Interview with Marvin Craighead

February 15, 2000

I am speaking with Mr. Marvin Craighead at his home in Martinsville, Virginia. Mr. Craighead is a retired principal from the Henry County schools and I am both honored and flattered that my former principal has granted me this interview. My name is Mel Martin and this is side one of the oral history of a principalship.

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Q: Mr. Craighead would you begin by telling me about your family background, your childhood interests and development.

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

A: "Mr. Martin, I'm happy to oblige you with the limited, experience that I have had over the years and I like to begin with my family. My family, my mother was a teacher of course. Her uncle was a teacher as a matter of fact her uncle organized the first black school in this community and taught for 38 years. After the time my mother grand-father built a one-room school for her to teach at Leatherwood. After teaching for something like nine years she had to sit down because of me. I was born. And she always talked about her experiences in school, attending Virginia State, Normal Institute as they call it, and the old PCI that Christian Institute in Martinsville. She did not have a degree, she had a an certificate and I managed to get hold to some her grades since I have been a teacher, and I was realy encouraged. I was born right here in Henry County in Leatherwood attended Leatherwood school grades one through seven and then went on to the old Henry County training school on Fayette Street in Martinsville, Virginia, and graduated from there. We had four years of high school at that time. After graduating from there I thought surely that perhaps I would be working in the furniture factory, but one of my dear teachers Mr. Sam Trott, came to see me on day and ask me if I wanted to go to school. And I said, well, I can't go to school my family don't have any money. 'And he said, I didn't ask you that. Do you want to go to school?' I said, If I could I would. 'Would you be willing to study in the department of agriculture in order to go to school?' ' I said, sure.' Well, he wrote a letter to somebody, I don't know it may have been the president of his almamater, Maryland State College. And it wasn't long before I had response, granted me a four year scholarship providing I study in the department of agriculture. So I attended Maryland State College on the eastern shore of Maryland and studied in the department of agriculture. Graduated in Agriculture Education. It was the second major in poultry husbandry. Thinking all the time, I would be working in that area, but as it turn out I ended up in the elementary school. Because I took the first job I could get."

Q: Tell-me a little bit about the circumstances that surround your entry into the principalship. You talked about you weren't expecting to go into that area. How did you go from studying poultry into a principalship? I mean into a real leadership position.

A: "Well, it was fairly easy for a man to get a job in elementary education at that time. Because there weren't any men in elementary. I believe about that time in the blacks school there wasn't probably about two men."

Q: Now when you said, at the time. What time were you talking about?

A: "1954, So I was able to get a job teaching in three-room elementary school. I was assigned to the upper elementary grade. Six and seventh grade and the duties of a teacher. of a teacher. That was just to prepare the reports and check the registers and things of that nature, because rooms were separated. As a matter of fact I was in the church and the other two rooms were across the highway. There were three together. I think I sort of grew into the principalship. I was just seeking employment really, but after I got into it I began to like it and I worked over three at that place, at Rockrun for two years and Mary Hunter school was built in Bassett. The principal at Irisburg School transferred to Mary Hunter, because that was his home, Mr. Harris Rockrun School and Rock Hill School was consolidated into Mary Hunter and I was transferred to Irisburg. Irisburg School was a consolidated school. They had consoldiated all the one-room school in that area into one. So, I went as principal and teacher. There I taught fourth and fifth grade all subjects and handle what called good principalship there. After being there a couple of years. Leatherwood was built. So we move to or I was ask to by the Superintendent if wanted to move down to Leatherwood with my home. And I told him yes, I would love it very much. I believe that was probably the time I met you. Somewhere around 1957 and 58 I believe it was my first year there."

Q: Now when you talk about Leatherwood that was my elementary school and I have some fond memories. I was also in the mist of Brown VS The Board of Education and the Civil Rights Movement and I can recall when the schools began to integrate, even though it was legally done in 1954. It was in the 60's before students were actually beginning to be bused and so forth and it was really enforced. I recalled when I made the transferred from elementary from Leatherwood to Figsboro which was an integrated school. I can remember the difference in terms of the facilities, in terms of the materials, and so forth. I didn't understand why. I didn't understand why it was as such a dramatic difference. I was wondering if you can go back and walk us through the halls of Leatherwood and tell us about it, the things that were unique and the things that were unusual about Leatherwood. Not only of the building itself but the people who attended, the children who attended as well as the instructors that you had working under you.

A: "Well, Leatherwood School was just a plain ten-room classroom building. We didn't have a gymnasium and we didn't have a library. The bookcase build in the end of the room housed that library books we had. Those books were selected by the Supervisor at the central administration. The classrooms they would stock with those books and that is what the teachers used in of taking the children to the library in that type of thing. I thought that that was very unique that we didn't have a library and most others, say larger, schools had a library. And we did not have a gymnasium for physical education and that type of thing. But we did have a cafeteria we call it a multiple purpose room used that for meeting and serving the food and that type of thing. And ten-room classrooms had nine teachers and I was the tenth one. I taught seventh grade at the same time. We didn't have a secretary, we had an office but we did not have a secretary. The records had to be maintained anyway. Secretary or no secretary. So I had to do that. I remember many occasions I had some of my better students to, I taught them how to file. They file some work away for me over in the office and that type of thing. Now we received children from the surrounding one room school. The one-room school at Leatherwood, the one room school at Figsboro, Flatrock rather. The two room school at Camp Branch, the one room school at Mount Valley. And all the other one-room schools in the surrounding areas were consolidated at Irisburg."

Q: You talked you mention briefly about you were doing the filing, you taking care of the secretary work, instruction and also the principalship, administrative. Tell-me a little bit about your principal meetings with your superintendent and board. How did those things take place doing that time? Doing your early year and tell-me a little bit about the impact of racism? I sure you had to deal with that at some capacity? How did you deal with that? And how because as a child I can always remember my teachers at the elementary, (Leatherwood) particular my principal at being very distinguish, very proud people and you maintained an air of dignity about yourself. And I would like to know what you had to deal with on the inside?

A: "Well, that you know it was a dual system at that time one for the Blacks and one for the White Caucasians we had separate in-service training meetings county wide. We had separate principals meetings. And in those meetings well the in-service training meetings well the in-service training meetings we dealt with the situation for blacks schools and in the principals' meeting we talked about what we were doing. This is where we received our orders. I put it that way. Very much was already cut and dried pass on down to us. All we had to do was to follow suit not speak. Now that went on from my beginning year 1954 until I guess maybe somewhere until 1970. Or it could have been a little bit earlier. And we just didn't know anything what was happening the white schools. But we always believed that they received the first quality instructional materials and we received the seconds. They had the best furniture and equipment and we received the rest. I put that way As time past on, we were able to sort of get equalized respect to the quality of the materials and equipment and quality teachers for that matter. I recall when the school, Leatherwood, was desegragated I'll put it that way. It must had been 1968, I guess it was 1968. Now at that I was given a co-principal. A co-principal in charge of instruction. And I was in charge of administration. And the way they did it. Did the grouping. We took, they gave us the seventh grade. Six and seventh grade from Leatherwood and Figsboro area. Figsboro took the other grades.That would had been grade one through five and part of the sixth grade. So we operated for any number of years like that until the study program came to be."

Q: 269 What do you consider, first of all do you consider yourself, looking back were you a good principle? Could you be a good principal under those conditions and how do you define a good principal? How would you define what it take to make a good principal today?

A: "Quite different from today than yesterday. At my beginning if you had everything clean and everybody was in placed and no complaints from the parents you were doing a good job. But in this time it is much more, we have parents more involved now than then. We have city organizations involved where we did not have it in the very beginning."

Q: 282 You talk about parents complainting when you are in a school desegrated or a segrated school how many black parents would complain?

A: "Most of that complaining would come from children failing or other children picking on their children and this type of thing. And teacher would not let the child go to the toilet when they want to. This type of thing and, well, we had to have guidelines to cover all of that. Well, partially in the primary grades the toilet was in the classroom but the other grades they had to go out on the hall to the toilet and a lot of things happen, if we didn't keep it under close scrutiny."

Q: You talk about maintaining order and keep things clean; today in our schools one of the biggest problems we have is disclipine. Kids bringing guns, fighting, cults, groups, etc. I haven't heard you mention anything about violence or about really about discipline as being a problem. Can you talk a little bit about that? How was discipline maintained and are you an advocate of corporal punishment?

A: "In the early years that was the only type of recourse we had so to speak. In other words it worked because it came out of the room school where in the teacher used the switch on the kids hand and sometime boys across the back and that type of thing and well it just filter on to the consolidated school. At one point, we had to eliminate the teachers discipline the teacher in a matter and the principal had to take care of it. But one thing I can say that I learned from the whole thing was respect the discipline. During the other years you were able to have our own situation under control when the children entered the classroom and maintain from there. Not let the children get in there first and take over and then you go and try to calm them down. No, you had to be in there and receive them in there and you had your rules. That took care of most of the discipline problems, but latter years everything changed, we did away with corporal punishment and that type of thing we had to dismiss, send them home or put in time out in an extra room or something like that. Those kind of problems changed drastically.

Q: If you had to go back and do your principalship over is there anything you would change? If so, what would it be? Either in terms of preparation or either in terms of your style of management?

A: "I believe a bit more preparation would be in order, because we went we relayed a lot on the experience we had when we were students in school. And most of the teachers, a great number of them rather, was not elementary majors. Some of them were business majors. A lot of the the teachers for the secondary schools were planned in the elementary schools. So we could draw from them that was erased and you had to be re-certified to teach in elementary school. Along with certification of methods and techniques, discipline and all this came into play which helped a whole lot."

Q: Let-me ask you a question about the ideal requirements. You talked about re-certification. Would you describe the ideal requirements for principal re-certification and how would you suggest today principals are screened for a particular district? Do you have any suggestions about what it take in screening process for a good principal.

A: "Well, I can only speak for the elementary and possibly the middle school. First of all the principal must be a good teacher. They ought to be a good instructional leader. Because I believe the in-service training program the backbone to the type of instruction that goes on in the classroom. It also lays the foundation for your monitoring of the classroom. When you go to the classroom there are certain things you are looking for. Some of the things are thing that you try to get over to the staff and instructional meetings. There some methods techniques and variety of activities and this type of thing. And principally and additionally of a teacher, well must be one or ought to be one that can be approach. A lot of times teachers have questions, but if it is a bully principal they are afraid to ask the question. Or maybe they don't want to ask the questions, because they don't want the principal to know the simply answer. Then the principal ought to be one that the community can approach. And he in turn can approach the community, because now days it all works hand-in-hand. They won't let you operate a school now just you and the faculty. They are there themselves. A lot of them offer their services as a volunteers. For some schools too many volunteers pose problems. Some schools, they don't have enough volunteers.

Q: Community involvement is very important. One of the things that as we meet in our classes that is one of the very unique features of the new principalship is that of the community. We want to tie the parents in and we want everybody become a stakeholders in our children's education. Do you see that that type of involvement is working today with children? Do see it having an impact on children and education today?

A: "Yes, most definitely. The children if they get the ideal that parents are not concern well, they are not going to perform. All kings things enter their lives when they feel like their parents are not interested. Well, in my time well we had parent teacher association. We met every month and we discussed the value of the school and that type of thing and they asked questions. And we had student night, parent night. This type of thing where as parents could come and we run through we classes at night so they can get an ideal what was going on. All this really had an tremendous effect on children. We didn't have a whole lot of community organization church was always there. We always had that, but we didn't have the Rotary and the Lion's Club and this type of things in those days. We have it now. I have been out eleven and a half years and I'm satisfied with the change that has taken place that I probably wouldn't recognize in term its so great."

Q: In term we talked about community involvement, parents involvement, teachers, again teachers of course is the backbone to the child education. And you gotta to have good teachers. Have you ever been in a situation where you had to deal with at teacher that was not appropriate for teaching. And someone prehaps you had to dismiss or prehaps direct into another direction. Have you ever had to deal with that? If so, can you tell me a little bit about it? How you go about dealing with those types of problems?

A: "Well, lets approach it from two angles. Back in the early fifties and sixties he inappropriate teachers, I'll put it that way or the lack of better term. The parents turn those teachers to the superintendent and the superintendent fired them. Then in the latter years like say the 70's and 30's and the latter 60's well, it was a different ball game. We had to monitor the classes and do written reports and actually had to well, we really was doing an evaluation of each teacher and make recommendations at the end of the year to the superintendent. In case wherein a recommendation was unfavorable for a given teacher. Then a supervisor was assigned to come out an evaluate and if the supervisor had an unfavorable recommendation well, then the superintendent would make his recommendation to the board and the teacher would be dismissed if that what it was. In case where somebody was.

Q: Mr. Craighead I would like for you to talk to me a little bit about the special education programs that existed or did not exist in your early years and also express to me your feeling about special education today?

A: "Well, from the beginning special education was unheard in our schools in the early fifities and the sixties. Those children were in the classroom just like all the other children and social promotion was the thing at that time. If the kid was good they didn't disrupt the class and the teachers figure they did about all that they could do. Well, then they were pass on, everbody was pass on. Later on, it was discovered that something should be done for children who just didn't learn. I believed that was the beginning of Special Education as far we concern. My supervisor, a Director of Special Educational was hired and they did the testing upon recommendation from the teacher and if fail a certain or below a certain range well, then you were put in a special a class and had a special education teacher. That brings to mind one situation we had. At one time we had a school within a school concert. We had a group of fourth, fifth, sixth and seventh grader in a ungraded situation within the school. And then we had our regular sixth adn seventh graders.

Q: When you say an ungraded situation what do you mean?

A: Right, then that they were not in a grade as such they were taught as individual. That with the program. From that we had the Learning Disability pulled out, the LD classes of this type of thing. And I have mix emotion about the whole thing. I believe half and half would be more appropriate.I don't believe it shouldbe completely isolated from well, society I put it. (school society) I'll go out here for special help, but then come back on certain occasion except for concept for this type of thing you know. That what I think about Special Education. I realized the teachers cannot teach all the children when she have children in the category of Special Education. In school subjects, that type of thing. You do some things on limited bases. Oh yes, a different task. But she can do a whole lot when those kids are taking out awhile and held by specialist. But yet bring them back and let them; because when they get out here in the world they are going to be together, again.

Q: That seems to be the care with most special education you don't keep them isolated. You spoke earlier about the Principal meetings and so forth, could you describe your personally relationship with your superintendent and if you could identify him and tell us how or what was his demeanor towards you not just in term of you being employee and then a principal, but as a human being and as a black man?

A: "Well, it was very much evident the principal is the superintendent agent and the way he treat his agent of course that's the kind of job he gets done. He realizes that down through the years. So, yes, the principal and superintendent were very cautious. It wasn't the case of I'm the superintendent and you were the principal. There were open grounds where as we could ask questions, make suggestions and certain suggestions in the begin with. In latter years, you could suggest more, I'll just put it that way. And so far as race was concern it was a stigma there, yes on up to latter years it was there. I mean even no matter how well we got along. I don't know what really caused it, but I felt like it was still there. To a certain degree. But it didn't bother or it didn't get in the way of getting the job done."

Q: Another question, you're; we've talked about this a little bit earlier as well, but personal style, your style again, can you tell me what approach you used that contributed to you being an effective principal? What things that you learned have you learned in reflecting back, what kinds of thing worked for you in terms of making you a good manager of your teachers that employed under your leadership?

A: "You probably have heard of the old phrase of using as much democracy as you can and as much atrocity as need be. That means that you're tried democracy first you involve them, but if you don't get where you feel like you should be then you ave to use a little stiff arm in there. The stiff arm is a plan. A plan for this, and a plan for that, a plan for everything. And try to get them to improve the plan if they can. But at any rate before it is put into effect you need to decide upon what you actually going to do. And when you decide that that when you decide what to do. Without a plan I guess you can call it organization you have chaos. You have chaos. Away from traffic from the building, away for everything. You can't leave it to everyone discretion of how it can be done, because too many conflicts. Confusion you will have. You have to sort it all out together first as of how it would probably work and try it. Once you try it and it doesn't work then come right back and insert changes and re-evaluate and re-organzie until you get it the way you want it to be. You heard me mention before that if you are in the classroom and receive your children or your students in a given environment you have a better chance of maintaining control. You cannot teach without control. You must have control in order to teach."

Q: You mention evaluate about four times this afternoon. What is your feeling about the necessity of evaluation mechanisms are they necessary, are they effective, do they help?

A: "Yes, evaluation is necessary, but the foundation must be made for it. You can't just go in and observe someone and then decide that they are doing something wrong. You must first have decided upon a general way of doing things in a general nature and a general type of things to be done. So, when you go, to visitor to evaluate then you have a bases for it. The teacher shouldn't mind you coming, because they know what you are coming for. There is nothing underneath the table. Start then to learn how to do shorthand. We would write down everything the teacher said and the student said. The latter years and we call them in for conferences after that and praised them for what was good and suggest for some things that could suggest and even things that you couldn't suggest that improvement. This type of thing. That established a much better approachablitry than anything in adminstration than anything else I know. Desire to teach yourself and really genuine in what you are trying to do. You were trying to help, not trying to undermind them, and not trying to get them fired. Yes, it should be regular visitation for several reason that someone else ask you about the classroom you need to know. You need to be in the position to tell them, what's going on. If you haven't been well, then you don't know what's wrong. And most often they ask the principal rather than the teacher."

Q: Was your approach, with your teachers, especially with new teachers and I'm sure you have had your share of new teachers coming in?

A: "Yes, in-deed."

Q: Was your approach to them, did you approach them as if they were self starters and self motivated? Or did you approach them as if they had to be led?

A: "No, I would'nt say that. They needed their individuality, but we need to know the ground rules for the game, to begin with before anything is started. And then we go from there. You can tell if one need more leadership than the other. Just by passing by the door nothing else. You give the wheel that squeaks the most the grease. I put it that way."

Q: Now, I'm also detecting from you that the principal can't sit in the dog pound.

A: "No."

Q: I know I have heard you say more than once, going here,going there, being here, being there, seeing this and seeing that. Can you expound on that a little more?

A: "Once a upon of time the principal stayed in his office all the time. I say in the fifties and early sixities and after that it come to you had to get out of there, not only in the classroom but in the boiler room on the playground and everywhere else to see what is going on. To evaluate the total situation and try to improve. With the system of employment and dismissal you have to make some individual to each teacher during the course of the year. In order to have sufficient data to fill out a form at the end you had to call in the evaluation form to recommendation to the superintendent. You could do that by visiting just one time. You had to have repeated visits. At one time the county required a certain number of visits to each teacher. But at one time the teacher had everything in handle. If the children got disruptive and the teachers couldn't handle most often that teacher ended up in bad trouble. And well, you know it was the principal's fault too. He wasn't in there to help. I think I saved a lot of teachers. I think I it did. At one time they called it proving ground. Because we had a large turnover, a melting pot after desegregation. We had a melting pot in the latter years. From this community, that community, very different socially economic standard. That why they call it the melting pot. Al them people when to school together. And if we didn't have a good plan to help the teacher well, then the children would put the teachers out and the parents was at home with the children. The super- intendent, let see yeah I was assistant superintendent and still a teacher in Leatherwood. There were several teachers. I can name a few: Dr. Bethel was a teacher at Leatherwood, Joe Wood, I use to supervisor her a PE teacher at Leatherwood, and Eddie LeVia was at Leatherwood before he became principal and he was coaching Drewrey Mason for umhateen years before he left the position. So, I don't know we weren't the best but I thought we were pretty good."

Q: After intergration you were there at Leatherwood we were segrated after integration what did you or what specific things did you have to change in terms of your leadership? In terms of dealing with the public? Were there any dramatic changes? What types of responses did you get from the community in terms of dealing with how you dealt with intergration? "

A: Well, first of all we had to do more of everything. I put that way. We had to do more in-service training, because of sensitive of the parents, and skeptism of the parents. At one time you couldn't bring kids into the office; parents wanted to know why. And we had to counselor. So, sometime they didn't want the children to visit the counselor. When the counselor had them. A program you know, that type of thing. So, we had to do more, that's all and do it better I'll put it that way. I think our program im- proved to be frank with you, it really did improved."

Q: Because of integration? "

A: Yes, we had a few problems, but in our case; I'll put it this way, a one-sided person didn't have a chance. You know what I mean. In other words they were going to instruct the fight and iso- late the blacks in the room, they wasn't there long. The children would almost put them out

Q: ." 688 Did they?

A: "Yeah, self correction."

Q: You been most effective. You have such a wealth of information. Is there anything that I have or have not ask you that I should have, in terms of the principalship? Is there anything that you would like to tell or to share with me, because this is going to go into the Archives of Virginia Tech and it may be there for 100, 200 or may be there for a 1000 years. And your words will re- sound for generations.

A: "I think I've stop short on the schooling. I did attend, I did a Master degree at A& T College, in Greensboro, North Carolina in supervision and administration. Directed toward elementary grade level. And that was a tremendous task. That's how I recognized some of these questions. I was able to reassess my situation and all ???? data and make improvements as the result of it. Improved the in-service programs tremendously. Have you notice how I've mention in-service training program? That 's where the teachers come together and share with each other and they can almost solve each other problems. All it needs is for someone to stand between them."

Q: A facilitator.

A: "Right a facilitator, right that's it exactly. At one time, at one time we felt that we (as teachers) had a job for life. But then as time changed we got a little uneasy. We wasn't so sure that we were going to be there the rest of our lives. Some people were being rifed. So, I sort of adventured off on the side. In electronic. I made preparation in that area on the side-Cleveland Institute in electronic and several other schools. I never used it, but I made preparation in case I had to leave. And I didn't leave because I wanted to leave, I left because my health was going down and of course my school was being closed. And I was given another assign- ment in high school with the person that was trained with me for principalship and it was right next to my starting point. I started in Rockrun and this was at Bassett Middle School and with the onset of diabetes I just felt that I was out and left it to the new blood in the system and didn't think I could make it you know. So I took early retirement in 1988."

Q: Mr. Craighead, this has been wonderful, wonderful opportunity for me. You don't know how much I appreciate this. I hope that you will appreciate what you have done for me as I have appreciated your time. I will forward this transcript back to you as well as a copy this tape. Again, I would like to thank you very much for this interview.

A: "Well, I'm glad I could be of some help to you."

Q: Thank you.

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