Today is October 30, 1996. I'm speaking with Mr. L.P. Colley in his home in Christiansburg on his experience as a principal.
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Q: Would you begin by telling us about your family background and where you grew up?
A: Oh, the family background was started in Dickenson County in Clintwood, Virginia. I lived there until I was 16. Then we moved to Roanoke, Salem, and at 17 I went into the service like most people did, went into the Navy, and was in there three years and three months came out, went to Oklahoma State University. I tried to go to, I tried to go to Washington & Leeds, but they were full, because you know at that time, returning veterans just swamped the colleges, so I got in at Oklahoma State. My brother was there so I went with him and I finished at Oklahoma State with a bachelor's degree a bachelor's degree from Oklahoma State. Come through, got through there and came back to University of Virginia later and finished a program to be on the superintendent's list, which was an administrator-type course, and I finished that at the University of Virginia, while I was a principal near the University of Virginia. Then, uh, I have, uh, I married. uh, My wife's uh, my wife was in college. I met her at the University of Oklahoma and she was from St. Louis, Missouri. We moved back here. uh I took my first teaching job in Roanoke County, Roanoke County at Little Mountain High School. I was principal and I coached there also, uh basketball. I was there for two years and I moved to Carroll County at uh, at a elementary, junior high school school combined type of program. I moved from there to Craig County and I had the senior high school and elementary combined program. From there I moved to Nelson County and was strictly high school, uh about 1,100 students in high school, Nelson County, and I stayed there for about five years. Then I moved. A big flood came and washed us all out, so I can't work up there. Then, uh, we moved back to Montgomery County and I took an assistant principal job at Blacksburg High School and was there for three years. And then I moved from there to an elementary school Christiansburg Elementary School, which at that time had around about 100 people to deal with, so it was a real good sized school. So I stayed there for about 13 years and then I moved over to Price's my wife was real sick. She had a bad heart condition, so I took up an early retirement, one year, because I wanted to spend the last year with her. And she passed away. So I retired from Price's Fork. So that's the background for whatever I might have to say, to tell you about. That was 31 years of, I had 31 years as principal, and two years as a teacher/coach. Which incidently is, if you get around to the questioning, is pretty much that way for a man. They start out let's see if I can get the progression I think a lot of administrators, one, they start out, they go, they have social studies, and physical education majors in college. They become coaches and then from coaches they go to administration. And that's sort of the way they do things. And I believe, if you checked it out that, you'd, large numbers have that route in their careers. And I don't know why that is. But it also, I think, led to a whole lot of weaknesses in education. And if you ask me around, I'll tell you about that.
Q: You have your bachelor's, master's then, in Education?
A: Bachelor's, Master's , then all I need to do to finish up is to go back, I gotta go, I have to come on campus, uh, if I decide to finish mine up, at the University of Virginia. Uh so that's where we stand. And I'm not sure I want to go back now. I've got too much golf to play. [laughter] I get to go fishing every day or hunting. That's why I wanted to get this interview out, because black powder season starts next Monday, so...I'm off hunting. And I just got back from Colorado. We went elk hunting out in Colorado which was pretty exciting. So, well just uh...I'm enjoying it too much to try and go back. Why? I talked to a lady who was getting her bachelor's degree in college and you know she was 67 years old. She was sitting beside me at graduation and I said, "Why are you, why are you here? You, know, it's past your retirement to get a job on it." And she said, "Well, an education is truly supposed to do something good for you and give you a better life," she said, "so that's why I'm here I'm not in here for the money or anything else." I thought that's the best reason in the world to get an education, what she had. She was a very, very wise woman.
Q: OK, could you discuss your experiences or events in your life that constituted important decision points in your career, and how you feel about it?
A: Well, you know, I think, I think young people when they first come out of high school, they're not sure what they want to do when they go to college. I believe you're two years into your college experience before you have any idea at all what you're going to do with your life. So I kind of got hung up with all that, though I'd had service experience and I believe that having had that experience coming back as a veteran into the college, I believe that I was a better student for it because I had more purpose than I would have had, had I gone from high school right on through, and I believe veterans at that time made better students than those who came strictly from high schools. I believe the reason for that was motivation, and uh, they had a purpose, had more of a purpose. So I believe that high school people don't make decisions sometime until they're about juniors, and even then high school sometimes, the courses they take's not made until they get to their junior year. So I just plunged and did wait a little bit to find out what I was going to do and got into education and I've been there ever since. No real big inspiration hit me or anything, I just kind of drifted into the pattern of things.
Q: Would you talk about the circumstances surrounding your entry into the principalship?
A: Well, uh, I started out as a coach, as I said, after a background in that field., Uh, I started in as a coach and they asked me if I would like to take an administrative position which I wasn't prepared for, and I said, I said "sure." So, the superintendent wasn't trying to get rid of me, he was just trying to help me, so from that county, he just called a friend in Carroll County and I just moved up to that school and took my first school. That way I got to coach and be principal too, so I enjoyed that.
Q: Can you describe your personal philosophy of education and how did it evolve over the years?
A: That, that could take a hundred different directions, you know, that's a real tall order. I guess, my philosophy of education is, from an administrator's standpoint, is... there's probably two basic philosophies about administration, how you're going to administer to people and to a school when you administer to a school, you're administering to people uh, one is that that I detest is that "You work for me and you're going to do things the way that I want them done." That's one philosophy and it permeates the whole structure at the higher levels of education and at the superintendent level and drifts right on down to the lower levels. Now that kind of philosophy is a dangerous thing for public education as far as I'm concerned. We still have administrators that strictly, that's the only way they can administer. And it's, to me it stifles creativity. It stops people from feeling good about themselves, about what they're doing. It makes a job out of teaching instead of a profession, and I certainly don't hold to that philosophy. My philosophy of education would be one that: We have an opportunity to work with children here and help them. Now, you're a professional trained teacher and I expect this out of you. And this is what you can do to bring out the best part of your talents so that you can do the job better and I hope, never in an oppressive way, one: that we get together on ideas and share ideas and help each other to try to bring something to the classroom. Uh, and in bringing something to the classroom, boy, that's a whole new ball game. And I think probably caused a lot of failures when you get right down to this, I'm going to throw out a few things of my feelings. One is that public education probably failed most in the area of not teaching reading. They never really and to this day have not decided on how to teach reading! They're still fussing over it. They're bouncing it around, and back and forth. Administrators, superintendents feels like it's all right to load the numbers down at the first grade and the kindergarten level. We had...I started in before they had the kindergarten level, and now they have the kindergarten level. When they first start reading, if they'd leave only about 15 or so students in the classroom and let that teacher do reading properly, they wouldn't make cripples out of them. Now let me give you an example of that. I had two teachers in one school. One teacher taught reading differently than another and the kids, by the time they reached the fourth grade, every teacher knew what reading teacher those kids had back early. "Oh, you had so-and-so for reading?" "Yes, I had so-and-so." They were either crippled by the teacher who didn't know how to teach reading, or they were fast and ready to go, really good students by that time. So we've got to quit crippling children at the kindergarten and first grade --particularly in the area of reading. Really, when you get on through it, it's crippled them in the eighth grade. You find out about it in the eighth grade when it comes to math problems that require reading. They can do the computation skills, I mean, the 2 + 2 = 4, but you give them a reading problem, like the train was going so fast and it had met another train that was coming back from a different direction they lose all focus and reading is the problem. It's not the math computation, it's the reading skills. So, I believe that in the philosophy of education, we need to take a whole look at what those first three grades are supposed to do and what we're trying to accomplish there. It's the biggest weakness other than, good lord, we kill them again when we come to the sixth, seventh and eighth grade. We've never figured out what to do with those kids. They don't know, they don't know what they're doing. It's uh, it's uh, a conglomeration of just about any program anybody wants to try at that level, and it's... oh, it's horrible sometimes what .. where the continuity's broken up...some kids that need it, they've used them for remedial, had every kind of program at the eighth sixth, seventh and eighth grade that you can name and so that's another very, very definite weakness in the public schools. They're going to have to decide on that too, in my opnion. And I still don't think it's like reading I still don't think they've solved that particular problem. And I can see why. I want to throw a slur here at the administrators because of their background, because ... well, if you're going to be a good administrator or superintendent in the public schools, first you're going to have to be able to find some money somewhere. And if you can't find the money, then you're considered by the school board and the supervisors maybe as not a very good superintendent. Too many superintendents came up as coaches, as principals, had very little touch.. they didn't eve... had very little to do with the elementary program at all. I believe if you asked superintendents about the elementary program, many of them couldn't even tell you the books that are in it. The things that they're doing and what their goals are, most superintendents will turn that over to a director of instruction or some other thing to look at. And their background will not have been at the elementary level at all. As a consequence of that, as a consequence, we're really hurting for administrators who really understand what should be taught at those levels. And, uh, I feel that's another big, big weakness of the public schools, is the administration is not very well-versed in the key places in education that need to be touched on.
Q: What techniques did you use to create a successful climate for leaning?
A: Well, that's a good one. We could talk about that one for years, I guess. It's all people. It's people and how you deal with them and whether you like them, and .. if you like kids you're going to be fine, cause eventually it'll creep its way into the programs and everything that you try to do. If you try to create an atmosphere for learning, you have to create, first you have to create a peaceful atmosphere. I care for you and I see what your purposes are and I'm trying to help you attain those goals," type of attitude. You have try and get that through to the teachers and to the students themselves. So that is to me is the number one thing is to create an atmosphere, a climate where a child wants to come to school, wants to feel safe in that school. He uh likes his teacher. He respects his teacher. Uh, the teacher is there to help that child bring out the very best in him, and uh, they're all working together co-operatively to attain this particular goal. The other part it is trying to find out what the devil we're trying to teach. And that's a hard one. And I think that Virginia came along pretty good with our standards of quality and the things that we did if they did nothing else, they finally focused and said, "Look, here's some areas that you must touch on. This is required. And it led teachers --if you had (and you do, have weak teachers throughout the whole system that sometime , are lost as to what they're supposed to be doing. They're at that school and they're not even sure why they're there. Uh, and that's a shame in a way, but they can be... if they have, uh, clear defined goals lined out for them, sometimes it helps the teacher that's weak and they get after those. So the standards of quality becomes important that you try to get at least those levels of learning across. I think they're set mighty, mighty low, because the type of education system we have in this country. If they were in Japan, they'd put them here, here and everywhere. They'd put them at levels that the teacher would say, "Hey, I've got this level. I've got to challenge these students, make them do tougher work." So they can run about any type of program they want to. We're, unfortunately, limited in what, how we can do that. And it creates a lot of problems when you've got a brilliant student up here and you've got a student that you can just barely get by. He's not doing too good. He's got that bad reading teacher who gave him a bad start. And he's just struggling. And where he's remedial, this one needs to fly through the course because we're not challenging him enough and then they throw the whole thing together, the integration of special education into those programs... I feel sorry for the teacher many times. So there's been another battle between special education, teaching special education and where it belongs. We're losing... and it's a battle. I feel sorry for the poor teachers who are trying to bring all these levels of learning, in that particular classroom, up to where they're supposed to be. And uh some never do. We've got a system in this country of just working kids on up and keep working with them and some go out as skillful readers, still not doing what they should be doing at the high school level, but they graduate them so they can get a job. I know a principal in particular, and I won't mention any names, and it's... but they have a big plant in their area, and the requirement for that plant is that the student have a high school diploma at least, before they'll even consider him and go in. They come out of those schools with a diploma whether they can function properly or not. And he was probably one of the best black principals in Virginia, and he saw that as part of his role, to make sure that those kids got at least a diploma. Now the level of the diploma in every school in the state of Virginia is so much different for different reasons and we got that to fight with, but I think probably the hardest thing to do is to work with all these different facets and a curriculum where you say this is what you have to learn, this is what you're going to be teaching. Principals struggle with that all the time because there's so many different levels of what they're trying to do. There's so many different groups of people that they're trying to satisfy. When I first started into the industry as a principal I remember the teachers', the parents' concern for the children. At that time, basically, it was "Look, you do the best you can with them. I'll help you in any way I can." It was a very cooperative type of thing. Parents have become more sophisticated than they were in those days. Now they know a lot about teaching too, and they feel like they could do about as good a job as some of the teachers do. So everything the teacher sets out to do is sometimes questioned by parents. So it's harder to deal, as an administrator, it's harder to deal with today's parents than it would be in those days ago when we had a little bit more leeway. We also were given that leeway in terms of discipline. "Well, help me with it. You may even paddle; you may even do what you want to, to my child, as long as, as long as you'll help him. We trust you. Go ahead and do it." And I've had teachers beg me, I mean parents, beg me to "Paddle him, to get it over with so we can get on with it, instead of sending him home so I have to look after him for three days or a week or something." So, they'll ask you to do that, some will. And that's what I'd do. When they get him home, that's usually what they do, they'll paddy-whack him. But that's not been a role of a lot of administrators, because that defies that first premise there, that you try to make a happy, safe environment for kids. When they get to where they fear you, you don't get as much done with them. And particularly at the kindergarten level. Kids come in there. They're scared to death. They are absolutely frightened. It's their first time at anything new and they're scared. And if you get them afraid, then you've really got, you've really got your work cut out for you. So you've got to, you've got to think about that. I don't know where we are now. (laughter) I've rambled on here.
Q: Well, we're... let's start with the parents, with the home school issue and parental involvement. Can you give your views on the issue, and how you interacted with parents and citizens who were important to the well being of the school?
A: We're back to that thing about teachers, you know. At one time, home school wasn't as big as it is now, because most people felt like it was the school's role to teach and theirs was to send the children in and to help the school do a better job. Now because parents have gotten more sophisticated and many of them have education themselves, they feel like, "Hey, I'll just bring them away from that school because they're into trouble all the time, or there's race problems, or there's religious problems and they don't... they have to listen to all that nasty stuff on the bus and all that. So what we'll do, I'll just bring them back home and teach them myself. I'm very capable. And some of them are. They have very good, very good educational backgrounds and they have uh skills. And they'd probably do a good job, but the problem, as I see it, with the home-bound student uh, it does solve one problem; it lets the kids move as fast as they're capable of moving. It lets them... I mean, they can expand a whole lot of things that the public school can't expand for them, but those home-bound students have two big, major problems. One, the teachers of home-bound students are not sure exactly where they're supposed to be and what kind of work they're supposed to be doing in these various areas. So there's a lot that are... there's a lot... I've had them that came back out of the home-bound program, back into the public school and had gaps in there. You could find the gaps in their learning. Now that was because they have no administrator to kind of tell the home bound teacher what she's supposed to be teaching. And so her work was spotty and it got to where it didn't cover all the areas. There was that weakness. But the basic weakness in this big battle between home and, between home and public school si the "Do I want my child to miss life by not being in the public school?" They miss so much and nobody'll be able to evaluate the loss of social functions that the children have by staying at home and then going into the public schools. Because there in the public schools they're going to get a taste of life that is there for all people, every day. If they stay at home they're sheltered, put back aside somewhere and they don't get to participate in life at all hardly. And those that parents that believe in public, er, private schools or home schools, that goes all the way through. They don't... they want to shelter them at that. They want to shelter them, so they very seldom get, as I see it, enough social life that they desperately need, and even more so as they come into the teenage years, when they really need some social activities. I'll tell you, if I was a home teacher, I'd make darn sure I'd study the school program before I got into it because there's so much that they're missing. And I believe that there's so much that they could gain if they'll do it properly, because like I said before, holding that student back who's ready to move away beyond and expand, that could be a bad thing. We need to do it at the high school level and they'd be ready for college. The way it is now, we've got high school students taking college courses now. We're beginning to see, we're beginning to see, that yes, we can allow them that. We can allow them that, so we let them take college courses. Now that's the way it should be in elementary education. Some kids taking high school math instead of the stuff we teach.
Q: Was your parental involvement...did you have a lot of parental involvement?
A: Yes. I tried to encourage it, tried to encourage parental involvement, because... why? What's the difference? We're all in that thing together. I mean , it's something that we're all striving to do. If the parent will fulfill their role, it will help the school tremendously. They need, they need the help of the parent. As a consequence, we encouraged aides in the school, parental aides to come in and help. For a lot, for a lot of programs anyhow they chaperoned and did a lot of stuff for us and it was very helpful. In the classroom they could save a teacher hours of work if they just help out a little bit. That's another problem, too. They need more aides, hired aides, at the elementary schools. They need them particularly at K, 1, 2 and 3, uh, to free up the teachers for other things.
Q: Um, we were talking about special education. You know, more programs for special groups of children have been developed, such as LD, non-speakers of English... Discuss your experience with special student services and your view on today's trends?
A: Oh, touchy, touchy. Because what we're doing...what we have here is places like Florida, and places like California and some parts of Arizona, and where people slip into the country illegally, they've gotten all those big battles whether they should even belong in the public education, or whether they should pay their tuition, whether they should allow they should allow them to go, since they're illegal immigrants. So, most principals, no not most, that's the wrong statement. I've got to be careful how I say this. The principals that has the foreign students that come in the Tech has a tremendous number of exchange students and foreign students. They have kids and they come as family and even after they're here for a while, they'll write home for the rest of them to come. And it becomes an entrance place for them. Colleges have become an entrance place for children and for people from all over the world. And so we have a diversified job there, in trying to meet all the needs of those kids. I had a teacher that tried to... she was a pretty good teacher and sometime a principal will say "Well I won't put that individual as the best teacher I ever had," once again putting the burden on someone who's already on the ropes. So her purpose... we had to ... there were little Chinese girls and she was going to teach them to...you know, they had no knowledge of English at all when she got them. She did a good job with them and they were brilliant little kids and they got along real good and so she did a good job with them, but at most it was a make-shift kind of program. I don't think any principal really knew how to go about this, and I think we've got problems with that even today, in all schools, particularly in Florida and particularly in California where they're not sure whether they should offer the program to start with, number one. Number two, they're not sure that they know what they're teaching which is real bad. And uh they just overloaded anyhow, so they can't always do these things right and the way they want to. So, it's a real tough, real tough problem. I don't know the answers to that. They're going to be trying to solve those for a long time down the road. But I guess it goes back to the original classroom teacher and her philosophy and her need to see what those children need. And if she's a professional teacher, she'll do the best that she can with them. And if she's a good teacher she'll probably teach those kids and they'll learn faster than every other child. But she'll have to take it away from a lot of other kids to do it. And that means time away from other kids, so it poses a real political issue for this country as to whether we want to go through all that or not. And that's why they're closing down the borders and they're trying to do all these other things to try and keep these people from sneaking into the country. Because it is swamping their educational program which is already overworked. And we can't put them down in there. We can't group them according to their abilities and all that. That's not part of the public education philosophy. So we don't do that. So it makes a real, real problem. I don't know whether I answered your question on that or not.
Q: Yes, that was fine. Have you had special ed in your classes and how do you feel about it?
A: Yes, yes I have. I think, I think that our school finally became the place where they sent special ed kids. (Laughter) We had, oh my gosh, we had every type of child in the special ed. We had a boy I still remember...this, this one was wrong with teaching special ed in with other teachers. I had a teacher that was probably one of the best in this area as far as working with special ed Gail Montouri, I don't know, maybe I shouldn't mention names, but Gail Montouri it's it's a good thing, I'll say this about her. She was outstanding at working with special ed children in this area. Um, Poor Gail, she'd work with those kids. I remember one boy in particular, had every fear and frustration you could ever have. "No, I'm not going to touch you and I'm not going to do this..." Walking down a little bank we had a little bank right beside our classrooms and he had to go down that each day and he'd never go down that bank but she'd have to escort him walking all the way down the sidewalk to a place where we had a ramp set up so he could go down and all he had to do was take two steps and he's down. She came in one morning at a teacher meeting. We had teacher meeting and she said "Oh man, Rick went down the bank!" and everybody got all excited, you know, all excited about Rick going down the bank. And one teacher; "So, big deal, Rick went down the bank, so, so what?" you know. But Gail had been working with that for so long, just to gain that, one little bit of help for a child and the other teachers saw it and some did not see it. And, of course, too with special education, everybody's got one or two students in their classes that belong in special ed. "There's no way this child belongs with me. He belongs in special ed!" So we're always trying to have a bunch of extra ones in special ed. Uh, it's a tremendous job. It's a sad job. A teacher that has special ed needs relief from that particular goal from time to time. You can't just have a teacher who can do it constantly, unless she's about as thick-skinned as Gail Montouri was. She was, I don't know, somehow managed to keep her feelings above, above a lot of things. I couldn't do it a lot of times with those kids because you just, you gotta feel for them. You just... so she did. She knew how to handle that. She.. She could handle it. But I've had teachers come in: "Oh, I'm going to be a special ed teacher." And they were going to do it and they did it for a while and they were a nervous wreck and they were, couldn't wait 'til they got out and into regular teaching. It was too tough, just too tough. Um, I'm not so sure how much we help special ed students, I'm just not sure about that. Getting them on class level? Never. Never going to be. There's some that's so bad that you'll never get them up to class level. Graduate them? What? How? To where? To what? There's just always that with special ed kids. You just never knew how you stood with it. Now you talk about a principal's trying to find a curriculum for special ed! That'll drive a principal up a wall trying to find a curriculum for special ed, because the diversity there is a hundred times greater than any other part of the classroom. It's one-on-one. It's an individual-type thing that that teacher has to do. She'll have a child working here and maybe just trying to say a word, spend years trying to get him to say certain words. She'll have another one over here that maybe can do a little bit of math, you know, just a little bit, if they're lucky. And so there's so many different levels. To administer the special ed program is an administrator's nightmare. That's all it is. And I rarely did, because I wasn't all that adept at it. But I felt like I was always weak and I didn't know how to explain this to the parent, you know. You can't say to a parent that "Your child's done all they can do right now. They're doing about all they can do." Some of them had reached... well, see, in public education we never want to say that that's as far as you can go, but some of them had reached their potential and we didn't even think they could get that far to start with. But, uh, you can't say to a parent that "Your child can't have this program." It seemed like a lot of parents wanted to put them in this program and that program that they couldn't handle. And you knew they couldn't handle it, but you didn't want to say to them they couldn't handle it. It was a touchy administrative thing and the most sensitive parents of all are the special ed parents. They're very sensitive about their children, and there always seems to be.. It seems to me they're on the lookout for someone who's going to say something bad about them and they sit there and it's tough. I've dealt with most kids, but there's not that much of a program for some of them that you could offer. The frustrations and the fears their handicaps and all. Now, I had a chance at .. I was in Craig County and they had the crippled children's games there... I wasn't employed through one month in the summer months, so they wanted me to run the camp part of it the Easter seals crippled children's games. All the different levels of frustrations came through. Um, I was ...I did the waterfront, basically, for them and, oh I'm telling you, trying to teach kids to swim that have handicaps is a real problem. It's just, it's just a tough, tough thing to do and see that they have enjoyed camp and all that. So I had a little extra special work myself as a teacher of special ed and it's frustrating. Its' a tough thing to do. And that's another thing that the parents and the public schools have never agreed on is what we need to do with the special ed child. It isn't easy. Nobody knows. Some parents want them into the regular classroom. Some of them want them to be just...uh, to school just like everyone else, and then some parents want to keep them in a home, but they want them to learn and they're not sure how to do, what to do, how to do that. Uh, I imagine there's probably more home education in special ed than there is in a lot of other places because a lot of parents still, they're still a little embarrassed by some of the cases that the children have...I don't say they're embarrassed to be with them. That's not the case. But it is frustrating if working with a child who is totally handicapped and you get them in all stages, some even in wheelchairs. We've had them in wheelchairs and all kinds of different ones in special ed. I feel that that's a big weakness. There's not enough training that's going to make a principal a good administrator to the, to the special ed program. I don't know what training you give them. It's so unique and so tough to deal with. I had no training in that much.. That's another place, I mean they've.. And each parent's begging us to put them in the regular classroom, you know, go into the regular classroom and that's almost a one on-one situation with a teacher with 27 other students and what a heck of a mess it makes for everybody.
Q: Now the new word is "inclusion" and Montgomery County Schools uses that...
A: Yep, that's part of it, and I guess I'm not sure how I feel about that. I think we go back to talking about the social aspects of this program and what they need. I can see where those kids need to be in the regular classroom so they can have social contacts and all that. As far as having educational contacts they're going to be weaknesses. And boy, you can really cripple them even more if they lose... get the idea that they can't learn. So you've got to watch that constantly. That's a tough, tough, question. I wish, I wish I had an answer for that. I don't have an answer for that, really, to tell you, and they'll be struggling with that one for years and years to come. And public education is not going to answer it any time soon.
Q: OK, please discuss your approach to leadership and describe techniques which worked for you?
A: Well, I hit on it a little bit earlier in a statement or two. Leadership to me is uh is just getting people to work together in a good way, in a friendly way and in a happy way. And if you can do that then you're going to have success in some of your programs, most of your programs. Unfortunately, you've got administrators and you've got, you've got higher officials like superintendents...let's say you've got superintendents and central office staff that expect you to do certain things while you're trying to do that and sometimes it's an interference because they don't give the freedom to really work with the programs and parents like you should. They have their ideas of what education should be and this is the way you're going to do it. And most superintendents and quite a few of them are very demanding and "This is what you're going to do and you're going to do it today and this is the way you're going to do it." We have.. you pick up the paper, I guess the superintendent's role is about a 2-year tenure at best for modern conditions. The average tenure for superintendents is about 2 years. And they go and they find another place. So they got to get their...they've got to get things done in a hurry. So they don't look at a program. If they don't like it, they'll slash it or cut it and you're constantly trying to satisfy central office or personnel. I remember a time when the principal was the sole authority in the school. He was it. He was the man. He ran the school. He decided what was taught. He had his teachers. He had a chance to select his teachers. He interviewed for them and could pick them, do a lot of things. Most of those roles have been taken away from a principal. He takes what central office sends to him. And then the principal.... I'm going to get some of these frustrations out! The principal is constantly trying to send memos, send in little studies and little things that the central office needs. All the time he's doing this he's into this paperwork so deep that he can't administer to his school and to his programs. He can have some great ideas on what should be taught and how to do it and have the teachers to do it, but if he gets tied down and bogged down with all this administrative red tape and fiddle-de-dee then he can't even do his job. So, as a consequence, that kind of holds him back. Um, so, the public school is evolving now to more and more directed from the central office and less and less from the principal in the school. The principal is becoming in a way, was becoming while I was still... you're sort of a middle-man role and I don't know that that's too good. If you're a principal and been trained for curriculum development and these things, then you should be allowed to do that. Um, if you're going to be allowed to be a secretary and administer to a lot of other stuff, then that's different Um, Another big hangup I've got with central office is that the superintendent was hired mostly on being able to get his money, get money for the school system by various studies and um, you know about money, so he always has to be looking to that. Most of the time he becomes a financial wizard instead of a curriculum developer, and he becomes a, he sometimes becomes a tyrant to get all of these things done. He has good theory to administer to and all, that... Some administrators, and I don't want to put all central superintendents in this category, because I wanted to be one myself, but many of them are good guys too, you know, and they grew up with the community and with a small community, it's very political. You could be a superintendent in a small community and have politics going everywhere, you know what I mean ? It's all politics. And even today we're getting to elect a superintendent. Uh, those kind of problems, it's too much. I'm glad I didn't become a superintendent after all, because it's.. that's a tough life. It's a tough life.
Q: Could you discuss you involvement and participation in any civic groups and other community participation?
A: Yes. When you're a principal of a school, you're expected to be all things to all people and particularly your first number one goal is to take leadership in your community activities. I was a... I was a Sunday school teacher in my church. I was expected to do that; it was part of your role. You, uh , the Lions' Club and all these other activities, you were expected to do that and you were supposed to take a leadership role, which is wrong. It's dead wrong! Let me tell you why. People wait... people grow up in that community and wait for a long time to be the... I mean, for some members it's an important thing to be the president of the Lions' Club or whatever they have, the Kiwanis Clubs, different things. For them, to hold office in that is a great deal of pride for them. And here the principals come in and, oh, they're elected to this and elected to that, and knock those people out of being almost anything, you know, and it's not fair. But they're expected to take those kinds of roles. When I,.before, when I retired, I said, "I not going to do another thing. That's it, right there!" (Laughter) I've done it all my life, and you find yourself, too, you're out day and night for other activities and all that, and that cuts in on the time you have for your curriculum and other work and then a high school principal would never, he never you got ball games, you got... I figured out one time I had 180 teaching days and 90 teaching nights, for all the activities that I had to attend and all, I was out 90 nights out of that 180 school days. I had 180 teaching days and 190 [sic] nights' work, yep, as a high school principal. And that's too much. Then you go out and you have to do your civic activities, too, which is I think is robbing the locals people of their right to hold those offices. I don't think it's good. But you do it because it's expected of you and it's part of your job. They want you mostly because you've had some public speaking experience and they don't want... they don't want to do that. (Laughter) They'd like to have the name, but they don't want the making the speech part.
Q: There are those who argue that standardized testing can provide a way to improve student instruction. Can you discuss your experience with such testing and your view on its effect on the quality of the instructional program?
A: Boy... (pause) I'm just trying to think of all of the testing that we did through the schools. I guess testing for the standards involved at the elementary level was very good. I thought that was... that helped a whole lot. Um, The... some kids when they take standardized tests... just the word "test" they freeze and we don't get a good sampling of what they actually know on some tests, but basically the tests we had in the public schools I think were pretty good. You had, you had to have testing so you could see where you'd come to and what you started out to do. You set some goals for yourself. You try to measure them. That's basically what you're trying to do, um, measure how well you've reached those goals. And we never... uh, testing was very weak because we no standards to test by. "What are we testing for? Are we getting this across?" Well, if you don't lay down what you want to get across... and lack standards of quality that enabled us to do that... then you're testing becomes more meaningful. It becomes better because you know what you're testing for something, to see if you've accomplished the goals that you set out. Before, public schools had wishy-washy goals that's what they wanted to do. "Yeah, I want to educate your child." Very broad spectrum goals. But now, they uh they've got very definite things that they've got to teach so testing becomes more meaningful, and I think very helpful if it's done properly. It should be done to cover certain very basic periods of education, like primary grades and then what have they learned through the eighth grade testing program and then your senior programs. I think it's important. If we didn't do then colleges would get after us because they have to know whether they've reached their college standards or not. They do that. Their admission standards are a lot on what kind of test scores they had and time in school, teaching and so forth.
Q: Um, could you describe some of the pressures you faced on a daily basis and explain how you coped with them? Or describe your biggest job?
A: Well, the job begins real early because you get there before the buses come. You know, speaking of buses, as far as education is concerned, I think there is one area which is probably the most vital part of education and that's the discipline program which you have, and when you speak of buses, ] when you speak of parental visits, when you speak of parents picking kids up after school, when you speak of parents in the school as aides, there's an area of discipline that creates more problems than any other area and I think it has to do with, I call it "an area of no control." Nobody's in charge. All at once, here's the bus driver, you're turning him over to the bus driver, and while you're doing that, is it the bus driver's role or is it the teacher's to supervise the bus duty? Whose role is it? And kids sense, boy they have a tremendous sense of when there's an area of no control. Like, a parent comes to school to pick them up and they're standing there talking to the teacher.. the teacher hates to correct the child in front of the parent, and the parent won't take them so there's an area.. And they go a little bonkers in there. They, somehow or another and I one myself, a child and I found these areas of no control and I made them pay dearly. (Laughter) and a lot of kids do. So discipline comes right up with that. Now what was the question again? Would you go over that last one?
Q: Would you describe some of the pressures you faced on a daily basis and explain...
A: Well, I.. basically the pressures that you have has to do with central office and what their demands are, and uh parent confrontations. You're going to have them. I don't care how great an administrator you think you are, you're going to have plenty of parent problems. And it has to do with the child and the correction thereof and how you're going to handle things. Those are the most frustrating things for a principal, is you've corrected the child or he has to be corrected and the parent thinks it's unjust and unfair. You go through long hours of explaining that, so a lot of your time is spent keeping the peace, as sort of a peace officer between the teacher and the parent and the child that you know ... if you keep records of him in discipline which I did you'll find that he's been in here two, three or four, five, six times. You keep records of all that and you can pretty much see whether... one parent says, "well that teacher just don't like him." Well, that child has been in trouble with this other teacher, and that teacher and bus duty and other places and on the bus driving on the way home... pretty soon you really find out who the trouble makers are and then you have conferences with the parents and those are the most critical ones because if a child's that far out of line, then that parent's letting them be out of line and uh, their child can never do wrong, I mean, no that's not my child. So you've got to, you've got to work with those people in ways, let them know that the home and the school is together on this things. And if that child sees that the home and the school is not together on it, boy, they can create a whole bunch of problems very quick. So, some of the toughest kids that have discipline problems will try to convince the parent that the school mistreats them. Oh, I've had, I've had it, they got a warrant for me on that, said I was mistreating this one child (laughter). I hadn't done a thing to him (laughter). I hadn't done a thing to him! So they got a warrant and the superintendent at that time called to let me know that they found out that the boy was just telling a lie about it, you know to parents, so the parents withdrew the suit. I mean you get all kinds of things happening to you when you're an administrator. So, always with the public you're going to have problems. An administrator's got to solve those problems, work with them, work with the public as best you can and the best way to try to do that, I think, is not to .... if you don't watch out, sometimes you'll get so mad you'll want to quit the job, but you don't. You never do that, right (laughter). "Hey, he's a rascal, he's a real terror, a holy terror, and why can't you see it?" You'd just like to say that to parents. "Why can't you see it? I know you see it at home. We're seeing it at school." But you don't say that of course, and if you get a little bit over, boy, they'll take you to task for it. You've got to watch it constantly when you're working with people. But I think, if you can't stand that then you need to get away from that. You need to get into some other job than do that. So I think a whole lot is on the level of frustration that an administrator has. He needs tough skin, if he can handle it then that's fine. If he loses his cool, he isn't going to last long anyhow, so he's out and gone. But, uh, discipline... What do you all...
Q: I have one more... What are three areas of administration, curriculum or overall operations in the school that you would change?
Q: um-hmm sorry to pick three, but...
A: I've thought about it. I mean, I've been thinking a little bit about it. One, one area that I would change would be, first, how we teach reading. That would be my number one thing. Because I think that in reading we've.. We've probably crippled more people in reading than we have in any other area, so how to administer the K through three program. They need to give that some serious thought. The reason they do is because the administrant, er, administrator sits up there and he is secondary-oriented. He's always secondary-oriented. He has to be almost by his very nature. You don't think about the K, 1,2,3 program. He's thinking about the seniors that graduate. He's got to think about.. He's got very little background...I'll bet if you checked into it, really checked into it, you'd find out that superintendents have had very little K through 3 experience at all. And none of their college work prepared them for that. So that's a program that really needs to be focused on. Your second area is, I think your second area is you 6,7 and 8 programs still. It's a hodge-podge of things. They still haven't really fully reached that level where they should be. They haven't and that's another program. And I think that uh the other area is that we never really challenged the bright student the one that can move on. He's got to stay within the bounds of your programs. If he don't, you get a little mad at him sometimes. That's not fair. Uh we're going to have really explore the public school's ability to move a child through a program that's ready for a different one at a higher level. If he's ready for a higher program we've got to constantly study ways of moving him. We've got some programs now ... the governor's school and a few gifted programs around that help out . And they're very good, they do a good job. And uh, but we need to do it on a day-to-day basis find some way for him to have a quicker progression through it. If he's twelve when he hits college, so he's twelve when he hits college, you know what I mean? And usually if he's that smart, he can handle it. Kids come in at the second and third and already they can do all kinds of good work. But we have to hold them. There has to be some real study done on how to advance the gifted child through the public school what to teach him, how to teach him. That's another area that I think... you're asking me the areas which had the most influence on public education? I'd say the Morrill Act is number one. Right now we're reaping the benefits in this country of the Morrill Act of the land grant schools. Tech's a good example. It's still throughout the state of Virginia, helping farmers, people that's got programs that want their... there's no end to it. And then the other part of it is the government's involvement, particularly financial involvement, in public education. They're getting to be... for a while they thought they needed to help more... now they're beginning to back off because they're trying to get this deficit down .. so they're backing off a little bit. Still, they've been the biggest help to schools, the money that, that the government gives, the government gives to the schools. I did a study in college for the Ford foundation that had to do with what is the number one, what is the number one thing that affects public education in the community? And we studied and studied on it and went all over the state of Oklahoma. And we even went out to the, met with the Congress there and talked to them about it. The number one, we came down to this, the number one thing that affects public education more than any other is the local county tax assessor the local county tax assessor. He has the .. he's where the money is. And how he assesses his taxes and how we get it and how much we get all depends on him. So that's what the whole thing kind of boiled down to. And, uh, the superintendent has to know all the government programs and how he can get the money from that and he needs to know how to satisfy the state to get the money from the state and so it comes down to being a lot of the time to time to money, so that's a big factor, how much we have of it. I know we have poor school districts out there that don't have enough money. Their local assessments for property is very low and the state don't, the state don't help them that much, because they can't get their assessments up, so it's a real problem money. And it will always be. There's never enough of it. So...
Q: It has been said that good leaders encourage their subordinates and peers by staging celebrations of their successes, no matter how small or insignificant. To what extent did you engage in this practice during your tenure as principal and to what extent did it improve morale and organizational effectiveness?
A: Well, if you believe in the philosophy of "This is our program and we're going to work it up," and if you really, truly believe in that, then you're never really taking full credit for any of that stuff. You share it with your fellow teachers and so, if you really feel that way, then you're not looking for the limelight or anything, you're just, uh working with your teachers and you're giving them the credit for it and they deserve the credit for it because they were instrumental in the program going good for you. No, I don't think you can take too much of the credit. I mean you don't want to.. you don't want to pick up all the credit for things like this. It's not .. if you're that type of a person then you're going to be one to move on and you're wanting to do something different and it leads to a different type of leadership. I don't agree with that. I just feel that if you like people, then you let them share in the successes as well as the ... they're there for you, too, when you're down, and they'll pick you up when they're down [sic] if you're there for them when you do something great, if you give them their proper credit and that's what you're going to do. So, there's two ways of looking at it. That person who takes all the credit, he's going to find out that when he fails, he's going to have to take that also. So,. I believe in sharing the successes, if that answers your question.
Q: Some writers recommend that principals adjust their leadership styles to meet the individual needs of their staff. How do you feel about that idea and to what extent did you practice individualized leadership?
A: I'm not sure I got your question. Would you go through that one more time just to make sure that I get it?
Q: Some writers recommend that principals adjust their leadership styles to meet the individual needs of their staff. How do you feel about that idea and to what extent did you practice individualized leadership?
A: You have to practice individualized leadership to a certain extent because you've got teachers that... you've got some teachers that are not, that are just not doing an adequate job in the classroom. Let's face it, so you've got to address them. Um, but for that to be a way of life for you, no! If you're going to take that as a way of life and then one teacher leads you off to believe that you've got to treat everyone like you treat her, that's wrong. Um, you try to treat them all exactly alike. You've also got to realize that if you're truly going to have a successful program then that teacher's got to function at a higher level. And you've got to deal with that a little bit different than you would some of the problems that you have. However, even that... now I had a teacher in a small community that I knew could not do the job. Parents daily come, "I want my child out." Here you got, you've assigned maybe 20 students to that particular teacher, 15 parents want them out and you've got a real nasty, sticky wicket to deal with. Most teachers that work with you realize that that teacher's that way. They see that. And they see that you're not stepping too far out of character to treat her a little bit different than you're treating them. Most of them see that and say, "Well, he's got to do that." So you don't lose them. But if you begin to come back on them just like you did on that teacher and that becomes a leadership uh sort of a leadership way you do things, then you're in trouble. You've really got some trouble. It goes back to what I said before about the two types of leadership: You're either working for me or you're working, you know, you're either working for me or we're working together in this and, uh most teachers if you're working together, if you've been doing it for a long time, they see that and they see that you've got to put on a little bit different hat for this one person. Most of the time they're, heck, they're a year before you anyhow. They've seen that a year before you'll even see it. Most teachers will see it before the administrator will see it. "Won't you do something about that?" And they'll, you know, "Well, you need to..." and they'll start telling you what you need to do and then you know that you come back with them you're not exactly going to be far off. So you kind of try to adjust that, but if it becomes a daily way you treat all teachers, then you're in deep trouble. And so you don't want to creep over, and get too much of that. No, I think that the leadership role you use is you're working with people to bring this thing together. You've sent, you're sent the role [sic] Now I had two professors, one taught just the opposite from the other and he said that his job was to see that the teachers performed and he was going to get performance out of them no matter what. And the other one said, "Well, I want that teacher to perform, but I want her to understand me and work with me on this thing." And I met them both in the hall one day and I told them, and I said, I think Lang said, "Yes, are you learning anything?" (Laughter) and that was their idea. And some whole colleges have that philosophy. One...the University of Virginia's philosophy, the administrator there, was that "Hey you work with people," and you kind of fell in with the crowd and be a part of it and invite them in to help you share the problems and work them out together. If you're a good administrator, probably lose yourself in the whole role, if you become a teacher or some other lesser individual, but you'll get the job done. And, so there's kinda, two kinds of philosophies and sometimes even colleges have that, without knowing they kind of slip into those philosophies. Uh, I think the teacher training colleges, uh, as opposed to Tech --it's not particularly noted for it, teacher training might have different philosophies on how to teach things. Now Radford is a teacher training institution and they know very definitely what they want their people to be doing and I think, sometime, I think some schools don't do as well. I think Virginia does a good job. I think Radford does a good job. I don't know about Tech, so I'm not going to say that much. I've been over there but, uh ... I've met a lot of administrative principals and administrators who came out of Tech, and uh, you kind of work for them. I don't know if you get that gist or not, but you kind of work for those guys, you're not exactly on a... "We're going to work with them, but I'm in charge and when I jump.. say jump you jump, and I don't want to hear you say anything except how high." So, it's a different philosophy. It's just a different philosophy. And if it don't fit... if it don't ... You know, I've seen some poor administrators that weren't sure about either one. They used a little bit of both and I guess everybody does. Teach a room that's what happens, use a little bit of everything. But, uh the philosophy is, either you like people, if you like people, then you don't try to hurt them. You find ways not to hurt them. You go out of your way to find ways not to hurt a teacher who's not doing a good job. You try to ease the situation. The same way with parents that's got a problem with their child. You try not to hurt them. So you become that kind of administrator. If you don't, I don't think you can survive. I really don't think you can survive. I had an administrator here, he came to...no, I'm not going to get into that, but I had in one community, I had an administrator he came in, he was going to change the whole pattern of everything and he was one of those "You work for me," types. "You're going to do it this way." -- had every principal just torn completely up. They'd talk about it and it finally got to where they wanted to protest to the superintendent about it because he just wouldn't let them do their jobs. And they'd ...you'd find things to irritate, to get the teachers against the principals any way he could work it, he'd work it. He had a whole bunch of people. And then, so, he was, to me, he was the worst type of administrator I've ever seen. He just... You never, you never worked with him; you never felt like you worked with him. You never felt... you felt like "Hey, I'd better get out of here, he's going to have something nasty to say." So you didn't want to be around him. He was a tyrant... that's the truth of the matter.
Q: OK, that leads me to the next question.... One model of leadership describes people as either assertive, supportive or contemplative. Would you please categorize yourself and give reasons?
A: Assertive don't go with my philosophy. It just don't fit into what I was, my role as an administrator. Assertive means that uh, "You're going to do it my and this is it. There's only one way to do this thing. Uh, you're going to fall in line with it, If you don't I'm going to throw the book at you." this kind of stuff. Assertive is too strong a word for me. I don't... I don't think that fits me. Now, the other was what?
A: Supportive, yes, because I don't care how much you force an individual to do something, they'll find ways not to do it in the private sector. And when you start telling teachers they got to do things a certain way, they'll find little ways to get around that. And they'll spend their time, start ... start spending their time trying to find ways to get around things, instead of helping you, but... Supportive is a very good word. It's a very uh... it describes for me a real good way for the administrator to have success with his staff. You support us. You support an idea, a principal does. And in order to support it you need to come out and "Let's all get in it together and work." You never have any chance for any types of any special programs in your classes or any grouping at all, unless your teachers' a hundred percent behind it. I'll tell you one thing teachers are not 100 percent behind something, you're in trouble because they can do more to destroy a program than you can to build it up. And so you need to get support. You must have support. In order to do that you treat, you treat teachers like they're human beings, like they're people and like they're professionals, like they have an education, like they're smart which they are and you treat them like that and then, then, they'll, they'll go along with you on stuff, and they'll help you with it.
Q: One more question please discuss the way in which you learned to lead; that is, what procedures or experiences you were involved in that contributed to your effectiveness, and the contribution that professional graduate education made to your progress?
A: Well, I don't think I got some of those things at Oklahoma State where I was. You get them in a graduate program. A lot of them you get in a graduate program, because you don't really get into leadership roles, um, so much into your graduate work. They're just not there. They're too busy and doing teaching you all the other stuff. But I went to University of Virginia for some graduate leadership courses and I found a man there that had this philosophy and had, he not only had it, he had brought it out in the classroom and that's the way he was. He was that type of individual. You just wanted to be in his classroom. He was good. He was friendly. He was nice. If you had a weakness somewhere, he'd find a way, a gentle way to point it out and let you come up to it and you could work it. He was an outstanding teacher. He was a good teacher, and he was...because he was a good teacher, he was a good leader. I feel like if you're a good teacher, you're a good leader, you can be a good leader, and uh, you can get people to believe in you, and that's mostly what it is. If teachers don't believe in you, you've got a real problem, doctor, and I mean, there's just no way you're going to handle it. They have got to believe in you first, and in order to do that you bring them things that make sense. You don't try every cockeyed thing that comes down the road, but you think it through and then when you bring it to them, you kind of have it in mind exactly what you want, you want to bring to them and let them buy into the program. Let them work in gradually and then when you see that they're convinced of this program, grab it and go, you know, but don't try to go without them. You're going to .. You're going to be assuming too much of a problem and I found that, that ... that I found that in the graduate program and I feel like that some schools do a better job of it than others, like I said before. Now you can just about pick them out. OK?
Q: Is there anything else you'd like to add? (Laughter) I think you've answered everything.
A: I've got so many... I've got so many, uh, grievances and stuff I guess that I never had. No, I just know that it's a tremendous task. I think that the only problem that I had with public education is that we're not really allowed to do the program the way some other countries do it that have had great success Germany and Japan and some of the other countries that can do grouping and can bring the people along. They don't think so much about the individual as they think about their capabilities and what they can do. As a result they're having great success in their schools. And most of all, shoot, we're here with, we get a little bit mad when we have to do a six hour day program and I know those people over there many time on an eight- hourly program work way after-hours. Uh, the motivations for some of those students are so high, that it would make some of our kids sick if they had to have that kind of motivation. As a matter of fact, they talk about it when they're in school "Why don't you ease up a little bit, it's all we can do!" You know. But their motivation is entirely different. They have high motivation, and um, if anything we need to start realizing that if we're going to accomplish all that we're doing we need to have more time to it. We need to start... we need to start giving that some thought and we maybe need to start studying the idea of grouping a little bit more so that we can move these particularly the gifted and some of our brighter students are really getting held back. They're not challenged in a lot of instances and I can't think of a bigger waste of money than that. If you don't challenge the bright student you've really wasted something very valuable. And we still don't do it. It's not in the make-up of the public schools. So I'm frustrated with that. But other than that, I enjoyed my years. I had a great ... I had a good run. I had a lot of fun. I still enjoy kids. We had a...a party the other night we had, four or five of the high school cheerleaders brought their friends. So we a few young people in, too, you know. So we're still around. They come around and play on my little golf course once in a while (laughter). So it's still fun. After I got out, retired, I went back as a substitutes, and I need to say a word about substitutes, because this is something which is a very important part of the program. I went back as a substitute and you go back and look at it in an entirely different light. I mean it is just fascinating. So I've substituted for a couple, three years. Every day or so I go out, go to work. I just wanted...it's hard to let go. So I wanted to let go a little bit at a time, so I went back and substituted. It's a good way to let go. Because you still get involved in the programs, and you're still around the kids. It's not just like, cut it off, let it go. So I enjoyed that part of it and I had more fun in that probably than I did, than because I knew I didn't have the pressures.. If they fire you, so what? (Laughter) so what? Well, that's..that's pretty much what I....
Q: Thank you.
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