West Branch Local Schools. Retired June, 1992
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Q: Would you begin by telling us about your family background -- your childhood interests and development (birthplace, elementary and secondary education, family characteristics)?
(Streamed audio file of interview for this question using RealPlayer)
A: I was born at the Alliance Hospital, and at birth you have made mention there of where I lived, I lived in the farmhouse that is located right there at Cope Farm John Deere. I was born there and raised there, and I think we probably had been there about three or four years, and then my Uncle John wanted to buy that farm. So he bought it without my dad's knowledge, believe it or not. And then Dad was kind of shocked that it was sold, and he kind of was interested in it at one time. But anyway, that's where I was kind of born and raised there at the beginning. I have one brother and one sister, and of course I'm married and have a son. My father comes from a family of five boys. My grandmother never had a daughter, and that's quite a family to live with, I would imagine. It was very interesting. All five boys, in my view, have been very successful. Three of them went into farming; one, one of them went into the Pierde Dairy business over here and bought the dairy, and then Uncle John bought the Cope John Deere, started that. Mother comes from only two in her family, just a sister. And I think, you know, when I look at teaching, probably was the role model of my mother was quite significant. Been brought up on the farm always. Dad did not allow us much time to go away. The only time we could go away would be like on Sunday, and when Sunday rolled around, we didn't care whether we went away or not. But we did, and we would ride our bikes, my brother and I, and then come back home. We had a habit of not coming back home early enough for barn chores though, I remember that. We had really, really we didn't do that too often, by the way. Childhood interests, you had made mention there, would be probably, I'm just a tractor driver and running farm equipment. I was a cornet/trumpet player for years, not because at that time that I wanted to be. My mother said I was going to be, and encouraged me. And so I started probably playing trumpet when I was in grade six. When I went into the seventh and eighth grade at Knox School, I became first chair cornet player, and from that time on, I've been first chair cornet player ever since, West Branch High School, no, I went to Goshen High School, I take that back. And then I stepped into Mount Union College, and by gosh, I beat out my friend, who is Terry Friends, director of the Marlington Dukes. And I couldn't believe it, but I was the first chair player, and he was seated next to me. I don't know if you would want anything about church, but, you know, I've been a regular attender there at the Bethel Church which is real close in the community down here near the Knox School. The elementary experience I've had was, there was a old three-story building down at North Georgetown. I wished you would have been able to see that building. It was an ancient thing and it had three stories in it. I remember I went down to the basement and got real scared because it was dark down there. That's where the big furnaces had been down there, and they have since that time taken it down, and I went there until grade six. Then in seven and eight, I went over to the Knox School. And then from there we had a chance to go to the high school either at Goshen Union, Sebring or Alliance, where we lived, because that building only went K through 8. And so of course we chose Goshen Union as where I had gone, but like I say on this first question here, that I think it's rather, relatively unique to know that you became principal of a building where you actually attended.
Q: Would you discuss your college education and preparation for entering the field of teaching?
A: I think probably that due to the fact of coming from a farm family we knew that Mount Union would be close and we did not want to leave our father, you know, without any help. So we did go back and forth, commuted, and had a great experience at Mount Union College. I ran into some fabulous professors. Probably Dr. Bartram and Dr. Tripp there, along Mr. Dailey, would be those three that I remember the most because they took such a personal intent interest in you, and I remember when I went up to become, going through the orientation, the day before that, we went in to see Mr. Tripp in the office, and my mother, you know, being a graduate, former graduate, of Mount Union we went in there, and it was just really a nice transition, nice time to get to know each other. And, but anyway, I graduated there, but before I did I of course took my student teaching at the North Lincoln School in Alliance, and that probably was the thing that really converted me to being a teacher, because her name was Martha McNichol, and we became such close, close friends. Her personality was willing. I probably really even liked her. I mean, I really liked her. Her husband never knew that, but I did. I liked that lady. She was so helpful, and I'll never forget, Kim, that after that experience was over, I remember I was the type of teacher that I would never sit down, and I would be up and around and walking and being around these children, and on the day that I left, it'll never, I will never forget that. I took my Granddad's pickup truck. That's all my Granddad Denny drove. And I went in there, and I told them I was going to bring in a treat for them on the last day. Well, when I went out to leave, and I was saying my good-bye to Mrs. McNichol and all, and the school principal there, I went out and here, all the kids had gotten into the pickup truck and would not, they were not going to let me go. And I just loved that. You made mention here, I went on then to Akron University, did get my Master's degree there, and really loved that school, too. It was good and close. I think the only thing that I would state today that I might reconsider, I don't know that I would maybe go to school at the time I was teaching, because it really bothered me, and I was not going to let down on either side. And I knew that when I went to work the next day, I mean, I was going to let those children know I was going to give it everything I had, but it was an additional responsibility.
Q: I know the feeling. Okay, how many years did you serve as a teacher?
A: Five years I was a teacher, two years at the Louisville Elementary School, and when I was there, another educator probably impacted my life more than I really realized at the time. That was Harold Morrow; he's now deceased. But I'll tell you, he had control; he had respect. I would hear some of the teachers talking about, you know, Mr. Morrow doing this and that, but to me, he was the, he was the guiding light for me at the beginning, because when I came to West Branch then after the two years -- I was here, believe it or not, for two years, and I had such a yearning to go back with him that I went back over to see the superintendent. And the superintendent says, "You know, we really liked you being here, but you left. Now I'm not going to let you be with Harold Morrow any more." And that crushed me and so therefore I came back to West Branch then. Had it been that I would have been able to go back with Harold Morrow, I might be over there today. I don't know. But he was such a magnificent person, and he would come in, and the reason why I liked him so much was, that he would come in and visit the teachers. I remember him coming in and visit me with, in teaching, and he would bring down these Louisville High School people. I don't know why these young kids were there, but they were there. And here they were trying to be oriented into teaching. I loved it. That district really had it on the ball. And, you know, Harold enjoyed the way I taught, and that probably had a lot to do with it, too.
Q: Sure. How many years did you serve as principal then?
Q: At Knox, all of it?
A: No. I took, I was at Beloit then for three years, and I'll never forget the time in this driveway that Clinton Heacock drove in, and I was out mowing the yard. And Clint came in and he said, "Don," he says, "I, we've just had a vacancy at Beloit Elementary, and," he says, "I'd like to have you take that." And, of course, you know, I was walking around here, could not believe it. And he says, "Well, think about it for a day and then let me know." And I called him up the next day and that was it. So that's where I got into it.
Q: Always in the West Branch District, then?
A: Yes, that is so. I was one year then at Beloit and Goshen Center, and I took those two buildings. One thing that was crushing me a lot was the driving back and forth, and I just have to admire anybody that drives back and forth, you know, like John, because I just, I just shook my head on that, because every time I wanted to do something, I had to be over here, and I just felt torn apart. So when Knox opened up a year later, Clint and I talked about it, and he says, "I don't know, Don. With Mom there and everything, I," he says, "That's going to be really rough." Glen Moffet, at the time, was president of the Board. Glen did not think it was too good of an idea. And so I went to talk to Glen, and I said, "Well, Glen," I said, "I understand." He says, "It's not because I don't think you can do it," he says. "I think it's that relationship." So at that one time they were thinking about taking my mother out of there. And I said, "Now if, if you're going to do that, don't consider that, you know, for me to go there." But they decided to take the risk, and I'll tell you, she did as much as anybody and maybe more, because I, I watched my step carefully.
Q: I know that. What motivated you to enter the principalship?
A: I probably, when I was a teacher, I would look around and, the principals that I worked under, and when I came into West Branch, I said, as I looked outside one day, I said, "Those children only have swings and seesaws to play with out there." And I thought, if I can just really put out something there that the kids would love to play on, I'd like to do, do that. And then too, inside, you know, I saw so many materials that I wanted to use as a teacher but never could get them. So I knew right away that I could work a PTO, and so, you know, so I worked them and I worked the citizenship there within the community, and I knew, that by them knowing me, you know, that I had contacts there. So, but you know, it sounds kind of like, in a way selfish, but it isn't, because I felt that there was so much that I could give kids in the classroom, but I could give them maybe so much more outside of it. So that's why I went there.
Q: Do you think being raised in the same community had a great deal to do with that?
A: Oh, you'd better believe it, because, you know, when I was there at Beloit, I had the same thing -- they knew me there. And then when I went down to Knox, I mean there was, I mean I was just known there, the family was known.
Q: Okay, what kinds of things do teachers expect principals to be able to do? What does it take to be an effective principal?
A: Okay. This is really probably one of the most difficult questions for me to answer, and I'll tell you why. I think that a lot of teachers, you know, are, and I say that all of them are conscientious, and I think that in being that way, they of course want a principal to be an instructional leader. I would hope that they would be. That's the first thing they would want you to be. The second thing I think teachers want you to do is to support them. Now, if they happen to make mistakes, which they do as well as I do, because we're human, and even though the mistakes are made, and I sometimes, as an outside observer, can see where a mistake was made, I am going to make this comment because I may not make it later, but I think that, you know, there is a question here. You said what would I change if I had to go through the principalship again. I had a little habit at the beginning that when I saw people making mistakes, I would go to a teacher's meeting and tell everybody. And I didn't have any business telling everybody. But I would say, "Listen, you know, we can't do this. The discipline has to be such and so, you know, and I encourage you to do this." What I should have done probably would be to have been more direct. And so it wasn't until after I put in about twelve years I turned that around. And, you know, we talk about these young people going in as candidates, whenever you see suggestions to be made, you know, don't go to the whole staff, because they feel it's the whole staff. But here, what you want to do is to go to the individual person. And, but, like I say, I think that they want support and if they do make mistakes, I think you have to get them aside singly and say, "Look, you know, you're doing a good job, but you know, try to consider doing it a different way." And sometimes they might be offensive and not really realize that they're doing it. And so somehow you have to try and negotiate that. I think another area that they want help with would be, as I found out down at Knox, it seemed like that I was handling somewhat some discipline defense situations, and I think it's because of the change in times. We got into the cult situation, and of course, I wanted to have, you know, strong discipline there, and I knew that if I had strong discipline, a lot of the other problems that might emerge never did, because you had that. And then, too, I think that the big thing that the teachers really want help with (this is really the probably one of the biggest, if not the biggest) would be to encourage children to get their homework completed. That was the big one. Out of everything, I probably had more consultation with these children not wanting to do homework, and so I would say that that would be basically it. And I wanted to make one more comment here, Kim, because I don't want us to run out of your material there, but these master contracts by teachers bother me, because when they make these master contracts, at least from what I'm able to see in my limited experience, I think they give teachers a lot of say without asking the principal how it's going to affect his or her position. Now to give you an example, the last time that they had this Master Contract up here -- remember when we had to go in and sit in the center up here in Damascus, and they had put up these things what they all wanted, and what the Board of Education wanted -- at no time do I remember that the principals had been consulted. And after that was over, the big thing that really bothered me the most was, I wasn't given additional help on bus dismissal, but it was dumped into my lap. And here I am, with 540 children. How do you get them all out to the bus if the teacher's job is finished as soon as the student leaves the door? In the master contracts, in fact I have the most recent one here, The Letter of the Law, from OAESA, talks about master contracts giving teachers more time in which they are required to supervise children. Now that's the difference in our day and age today. When I was a teacher, I had everything, including art, phys. ed. and music. And finally then, we had a music teacher, but everything else I did. And, you know, I went outside every day, and now they don't have to go outdoors, in most cases and lunch. Now they don't have to supervise bus dismissal. There's where I say the difference is, and I think you are going to lose these children, as far as, you know, having good supervision around them. And I know I don't like to say to take certificated people to do it, but it does take a teacher sometimes, rather than a volunteer or somebody like that. But I wanted to say that these master contracts bother me.
Q: A great deal of attention has been given to the topic of personal leadership in recent years. Please discuss your approach to leadership and talk about some techniques that you've used, and maybe an incident in where your approach was not maybe the best one.
A: I think probably what I'd want to do as far as leadership is that I think that a school that first of all is strapped, if, if a principal and maybe a small group of teachers find some things you'd like to have in a building and you have no financial backing, and I'm talking about, you know, pulling away from the PTO, because as a principal, if you have to say to a PTO, "Is this going to be district responsibility or is it PTO responsibility?" And so therefore there's where the principal has to come in. And so I, I really think as far as instructional, that every school should have some kind of a fund to allow a principal and a small staff to look at instructional materials, and so therefore, that's what I did here. And the other thing I see would be that I think that every school building will have various needs for inservice. You can go to the same school across the street, as compared to the school where I am at, and you can see different needs. So, you know, I think that the principal's leadership there as far as assisting teachers, you can't help but believe that the best thing to do is though inservice. And I remember, Kim, and I'm not going to tell you who it was, I brought in Leland Jacobs, and I even, and Leland Jacobs is a noted author in reading, probably one of the best. I'm sure he's no longer living today. The last time I knew about Leland Jacobs was that he was serving as a university professor over in Hawaii. And when I talked to him, I was just riding on cloud nine, because when he was here, he needed a place to stay. Well, in the meantime we had been remodeling here, so Mom and Dad said, "Bring him down." So we went down that night, and we talked around that table, and it was the most unique experience in my life. The thing was, that when I set that inservice up, this is what kind of is a, I have to say, is a negative overtone with me. When that was set up, I had to set up the meal, and I had to set up all the teachers coming in, and at that time we had a little trouble with reading. And I thought, boy I needed him. So he came in and really helped us out. But, at the end of that, I was responsible in providing the cost. I didn't get any district help, and I was told that after it was over. Now, and at the time, the superintendent never even came down to see the workshop, any of it. And, and I felt, here is Leland Jacobs, not because it was just Leland Jacobs, but, I mean, a person that's an authority in reading and language arts, and he didn't have the time to come down to see, you know, what kind of a workshop it was. And I still remember it, because I think it was probably one of the best workshops that I ever had.
Q: When was that, Don?
A: It must have been, like, in about 1975. And from that time on, Kim, I said it's sad that I felt this way, because I said for a while, "I'm not going to have any more inservice workshops." It's sad, because school, in my view, is something that's everchanging, and when you see a need that you as a principal would not have that expertise to fulfill, you need to go out and get someone who can help you, and that, and that's why I went to Dr. Leland Jacobs. So, but, but that to me I think is the principal's main responsibility, and I know you have another question here later about instruction, but, but I think you have to have instruction and management together. If there's a principal who's just going to be a manager, that's all you have. The instruction's going to fall off at the curbside. And I think that, you know, that both of them go hand in hand. And, but I consider my job when I was principal, as the instructional leader's duty.
Q: That's what we're going to talk about next, the interaction between being an instructional leader and being a manager.
Q: Would you give your, talk a little more about that, in terms of...?
A: When I thought about that question, I felt that you cannot tear apart one from the other.
Q: That they're so interrelated that...
A: Very definitely. If, if I was just going to be the instructional leader, and let the children come off the bus or go to the bus, or go to noon lunch, or go out to recess, without seeing that they're controlled, and you know, that is the aspect of a manager, you, you lose it. And, and you know, because you're working with those children, you could have the greatest instructional techniques, but if you don't have any managing quality there, you're done. You can have the best in the world, but, but so I think the both of them have to go together.
Q: Do you think that's changed some from when you first entered the field until just before you retired -- the management of children is more difficult, not more difficult?
A: Sure is. You're working with a younger generation of parent, and they are sometimes single family parents -- they're a single person family, you know, trying to raise children. And I think the situation is you can see the difference when you have grandparent day, compared to parent day. And when grandparents come in, "Oh, you're doing a good job, and I love to see your discipline." You bring the parents in then just one week later, "Why, you're too strict. They should never do this! Why do you have them walking in lines or watching for visitors coming in? They should walk anywhere they so please." There's your difference.
Q: So there's a generational difference you think...
A: There sure is.
Q: In managing children's behavior.
A: There sure is.
Q: I agree with that.
A: And the other thing is, too, your curriculum. You had another question on there too. Your curriculum, Kim, is getting so blown out of proportion that these teachers have no way to teach. They don't have the time to teach anymore. They really do not.
Q: You mean because of the amount of curriculum that needs to be covered, or...
A: Sure. You get, you get into drug abuse. You get into, you know, now you are getting into sex education, and you're getting into, I know some of the things with Sis Woods there about helping the young boys and girls grow up, in the health line and so forth. And by the time you bring all this in the, the main basics are being lost because they do not have the time to do it. They're, and now, from what I understand, they're getting into the new way of teaching math. I don't know how much you can load onto teachers and expect them to be able to achieve the competency testing that these children should pass.
Q: And they are talking about a competency test in fourth grade, and then one maybe at...
A: That's right, at grade seven...
Q: Six or seven. So you feel that it's going to be really difficult because of the expanded curriculum...
A: I think we're loading up too much on teachers. And, and you know, you just cannot go to the school, and say, "School, it's your responsibility to do it."
Q: As you view it, what characteristics are associated with the most effective schools, and which ones with the least effective schools?
A: Okay. I think that even though that you know, my past has been that people thought that I was so strict, but I felt that in doing that, you know, the effective schools need to be schools that have to meet the needs of these children, they do. And you have to have conscientious teachers within them. And to provide flexible grouping that's effective. Now, I want to tell you something, and I know that my view is not a popular one. But as you know, down at my building, during the last two years, I went through quite a crunch on, on curriculum and grouping. Now, we had two new, I'm not going to give names, but we had two new people coming in as so-called instructional directors, or curriculum directors. And I have respect for both of them, but I'll tell you, I would never, never, never in this world begin to go in to either one of their buildings in my first year and convert that building over totally from the previous grouping that was there, in one year.
Q: In one year?
A: One year. Now, my goal in an effective school was, I really tried to develop a non-graded structure, within a graded, you know, set-up. And that, because I wanted children to go as far as they could. And those that couldn't, I'd, we'd slow the pace. That was the philosophy that I had at that school. I'll tell you where that came from. Do you want to know how I got that idea?
A: Well, I was going for my Master's degree, Dr. Bob Ferguson was a teacher in that class, and we had, we had a presentation one night to make on self-contained classes as compared to gearing classes to meet instructional needs of children in a different grouping situation. And when I went in there, I wasn't completely sold on self-contained, because I'd been a self-contained teacher prior to taking that class with him. And I went in there, 90locked me in that night. They said, "No way do you have that much human potential to cover everything that a child needs."
Q: To meet the needs of that many...
A: Of all the different abilities in your class. And, from that moment on, we had some talks, I had talks with Dr. Ferguson later, and there's where I thought that the non-graded, let the children go as far as they could and challenge them. Well, that's what I did down at this building, and in this last year down there we had that pretty much grouped out that way in reading and math. And I know even, say, should I say it? You're not going to play this to anybody else? The County was against me on that. And, but you know, I have children coming back to me, parents still calling me today, "You don't think that's right, to do what they're doing down there?" I said, "Don't ask me, I'm not running it now." And they call me, and I simply said, well then, they say, "What is your position?" My position was I wanted these children to do as much as they could, and I wanted to challenge them. And but anyway, it's like I say, see this is what I'm saying about curriculum directors, at no time do I remember, we had one meeting last year; no, we had two meetings where it was given to us as an ultimatum that we were going to be self-contained. I left that meeting and later on I had said something to the person that was directing it, I said, "You know, I'm not all for that." "Well why didn't you say that when we were all together?" "Well," I said, "I suppose most of them around the table felt that way, because," I said, "I heard those comments." I said, "I'm down deep in. I cannot tell you that I'm for that." So it was that we had another meeting scheduled. We came back in all because of my account. And then after that, here's where, Kim, that I really have to be really candid, because I was just really completely upset about the whole thing, was that an individual came into my office and said, "I respect you, but that's the way it's going to be. And that I'm going to meet with your teachers, primary and then intermediate, and you don't even have to be there."
Q: So you essentially had no say in the matter at all?
A: No say, no voice at all. That is poor. Even though that my philosophy was entirely different. And so I, I went to the first meeting irregardless of whether I was invited or not. And then I was told on the second meeting, "You need not attend." Well, I would've attended anyway, I wanted to, because I wasn't, I wasn't afraid to do it. You see, I knew at the time, you know, about that, and with no say there, I mean that, that to me was probably, it was just the wrong way to handle it. But, you know, but that was the way it was. And the teachers, now, you know, did not, see I even had some mixed opinions down there, but I would say about 80way. And now they said it's someone just put us up on a high ridge and left us. Yes, and that's what happened.
Q: They don't have the support that...
Q: They really need.
A: And, Kim, you know, here's the thing. You talk about effective schools, at the end of the year, and during the year, whenever we could, I would sit down with these teachers and talk about, you know, how's this child doing or what's this child doing, and so forth. And I had all these sheets here, and I was looking, you know, back and forth, listening to the teachers, planning for next year. That's not going to be done. You know how it's going to be done, grouped next year? It was done this way, where the teachers in grade three had indicated to the principal where the children are going to be in September. That's okay, to have the teachers do that, but I think the principal better be right in there with them. Because some day, a parent's going to call up and say, "Why is my child in her room, or his room?" And you're going to look pretty silly if you cannot justify. And I, I put all my children in their classes, because I knew them. And I knew the teachers. And so therefore, you know, it was kind of like a random draw at the beginning, because I wanted to get a picture of it, see. And then if I saw a child in there that I knew that their personalities would not mesh, then I, I did some moving.
Q: Just did some juggling...
A: Sure. But, and you know, but we knew, I knew what those kids could do, coming in in September, and that's why we grouped it that way. Now, when you group them just heterogeneously together, well, you're just going to say, "John Doe, you're in this room," and "Mary, you're in this one," and there's no study on these children. That's, that's, and I, well I, here, I knew I'd do this, and I wanted to point out to you you've got to have effective policies which are fair, and that they are consistently followed. That leaves no doubt that one day you may react differently than another. You have to be the same. And another one would be that, okay, and then I said here that for effective schools, you have to let these, allow these individual schools to let that principal exert his, his leadership by allowing whoever's there to conduct a workshop to meet a staff instructional need, need, and hopefully the staff member should be able to, to give up some of their time to attend. I tell you Kim, that bothers me because they say, "No, I, I'm leaving. I don't have to go to that workshop."
Q: That goes back to the Master Contract again, doesn't it?
A: Yes, it does. And, and you see that's what I'm saying, because it's sad, because I think the principalship is getting booted both ways. And, you know, and if you want to set up a meaningful workshop, it could be the best in the country, but if not everyone is there, it's only as good as the people that are there to attend it, you know, to listen to it. And then, I last then say that the community must be involved and share your building's aspirations and goals. You need their morale, the financial support, to develop pride that the above can be accomplished.
Q: What about less effective schools? Can you think of something, is it just the converse of what we've been saying, or is there something that sticks out in your mind...
A: To me, I think maybe a less of effective schools, I don't know whether there are people out there or not, you know, some people may just go to the job, and if you become just only a manager, that's about all your school's going to do. It's just going to be a school of management. There's not going to be a whole lot going on in there, as far as instruction.
Q: Given the presence of administrative complexity, which we've been talking a lot about, if there were three areas of administrative responsibility that you could change in order to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of administration, what would they be?
A: First one, less clerical duties. In the school where I've been here for 24 years, I averaged 540 students. There was even a time, Kim, that when we brought down the fifth and sixth graders from Damascus, I had 630. I remember that. In fact, when I met one of these new curriculum directors and we had met administratively, I was told that I had the largest elementary in the county. And I did, I know I did. And if you have that many boys and girls with no administrative help to do all these clerical duties, you're hamstrung. I put down here, along that line, I realize a principal must sign all employees' absence reports, that means noncertificated as well as certificated. But the thing that bothered me was, I would get a call from the main office in the clerical department; I had to race up there within two hours to get it there. I had to drop everything I was doing. If I was in a classroom observing, I had to leave and make sure they were up there. Now I realize, you know, that we all need timelines to get these things up, but, you know, but I think that somewhere along the line, people that are in that position that do not really realize just how much a principal has to do, and they can't always just get up and go.
Q: A little more notice'd been handy?
A: And, you know, and I would say that even occasionally, with as many people as I see working up there, it may well be that they could have gotten in their car, and to come down and help. See, there's no way, no two-way street there, see. That's number one.
Q: Okay, what's another one?
A: Okay, there's been too much expectation of a person maybe working in some districts of carrying items from high school areas to take down to your office. Plus, I would say that I had to take some of my parent bulletins up there to get copied, because they had a more cost-effective machine. Well now, that's no way to get the use out of a, out of a principal, to, you know, take up a bulletin to be copied.
Q: Not hardly.
A: Thirdly, I put down here, assistance, I felt, was needed relating to the number of discipline problems from the twelve busses that I had, plus noon recess violations and, in my opinion, bus drivers needed to become more discipline-consistent and they were in dire need of a good workshop on how to conduct discipline. And they never had that. And so what happened was it leaned right back on the principal because, you know, the principal is always used as a threat. And that's where you'd go. And that makes the load very heavy.
Q: You'd like to do something beside spend your time disciplining, is that right?
A: And I think that that could have very well been eliminated, and Kim, you say three -- I have three more.
Q: Fine. Give them to me.
A: The next one would be the school needed increased time whereby we would have a school nurse on duty, rather than two days per week, because when the children would come in and claim to be sick, they'd either go to the secretary, and if you have a secretary that is somewhat lenient, which now we might have down there. The other one that I had was not, and she was down to business, and bless her heart, I'll tell you right now, my evaluation is, she did me a worth of a lot of good, because not that I don't, I like both people, but when it came to the job, the one I had was the person that was organized. And if she felt that I needed to look at somebody, then she would send them to me. But beforehand, why I had them coming into my office all the time. Okay, and then next of all, I, then I just simply say here that I think a person needs to be permitted and encouraged to develop needed workshops in a building. And then lastly, I put these reversed, I said, and here is the last one; here's another biggie. My custodians and myself, we've been always pretty close, you know as far as being cooperative. And now I had a couple, I guess, that sometimes, you know, I had to sit down with them and say, "Look, you're going to have to use your time more wisely," and they didn't always do that. But I did, and I was, it was something, Kim, that I didn't turn a blind side to. I talked to them about it. But I had one individual there, after you turn that off, I'll tell you who it was, but, but every time I would suggest anything, he'd just burn up. And that's a poor way of doing it. But anyway, to get back to what I'm leading to, whatever the custodians and myself had suggested needed repairs in that building to be done, or minor acquisitions of minimum materials, for example we had someone that told us I didn't need to connect my outside bell to call the children in from recess. "Why," I said, "How do you think I am going to do it?" "First of all," they said, "That bell you're talking about out there doesn't even ring for recess; it's only for fire drills." And I said, "Go and pull the fire drill sometime and find out if it rings." He did, and it never did, it never did ring. That was the outside recess bell, because I was there and attended there, I knew that was a recess bell. He wouldn't give the time of day to put a little buzzer up there so I could tap it, or my aides could tap it to bring the kids in. So his opinion was I was to use an air horn. Okay. "All right," I said. "You get the air horn, and," I said, "If you are that bold about it to tell me that I can't use that, then bring the air horn." See, I'm telling you things you didn't know. So the ladies went ahead and used the air horn for a while, and they came in and they said, "We're out of those canisters." Okay. We'll go back to the fellow that recommended I use this, and tell him we need more canisters. Well at the time it was wintertime, and he says, "We're not going to pay $.78 for something I can get for $.25." I said, "But I need the canisters." And I said, "You're talking about pennies." "Well, I'm not going to go out and get it." And I said, "Well, you'd better, because your, it was your idea to bring them in that way." But see this, and, and it went on and on and on like that, and this, and it went into other things. Lengthy postponements were experienced, and many times forgotten. You never had some of these things that could be fixed. The mercury light over there, saw it the other day, still burning, day and night. That, I'm sorry, but I just had to get that off my chest.
Q: That's all right. As a follow-up question, if you could change any three areas in the curriculum or overall operations of American schools, what would they be?
A: I would say that with children today, I would probably give them more follow-up guidance than what we're getting with these children. And I think that our intent would be very good, and I know that Dick really meant well, and of course, Muriel doesn't have time, you know. But I would say that we need to have more follow-up of these children to see what they're doing and how they're reacting, because we talk to them once or twice, and sometimes we don't get back to them.
Q: Do you feel if the school psychologist wasn't so bogged down with testing, that that might be a role that could be done by the school psychologist?
A: It probably could, but then when I hear our Director of Special Services, the psychologist may not have that kind of time. I mean, I think psychologists from the county are spread pretty thin. That's my opinion.
Q: That may very well be changed though, with the new standards, where the re-evaluation requirements are going to be very much less, which should free up your psychologist to do that kind of, provide that kind of service.
A: Yes, because see what happens there, Kim, is that I know most of the children that have been approached, or that the children went in to see the guidance counselor. I often wondered, you know, did they ever get their answer they're looking for, and many times, I don't think they did. And it's simply because we did not have enough time for follow-up. The second leading thing would be the schools are being held responsible to take care of all societal ills and to educate the children from the basics to the devastating effect of drugs and things like this. And I think the curriculum just needs to be pared down. You can't, you cannot expect these teachers to teach everything we're expecting them to do, and yet have these children develop good competency measuring skills. It's just going to be difficult.
Q: Sort of back to the basics, then, you mean?
Q: What else, Don?
A: Let's see. I don't know if I have anything else or not.
Q: In terms of curriculum or, or overall operation.
A: I think this is all. I just said, you know, I just felt that there's less time available to spend on the basics, and yet we're testing them in competency.
Q: Right. Which doesn't make much sense.
Q: Would you tell us the key to your success as a principal?
A: Well, I suppose, Kim, that even though that sometimes people might misinterpret my objectives, I really would make this statement. I was hoping that the students, the teachers and the parents hopefully would realize that I was being consistently sincere, and that I made the greatest attempt to carry out the necessary policies and behavior in a consistent manner. I went on to say here another comment. I said here that in my 24 years at Knox, I missed only three PTO Executive or regular monthly meetings. I tried to be a resource to these parents and hopefully was a testimony to them that all our acquisitions benefited these children. In addition, I tried to fulfill each day with the accomplishments of a healthy person as if it was my last day. I did. I, I would always get up and, you know, you know a little bit of my history. I know that when I had my difficulty in '85, the doctor shook his head. He says, "I, I'm ordering you home, and I want you to rest." Well, I was in here, you know, wanting to get mobility back, and I said to Jodene after I think a month, I think I was out about a month, maybe just not much more than that, and I said, "I'm going to go and make my visit." I'll tell you, Kim, when I went over there and walked into that gym (the staff was called into the gym), and that was the toughest, most difficult confrontation I've ever had. Because, you see, after my '85 incident, a person becomes more emotional. I could barely choke out the words. And I'll tell you, it was, at the time, there was a custodian that we had grown significantly very close, and that's Joe Grimm.
A: And, you know, there's nobody like Joe Grimm.
Q: I agree, I agree. No I, I probably understand that better than most people, because that happened to me, too. Do you want to talk a little bit about code of ethics?
A: Okay. I suppose, and I'm not so sure that this is what you're looking for in an answer on code of ethics, but I think, you know, you have to have something that guides your day and guides all the actions that you do. I felt that I, that at times I probably could have been more of a listener, but I did listen. I felt, I felt that I was a listener, and yet stood ground when it had to be done. That's my code of ethics. If, I just, I felt that, that yes, I would listen to what was said, and because I did not even, that I did not always give a favorable answer which they were looking for, I stood ground. And I tried to tell them the reason why I did it. So that's the first one. That's the first notch on. I believe, too, that I attempted to address everyone with honesty and integrity and tried to favor no particular individual. And then I go on to say, for you see, my grade four teacher that I had there, was my fourth grade teacher. My own mother was on the staff as a first grade teacher. My own son and other relatives attended that building. I had to be right up there where I had to be. And the third one would be, I gave praise where I thought it was earned, even though from several individuals that criticized about it, they felt that I was not lavish enough with it. But I felt that basically you had to earn it. And the last one is, that I knew that I'm somewhat classified as a conservative, rather than being really a liberal in my thinking and actions, and yet I try to remain creative, like to keep a school with different things going.
Q: Okay. If you had it to do again, what kinds of things would you do to better prepare yourself for the principalship? Do you think that there are some things that you could've...
A: Well, I don't know, I, I think that I'm, I have a tape of music in there from a lot of gospel quartets, and they have been asked the question, "What would you do again, you know, in your gospel music line?" My answer echoes their way, that I probably wouldn`t change a whole lot. I, there are some minor changes, and some of the minor changes would be that I would probably allow more time for staff members to change, especially at the Knox building, where I entered, to change their expectations to what I believed had been necessary to make that building function properly.
Q: What do you mean, Don?
A: Well, the reason for that was that when I came into that building, that building was being operated in three individual wings. The, the teachers down that way would, would do their own thinking, and lines of communication and their own policy setting. Then the middle hall would do the same thing, and the other hall would do the same thing, and I, there was never complete building unity in that building. And so when I came in there, I know that my superintendent felt that you've got to draw this together. And, you know, and I know that there had been some strong personalities in there. I don't need to say anything more. If I did, I would want that, you know, that to be doing something else. But I could tell you what happened to those people. And I would say that I'll never forget it, going down to the research center. Three people came in who really wanted to nail me good, put my skin right up on the wall there. And I said, "Listen, I'll listen to you, but don't address me like that again." And what happened was, you know, that is I said, "I'll listen to you, but don't threaten me." And see, that's what happened. And at that time, Kim, this is what I'm saying, you know, I think teachers need to respect administrators, as well as administrators need to respect teachers. And at that time, I didn't think that was going on. Now, I might have had high demands and high expectations, but I believe that that's why I loved Harold Morrow, because he set high expectations, and I felt I'd rather have a man with high expectations than not having hardly any at all. And that's, that's why I think that I wanted to kind of react more, you know. Be a little bit, somewhat like him, I tried to be. And then secondly, I possibly would have lightened up a little bit, especially in my discipline expectations, and away from the attitude that perfection was not the major goal. And that's probably what I did; I probably was headed to where I wanted to try to get that building to the point of perfection, what I believed perfection was. And, if I had to do it over again, I probably would change that somewhat. And then thirdly, and this is probably a big one, and I think, Kim, to the day that I quit, this is probably what made me leave. And it is, that I would give out more delegation of responsibilities which would be made to others, rather than feeling that the accomplishment of these items and activities had to be entirely upon my shoulders. I would probably, I would probably do that, because, you know, I, even when you come to spelling bees. I really wanted people to come that I felt would be good, and really down deep in, I wanted more than just our surrounding people to know where Knox School was. So that's why I worked out of Channel 8, and I felt they were good people. It took a while to get them convinced to come, but, but I felt, you know, that, that it even gave us some television exposure. That wasn't the really, the whole reason, but it was nice, because you know, these children could see these people right on television, and here this person's communicating to me, in that situation.
Q: Don, what suggestions would you offer to universities as a way of helping them to better prepare candidates for administrative positions?
A: Well, I think this day and age is changing, would be changing a lot of things for the university, but it used to be when I was going to school getting my training that I felt that it was almost like at that time that the administration within a building was like a one-person position that would be ultimately strapped and being held accountable and responsible for the decision that was finally made. I think now you're not finding that. I think, and I even forget the title of it, I know that there's a name for it, I think our school over here at West Branch was even headed for it, until the issues started to fall down. But wasn't it at a time where you, they encouraged you to include teachers, students, parents, and that the principal would be on a even level when all of these policies would be decided?
Q: Are you talking about site-based management?
A: Yes, there's your big change. And, to tell you the truth, I, I'm not so sure what is bringing about site-based management. I think that I have, I have strong feelings, I want to tell you right now, I have strong feelings about it. I could never operate in a site-based management. That was another key area that made me stop at end of year 30. It's not that I don't like to hear from other people, but my argument is: why can't I bring in all kinds of ideas from my teachers rather than having just a knit group? You know, I'm going to tell you something else that happened to me too, which you didn't know. I was forced to have an advisory committee. I didn't even like the word advisory committee because it was forced upon me, because I felt, my answer was, "I already have one." "Who do you have?" "I have all twenty of my staff members as my advisory council." "That's not good enough." So I had to select some. So I did, I came up with four. When I put the names of these people in, those four were not good enough. I said, "But I have, I have an advisory committee." It wasn't because they were all for me, I can even give you names of these people today. So what happened was, I had to include another person to bring into my advisory committee, and then people say, "Well why do you have that person there?" Do you know why? The WBEA president went to the superintendent and I was forced to have that person that was really under my skin constantly to be forced on that advisory council. Now you tell me, does that make a, a building run better? In my opinion, absolutely not.
Q: Did you have parents on your advisory committee, or was this just teachers?
A: No, well, my advisory, in, okay, I'll answer that question. In the PTO group at Knox School, I think is probably one of a kind because there are twenty-two people on the executive staff. And any time that I tried to get anything through, I had to clear all twenty-two. Now when the new, when the new principal came in down there, his first comment was, and I've said this for the last five years, and let me tell you how far it went. Two years ago I said to the president, "I'd like to meet with you, the vice president, secretary, treasurer, prior to the twenty-two meeting." And do you know that they made a motion to say that I could not meet with the president, the vice president, secretary and treasurer without their consent. And I told them, along with one teacher who was on with me, Roger Kitzmiller, he says, "You cannot strap that principal like that." And they wanted to know if that was my idea, and I said, "It sure was. Because," I said, "I'm not going to come in here to a hot bed with twenty-two of you trying to determine what we need and what we don't need." And, but, but see, that's, and so when you mention about parents, yes I have. I've had parent input and boy, it was something.
Q: But they weren't on that advisory committee that you were...
A: Not with the teachers. They were kind of like, they were a separate group and you know, but. No, on that twenty-two group though, we did have a teacher in there that knew what was going on.
Q: That was, must have been a little helpful, anyway.
A: Yes. She, that teacher didn't say much either, though, sad to say.
Q: Okay, what strengths or weaknesses, let's say what weaknesses are there in training programs for administrators tpday that you can think of, Don? Can you think of any weak areas in, in preparation?
A: Well, you know I, I had been serving on the advisory council there in Mount Union College, but that's been, gosh I haven't been on that now for the last ten years, and I kind of have lost contact, really, with that. But I think what I wanted to tell you here would be that, I had it down here somewhere, okay, was that, okay, I, I put down here that I think greater emphasis is needed to help candidates to become more knowledgeable in interpretating, in the interpretation of test data, because, I say that when, when we get into the, the standardized testing, or when we get into, I remember I was giving this math diagnostic test for children, the KeyMath, I learned so much with these children, and then when I would meet them in the hall, they'd smile and remember that we were together, you know, going over that. But you had to interpret that, and I think that the schools are touching on that somewhat, but I think that they, that they really do need to how to study the test data significantly, because if you don't, then you're not going to come up with the proper curriculum process and strategy for student success.
Q: So then you're talking, too, about competency testing.
A: Sure am.
Q: The better that you can interpret that, the better your instructional strategy is going to be.
A: And I, and I counsel the universities to help these new candidates to know what's on those tests and what they reveal.
Q: And how we go from there to instruction.
A: To remediate.
Q: Would you give us an overall comment on the pros and cons of administrative service, and any advice you would wish passed along to today's principals?
A: Okay, well I got into a couple things here, but will you allow me to back up?
A: Okay. And I just want to make this statement because I feel more complete if I do. But I think that principal and administrative candidates need to be knowledgeable about new educational technological equipment, because if they do not, they won't even know what to give or suggest to have the children to use when it comes to software and the new computers on the market. And, you know, and with our society the way it is, they have to know that. I just wanted to make that comment.
Q: Good, fine.
A: The next one is that the candidates must always be aware of legal updates, on custody battles, what's going on there. They need to know what's going on in these courts. They need to know how and when to report situations to Children's Services, and the suspecting behavior of children. They have to be able to know whether this child has a deep problem, and to help that child before it's too late. And, you know, and I think also there are some deep-seated problems within these children. I think that, too, that in my classes that I had at universities, they never talked about the proper tie-in with law enforcement. Now, the law enforcement that I had across the road, I was fortunate, because, you know, I knew what they could do and what they couldn't do. But whenever I needed them, they were there. And, now, because the, the situation down there now is with the sheriff's department out of Lisbon, would not alter my connection, because I still know the sheriff's department.
Q: They don't have the Knox Township Police anymore?
A: No. It's all sheriff, it's all county, county police. And they're getting more service out of the county police, believe it or not, than they are, they did the Knox Township Police.
Q: That's interesting.
A: And then, too, I had one little thing I was going to say on the side here. A course might be needed if you are the one who is responsible in selecting candidates for teaching positions. I never had much experience, if any, and when I had to go in. Fortunately, you know, Mr. Heacock allowed us to do most of our interviewing. Now we've changed a few things up here at West Branch, and how Mr. D'Eramo's going to do it, I don't know. I would hope that he does not forget the building principal. But anyway, if he doesn't, any candidate that goes in to have that position to, you know, to interview candidates for teaching positions, should have some background as to what to do with that, and I think some universities do.
Q: What to look for, and, and...
Q: You know, what kinds of, how to tell whether, whether they mesh with your own philosophy, you mean?
A: And let me tell you something, I'm not always sold, this is where I can be candid, I'm not always sold on what some of these districts have when it comes to recorded questions. They will go ahead and say, you know, they'll give, obviously, these people some types of situations to deal with, and they'll listen to their answers. I said to, I'm almost coughed his name out, but I said, you know, I don't know if I agree with who you're selecting. I was right up front, because, I said, I have to work with these people. I could've, you know, could've been having my nose chopped off. But, and they said, "Okay, tell you what you do. I'll give you the list of people, and you interview them." I said, "Good. I don't need that recorded device." So I brought them in, I lined them up where I would select them. Guess what? My list looked almost like theirs, who I believed to be the best. I didn't need to do that.
Q: Have you had much experience with, like, videotaped situations that people are bringing along as part of...
A: Sometimes, sometimes, but you know, Kim, it reminds me of going in for an interview like you're going out buying a car. You, you want to give your best image, and sometimes you have to penetrate to see where that, where that person stands on some issues. They may have polished answers, so what I do is I try to bring in some questions, you know, like how do you feel about PTO meetings? Or how do you, what would you do if a child, you know, has a problem? And how would you notify a parent? And when you get into questions like that, you get through.
Q: And then you know...
A: And then you know what that person's like.
A: Now, you, you I'm sorry.
Q: Now we'll go to the next one. Would you give us an overall comment on the pros and cons of administrative service, and any advice you would wish passed along to today's principals?
A: Okay, I would, I guess, you know, that I only have one comment and that is the whole thing boils down to, to exercising your innate intuition. Kind of a strange answer, isn't it? But that's what it all boils down to. And I believe that part of the things that I've been able to do in my life would be that I've been able to read individuals and can almost know what their thought processes are going on in their mind before they ever say it. And so what you try to do is, you know, you try to read people, and try your best to give what they're looking for. You can't always satisfy them, but, you know, as you go along, and something tells you, "Don't make that comment now," that's not the right time to make it. And you know, you just, and that's the aspect of, of being involved with people. You know, it's like saying to a person when they're going out buying a car, "Well, here's the paper -- sign it. I just sold my car." You don't do that. And you know, it, it has to be an innate type thing that you have to sense. I don't know how you get that; some people have a little more of it than others.
Q: That's obvious, just from observation. Well, I've worked with a lot of principals. Okay, despite my best efforts to make this fairly comprehensive, I must've left something out. Is there anything else that you'd like to discuss? We were talking about private schools...
A: Okay I, I had gotten an article once from a paper, I wished I would have kept this fellow's name, but anyway, he was a former president of a university. I cannot think, to save myself, who it is. But he has released himself of that position, and now he's going to head a drive across the United States to set up private education, and they are going to be funded. And when I looked at that, they wanted expansion. And knowing that my work in the public schools probably has closed, and yet I wanted to fulfill a need yet of being needed in helping children, I thought, inasmuch as I don't want to work, I'm not working against the public schools, but, you know, but still, because you see in that situation, I don't know whether they're going to be selective, they have to be somewhat. They're not, they're not going to be taking those people with problems, and yet I think they should be, and this is why I say it's unfair that if the private schools are allowed to exist, why then shouldn't they just take anyone that wants to enroll? Rather than being selective. So, you know, but, but I do think that you're going to find that the private schools are going to, they're going to be gaining in popularity. I think you're going to be finding more going to them. I had heard over here on Route 45 that it was around 45 they had. This year they were expecting 100, and I do not know whether they reached it or not. They might have.
Q: They could have. What about home schooling? Do you know, do you have kids on home schooling? Do you know of kids on home schooling? What do you think is ahead for that?
A: I think that home schooling is ultimately wrong. We had a person down below me, name again I won't give, but was a big football star at West Branch. I respected the family. I suppose if I would say more about it, which I will, they lost their mother to cancer, and I really felt bad for the family. It was a one, it was a week and a half later the father couldn't take it and he took his own life. It just about nailed me down to the floor when that happened. And then I brought all the children that I had in my building into my room. And this one young boy by the name of Bill, because he was the, one of the younger ones, he was down there voting this last election and he was in front of me. He wanted to vote and they wouldn't let him vote. And I said well,to myself, why won't they let him vote? They said his name didn't appear there. And he says, "Well, I voted when President Reagan was being, you know, president." And I asked them later and they said that every four years he needs to register. Every four years he has to register. I said, "Well how long has it been since he didn't vote the last time?" And they said, "Twelve years." So, but anyway, I remembered that boy and that's why I meant, make mention of it that the sister then came in and tried to hold the family together, and I really thought she did a magnificent job. And then, you know, she got into marital difficulties and that kind of fell through. But these children did come through pretty well. But see, he's the one, the older boy is the one that has home instruction. And he'll take his children and travel around the country, and they're outside playing all the time. Now you tell me, how can you play outside and go uptown almost every day and yet be home instructed, and, and get the same instruction as the children do at the public schools? It can't be done. And they lose reality connection, too, with society.
Q: And not to mention the fact that they don't have kids to play with, and they, their peer interaction...
A: The social aspect is, there's a vacuum there. And I just don't think that's the way to go at all. But I, in the building where I was of 540-some children I think we had, we must have had about four families. But now the one family, just absolutely had to have home instruction. Well then, she had her daughters on the way to be down here, this year. But she wanted her child to come back in grade six and had left in grade two. I said, "Well my dear, I'm not going to be down here anymore." "Well why not?" she says. "I want to bring my child back in." And she wanted help, you know, "Can I have some of your books and so forth?" And I don't know how that worked out, because it, it wasn't looked within favor, upon favor, to release our books to that child. So I don't know whether that child came back in or not. But see, that's what they do. They, they want to make that decision, they're out for two to three years, and then when the curriculum, I would suspect that the curriculum got rather difficult as that child had gotten older, and maybe the mother couldn't handle it. So see then, she wants to turn around and come back in now and, and coattail into the schools, see. And, but I'm, no I'm not in favor of home instruction.
Q: Okay. Anything else you want to comment on, Don?
A: No, I guess, guess that's about it.
Q: Well, thank you very much for your time.
A: You're welcome.
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