wanted them to understand that I was concerned about what they were concerned about. I think that you build on the positive, you know you don't build on negative, because negative isn't good, and so you try to keep it positive and honest at the same time. I think being honest and trying to do that, maybe sincere is the better word, but if they can see that I think they appreciate that because their not going send I don't think most of the time anything less back towards you, at least that was my philosophy.

Q: Would you describe those aspects of your professional training which best prepared you for the principalship? Which training experiences were least useful?

A: First of all there were classes at the Masters level that I felt really helped me, like supervision class. I'm not sure what's required now working towards your masters, but the supervision class and the leadership class gave some very good ideas and discussions on that. That made you think about what you are going to do when you're in that situation. The other thing is that on the job training, whatever you want to call it, because you get the benefit of the experience from the principal or whoever you're working under the administrator that you're working under. Well to me that was training, not in a formal situation, but it really helped, because you could just interact there and see how that principal he or she handled situations, difficult situations, easy situations. Working with them you got to know the different personalities that are on the staff that you have to be with, but you didn't have to as a cadet make those decisions yet, but you watched how it was done. The other thing that's not really training formal wise was when I first became principal I felt that we had an excellent group of elementary principals serving at that time, which of course, I became friends with and that you could pick up the phone anytime and talk to them. The other thing is we would meet as a group, in workshops, or just in informal group sessions, and discuss strictly our handling of problems or whatever anybody wanted to talk about. But they were dealing with everyday situations, that was extremely valuable, and I think principals as far as I'm concerned are missing the boat if they do not get together. I mean the principals working in the same system, just get together for workshop type training or they could have people in or they don't have to have people in. It's amazing that was very helpful to me. Then I had a chance as a cadet principal to visit I remember at 3 different schools and saw how these principals ran their building. You know their method, their type of leadership and so on, very interesting, very eye opening, how everyone was different. Why they do what they do, and then you know there were 3 different type schools, but it's what you're looking for as a young administrator or as a new administrator. It's exactly what you're looking for, in other words there are some answers that became available there pretty quick. That was very valuable. Then I do have to say that the training that comes from the district or state and even of course national. I don't know whether anybody goes to the National Conferences, but as far as training in concerned, the training at these different workshops and conferences can be very good because you get, I think you're on the cutting edge. These meetings are geared to, I think a lot of times the cutting edge of what's going on. It gets exciting, it's exciting to be a part of all that to think that you might do something better. Everybody in that school wants to do better.

Q: Yeah, I agree with you. Principals operate in a constantly tense environment. What kinds of things did you do to maintain your sanity under these stressful conditions?

A: I was a jogger, I'm a walker now, but I was a jogger, and I believe in quiet time. I think just to get away, and you could use that quiet time anyway you want, but then I always had a supportive family, which meant a lot on certain days when you could come home and just be able to talk to somebody and be supported. To me that was very important, and of course I feel personally that you have to have faith, you have a religious approach to things, because it keeps you spiritual, it keeps you in focus. Some days you're out of focus, you can be very easily.

Q: Would you discuss the circumstances leading up to your decision to retire at the time you did?

A: I had over 30 years in, my wife was getting ready to retire from her position. I think that I had reached the point where I was tired of handling basically the same types of problems day after day, and I think I needed a change from that. That definitely influenced my thinking, I know it did. Because I could have gone on 2 more years, if I wanted to, but I just felt that I just needed a change and I wanted to do something else with my time and I did to be very honest. I wanted to devote more time to my church, which I wasn't giving them to much time, because I didn't have the time to do that.

Q: Have you enjoyed your retirement?

A: Oh yes I'll say, my wife retired a little bit after I did and yes it's been very enjoyable. I am involved in education. I happen to be chairman of the education committee for 3 years at our church, which keeps my finger in things, at a little different angle. It's also been a learning experience to because there's a different atmosphere, and different type problems.

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