INTERVIEW WITH JAMES G. FINCH
Principal of Annandale High School 1966 - 1986
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Q: I'm going to ask some background information. You've been Principal at
Annandale High School and retired in June of 1986.
(Streamed audio file of interview for this question using RealPlayer)
A: That's correct. June 30th.
Q: And how many years were you principal at Annandale?
A: I was principal at Annandale for 20 years, from 1966 til 1986.
Q: And before that you taught at Annandale?
A: Before that, well, to begin with I came to Annandale in 1957 as a teacher
and a coach. I then--I performed those duties until March 4 of 1960 when I
became an assistant principal for administration. That was one of the key
assistant principalship positions at Annandale and in the Fairfax system.
Then on July 1, 1966, I became Principal, Annandale's second principal.
Q: And you were there for?
A: I was at Annandale for a total of 29 years and 3 months.
Q: Before you came to Annandale, were you in Fairfax County or?
A: I came to Annandale from the Raleigh, North Carolina, Public Schools where
I taught my first year at Hugh Morrison High School. And Hugh Morrison closed
as a high school and then became a junior high. Then I moved on the Needham
Broughton High School which, in my estimation, was and still is one of the
finest high schools in the South. It was very similar to Annandale. And I
left there in 1957 and came up to Fairfax County.
Q: Where did you grow up?
A: I grew up in Greensboro, North Carolina, where I attended the public school
system there, which is very fine system. I was fortunate in that I was able
to go through the same school system for 12 years. I graduated from high school
in 1947. I was fortunate during my high school career to be placed in certain
positions which helped me later on as high school principal. I was President
of the Student Government in high school and then moved on to a very fine
little Quaker school, even though I was not Quaker. I went to Guilford College
from 1947 to 1951. I also was fortunate there in that I again had certain
leadership roles which helped me. I was President of the Freshman and Sophomore
Classes and then the Athletic Association and the student body. Upon graduation
in 1951 I received my commission as an Ensign in the United States Naval Reserve
in that I had joined the Naval Reserve in 1948 and had gone through Officer
Candidate School for two summers. I went on active duty with the Navy. On
August 28, 1951 I was assigned to a destroyer out of Newport, Rhode Island,
and this was the best kind of duty possible in that, if a young officer wanted
to achieve, the opportunity was there, and served on board this destroyer,
the USS Johnston, for two years and then my obligation to the government was
up. I left there and went to graduate school at the University of North Carolina,
where I received my Master's degree in History in 1954. I continued to be
a member of the Naval Reserve and retired from the Naval Reserve in 1970 with
the rank of Commander.
Q: I know you have spoken to my classes before on historical subjects.
Is this like a hobby with you still?
A: It still is. I love history, particularly Naval History. And I always
have loved to teach United States History. And I'm also a real bug on Modern
European History like the period from the time of Napoleon on the present
because it is so interesting in that many of the things that will occur at
that particular time still face us today.
Q: How would you describe Annandale when you became principal?
A: Annandale was a school of, not too unlike the school that my predecessor,
Ralph Buckley, founded in 1954. It was a community school. There were the
majority of the people lived in residential homes which they owned, they had
a great deal of pride in the community and Annandale was sort of a special
community in that the big theme of the school, and I tried to continue this,
was that it was family. A family of teachers and students and the community.
And we used this all through my time as principal. And it paid great dividends
in that I worked with the students and tried to get them to believe, and it
wasn't too difficult, that they owed a great deal to the community because
the community supported them, and therefore they should give back to the community.
And then in turn we got lots of support from the community. In part due to
our athletic programs and the fact that the school was a focal point of the
community. And it didn't help to have 27 years of an undefeated football team.
And the team in 1978 was the National Champions. All of that helped. But I
also felt that there was a whole lot more to Annandale than just athletics
and I felt that Annandale tried to present a total program. A program not
only at athletics, but academics, and we tried to train leaders, too, because
I think that quite often it is just as important to train leaders as it is
for them to be successful at math and science and the other subjects.
Q: How did it change when you were there? Or did it?
A: It did change. Annandale changed considerably because apartment dwellings
began growing up. The community became more transient. Instead of being an
upper-middle class community as it had been before, and the leading school
in Fairfax County, not only in athletics but in academics, it merely became
more complex in that minorities moved in, particularly orientals. In fact,
the last estimate that I heard about Annandale was that it is 25% minority.
And, again, the majority being oriental. These people came in, and each made
its contribution. But it was still not quite the same as it was before in
that it had gone away from being residential. Annandale was still a good school.
There are still many things there that are very positive. And the thing that
both my predecessor and I tried to present about Annandale was that the good
years were still ahead and they were not the case of where you had to look
over your shoulder, back in the past, to look at good things. And this was
something that both he and I believed and still do.
Q: What do you think is the overall philosophy of your school?
A: The overall philosophy of Annandale High School was that it took the youngsters,
tried to take care of all of the needs. I've always felt that education and
teachers and administrators deal youngsters in a much different way from what
ministers and doctors and other people. Ministers deal with youngsters in
a spiritual way. Doctors take care of the body. And the health specialists
try to take care of the health needs and so forth. But the schools take care
of the total youngster. And I believe that we were the first step in the road
to life, the real road to life for youngsters, in that we tried to help them
develop sound bodies and sound minds and seek goals before they moved out
from high school because a number of them found that their graduation from
high school was the end of their career. However, the Fairfax County Public
Schools have always been blessed with the fact that the vast majority of its
students go on to some form of higher education. But the main philosophy was
that you prepared a youngster for life in all respects.
Q: What did you think was the best climate of learning that you could think
A: The thing that I tried to do was to provide a safe, healthy, wholesome
atmosphere in which learning could take place. I believe that it should be
that if the principal provided a disciplined atmosphere that the teachers
could do the job. But I believed also that the principal was the catalyst
for everything that took place at the school. Because if the principal remained
at the school as long as I did, he or she became synonymous with the school.
And I believe that if I supported the faculty, not only providing a good atmosphere,
but by providing them with the materials and providing them with the opportunities
to further their training, because being a teacher is like being a doctor.
You certainly don't want to go to a doctor whose education ended with his
graduation from med school. And I felt the same way about teachers. That the
teacher should continue to further their education because of new techniques,
new ideas, and new occurrences in their particular fields of endeavor, whether
it be chemistry or history or math or what have you.
Q: What techniques as a leadership role did you feel were the best?
A: I felt that the best way to do it was to develop a team atmosphere in
which we worked together, that the faculty did not work for me but with me.
And I developed, I hope a good rapport with the department heads. And then
through them worked with the faculty. I believe in trying to expose the faculty,
where possible, to new ideas and techniques and trying to provide the best
possible new ways of presenting it. I always believed in media. And I think
that the Annandale High School Media Center, which was an outgrowth of my
work along with that of the faculty, certainly went a long way in getting
the material across. I believe that through teamwork that we could accomplish
almost anything. And I tried to go around and encourage the teachers. Also,
I felt that if I could use my assistants, my assistant principals and the
administrative aides, and use them well, getting them around, getting them
to where they knew what was going on in the classroom. And also I felt that
by developing various student/faculty/parent committees you could get a good
feel of what was going on because the parents certainly are important. If
you have the parents on your side, and the parents supporting what you do
and also giving you new and better ideas as to how to do it, because many
of them were very talented due to the type of people that live in the Fairfax
County area, that if you worked through them, you could do it. I always believed
in critiquing what we did every year. And we set forth goals. Then we would
continually critique them all along, trying to see if they met what we were
trying to do or if what we had set forth needed to be changed. And I didn't
worry too much about going back to the drawing board because what you put
down first isn't necessarily the final answer. So we did this. And then at
the end of the year we critiqued what we did. And my idea was to find out
what we did good and what, not necessarily we did bad, but what needed improvement.
And then to put this thing down and sit down at the beginning of the next
year and go from there. And also bring in, where possible, the expertise of
Fairfax County because the county is blessed with many people who serve as
instructional personnel and who can come out and help you with your various
Q: Was there any particular area in the county in respect personnel that you
found particularly helpful that maybe some other counties don't have?
A: Well, the Fairfax County Schools not only had the instructional expertise,
but the school system also had other people who were most helpful. Psychologists
and in particular, people who could help you in times of crisis, because we
had, in my opinion as Principal at Annandale, several student suicides. And
this puts a tremendous impact on the school. And these people were able to
come out and work with us. We tried to calm the study body and explain to
them as best we could why it had occurred and what we could do to prevent
it from happening again. These as well as people who were quite good in the
vocational areas, because not every student goes on to college. And then there
were other people in the count such as the media specialists, who could come
out and help you with your libraries, helping you to get the most out of your
Q: You said earlier that the role that the community played in Annandale and
Annandale in the community. What is the most biggest benefit you thought that
you got from the community?
A: The biggest benefit that we got from the community was the fact that the
community supported us. In fact, the community felt that Annandale High School
was one of the best selling points in the community. Because living in an
area as Metropolitan Washington, many people could live anywhere. So therefore
they try to find places where their youngsters can get the best education.
And this is why many of them came to Annandale. I found that by being a member
of the Rotary Club, by being a member of the Chamber of Commerce, I let the
community know what was going on at the school because I always jokingly said
I could squelch rumors, plant seeds, seek help, and give help. And therefore,
we made Annandale High School very much a part of the community. And we did
our best to make the community proud of what we did. As well as we had no
secrets. And the community was always welcome to come to the school at any
time to visit us, to seek our help and to do what they could to assist us.
Q: You feel that is one of the biggest roles of the principal?
A: I do. I think that one of the biggest roles of the principal is public
relations. Because you are the spokesman and also you are where the buck stops.
And if you are the spokesman and do it honestly, you can present a very good
image of your school to the community because you cannot survive without community
support. You need to not only to help you but also in providing support for
your programs, but you need their financial support. Your yearbook, your band,
and your athletic programs cannot survive without dollars from the community.
Q: What do you think teachers expect that their principals should be?
A: Well, it depends. I think that the principal is all things to all people.
Many people expect the principal to provide them with all they need, provide
a disciplined atmosphere, and to let them go. Let them do their thing. But
I can't quite go with that completely because there are good teachers, there
are average teachers, and there are poor teachers. And teachers cannot go
into their room, shut the door, and be an island. Because sometimes things
that go on behind those closed doors aren't what we want the youngsters to
learn. Some of the information is inadequate. Some of the discipline in the
classroom is poor. So I always feel that we needed to know what went on. I
also felt that the teacher expected support from their principal, and help
when they got into trouble with students and the parents. I also think that
the teachers liked to have someone that they could go to and just talk. A
great deal is done just by expressing themself. A teacher is--the teaching
profession, I should say--is one of the most demanding professions that there
is. You're an actor, you are an artist, you are a creator, you are a transmitter
of knowledge. You are all of those things. And if you teach five periods a
day, you have to be at your best five times a day. It's not one performance,
but five performances everyday. And those who get you the last period deserve
the same enthusiasm that those who got you the first period have.
Q: How do you evaluate teachers? What do you look for in evaluating teachers?
A: This teacher evaluation thing is one of the most difficult things that
there is because if you use the EBO, which is the system that we use in Fairfax
County, Evaluation by Objectives, you find that it is very effective but it
also has some drawbacks. You sit down with a teacher at the beginning of the
year--you or your assistants sit down with them. Using things that you know
and they know must go on in the classroom that are demanded by the state and
the county school system. You try to help them develop their own objectives
so that they can carry these out. But you also know, the teachers also know
when you're coming, unless you have an unannounced visit. And you don't always
learn what is going on. But when you do, if you just drop by for just a minute,
to see what is going on in the classroom. And you watch the youngsters. You
watch them as well as the teacher because I think that when students fail
tests that the teacher fails also if the students were not taught properly.
And that you need to watch what is going on. You need to take a look at the
grades. You need to at the end of each grading period, let them see where
teachers with similar groups, who give grades, see if there is one kind of--if
they are all somewhat equal. Because it is bad if a student gets one teacher
who is a real hard grader, and it is just as equally as bad if they get another
teacher who is an easy grader. You want somebody who evaluates them fairly.
Because I always felt that teachers should be evaluated and should expect
to be evaluated the same way that they evaluate and expect to evaluate their
Q: Did you have any particular techniques to make teachers feel important and
to reward teachers when they have done a good job?
A: I tried, as best I could, and you, with a large student body, you didn't
always accomplish all your goals. I believe in just dropping them a little
note saying "Hey, I was in your classroom today and I noticed that these things
were great." Or just go up in the hall and pat them on the back and say "Hey,
how are you doing? I hear great things are coming out of your class." if this
is true. Don't ever tell them something that's not so. And at the same time
remember that they are human beings and they like to be stroked. They like
to be stroked the same as principals like to be stroked. They like to hear
when they are doing well. They've also got to be told when they are not doing
well. And not only told but given some very constructive ways to improve.
Don't ever go at somebody, particularly teachers, and say I didn't like this,
I didn't like that, without saying it in such a way that these are areas that
need improvement and these are some of the things that I think you might try
which will improve. Now if you as a principal don't have this expertise, then
call someone in who can help you. And make it such that the teacher doesn't
feel like that he or she is being put on trial, but that he or she is receiving
Q: In just a couple of words or sentences, I'd like to know what your philosophy
of education is. And, is it different, your philosophy of teaching. Again, if
it is different, your philosophy of personal leadership. What about philosophy
A: I think that education is the most important thing that a youngster receives.
Because this is where he or she is trained, not only in the basic things as
math and science and English, but also in how to get along with other people
and how to live in the present world. I believe that as Confucius said, teaching
is the greatest of the professions. And I think that the educational profession
needs the very best people that can be found. Not hose who cannot succeed
in other areas, who use this as a second or third choice, because choices
one and two were closed to them. I think that salaries should be such that
you will attract good teachers and that you will keep good teachers. Because
one of the things that really irked me was, when I first came into the teaching
profession, was when I went out to buy a house or something like that, they
say "Oh, you're a teacher. You can't afford that." And I felt like a second-class
citizen when really I was trying to teach their youngsters and they certainly
didn't expect me to do a second class job.
Q: That includes your philosophy of teaching. What about personal leadership
A: I believe that being a good leader is so important. I believe that a good
leader is a catalyst. And I use that word so many times because he or she
has got to be enthused about what is going on. you can never lose that spark
of enthusiasm because, when you do, other people around you, those people
that you are trying to lead, the faculty and so forth, pick up on it very
quickly. And if you're not enthusiastic, and if you're not warm and outgoing,
they soon pick up on this and they become the same way. It's like osmosis.
And I believe that you not only are a catalyst, but you also are a supporter,
you are--you try to set a good example, and you try to be a mediator and you
try to get everybody working together toward a common goal. You cannot be
a principal who supports teachers and then not support students. And you cannot
support students and not support teachers. You've got to be as fair as you
can. Sometimes I wished I had the wisdom of Solomon in dealing with some of
the things because I knew that I had to support the teacher because otherwise
they would lose face. Now, I didn't feel good about it. So I had to go back
to the teacher and say, "Now, are you really sure that this is what you want
to do. Because I don't really think that you're correct." But I tried to do
it in such a way that I didn't make the teacher look bad in the eyes of the
student. And then I also had to deal with the student. And let the student
know that the teacher was in charge. That on the other hand, that justice
and that if the student is right, that he or she does have a chance of winning
Q: What made you decide to leave the classroom and become an administrator
or to go into administration? Did you set out to be a principal?
A: I always wanted to be an administrator. When I was a youngster, I wanted
to be a naval officer. I wanted to go to the Naval Academy. But at the time
I couldn't pass the physical because I was about a half an inch too short.
Since that time they have certainly changed the requirements for the Naval
Academy and I could get in with ease today. I always was in a position of
leadership and I liked to be a mover and a shaker. I liked to be where I could
use my influence and to get other people to work with me and I just never
thought about anything else other than being a school administrator.
Q: Would you have liked to go and be something higher, higher is not the right
word, because a lot of principals go into county office.
A: You mean would I like to be an area superintendent or a division superintendent?
No. I always felt that the greatest call for a school administrator was a
high school principal. Because once you left that position you got away from
the thing that schools are all about--that's kids. I love working with kids.
I've always loved kids and I love being around them. While I was principal,
I did some things that many principals wouldn't do or they didn't think about
doing. I organized my own service club, the Interact Club, at Annandale as
part of my obligation to Rotary. And I started out working with these youngsters.
These young men were "my boys" and they were special to me. It gave me another
aspect from the humdrum life of being a principal. Because I could work with
them in ways that I couldn't deal with the regular student body. And therefore,
this was something special to me.
Q: What pressures did you face as principal and how did you handle them?
A: As I said earlier, you are all things to all people. The faculty expect
complete support for them. The parents sometimes come at you with "I'm a taxpayer."
Well, the truth is, we're all taxpayers. And they want something special for
their youngster. They'll say to you, "I know that what you're doing is right
and I would agree with, but this is my son. Can't you do something a little
bit different." And then in dealing with students, they feel that the whole
world is unfair to them. That's just because they're kids that no one will
listen to them. So it is very difficult in those situations to try to deal
with everybody. You also are the "captain of the ship". This is something
that I learned when I was in the Navy. And you have to make many decisions
that are not popular. But as long as you keep in mind that whatever you're
trying to do is for the good of the school, the students and the faculty,
then you can't go wrong. I've done a number of things in my career where I
stuck my neck out and I knew that, if I were wrong, it could be very fatal
to my career. But I felt that as captain of the ship that the decision had
to be made and luckily I made a good decision or there were people there who
Q: How do you feel, if you had to do it over again, your entering the profession
at this point to be a principal, how do you feel that you would go about preparing
A: I would do the same thing. I would go about it in the very same way. The
only problem is that I would find it more difficult today to become a principal
than I did at the time when I became principal. Because there are more people
out there who want to be principal. And then there are a lot of factors that
are deterrents. There are such things as quotas. They have other names for
them. But you've got in Fairfax County for example, you've got to be concerned
that you have a certain number of minorities in administrative positions,
a certain number of women in administrative positions, and quite often being
a male Caucasian puts you down at the bottom of the list, not because you're
not qualified, but because of trying to meet the quotas. And I'm just glad
that I came through when I did rather than having to go through now. But if
I had to do all over again, I wouldn't change it much.
Q: Do you think that getting a master's degree in administration education
would be a good idea?
A: I don't have a master's degree in school administration even though I
had 50 hours beyond my master's with most of the courses in education. I found
that many of the course I took in education were useless. Those courses which
were designed by principals for their own use, in discipline and in other
things, were far better for them than some of the canned courses that you
are required to take. I always felt that a good grounding in education, being
able to write correctly, being able to speak positively and correctly, being
able to meet people, being able to do those things were just as important
as anything else. And the education courses that I liked the best, as I said
before, were those which met my needs and were designed by myself and my peers.
More practical. You need practical things, because when I became principal
I took certain courses. But as I moved through my principalship, I faced such
things as Vietnam, as drugs, and other things for which I had no preparation
and there were no courses. Everybody was dealing as best they could with the
situation. A lot of us were being second guessed. But no one really had any
real answers. And we had to develop them ourselves.
Q: Mr. Finch, what qualities do you think make a good teacher?
A: A good teacher has to be many, many things. A good teacher has got to
be an actor, got to be well grounded in their knowledge. A good teacher has
to be a caring person. A good teacher has got to be a philosopher. A good
teacher must be one who has patience that goes way beyond what normal people
have because youngsters come to school each day, and when they do you don't
know what kind of a situation they've had and a teacher's got to be able to
react to them. A good teacher has got to be able to change, to shift gears
very quickly, because they may have planned their lesson one way and then
all of a sudden they see that it's not going that way at all and therefore
they've got to shift and they've got to get with the class.
Q: How did you handle teacher grievances? Or did you have to fire a teacher
or discipline them in anyway?
A: Grievances are actually handled through personnel department. But anything
that I did had to be initiated with me. I had a number of teachers that I
felt were not doing the job and I would indicate this to them and then they
would file a grievance against me. And then the grievance would go through
the channel. It would start with me, and then it would go to the area superintendent,
and then on to, at one time it was the superintendent, and then on to the
school board. Now it's changed somewhat. I actually couldn't fire anybody.
I could only recommend that teachers be removed. And firing a teacher is a
very difficult thing because you must have a real good case. You've got to
build a book on them. You've got to be sure that everything that you have
indicated is down in black and white. It can't be hearsay. It must be down
because teachers have rights like anyone else and they can always come back
to you and say "Where did this happen?" or "How can you prove this?" So you've
got to be very, very careful.
Q: How can we improve the education in general?
A: You mean education in general in the schools?
A: Well, schools have got to be more geared toward the world. You cannot
take the school and teach as if this is a different world from what's on the
outside and then expect the youngsters to go out. You've got to make it as
world like as you can. The schools have got to teach the students the basic
principles of math, English, and they've got to teach them how to write. It's
so important that they are able to express themselves because people who are
in business want this. They've also got to be able to stand on their feet
and express their opinions and be able to gather their thoughts so that whatever
they say makes good sense. Also, students have got to be made aware of what's
going on in the outside. I was watching television last night, Sixty Minutes.
And it showed how little many students of today know about the outside world.
I think that the schools have got to do so many things because if we don't,
no one else will.
Q: Do you have any recommendations for improving teacher education?
A: Yes, I do. I think that much more time needs to be spent with teachers
in teaching situations. Too much education, too many of the educational courses
are strictly theory. I think some of the most boring courses I ever took in
school were in education. And they were boring because they were not like
the real world. When I became a principal, I went through Vietnam situation,
I went through many others. And there were no courses that prepared me. I
had to learn as I went. I think that student teachers must be given access
to this. Also, they need to be very much aware of media. They've got to know
how to be able to use it. They've got to be able to, as I said earlier, shift
gears. They've got to be able to go from one mode to another, to an entirely
different one if they find that it is not working with students. And they've
got to, a teacher is somewhat different from anyone else in that if you're
an actor you present a play and you give all you've got for that one event.
But many teachers have five preparations or five periods. And they've got
to be able to give, just like the actor, give their very best, 100% right
straight through the five periods. And those that are in the fifth period
deserve just as much as those who are at the first period of class.
Q: What are some issues that you remember in the 20 years that you were at
Annandale that you can remember that you needed to handle in a particular way.
A: There were many things that happened at Annandale. When I became principal
in 1966 the school wasn't very much different from what it was when it opened
in 1954. The principal was law. The principal would say, after some thought
and so forth, he would say no and the students would grumble and go on about
their business, but nothing really occurred. But then times began to change,
and they shifted so quickly that it was almost impossible to stay up with them.
I think the three biggest challenges that I had while I was at Annandale occurred
first with the Vietnam situation. When the Vietnam situation hit us, and it
hit us primarily in the early 70's, we were nothing more than a mirror of the
community. Whatever happened out in the community reoccurred in the schools.
And there wasn't anything that we could do about it. We tried to stay out of
it, but it was strictly impossible. I remember having a near riot on our campus.
I wasn't there that day. But I remember that the students were very upset over
the Kent State Affair. And some of them came, particularly from the outside,
and demanded that we lower the flag. We had no authority to do this. And they
reacted. And then some of our other students, who were more of the conservative
type, counteracted. And they ran these students off. And then it hit the news,
and then one thing led to another. And I had a very difficult time in dealing
with this because, in the first place, I wasn't there on the day that it occurred.
And secondly, anything that I said was being taken out of context by the newspapers
and being printed as was happening all over the country. And I remember one
time I made the statement that many of the students that I had that were dissident,
who were objecting to all these things, objected to anything. That many of them
couldn't spell Cambodia and they didn't even know where it was. The community
reacted to this, some in a positive way and some in a negative way. And it was
just a statement I shouldn't have made, but I made it anyway. In addition to
the Vietnam situation, along came the drugs. And no one was ready for the drugs.
The drugs came first as marijuana, then cocaine, and LSD, and everything else.
And students were getting drugs and we were trying to keep the drugs out of
the schools. Parents were most anxious to do something, those that cared, and
most of them did. They were searching around for answers and they were also
searching around for people to blame. And quite often they blamed the school.
They said the school was the place where drugs were readily available. Certainly,
they were readily available in the schools, as they were on the street corners,
in the movie theaters, and everywhere else. And they were trying to find scapegoats
and I think that the schools took an unfair amount of blame at a time when this
was not justified. But I think one reason why we were able to turn the drug
situation around was because that there were enough people in the school area
who really cared, and we began trying to get people in who could educate the
students and who took a real tough line. I think another time that caused me
some problems was right around 1975 when Annandale had a very successful football
team the previous year and the student editor of the newspaper wrote in our
local school newspaper that he didn't think we were going to have a very good
football team. Some of our students took offense to this. And at 12:35 p.m.
on a Sunday morning some 25 of them went over to his house with 30 dozen extra
large eggs and egged his house. On Monday morning his father came in to see
me with three names. My big mistake was that I should have turned it over to
the police and told him to go ahead and pursue it through that. But I and the
Athletic Director felt that it was a real black eye to the school and that we
did not look good in the community. So very quickly I got the names of all 25
young men involved and we asked for a meeting with the parent. The parent hedged
and was going to meet with us and then he took some bad advice from his older
son, who had had some bad dealings with the school for some reason or another,
and he wouldn't meet with us. And before I knew it the television channel had
us. And the television channel was making the school out to be something that
it certainly was not. But blaming me for not taking a stand. And I was in complete
communication with everyone, including the superintendent. And they all told
me that what I was doing was the correct stand. Then I found out that the School
Board was very upset with me, too. That they felt that I should have suspended
all 25 boys. If I had done that, my tenure as principal at Annandale would have
ended because I would have been dead with the students, because you don't support
students and then punish them at the same time, because this would have been
a breaking of faith. Later the School board came back with their Student Responsibilities
and Rights, and they decided at that time that students should not be held responsible
for things that they did outside of school time, which was what I had said.
So in the end I was right. But no one ever came back and said to me, "Mr. Finch,
after our studying this situation and after much thought and so forth, you were
right the way you handled the things." Nobody ever did that. And even though
I knew, and I had the complete support of many of my faculty members and the
community who felt that what I had done was right. Then I think the last thing
that I did during my tenure at Annandale which was traumatic was to close school
on my own volition. One morning about 6 o'clock I got a phone call from one
of my very trusted teachers who came to school early. And he reported that Four
Year Run, our access road to Heritage Drive, was full of water. That there was
break in the water main. I called and reported this to my immediate superior,
and he said keep him informed. I went to school and I found everything just
as had been reported. I called for the Fairfax County Water Authority people
to come out and make an assessment. They did. They told me that there would
be no water at Annandale High School. This was in September. We had a student
body of approximately 2,400 students. And this created a real problem. The Director
of Transportation for Area II asked me what I was going to do about it. He told
me that it would be impossible for him to get the buses in and get the students
out if we closed school at a later time. He had the buses there, ready to go
then. And it would be impossible at 10:00 or 11:00 to bring them back. I continued
to try to communicate with my superiors, but they were of little or no help
to me because they were away from the scene. I called my administrative staff
together and we decided that the best thing to do was to put the students on
the buses and send them home. This I did. At that time it began to hit the radios
and so forth. Before long I had all the help I could have asked for. More, in
fact, than I needed. My superiors came in immediately and I think they thought
I made the wrong decision. They came in and the first thing they told me was
to lock up the bathrooms. I told my Number One Assistant Principal to lock up
the bathrooms. He stopped and said, "What did you say?" And I told him, "You
heard me. Lock the bathrooms." He told the Head Custodian. And the Head Custodian
had the same response, "What did you say?" He said, "You heard me. Lock up the
bathrooms." Pretty soon I was standing around the front of the building with
some of the school officials and up walked the Division Superintendent. He said
to me, "What's the problem?" My reply was. "I guess I'm the problem. I learned
that, when I was in the Navy and you're captain of the ship, if no one makes
a decision, and a decision must be made, the captain makes the decision. I made
a decision to close school because from all the information I had, there would
be no water. I made the decision and I'll take the consequences for my actions."
The Division Superintendent was about to reply to me when someone tapped me
on my shoulder. I turned around and it was the little lady from the Health Department.
I introduced her to the Superintendent and she asked me, "When are you closing
school?" And I looked at the Division Superintendent and he said to me "9:45
I believe." And I said "9:45." We closed school officially at 9:45. I still
think I made the best decision possible. The next day I went to a football game
and while there I encountered groups of my parent. Each one of them said to
me, "You had a problem yesterday, didn't you." And I said, "I certainly did."
And each group in turn replied. "Well, we think you made the best decision.
At least you made a decision." That made me feel good. They were the big things
that, as I look back at Annandale, that certainly got me in the newspaper and
on television because Annandale High School is a part of the Fairfax County
School System, one of the finest systems in the country. We have students whose
parents are very transient. They come and go. And therefore we have contacts
all over the county. No matter what we do in Fairfax County, whether it is good
or bad, we hear about it other parts of the country.
- Q: What procedures do you think should be used before a person is selected
to become a principal?
A: I think that a person, before becoming a principal, first must be a teacher
and have served some time as teacher because the main reason for the existence
of schools is to educate young people. And one thing that happens too often
is that principals are plucked out of the classroom because they were or people
who become principals are plucked out of the classroom because they were good
teachers. And I think that too often these people get so tied up in all of
the red tape and everything that it takes to run a building that they lose
sight. So I think first they've got to have been a teacher, a good teacher.
Then, secondly, I think they should go through a process of going from teacher
to administrative aide--now in Fairfax County they call this Assistant Principal
I--then to assistant principal, then to principal. It's best that you've had
experience in all of these areas. And I think it's most important that an
assistant principal be given an opportunity to deal, not only with instruction
and evaluation of teachers, but with the mundane things that take place in
the operation of the school, such as building budgets, as worrying about maintenance,
as worrying about the community use of the building, transportation and all
of those other things that are all a part of the total school program.
Q: How did you handle assistant principals?
A: I always handled assistant principals the way I would have done if I had
been in the Navy. I delegated authority but not responsibility. The responsibility
for the total operation of the school was mine. but I gave each of my assistant
principals the job that I felt that he or she should do. I tried to sit down
with them, to explain to them how I would like to see the end product turn
out. I did not, where possible, tell them how to do it. If you're going to
train assistant principals to become principals, which should be the end result,
you've got to give them an opportunity to work with it. I kept my finger on
what they were doing. I tried to monitor it somewhat, ask them for updates,
and to tell me if they needed any help. But the job was their to get the results.
Q: What was your biggest concern as a principal?
A: My biggest concern as a principal was to keep all factions of the school
operating. A school is a very complex thing. It's composed of students, teachers,
administrators, parents and interested citizens. Each one with a part of the
total pie. My problem was to try to get them all to work together, and to
try to understand what each of the other were trying to do. I also felt that
my job was to be a catalyst. Where something good was going, to show interest,
to provide the support, physical and spiritual or whatever other way possible
to get it done. I also felt that my job as a principal was important in dealing
with the public. We had to keep the public informed. The school to me was
an open book. If parents walked in off the streets to come into the building,
I was not concerned because, as I said before, we are nothing more than a
mirror of the community. If good things are going on in the schools, it's
because we've got good students and good kids. If things are going on that
are not good, it's also because we've got that type of student. Therefore,
having parents present didn't bother me. I was always glad to have them because
they could come in and really see us. See us as we were. Because they are
the people who we call upon for support for our various programs.
Q: What is your biggest headache?
A: My biggest headache I guess was trying to stay abreast of all the constant
changes. And I think that number one among the changes was the Vietnam War,
the drugs, and of the other things that came with it. My other concern, another
of my concerns was the fact that the community was continually changing. The
community when I became principal of Annandale was a community primarily of
single dwellings, of people who owned their houses or rented their houses,
who were very much interested in the school. As time went by this changed.
We began to get more apartments and a more diverse population. We were primarily
Caucasian when I became principal. But when I retired in 1986, Annandale was
some 25% minority. And the largest group of the minority were not blacks,
but orientals. These particular people presented some real problems. They
also presented some real pluses. Many of these orientals were excellent students.
I noted as I read the honor roll that their names were there. I also noted
that when the honors for math and science and other areas were present or
given that they were there too. So change was another thing that I had to
keep up with. And then another problem that is related to change is the fact
that the community went from being some 70% of the parents having children
in school to where less than 50% had youngsters in school. And these people
had an entirely different view of the school. Many of them were our neighbors
who started out by moving into the community because they liked the fact that
they could send their youngsters across the fence or less than a mile to school.
Now they no longer had students at school and they were concerned because
they didn't like students parking in front of their houses, crossing their
yards, or doing other things. And they felt that they had served their time
as taxpayers. They had paid; the schools that their youngsters had gone to
had been paid for by them, and that they no longer had an obligation to the
community. And one of the most difficult things that I had and others had
as educators was to sell them the fact that the students who are in school
are important and those who will be coming to school later are important too.
Because as they go, so go we. Because the type of retirement to which we all
would like to go will be predicated by how well these people do, these youngsters
that are in school now. They also will run our country someday. They will
take over the leadership roles as we relinquish them. As we get older, they
go to the younger people.
Q: What do you think of the career ladders for teachers and merit pay?
A: I have some real concerns about merit pay. I think that teachers certainly
deserve to be paid properly. As I look back, when I was a teacher, I think
one of the most frustrating things that faced me was the fact that when I
went out into the community and wanted to do things such as to buy a house
or do other things, when the real estate dealer or whomever I happened to
be dealing with, asked me what do you do for a living and I'd say a teacher,
I would see them blink their eyes and say, "Well, I don't know whether you
can afford this or not. This is probably more than you can pay for because
you don't make that type of salary." I felt really irritated by this because
these same people sent their youngsters to me and others to teach, and they
certainly didn't want a second-class education for them even though they treated
me and others as second class citizens. I think we've come a long way with
teachers. I think that the pay is much better than it used to be. And now
they are talking about merit pay, about recognizing the best teachers. Well,
the problem with recognizing the best teachers is who's going to do the job?
I think much of the burden is going to fall upon principals. And principals,
once again, are going to be caught in the middle. Many parents are going to
be concerned about this too. They're going to want their youngsters to go
to schools where the majority of the teachers are master teachers, are being
recognized by merit pay and so forth. I think that another problem with merit
pay is the fact that there must be a cap on it. I've heard some of the politicians
say that merit pay is fine, but who is going to pay for it. And who draws
the line and so forth. I hope that merit pay isn't another one of the gimmicks
that we've had as we've gone through education. Everything that goes around
comes back. And we've talked about this before. If it can be managed properly,
if people can be singled out and can be recognized for the good things they
do, that's one thing. But to manage the program is another. This is the most
difficult part of it. Maybe they will be able to find some answers, but at
this point I think it's pie in the sky.
Q: What do you think of the Standards of Quality that the State School Board
A: I think that the Standards of Quality are excellent. As you read through
them, they certainly cover everything from A to Z. And the people who drew
them up were educators and had a feel for it. I certainly have always felt
that standards of quality were necessary because you've got to have a bench
mark by which to develop your other programs.
Q: What are the characteristics associated with effective schools?
A: I think that an effective school first must be one where a safe, wholesome,
disciplined atmosphere exists. If this does not happen, no matter how good
your instructional program is, it will not occur. First thing I did as principal
was to try to provide this safe, wholesome, disciplined atmosphere. The second
thing I tried to do was to provide the very best instructional program that
we could get together. And this was done through working with school board
directives, working with school personnel, working with your own people. But
the first thing, as I said before, is that you've got to have a safe, wholesome,
disciplined atmosphere in which instruction can occur.
Q: What do you think of the testing procedures like SAT and SRA?
A: I have some real feelings, some real misgivings about SAT and SRA. I feel
that tests are necessary. But many people are not good test takers. I often
think about my own situation. I was not a good test taker. And yet I feel
that my career has been a successful one. At the University of North Carolina
I got my Master's Degree in History. I went across the campus to the School
of Education and applied for the Doctor of Education Program. The Dean looked
at my test scores that I had taken while as a senior in college and said,
"Your scores were not very good. I don't think you can make the program."
And I said to them that I couldn't understand because I just completed a very
difficult program in the School of History and that I had to take a foreign
language and passed an examination there and so forth. And then when I went
back and told my major professor about this at the School of History, he said
that anybody who can get a Master's Degree over here can get a Doctor of Education
with both hands tied behind their back over there. So, I think that that's
one of the problems. Then, too, test scores are taken out of context. Too
many schools are judged by how high their SAT's are, the number of Merit Semi-Finalists
or Finalists they have, and so forth. Rather than the real test which is how
far has the faculty and the administration of that school taken these students.
How far have they gone from A to B. I think as a principal that I was much
more successful if I could improve the education of my students. Take them
from where they were to some point down the road because too often the schools
where you have a high social-economic community will have the highest test
scores. Therefore, these schools are labeled as better schools than the others,
when really the real job of education may be going on in the schools where
the scores are not quite as good because of the social-economic and because
maybe their people are not as good test takers. But tests will always be around
because you've got to have some means of measuring things, and until they
find a better one, tests will be there.
Q: What was the toughest decision you had to make as a principal. Why was it
A: The toughest decision I had to make as a principal was to close school
on the day that we had no water because I knew that I was laying my career
on the line and yet I felt that I was right and that I had weighed all of
the facts and that the number one concern that I must have was for the safety
and welfare of my students and faculty. That I placed first. When I made a
decision, I made it with that thought in mind. And as long as you do that
I felt you couldn't go wrong. As luck would have it, things turned out alright
and I was right.
Q: Would you consider yourself more of a manager of a building or as an instructional
A: Many principals would like to be called instructional leaders. This is
a misnomer because as principal of a school you are all things to all people.
At comment you are managing the instructional program. You are doing a lot
of planning with your faculty for the next year, trying to improve your instructional
program. But let a major disaster or some disaster occur, you have to drop
everything, and that takes top priority. You are also responsible for your
building. You are the building manager. If the building is not clean, it is
your responsibility. As I said earlier, you can delegate authority, but not
responsibility. And the principal has the total responsibility for all the
things that go on in his or her building--the instructional program, the cleanliness
of the building, the discipline of the students, the budget, everything else.
I think that one of the things that I did, which helped Annandale, was the
fact that I always tried to put Annandale first. I fought for everything I
could get for Annandale, whether it be dollars, whether it be material things,
or whatever it might be. And this seemed to pay off because if you care, and
if you exhibit this caring attitude to your faculty and to your community,
they will support you.
Q: What do you think was the key to your success as a principal?
A: My key to success was the fact that I was fortunate enough to have a very
fine faculty, excellent students, and most supportive community, and school
board members who cared about Annandale and who would fight for us. If you
have these ingredients and if you go out and you show the community that you
care about them, they in return will react to you. This is why I think whatever
success I had occurred.
Q: What was your code of ethics as a principal?
A: I always felt that as principal that I must set an example to my faculty,
to my students, and to the community. I was a human being and I made a lot
of mistakes, but I tried to lead a type of life that was exemplary. I tried
to show them that I cared about them, which I did, and that I cared about
education because I have always believed that a teacher, and a principal is
a teacher, that teaching is the greatest of the professions. And I think too
many people just give it lip service. I think that the success of this country
and the success or failure of many things, due to the fact that there were
good teachers who came along and who did the job. Because a teacher is an
actor, is a molder, is a builder, is many, many things. And maybe this is
too simplistic, but I think that youngsters come through school somewhat on
a conveyor belt like an assembly line and we mold and we make and we patch
and we do many things as they go through trying to teach them the basics and
trying to teach them how to get along in this world. We also nick some. And
I know we don't mean to do this but we do, we do nick some of our students.
And I think that, if you talk to people who have made a success out of their
lives, that somewhere back in their past they will have one or more teachers
who served as an example to them who inspire them, and who did many other
things. And this is a little bit off the subject, but I've also felt that
one of the reasons that we were successful at Annandale in doing our job was
that we had a total program. We dealt with not only educating young people,
but we also tried to train them, make leaders out of them. We did this through
clubs, classes, student government, trying to place them in positions where
they had to assume a leadership role. Where they had to make a stand. And
also I think that the extracurricular program at Annandale was one of the
keys to our success, whether it be publications or drama or athletics. Because
the things that you need to teach young people about winning, about losing,
and about knowing the difference and how to handle them are taught in competition,
whether it be newspaper or publications or athletics. Because if we could
have taught these things in the classroom, we would have done so a long, long
time ago. And I always felt that Annandale was a total school because we dealt
with the total student. We dealt with his or her health, or education, the
anesthetic part of their lives, the leadership part of their lives, many of
the character building things, because most of the students spent the majority
of their creative hours with us, and not with their parents.
Q: What are your feelings about the responsibility of a principal for identifying
future school administrators and how would you go about doing this?
A: I think it is very important that a principal identify future principals
or educational leaders. And this is a very difficult thing because education
is like politics. I've seen a lot of very fine people, who would have made
excellent principals, not selected as principals because they didn't have
the right mentor. Educators have got to have a mentor, and I was fortunate
in that I had a number of people who believed in me and helped me along with
advice and who helped me by giving me the chance. And I think that this is
so important. You may have all of the finest qualities and make a fine principal,
but you've got to have somebody who believes in you. So I believe that if
you have this, that you've got to give these people an opportunity. And I
think that you look for people who are good teachers and who care about kids,
who are willing to give more than just classroom time to them. Because young
people need so many things. And some of the finest relationships that have
ever been developed between a teacher and a student had been developed outside
of the classroom, with the teacher as a coach, or as a sponsor, or as just
an advisor. And so you look for these people. People who are willing to give
more than just 100%. They need to give 110%. You look for people who are willing
to take chances, who are willing to stand up for what they believe, because
quite often the principal will be out there on the end of the limb all by
himself or herself, and somebody is ready to cut them off with a saw. And
so you've got to have people who have principles, and I mean a-l-s but l e-s,
principles. You've got to have people, you are looking for people who get
along with other people, who can sell their ideas to other people. Who are
willing to stand back and say, "Well, maybe I was wrong, but let's take another
look at it." Who are willing to take a chance. Another thing that you're looking
for in people who could become principals are those who will continue their
education, because you certainly don't want a school run by a principal who
learned his or her skills as they got their Master's Degree. The same thing
would be true with a doctor, you don't want to go to a doctor whose last update
was from med school when he or she graduated. so you've got to stay abreast
of these things. But I guess in summation, you've got to have people who care
about them, about other people, who are intelligent, who are risk takers,
who are willing to stand up for what they believe, and who are willing to
fight, fight for young people.
Q: How would you describe your typical work day in terms of how you spent your
time. How did you spend most of your time?
A: Every good administrator has a time schedule. You lay out your day, you
block it into various times when you have meetings and when you want to meet,
when you need to visit this teacher or that teacher, and so forth. But I found
that quite often my best laid days went awry. When I got to school, there
was an emergency. Then I had to devote my entire time to something else. But
I think that a good administrator is also a good planner. That he or she has
to draw up their day as best they can and stick with it. One thing that takes
too much out of the day for a principal are meetings. Some of these meetings
are most necessary and some of them are not. I think that too often meetings
are held for the sake of having a meeting. A good principal always wants to
stay in the building. That's where they feel that they're needed because that's
their ship, that's their command post and they like to be there. But too often
they're taken out of the building. That's where a good principal is lucky
if he or she is blessed with good assistants. Because I believe that a good
school will run just as well without the principal there as with the principal.
But if the principal has got to be there everyday to oil the gears and to
open the doors and to do all those things, and the school cannot function
without his or her presence, then the principal hasn't done a very good job.
That's where having good assistants is so important. But a well-planned day
sometimes goes awry because of the emergencies. There is no real typical day.
Every day is new and different. That's one of the things that I found so interesting
about being a principal--there was never a dull day.
Q: Thinking in terms of the aspect of being an administrator, as part of being
a principal, what do you think was your biggest success or how do you account
for your success as being an administrator.
A: I think that I owe a great deal to my training as a naval officer. I think
that my two years on active duty and my 19 years in the Reserves played a
very big part in my life as an administrator. I learned there a sense of responsibility,
a sense of orderliness, a sense of dedication. And I think that was one of
the things that played a big part in my success as a principal. I think too
that my background of coming from a family where there has been a teacher
in every generation played a role, too. Because even today, my youngest daughter
is a teacher, my brother is a teacher. I wanted to be a principal. Because
I like to be a mover and shaker. I like to get things done. I feel that my
training in school, as a high school president of the student body and college
president of the student body and my various areas of responsibility in the
Navy and so forth, all gave me a yearning to be a leader and to be in charge.
And you are certainly in charge, and you have to be a leader if you are a
Q: What caused you to choose retirement when you did?
A: I chose retirement because in the Fairfax County Public School System
you cannot go more than 29 years and 11 months. And I did not want to start
my last year, because I had 29 years and 3 months when I retired, I did not
want to start the year and then have to leave because I felt this was unfair
to the students and to the community. Whenever I start a job, I want to finish.
The school's retirement system is such that if I had gone beyond 30 years,
I would have had a draw down at age 60 as opposed to age 65. In addition,
I was having a great time and I always believe that you leave the party while
you're still having fun. And my last year was a year of fun and a year in
which I felt that I accomplished a great deal.
Q: What have I not asked you that I should have? Or is there anything that
you'd like to say?
A: I've always felt that enough cannot be said about the role of the teacher.
I think that society needs to recognize this role because there are too many
people who owe much, or all, of their success to a teacher or several teachers
who encouraged them back when they were in school. And I think that schools
will be with us as long as there are people because, until they find another
way to disseminate basic information and to do the job that the schools are
doing, and the school's doing much more than just basic information, they
meet the school's doing much more than just basic information, they meet the
total needs of the student. A minister takes care of the spiritual part of
the person. A doctor takes care of the physical part. Health specialists take
care of the health part of a person. But a teacher deals with the student
totally in that they have them all day long and they have to meet so many
needs as the day progresses. A teacher never knows what that student went
through before he or she came to school that morning. There could have been
a big catastrophe in the family. A student could have come to school without
breakfast. Or that student could have come to school on drugs or in another
kind of condition. And the teacher must be able to deal with the students
and do the very best they can. A teacher is a person who must have the patience
of Job. And the teacher must be able to regroup and recoup quite often. I
think that one of the things that the school boards must consider is the fact
that teachers are human beings and, like everyone else, they have periods
of burnout. It is a real shame when you have to deal with a teacher who has
many years of successful teaching and then they reach a point in their lives
where they are burned out, where they are not marking time to that point when
they can retire. They don't know how to do anything else and they are marking
time until they can reach that point in their lives when they can retire.
I think that one of the things that can be done about this is to have periodic
periods of sabbatical leave for teachers to take a break, to go and travel,
to go back to school, to do other things. Because it is a real shame when
a fine teacher leaves the teaching profession because he or she is burned
out. And when they leave the profession, they're bitter and they feel like
that what they've done has been all for nothing.
Q: Thank you, Mr. Finch.
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