| Back to "D" Interviews | Index of Interviews | Protocol | Home |
Q: Please begin by telling us about your family background and your childhood interests and development. Issues such as birthplace, formal schooling, and family influences, etc.
(Streamed audio file of interview for this question using RealPlayer)
A: I was born in 1938 in Hazleton, Pennsylvania, which was a community of about 45,000 in the hard-coal regions of Pennsylvania. Until I was in about sixth grade, my dad was a coal miner. He was later injured in a mining accident and became involved in job retraining and then became a machinist for the rest of his working career until he retired and was in that capacity. I think a couple of things are relevant about that time. One, I was born before the United States entered World War II, and I saw even as a young person tremendous changes in the country following World War II with conservatively more economic influence after the war than before it. I guess the influences on me were my parents. I came from a very stable home. Two parents who were married 45 or 46 years before my dad died. I went to a local Catholic school from grades one through nine. They did not have a kindergarten, interestingly enough. But I was there from one through nine. It was a fairly formal, structured kind of school environment with a lot of nurturing and caring for the students. I always thought that the staff, mostly nuns at the time, was kind of hard on us in some ways. But I think that they were good teachers and insisted on achievement, and I think, at the same time, they demonstrated a certain concern and love for us that was different than any of the other schools that I attended later. Now naturally, when I went on to public high school later, it was a much larger school so I could not expect the same kind of individual attention. My parents were both hard working people. Of course, I indicated what my dad was doing and I think that the family values in our family - I am the first of four children - were hard work and close-family affliction. It was a natural kind of thing, nothing that was talked about a lot. But it just seemed to me that I was always taught that you had to put in time and effort to accomplish anything and that one had to try to do the right things. There were certain moral and to some extent religious values that were inculcated in me both by that early educational experience and by my family. I am still very close to my two brothers and my sister even though we are spread apart and my mother is still alive. And I think that, you know, is a reflection of the kind of closeness. I always felt a lot of love and security, and I guess I did not have some of the insecurities in my family even though we were not particularly well off especially in the early years. And everyone I knew in my neighborhood seemed to be fairly poor in the early days. But eventually that changed and no one seemed to think of it that way and no one seemed to be kind of culturally deprived because of the economic circumstances. Families seemed strong, people had houses, they worked hard, and they didn't have much. Many people did not have cars. It was a big thing when a family didn't get a car when I was a child. But no one seemed to know or feel that it would be something that was not good. I think that many kids today would feel that they were really deprived under those same circumstances but I never sensed that.
Q: Please discuss your college education and preparation for entering the field of teaching. How many years did you serve as a teacher? As a school based administrator and any other jobs in the field of education?
A: Following my graduation from high school, which was in 1956, I attended Pennsylvania State University. It was kind of a natural. I had applied and was accepted to several places. I really had very little idea about the college experience. Where should one apply? What should one study? As I look back on it, I was entirely flying blind and since I was the oldest of four children, I couldn't think of anyone else in my family that had gone, even in my extended family, that had gone on to college. I had a cousin who was at the University of Scranton and I nearly went there. But going to Penn State, which was the local state university, seemed kind of a natural. Some friends of mine were doing that and I did it in kind of a naive fashion. But it proved it be a good experience. I liked the university and still think highly of it for a lot of reasons. I had good experiences there. My experiences as an undergraduate at Penn State I would almost contrast with some experiences that I had as a graduate student here at the University of Maryland and, to some extent, at American University. I suppose that we have to have more of a handle on undergraduates and kind of take them by the hand more. But I always felt that at Penn State, I received more guidance and the guidance and counseling program just seemed better than anything I experienced later. I had one advisor during my four years at Penn State - one person - Dr. Nell Murphy. I won't forget her. Now my kids who have gone on - two of my children have graduated from the University of Maryland - they have had countless different people in different years serving as advisors and counselors. I don't think that they have had the same kind of continuity and consistency. And having that experience gave me some feeling I think for consistency in the way kids are treated in schools. I think we have not always looked carefully at what the affect of constant changes in our schools, school staff, moving people around, have on kids on a year-to year basis. They are always seeing a different face and we loose what I think at times is that personal touch that many youngsters could have if they had the same folks. Anyway, when I graduated from Penn State, my degree was in secondary education with a major in social studies and a minor in English. I was most motivated, as were many of my peers from the eastern part of Pennsylvania to serving in the New York - New Jersey area. For some reason that area is a natural draw to people in my part of the country. And I applied for several jobs and had one or two tentatively lined up in the greater New York - New Jersey area. A couple that I was interested in were in the Montclair area of New Jersey. And while I was doing that right after graduation, I received a call from a teacher of mine from Penn State, Dr. Jerry Wise, who was the head of the reading program at Penn State. I had gotten interested in that program. I had done some work in the reading lab at Penn State, took some courses, and also did some work for pay while I was there. I got to know him and be friendly with him. He just called me up one day on his own and it shows you, I think, a nice personal touch. I was one of his many students. He called me at home. My home was 125 miles from the university. I had graduated and he told me he knew of some jobs in Montgomery County. He gave me a name and a number to call. He said why don't you look into it. I think you might find it interesting and so forth and so on. And I did. I just picked up the phone that very afternoon and called. I don't know whom I was talking to and they said come on down and see us and gave me directions. I knew very little about Montgomery County or Rockville. A few days later, I just got in my car and I drove down to Rockville. I had a long interview at personnel, which was in a different building and talked to a supervisor who was located at the Takoma Park Campus and went to see a principal. They sent me to see a principal at Sligo Junior High. They apparently needed teachers! They were very hard up. What they wanted me to do, although it was neither my major nor my minor, they wanted me to be a reading teacher or what they called a reading specialist at the time in a large junior high school - Sligo Junior High - which at the time had I think around 1400 students. In the second year I was there, they said it was the largest in the state. So by the time I came home that day and I drove back the same evening after a long exhausting day - a three-hour drive each way - they had offered me a job. It seemed kind of intriguing and the salary at the time was $4,500 which in 1960, which at the time I think was-$200 - $300, more than New Jersey was paying. The annual increment, the increase each year on the salary scale in Montgomery County, was $300 and the job in New Jersey (several of them) was $200. I made a practical decision. I don't know how much those numbers actually influenced me. I think a little bit. I also think it seemed kind of interesting to be coming to the Washington area as opposed to the New York area. It didn't seem to me at the time that it was something that I would be doing for a long, long time. So I decided to give this a try. After a little bit of thought, I accepted it and sent in my in contract and so forth. I began my teaching career at Sligo Junior High School. It was in its second year of operation and in a new building in Silver Spring. We had a very fine principal - a man named Thomas Conlan, for whom I worked in two different schools and a person that I have always respected and learned from. I was the reading teacher there for two years. We had a good reading system in the school system at the time. A reading supervisor, a countywide supervisor who had very direct control, ran it. We would meet once a month. There was an ongoing in service program because I only had minimal training in the area, although I did have enough for certification because of my work at Penn State. I learned a lot and I ran the program at Sligo. I actually got it started for a couple of years. Then in my third year, I was going to do some graduate work and going take a semester or a year to do some graduate work at the University of Maryland. I had applied and actually had been granted the academic leave. I was working part-time for a consulting agency that used to give courses, mostly courses in reading and speed reading, to government agencies. In fact, I taught courses at the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Lab and co-taught one at the University of Maryland. I guess people thought they were taking it from the university but they were taking it from our private agency and we supplied the course and the teachers. I use to in my part-time job go down to the Federal Triangle Education Consortium, which is a consortium, of federal agencies, i.e., post office, Commerce, Labor Department, Coast Guard, and a number of others in the triangle on Pennsylvania Avenue. We would do registration in the lobby of the Department of Commerce. We would offer courses within this Federal Triangle of Education Association, I think it was called at the time. Anyway, I was working part-time and was going to take academic leave. I had a hard time, though, getting my courses lined up at the University of Maryland. One of the many times that I felt some difficulty in the organization of the university. It was large and things were not offered at the right times. It was hard to get in, you could not get a course or what have you. As fall came rolling around, I still did not have my schedule lined up the way I wanted it. So I indicated to Montgomery County that if there were a position I would like to return from academic leave without having really used it. They said fine. They still needed teachers. The same day they sent me to see a principal at, of all places, Gaithersburg High School. (Where Fred S. Evans is currently principal.) I just went up there, met the principal, and they needed a reading teacher. They signed me up on the spot. So I spent the next year there which was a good experience. I ran the reading program at Gaithersburg High School and I hope that I made some contribution. The next three years, and this is now 1963 - 1966, I returned to work with my former principal, Mr. Conlan, who had now taken over at a new high school - Albert Einstein High School in Kensington, Maryland. Somehow I had bumped into him along the line and he indicated that he had positions and if I was ever interested in coming back down county. I lived in Silver Spring and the road network of that time and traffic and everything else was a lot easier to go to work in Silver Spring. It wasn't the commute to Gaithersburg, although I liked it there. At Gaithersburg we had a semi-rural kind of environment. In those years, there was no Montgomery Village; there was no Bureau of Standards, or National Institute of Technology. All of that development had not hit the community yet. So we had some kids from farms and we had some kids from landed estates where they had horses and so forth. We had some poor children and some affluent children all together in a building. It was about 1,000 students, so it was not particularly large as high schools go. So I liked it very much but in order to get closer to home. To some extent to work again with my former boss Mr. Conlan and some of the staff that he had at Einstein which were some of the former staff from Sligo Junior High, I transferred to Albert Einstein High School. Over the period of the next couple of years, I did a number of things. He would, on occasion, call on me to kind of do things when they were sort of in a pinch. My first year there, at the very beginning of school, the business teacher that had been hired did not show up. I don't know what happened. There were some personal things. They canceled the contract and did not have a teacher. Apparently, they could not find one in short order. So, he called me in one day and about two days before school started he said, would I teach five business classes, including one business math class. I had no training or background in this at all. I told him that. He said, well, that is okay. The department chairperson will help you and give you books and things like that. Don't worry about it. So I said, "okay." I did that for a semester at least. I know that when I started in they said they would get a teacher right away. But they never got one until about February. So I had a semester where I taught four general business classes and one business math class. I did it. I had a few courses in college in economics and some political science courses that had some business type applications in it. But I did not have any certification in the area. I certainly was not as prepared as the other business teacher was. But I read the manuals and the curriculum and I worked with a couple of the teachers and so forth. I got through okay. I think it just goes to show that ordinary people can do things like that if they study and learn. The only way to do it is not merely taking some courses at the university. I think I did a credible job. In business math, I got to be very good about working problems backwards because I would look at the answer in the answer key in the teacher's manual. In order to figure out the problem, I would work it backwards. Every once in a while when I wanted to show the kids that their teacher really knew what he was doing, I would just have them give me an answer for one of the known problems. I would then quickly work it backward from right to left on the board - tricks of the trade. That always amazed the business math class. How could you work the problem backwards? What they did not know is that I struggled a little bit working it forward. That went well. They finally hired a teacher in the second semester. I was the work program coordinator there for about a year and a half. There were two of us. There were several different kinds of programs where we had kids who were in school part day and we found jobs for them and had them working in the community and we supervised them on the jobs. This was really an eye opener for me in a way because one could get out into the community. I spent half of my day getting out in the community talking to community people, meeting local businessmen/businesswomen, and looking at kids in job situations. So it was kind of a learning experience about all of the things going on in a school and how important community support was, I think, to an individual school. Near the end of my third year at Albert Einstein High School, I noticed an advertisement in our school system Bulletin for administrative intern positions in training. I talked to my principal about it. He said he thought it would be a good thing for me to do. I applied for it and that's a training position to provide assistant principals and ultimately leadership staff for the school system. At the time they had a program going which was sponsored by the National Association of Secondary School Principals (NASSP) under Jay Lloyd Trump. I've met him a number of times. The co-sponsorship of the University of Maryland and the school system and after applying they really made a big deal of it. You had to take the leadership-training program at Montgomery County. You had to take a full day's test. There was a three-hour test in administration, supervision, and leadership that was designed by Educational Testing Services (ETS) of Princeton just for Montgomery County. We had our own norms. That was three hours in the morning and then in the afternoon we took the national teacher's exam. It was a generalized kind of thing. So it was six hours of testing. About one and half-hours of administration, about an hour and a half of supervision - that was the unique exam for Montgomery prepared by ETS. The national teacher's exam was given on the other half of the day. Then, interestingly enough, every person who did that - and, I guess if you scored within a certain ranges - they called us in on a Saturday morning. The head of the department of staff development sat down with us for about 30 or 40 minutes, one at a time, and went over all of the test results and the analysis that they had made of it with us. I did well on that test from what they told me. There were only two internships available at the time. They used to do two a year as certain "innovative" schools. I was offered one of them. I accepted it. I will give you a chronology of what jobs I went into after that and then we can go back and talk about any one of them if you choose to do so. I left Einstein at that time and I became an administrative intern at Randolph Junior High which was considered to have an innovative program in terms of schedule. It was based on the so-called "Trump Plan." We can talk about that later. After a year's intern, I became the assistant principal there and I served there nearly three years and I'll explain what that was. I left there and went into a position at the Board of Education Central Office and I became the Assistant Director for the Department of Pupil and Program Appraisal. That was the department that did all of the testing and evaluation studies at that time. Most of those functions, today, are in the Department of Educational Accountability - although there has been a little bit of reorganization. After nearly three years in that position, (that's a little story as to how this happened) I became principal of Julius West Junior High School. It is now a middle school but it was a junior high school at the time. I became the principal of the school in March of 1970 - 10 years after I had come to the school system. I stayed there nearly 10 years. In 1979, I moved into a new position as an instructional supervisor in the area office. I did that for two years. I was also the acting area director for educational services (the number two administrator in the area office). We had about 36 - 40 schools to administer from that office. Leaving that position, I became the principal of Rockville High School. I stayed there from July 1, 1982, through June 30, 1993 - when I retired after 11 years there. At that point, I had 33.3 years active service in the school system. Since that time, for about five years now, I have been working out of the Office of the Deputy Superintendent of Schools on a part-time basis. I am retired but I have been working part-time as a hearing officer for appeals that go to the superintendent's level in the Montgomery County Public Schools. That's just a little chronology. So I was teacher in three schools, assistant principal in one, a principal of two schools, supervisor and director in an area office, and that brought me through 33 years.
Q: That's quite a career, quite a career. I'd like to get into maybe some more nuts and bolts of the principalship. I think you've spoke very well to some of the things that influenced you. I'd like to look at what kinds of experiences and events - if you could give us some key events - maybe two or three key events - in your professional life. I know that there were many in your professional life that influenced your management philosophy about being a principal. If you could discuss those. What experiences/events in your professional life influenced your management philosophy? Please discuss these events.
A: That's a big question and a hard one. I guess I can talk about some things that are maybe the most important things and maybe they're not. I became aware kind of early in my teaching career that it was important for teachers to see and talk to their administrators, both the assistant principals and the principals. I also became aware that some of the teachers commented on that. That would often comment that they did or did not see the persons to whom they reported. It seemed to me that on the one hand teachers, and I was one of them, liked to kind of be left alone sort of and it is an unusual attitude. You know pay me, give me a bunch of kids, lock me in a room, and let me alone. I don't want any kind of big watching of what I do. It seems to me on the one hand a lot of people like that but on the other hand, they seem to be saying this in a paradoxical way. We want people to know what we are doing and to appreciate it. We want to feel that we are part of an organization, not out here entirely alone. You could be awfully alone as a teacher in a classroom. So they want to see the principal. So I became aware and maybe I did not articulate it exactly this way that the leaders in the schools, especially the principal, should be as visible as possible and should have personal contact with the people that they supervise. That is a very hard thing to do. I think later on as I became an administrator and had many failings in this area, it was something that was always in the back of my mind. It was something I was never entirely comfortable with in my own performance but something that I was always striving for. Be more visible and try to have small bits of personal contact, conversation, with as many of your staff people as your could - I mean all of the staff in that regard. I always encouraged other leadership staff; you know assistant principals, department chairpersons, and so forth, to do the same. Most difficult for the principal because he has most of that. So I don't know if it was a single defining moment or event, it was not long in my teaching career that I remember thinking about that and hearing that paradoxical view. I wanted to be alone and yet I want to see the principal, to talk to the principal, I want him/her to come to my class, that kind of thing. And that was out there. So I think that's a formative kind of thing. I think that one of the things that I became aware of that is that I worked with several principals at Sligo and Einstein, at Gaithersburg, and then at Randolph. So I worked with four principals with different styles. I became aware of the need that staff seems to have for clear direction. That one of the worst things for groups seems to be, and maybe they pull out of it after a while, but this free-floating anxiety where they really don't know what our goals are, what our direction is, what the philosophy is, how people are reacting to it, the fact that a number of us are pulling in different directions. So I don't know how one would define that. But I think that clear goals, structure, the sense that there is an organization here that operates consistently, that we are going to get answers when we have questions, and that whole milieu. So that as an administrator when I start thinking about it, I aspire to be someone, and again, I'm not saying that I did all of these things, I'm just saying that these are things that I tried to do and things that were on my mind almost every day. Not only wanted to be visible and have personal contact but I wanted the schools to have a feeling of structure and order and consistently. So when a memo came out it was clear and it made its point that there were routines those teachers and kids could depend on. Unfortunately, I guess when we deal with the masses of students and staff that we do today as principals, I think routine is awfully important. I think that some of the innovative thoughts and efforts that I've experienced back in the 60's and 70's didn't take into account the need for that. Some of our programs where we tried to give high school kids, for example, large amounts of unstructured and unscheduled time. I don't think that it worked out very well for many students.
Q: That's excellent. I think it is articulated very well. You don't have to comment - I'd like to just make the comment that some of that routine could have been tied in with what you said at the beginning, your Catholic school upbringing. Because I'm sure that the routine there was very structured - a very structured situation.
A: In my very early years at Catholic school, we actually would stand up to recite. Now they gave up that practice I guess when I was about in fourth grade. But my early years you actually stood up and told about your notes. There is one other point I'd like to make though in terms of my early thoughts on administration is in addition to the visibility of the principal, and the structure, and the order, and the consistency, and the clarity of purpose, and clarity of communication - I think that I also sense as a teacher some need for a human element - where staff that work with the leader feels some sense of the person's humanity. That they have some sense of the person as a person. What they thought, what they were like. I think humor is awfully important. There are various aspects of that. But if one is only a remote figure that is seen and that structures a school, I think staff and students very much so - very much so students - in modern administration. I think that my high school principal - I think that I only saw him two or three times that I can recall. They were really remote figures and no one thought that was unusual. I just don't think that one can manage people and in today's environment without being far more reachable - understandable kind of person. So in simple terms I would say, principals need to be out as much today talking with kids, patting them on the shoulder, joking with them a little bit, and taking the opportunity to be human and let then see that you are a person - a real person.
Q: That is very good. All right. Once again, Mr. DeBalso, all of these questions, books can be written on them. So I appreciate your succinct statements. They are very good. Describe your views on what it takes to be an effective principal, describing the personal and professional characteristics of the "good principal." What kinds of things do teachers expect principals to be able to do?
A: First of all, I think an effective principal is one who accomplishes the goals and mission of the organization. I'm not sure that it always happens. I think that the mission is set by the organization, if there is an organization, if you're part of a school system, and I guess every school is a part of some size school system. I think that there are goals and objectives, I'm not talking about course objectives, but broader goals and objectives. I'm not sure if they are actually looked at carefully, but I believe that someone who is effective gets those things done. I believe that they are hired to do that and they should be worried about getting that done. So effectiveness is a degree to which I think one accomplishes the goals, missions, and objectives of the school and of the curriculum. The personal and professional characteristics of a good principal - I think people with a lot of different personal characteristics can be good principals. I think the things that I talked about a little bit earlier, you know, strike me as being characteristics of a good principal. I think that is one of the reasons we've had trouble selecting people for these positions. I believe that it is a difficult task and also difficulty in training people for these kinds of things with known outcomes is because the whole concept of what is a good principal and how do you measure it, and how do you quantify it, and how do you train for it is as much of an art as it is a science. Maybe more art than science. I don't think that we have a completely good handle on that. I know some researchers say they do but as I see the world going by I don't see us as having done much better job training people than we did a considerable number of years ago. But in my own view, I think we should psyche out if that person has any ideas - and this sounds naive, but - I think the person should be intelligent enough to have some conceptual idea of how they would run a school, manage a school, work with the various dimensions such as the kids and staff. I think we should look at quality of ideas, to some extent. I suspect that there is one thing that is missing and a lot of what I see and read about it's that. You have to have something in mind that you want to do, that you can do, and a direction that you want to take the school. I think the person has to be of the highest ethics. How we determine that is not a matter that I could define here today. But we need to kind of look for that. A person is really a role model, I believe, for students and staff. I think far more so than we believe. I believe that if we are talking about school principals, I think this is true of other leaders in other areas, that what they are, what they seem to be as people, I think has an awfully pervasive effect on the folks around them. I mentioned early that I think a good principal should be humane, and I mean that, and I think there is time when one of our old superintendent's here, Dr. Homer It, used to say, "You have to know when to break the rules and the secret is to know when." A lot of people are breaking the rules but the people who know exactly when to do it are the people doing the best job. I think that it is true. I don't know how to define that. I think effective communication is another major kind of characteristic. The principal should - must communicate with the constituents of the school, the community, the parents, and students, and the staff. What the school is about, what are its goals, objectives, its mission, and how are we going to go about realizing them. That communication has to be a continuing kind of thing. I think that it is, in my view, one of the most important aspects of leadership. Having some good ideas about things and/or being able to elicit them from staff and then being able to communicate them to the entire wide community, including the staff. Developing action plans as to how everyone realizes these goals, objectives, and missions to me is a critical factor. I think the effective principal is a good communicator. I think that is an area where training could have a good affect where experience has a good effect, working with the right kind of people, and just getting opportunities to do it. I believe that as we train people in positions below that of the principalship, give him/her an opportunity to be communicators with departments, with groups of parents and kids, and that's an ongoing process. I don't think any principal is completely convinced that they have reached that ultimate place in that continuum but that one ought to continue to work on it. One can get better at that every single day in the way we speak to people, to groups, to individuals, and the way we write and the things that we intend to comment on. I think that almost every school needs more communication from its administrators and every school community needs it - you can hardly have too much of that. The kinds of things those teachers expect principals to be able to do? I think that teachers expect principals to be able to organize the school. I think they do not respond well to disorganization - they do not want sloppy organization. They expect schedules to be right, supplies to be available. In addition to organization, I think that they expect the principal to try to get the resources that the schools need. They don't often say that, but one of the biggest things that teachers want is they want principals to get "stuff" for them. Get the money, get them help, get them aides, get them equipment, get us modern computers and software, and all that. That is kind of a hierarchy of needs sort of expectations. But I believe that teachers, down a little bit deeper, and it is not said enough, appreciate principals who can interact with them at a conceptual level about their program, about how they can improve as an individual. That is a very sensitive area, I realize, and some react better than others. But I think that teachers do expect that. I think that they think that the principal should have some role in supervising them. I am using that in a broad term - giving them suggestions, ideas. And I believe although they might be a bit weary of that I think that they respond well to it when it is done in a constructive way. So organization, gaining resources, and the broad area of supervision, which then gets into evaluation, I think are things that teachers expect and want of principals.
Q: There are those that argue that more often than not, central office policies hinder, rather than help, building level administrators in carrying out their responsibilities. Would you give your views on this issue? If you were king, what changes would you make in the typical system wide organizational arrangements as a way of improving administrative efficiency and effectiveness?
A: I often have had that feeling that certain policies do hinder. Not all policies, but as you look at a good sized school system, they'll have one or two very large volumes of regulations. You could almost make the case that you can find conflicting direction in there. You know, if you look under one regulation it says do this and another regulation says do that. So I think that there are times when it can hinder. In general, however though, I mean anyone looking at this thing logically and realistically has to understand that organizations have to have policies. And not to have it would really be chaotic in terms of trying to administer anything consistently and fairly. So there have to be policies. We are employees of organizations and they have certain goals and objectives and they have the right to set them. Principals, and most people work for school systems, are implementers. They are given some directions and asked to implement them. I guess if I were talking kind of informally with a group of principals, I would say that everyone is going to have some policies. Some you like, some you don't. And the key to your success, to some degree, is how to use those policies to your own devises. If the role of an administrator and a leader is to accomplish the goals the he/she, or leadership group, or even the staff have come together and agreed upon, then how can one use these policies to carry that out. You know, to accomplish these goals? As you know, experienced principals find things in the policies that support what they want to do, use them as a matter of support, so I would say that even now, even with the most complex set of policies, that effective principals can use them effectively to support what they want to do. If one does that properly, you don't have to feel that you are being completely stymied. There may be a given thing that you cannot do by regulation, but I think we also have to look at it if we are trying to look at this broadly with a little perspective, that there is a lot of protection for school staff in these policies and all policies -that you are carrying out the dictated mission of the school system as laid down by a Board of Education, in Montgomery County's case, an elected board. In doing so, you are one of many who are doing that. You are not out there alone. In the public arena today, you can be crucified very easily whether you are a politician or school person, or what have you, by virtue of what one does. But if you have a policy on it, whether it is prayer at graduation which is very controversial, or read about it in the paper all of the time. But the individual school principal certainly should not be picked off like that, should not be put out so that one school does it, one school does not. In one place you can ram it through and in one case it has support and in another case hung in effigy for doing it. I think that the policies are a tremendous protection. I don't mean to hide behind them. I think sometimes we can get to the point where people are just automatons and kind of want to hide behind these policies. But I believe this is one of the characteristics of a good principal. That is he/she can use policies as they are to effectively carry out their leadership role and at the same time, find a kind of protection in them. They are a necessary kind of thing. I would like to say as the second part of this question in that it relates to the first. What kinds of changes would you make in a typical system? I do think that we need, and maybe we are getting somewhere and I've always felt that as a principal we needed a little more input, from the practitioners in the school - teachers and principals in the formulation of policies. That is not as easy as it sounds because boards of education only have so much time, they have to debate them, they have to act on them, and they have to consider the will of the public. But I believe that we have to continue to work and it will be for the good of all to continue to work to have the views of principals and teachers taken into serious consideration into the development of these policies. I don't know exactly how that should be done. There may be systematic reviews, certain policies by practitioner, maybe in the summertime, there may be standing committees, it may be that principals as they work with their normal work groups as part of the system offer - and I don't think that principals in my experience here in Montgomery County up until the time I retired, I don't think we were as effective as we could have been as principals in really changing policies. I think that there were times we would indicate some disaffection with the given policy, but I don't think what we did was consistently and constructively offer alternative policies, new write ups, here's a better way to do it - superintendent and board of education. We can all work together on this and doing that in really a collegial, cooperative kind of fashion. I think that every once in a while there is a little explosion over something the way there was, say, over discipline policies and expulsions and stuff in our own system some time ago. But I think over a period of time, if principals, and I think teachers to some extent too, if we could develop some more mechanisms to comment on, review policies, build into policies, and change policies. I think we will have less of the feeling that these policies really hinder rather than help us in carrying out what we have to do. In terms of other changes in system wide organization, wow that is a tough one! I've always been in favor of flatter organizations with the supervision of schools being closer to the schools. As you know in our own system, we had area offices, which were an attempt to do that. Because of budget reasons, they were cut out. We don't have that anymore. We now have an administrative network that is a little bit more such as what we had in the late 60's and early 70's. Although we have an Office of School Administration, it is somewhat more central-based rather than area-based. I would continue to push for a flat organization with the immediate supervision of schools being as close to those schools as possible. In a large system, I think some sort of area network is superior to the highly centralized bureaucratic system. I think one could speculate on a lot of other changes if one were king, in terms of improving administrative efficiency and effectiveness, but it may just be not worth the time to mention some of those kinds of things which are really dreams rather than reality. I see changes happening at an evolutionary way not a revolutionary way. The many reform movements, we keep hearing about reform movements. I don't know how many I've lived through. I think the impact of them has been very, very modest. Our schools are still very much like they were. Now many people decry that and say that's the whole problem. Maybe they're right. But whether they're right or wrong, that is the way it is. A high school in Montgomery County today is very much like the high school I attended in many ways - organizationally and so forth. Things outside the schools have motivated big changes I think in the areas of curriculum and program. And I think the schools have been good in picking up much of it. For example, a lot of what has happened using computers just from 1982 when the first PC hit the market - there has been a very substantial change in programming, curriculum, and what happens with kids in schools just because somebody put a PC on the market in 1982. Software became available and schools have been picking it up reflecting what is happening in society and what is happening in the job market. That's been a very profound and significant change. I think that kind of change is what the schools are doing a good job dealing with assuming the resources are available.
Q: There are those who argue that the principal should be an instructional leader, and those that suggest that, realistically speaking, this person much be, above all, a good manager. Would you give your views on this issue and describe your own style.
A: I guess that depends on how we define instructional leader and I think we have a concept of what it means to be more of a manager rather than an instructional leader. I was weaned on the concept of the principal being an instructional leader. I accept that. I think that is a critical role for the principal. I know many people are saying realistically you don't get into much instruction because you are managing a large organization and so forth. And that you don't have the time or the knowledge or the expertise. But my definition of an instructional leader, is someone who is involved with instruction, who persuades people in the instructional realm, who evaluates the instructional program and people who are delivering the instruction and who is a change-agent. By that, I think, that general definition, if it is a definition, the principal is definitely an instructional leader. To be considered only a manger, I think, would be a diminished role. I think it would diminish the leadership capacity of the principal. To be so considered, I think is almost a little bit demeaning to the role. I don't mean that managers are people that are demeaned. I mean if that were all that a principal did, I don't think that is enough. I think some people try to do that and I think that they are failing in that role. Principals see teachers work; they evaluate those teachers in terms of continuing their jobs. I think that a principal has to look at that school and say, "Here is what, and be one voice at least, my students need. We need more programs in the area of gifted kids, we need things for kids who are failing, look at all of the kids who are ineligible, and what can we do for the kids that cannot pass the algebra requirement?" I think that every day that is the principal's job. That is the heart and soul of it. They have to be looking at the things that are happening with their students and with their school and try to come with their colleagues - getting advice, getting help using committees or with subject coordinators, figuring out what this school needs to serve these students. If one were only a manager, I guess your could subsume some of that under that role, but I think we would be missing a whole bunch of stuff. I do think that the principal to be fully competent in his/her role must be an instructional leader. I think it is the most important single role. It is the one that is easiest to get rid of because it is most difficult one. It is very easy, and sometimes comfortable, for us as educational leaders in a school to just work with the nuts and bolts and the management. You can occupy all of your time, you can make yourself feel that you're doing good work, because you know, because the schedule is okay, and the memos are out, and the locks are given out and all of the kind of stuff. The school seems orderly and disciplined - but you know if there are a lot of kids failing and if you don't have enough kids taking AP courses and you think that you should have more, and if no one can get through pre-calculus, and therefore, the calculus program is waning - one has to look at that and devise strategies to remedy those things. Most of all, I think one has to look at, are the kids being successful in this program, are they getting out of it what they should, and if they are not, then that program should be changed and the principal should figure out ways to change it?
Q: Cultural diversity is a topic of great interest and concern at this time. Would you discuss the nature of your student body and comment on the problems, challenges, and triumphs in which you participated while serving as principal?
A: That is a difficult question. I think we would probably agree that school should serve everyone - I'd know that we'd agree on that and should offer the kinds of programs that would give a reasonable expectation of success for all students. I think that we know, too, that students who come from economically poor backgrounds, regardless of their race and ethnicity, poor kids traditionally do not do as well in school academically. As a result of that, they often, not always, but often, have behavioral and other kinds of concerns, which then surface. When I was an assistant principal in a junior high school in this school system, the school at that time, 1966, was almost 100 percent white. I don't think we have any schools in that category now. The school had a very significant portion of its population who came from a very low-income housing development in the area, which was built right after World War II. They were inexpensive homes which poorer people moved into. That group of students, within that all-white population were the same, racially, but culturally very, very different. You had the kinds of things that you would expect. Those kids weren't doing as well academically, they failed courses at a greater rate, had more serious attendance problems, often times behavioral issues, and what have you. The school had to constantly work, and it did a pretty good job of this, probably could have done more and should do more. I think that we would do more now. But I think it is one indication of what this socioeconomic factor is that seems to cut across all other lines. Poor kids just don't have the same advantages - they grow up without them and the degree of disadvantage grows as they go along in the school system. They drop out at higher rates. We have good data on this - both I think nationally and probably locally. Again, that school which is responding to that community - that can't just put a county curriculum into affect - or just put a canned program into effect. That school has to figure out some things to do for those kids that are not being successful. Those things are different courses, teachers who are trained in that area, programs to beef up skill acquisition, tutorial programs, support programs, nurturing, counseling, communications with families and parents, and all of the things that we know how to do. We know how to do a lot of things and we know that some of those things work and often a bunch of them work together. We don't always know why but I'm not sure that we always put every one of those resources at the disposal of everyone of the kids that has that need. Kid gets locked into a schedule and he is off here somewhere and we don't get him into this and that program. We don't get him with this and that teacher. I think that is a role of that principal to insist that happens in a school and to get the counselors to do that and the staff to do that. I think that people become very mechanistic in our bureaucratic system in schools. They think that they are doing good jobs - many times they are doing good jobs - their hearts are in the right place - but those services are not coming, are not being brought, to some of the kids who need them. The principal has to keep looking at that and make sure that those people get those services to those kids. Even though their hearts are in the right place, they don't necessarily do the right thing. So I found in that experience, and in my internship as an assistant principal, that I experienced for three years, that it showed me that within the school, even if all the kids in the school look alike, there are significant differences and it was our role to try to define how the kids were doing and to provide different experiences for them. In two other schools where I was the principal, we had more diversity. More than the junior high school - very significant diversity both racially and socioeconomically. So we had both affluent and non-affluent white kids. We had affluent middle class black kids and non-affluent black students came from poorer backgrounds. We had a very small Hispanic population, which had some of those same characteristics. We had to provide things that would satisfy everyone. In the junior high school at the time it seemed to me that there was a lot of community dissatisfaction because more affluent parents, both white and black, and to some extent a few Hispanics, felt that their kids were not getting all that they should - that they were literally being held back by some kids who were not affluent and they were white and black and a small number of Hispanics. So I think it became the role of the school - it become clear to me early on when I became the principal of that school - we needed to find things that made all of those kids feel relatively successful and communicate that to the parents that we were doing that and that the kids would come home feeling that way. That meant a lot of things. That meant various kinds of courses and programs and adjustments to curriculum and getting some new teachers in who had more sensitivity in those areas. I would not presume to say what each of those things were but you know it was a labor of several years at least. It is very, very important to communicate to people that this is what we are about, this is what we are doing, this what we are trying, and to let them know that the reason for some of the dissatisfaction is recognized. And somebody is working on it and that somebody is not alone and that somebody has to help work with the teachers, help work with the school system, the help from the supervisors, and directors, and the people that work above the school, and the pupil personnel workers. I think in my high school I found a somewhat similar situation and I think that we do some of our best work when we first go into a job. Some people think that we do not know anything! I think at least in the school business that I did some of my best work there because you are looking at it with new eyes, fresh eyes. I think after you are there for a while you start to see it as a finished project and not seeing it quite so starkly as you do when you first walk in there. When I first came into my high school experiences as a principal, I just had this overwhelming sense early on that there simply were not enough programs at the high end. The school population had evolved and changed over the years. This was no one's fault. It was just something that had happened. Some of the AP, advanced, and honors courses and just some of the rigor in the curriculum at the high end wasn't there. I think that we worked on that by introducing courses and by talking with staff and communicating that with community and working with community leaders and so forth. If I had to mention one thing that happened early on, I think that was an important thing. Almost the opposite of what I did in the junior high school. I know that in some of the texts that the talk is about situational analysis. I've heard people speak against that saying that one has to be authentic and consistent and that you should always be the same. Well, maybe you are the same person. But, I believe strongly in situational analysis, that the same principal would not act exactly the same way in two or three schools. They might appear to those faculties as being almost entirely different persons. To me, this is perfectly reasonable, there is nothing phony about it. One looks at the situation and makes some analysis of it and decides this is the direction in which I want to go and which is highly appropriate. When we are talking about leadership, leadership is the science of persuasion, and I don't know if that is an exact definition. I remember Gardner saying something like that in his book on leadership. I don't know if he said it was the science of persuasion but he said that leadership is persuasion. You do that in a number of ways. The principal should work to start to begin persuading the people he is working with in that direction. So I think an important part of leadership is somebody who has ideas and who can come in and do that. I think some people just take over schools and they run them the way they have been run. In other words, they wait for the job to come to them. They wait for the tasks to come to them. I would emphasize more pro action - be more proactive. If you don't know what to be proactive about, get help. Get people in to talk with you. Supervisors, coordinators, curriculum people, old principals - we probably don't do much of that. Develop some ideas of what one would be proactive about and then be proactive in that direction. I think a school that is sitting still, a principal that is in neutral, is being carried along. I think this is true not merely in schools but in families and in churches and civic organizations and in government, I think that you are moving backwards when you are not moving forward. When you are not being proactive you are going backwards. You are not still for very long, you not neutral for very long. I think that the people those leaders work with sense a lack of direction or standing still or pedaling backwards. It begins to affect morale. It eats away at people. Even before they start talking about it, they don't know what it is. But that has this free-floating malaise that's not well. I was a junior varsity football coach one time when I was at Einstein High School. One of the other coaches, the head coach, I noticed some of the things that he did and I started to do it. He put in all kind of crazy plays and then inject them into the playbook and into the practice schedule, at various parts during the season. These were plays that you would hardly ever use. They were high risk, goofy formations, and strange things. The players loved them. They liked to practice them and all of that. They liked to have them. I think in most cases, they were never used in a game because you never had the opportunity. But he did that to provide variety and a little incentive to keep them alert. And they found it to be fun. I think as leaders, we need to do that, too. We need to keep the organization thinking about some things and even though we are not always going to go on that direction. You know, raise issues and have discussions. Bring up topics. Out of that, have some proactive stance. But some of it can be done just to keep the organization kind of active. I made a big major change in a junior high schedule one year when I was a junior high principal. Had to do with rotations, and a two-week sequence - all kinds of stuff. We had a little committee that worked on it over the summer. A veteran teacher came up to me, a jaded home economics teacher, and said, "This schedule has been like a shot of adrenaline to me after so many years." To me it was kind of a small thing that we did. I did it more to kind of get things moving. May be it was to give a shot of adrenaline. Although I did not think that it was that powerful. But when she said that to me that day, I have always remembered that conversation. It just shows how sometimes change, which doesn't hurt things in its own sense, can be good for organizations that are just kind of rolling along.
Q: Principals operate in a constantly tense environment. What kinds of things did you do to maintain your sanity under these stressful conditions?
A: I think aspiring principals should understand that they are in the middle. They should know that from day one, from the time that they even think about going into the job. If one has that concept, I think it helps you. I think it is like you are not entering totally into the unknown. Principals should expect to be in the middle. They are in the middle among staff, a very powerful influence on principals. I don't think our texts say a lot about it but the desire of principals to please their staff is a powerful influence on them and not to be ignored. There among the staff, the parents, the students and a central organization bureaucracy school system, is the principal right in the middle of all that stuff. So I think to know from the beginning that you are going to be in the middle and your standing in the middle and you are pretty much alone, to know that is an important thing. One conducts one's self to some extent somewhat differently with that understanding. If you think that you know you are one of the teachers or you're opposed to the students, or you are going to take up the cause of the students against teachers, if you have any of those kinds of thoughts, I think it tilts you too much in one direction. I think you have to assume that you are going to be in the middle and there are going to be a lot stresses and tensions on you and so forth. I think it helps to have that concept and that understanding. It helped me. Let me just say that. I think that we instinctively do things that reflect to some extent what we are as people. I would stress here that communication with these groups is so critical because I think it can relieve tensions and stresses. A lot of tensions and misunderstandings occur when communication is not absolutely clear. Talk simply and openly to each of these groups. Share feelings; talk from your heart. I think that helps you to do that, to know that you've kind of laid it on the line and I think also to know what a leader says and the words and tone are so critically important. To go in with that kind of understanding - don't go into and blunder into things. When you get on your feet and you work with these various groups, have some sense of what you're going to say. Keep in the back of your mind that you're in the middle of all these groups. If I say this to the staff group, it automatically puts the other groups against me. You don't want that. So what you say and how you say it is in relation to your concept that I am in the middle and that I should have a certain degree of neutrality. I don't think most principals have the idea that they're neutral. Most principals lean towards staff. I guess, in my own years in the job, I probably leaned more often in that direction, but I was always conscious and aware that I shouldn't be leaning too far in that direction - that I was in the middle - that I owed some allegiance to the other constituent groups. How one behaved, what one said, and the way one said it was important in that milieu. I never felt like I had to do anything special to relieve stress. We even had stress workshops, as you know. Some of that stuff is good. Take walks and all of that kind of thing. To me, though, I think talking, if something is bothering you, talking about it to trusted colleagues is an important thing - if it is a job related thing. One could include one's spouse in this, too. If it was only just a job-related thing, I think talking that over with trusted colleagues, maybe superiors, too. I found from time to time with really serious situations, kind of confiding in some superiors letting them know what was happening so they were not surprised. They were helpful. Talking it out with people that you trust I think would be a good thing. Having some sense and confidence in yourself that you are doing the right thing, I think was a good tension reliever, you know. We are doing the right things for kids here and we have to stand up for it. Being reasonable, willingness to compromise a little bit (not on all of the basic ideals that you have) to make some changes. I am convinced that a good leader can negotiate almost anything by sitting down with people and talking about it and not getting locked into a fixed position. I think the death now for many administrators, is their immediately becoming defensive. Some elementary parent group gets a little bit perturbed about something happening in the elementary school. The elementary principal gets locked into a position and starts saying using centers as a teaching technique or team teaching is the only way to go, the best way to go. Now you have a brouhaha because everybody gets locked it. I think not getting locked in, being willing to look. Often times the argument is an academic one that people perceive this to be happening in the class maybe something else is happening. Don't' worry about it. I'll tell you one small incident having to do with this. When I was a junior high school principal, we had a course (we still had a ninth grade) and I think it was a civics course, I am not sure if the course exists in the current format because I have not worked with the ninth program for so long. But it was one semester and teachers had no textbook. Materials had been locally developed by teachers in workshops. Year in and year out, there was this hew and cry from communities from all across the school system. If a kid came home and did not have a textbook it caused calls to the school and concerns and what have you. In this case, this had happened several times with this course, which I believe was civics, one semester of their ninth grade program. So what I did was I said to the resource teacher/department chairman, "The kids were taking civics in the first semester. They took a history semester the second semester that same year. I said, since we don't have any civics books, and it was just a collection of pamphlets and handouts, give out the history books at the beginning of the year. And he said, "What?" He said we don't give those out until second semester because that is when they take the course. I said people are worried about these kids having books. Give out the second semester history books even though it is a first semester civics class. He said, it sounds crazy to me. But he did it because he had been directed to do that. We gave those books out and never had a single complaint after that. We did that for several years while I was at the junior high school. Kids came home, parents said to them, "Do you have a book for seventh period and sixth period, ad fifth period?" The kid said, "yes." The kid never mentioned that the book was for another course for second semester. He put it in his locker, he told his parents. No calls came after that. The resource teacher thought after that it was a great idea. The point here being that the perception of what was happening here was something different. People just had in their minds a kid had to have a book for every period. A wealthy school system and they expected that! They weren't able to deal with our explanations of why they didn't have it because of this unique course, unique materials. We solved it by doing something silly but it got us out of the argument and we still kept doing the same thing. We taught the course the same way.
Q: What in your view, should be the role of the assistant principal? Discuss your utilization of such personnel while on the job. What characteristics should an effective assistant principal possess?
A: I think when a school or school system is looking for assistant principals, and I say this from the point of view of a principal, I believe that we should be looking for future principals. Now I know that there are probably some exceptions to this and I'll address that a little bit later. Now in general as a principal, I wanted to choose assistant principals who were people that would become principals, wanted to become principals, wanted to move up in the organization, and generally were not people who saw the assistant principalship as a career position in itself. Now I think our school system, and maybe some others, does have a concept that some individuals may see the assistant principalship as a career goal. And that is a reasonable and fair thing and they are happy to have some folks do that job, you know, on a permanent basis and that's as far as they are going to go. I guess I could work with that. I believe I've worked with one or two individuals who kind of sought that. But in the main, I don't believe that is the rule. I think the rule should be a one of people of who are training to be principals and to assume other leadership positions and people who are aspiring to something beyond the assistant principalship. I think we should try to hire those people and principals should be looking for those kinds of individuals to fill the jobs. Your question asked, "How should they be utilized?" I think they should be utilized in a school in a way that one gives them absolutely the best training experience. In other words, do all of the jobs that the principal can think of that need to be done. One of the worst things is to get caught into a limited role and be given three or four main responsibilities or five or six and only do those year after year. I think those people do get caught up as career assistant. I think the responsibility should be shifted from year to year so that the folks end up and are involved in supervising various departments - maybe all of the departments. They get their hands into scheduling, they get their hands into some of the administrivia, they get their hands into the school finance, in the managing of the accounts and the books to some extent what the principals are responsible for, but they should be involved in. I think a very, very broad experience should be changed somewhat from year to year and I think eventually they should do virtually everything that the principal does over a period of several years. I believe that would be the best training for them. I think it keeps people fresh. I think it keeps them learning. I think it keeps them kind of aggressive in their jobs. I think it keeps them wanting to do more and wanting to do better and I don't think they get flat and stale. This can be a very tedious job - a lot of them end up with responsibilities for disciplinary actions that have to be taken against students who commit various offenses. I think that if that is all they get caught into, I believe they are in quicksand and they tend to get on a treadmill or sink. I want people who want to be principals and I want to train them so that they can be principals the day they walk out of that building. I believe that the school this is doing that and the principal that is doing that is getting a terrific payoff because you have a person who is invigorated and learning and working and in many cases, they are doing those tasks better than the principal could. I've had any number of assistant principals that could do a lot of things better than I That's good. If you can surround yourself with those kind of people and just get them to help you. Some of the most effective assistants - I'll talk about that in kind of a general way. I have had a number of very good assistants who stand out from the crowd. Worked with quite a few people, I've been a principal for slightly over 21 years. I would say that one thing that stands out is a willingness, wanting, and an eagerness to learn things. You could see it right away. They are asking questions, they are looking at the responsibilities of the other assistants, and they're talking to the principal about overall issues of the school. Not just hunkering down in their own little bailiwick doing those tasks which are assigned, staying in their office, and so forth. I look for that. I look for innovative people who kind of step out and do things on their own. They come up with suggestions and how to do things. We can do this better, we can do that well. I think it is good to have new people in your building be told on the first day you ever talk to them as a principal that, "You are not here to fall in step with what we are doing." I would like to say this to teachers, other employees, and certainly to assistant principals. When you enter this building, you are here to make this place better. So use your creativity to do that. I don't want you stepping on our toes everyday, but a little bit of that is okay. Look at ways with fresh eyes, new eyes, which we can be better and help to make us better. Then you'll really be fulfilling your job. So I think assistant principals have a special mission in that to try and make the place better and not only fall in step with the principal. That characteristic of being kind of creative, innovative, wanting to learn, inquisitive, and relatively intelligent. I don't know how to define that but somebody who understands the issues. Willingness to learn, though, and to modify their behavior and to develop skills and to work hard at it and you can tell, too, when people are trying to dump off responsibility on you or when they trying to do their own job. There is a time to collaborate on things, but I think, too, I would look for assistant principals and anyone that is working with you to kind of carry their load, so to speak. But to be doing it and to be coming back and saying, "Here's what we've done. We've talked about it and here's what we've done. I've gone ahead with this." That won't always be successful. That is okay. But I think there are the main elements that I would like, for to some degree of being able to understand the issues, the creative element, the willingness to learn the element, the willingness to work hard, wanting to do the job, and willing to throw in a lot of other things. Can the person get along with people, or does he beat them over the head with baseball bat? Can they work with kids? I think some of those things are kind of obvious. I believe most of these things are learned skills. I think this would be the main point that I would make. We are not born into this by any divine right. A person who is somewhat open-minded with the right help, a little bit of training, some collegial pushing, and working in certain environments, they can learn these skills. We can even learn things from people who don't do well because we can see how not to do it. I think that is important as well. I 'm sure everyone who has been in a job has learned some things - I don't want to do that when I'm a principal or an assistant principal!
Q: Since you have had some time to reflect on your career, I wonder if you would share with us what you consider to be your administrative strengths and weaknesses?
A: It is always easier for me to think of strengths. I am not sure that other people would agree, but I believe that for whatever reasons, maybe having to do with experience and stuff, I think I had some ability to conceptualize a situation and a direction for the school. I think I had some ability to step back a few paces. I think the principal needs to do this. I think sometimes we are too close to the problem. Step back a little bit and take a look at the overall organization in kind of a big and a broad way. Where should it be going, how should it be moving, and what direction should it have? Because I think from leadership comes the impetus to move in that direction and the way in which we move in that direction. So I think the principal should have some conceptual ability. I don't know how to define it much broader than that. You can walk into your school and immediately within a couple of weeks, say, and "wow!" We need some programs for advanced students, and talk to the community, and there are a bunch of kids here not making it in our job outreach or our ineligible rate is high (i.e., the kids that cannot participate in extracurricular activities), what and how can we do for them? I think the principal's role is to look at that in a broad way and figure out ways to deal with it. So conceptualization of a direction for the school, I would list as a strength in my own mind. I think a second one would be the ability to communicate to the school's constituents and its staff what my views of the direction of the school are, what our mission is - in other words, translate the mission from the school system to the staff, and to the community. I think I could do that fairly well and I believe that's a learned skill. I think it can be done verbally and in writing. I believe people can improve in that if they think about it. If they think that is one of the things they should be doing. In saying to our community, here is what we should be doing. Saying to our teachers, here is what we should be doing. I believe it is helpful to keep in mind that the practitioners, the teachers, are so close to it. They kind of have their nose to the grindstone. They are seeing a small piece of this big operation daily. They are locked in with those kids everyday. So they are seeing it from a very, very narrow and kind of close-up perspective and the principal is seeing from a little further back. I believe it is good for principals to talk with staff a little bit about that - that they have this perspective and it is a responsibility to have that perspective. They want to share that with them and to constantly bring the ship on to course. You know, it veers a little bit one way and then another way, and to keep bringing it back on to course and communicating what we are doing to our community. You know, parents of secondary kids don't know anything about school. The kids come home from school and "What did you do?" They say, Nothing, we read a book and I did a worksheet." They don't get very much information. Communicating the mission and direction of both the school system and the school and our personal vision of what we are doing here is important. I give myself a fairly decent grade on communication. The third strength is a hard one. It might be a certain kind of durability, which may take a lot of kind of hits in the job. I liken it to, I think I've said this to you before, liken it to if you are a Redskin's fan, Larry Brown and Jimmy Brown from the Browns years ago. You know, Larry Brown was a great hard hitting, slashing runner for the Redskins. He ran into big people and he took hits every day and he did it beautifully. But he lasted about five years, a great five year career. Jimmy Brown, from the old Cleveland Browns, was known to slide off tackles, to get up slowly from the ground, to not take the direct hits. He would fall out-of-bounds. He was a great runner - one of the greatest in football history - to this day is so thought. But I saw a difference between those two. I think as leaders we can be, I would rather be, Jimmy Brown. You know I came to become convinced of that - I didn't always do this right, didn't always do it in my early days. But I think we should be slipping off some tackles, not taking on everything head-on, not taking a major hit with every crisis, every problem that comes up, every dealing with a teacher or person, use our head, be clever, be smart. Try to protect what we have - and all we have is our physical and mental strength. I think we have to conserve that to some extent. Some people are shooting stars. They expend it so quickly but they burn out very, very quickly. So I came to realize over time, if you are going to last in this business, at any level, doesn't have to be a principalship, but you cannot just keep taking the Larry Brown type hits everyday. Because even though you think that today's hit did not hurt, it has taken a little piece out of you. Slowed you down a little bit. When you have a 100 or a 1,000 of them, you are not moving the way you did, you are not acting and thinking the way you did. I think you become a little bit afraid to do things. I don't know if that makes any sense. Now how you do that, of course, is the secret. But I believe having that mental set before you go into things, before you get into arguments with staff, with supervisors and all that, that what you want to do here is you want to avoid the direct hit. You want to kind of do what you think you have to do but you want to do it in a smart way. I don't mean that in a subversive way, but in a clever way. To avoid taking a piece out of you and it becoming a big issue. I see that happen to my colleagues. Have seen it happen. I think some of it you cannot avoid. But I think a lot of it is unnecessary, a lot of it is motivated by the attitude of the person in the job in the leadership position, trying to prove authority, or whatever it happens to be. I think that is unnecessary. I think authority best used is authority least used. The image and the aura of the principal as authority is preserved best when the principal is not throwing his weight around but everybody knows that if he has to make a decision, he can and will do it. That would be my response to that, I think. Whenever I hear things about weaknesses, I hear things like impatience, and I think impatience is one. This can be a strength. You know, one could say from an external point of view, you know it is hard to come from me that the kinds of things and ideas that I had about the direction the school should take were not in and of themselves, you know, good. I did not have any way of validating that. I kind of flew on my own, so I think that could be criticized. Maybe a little too quick to make some decisions, that if I had to step back now, I would take a little bit longer. I think it is good, generally speaking, to defer decisions if they can be deferred - important ones, big ones. You feel differently the next day, you get input, people talk to you, sometimes the very person you are dealing with changes their mind completely. So hold back on tough decisions if you can, even sometimes in a matter of days. But I'd like to respond to one other thing. If I had to look back on my career and say that there is one thing that I don't feel so good about doing and I would like to do it over again and do it better would be - I don't believe that I did enough for kids that were in trouble. I feel that very strongly today, that there were kids that could have used more help and at times we were applying rules and, you know, computed the grades, and you did not graduate or you did. I just think that I could go back and see some kids individually, through my leadership, through the counselors, and just cases I knew myself and that we should have done more. That at times, I think we just were too - this is the way that it is, and you have to do this, if you can't do that you are not going to succeed, without considering all of the factors. And maybe a little more compassion toward kids in trouble. That one I would take back and do again.
Q: Would you discuss the circumstances leading up to your decision to retire at the time that you did? Please give your reasons and the mental processes you exercised in reaching the conclusion to retire.
A: I found the retirement decision to be an extremely difficult one and I am not entirely sanguine about it even today - five years later. I have heard over a period of time that you kind of know when you should retire. I had begun to feel, I guess in the last year to year and a half, some physical, mental sensation that maybe it was getting to be that time. A hard thing to define, in a way that I never did begin to be looking forward to the end of the school year, and that kind of thing. I think a few aspects of the job may have been getting to me a little more, and so forth. My health suffered somewhat during that period. It was just prior to my having a heart attack. I have a feeling that it may have had to do with the way I was feeling about the job. I think today in retrospect that if it weren't for some health reasons that I could have continued. I left after 33.3 years of active service and I didn't feel burned out. I didn't sense what I've heard from other people that there was kind of a mental thing that you needed to leave. I still felt good about the job. I liked working with the kids and with the staff. There is a mental stimulation about being in school. It is just those contacts and interactions that you have all day. One of the things that I missed, and I've heard this from other people in retirement, is that you don't have that contact with people. Not just people in the supermarket, but people in school and the interaction you have with them and the intellectual stimulation. So mine was kind of a combination of just a feeling that maybe I had done what I could do. I think being 11 years in one school is a little long, too. My feeling about this in general is that we should not stay in the job more than, somewhere in that six to eight year period. I think after about eight years, you've done what you can, you've seen it with new eyes, you're now starting to defend everything that you've done there, instead of looking you down the road for new things to do. So I think that is a good time to kind of make a move. Now, because I was so close to retirement, I wasn't normally going to leave at the end of 8 years because at the end of eight years, I had my 30 years in the school system and since I was probably going to retire within a few years anyway, it made sense to stay where you were instead of taking on a whole new responsibility. So I spent a little extra time in this assignment than I would have normally. I guess I'd describe it most as a feeling and then in my own case, accentuated somewhat by an impending health situation that was developing that I did not fully even recognize at the time. After I announced my retirement, then I suffered a heart attack and was out for some months. I also intended not to retire from work but I was in negotiations for another position in education - full time. At the time, I retired and had a heart attack. Being out of action for three or four months precluded my taking that position. So what I've done since is work part-time for the school system for Montgomery County Schools. I retired officially October 1st, 1993, and I put my first day in as a part-time employee on October 2nd, 1993. I began working part-time for the system as a hearing officer on October 2, 1993. It just happened. I think retirement is a very difficult decision. I think we do define ourselves to a significant extent by our jobs and our roles and our work roles. I would generally advise most people, obviously it is an individual choice, but I would advise most people if you have any doubts about retiring, don't do it. That decides in the negative. If you are kind of on the fence, don't do it. Don't retire until all the signals are that I should do it, I must do it, and I will do it. The advantages of it that you are not working as hard. I am not working as hard. Whether or not I would be able to carry the full responsibilities, I'm not sure. But I don't think there's quite as much - I don't get the same sense of satisfaction in working less or even in the current job than I did at my previous full-time job. There is something special about being a principal, about being in a school, working with so many young people when you are responsible for them. I think it is a wonderful experience. Some people are motivated by the fact that the retirement plan says quit at 30 years and take and make more money if they quit and then work another job or they make almost as much when they get a pension as if they were then they were working. They are all factors and if one wants to reduce one's workload, I would say "go ahead." But I think unless you really feel that retirement is in the offing for you 100 percent, I would not do it. I think given another set of circumstances I could still be working at my old job or something like it. I have a feeling that mentally at least, that I would be happy with it.
Q: What have I not asked you that I should have? Do you have any concluding statements or remarks?
A: I feel like Bill Clinton in talking about the 21st century! He is always mentioning that kind of stuff. Again, I see the changes that are coming upon us as being evolutionary rather than revolutionary. I mean the future is talked a lot about - revolutionary change. But I think some of the discussions that we see and hear are what I call the "helicopter syndrome." What I mean by that is when I was a youngster toward the end of World War II and I was six and seven years old, the newsreels suddenly became filled with pictures of a strange machine called a helicopter, which most of us had not seen before or maybe had heard a little bit about. They kind of came to public attention near the end of World War II and started to be used in the war. What they were saying about helicopters and in the news about a lot of other gadgets and things were as soon as the war is over these things are going to be mass-produced. They are going to become relatively inexpensive, everyone is going to have one or two, and we are going to solve our road problems, traffic problems, and we are all going to have helicopters. We think that this is probably going to happen within 10 years - others are saying within 20 years. They would be the cost of the automobile, and obviously just take off from your backyard and you go wherever you want. Everyone that I ever talked to during that time seemed to be convinced that yes, this was going to happen. Well, nothing like that ever happened. We never even came close. They are being used for business and rescues and things. But individuals don't have helicopters. We cannot afford them; they cannot build them at that cost. If we all had them we would be crashing into each other up in the air instead of on the ground. So the "helicopter syndrome" to me is some of these future predictions which sound good at the time and they fit. Because television came in at low cost and everybody got one of those and other gadgets. But helicopters never made it. Not all of these predictions for these massive revolutionary changes are going to take place. However, in general, I see some of the same problems becoming more accentuated. I think that we have numbers of kids who are not making it in school at all levels. They're again mostly from impoverished backgrounds. We hear that there is more poverty in the United States during this period of time than there has been - even though there have been some efforts to wipe it out. I think those kids for whatever reason or whoever they are, be they members of minority groups, be they members of the majority population or coming from poor backgrounds or whatever, those kids need to be dealt with in a much better manner. I think we are not doing a good job there at all. We have high dropout rates in the United States; we have low rates of people taking advanced courses in calculus compared to other countries. We know this but we have not dealt with it. Take simple things. You have a kid - you have a kid in first or second grade whose doing very, very poorly in math and maybe you get him as a middle school principal. He is still doing very poorly in math. Scraping by, failing, going to summer school, and getting "D's." What do you we with him? We give him one period of math like all of kids who are doing well in math. He goes through his daily schedule. We have not been able to get to the point where we could give kids more of the stuff that they need that they are weak in, for example, math. It is a curriculum kind of problem; it is a teacher problem because the teachers say that the other teachers are stealing their thunder. We don't have course sequences set up to do that. I think it is going to take some work both - and I don't think it is a hard problem to solve - but we just have not addressed it. I think we need some ways of building in some branches and so forth into programs where if I need math and you need writing and English/Language Arts, that we can get more of that in our school programs, particularly before high school. But include it in high school if need be. I think individual schools could do more of it now if they wanted to set up their own kind of program for it. That's an issue. In general, the alienated kid, the kid who is coming without skills, the kid who is coming with limited English, the poor kids - we are giving them a standard package which our schools have locked in to. I know that there have been many modifications such as Title I, Chapter I, and we have remedial programs. But I think they have been small efforts compared to the big problem. The big program is increasing. I think we are often too willing to look at the great success many of our students are having. Many of our students are very successful. I think too many are not successful. I think we have to address that. If we don't address that, I think we are in for a difficult time in maintaining public support. I think we already see things like some of the alternative schools that communities are opening up, charter schools, talk about privatization and tuition reimbursements, and all those ways to get competition among schools and thereby improve quality. Our improvements have come mostly in curriculum and technology, you know, computers, more advanced coursework and so forth. We've taken college coursework and we've moved it down to the high schools in some of our AP courses. But other than that our schools are so much like they were in 1950. So how to meet that kind of challenge - I think we can put our heads together and do better for kids who are failing. Identify them early, do special things for them while still making them feel part of a part of the mainstream, and I think that things don't have to be vast, dramatic things. They can be as simple as I get two periods of math a day and you give one and some of that. To me that is one of the main challenges. School finance is always an issue. How are we going to keep public support? I think if we keep doing well we are going to continue to get financial support, even though there is competition for it. How technology is changing so fast and how to get it into the schools is an issue I think we are going to have work on. It comes to us very late. Business and industry were doing a lot more with personal computers and available software than were schools. The pressure suddenly came upon the schools - "Hey, we cannot get anybody to work here. They don't even know how to use word processing." So we started to put that kind of stuff in. But I don't know that we have a good way for a school system, even affluent school systems, good school systems, to find out what is going on out there and to automatically bring them in. We are too divorced, I think, from the world of work and business and commerce. For example, in a school system like Montgomery County, probably true in other major counties, most of our curriculum people and developers are educators themselves. I just wonder if there should not be more of a direct link. If we were talking about a new computer curriculum, maybe someone who has been working with it in the business world would work with us on that as a full-time job. If we want to do a better job in certain areas of math teaching are we sure that we have the best of all of the brains working with us to develop that program? For example, it seems to me that we should have already had in all school systems, packages that you take a normally trained teacher (we put the emphasis on training teachers) and teaching them to do everything. I think we have had mixed success there. They can do some things and some things are just too much because they have too much responsibility. But if there were a curriculum package if I were third grade teacher and I had a youngster not doing so well in reading. Isn't there something that I could kind of take off the shelf and put him through that might be a little better than stuff I am devising myself? Now I don't think that will solve everyone's problem and I don't mean to say that. Isn't the fifth grade math teacher or science in particular in the elementary school which I think is a probably a weak point, aren't there curriculum packages that we would bring off the shelf and give to sixth grade teachers, fifth grade teachers that would work with kids. It seems to me we should have had more tools. What I see happening is we have a very broad-based curriculum rather loosely organized, of course, and we try to fit teachers into it as we get them out of college. They learn bits and pieces of it. But the people do not fall into those nice, neat rows and drawers are kind of left out. The teachers don't quite know what to do. That kid gets a failing grade or bad grade. The whole thing to me is a monumental challenge for schools. I think that if we get some resolution to it or make some improvement in it, I think it will change a lot of things about schools. It will change them naturally not from the top down but from the bottom up. It will change some structure, change some curriculum, change some organization, some staff training, and maybe get different kinds of people into the school. I am not convinced that we can't do a lot different in terms of personnel. I think we get, I don't mean to pick on typing by any means, but I think we could get people in here to teach typing that maybe could come out of a business environment, don't have to necessarily be trained teachers. We might hire two of them for the price of a teacher. I don't know and I am not suggesting that is what we should do. I am not trying to put any business people out of work. But I think there are things that we can do to put our heads together. I think that we are very locked in. The school that I was principal of until a few years ago, a wonderful school and I loved it and I miss it, was so much like the high school I attended in a small town in Pennsylvania in 1950. I can't even tell you. I use to say at times to the staff and students; this is like my 1950s high school. Now there were some differences in dress and there were some in lingo. The one thing that we did have we had more sophisticated coursework which I think has slowly found its way into the high school program. That has been a significant change and an improvement I think in what we have done. But even that was kind of marginal. My high school did not teach calculus but I think I could take up to pre-cal. I believe we are really locked in and I think it is going to take leadership, and I know that you are in a course in leadership, people to sit down and be thinking such as boards of education and administrators, but I believe at lot of it is going to have to come from the grass roots - from teachers and principals. We want to do this. We want to move in this direction. There are better ways to do this. If every year all we do is offer a few extra courses and keep kids locked into the program that we have now I think we are going to keep getting the results that we have now. Our results are good for some kids but very poor for a growing number of kids and somehow that is going to have be vastly improved or resolved or we are going to be out of business.
| Back to "D" Interviews | Index of Interviews | Protocol | Home |