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Q: What we need to start with is a historical perspective of your professional experience in terms of. . .we can go back to where you went to school and where you began in education. . .in the best time frames that you can tell the dates or the years that you held which positions.
(Streamed audio file of interview for this question using RealPlayer)
A: I went to a small church school for my baccalaureate in Ashville, North Carolina. I graduated in 1941 in primary education. At that time North Carolina issued two certificates at the elementary level. One was for primary and one was what they called grammar. I selected primary because I don't like math. So, I came out with that in 1941 and I taught first grade in a little system in the Piedmont section of North Carolina called Madison. I was there for nine years and teaching all of the primary grades. . .first, second, and third. At that time kindergarten was for the elite and was in the great big cities. . .whereby paid for . . .we had no kindergarten in the Piedmont section of North Carolina at that time. In addition to that experience, I had had some informal experience in drama. They did not have a drama instructor at the high school. By making the best of all the teaching potential, I had classes in drama at the high school. All that was on one campus which was. . .now the thing to do. . .at that time it was most unusual. We had all of our buildings on one campus. That was 1941. That was before you were a gleam in your father's eye.
Q: When you taught drama, then, did you go part of the day?
A: I had the last period in the afternoon for the drama classes. It would just be one hour . .or one fifteen minutes or something like that.
Q: Now did they count that as part of your regular teaching experience? Was that extra?
A: No. No. That was extra and was not paid for.
Q: Not paid for.
A: No. I started teaching for the grand sum of $96 a month for eight months. I was the richest person in the world. I was there for nine years and then my father became ill. I came to Portsmouth to teach, so that I could be with my family. I was married a couple of years after I came and taught first grade here. After that, I was out of teaching for about three or four years. I couldn't stand it. I had to get back into it. My husband said alright go for one year and get it out of your system. And I've been here ever since. I never got it out of my system. During that time I taught--until the Demonstration School I taught in the primary grades--first, second, and third in Churchland Schools. Then when the Demonstration School began to be talked about, it embodied so many of the things that I firmly believe in for children. . .that I very much wanted to be on board. I was fortunate I was selected and then was made coordinator of the language arts program at the Demonstration School. I taught and directed the language arts program in just on the school basis under the leadership of a very wise lady named Dr. Betty Yarborough. And then I was made principal of the school. And I served as principal of the school until 1982.
Q: What year did you begin at the Demonstration School?
A: 1969 to 1982. 1970 to 1982.
Q: Do you know the approximate size of the school, in terms of the number of students at that time?
A: We stared out with an enrollment, in 1967, of 375 pupils. Children came on a volunteer basis, and so our enrollment was limited. As we became successful. . .change that figure because we only had three grades--it was about 350 I guess--350, 375. The project was a federal project and was supposed to last only three years. As we became more successful, the parents asked that we continue through grade six. Our largest enrollment in that little pre-fab building, which was designed for 350 students, was 575. And they were wall to wall children. All through this though the children were volunteer. No assignments were made through the schools. It was on a first come first serve basis. We kept them on a list and if vacancies came up in that age group, we would call. And if people were still interested we would take them.
Q: Let's stick with the school a little bit. If you could, describe how the school looked at that time on the inside.
A: From a physical standpoint? Drab. It was a series of mobile units hooked together, but it was wonderful because we had made the building flexible by putting sliding doors in so that we could have small teaching areas and large teaching areas. It was just wonderful from that standpoint, because we had never had a situation like that before. So that if we wanted to have a. . .this was set up in learning centers. Rooms were learning centers. We had very small reading rooms designed for small groups of children. Then if we wanted to do something large, have large group instruction, we would open up all the folding doors to the other parts of the modules, and have room for as many as 90 children if we wanted to do a movie or if we wanted to do a drama or if we wanted to have some kind of outside resource person. We had the flexibility to do that. The building was designed very functionally. It had an entire wing which was devoted to the language arts and humanities. The other wing was devoted to math and science. So that the children were traveling. If you had told me in 1967 that I would say a five year old could travel and have that many teachers a day, I would have said you were nuts. But they loved it. And they didn't need a mother anchor. They had a homeroom teacher. If they needed to anchor to someone, they could anchor to that homeroom teacher. But as far as they were concerned, they had five or six school mothers because they saw that many teachers during the day. And in two weeks they were able to function. I didn't believe it when I first went there. That's one thing I disagreed vocally with Dr. Yarborough about. . .that I didn't know as much about five year olds as she did. They didn't need that mother that I had grown up to believe they did. They did need a person to anchor to.
Q: Did you find that it made them more independent as compared to other children that you had worked with previously?
A: Yes. That's one of the things I noticed about the children who attended school there. . .was that all of the teachers in the entire program encouraged independence. That you depend on yourself.
Q: Was that total program more like the parallel program that we have in the schools now?
A: No. The parallel program has very little resemblance. I guess Western Branch Primary comes as near doing it as the other schools. As far as I can hear. I do not go in the schools. I understand that it is pretty much standard. They still use the math objectives, which are second to none. That math program has been researched and tested and is second to none. I know that in the parallel program in Western Branch. . .I don't know anything about Chittum. . .that they have continued to use the math program in the parallel. . .because this has been tested. Other aspects of it I think have pretty much gone by the board. They have gone back to two day grouping which is what we did to begin with. . .as far as I know. I have not been in the schools except for Western Branch Primary. We had a three day program because you're going to pick up in this philosophy that multi-age grouping is one of my beliefs. But I do believe that sometime during the day the child needs to be with his own age group. Because they do like to sing the same songs, they do like to play the same games, and are interested in the same kind of art media. So we had multi-age grouping for blocks of instructional time like math/science, reading/language arts. Then we had a third time block for humanities which was designed around the social studies program in which they had their art, music, physical education, and social studies. But it was all geared to the social studies program. So, one-third of the time during the day they were with their chronological age group which I very much believe that they should be at some time during the day. Academically, they were wherever they fell in the mastery of the objectives.
Q: When the program switched to the K through 6 school, was there a limit on what ages you could mix in the multi-age grouping?
A: We had very little problem with that and had no problem with the children. The children understood. Sometimes, and this was very infrequent, we had to work with the parent to make that parent understand. We very seldom had. . .now we did have one family there whose children were always below grade level and the biggest span we ever had was three years difference. Most of the time it was two, which you could understand. If children ran out of, or their teachers ran out of skills or objectives to be taught, they sat down and wrote a program for that child. And the teachers had the ability to do that kind of individual thing.
Q: Approximately how many students did they have per group?
A: I tried to hold, as much as we could. . .we tried to keep the groups small, in the reading/language arts areas we tried to have the reading teacher with no more than fifteen at the primary level. Now at the upper elementary level, they of course had to be somewhat larger. We tried to keep them to no more than twenty in an instructional group. Because if you put them in September they all look just alike. Have you ever taught? Well then you know what happened. They begin to sprout out like Sputnik. Just go in all directions. So, if you're going to individualize, the program, you have to keep the groups as small as you can. So we tried to have no more than twenty in a reading/language arts group because of the individualized instruction. Now in the math rooms, the teachers would have as many as. . .a span of ten objectives. Which meant that they had ten groups within a group. I don't see how they did it. I take my hat off to them that they could do it and did it. That ten objectives is a big span of objectives. I think they tried to. . .or when we tried the grouping we tried to keep them as. . .no more than ten objectives. Because there again, some of them are going to go at a slower pace. Some will hit on one skill that they absolutely cannot master and have to stay on it longer while the others go ahead. So that. . .I would say that in the math groups we tried to keep them between twenty and twenty-five. So that. . .twenty-five is an awfully large group and I remember. . .with twenty-five. And again, the children at the lower end of the scales we tried to teach smaller, because the older children were able to take group instruction.
Q: Yes, I think in math, too, there aren't as many skills as finely defined as in reading. So, maybe you wouldn't have as many subgroups in them. . .in a large group as you would perhaps, in reading.
A: But the math was easier to pin down. It was just easier to work with because there were no different philosophies. And there were no different learning styles. Didn't have to deal with the auditory skills. One child learns best with this modality. Another child learns best with kinesthetic or somebody learns best with the sight method. I've been so long out of it, I've forgotten the terminology. But we didn't have that thing to deal with in the math. There was only one day to add. You didn't have to work through phonics and sight and all of that. From the standpoint of writing the math program, it was much more precise.
Q: What was the makeup. . .now you drew all from Western Branch in that school?
A: We had some. . .we had lots of interest from. . .we had interest from throughout the city but they had to furnish their own transportation. The only transportation that were furnished would be to children who lived in Western Branch. They did run the buses there. But they couldn't, of course, run all over Chesapeake. Some parents brought their children on their way from Great Bridge. They carpooled. I think we had about six people from there. And they carpooled in order to take the strain off of. . .but that got to be a xxxx. Most of them though, continued to drive their children from Deep Creek. Just a very few. It was mostly Western Branch people, because abilities of the transportation. Anyone could come that could find some transportation.
Q: Now, once they were in the program. . .say they started there in first or second grade. . .did they have an option of maybe dropping out in third grade and coming back in fourth and fifth if they got on the waiting list?
A: You mean once they had been in the program and then transferred? No, we didn't like to take them back because we had a very finely tuned assessment program. And when we took them back, of course, we were giving the spot to somebody else that might have been on the list. And pretty generally we didn't unless there was a real good reason or unless the Superintendent said take them back. Pretty generally though, once they were gone, we didn't like to take them back, because we had to go through the assessment programs again and fill the gaps according to our program. Not that there was anything wrong with anybody else's program, but if we had a program we expected the children to go through it. So, we didn't like to take them back once they had decided to go. Now if you moved away, say you were transferred to California, we did have some of that. . .or Charlottesville or wherever. . .and wanted to come back, we took them back. . .because we felt they had not rejected the program. And I think once you reject it and get into another situation of your own volition, that I didn't think you should come back. That was my decision.
Q: Now get into a little bit of the educational issues at that time. What were some hot topics in education? Civil rights issues. . .were there busing issues in Chesapeake?
A: We never had busing issues in Chesapeake. I think that our civil rights situation in Chesapeake has probably been one of the most desirable, or one of the most functional in the area. To my knowledge, we have not had any problems of that kind. We had minority students. In fact I would go out and beat the bushes for minority students. With the program being designed the way it was, you took what came to you. The parent had to want the child there. In some instances our minority parents did not trust us because it was not attuned to what they knew. See we had no grades and no report cards. They were not accustomed to going to school without a report card and without getting a grade. Consequently, the black students that we were able to recruit, were people of parents who would trust us with their children. We had lots of. . .lots of--we didn't have that many. . .but we had professional. . .students of professional. . .like Dr. Whitehurst's daughter was with us. They trusted the program and were very much in favor of it. Minority students were hard to come by. We took everything minority that would walk out the door, because we need them the most. I would not like that to go out in the public. If I ever jumped the list for anybody, it would be for a minority student, because we needed them.
Q: What about open classrooms? That would have been an issue, or a. . .something discussable during the early 70's. Wasn't it?
A: Open classrooms, at that time, were an issue. When we first opened, people said we were an open school. We were not an open school. Not that I have anything against open schools, but I think there are very few people that know how to handle an open. . .open classroom. Mrs. Green, who was the assistant principal, and I went to several schools that were supposed to have open classrooms. I did not see anything that compared with the literature as to how an open classroom should be run. We were, I guess, more of a management system. . .a system of management than anything else, because we did have a stated objective. And that sounds very bleak, and not much fun, but it was. Teachers had the privilege of teaching anything they wanted to as long as they could tie it to an objective. They became very resourceful at tying things to objectives. Open classroom was an issue at that time.
Q: Do you think a lot of people, when first hearing about the Demonstration School. . .about the highly individualized program. . .thought it offered. . .it was an open classroom.
A: Oh, yes. They would come and say they'd like to see an open school. We would love to have you, but we are not an open school. Our doors are open, but within the classroom we do not work with that philosophy. I think it takes a highly skilled person to do that. Through our traveling around, every time Helene and I would hear of one we'd get permission to go. I never saw anything that I thought would equal to it. I saw lots of permissiveness and children who were signing up for. . .we followed. . .I followed one child and he never did sign up for reading. He never did sign up for math. He did sign up for all the little corners of the room that did not deal with anything academic. And at the end of the day when we were asked to evaluate, I asked what happened. . .because I never saw anybody reviewing records. You got to do that every day. They said well, we'll review them at the end of the week. At the end of the week a little child can lose a lot of time. That was supposed to be open, but I didn't think that tied in with the philosophy with an open classroom. I can't remember what the other issues were. Open classrooms was one of them. Individualization, continuous progress. . .pretty much of what we are having around now.
Q: You didn't have any special education programs, per se, at your school because of the type of school it was. Did you?
A: No. Well, we eventually had a special education resource teacher. But we did not have what you would call a special education program. We took the children into the program and they worked at their own level until we found that we couldn't do anything else. We didn't have the skills to work with them, so we would ask that they be sent to a resource teacher or to a school that had. . .those that needed an all day program. . .the schools that had an all day special education program.
Q: Was there some resistance, maybe on the part of the parents, because their child couldn't make it at that particular school and there was another program recommended? Did they maybe resent having to leave the building because it was the Demonstration School?
A: Yes. At that time. . .at that time, being tested for special education had a stigma. It was very, very difficult to get parents to consent to have their children tested. That was a selling job that we worked on for several years. . .was to get them to give us permission to test them. Even after testing them, back in those first years, as I recall, it was difficult to make children understand. . .it was difficult to make parents understand that the child might be better off receiving the special instruction in groups of five or ten. And we hated to admit defeat, too. We turned every stone before we tried that. So, by the time we had called the educational psychologist, we had done everything we had needed to do.
Q: Why did you decide to become a principal?
A: I don't think Jan, that I would have become a principal of any other school. I guess I became a principal because the teachers selected their own principal. At that time, we had gone through two wonderful young men who were extremely talented. They came to me and said "We'd like for you to be principal." And I said, "I don't want to be principal. I'm satisfied doing what I'm doing." And I said, "Look, we don't have either the time or the energy to break in another principal. You know the program and you have the certification, and we'd like you to be our principal." So, they wrote a letter to. . .of course I'm sure they didn't make all the decisions. . .but they did write a letter to Mr. Chittum who was Superintendent at that time, requesting that I be made principal on those grounds. But I knew the program. They didn't want to break-in another principal. So, that's how I became principal. I don't believe that I would have been principal of another school. Being principal of a school like the Demonstration School, permitted me to do what I liked best. . .and that was to work with children. See, I could go into a classroom and say give me so many children and I would work with them. I usually taught 100 minutes a day when I was in the building. . .taught at least one time block when I was in the building. Of course, lots of times I wasn't in the building so I didn't take anything that needed any every day instruction or follow-up. But I did try to work with children at least a third of the day. Because that's what I enjoyed doing most. Of course, my desk looked like a disaster area.
Q: Did that afford you some advantages, do you think, that some principals don't have by not devoting that time?
A: I don't know about other principals. I couldn't answer for them. But it kept me aware of the teacher's position and the difficulties that she was having, and it kept me humble. I don't think that any administrator, at any level, can get. . .should get so far removed from what's going on the classroom, that he can't understand what his teachers are going through. It also gave me an opportunity to see how children were developing. They develop differently every five or six years. So, I could keep up with that and see what was going on in their minds and what a difficult time teachers were having with dealing with the responsibilities. Of course, my first question would always be. . .what was the last television show you saw last night. . .so I knew what time they went to bed. But I enjoyed being with children and working with them.
Q: Did you have any difficulty changing your role from teaching with the same people that you then became the principal of?
A: I never had any difficulty whatsoever. To my knowledge, I had an open door policy. . .if my door was open they knew they could come in. I recall one time, that I had a sign on the door that said do not open 'til Christmas. I was in conference with somebody from somewhere and this big note came flying from under the door and said Merry Christmas in great big red letters. A teacher had had a crisis and needed to get in. But, an open door policy, I think, probably took care of that. I had teacher committees who arrived at decisions. If I could work with I did. If I couldn't work with it I told them I couldn't and explained why. To my knowledge, we never had any misunderstandings in that school. I tried to involve them in as many decisions as I possibly could. I permitted them to submit orders for their own instructional supplies. They knew what they needed, I didn't. Suppose I was to sit in the office and say order this. . .and this for math. . .I had allowed each department a budget, I did not spend that money, they did. I think that, probably, helped a great deal, to alleviate some frustrations. Teachers knew what they needed. I found them to buy materials very sensibly. And under those circumstances, they were used. Every piece of material that came in that building looked dogeared by the time we closed it. I don't guess I realize how fortunate I was to step from one role into the other.
Q: Not everyone probably could do that.
A: Well, it was an unusual group of teachers. We had built the school together. . .as far as those of us from the core who had been there from the beginning. . .we even carried furniture in from across the other school which had been stored over there. Teachers went over and scrubbed floors and washed windows. Even Dr. Yarborough swept. We had built the school together, and I think that makes a difference.
Q: So, there wasn't much teacher turnover within your building.
A: Very little. Very little teacher turnover.
Q: How did you create a climate for learning in your building?
A: I let my teachers do it. You know, it is nice when you have an enthusiastic group of teachers. I used to. . .I complimented them. I tried to treat them as I would have liked to have been treated. I complimented them when they had done something that I thought was unusual and outstanding. I wrote notes. I went to their classrooms. Some way I tried to recognize the thing that they were doing. And then, of course, parents had a great deal to do with it. It was a complete volunteer school. We were the windows of the world when they were concerned. I had a dedicated group of teachers. I used to let them conduct the meetings and they would demonstrate new materials to one another. Each department had its own coordinator. We had three coordinators--reading/language arts, math/science and a humanities. They would hold their individual meetings and sometimes they'd invite me--sometimes they wouldn't. But they would always report to me what had gone on and what they had planned to do. So, I guess basically, they created the learning environment which I felt was very stimulating at all times. I was there, I think, as a facilitator more than anything else. If I could do anything to help them, I would. I went to the classrooms a lot. I knew the children. I worked with the teachers when they needed me, or wanted me. But I would give that credit to the teachers that I had.
Q: The leadership techniques that you've used. . .do you feel that you gained most of those skills through coursework, or people maybe who were your principal when you were teaching, or from instinct?
A: This is not going anywhere else, is it? Some coursework that I had taken from Dr. Adams at ODU (Old Dominion University) was helpful. Leadership workshops at the University of Virginia by Dunns was very helpful. Chesapeake sent us to conferences. The majority of it was hit and miss and learning on the job. I did not gain from previous principals.
Q: What role did you play in school and community relations?
A: Oh, gee. . .we had something going all the time with the parents, because that was one of the things we had to do. We had to sell that program to parents. We did not, for years, have an organized PTA until they made us. I thought that was one of the strong points of the school. I hate PTA's. We had a parent group and I met with those parents once a week. They represented each borough that. . .not each borough, but each section. . .we had a person from each section. We would get together and they'd bring all their questions and all their gripes and all their complaints, and we tried to work them out together to see what we could do about them. Now I don't mean by that that the parents ran the school. They didn't. I think that I was a very assertive principal in that area. They came up with legitimate gripes and legitimate complaints and they had to be dealt with. . .and I tried to do that. We trained our own. . .we had a training class for people who wanted to be substitute teachers. Way back. . .in those days, people didn't have volunteers. In the 70's, we just didn't let people come into your school. We called the parents and trained them for the kind of volunteer work that they would do in the school. We worked with them that way. We had programs, entertainment, that would involve all the children in the school. So, that all parents came. They couldn't say, well, you picked a certain group, or you're with this group. We took them all. I'll tell you who started it, was Tom Felton. We worked a great deal with parents. We tried to keep parent letters, parent bulletins going kind of regularly. Nothing unusual about it. But we were conscious of the fact that our parents were our best friends.
Q: What do you think teachers expect principals to be? Or to do?
A: I think teachers expect principals to be the instructional leaders of the school. I think they expect them, in that capacity, to be knowledgeable of all the curricular and they expect to go to principals for new methods of instruction. I think my people expected me to demonstrate. And they were all far better teachers than I had ever been. But I think they expected me to demonstrate some new methods of doing things, particularly in the academic areas. I think they felt they needed to have some background in special education, which I did not have. Because they were increasingly concerned about these problems. That's one of the weaknesses that I think that the administrative program in the colleges have. . .that there's not enough instruction for principals in dealing with the special education child. I think they expect the principal to be understanding, and kind yet firm. I think they expect the principal to be able to deal with discipline problems when they have tried everything that they know to do. They expect the principal to come up with some miracle that's going to get this thing worked out. That's a lot of expectation, isn't it? But I feel that that's what. . .from my experience with the group that I had. . .I think that that's what they expect.
Q: How did you evaluate teachers?
A: I hate evaluation. I evaluated them, personally, by observing the teaching methods. . .and in the classrooms. It was not always a formal evaluation. I was in the classrooms at least once a week. I did informal evaluations of that type. If I noticed something that a teacher seemed to be having a problem with, I would call her in and talk about it and share our ignorances. But, then we got the forms and called for the formal evaluation of teachers, and then that required being in the classroom for a certain amount of time. . .I really think that all teachers need to be observed every year, not just. . .I mean formally evaluated every year. . .I said observed. . .I mean evaluate. Somewhere between the cracks, we don't pick up some things. I found in observing my teachers very closely, that I found two who needed professional help. I finally got up the courage to tell them. Difficult it is.
Q: What do you see then, as the purpose. . .the primary purpose of teacher evaluation?
A: Mostly for the principal's benefit. I think that it benefited me more than it did the teachers. You pick up things that you can work with teachers on, or to get some help with working with teachers on. I think we've got a lot of positive things that we could enlarge upon. I think we should look for positives. Some of the best demonstrations I had for the faculty I picked up through observing a teacher. I would say go in the next faculty meeting and demonstrate this particular procedure. I think, from my standpoint, it benefited me more than it did the teacher.
Q: Do you mean, being able to help the teachers with instruction? Maybe sharing with other teachers. . .is that what you mean?
Q: If you had any, how did you handle teacher grievances?
A: I never did have any. If you come in and somebody pound on your fist on your desk. . .I'm not going to put up with this damn situation a minute longer. I never had any teacher grievances. People would come in and say this is bothering me, or that is bothering me. . .or, why can't this be or why can't that be. We would handle it on an individual basis. But, I never had a formal grievance. They were too prone to tell me what they thought and get it off their chest. It didn't fester.
Q: So, it didn't. . .you were able to take care of any complaints or concerns right there.
A: I never dodged a complaint.
Q: If you had, it probably would have turned into a grievance.
A: If I had, they would have clobbered me. Sometimes it took all the courage that I had to face it. I would lie awake at night and get up in the morning looking for a headache or a stomach ache to keep me from going to school, but I knew it had to be handled. I tried to do what I would want someone to do for me. The longer you let anything go. . .and it's the same thing in dealing with parents. . .the longer you let it go, the worse it is going to become in that person's eyes.
Q: You mentioned about coming across two teachers who needed professional help. Were those teachers who were fired?
A: No. They were two of the best teachers I had seen in my whole life. But, I knew that something was bothering them. In one instance, it was a physical problem combined with a psychological problem. She had gone through an extremely nasty divorce. The other, I knew was personal, family problems. But, it was affecting their abilities to function in the classroom. I noticed it by the explosiveness of the teachers. Both followed my advice. One became a little indignant. It was just a suggestion, but you are dealing differently with your children. Boy, that got them. You aren't treating the children with the respect and consideration that you usually do. So, in fairness to them, you should get some help.
Q: Now these people had to pay for this assistance on their own? Was it something their insurance covered?
A: No, one of course, was Navy, and had to pay nothing. The other came from a wealthy family who could afford it.
Q: So, at that time the school system didn't provide anything.
A: No. There wasn't anything. I suggested, of course, that they went in the system to whom they could talk. But they were personal matters and not educational matters. So, they sought outside help.
Q: What was the school division's attitude at that time about firing teachers. . .if a principal came across someone who was just rock bottom and they tried everything and they couldn't help the person?
Q: They hung in there.
A: I can't remember, until the last of the 70's, that a teacher was ever fired.
Q: Do you know what that was? Do you know what was behind all that.
A: I don't know. At one time, I'm sure that it was the teacher shortage. But, I don't recall if we had a teacher shortage at that time or not. It was extremely difficult to get rid of a minority teacher who was bad. Therefore, the caucasians who came through could say well look, so and so is much worse than I. That is my opinion as to what happened. Of course, if a principal would get hold of that bad teacher or a teacher he thought was doing a good job, they would be transferred to another school. Then, somebody came up with, I can't remember who was the Superintendent at that time, the idea of taking these people and retraining them. They had a group of supervisors who worked with them. I think that helped some. Sometimes we just need a new injection. Sometimes, we don't need to teach at all. But it's hard, and I don't know that I'm making it. . .but we just don't do it. Insubordination seems to be the thing that you can prove. It's kind of like the difference between writing a math program and a reading program. One is very definitive--the other isn't.
Q: It's very controversial as to what school of thought you come from. . .or what background you have. . .what you think is most beneficial.
A: I do think that there are some people who need to be counseled out of teaching. I don't know who is supposed to do it.
Q: I've seem more of that just in the last two or three years. There have been a number of people who have been counseled out and we went through a dismissal hearing this summer. . .on incompetency. The program that I'm involved with. . .that I did full time last year. . .is Teacher Performance Improvement. We write up a whole plan of action to help to provide some support and assistance to a teacher to improve their instructional skills. One of those people. . .one of those ten people I worked with was dismissed for incompetency.
A: You can't have that in the classroom.
Q: It was real difficult. . .very time consuming. I can see why school districts do it very cautiously. It was certainly a learning experience for me. I still deal with that this year. . .Teacher Performance Improvement, along with teacher recruitment. The reason I asked about paying for psychological assistance for teachers is because that's part of it. Now, if we want to do something to help a teacher we have to pay to help the teacher. It is a legal requirement otherwise you can't. . .you know like you said, you made a suggestion to the teacher but you certainly couldn't make them do it. Now, the way we can kind of force them to do it is to pay for it. Of course, they can still choose not to do that, but then you have to face the consequences.
A: Well, I'm glad you're doing something of that nature. There had been. . .we tried to get it through the educational association years ago. . .it is what's called the Professional Practice Act at that time, in which incompetent teachers were reviewed by a peer panel. These people would be from all over the state. Those practices. . .and I only know of two states that did it successfully--Florida and Georgia--would work with teachers to the very nth degree. . .make all kinds of suggestions. The school system would go through with them and give them every opportunity to improve. If they didn't improve, then the state took the license away from them. After they would go through all of this, the panel would recommend to the Department of Certification. . .to the State Superintendent of Schools. . .that this be done. I think they saved a lot of teachers, and they got rid of a lot of dead wood. Didn't get rid of all of them, but got rid of some of it anyway. But it sounds great. . .what you're doing. Do you find teachers resistant to psychological. . .? IWell, we haven't referred anybody yet who has had. . .well, we've had some that we've sent to drug abuse or alcohol abuse programs. They had resistance. I think that at the time we get involved, at the Central Office level, the principal has talked with them about it, the principal has tried to work with them, the supervisor has tried to work with them, and by the time we get to them they know. They know there's a problem. It's always affecting them in the classroom. As you said, they are treating the children differently or not planning or whatever. They know it's a problem and they have to do something about it. . .particularly if it is alcohol abuse. . .they have to do something about it or else. It hits non-certificated people, as well. Although, I don't deal with non-certificated people in the performance program. We do have another type of informal program that deals with their problems. We have paid to provide. . .to send them to Serenity Lodge (alcohol abuse treatment center) to become rehabilitated. Our job is to help maintain their employment. Maintain a healthy employment. Maintain a productive employment.I think that's exciting. What is your title, Jan?
Q: Right now I'm a Personnel Administrator. Last year, I was a Coordinator of Performance Improvement.
A: I think that's exciting. I missed being in the system and not knowing those things.
Q: It has just started. . .probably within the last three years. Somebody had the program prior to my coming into the position.
A: I think that's wonderful.
Q: It is. It's a lot of fun. You come across so many different things. The part I like about it is that I get into the classroom, I do some demonstration lessons from time to time with teachers to demonstrate a particular skill. So, I keep my hands in. That's why I was real interested in a lot of the things you were saying about teaching for part of the day. . .because I think it's real important. I get to see all the schools in the city. . .the majority of them anyway.
A: You've got the most exciting job in the city.
Q: I get to see different leadership styles of different principals and how they interact with their staff. . .and their philosophy. I get to see how their philosophy is good for their school, but maybe not for another school. . .and for one community but maybe not for another community.
A: That's the kind of job I'd like to have.
Q: What pressures do you face as a principal, and how did you handle them?
A: I never had enough time. See, I did the things I wanted to do during the day. Then I'd have to stay after school, when I was absolutely fatigued, to do the things a principal has to do. The pressure of time, just got to me. I had very little parental pressure because we worked so well with the parents. So, time would be the pressure that I recall. Of course, I'm not a very good organizer of time, either. When you have an open door policy, your time is not your own anyway. So, some things about it are good. I don't know if the good outweighs the bad, or not. For me, it was the only way I could operate.
Q: The things I see now, in the literature, about being the instructional leader in your school, you need to have that open door policy. You need to be visible in the school. You need to be out there in the classrooms. Be accessible to your staff during the day while they are there and don't work on your paperwork until after the building is cleared. . .and then you can sit down. So, it seems like you have much more than an 8 to 4 job, or an 8 to 3 job.
A: Oh, yes. Jan, I used to leave there so fatigued, that I would stop on Taylor Road to rest before I could drive on. I felt that everything positive was drained out of me by the time the day was over. I did encourage the teachers to share their personal problems with me if it would be of any help to them to have a sounding board. Of course, I observed all that negativity. Having worked with them so long, I knew each one of them individually. I would worry about this and worry about that. By the time I got to my principal work, I was exhausted. I believe we should have a businessman as the administrator of the school, and have an instructional principal. I think we should have two principals: one to do all the book ordering and all the little money stuff, and then have an instructional principal. . .one that does nothing but instruction. . .that doesn't have to be bothered with the other. (264)
Q: How would that tie in with how some secondary schools are set up. . .where they have an instructional person--an assistant principal, and a disciplinarian assistant principal, and another one who kind of picks up whatever is left over, and then the principal who oversees all of that? Do you see that as having a different structure than having two principals--a business manager and an instructional manager?
A: Does the principal get close enough to the problems of the school, or is he somewhat isolated? I don't know that. I always envied those secondary people--all that help that they had, when I knew what I, as an elementary principal. . .had to be all things to all people. I don't know. Certainly, I know some of the finest instructional assistant principals in the city. I'm sure that they have the power to make the decisions that. . .to do the things that are necessary to run the instructional program. I have not had enough experience to even have an opinion on that. But I wondered if the principal just became a figurehead and really didn't know what was going on in his school.
Q: How, in this concept that you have of an instructional principal and the business manager, do the two share their roles? It wouldn't be a sharing of the roles. They'll have their own distinct role. But sharing the title of principal, how would they then coordinate. Have you given any thought to. . .would they need to coordinate, and if so, how would they coordinate.
A: Well, certainly in the ordering of supplies. . .in the ordering of instructional materials they would have to coordinate. The way I envision it, the man who will handle all the money will have to do the ordering and things of that nature. He, in my thinking, would not necessarily have to be an educator. He could just handle the business affairs of the school. At the high school level they have much more business than they do at the elementary level. The only time that I would see that it would be necessary for them to coordinate would be supplying instructional materials.
Q: This is really fascinating that you would say something like this. What's happening right now is people, particularly in the business community, are saying that we don't need instructional leaders in the schools. We need business managers. If we could take someone who has a business background and plop them in a school, we could run them much more efficiently and effectively. They are serious. And I think it is real interesting because that is the way you see it. You are saying two.
A: I'm saying two. I think that instructional person is more necessary than this business manager. I want to get the instructional person. . .has nothing to think about but just the instructional program in that school. As far as I'm concerned, they can put in a retired military man for the business angle of it and manage the office and personnel and that type of thing.
Q: What about things like the class size? I can see the business manager wanting to increase the number of students in a class to save money and salaries.
A: I guess that's where the instructional manager and the business manager would butt heads. . .because I can see him wanting to put sixty in a classroom, so he wouldn't have to have that other teacher. . .'til that teacher burned out. That's the thing that concerns me. . .teacher burn out. Bless their hearts. . .and they do get burned out.
Q: The school year was strategically planned so that they would have a couple of months off.
A: They just couldn't make it.
Q: It concerns me when they talk about extending the school day by putting more hours in a day or more months in a year.
A: If they do, they're going to have more teacher help. They're going to have to have an aide. . .an instructional aide for every teacher. Not a clerical aide, but an instructional aide. They have got to have the help. They just cannot do it. They just cannot. . .you burn out.
Q: If you had to do it again, what would you do to better prepare yourself for the principalship? Of course, your situation kind of came upon you.
A: Yes, it descended upon me.
Q: What do you think a person should do to prepare them?
A: I'd take those courses. . .I'd take a battery of courses in special education. I don't know whether that would be at the undergraduate level or graduate level. I think everybody needs to know more about it, because we're recognizing them more. I think we're having more and more of them. I would like that. I felt terribly lacking, when I went into the principalship. . .the knowledge of school finance. I know I had a course in that when I was in graduate school, but it didn't take. I felt woefully inadequate in that area. From the standpoint of instructional methods and instructional materials, I felt very well prepared. I had a good understanding of what I should do in that area. I felt that my psychology classes, my child development classes were pretty strong. But I did feel a need for special education. I felt the need for a better knowledge in finances.
Q: What procedure should be used, in your opinion, in selecting a principal? What should a school division do?
A: I think the school division should look at the population, the school population, the mores of the community in which they are going to place that principal. Of course, I very much believe in a child centered school. I guess that is my own personal thing. If I were a superintendent or a person selecting, that would be something that I would look for.
Q: Would they need to be. . .or need to have been an outstanding teacher?
A: I don't think so. My husband and I were talking. Now take John Vance. That man was a master teacher. . .an absolute master. And I think to have taken him out of the classroom where he was benefiting all those people, and put him in Personnel was a criminal crime. I think that man should have been paid what he deserved, and other people like him. . .and there aren't too many of them. Jan, you know that. He should have been paid what he deserved and given all the assistance that he could have and the money to spend for equipment and do things. Because that man could take a mind and expand it more than any teacher I've ever known. I had two boys in his classes and they were just average, run of the mill boys. But he took them and made them think. I know I do not think you have to be a master teacher to be a good administrator. Somebody else we took out of the classroom, he was doing a marvelous job just like John, was Grant Blevans. Grant was a super science teacher. He was at Western Branch High. Of course, he's making a super assistant principal at an elementary school. I just think it deprives our children of all that wonderful wisdom and technique. I think we should do everything we can to keep them in the classroom. You can get along without principals. You can't get along without good teachers. You just cannot do it. So, if we're going to do away with anything, I'd do away with principalships and concentrate on instructional coordinators and the business managers. I think that one instructional person (at the school) needs to pull together all of those other people. I guess it is equivalent to high school department heads. Isn't it?
Q: Or it could be the instructional person, or they have the API, assistant principal for instruction that coordinates the department heads.
A: Then, that API coordinates what goes on in the departments. I guess that's what I really want. I want that top instructional person.
Q: But to have equal say as the business manager. You did not have an assistant principal, then.
A: I had one. . .a woman who was certified who functioned as an assistant, but she was a full time teacher. She was. . .she would handle things when I was out of the building. She was a certified assistant. She acted as math/science coordinator and taught. . .full time teacher. . .and handled that assistant principalship on the side. I called her an assistant principal. She didn't get paid, but she would take on the duties of an assistant principal. She was an instructional leader in that math/science area. If I was away from the building, I knew I had someone certified who could make the decisions.
Q: Do you think schools, particularly elementary schools, should all have assistant principals assigned to them?
A: I think it depends how they'll use it.
Q: How do you feel they should be used?
A: Instructionally. I mean instructionally. I mean being involved with writing curriculum. I mean being involved with writing assignments, writing skills, observing teachers, helping teachers. . .and doing the things you should do in that instructional capacity.
Q: Whose role would it be to handle discipline?
A: I don't think an elementary school has. . .should have that much of a discipline problem. Once a teacher. . .and I don't think a teacher should have to put up with a discipline problem to the extent that it disrupts the entire class and she's taking away from the other children. My theory is to get them out of there. In that instance, the principal and the assistant principal have got to handle those problems. The teacher cannot function. She cannot teach them. She's there to teach. But an elementary school. . .do you think. . .were you elementary or secondary?
Q: I've been both. Mine is a special education background. I worked in Virginia at the secondary level. In Pennsylvania I worked at the elementary level. Again, it can go back to what you have as a teacher in your classroom. If you have a real strong teacher, your discipline problems will be low. If you have an instructional person who can work with the teachers in the classroom, that's going to cut down on the instructional problems.
A: If you keep children busy and interested, they're not going to get into trouble. . .unless there is something wrong. I firmly believe, and as a special education person I'm sure you might agree with me, that behavior is caused. That's the first thing that we should try to do, is find out the cause.
Q: You're right. Some elementary schools don't. You never see students sitting in the office waiting in line to see the principal or assistant principal. In other schools, they are lined up out the door. Lined up down the hall.
A: I know it takes longer to teacher them discipline. It takes working with a child. . .work on self discipline. I think that's the way to go.
Q: It pays off.
A: It really does. It might not pay off today. But next year you're going to notice the difference. But it does take work and God and prayer.
Q: We touched a little bit on this, when you were talking about not paying people. What do you think of career ladders for teachers? We're going to differentiate here between career ladders and merit pay. A career ladder being elevating a teacher's position based on more job responsibility. In other words, if you've got teachers in the classroom much like the elementary assistant principal you had, take a teacher from the classroom because they are good or have certain skills that you can use as a principal. . .maybe take some of their class time away and give them other responsibilities--non-teaching responsibilities and pay them more. That being a career ladder, how do you feel about that?
A: Yes, I like that. I think that's a nifty idea.
Q: Do you think that would help to satisfy some of those good teachers who would want to stay in the classroom and teach. . .some of those really dynamic teachers. . .from maybe leaving teaching altogether and going into administrative positions?
A: I would think so. I think good teachers leave the classroom for one of two reasons. . .dissatisfaction with the pay and burnout. When we do something different, even though we are still mentally at work and physically at work, if we do something different it seems to take away that stress and strain of dealing with children. Yes, I think so. Even if you do it after school hours and pay them for doing extra things. I think that would be more fair than merit pay.
Q: Merit pay being based on the quality of the performance.
A: Who's going to judge the quality? My judgement of quality may be entirely different. I've always wondered how we could get merit pay. Some teachers deserve more than others. Jan, they put more into it and they are more interested. I think they deserve more pay. I've often wondered. . .for instance, the principal who came in after me. Some teachers didn't from a different standpoint than I. We were both looking at the same person. I think that as long as it has to be a judgmental thing, that we're dealing too much with that human variable. I may like you extremely well, so everything you do is just great as far as I'm concerned. It's hard to be objective. I think that this career ladder that you are talking about is a wonderful way to see that that teacher gets more pay. If that's what's bothering her. You know, teachers have just gotten so in the last 10-15 years since they have complained about the pay. . .we used to do all that extra work and not say a word about it.
Q: Comparing with a lot of other professions, we are tuned in. . .if you do a good job, you'll get a promotion or higher pay. Teachers, year after year, do the same thing and get an increment for a number of years.
A: If Susie down the hall is a sloppy teacher and I'm working myself to death, I can see that Susie got the same raise that I did because she's had the same years of experience. If she does nothing, or vice versa, and I'm working. I'm going to be very unhappy with that. Never thought that was exactly fair, but I didn't know how to do it. The career ladder sounds to me as if it might be the answer.
Q: What do you think of the new certification requirements? Right now they are requiring that teachers, before they can get a provisional certificate, have qualifying National Teacher Exam scores. . .a minimum NTE score to get a provisional certificate.
A: I can argue that either way. I do think that the scores on the National Teachers's Exam will help to weed out some of the people who are going into teaching with the idea of 'well if I can't do anything else, I'll teach.' At least it does require some basic knowledge. I think it helps to weed out the people who are less competent. For so long, in schools of education, they have taken people who won't do it. When I had to make a decision about a career, there were only three things I could decide on; nursing, secretarial work, or teaching. I came from a long line of teachers, so the decision was not heard for me to make. But now, there are so many career opportunities open. I don't think we need to take the dregs of the colleges and universities. . .if you can't do anything else you teach. That makes me mad. It doesn't make me angry, it makes me mad. I think the NTE does weed out some of those people.
Q: I don't know how familiar you are with BTAP. That's relatively new. It's the Beginning Teacher Assistance Program in Virginia. They send people from the State Department in to observe all first year teachers. . .teachers with no experience. . .and they have to meet fourteen competencies. . .set by the State. It is determined solely on the observation. There are three separate observers who come in and check whether or not the teacher demonstrated the particular competencies. That information, then, is coordinated at the State level and it is determined whether or not the person has met the requirements of BTAP, which is another stipulation for teacher certification in Virginia.
A: This is at the Professional Certificate level?
Q: Right. They will get the Provisional Certificate once they get the qualifying NTE scores and the proper college background. Before they get their regular certificate, they need to pass the BTAP program. . .meet the requirements of the BTAP program.
A: Well, I haven't seen the requirements. It sounds good to me. It's a shame it can't be done at the college level, before they graduate and then have to be counseled into another profession. It sounds good. You have three different opinions, about a teacher's competencies. . .I presume, from highly qualified professional people. Who, in the State Department, is doing it anyway?
Q: I haven't met them. They. . .actually, they are told not to communicate at all with the schools. As a matter of keeping objectivity. They come into the schools. They set the appointment by phone with the teacher. . .come in, sit in the classroom, then they get up and leave. They can't conference with the teacher. About six weeks later, the paper comes through whether or not you've made it or you need to go back and try again. You get three tries.
A: At no time, the teacher has a conference?
A: It seems to me, it would be beneficial after the third time for someone from the Department to sit down with her and discuss her strengths and weaknesses.
Q: That comes out in the letter. They basically tell you which competencies you didn't pass. I agree with you.
A: It would be better psychologically, anyway. Better than a cold piece of paper. You know, the written word, Jan, is there for anyone's interpretation. Oh well, I'm not so bad.
Q: The teacher may have thought that they demonstrated that skill and. . .it would be nice to discuss that with someone so they can show them why they felt they didn't do it.
A: I think that human contact at the end of three observations would be a big benefit. They didn't ask me.
Q: Getting to the final. . .what caused you to chose retirement when you did?
A: My husband was ill. The doctor told me I had no choice. I had to retire. I said, 'What's the prognosis.' He said, 'Six weeks, six months, no more than a year.' He's healthier than I am, which is wonderful. That is the main reason that I retired. I still loved what I was doing.
Q: You substituted for Linda Scott (Principal of Western Branch Primary School), didn't you, when she went out on maternity leave?
A: I sure did. Yes. I really did.
Q: I bet you enjoyed it.
A: I enjoyed every minute of it.
Q: She was at Western Branch Primary at the time.
A: Western Branch Primary. Right up the road and. . .I just loved it. The teachers were so receptive. I really had a good time. Hated to take any money for it.
Q: They don't always do that.
A: They wouldn't have if she had had an assistant. Of course, there was nobody to leave the school with. She was going to be out.
Q: You were familiar with the community and it worked out super.
A: It worked out really well. I loved it. I retired, still loving what I was doing. I'm glad I did, because so many of my contemporaries have stayed in and gotten a bitter taste. I think that's sad. . .to devote your life to something and then retire feeling bitter.
Q: What have I not asked you that maybe I should have? Can you add anything about your experience as a principal or your contact with public schools, or anything that can add that you think would be beneficial.
A: I can't think of anything, Jan. My experience was a most pleasant one. . .Due to the type of program that I was privileged to be principal of, working with the people with whom I worked, having the support. . .I always felt that I had the support of the administration. . .I don't know whether I did or not. They made me feel that way until they decided to close the school. I cannot remember an unhappy day in that capacity. I remember some tired days. . .some days of wondering--where do I go from here. But they were not unhappy days. I can't think of anything that you haven't covered. I certainly have done a lot of rambling. It's amazing how quickly you forget the jargon, isn't it?
Q: You didn't. You recalled it all.
A: Principaling was very pleasant for me. I never had high blood pressure or any other symptoms of stress. No heart attacks. I wish everybody could have the experience of working in a school that suited his own way of thinking. . .what he thinks is best for children. There were so many things that came through that school that I felt were good for children that a principal wouldn't dare try. He'd be bucking against the system. It was a good place to be.
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