This is an interview with Ms. Dorothy Duncan, former principal of Foster Intermediate and Hayfield Secondary School, in Fairfax County.
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Q: Ms. Duncan, why did you decide to become a principal?
(Streamed audio file of interview for this question using RealPlayer)
A: Because I had taught health and physical education for some seventeen years and I had determined, after a certain age that I would not stay in physical education. I thought that young people, young women, deserve young enthusiastic physical education teachers and coaches. I had determined, pretty much, that I would probably go back and run my camp and make it into a school, on a year round basis, until an assistant principal, who is now the state superintendent of public education, Jack Davis, called me in and suggested that I prepare myself to go into school administration. He encouraged me and offered me the opportunities. Well, he assisted me in every way to get involved in the training program at George Washington University and also encouraged me, from time to time, about how my Course work was coming. I think that he was the one who really got me going in terms of considering it as a career--school administration as a career. I think that more principals and assistant principals need to be doing this with some of our younger teachers.
Q: What role did you play in public or community relations?
A: The school principal is also the first PR person within the building. They speak on various topics to various groups--local PTA's, church groups, civic organizations. Then, we have in Fairfax County what is called the pyramid system whereby the feeder elementary schools and the inter mediate school and one high school get together. It is the intermediate school principal's responsibility to meet with the feeder elementary and the high school on a monthly or quarterly basis and plan out and coordinate the school calendars, the schedules, the programs and to be supportive to each other. The same thing is true within the PIA. That is the responsibility of the intermediate principal to make sure that all of this is coordinated and information goes out. The area offices now take care of mostly the PTA areas. But, still the intermediate principal is the one who gets people to volunteer to have the meetings in their school and that sort of thing. You have to send out your newsletters each quarter--getting principal's information out and other school information. You work with your volunteer program. You get your pre-school information out. You have to attend a lot of activities at the high school level--athletics, drama, music, academic. Also, you are a part of the police advisory council within a given community. You also, from time to time, meet with local homeowners groups if there is a particular problem or if there is something you want them to assist you with within the community--such as late night security. Some homeowners associations have neighborhood watches that patrol. At Hayfield, they were very good on weekends. While they were doing their weekend night patrol, they would make rounds outside the school building and report to the police any vandalism or unauthorized activity. The principal has to be the PR person and speak for the school at all times. Hopefully, it is all positive. But, you do have to deal with issues and there can be problems.
Q: What does it take to become an effective principal?
A: I thought about that question a little bit and I decided that the first thing you needed was stamina--pure physical stamina, perseverance, a sense of humor, communication skills, to be a people person, and what I call presence. You have to be able to look at an audience, make eye contact and get an immediate response from the group. You have to be serious about your job but not about yourself. You have to be a planner. You have to be able to keep up with instruction and to see a little bit ahead of where your faculty may be in terms of where you want to go with it and where do they want to go and where you need to go and then bring everybody along. Timing is everything. You may be ready and nobody else is. You must plan and you have to time it just so. You had better be a decision maker in terms of solving problems and selecting personnel. You had better keep in mind the most important thing--what is the mission of public education? I feel very strongly that our mission is to provide the best possible educational opportunities for. all students and we should not accept the responsibilities of parents or the demands to resolve social issues within the school. We can be helpers, but we cannot possibly resolve all of these social things that are coming up to us. Our mission again, is to provide the best possible educational situation or opportunity for all children. If we fail to do that, we are going to spend a lot of time doing useless things that are not related to the mission at hand.
Q: What was your code of ethics as a principal?
A: Tough. I tried to be fair. I tried to be honest. I tried to treat people well. That included and kids, the teachers, and the various support staff. I tried to encourage our teachers and staff, in every way, to seek instructional improvement, to seek promotions and or career opportunities. I gave it the best shot I had. I felt very strongly that I did give it my best shot.
Q: Would you describe for me Foster Intermediate School and Hayfield Secondary School in terms of student population and building size?
A: Well, Foster Intermediate was a small school if you compare it to Hayfield. There were 750 youngsters and about 35 to 38 teachers and various support staff--guidance counselors, secretaries, custodians and so on. It is a very pleasant area. We had a very affluent community and we had a very low socio-economic. There was a good ethnic mix. We had one of the English as a Second Language Programs within the building. It was a super faculty and we received super rapport and support from the community. We also had a gifted center in that building. So, there was a good mix of kids and they were always interesting. They were fun, and it was interesting to watch various mixes within the student population rate. After a while it got to be very good and it was a lot of fun to deal with. Hayfield of course is a very large school, a ten acre building with grades 7-12 and again, a very diverse student population- 22 minorities. We had Asian, Black, Hispanic. I think we even had an American Indian in the building. Hayfield drew from the largest school boundary attendance area within Fairfax County School System. Sometimes it took our youngsters 25 or 30 minutes or more just to get to and from school. It included areas from the Occuquan River Lorton northward all the way up toward Telegraph Road and fringed into parts of what is called the Pohick Planning Area which is near Robinson School area. Hayfield included three Magisterial Districts--Lee, Mount Vernon and Spring field Magisterial Districts. So, you had three School Board Members and three Board of Supervisor Members to deal with from time to time. That gave some interesting political aspects in terms of certain things that were going on in terms of school balance. So, both schools and Hayfield really impressed me because the faculty is so strong there and the kids are wonderful. All you have to do is let the kids know what you want- insist on it some times. But, let them know what you want and they will respond--good kids. It is another school I enjoyed working with.
Q: Between working at the intermediate level and the high school level, which did you like best?
A: Well, I liked both of them but for different reasons. I liked the intermediate school because it is a more gentle atmosphere and I feel that the principal has a more direct contact with the faculty and with the students because you deal with those youngsters particularly in a smaller school, you deal with them on a one-to-one. You do have the opportunity to sit down and chat with them. You go into the cafeteria at lunch time, sit down and talk with the kids. They know who you are. They recognize you and they are not tense about talking with you. In a large school, that is a bit more difficult to do.
Q: There was a hostage situation at Lake Braddock HIgh School in the 80's. What was your involvement in that situation?
A: As I drove in, I saw the youngster coming across the school parking lot with a rifle in his hand. But, at the entrance to the school there was the play called "Oklahoma" being advertised. I assumed that was a prop. And then, as I drove around, I realized that gun had a scope on it--an eyepiece--and that would not be an appropriate prop. As I went past this youngster, he had the gun (he was leaning up against the door) with the gun along side his body under a coat. Two men from a ring company came out and the kid walked in. I walked in behind this youngster and he had the gun out. He went into the office and I heard a bang. I turned and ran back out the door (outside) and asked the ringmen if they saw the kid with the gun. They said no. They said it was probably a prop for the play. They saw the ad too. About that time, John Alwood came along. I walked in with John and told him that he had a kid with a gun that I thought had shot. He said, "ah no, that is a prop for the play." I almost went in behind him. But, I didn't. I stood in the hall and John looked down the hall. The kid (pow) shot again. John ducked for his office and I ran up to the main hallway. They were changing classes. I suggested to some teachers they hold these kids back. A couple of other administrators came and I told them what I had observed. They called the police. I went on down to the area where the principals were going to have a meeting. The police came. They were wonderful. The Fairfax County Police have a whole routine for this. They brought their SWAT Team in and took care to make sure that no one got hurt. If the youngster came out shooting, they were going to deal with that youngster and hopefully, non- violently. But, if they had to, I guess they would have shot. I don't know. After all of this was over, the police came and briefed all of the principals. They had a listening device that they used to hear what was going on in the office. They brought in negotiators from the police department backed up by Fairfax County Health Department psychiatrists and psychologists to help the police establish a profile and how they might best deal with this person. The principal, John Alwood, was probably the best man in Fairfax County to be in that building. John is a calm person. The kids know him. They like him. He can deal with young people. But, the whole thing was handled so well. Once the SWAT Team was in place, it was determined that they had to evacuate the building. Even the kids who walk-because the kid was shooting out the front of the building. All the cars and so on were out there. None of us could get to our cars. Gloria Green, from Hayfield, was trapped with some other people in a car out front. Some of the assistant athletic directors and athletic directors were caught. They could not get out of their cars. They could not go anyplace, at least temporarily. The police got together with the area superintendents and the Fairfax County Transportation Department geared up and they shuffled all the bus schedules all over this county and they evacuated out the back of the school, out of the line of fire, all of the youngsters. Then they evacuated the faculty and those people who were caught in the building like school principals, athletic directors, assistant athletic directors and so on. They brought us by school bus all the way from Braddock back over here to Mount Vernon where I live. It was scary because you don't expect to look down the hall and see a police officer, a SWAT Team Officer pointing a rifle around the corner at a door. It is good to know the competence of all the agencies that got together and that no one was hurt in that incident, physically. It is my understanding that some of the people who were hostages during that long night required some counseling for a period of time after the incident. It is a small wonder because that was a very serious situation.
Q: As a result of this situation, and other security problems at schools, what did you do to increase security at your high school?
A: Well, after the police briefed the high school principals, I went back and related to the staff what was available and what did indeed go on during that situation. But, earlier, we had determined that we had some visitors, unwelcome visitors, coming into the building. So, in the morning, after all the kids came in, we had the custodians go around and lock, from the inside. People could get out by pushing the panic bars. But, no one could get in from the outside. We had all the doors locked except the front door past my office and the guidance area and the gym lobby area. All the other doors in the building were locked so that people who were not part of that school and had no business wandering in could not get in. Someone would see them, either my secretary or the guidance department people would see them and we increased the hall patrol, if you will, of the assistant principals and our aides and we asked the teachers to help. We already had in place for a number of years these special code words. I think we used the area superintendent's name. If we went on the PA and said would Dr. _____ please report to the main office, every teacher is supposed to lock their door from the inside and keep the kids there until further notice. But, that was in place before this hostage situation ever came about. One of the things that the hostage situation had at Lake Braddock-- each subschool had an independent PA system because they could not use the central PA system. So, it was easy to communicate. They used the telephone and then each individual subschool was able to use their PA to get other teachers notified. We did not have that at Hayfield. That would have been the only thing I could see as a problem within Hayfield. We would have had to use the main PA. If it were unavailable, it would be difficult to communicate. But, it could be done by telephone through the subschool offices.
Q: A junior, at Hayfield, committed suicide. I believe it was in 1982 or.83. Prior to his death, did you see any warning signs? And, if so, what did you do to try to help the young man?
A: We had a football game and a dance. It was during the fall. It was a basketball game, I guess. This youngster was brought to us totally drunk. Mr. Lutz and I, the associate principal, tried to call his parent and could not locate the parent. Some of his friends wanted to take him home and so on. I said no. We are going to get the parent up here. About 11:30 or so when the dance was over, this youngster, after vomiting copiously, went into convulsions. So we called the rescue squad. I followed it to the hospital. About 1 o'clock in the morning, his mother came. We had asked one of his friends to leave a note on the door for the mother, she had gone out to dinner or something. She came over and I urged her to do several things. One was to have her son evaluated for substance abuse because I thought that was an unusual reaction to alcohol. He had to have ingested great amounts or used it in combination with something. I urged her to first of all find out about the blood tests to see what he had taken, if anything, and secondly to have him evaluated because I felt it was important for this youngster in particular to be seen by at least the family physician. She would not agree to that. She said that her own doctor said he was okay and that he was a normal adolescent and so forth. I again urged her to have him looked at. The next week, she called and told me that he had totaled her car going to a basketball game and was not injured and so on and that he would be staying home because he had a slight concussion and a small cut that had required some stitches. This was on a Monday morning following totalling the car on a Friday night. She called to inform me that he was sitting in her townhouse with a shotgun threatening to shoot anybody who came in and or shoot himself. Well, of course, there was nothing we could do for that. She called her brother from Washington, who was a police hostage negotiator and he tried to talk the boy out. Some students tried to talk the boy out. He would not come out. Finally, it was determined to go in after him. He shot himself. He was a very popular, very active boy, a very handsome child, outgoing. The next day, we set up--some of our students were troubled, they were upset. At that time, there was not a team concept going on to assist students in this. Our guidance people were set up in the senior lounge that we had at that time. Any of the youngsters who wanted to go talk to some adult (I believe Mrs. Dungan did call in some Mental Health people.) and we made that service available so that the youngsters could talk out their grief and so on. This went on for a couple or three days. I think until after the funeral was over. The rest of the student body was still upset. But, we made sure that the guidance people and the teachers kept an eye on some of this--particularly on his friends to assist them in any way we could. Today, there is a whole team set up that you can call. You can call the county and get social workers and psychologists and so on beside your own in-house counseling that goes on normally.
Q: Did you have a fear, at that time of copycat suicide? Because, that seems to be the problem now.
A: I did, with one of his friends. I talked to the guidance director and made sure that this youngster was worked with. Also, I believe they did chat with his family. The boy was grief stricken. But, he was not actively suicidal or anything of that kind. He was just terribly upset about his friend. He did not think of taking his own life.
Q: Mike Cloyd, a very well loved English teacher and basketball coach, was stricken by a fatal heart attack at the young age of twenty-seven, during the Thanksgiving vacation, in 1983 or 84. At the time, he was playing basketball with some students. What was done to help the staff and the student body cope with this very untimely death?
A: Well, actually, he had coached a freshman basketball practice and then he and some of his former students and a couple of friends of his were just shooting around and he had a fatal heart attack. What we did, as soon as I was informed--this was like on a Saturday--I called my associate principal and my administrative principal and we had phone lines set up for emergency purposes. They called subschool principals, who then called the department chairpersons, who in turn notified all of the faculty, because, I did not want the faculty coming in on a Monday morning and being greeted with 'we are sorry to tell you that Mr. Cloyd had a heart attack and died over the week end, in the gym.' So, we went through a whole notification system. There were certain people that Mike Cloyd was very close to. People he had worked with for several years in the building. I called, I think, about five or six teachers who were very close to him. It was a young group and I made a point to call them and notify those teachers immediately myself. We used the PA. I announced to the total student body. Of course, the student grape vine had gone out pretty strongly also. Again, we made our counselors available to the students. What we did was to set up a committee made up of faculty and students. We wanted to do something for Mike Cloyd's memory. After a lot of meetings and a lot of real discussion, we did several things. First of all, we set up a one time scholarship. They decided they wanted a one time scholar ship for a Hayfield student who was also an athlete because it would mean more to that graduating senior who had known Mr. Cloyd than perhaps somebody who would not really know him after a period of time. The committee felt that that would be more meaningful. A donation, in his name, was also made to the college he attended. And, we also decided that we would put a plaque and plant a tree out, in the circle, in front of the school. When the plaque was ready, and the tree was planted, the members of the senior class and any others who wished to attend--any other students- and the president of the senior class said a few words about this tree and the plaque and what it was in memory of and who it was in memory of. Any student then, who wanted to say anything, would speak. The senior class asked me to say a few words. about Mr. Cloyd. I did. We were able to work through all of that by doing some things in his memory. I think for the first time, these kids saw death--well, it was the second time for some of them. But, for a young adult who was so vital and had so much to live for to go so very quickly, I think it brought home, particularly to the seniors, the importance of life and living and doing those things. I think they saw that a good man--they knew he was a good man. They saw a loss--a real loss in their lives and a loss for other students who would not be able to have the benefit of working with Mr. Cloyd. I think those are the things--the immediate things. It doesn't sound like a lot. But, it meant a lot to the people who were directly involved and to the students who were very active in this. We asked Mike's mother, Mrs. Cloyd, to present the scholarship at commencement. She made a wonderful wonderful speech and the kids received her well. That was very impressive also.
Q: How did you handle teacher grievances? Did you ever fire a teacher?
A: Yes, to both. In terms of handling grievances in Fairfax County, there is a basic policy. First of all, you try to resolve the issue at the local level. The teacher talks with the principal and they try to resolve it. If that didn't work, they can bring in either the FEA or the other union representative to try to work out or resolve the problem. If that doesn't work, within so many working days, they can appeal to the area office. If they are not happy with that, they can appeal to the superintendent. If they are not happy with that, they can appeal to the school board. That is the final authority. I think I had two at Hayfield. Both of them were not major issues and we resolved them at the local level. I didn't have any at Foster. There was a problem. We talked about it and resolved the issue. It was not difficult. In terms of firing, again, Fairfax County has a very clear policy. The employee is protected. Their rights are protected every step of the way. The firings that I was involved with were clear cut. It was open and shut. According to the policies as stated by Fairfax County Public Schools, they had hearings and went through the whole process. It is not pleasant to do this. Principals, in essence, really do not fire. Principals look into the issue when it is reported to them. They talk to the people involved. They then write this up and make a written recommendation to the area superintendent. You make a recommendation either to continue the employee or to reprimand them, take some disciplinary action or you recommend that they be dismissed. That information then goes to the area superintendent who either endorses or changes or modifies. If it is a recommendation to dismiss, it then goes to the superintendent. He then reviews this and makes a recommendation to the school board. The school board, in essence, hires and fires in Fairfax County. But, the principal has to make the recommendation. At all steps along the way, the employee has the right to be represented by an attorney or someone from their educational organization. After you discuss this with your area superintendent and the office of personnel, usually the employee is placed on administrative leave while things are looked into. At that point, the area educational associations are often contacted or a private attorney by the individual and they go from there, if they are not happy at any time. Actually, personnel begins to take over after the principal makes the recommendation. They begin to deal with the employee because this is a very time consuming thing. It takes about three months to complete such an action unless it is of such a magnitude that it is just that quick. The process is followed with every employee.
Q: In researching grounds for dismissal, in Fairfax County, I found that a teacher can be dismissed for immoral acts, theft-types of things that would have to happen, would probably happen, outside the school. How do you find out about these acts? Who brings it to your attention.
A: It can happen. In immoral acts, sometimes people are arrested by police. The school system gets notified. Sometimes a student complains or a parent complains. Those are all ways it can occur. Then, it is the principal's responsibility to call that person in and say 'I have been given this information.' In certain cases, the principal can call in somebody from the office of personnel. You get this information. You do a little looking around and chatting and checking. If it is very serious, you are wise to bring in somebody from the office of personnel because you get into legal issues that the principal is not really trained. There are fine points. That's what personnel is there for--to give assistance. Personnel also has to be responsible for protecting the rights of the teacher. That is very pertinent in this system. But, if it is right there in front of you and it is proven, then that person is put on administrative leave immediately and you begin the paperwork for dismissal.
Q: What type of support groups are available to teachers when they have personal problems - alcohol abuse, drug abuse or just home problems?
A: The principal is it, unfortunately. For years, I have suggested that there needs to be an employee assistance program and I think that is one of the things having to do with alcohol, family problems, this sort of thing. I think that something that the local educational organizations should be looking at and providing. In the case of alcohol abuse, I have had to deal with that. What you do is you get the office of personnel over and you get those people to take sick leave. Most teachers will have some sick leave. They can use the loan bank on leave. Get them involved in a de-tox program. If it is obvious at school, they need to be de-toxed probably. They have to agree. They either agree or start the process for dismissal. If they go through the program (They have to do this of their own free will.) they have the Blue Cross which takes care of this for so many days (Twenty-eight days I think it is.). When they come back, you encourage them to continue with AA or a private therapist or whatever is available. Usually, for most people, it works. Sometimes, it doesn't. If it doesn't then you don't have any choice as a principal. You have to set up grounds for dismissal. None of that is any fun.
Q: What techniques did you use to make teachers feel important?
A: I think the first thing we did was to involve department chairmen in the yearly program of operations process, curriculum development, budgeting and the spending of school dollars and the instructional review. We did this by using department chairmen--first of all, we would brief them on what the County and the area office's objectives for the year were--the primary tasks, the goals for the year. Then, they were to go back to their departments and say 'how can we implement this within our program of instruction?' Then, they would bring it back and we would bring the school operating program for the year together. Another thing we did was to get input from teachers about schedule requests. Sometimes we couldn't do it just like they wanted it. Then, department chair men and the subschool principals worked with the associate principal and the principal to develop teacher schedules. We tried to utilize the input. But, I think the best thing that we did was to have a good faculty advisory committee to the principal. They developed an agenda based on anonymous teacher questions. They brought it in typed form to a meeting. We went through these issues that had been brought up and tried to resolve them or followed up in some way with it. The secretary, of that group, typed those minutes up and sent them out to every teacher. In the newsletter, that we sent out, we tried to find out from every department Chairman or from teachers honors received by teachers or special things that teachers were doing with kids to recognize those teachers. I know that some of the subschools used to have Friday afternoon get-togethers after school and have coffee and cake and that sort of thing. I think the most important thing was recognizing those teachers in an informal way. Sending a note and letting them know that this was a particularly good job or so on. Most of that in a large school, of course, is done through your department chair persons. In a smaller school, it is a bit easier. But, we did try to recognize in the newsletter outstanding things that our teachers had done. We tried to get input from the teachers as much as we could.
Q: Do you have any suggestions for ways of improving faculty relationships in a large school? A lot of teachers in a large school don't know each other.
A: At Hayfield, some of those teachers have been there a long time and are brickholders. They were there when the school opened. They feel a certain ownership in that building. Sometimes, they need to break out of that small group or large group, as it is there, and open up. But, for the most part, you have a social committee. With a large faculty, it is hard to pick any one date that everybody can participate. I thought that the better thing was the subschool business or having little get togethers within the subschool. It's very hard in that large school to do that. I think probably, if I had it to do again, I would try for more socials. At least, a couple of times during the year, out of the school building, and in the evening, and just say at the beginning of the year to work with the social committee and pick some time during the year when people are needing to do a social activity. Say okay, these are the dates. Put them aside and have it kind of low key no pressure that you must attend. But, we are going to have two socials, during the year, just for the faculty. Bring your wife or husband or escort or whatever and maybe have dinner and dance and do something like that or pick an activity that they like. Some faculties like picnics in the spring because they can bring their whole family. It shouldn't be cost prohibitive for anyone. It shouldn't be--money gets to be a factor if you are going to bring an escort and your wife or children. It ought not be a costly affair.
Q: What do you think teachers expect principals to be?
A: I think the first thing they want is someone who is a leader. What I call an encourager. I think they want their principal to be a practitioner of good student management practices and to demand and expect good performance within the building from students, teachers and support staff. I think they like an open door for someone to listen to them both on a formal and informal basis. I think they like to be able to discuss programs of instruction with the principal and to seek out ideas and let the principal sometimes be a sounding board for them. I think they want their principal to be visible, in the classroom. from time to time and just in the school in general. Teachers, I think, would like principals to be supportive, and interested in the total program of instruction and in the teaching staff. They want some body who is kind of steady and fair. I think they want to be able to communicate. Particularly in the large school, they really want to be able to communicate and see that principal from time to time. It doesn't have to be by appointment. The principal has to make time to do what I call MBWA--Management By Walking Around. You need those informal discussion. It could be a short conversation. I think sometimes that is more effective than almost anything else. There are great terms that you can use. But, I think those are the things that people look for in a good principal.
Q: What do you think of the career ladders for teachers?
A: I think it's time. I think it's high time. I think career ladders are great. But, I think people have to understand what career ladders are. A career ladder and merit pay, if you will, are not designed to weed out the poor teacher. The poor teacher may not ever apply. So, they could continue along at a lower pay rate. I think the outstanding teacher is going to apply. They may or may not. If there is too much paperwork involved, they are going to say 'forget that. I don't want to do that.' If it is paper heavy or time consuming, they would rather spend that time teaching and not fiddle around. But, the good teacher will make it, because they are proficient in the art. Teaching is an art. It is not a science--a specific science. You don't measure a good teacher in the ways that business people measure a good salesman, if you will. We have clients and it has got to be the measurement for career ladder. It has to be clear, concise and understood by all--absolutely. It should not be a once you make it it's forever kind of a thing. It's earned each year. Again, good teachers will earn that every year. Others will have a goal to shoot for. I can see teachers benefiting because good teachers want to make more money. Everybody wants to make a better salary. The only way now is to go into administration of some kind--either guidance administration or school administration or go on the R-Scale through Curriculum Services or something else. A lot of these good teachers don't want to leave the kids. A merit pay/career ladder could give those teachers the option to stay in the classroom with kids where they are really happy, doing a great job without losing money. I think that is a viable option. I am a little concerned about what I am hearing about the local plan that is coming out. People seem to think that this is going to weed out the poor teacher. A career ladder and merit pay, I don't think, is not going to weed out the poor teacher. Really, that is not what it is designed for. It is designed to recognize the good teacher, the outstanding teacher. Even of the good ones who apply, not everybody is going to make it. But again, if everybody understands what the criteria are, and how to achieve that then everybody has an even chance. They are utilizing, I understand, in the Fairfax plan, not only just the principals are involved in evaluation but, other teachers are involved. Sometimes, it is said that principals do not understand and evaluate fairly. With other people being involved that lessens the possibility for personalities to take part in this. I think that is a good thing. I think it is time. I think teachers ought to make a lot more than they make today.
Q: How did you handle assistant principals?
A: As colleagues. When I was given a choice as a principal, if there were a vacancy, I hired for instructional strength first and special talents and strengths that were needed to balance out an administrative team for that school. We tried to hire people based on background--for instance, academic background. We tried to get people who came from the history/social studies to work with that department when they were hired as administrators because that was their background. That was their strength, hopefully. The same thing in the math, the science and English. The four biggies. We would pick up on the other areas by their request. If they wanted to know something about working with the department, they went from there. We had a specific organization and administration chart which outlined the jobs and tasks. I always tried to be very clear about my expectations of what they were supposed to do. That chart was also in the teacher handbook (who did what and to whom, in essence ). You are responsible as subschool principal for -- . In addition, you are responsible for a given class and certain departments that you will evaluate. We would discuss that in depth. We met regularly--once a week, sometimes more often for special curriculum review. We briefed each other about the programs and activities that were going on--the class activities. We planned a lot. We did a lot of planning during the summer. It was a communication set up. In a large school, those subschool principals are the one who do the jobs and you had better hire the best people you can find, because they are leaders. They are going to be the people who are going to be the next principals within this system. They have to have a team concept in that subschool organization because you must coordinate with guidance. You must coordinate with activities. You must coordinate schedules. You have to assist each other in dealing with student management because if you have kids from different grade levels, in a problem, the two of you need to find out what is going on and put your heads together and have equal treatment all the way along to resolve the issue. I really expected the subschool principals, in essence, to be principals of their subschools and to be good leaders. You have to balance that with what are their strengths? What are their backgrounds? What can they bring to this school that we need? I always tried to hire somebody who wanted my job. Those are the people who are going to work. They want to be principals. They want to lead. They don't want to kill me. But, they want the experience and they are willing to work at this job to gain the experience to be principals on their own. In a subschool organization such as Hayfield, that gives them good experience. That is like being principal of a small high school. There are sometimes four or five hundred kids in one subschool. That is their school to run. But, it has got to be run within the framework of good communication and working together.
Q: What advice would you give to a young female seeking advancement in education?
A: Well, the first thing, if they do not have the masters degree, get the masters degree in secondary school administration if they want to be in school administration. Go right on through the doctoral program. The options with the doctorate in public education today make it necessary to have that title. It also puts you into the network for various positions. Not only, in the State of Virginia, but across the country. That's very important and the doctoral program at various universities across Virginia and across the United States. The network that goes on among the people at the college level that you will come in contact with while you take these courses. It also allows you, if you decide at some point, in your life that you would like to leave public education and maybe go to the upper levels of education, you have the doctorate in hand and the experience at the local school level to teach at the college level. So, it opens up your options. Secondly, you have to get experience. You go through the paneling process such as we have in Fairfax County. Once you are on the roster of eligibles, you then apply for the various vacancies that you think you would like to take on, such as principal I or something of that kind. Apply for those jobs that will give you the opportunity for experience. Intermediate school is a good place to start. If you come from a high school, you may want to try a high school special projects position or principal I (They used to be called administrative aides.). Try to gain all the experience that you can. Don't be afraid to move--to leave a school. It is very comfortable to get in a school and stay there. But, you need different kinds and different school types of experience. You need to work with different kinds of administrators. Some of the best lessons I learned came from administrators that I thought were less than great. But, I learned I didn't want to be like that. I wanted to have a different style. You need to be exposed to different styles of school administration. I think by changing schools from time to time, you go through the special projects to the principal I, assistant principal, and so on and maybe an opportunity to work in curriculum for a while. When you stay in a school, you have a narrow view. You only see that school. If you go out and work in an area office or at the county level, in curriculum, you see the whole school system from the instructional point of view. You have to develop a plan. You have to get into the cycle of the budget. You have to go through the hearings. You have to take it out and get committees working and you have to quote "sell it". You have to give inservices to the teachers. Then, you have to do the follow up and the evaluation. So, you are getting a lot of experience. You find out how the whole system works. It is very important to know those things before you are principal of a school. If you do that, you have a very specific advantage over people who have gone straight from aide to principal I, or special projects to principal I to assistant principal or subschool principal into the principalship. When you come out of Curriculum Services, because it's all done with a three year, in advance almost cycle, in order to make sure that everything goes in the budget. You know what is going to happen in instruction for a period of time. That gives you a very specific advantage. You can really go in and work with these teachers and get the enthusiasm built up. You establish your credibility. That is particularly true for women. Frankly, more women are needed. More women are needed at the high school level. It's very tough because a lot of women do not apply for the high school principal ship because of the time factor, particularly if they have families. If you don't have a family, you have to have some private life. You have to learn that. You cannot marry the building. Women need to really get the experience and you will have to put up with some of the games--the good ole boys. You learn to laugh at that. Just go right along and do your thing. You will do all right. Women will do all right. You've got to be tough. You've got to be as tough as those guys are. Particularly in meetings when there is hot and heavy discussion. You cannot cry and do all that goofy stuff that women have been accused of doing but don't do. You have to know what you are talking about. You have to be calm about it. You have to go through the process of acceptance in the principal's group as you do in any other group. It is not because you are a woman. Every new principal has to go through the process. You are quiet for a while and you look around and you listen. After you have been there a while, you put out a few good points just like you do a rookie in anything. And, you are accepted for your contributions. It's tough though. You've got to be a little tougher than most other people.
Q: What is your personal leadership philosophy?
A: Have a plan when you go into a building. Again, you are talking about MBWA--Management By Walking Around. You walk around. You talk to a lot of people. You listen a lot. You ask questions. That's called assessing the situation, if you are going to use great textbook terms to resolve the problem. You identify the issues that you want to work on. Who is going to assist? Who is really going to do this. You are going to set up a time frame. You are going to get some accountability. Who is going to do it? What's the time frame? Who's going to report? You are going to implement and do the inservice. Implement it, discuss the change, get it going, evaluate it and determine what you need to change and go at it again. Leadership is a matter of getting organized and determining with the people who have to do the job, how you are going to do this. When you want to do it. How we want to evaluate it and when we will modify if necessary. I think it is very important to involve people. People who have to do the job should have input. Oftentimes, that is forgotten in education. Too much comes from on top and not enough from the bottom up.
Q: Is there anything that I have not asked you?
A: That's a loaded question. You've pretty well covered the waterfront. I would repeat only that I think people who are administrators need to understand the mission of the public schools number one, and understand that you are in a people management system in terms of your staff. Try and hire the best, brightest, most dynamic instructional type quality people that you can find, and not be afraid of getting rid of those who don't produce. Try to set up a good teaching learning situation for the kids and for the teachers. But, most of all, don't forget what the mission is. What is it you are about? I think we are losing that in public education. I think actually you all have come up with quite a list of questions for this study. I would like to know more about the results of this study.
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