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Q: Would you begin by telling us about your family background, your childhood interest and development, birthplace, schools attended, your family, please?
(Streamed audio file of interview for this question using RealPlayer)
A: I'd be more than happy to do that. I'll do it as briefly as possible and if you want to extend it further then you indicate that to me. I was born and reared in Wilks County, North Carolina, born in 1926 and went to elementary, a consolidated senior high school, which was then called the Union School, grades 1-11, and had my elementary and secondary training there. I went to post secondary work at Winston-Salem Teachers College it was then.... It's now Winston-Salem State University... Ohio State University and then Winston-Salem State University again, interrupted by some military service. I come from a family of ten. There were nine boys and one girl. I am the youngest of that ten and while all of us finished High School, only I had the opportunity to go to college. That's really all the important things about family I with to pursue at this time.
Q: I wonder if you would discuss the experiences or events in your life that constituted important decisions points in your career and how you feel about them now?
A: Well, Mrs. Robinson, at the time I was growing up, things were almost 180 degrees different from what they are today, as we know them. Ah, First of all we were in a segregated society. I'm not sure that has changed that much now, except from the legal stand point. But be that as it may .... its different in that respect.. it's also different in terms of today's family. Years ago there used to be an extended family almost anywhere you went in the Afro American community, but that is not true today...a number of single parent families..... And I guess many of the experiences that I had stemmed from those particular conditions. My father indicated to me that I would not amount to very much, unless I went to college. So I decided on a Sunday afternoon, when a friend of mine was going to Winston-State, that I would go with him. And that's where I wound up and even though there was another institution in between. I wound up coming back to Winston-Salem State to finish in 1952.
Q: Would you talk about the circumstances surrounding your entry, Mr. Cundiff into public school administration?
A: Well it came by accident. I guess, even though it was perceived many years earlier that because I was a man and teaching in the elementary school, and that at some point in time I would arrive at the principalship. My principal made sure that every opportunity was provided for me to have some types of leadership or administrative experiences. He would make me chair of the sixth grade level chair or something like that. He would ask me to do certain things at the school which were administrative in nature, such as beginning a staff meeting, before faculty meeting. He came discussing those items that were more routine. Anybody could have done them. The custodian could have done them but I happen to be in there, so he would have me do those things and it generally became felt, or it became felt generally that at some point in time, I would become a principal and..... that kind of thing..... and when I had the opportunity to get into the public school administration I did. He was the one who recommended me, pushed me, and told me I could do it, go ahead . The position was going to be offered so take it so that's a sort-of round about way of getting into it.
Q: If you would take me through a walk through your school, could you describe this walk for me? The appearance or any particular features of the building.
A: The entrance would obviously face the main thoroughfare and the office was immediately to the left as you entered from the lobby. You came into the lobby and then from the lobby, you went into a hallway. Then immediately to the left is the principal's office, the school still exists. To the right is a cafeteria and immediately in front of the office were restrooms. Then proceeding around the left, nothing else to the right, proceeding around to the left, we came to the clinic and then the clinic and the book-room on the right and then classrooms on the left. Once we pass the book room on the right, then the classrooms began on the right and all the way down the hall into the annex were three classrooms. There was a janitor's closet about midway the hall and water fountains in two locations in the hallway. And to the right, in between the annex of the new part of the building, was a huge library, fully equipped,....even surpassed Southern Association Standards.... and across from that were two classrooms. Then we came to the other wing, which was all classrooms. Boys and girls bathrooms and water fountains were all the way up that hall. Now, at the outset, this building had about 30 classrooms, now it has 24.
Q: Would you describe your personal philosophy of education and how did this philosophy evolve over the past years?
A: I've never been asked what my personal philosophy. Is it because because no one ever seemed to be interested in it. But I guess my personal philosophy of education is that it ought to be a tool by which we plan our lives so that the.... that the quality of life, the possible, or probable quality of life is enhanced. Now, whatever does that, I've perceived to be educational in nature. It may be less formal or may be more formal but the more formal things ought to prepare us to do those things, whatever they may be.
Q: Mr. Cundiff would you describe the instructional philosophy of your school and tell me how it was developed and how that philosophy evolved over time.
A: Well, I think the instructional philosophy at the time I began, now keep in mind that at the time I began through the time that I worked there at the school was a different time we were here again. We were segregated. Many of the things we got were not always new. There were still some second handed things but everybody knew that and it was just generally excepted. But what he had was a curriculum set by the board of education... by the administration. How that was implemented was pretty much left to the individual schools and it was left particularly to us to develop or to present the materials, the curriculum materials, in a way that would be helpful to children.. that children would be easy to learn... could learn very easily. I don't know how it started, but it began to change when we began to find ourselves needing to do more for children to better prepare them.. because we were... we recognized the difficulties that they were going to face as adults and the preparation that we provided for them or hoped to provide for them had to be extremely sound, so that they then could be reasonably successful in whatever their chosen field of endeavor, whether it be college or whether it be the work force. So, I don't know that that's a clear cut definition of the school, but it's as I remember. Keep in mind Ms. Robinson that I left the school atmosphere.... location.. the school base work in 1969 and therefore the close and intimate relationship with schools sort-of began to wane and took of a more global kind of responsibility. So, you can see that the schools have changed considerably since 1969 and they continued to change. Now some of my philosophy about schools and all people and everything else has not changed that substantially. But then, I'm in the old school and we couldn't have survived in today's arena, I'm sure.
Q: Could you talk a little bit about your management philosophy?
A: Well, it depends on what you call management. I think that in order to... I believe that managing a school, being responsible for its total operation is an easy job, unless you make it difficult. First of all, you have to understand that there are people in that facility who have brains, that you not the only one I doubt that God endowed some brains. And then be secure enough in your own operations, in your own circumstance that whatever those people in your facility, and I say... you... meaning... as principals sometimes like to say.. this is my building. It isn't. Sometimes we need to be shifted around because of that perception. But anyway, what we are talking about.... I'll say my building to understand that there are people who if you are secure enough in your own mind, you don't have to feel threatened when other staff members, custodians, cafeteria managers, teachers, counselors, whatever show you that they have brain and they have suggestions about things like that. If you're open to those and you ask people to give you their impression or whatever and if your really genuine about it, you can get some things done and that's always been a style of me that you surround yourself with good people as much as you possibly can, obviously. Bad apples are going to get in there every now and then, but they can deal with that too. And then, ask them to do a job. Tell them what to expect from you or tell them what you expect from them and then ask them to tell you what they expect from you and then once those are worked out, it's an easy task.
Q: Mr. Cundiff, after leaving the school arena, you were of course employed by the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction, the state department, regional centers. So indeed you were able to have a global perspective of the field of education from the management perspective and from the philosophical perspective. Would you compare the management strategies for example of all those three areas?
A: Of the three areas, then instruction, is that what you mean? The management area... and looking at the way you handle the management situation at the school level, the regional center, or the state department. Well let me just qualify since you're doing this. I moved from the school level to the central office level and at the central office level, I stayed their for nine years, then I went from there to the state department as their regional director for this region. Now, at the school level, the view was narrow, the perspective was narrow. I didn't know what was going on necessarily except as we talked other administrative and I talked. Did I know what precisely was going on in other schools and how they were doing things except a principal would say to me this is what I do with my teachers, this is what I do with my cafeteria worker, and I would find it out that way. When I went to central administration, then that was a winning experience of its own because then, my perspective was more global, wider view of what was going on in the schools and to find out that really, even though we were separate, we were still desegregated, we were still segregated. But we were moving toward desegregation and so what I found out is that we are more alike than we were different, although we were in different settings. That chore, that task, that assignment, that experience at the central office level was, I guess, the most challenging experience I've ever had in my life. And I guess that that was due primarily to the fact that we were still in fact a segregated school system. But we had began....we began delegating the central office first and I was the first one in there. And it not everybody liked that , even my professional colleagues didn't like that, they felt that the board of education had lost its mind and so had the superintendent and I'm not sure that they were wrong in that view, but still it was interesting to have to go through that situation. And being the first, everywhere you went people looked at you and all of that. But the opportunity to grow administratively, was one that I took advantage of, had the opportunity to get into some good administrative seminars and things of that type training institutes that I would not have had otherwise. That gave me a good view. I had a then a relationship with all principals in the school system as well as other assistant superintendents and consultants and directors and so on at central office. At the state level, it was a little different because we were ....the state is divided into eight geographical regions. Greensboro is the north central region, region five, and it contained 21 school systems. I was made the director...appointed director of that particular facility. Just as I said earlier, I learned that back at a school, not at a regional center. I tried to get the best people that I could get. And one of the persons that you know, Dr. Finger, was one of the people I sought and was successful in getting. But once we got her and others like her...There is another person her who was on our staff, Helen Tugwell. And Helen knows her business, up, down, backward every way you can do it and so does Joan. So when you have those kind of people, you say to them, "O.K., this is what you need to do, this is what I will help you do, now you tell me what else I need to help you with. This is your job, you know your job description, you know it all so do it and do it the best you can and if there is ever anything that I can do to help you, if you run into any problems, let me know. Let me handle it, don't you try to handle it, because they can't fuss with me, I'm here and I will deal directly with their superintendents and not with them. So you know, if you have a problem, tell me about it. Maybe you can solve it on your own, if you can fine, I don't like to be blind sided. That hurts. So if you run into something and you do something about it or you don't do something about it, tell me, so that we can talk about it so that I can have some information about it , so that when I am hit with it, its not like being blind--sided and knocked off your feet and possibly out.
Q: You touched a little bit on some of the characteristics of the good principal, Briefly, about the expectations, some of the things that principals are expected to do by teacher. I would like for you to first share with me some successful experiments you used in climate building.
A: I think that there is somewhere in your list of questions you asked about an atmosphere conducive to learning in a school. That was one of the questions I guess that in climate building, you first of all as an administrator, have to set it yourself. You have to begin with yourself. Letting your staff know that you are open and in some way, I think that it is extremely important that every staff member know of your stand ad believe that you are going to be fair. If you do that..Now don't say that you are going to always agree, but you're Donna be fair. There helps to build a positive climate in a school . And then you move from that and the staff and you say..... that in your head..... when you talk about what your expectations are of them.... you know you say that to the extent possible, you do this with your students. When I was a classroom teacher, we used to talk about, "O.K., these are the things that I am going to do. Now you tell me the things that you are going to do. And they would raise their hands and all of that and they'd do it. I'd say O.K. Now, let's see which ones we can do because all these things you say you can do , you can't do because you have rules and regulations. You may put up there, I want to sleep in class and one did, I put it up there, "We're gong to sleep in class. We're not going to sleep in class, now there are some things that we are arbitrary about, there are some things that we won't be arbor about. You can have a hand in this. So, I guess the point that I'm trying to make is that they can , that if you do that with your students, then they feel some degree of ownership to what's going on n there and Ms. So and So or Mr. Cundiff is not the boss and we know he is the boss, he's in charge, somebody has to be that's his job, so we'll let that go like that, you'd be surprised, no you wouldn't be surprised either, but in a classroom like that you don't have to yell, you don't have to hit on the table (THUMP), you can just say.... hold it, wait just a second, Which ones of these things are we not doing? And let them find out, O.K. What do we do, Well I think he ought to....Oh no we can't do that to him. What do you think he ought to do? Make him stay after school....well no he has to ride the bus. And these things, But they help you with problem solving and that's important and the third and last thing is the participation of the family. We've lost we requirement and I can understand the reason why...to visit homes, but at the time when the neighborhood was safe enough to visit homes after school and at night, we used to do that. We got to know every family. Every mother or every uncle or every aunt, every grandmother with whomever the child may have been living with, we got to know them. And with almost without exception they would say to us, if you need my help...And PTA night were crowded. Folks came to PTA. And for the most part they were complimentary about the things that the school was doing. Today, I think its most important that we maintain that kid of community relationship that is positive, a program that is positive. One of the things that we can do just at the outset is to send something hone by a child for his parents that is written by you. In your own penmanship, addressing them by their names.
Q: Mr. Cundiff, you were discussion the importance of parental involvement and describing some specific techniques that schools could use in inviting parents to become involved in their children's education, would you continue to elaborate on that please.
A: Yes, and I think I was saying that, I think the very first thing that we can do, even before we know a parent is to consider making certain that the kinds of things we send home to parents have some degree of positiveness, that they are positive in nature. We used to send notes home saying, "Johnny did this or blah, blah, blah, and he had to be punished. Now .I', saying that we need to consider sending home the thing that says, "It was a joy to have Johnny today. You would have been proud of the way he worked an example in arithmetic, or you would have been proud of his book report, or you would have been proud of the way he led the line to the cafeteria or you would have been proud of the way helped the librarian find books for the class. Just things that are positive and you have to take into consideration, obviously, the child, his abilities and all of that, but every child ....you can say something positive about every child. And you've got to write and if you have twenty children, then you've got to write twenty notes at some point in time that's positive.
Q: You touched on my next question quite a bit and we were talking about here the comparison the way the community, those in the community view the school and view the principal. Now how do the expectations differ today, or how do the circumstances differ.
A: Oh, Ms. Robinson, they are considerably different. Today, first of all every parent who has a child in school today has the smartest, most well behaved child in the world. They can do no wrong. Obviously, that's not true. And they are so smart. There's nothing they can't read or fathom in terms of arithmetic or understandings or things like that. Or at least that is the perception of the parent. The families are...there are more single parent fails today, which means that the parent in all probabilities is a working parent, which limits the opportunity for him or her to take a school visitation .when they do have a day off, it usually one that is filled either things that they did not have time to do when they while working or things that they want to do and had to put off. So, you have that condition existing. Secondly, the youngster comes to school with more information than, with three, four, five times more information than children came at the time I was in the local school. ...than children came to school with when I was in the local school. There is television, radio, newspaper, magazines, thing of that type and then there are family discussions. Then, there are programs that provide certain commentaries on conditions and things, events that happen and so on. So they are abreast of what is going on in the world. So they come with that information and we have to take that into account and e certainly can't be one who is fuy read in our position in the public school. We have to know as much as they know or more. Because the questions that are going to come out of that are going to be tremendously deep, they are not going to be the shallow questions that some students need to ask. So it's different in this respect as well. And I guess the last thing that I would day is that it's different in terms of support. There's always a controversy about what things ought to be in the school and what things ought not be there. Sex education, apparently , in some sections of or country will never be a part of the public school responsibility..Because there is too much opposite to it. On the other hand, there's the same thought about things such as music and art, even physical education. To some people, when you say get back to the basics, they seem to mean reading writing, and arithmetic. I don't know what happened to geography and history. I understand those things are not combined with social studies and I'm not opposed to that that as long as the important elementary a shared and the opportunity to know more about each is shared.
Q: I'd like to talk a bit more about some of the characteristics you began to expound upon as a good principal. I want to talk specifically about some of those personal attributes that should be there and then again some additional professional attributes that would exemplify the good principal.
A: O.K. I guess when the argument about as to whether or not we would have tenure, for teachers or not, there was no question that almost anybody...you go into a school and almost anybody can tell you who was the best teacher at that school. But it was hard to tell you why he or she as the best teacher. I know plenty of people, some of which are principals, some of which I know a good principals, but its its hard to say what makes them a good principal. In my view, in the absence perhaps a more sophisticated element, instrument, I'm sorry, the ...a good principal in my view ...I'm talking about the professional attributes now is first of all highly trained. Secondly,, has a love , love , love for education and children. Now that's from 4 to twenty, I' saying children. Has a love for people, wants to do something for and with people. He or she in there professional demeanor must demonstrate first of all, in my way of thinking, a sense of fair play, regardless of what your own personal feeling are about an individual, you must be fair and honest, professionally honest with those people....those persons.. And there will be some ....It's imperative, I think that a principal be prepared to assist in what ever way possible, the teacher who is one either inexperienced or is too...doing a poor job. As ...And he or she has to develop the kind of relationship with the teacher that will allow him or her to do that without their feeling threatened. For example, very quickly, rather that saying, "You didn't do so and so and so, it might be say,,,,(and obviously these persons in this class obviously know this already), it might better to say, "Miss So and So, I noticed that you did such and such today. I wonder what would have happened if you had done so and so and so> Had you ever thought of that? Next time you work with that, try it. Try it just that way and see what happens. and let me know, be sure and let me know and if you want to call me and let me come in and look at it with you. O.K . For the inexperienced teacher, some of the same thing but now as you grow in this you're going to make mistakes and you just made one and that's Al right, no damage was done. Now next time how about trying such and such or you've got Ms. Jones right next to you here, o in there and ask her what she would do in a case like this. Now that's in terms of professional behavior. In terms of personal behavior, if you're a man and a principal, I hope that you are married. If you are not married, then you have to behave with both professional and personal integrity. You just can't develop a relationship with any staff member that could be perceived as suspect or have some alternative motive behind it. The same thing is true if you happen to be a female principal, the same thing is true. Personally, you have to be in good standing with some community institution, you ought to be. The first one to come to mind is obviously the church. You ought ....a good principal ought to be a frequent church goer. If he or she belongs to a specific church, his or her attendance at that church is expected to be more regular than if he is not a member. On the other hand, attendance at church could not be confined to that, because you have children in your room who belong t other churches and you ought to get i to see those every now and then. Then there is some responsibility that we as public servants owe to our community. Like the YMCA or the United Way or some of the volunteer r agencies that exists in our community. And we ought to be a part of that. I think a good principal is a part of that. And we here so much so many times....I'm not sure..saying its not true, but many times principals say I don't have time to do that ....Sure they don't, but if they are good principals and good managers, they can make time. They can make time to other things they want to do and they can make time to do that.
Q: A great deal of attention has been given to the topic of personal leadership in recent years, I'd like for you to discuss your approach to leadership and describe some techniques that worked for you and I'd also like for you to describe to me an incident where an particular approach failed.
A: Now let me see if I understand you. Maybe, you'd better repeat that for me.
Q: Al right, over the past few years, there has been a lot of attention given to the topic of personal leadership, one example..leadership styles, certain leadership models, now most of the time people will select one of these approaches or maybe a few of them or an electric approach..in working with people in there building. Particularly, if you could describe one particular leadership technique maybe that you've gleaned from working with your staff that you employed from one of the leadership workshops that you talked a bit about. And you possibly may have had one of those approaches that you tried that didn't work out. I'd be interested in hearing about that.
A: I follow you now. There have been a number of approaches that I have been..had the opportunity to participate in. One had to do with leadership and supervision, that was conducted by the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Another was the National Association of School Administrators. Another was the North Carolina Executive's Institute, which was a six month program at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. That was the most intense one that I'd had. Now, I guess what I may have done in my work was to agree or to select certain items from one two or three or these experiences and put them together and try them. Perhaps its my own ego getting in the way, but none of them except the one I had exposure to at Phoenix in the National Academy of School Executive ....yes that's right NESE, that's right, the National Academy of School Executives ..none of them except that one was as good as mine. But I tried them and perhaps my own bias showed through in trying them ....that caused me ....I wont say that they failed, they were not as effective as the way I had been doing. I can give you a good example of an approach that did run successful and one that was extremely unsuccessful. And it was not applicable to a group, it was an individual approach, both of them were. There was a young man who worked with us once who just did not seem to know what he was doing and I knew that he did because I had read his transcribe and so I talked with him and asked him if he had a minute one day and he said yes he did and at the time he came he couldn't do it so I said well I tell you what, lets go to lunch one day and we got started at lunch in talking about his performance and I said how do you hold degrees from this institution and that institution and other institution and still have problems communicating. Obviously, that's the most important tool that we have is communication. We have to do that and do that affectively. So, what is it that you're having a problem with? Then when he started to tell me, I understood why. And the problem was despite the fact that he had a BS degree, a masters degree, and a ED degree, his grammar was atrocious. He split verbs, and no subject-verb agreement, and things of that type were used sentences that were incomplete, especially in writing and in the same things an oral presentation, incorrect pronunciation, things of that type. OK, I said hey, we can't have this, we can not. So, that was how I got to him at lunch. So, when I said that, I said I have a friend who works at the university at A&T and I'd like for you to consider enrolling just for sitting in the class in the English class that she teaches, a speech class. And he said well that's embarrassing. I said would you feel less threatened by if I told you that I did it. He said you did it. I said would you feel less threatened if I said I did it? And he said yes. Then I said then yes I did it. Well, why did you do it. And I said because I felt the need because somebody told me I needed to. He did. Nobody knew he was except the teacher. And he got through that course. It was introduction to English, this is something like freshman material. But that's what he needed. And he left us, make a long story short, he did work. He left us after a couple of years and went somewhere else. And when he went, he write back and told me that of all the people that he had ever worked with, I won't say people worked for me, I say they work with me, although I was the director. He said of all the people I have ever worked with, you are the one that I will always remember, you had the courage to tell me that I was making a bad mistake, I was making a poor presentation and doing things like that. That was damaging to me professionally and he did that and I felt extremely good about it. There are other elements that I could share but I won't, they are to long. The other was an instance where the training I had told me that you give everybody a second chance, a third chance, a fourth chance, and if necessary, a fifth. I had a young lady who had a problem with reporting to work. We had an opportunity to chose whether we came at 7:30, 8:00, or 8:30. Therefore we had I choice of choosing whether we could go to lunch 11:30, 12:00, 12:30, 1:00. We had a choice of whether we left work at 4:30, 5:00, or 5:30. You chose it, whatever, whatever turns you on. OK, this young lady chose 8:30 for her herself. And she chose lunch hour, 11:30 to beat the rush. And then she chose 5:00 to go home. OK, fine with me, except she came at 8:45, excuse me 9:00, 8:20, 8:40, 8:45, 8:15, I said what is wrong? You scared me to death. It's 8:15, joking with her. I said, I do need to talk with you though. And so what I did, I told her, I said you chose this time to report to work. What's the problem? Are you oversleeping? Are you having problems getting dressed to come to work? Is your husband cooperating with you? Just what is it? Is it something I need to know that you can't get hear at a certain time? And she said no Fred the problem is I'm just not a day time person. I said I don't have a problem with that, none whatsoever. A lot of people aren't daytime people, but the problem with you is that you don't seem to be a daytime person, but you have a daytime job. So, what I think you may need to consider doing is going from a daytime job to another time job. You know, cause that might help you. I'm not threatening you or anything like that , I don't want to do that. Well, and we laughed about it. Hoping to find out why she came in on time for a while. And then the quality of her work began to diminish so we talked about that. And we called in her supervisor from her special field and we talked, and we sat down at said OK, these are things we think you can better. If you did this, it might help. What do you think about thoughts? Are they appropriate, can we do them? Yes! Well, you understand this is an attempt to help you improve your performance. Oh yes, I understand that. And we followed up with a letter to her explaining what it was, reiterating the conditions and all that. Is their anything in this that is not as you understood it, please write us back and let us know. That kind of thing went on for almost three years. And when I had just about had my bill, I said to my superior, we're going to have to do something about this young lady. And, well have you done that? Yes. Well, have you done this? Yes. And one of the things they didn't know and they can't do anything about it now because I'm retired, but I even gave her charged some of her absences because she was out beyond, she had used up all her sick leaves and she still needed to be out later on like 2 or 3 months later she had needed to be out again because of illness. And along with that, she had a long crude sick leave time because we managed these records in the office. I charged her time off to my sick leave as though I were sick. Now the state did not lose any money, but it was appropriate me instead of her. And she knew that and this was an attempt to gain her cooperation to do a better job, to motivate her, whatever. It didn't do it. And I to finally say to her that I going to have you do one other thing for us. And I'm going to let you tell me what you are going to do about these different activities. What are you going to do about this workshop, what are you going to do about your school visitations, system visitations there really is no difference and what are you going to do with your working in the office the administration found your job because I'm having to pick it out for you to do it and it may or may not be right and I'm having to sign my name to it to certify that it is accurate and it has a bearing on compensation.
Q: So, in your opinion you think it would have been more expedient to let her go?
A: Yes. And that's what eventually happened. It took a little over 3 years, but we finally did that and she appealed the dismissal.
Q: Mr. Cundiff, there are those that argue that more often then not central office policies hinder rather than help building whatever administrators in carrying out their responsibility. Would you give your views on this issue? And if you were king, what change would you make in the typical organizational arrangement as a way of improving administrative efficiency and effectiveness.
A: OK, I had heard this song sung many times from the people in the field, the school based administrators. When I was central office staff, to a degree there is some truth to this, especially if central office administrators have not had field experience, if they have had that, they tend to be a little more understanding of the effects that it will have, the central office policies they have on individual schools. I think that however, one of the things that could be done if time permitted would be to send out some notice, some announcement of a decision or a policy that is going to be made and then have a school based personnel respond to it by giving their impression of what it's going to mean to their school. They do it all the time in the environmental area doing an impact study. Where I'm not so sure about impact study in the public schools will not be also helpful. So that might be one way of doing it. Beyond that, I don't know if we're ever going to get beyond the perception that central office is the ivory palace and the school-based systems are the little castles surrounding the palace and all like that. And I chose those words deliberately because you said something about if I were king, what changes would I make and the typical system-wide organizational arrangement. Well, I really think that one good thing that is being done now in many school systems is that you have a decentralized central school system with different departments reporting differently to other sources. To give you an example, if you have instruction and you have someone responsible for instruction or pupil personnel or ancillary kinds of services, then you have someone reporting at that school. That school reports the 3 different people or 3 different sources, depending on what it happens to be. And it doesn't always have to be the principal that does all the reporting. But then it's the responsibility of the leadership in each of thoughts areas to keep the central area apprised of what's going on. Lets take for an example, if somebody needs a thousand more social studies books, then they advise the appropriate department of that, and that department response and that department assumes a responsibility of keeping the general administration revised on what's going on. So, that's about the only thing that I know that at this point since I've been away from it for a while, then I would feel comfortable addressing.
Q: What advice would you give a person considering an administrative job?
A: I guess first of all, it could not be a selfish person. They would have to be unselfish. The person would also have to be committed to doing what is best for children and education generally. But can not be an "I" person, I did this, I did that using all the possessive pronouns to talk about I this, my that and all that. One who is secure, making sure that he or she is secure enough to withstand criticism because even if you are doing the job right and doing it well, somebody is going to criticize you. If you're doing it poorly and not doing to well at all, then you triple your criticism. But in either instance, a principal as to be strong and secure enough to his or her role that they can take this criticism, hopefully it would be constructive criticism but is doesn't always be, so whenever that happens, you go right on and start rolling with the punches. But, you never forget that the criticism has been directed. And you don't treated criticism from one source any more highly than you do from another source. If some student's parents happens to be a doctor and you don't give much credence to that criticism than you do if a student's parent happened to be a custodian.
Q: A good deal of attention has been to career ladders, differential pay plans, and merit pay in recent years, would you briefly give your views on these issues and describe any involvement you've had with these approaches.
A: Well, I've had no involvement really in the development of career ladders or merit pay. I've been a part of issues of discussions on merit pay and that kind of thing but I'm not sure that anything needs to be done until such time as an extensive study of merit pay or the other one, until they have had a little more studies. That may sound like I'm invading the issue but I'm not. I just like to be sure that things have been clearly thought out and tested to make sure that they are in fact were in consideration.
Q: What in your view Mr. Cundiff should be the role of the assistant principal? How did you utilize this position when you were on the job or whatever then your experiences to serve with an assistant principal? What became of this individual?
A: I think first of all, an assistant principal is not misnomer, a lot a people feel that it is. I do not. I think an assistant principal is just what the title implies, assistant principal. There are certain responsibilities accruing to that position, depending on how many there are. Whether you have an assistant for curriculum, and assistant for administration, and an assistant for whatever else. If that's the case then that's another merit but in those schools where there is only one assistant principal, I think that assistant principal ought to be trained have all the duties and responsibilities that the principal has. In the absence of the principal, he should have them in the presents of the principal but not exercise them, except the direction of the principal. Many of persons who I known assistant principals to move on into the principalship. I have known assistant principals to stay assistant principals forever and one of the reasons I believe is, although I have no documentation of this and no research to back it up is that unless it depends on the personality of the principal as well as the assistant principal. If those personalities are not compatible professionally, it makes for a bad situation. I don't expect them to be always or they seldom compatible personally because each person has his or her on particular attitudes to develop philosophies about whatever and that kind of thing. But professionally, they should be compatible. Your goals should be my goals if I'm the assistant principal speaking to the principal. If I am the principal speaking to the assistant principal, your goals have to be my goals because as a subordinate here in the role and serving this school, we have to be on the same wavelength and since I'm the principal, that's one concession that you have to make in working in the position that we are professionally compatible. So, That's extremely important.
Q: Mr. Cundiff, most systems presently have a tenure or continuing contract system for teachers. What were the situations the time you entered the profession? And would you comment on tenure verses non-tenure or the strengths and weaknesses of the tenure system.
A: When I first came in, we signed the contract , a yearly contract, we had no formal evaluation. If my principal chose not to rehire me next year, he simply wrote a letter to me and one to the superintendent, sending the copy of the letter to me, advising that no contract would be offered for the next year. So, that's how we were gotten rid of or fired. And we had no real recourse. So, that's how I think the matter of the tenure law came into effect, as you know it's called the Fair Employment and Dismissal Act. It took the act of the legislator and that's what happened. I think there are parts of it that are worth keeping. I think there are some parts that ought not be included. My own opinion of the matter of tenure is that I'm not one who favors that. I don't favor that, even if I were a classroom teacher, I would not favor it because the perception is that tenure protects incompetence. And to an extent, that my be true. But I would rather have a contract, like a 3 year contract or a 5 year contract. If at the end of 5 years I had not preformed satisfactory and you had told me along the way at regular intervals at the first year into the first year, the second, and the fourth that I wasn't cutting it. And I wasn't expect a contract renewal at the end of the fifth year. Now, that would be an administrative headache for some school systems and they don't want to do it. But, that's a preference of mine as opposed to tenure.
Q: Would you describe your relationship with the superintendent in terms of his general demeanor towards you and your schools system?
A: OK, At that time it could be compared I guess to a teacher and a principal. We were told what the system wanted us to do, the school board and all that and we simply did it. If we needed any help, we contacted the superintendent's office, but many of us chose not to contact the superintendent's office because it may have been perceived as a weakness. We didn't do it. But that relationship was rather formal and it certainly had territorial boundaries in certain places parts I did not move farther. There were certain parts to which he did not move downward.
Q: Would you discuss you participation in handling integration and describe your involvement with busing.
A: OK, first of all I'd have to say at the time desegregation and this is just a peculiarity of mine. I chose to use the word desegregation opposed to integration primarily because that's what we have. Some people argue that point, but I contend none the less that what we had was desegregation and not integration. At the time desegregation came, I was no longer a school-based staff. I was central office staff as an assistant superintendent with responsibility of student assignment. The school board established attendance areas and we determined how many students from each of our schools resided in that area and then my office sent notices to them. They were which school they were to attend. It also handled request for transfers or reassignments which was a real headache. But at the time desegregation came as a result to court order, we worked long and hard hours. The latest I can recall having left central office was about 2:30 in the morning. That happened occasionally, late nights to about 10 or 11, until that task was done. The busing assignments were handled by another department and so we didn't have anything to do with that except to publish the schedule. We had to handle the complaints and criticism, the annoyances and hostilities that people had about busing and about children going to other schools and things of that type. It was an ombudsman activity where whoever was unhappy about whatever came to see Fred Cundiff. And it was my duty, I was as we talked about an assistant principal a few minutes ago. I was an assistant superintendent . So, an assistant superintendent is the assistant to the superintendent who keeps as much as that flack from him as possible. So, that was one of the things my office did. The other assistants had specific responsibilities, like finance personnel, instruction and so on. So, that was held to me and we spent the day answering parents either by phone or in person. They were angry when they came. They couldn't see me. They had to get an appointment. They would call at home at night at 2 or 3:00 in the morning. Keeping in mind that part of that was the fact that I was African American and I was in central office at that time. And people perceived all of this as my work that I was responsible for and I guess one would normally think that all this criticism and everything came from non blacks, that's not the case. There were several blacks who were in that group also accusing me of doing a lot of things because I had soled out. They perceived my having soled out and soled them down the river. That was basically the extent of my involvement with desegregation in 1972. And then as the school year progressed, their complaints and all that began to subside. I won't say that acceptance occurred. At least the complaints subsided from which I was internally gratefully.
Q: What is your view on the mentoring program for new administrators in which an experienced administrator if paired with a neophyte?
A: OK, I think that's the best thing that could happen, I really do. Colleges and universities sometimes tend to think, and I'm sure this isn't true at BPI, but they tend to think that within their halls resides all the knowledge and expertise pertained to any given activity. I learned more as an intern with hands on kinds of experiences with watching, observing how other people handle things. And then immediately after it was handled to be provided an opportunity to be told why they did what they did and answer questions from me about it. Why didn't you wait until so and so...and then given the explanation. On the surface, you think gosh he let he get away with a lot of , she let him get away with a lot of, but that's not the case. A principal said well one thing you need to know is a battered woman, a battered wife and she has to have somebody to take out her hostilities on. So, in our case, we were disciplining her child in a way that was not appropriate for her to understand, easy for her to understand. And so she just came on in and jumped all over her, but after we got her calm down, everything worked out. You see, I never never talk to a person when they come in filled with hostility. Invite them into your office and let them sit down. Offer them a glass of water or at that time, smoking was popular, or a cigarette or whatever and let them sit there for about 5 or 10 minutes. Say that you have something to do but you want to talk to them and you'll be right back in about 10 minutes. Once they have sat down and began to collect themselves, even though they are thinking about the circumstances that causes them to be there, the hostility level as subsided considerably by the time you go back in and say I'm sorry to have kept you. It was something I just couldn't avoid and I didn't realize you were coming or that kind of thing. Now, we want to address your problem now, whatever it is. And well I hate to take up your time like this. See 10 minutes ago, she didn't care about how much time she took up but now, 10 minutes later she's hating to take up time. So mentoring I think provides a number of opportunities. What you need to know instruction, physically in terms of pupil personnel. How do you do that? You can see and watch somebody and be a part of somebody's doing it and do a better job.
Q: Did you have a mentor?
Q: Who was your mentor?
A: John Lerary
Q: Mr. Cundiff, dispute my efforts to be comprehensive in my questioning, there's probably something that I had left out. What have I not asked that I should have asked or is there anything else that you would like to share with me during this interview?
A: I commend you on the manner you've conducted the interview. Also, the substance of the interview itself has been extremely comprehensive. As I look back though and retrospect, there some things I think you maybe could be said that have not been said or that have been said only superficially that I think public school administrators as well as just school administrators generally need to give some attention to perhaps. And they come in a merit of things, I'm talking now about the formal preparation, training theory, internship experiences and things of that type. But there is a human element that we sometimes fail to gibe proper credence to. And it comes in all forms. It comes in the form of sexism. It comes in the form of racism and it comes in the form of a bias for a number of reasons, some pertaining to social economic status, things of this type. Who you are, where you came from and thing of that type. Classism as well is a good example of that. And the thing of it is that we tend to deny the existence of these conditions and both you and I know that it's not true. Without belaboring the point for fear, my motives would be misunderstood. I won't go into my experience in terms of the discrimination and all that I encountered as an African American school administrator. It goes without saying that there were different attitudes in the mid to late 60's than we find now. But, the point that's disturbing about this is that we have become extremely sophisticated in how we demonstrate our racism, our classism, our sexism. And at one time it was easy to identify. Now, it is not so easy to identify. And it's difficult to prove. I've heard the expression, "walks like a duck, looks like a duck, quacks like a duck, then it's a duck" it has to be a duck. Al right, if you take an example of behavior that in one instance and then you see it manifest itself in another setting in almost the same way and still a third manifestation in another setting, it's not to hard to draw a particular conclusion about it but isolation, neither of those things by themselves could not be called on the carpet, you could not be charged with exhibiting that kind of behavior as a weakness on the part of one who has. But they're there. Now, I guess the question is, what do we do about it? Now, I understand that in the schools now there's something called cultural diversity. I'm not sure I know what that means but I suppose it has something to do with making sure that as many people as possible, especially students because it's going to have to happen because those others of us who are adults, we've already set our ways, we've already have those things in our minds and in our souls and no amount of pride or whatever is going to cause us to forget for long in my view. But, if we want to be sure that we make a genuine effort, then I think that we're going to have to acknowledge first the existence. And denial of that fact is more damaging than ignorance of that fact. And I suspect that more people deny it than don't no it. So, it would seem to me that first of all we acknowledge it has a condition and then collectively look at those kinds of things that we can do to eliminate that. It's going to take a long time. And I'm not sure if I know at my age, it's not...but hopefully, some of the children coming along now as they have children in the public schools or in other public institutions or in the general population at home. They will enjoy some of the benefits of that. I think the reasoning for this existence or at least in my feeling for existence is that people that have the ability to calculate population data and projections and things of that type know that all indicators point toward the fact that by the time 2010, the majority of the population in the United States will be minority. That poses a threat to politicians. It poses a threat to business leadership. But some of them, CEO's have the presents of mind to say now what implications does this have on my company down the road. I may not be here but my company needs to survive and so what implications does it have for us. Some company's are going into this matter of cultural diversity training, just having people become aware of certain things that minorities have to endure or have to cope with. The psychological impact of that kind of thing on minorities, the psychological impact of that on non-minorities. What does it mean? Everybody feels a threat of having to give up something on one side. On the other side as I see it is simply wanting to be recognized for whatever abilities will provide for it or something of that type. But it's a threat. It represents change that they want to resist. Change that may cause some degree of anxiety their total family, their total way of living their quality of life may be affected by it. They don't want it diminished. But especially don't think when it's diminished it's perceived as the dimension is because of another group, African American, Asian American, Hispanic, Spanish American and when considerably looking at the changes of that happening in so of the border states on the Gulf of Mexico, Florida, Texas in terms of the Hispanics in those areas where things are beginning to change politically and economically and that's a threat to some people.
Q: I've talked about the classism and sexism and racism as Afro-Americans. Do you see the challenge of the African American school administrator to be different from the majority counterpart relative to personal relationships, how you have to work with people. You were in an open kind of situation. You've work with the majority, but then there are Afro-American people who look to you or have certain expectations. So therefore, is that a different kind of challenge?
A: I think it is. Obviously, there are certain elements, or parts of it which are common to no matter what the background. But, if I can use this and this maybe a answering your question, this has an analogy. When I was an assistant superintendent, I was the first black in the public school system of Greensboro to achieve that level of career. No matter how much the superintendent use to say to me is that you are an assistant superintendent for the entire school system. And I tried to think that and I tried to behave that way and whenever I would take issues to him, which reflected minority concerns, he would reiterate that particular statement and I said to him finally, no, no I am not. I am here because someone, you and or the board of education perceived me as being able to provide you with input that reflects the concerns of the African American community. Now, when I am no longer able to do that, then I am of no value to you. And I believe that then, I believe that now. When dealing with minorities, the African American folks, after a while if I weren't moving as fast as they thought I should move or in the direction they thought I should move, then I caught flack from them. I was not representing them. I was never technically appointed to reflect their concerns, to represent them. But I knew why I was there. And everybody else in Guilford County that knew of me knew why I was there. And that bothered me a little bit but at the same time, when those folks, I say thoughts folks because that's a typical expression that some people use in reference to us. Those folks, what do you'll want, what do they want. And it's not just African Americans but they would be a little disappointed and a little irritated sometimes when my behavior wasn't what they thought it should have been. And they let me know it in certain terms. But I was able to manage to persuade the more rational thinking elements of our community to understand what the circumstances were and things of that type. But, I've always had to assume a defensive posture in almost every situation. And I'm not sure that it's any different right now. It may be different later on in the future, hopefully with folks like you coming into it, you can initiate some activities and procedures and plans and systems that will address these kinds of concerns. But right now, it's not that way. I guess the disturbing thing Ms. Robinson is that I see us going...I was in Greensboro in 1955 when the supreme court decision was made. I knew what the circumstances in the schools in terms of sentiments, attitudes and all were at that time. We changed in the beginning with the middle 60's, up through the late 60's and the early 70's. And then the courts mandated that we really not just change attitudes but change location. And so we desegregated our schools and we pushed to meet separate moving bodies to put them here. That is not school integration, it's school desegregation. We did that. We wound up with everybody in the EMR at that time. I think they call them EMH now. All the students in the end, those class were minority. All the students in the academically talented or gifted classes were non-minority. And we wound up also with segregated classrooms. We had a desegregated school, but a segregated classroom. And that still exist unfortunately in some parts of our state today. So, I see that agenda that was at one in of the spectrum in 1955. Having moved from that through the 60's and the 70's and now the 80's and now the 90's having swum from back to maybe midway where things were fairly in good shape back to where it was, almost where it was in 1955, not legally but in terms of the way things really are. And we're having the supreme court find that busing or transportational students is no longer a profiting remedy for desegregation and things of that type. It's a challenging opportunity. And I appreciate your willingness sacrifice yourself to that opportunity. My view is that you will do an outstanding job and that you're going to work very hard to do the things that you perceive need to be done. And I congratulate you for having undertaking this task.
Q: OK... Thank you so much Mr. Cundiff and indeed it was my delight and my pleasure to have you as my interviewee.
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