April 7, 1999
The person interviewed is Mr. Robert Fraser, a prominent educator from the Gloucester, Middlesex and West Point area. Mr. Frazier has witnessed massive changes in public education since his entry in 1964. He has served in virtually every leadership position within a school system excepting Superintendent. At present he is formally retired from education though he works part time as an Assistant Principal at Mathews High School. This interview took place at his father's home, located in Gloucester Point, Virginia, on April 7, 1999.
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Q: Mr. Frazier, is would you begin by telling us something about your family background, your childhood interest developments, your birthplace, stuff like that.
(Streamed audio file of interview for this question using RealPlayer)
A: I was born in Newport News, Virginia. I was the only child for 16 years, 16 years older than my sister. I attended public school in elementary school in Hampton-George Burton Elementary School- until, oh, I guess about the sixth grade, and then I attended Fork Union Military Academy.
Q: Then where did you go?
A: and then, I had severe reading problems, and I went to the McGuffy School located at the University of Virginia in the summer, and then, transferred to Stanton Military Academy, where I graduated, some years later, in 1957. They had a reading program there. We didn't have Special Education back in the 50s. Thank God we didn't have Special Education back in the 50s. I did not learn to read until I was probably in the 8th grade. And, still suffered from that problem-I'm dyslexic. In those days, no one told me but I had to learn cope. I am a horrendous speller, as most of the people who work for me found out. Thank God, I've had great secretaries, good business teachers who were always willing to correct my spelling and do various things for me, but, I mention that, I think because, based on what I've gone through, I think I have an empathy, and a resistance to special education in the same thing. I graduated in 1957 from Stanford Military Academy. As a point of reference, one of my classmates at Stanford Military Academy was John Dean of the Watergate thing.
Q: Dubious satisfaction.
A: Dubious, but I attended Shephard College in Shephardstown, West Virginia. Majored in History. Did not get an Education Degree. Bachelor of Arts in History and, decided that I had to find a job, so I didn't know anything but school, so I decided, well, maybe teaching is what I wanted to do. So I started teaching in 1961 in Gloucester County.
Q: History teacher?
A: History teacher. Of course, in 1961, they weren't real picky about endorsements, and, we basically were hired as a teacher, and we taught whatever was needed to be taught. The first year there I taught basic 8th grade--- basically it was U.S. History at the 8th level back then. I taught some World History, I taught some U.S. History, and I taught two sections of Physical Education-which I had no qualifications for. Whichever, except, I coached. And, they felt like anybody that coached could teach Physical Education. I continued to teach Physical Education, even when I went to West Point for two years, and by the late 60s, everyone had decided that endorsements were important, so, we didn't have to do that anymore.
Q: You were grandfathered?
A: Yeah, well no, I never taught, I was never endorsed in Physical Education.
A: I never had enough Physical Education credits so I hardly qualified for school. Just because in those days, in the 60s, if you had a degree if you had a Masters degree in those days, it made you a principal. Didn't make any difference what it was in. I know that's an exaggeration, but it's not far off, particularly in the principles of teaching. Once I went to West Point, they were creating administrative certification, and you had to start getting things in line, so after the first two years at West Point, I taught nothing but History. I also have a minor in business. I have taught in business, and I am endorsed. I was in the general associates studies. My family lives here in Gloucester County, my mother's deceased, my father lives here. My wife, I met in college. She is a business teacher. She taught several subjects teaching things, but she was both administrator and teacher. Now she teaches at New Kent High School. I am fortunate enough to have a son, and a daughter. My son is a teacher in York County.
Q: Right, I know Rob.
A: As you know, and I'm very proud of him. He's an English teacher, which surprised me. When he was in college, he had a double major of History and English. And he always wanted to teach English and, when he went for the interview in Yorktown, Mr. Adams was the personnel man there, and a friend of mine. And when Rob told me that he was being interviewed for an English job, I said, "Rob, you will never teach history because they want men in English." And, he's been so pleased. I think that he didn't really want to teach history. I think that he enjoys teaching English.
Q: I would kill to teach history. So you were at West Point, what was your next move?
A: Okay, in West Point, I went there as a head football coach, and a Social Studies teacher, in that order. And I taught at West Point for 9 years. I coached football, JV basketball, and baseball. And the last 3 years that I was in my teaching years, I taught 3 classes, I coached the sports as I just said. I was the athletic director, I was an assistant principal, and I was in the graduate program at VCU. And how on God's earth I did all of thatI tell people it cost me 2 football championships. But, that should do it, in 1972, we had Superintendent who was at the Bellamy and was the Principal . He was named Steve Baker and he is the Executive Secretary of the Elementary Division of the Southern Education Association. I was there one year, and I was the assistant principal, and we had a great football season, great basketball season-state championship in basketball-and a great baseball season. Everything was real good. And he told me that he was going to become Assistant Superintendent, and would I want to be Principal at the High School. And so in '73, I became principal at West Point High School. To be real honest with you, it was very difficult locationwise, because I live back over at Gloucester Pointstill live, and I think my years at West Point High School, I had to learn patience. I was Principal there 11 years. And at the end of that time, I think they wanted someone, and I truly believe it this, they wanted someone who gave a better academic image than I gave I was presenting. I would've never left work as principal. It was my life, I was very upset when I was moved to the Central Office. Probably the best thing that ever happened to me.
Q: Was that involuntary?
A: Of course, I mean, yeah, they asked me, but you know, this business when you're asked to do things, you know, and I've always had a good judgementI think to look at the situation, and say that no matter what I thought, they don't want me to do this anymore, I need to move on. And I was given a good job in the Central Office, I was the Director of General Services, which covered everything which didn't have anything to do with academicsexcept vocational education. It really taught me, I really then had to get into figuring out what education was all about. Really, those few years that I spent there, in Central Office, I really thought I would prepared myself for what I was going to do later, and I wanted to become a Superintendent. That's what I wanted to do. There were two divisions, at that time, King William, and West Point and they were together and had one Central Office which was real strange. I should mention that it was a strange situation. Had one Superintendent, one Central Office for both divisions, but two separate school boards. Half of the month, we would be preparing for the West Point Board, and as soon as that was over, we would prepare for the other, for the King William Board. And what made it unusual was that the two philosophies could not have been farther apart. If you don't think that's weird we were doing away with programs in West Point, and putting them in King William. It was really that bad.
Q: Could a kid go from one school to the other?
A: No sir, they were two separate school systems, two separate divisions, and had no ties, except the Superintendent, and our staff, and we were proportionately paid. It was a very unusual situation, and it got to the point that the two boards were so far apart, that the 3rd year that I was there, that they decided to dissolve, and both go their separate ways. The Superintendent that we had, George Stanback, became Superintendent in West Point. He had formerly been Principal at King William High School, but he had quit. I applied for the King William Superintendence, and lost out to a younger man. Didn't really know what I was gonna do, because I really didn't have a job now. And the Chairman of the King William Board talked with me on the Central Office steps, and asked me to be the Principal at King and Queen. I say that, that's really illegal to do thata Superintendent to do that. But they had decided that I was the principal there, and they told the Superintendent, which did not in the long run work well. So, I moved from the Central Office to King and Queen. We had a very good Board in King William, and the Superintendent and everything just clicked, and I was to go up, and clean some things up, in the most diplomatic way I could, and you know what that means. I went up, and truly, probably the best job I've ever done in my life, that first year at King William. We really did get things moving in the right direction. We had the misfortune of losing two School Board members. The Chairman, resigned because it was felt that he had outsmarted the Board of Supervisors on another matter. And another lady, who was on the board, left the county. Almost the entire school board got replaced that year. Two replacement members were odd and quirky. The strange thing about it, the two were not in the same political camp. But they worked so well together. One was a nuts and bolts person, and the other was a great business person. They kind of counterbalanced each other, and they really led the board in the right direction. When they left, they were replaced by political appointees
A: Yeah, and because of what I was requested I tended to step on toes, and I stepped on a lot of toes. And those people had the ears of the new people that came in the board. So, at the end of the second year, I was not wanted in King William High County anymore, and realized that, and the Superintendent was trying to find a way to get me to go out. I told him what I thought, and he said "Yeah, I'm thinking about recreating your job." I said, "Well, you create it, I'll apply for it." And again, I tried to make an easy transition, knowing full well, that job was going to be a one year job. And, I was right. And, the crazy thing was that the time that they wanted to get rid of me, they had just given me an 8% raise. And I said to myself, "Why didn't y'all get rid of me right before you gave me the 8% raise?" They gave me the 8% raise, but I owed more money than anyone I've known in my life, so I stayed on. But, at the end of that year, Harry Ward offered me a position in Mathews, as Assistant Principal at Mathews High School. And I took it, and I have been very appreciative of Mr. Ward doing that. And then the early retirement came in.
Q: This was four or five years ago?
A: About eight years ago.
Q: Eight? Geeze!
A: And, that was a good retirement. And that one just hit me perfectly. Thirty years experience and I had service. I was above thirty, and they gave me 5 years. So, it put me at the magic number of 35, which used to be very important. It's not now as they changed the law. But that used to be the magic number you had to have 35 to get maximum retirement. So, I had everything in place. I went out, and I told Harry, I said, Harry, "You don't want me to be a full time assistant principal, you can get by with a part time assistant principal." So I went back to work doing the same thing that I had been doing on a part time basis, and been there ever since.
Q: Now by part time, what do you mean?
A: Well, originally when I first started, I was working a half a day, each day. And any time the principal was away, I worked a full day. And then I'd take conflicts. Well, when we were changing over to the new principal, the young man who is the principal is a former student. And, I told him, I said, "David, I'll will work as much as I need to work with you, to get you off to a good start." From September through June I don't ever go to school on teacher work days, or those things, any time the kids are not there, I'm not there.
Q: Yes, it's a waste of time.
A: I just work, I don't go to meetings, I don't do anything, except that I do pretty much what I need to do. We cut right down to that. I told him, I said, "Look, I will be here every day until Thanksgiving, unless I have to be away for something, emergencies, doctor appointments, or something like that. But basically every day, and then I'm going to start taking days off." Basically, what I do right now, is I work 4 days a week.
Q: Full days or half days?
A: Four full days. I rotate the day I that I miss. I will usually miss a Tuesday, Wednesday, or Thursday. I try not to mess with Friday or Monday.
Q: Mondays can be lively.
A: But I do take other times. This past week, we went to Chicago to visit my daughter my granddaughter's birthday. So I do that. But basically, David told me the other day, I basically work about 80% of the time. And I have no problem with that. I take time when I want to take it. The other thing that I do here, I do evaluations of schools. I serve as a Chairman of Committees. And I'm doing two in April. Doing Tallwood in Virginia Beach, and I'm doing Essex High School evaluation for accreditation for evaluation. So, I do that. So you know, I have a lot of time to do that. Come this summer, I walk out that door, I don't come back until September. It's work that I more than get that's not the issue. I just enjoy it.
A: So, basically. I've been very fortunate in my years. I've served on the Virginia High School League's Executive Committee. I was Chairman of the Virginia High School League for 2 years. I just went off the V.H.S.L. Eastern Region, Secondary Committee in Virginia. So I feel real good that I've done that. I was President of the Coaching Association. So, I've had some good experiences, and appreciate all those things. And it's been a good educational career.
Q: How much longer do you figure you'll be doing it?
A: I had planned on retire, really, at the end of this year. David asked me if I'd come back next year, and I told him, when I came back I talked to him the other day I said David, "I'm probably going to have to miss more time next year. Because I'm not getting any younger and those kinds of things like that, to David." I have to do that, so. It saves Harry money, I know it saves Harry money. But, we've got a good system going right now. And I think its one way that he'll be able to raise the academics is to get through the SOL thing, you know, and get all that kind of stuff lined up. And then he can get himself an Assistant Principal.
Q: Do you think he'll get a full time Assistant Principal?
A: Yes, he has to. I mean, for all practical purposes he needs that right now. But with me working like I am doing now, I'm great for the budget right now, it's not a big deal. However you want to say that.
Q: It used to be, a joke among educators that that most principals, back in the old days were football coaches or coaches of some kind. Is that what got you the job?
A: Absolutely. Absolutely. And, I remember when I was in graduate school, I told somebody that. I got to be principal because I was an excellent football coach, and you know, people say, "You tell people that?," I say, "yeah." Now, let me tell you something, in the old days, principals came from two groups, or three groups. They came, one, from the coaching side or they came out of vocational agriculture.
A: Or they came out of the Music Department. There were three places where coaches came, or where principals would come from. As much criticism as educators like the give to them, I say this, "successful coaches get evaluated every Friday night."
A: They have to know how to manage things as well, and do that sort of thing.
A: Leadership qualities.
A: Yes and other things like that, the kinds of problems that principals have are the same kinds of problems which coaches have.
Q: Good point.
A: And Band Directors. So, it was a natural, and I think that we've gotten to the point now that we absolutely will not allow somebody from that side to move over, that's terrible, that's not educational. Look at the problems we're having. I believe successful coaches can be successful administrators. Lousy coaches can make lousy administrators. Whatever. It's an experience that we've turned our back on.
Q: What would you say is your personal philosophy of education? What do you think we're trying to do with public education?
A: Well, let me say, I'm not going to tell you what I think that public education is doing because I'm not very pleased with it. But, for a long time, I really did not really have anything but good to say about being and educator. I've always felt that it was a service that I was performing, to pass knowledge on. People have always been very kind to me. It was the educational system that I went through, and basically I was a product of private school education. But teachers took interest in me, both at the high school level and the college level. I felt that I had a debt that I had to pay. I felt that I needed to set an example, to challenge young people to take pride in what they were doing, to seek higher goals, and I've always tried to do that. I've feel it's so important to lead by example. Not that I have all great qualities, but I've got a lot of shortcomings, but I think that that is so important. But my philosophy is that I will try to set a decent example. I will try whether I'm Principal or not, to encourage young people to do their very best, to become educated, to prepare themselves for the future, and I do it today, I felt like a counselor as an administrator. I'm always trying to move in that direction. Probably not something you could quantify but I fell very strongly about that.
Q: You mention leadership by example, do you think that, you think principals as a whole are doing that nowadays?
A: I am not very pleased with principals today. I have a very negative feeling towards education administration right at the present time.
Q: And that would be why?
A: I think too many administrators, whether they be Superintendents or whether they be Principals, are all wrapped around all of these lofty social issues of today, all concerned about equal this, and equal that, and social justice, and things like that. And they forget, the teachers, and children. I think administrators think they are but I just don't see it, I see narrow focuses, from principals. I see principals who, I guess this is very negative of them, but it's the way I feel, come from limited experience in the educational field. So many of them have limited teaching experience. Limited building experience as administrators. My experience involves being a eight years as principal, sixteen years in the classroom, five years as an assistant principal. I think that's good preparation. Plus, I was a coach, also along those lines. Plus I had many, many extracurricular experiences. I think that prepared me. I think that when you talk about principals who have 2 years, 1 year. I know one who had practiced teaching for total experience. Not that these people aren't good educators. But, how do they identify with that teacher, how do they identify problem? This is the kind of special relationship, not that they're not good people, not that they're bad, but
Q: I have only been in education for 8 years but there appear to be a lot of movements academians, and higher-ups in the colleges that effect administration. How do you feel about?
A: Well, I think for the most part, we've been talking about that today, I'm not a democratic administrator. That's terrible I know. I'm one of those people, hey, Superintendent's going to tell me what he wants, and I'm going to tell you what you need to do. I am totally against committees. As a teacher I don't want to make a decision on discipline, that's somebody else's job- let me teach! I feel the same way. Now, I think you need to get in the public more often. Input, true input, is one thing having 35,000 committees that waste people's time, and then it's ignored, that is another. If you have a committee, you had better pay some attention to it. I'm just not into that. I think one of my pet peeves is that, we never had a program in education that ever failed. They have all "succeeded." If it doesn't work we just stop doing it and move on to another program.
Q: Or we just called it something else, or it disappeared.
A: And what happens is, that if you don't let it fail, then we rename it, and run it back by again. When I first started teaching at Gloucester, things changed over about a 10 year time. Then it got to where we were coming around every 5, and then it got to where it was coming 2 about every about every 1. Now, we're moving programs in and out, within the same school year.
Q: Before they approve them.
A: It's a "great idea," and we put up with it, and if it doesn't work this time we throw it out. Something that I have always done, and used to infuriate people. If somebody comes in, and I really like their idea, I start act as devils disciple . Give you an example, when we went to block scheduling in King William, I had to make a presentation to the school board. So, I got a paper out, and I said, "These are the problems of block scheduling." I want you to know them. And I spent 45 minutes going through all of the problems I could identify. The Superintendent was furious. And I said, "I want you to know something, I am very much in favor in doing this. But I want you to know, that these are the potential problems that we'll have to deal with. I think it's a great idea." And, he said, "Don't ever do that again," he said, "they were about to burn it down." But look, why come in with a big sugar coated bill, have the program fail? Then when you have a problem, you didn't tell 'em. I really am big on that. Probably why I never got to be a Superintendent . Okay, did that help answer your question or did I avoid it?
Q: Yes, you answered it very well. If you're advising somebody who's considering becoming an administrator, what would you tell 'em.if somebody comes to you and says, "I'm thinking about being an administrator."
A: Let me tell you a true story. The young man who's my principal now, I saw him at a class reunion some years ago. And he came up to me, must have been about 6 or 7 years ago. And David came up to me, and I knew he was a great teacher at the time, and he said, "you know, they kind of asked me to be the Principal. I said if you want to do that fine but if you really want to be a good administrator you need to be an Assistant Principal first and learn the ropes. Get experience. You need to know what you are doing and what problems you face and that is what he did.
Q: Let me re-ask the question, somebody comes up to you and says, if they want to, they are interested in becoming an administrator. You related that you had a true story where an individual came up to you, could you continue that please?
A: When he came and told me they were interested in him becoming an assistant principal, I told him flat out, if you want to do it, fine. If you enjoy teaching, stay in the classroom. I said, "Don't become an administrator for the wrong reason." Don't think you're gonna get more money. Yeah, you're gonna take more dollars on, but you're work longer, and you're gonna work harder. And you're gonna be dealing with problems you are not used too. But if you truly want to do it, do it, but if you leave the kids, leave the building, go commercial where you can make some money. And that's my attitude. My son Ryan is headed around towards that now. I tell him, if you want to do it, that's fine, but just be sure you're doing it for the right reasons. Because I think too often administrators get into it for the wrong reason.
A: And this is my whole attitude towards it. We need good people in administration, don't get me wrong. But I think we really need people that are doing it for the right reasons. My personal feeling on most administrators now, is too many of them don't have time to do the job right because they have because they're looking for the next job up the road. This revolving door of administrators is one of the biggest disasters that we have in schools today. Where you have multiple principals over a three year period, where teachers fall through the cracks, and then you get a lot of problems. You need stability, and people need to be in jobs for a reasonable length of time. Now, granted, after a reasonable period of time, maybe 10, 12 years, maybe, it's a good idea to move an administrator around. My feeling is, they need to be there, they need to become a part, they need to give stability to the building.
Q: What do you think about contracting over four or five year period of administrators?
A: Are you talking about multiple year contracts for administrators as opposed to what we're talking about here in Virginia where we're on annual contract, is that what you're asking?
Q: What I'm saying is, you hire an individual, he agrees to stay in your school system for four or five years, however many.
A: North Carolina does that. Here in Virginia, it's the annual contract kind of concept. My feeling is that it is something we've done in Virginia recently, not so much in the building level, but at the Superintendent level, where, up until 4 or 5 years ago. All Superintendents were hired for 4 years. All of them came due at the same time. I think that principals should be hired on those kinds of basis too. Specific amount of time, whether there's an agreement on their part to do it, and agreement an the school's part, to keep them there for that length of time. I like that idea, you can be fired for cause, of course all that. But basically, I think that kind of stability is needed. And many states do that. Not many, but some do it.
Q: What do you think about the quality of the basic classroom teacher we're getting now?
A: This may surprise you. Because I'll answer two ways. One, I think there is a lot of difference between the training of teachers in 1961, when I came out, even though I was not trained as a teacher, my wife was and now. And, the training teachers get today is light years ahead of what they were getting in 1960. I think that teachers are far better trained, I think they have better knowledge of how kids learn, than they did when I came out. I tend to believe they probably are not as strong in their subject areas. I think that is probably somewhat due to the generalized training they get nowadays. I don't believe that the garbage we hear in the public about these people being trained is true. I think there are exceptions to the rule. But, I think teachers are coming out better prepared than they were when I graduated. But, I believe that teaching is definitely an art form. I believe it is an art form, and you have to have that spark to be able to relate to people to be a good teacher. I have experienced teachers who did every single thing wrong according to the professionals, and were great teachers. And I have had some disasters where they did everything by the book right, and did not teach anything. So, it's got to be that spark. One story on that. The first year that I went to Mathews. I taught one class. I prepared every night, at least 2 hours, at least 2 hours, had this elaborate grading system. I mean I really worked myself to death in that class. The class was a class of Joe-Averages. I did not have a special child in class, I did not have a gifted and talented child in class. This was Joe-Average. My teaching that year was the biggest disaster that ever came down the pipe. I did all of those things that for 20 years I told teachers they should do. Graduation night, there was an old retired teacher from Mathews, who I was introducing to my wife. And just raving about how great a teacher she had been. And she looked me in the eye, I am embarrassed to say this, but she told me that I loved my subject better than my students, and a light went on in my head, and BINGO. That's why I was a successful teacher in the 60s because I was totally enthusiastic about what I was teaching, and not wrapped so around people passing. And I think sometimes we get all wrapped up in that aspect of it and forget the love of what we're trying to teach that inspires students to learn. I don't know. I don't know if that's the question you asked, but
Q: Oh, it's just that teachers have been getting a lot of flack. Should they be taking the teacher test, you know, should there be a national certification. And in my generation we survived without all that, and I was wondering if you thought kids today could survive without that.
A: Yes, and, let's be real honest about education, because there's one ingredient that is lost in all of the talk. In 1960, 61, 64, we had the greatest pool of talent of teachers. And that was women. Women prior to that time could maybe become a nurse, or a teacher. They were the two fields that were respectable openings. Granted, things have changed since that time. But we had most the talented people, women go into teaching because that was acceptable. Nowadays, women have every field in the world to go to, which they should, and we've lost that great pool, that we've sort of had a tap on. And now, we are having to draw from the average and compete with everything else out there for the teaching pool. So we don't have that monopoly anymore, that we used to have. So, we are having to draw from whatever anybody else has got. And, every position, either in the military or in teaching is no longer filled with the best of the best. In the military you have some that are the best, you have some that are average, and you have some that were killed, or you had to get rid of. And in the teaching profession, you've got the same. You've got the upper percentage, you've got the vast majority that are average, and you've got some that you need to get rid of. But that's an industry, it's an education, and we act like we can make everybody fit into that top group, and it's not going to happen.
Q: Is it harder to get rid of a poor teacher in education than it is to get rid of anybody anywhere else?
A: No, and today I say no, and let me answer that. I'm glad you asked that. Everyone blames it on a tenure or contract issue but no, it's not, it means, the administrator has got to do its homework, and the board has got to be willing to follow up on that. All along the way, it's difficult, but it is not impossible, but you've got to do your homework, and rightly so. I don't think we should be out
A: Headhunting on people who, you know. So often what the case is, somebody can teach for 20 years, and they get fired for something else. But, when I was in King William that was the only time I really had to do a whole lot of that. And I took it, and I did what I had to do with it. And those that had to leave, left.
Q: Recently, in Hampton, and I'm sure you've heard about this, the Coach Kaz.
Q: Where a football coach has been relieved of his duties in essence as a football coach because he received over a period of time, 2 DUIs, 3 DUIs. What do you think about that?
A: Alright, let me just be very blunt about this. As I told you, I think you need to lead an example. And, I think that someone, particularly someone working with young men, in athletics and those types of things, needs to set an example. I think the principal who removed him did the right thing. I think that he was right and I'm hoping that the Superintendent and the school board had the good common sense to support the Principal on this. And I'll tell you why. They should not have removed him last fall when everybody wanted him to. Because, in other words, at that time, they needed to have grounds to do that. He beat those charges, so they really do not have the legal grounds to do it back then. Now, after this all comes through, the principal who can exercise his judgement in what is good for the students, exercised it. And, rightly so. Without doing anything about my personal opinion of the individual at all, I would have felt the same way, even if dealing with a personal friend of mine, that what is right for the students is paramount. I'm sorry, I think that the atmosphere has to be such that it is for the good of the students. I mean, yes, he's a successful coach, yes, but I am adamant about the principal making the right decision at the right time, without comment.
Q: That leads me to another question. What is the role of the administrator in dealing with angry parents phoning up, demanding that 'X' be done. To what degree do you react to this external stimulus from what may or may not be a minority of?
A: I have experienced that. One time, really, really bad. Where, I knew that, a teacher's was contract not be renewed. This was a popular teacher, who had cultivated all of the right people, but was being removed for the right reason. And, people who I've known for years who I considered friends would call, and my comment was, "I cannot discuss it." Which I couldn't. I think in the long run, it hurt me, but it was the right thing to do. But I think that's what you've got to keep in mind. If you're wrong, admit it butbut if you're right, you've got to do what is right. And we're not in a society that likes doing that anymore. We like being convenient, and pleasing everybody. But for the good of the students, it's like being disciplined. A little bit of pain put on a student is never going to kill them. But if we continue to let them slide, let them slide, and all of a sudden now, wham! It's very difficult, difficult on boards. But, I think you need to stand, I've done that, I've had to do it, and I've had to pay a price for it. And you've got to understand, there are consequences to making those kinds of decisions.
Q: You were in a unique position in that you were around for desegregation of a small county school. Tell me about it.
A: Okay, that's a funny thing. When I was at Gloucester, it was totally segregated. I left in fall of '64, going to West Point. West Point had integrated in '62. West Point was the first school system in this area to integrate. People don't realize that. First school system to integrate. So, I go to West Point. It's an integrated system. All of the other school systems that were around here, which today, are predominantly 50% black and white, were all black. It was a very unusual situation, not in the school system that I was in, because it was such a small minority of black students in the school system, that that never got to be a major problem. I think that it was more of a problem for the black students making the adjustment than it was the other way around. So, I never went through the situation that so many schools went through. Even though I was in one of the schools that went through it first. The first school that I was at was King William. King William was the first group I went to as an administrator where it was a cultural, racial balance. Even though I believe that black wasn't a minority, it was more of a 50/50 situation. Which is a different kind of dynamics one way or the other. It's hard for me to say some things because I think that racial sensitivity is something that I've always tried, since I've been in that situation, to have. I think an administrator needs to be conscious of it. Don't think you should make decisions on it. But to hear people say, "I'm not prejudiced" but most are, black and white. I always kind of wondered about that. I have always thought that way that you have to be sensitive to those other races. And I hope that I've been able to move through that relatively well. I don't think I'm any less a racist than anybody else, or anymore than anyone else. I've got my hangups like anybody else has got. But I try my darnedest to administer schools fairly and evenly. One of the things and you haven't asked me this, but I'm going to approach it anyways. One of the things I have always tried to do, is to when we develop rules, and policy, to always do that in a sense that to protect the kid who is not going to have a vocal parent. So many rules are written now that, the parent can appeal this, and they can do that. Well, what about Joe, who is not real bright, and does not know this. I always wanted the rules to protect him because he's the one that probably needs more protecting more protection than the kid who's well informed, and his parents know the law, and he's got 3 lawyers, and, you know. And I've always tried, when I'm disciplining, having to discipline someone, to try to be fair and equitable to that kid. Because School Board policies are written that really hurt the kids like that. And I always try to protect that child, and some of them are not very nice people that you try to protect.
Q: When you did try to desegregate, did you have any problems?
A: I was in West Point during that time. Nothing like what I think other people had. I just did not have that. I will tell you a story that is quite interesting. Again, I come from a totally segregated educational system. When I went to college, we were integrated, but barely. I mean, it was just not an issue. We had black students, but not that many. When I went to West Point, I had never been exposed to it. But, believe it or not, we, in my home, we had black people that would work in the home, and I had always been taught that you treat people decently, you just don't mistreat people. So I didn't have that hangup. When I went to West Point, I was coaching football the first year I was there. I had 3, I think, maybe 2. But 3 black students who came out for the football team. They came out and since I'm in an "integrated school", I don't think anything of it. They play, and we practice, and those days, before the first game, we had a little assembly, and we had to interview each player. So, I'm introducing a player, and after I introduce a player, the principal calls me out, and says, "What do you mean, having black players on the team?" He said, "Do you want us to be known as the team who played black players?" I said, I don't know. But, he said that to me. I think they didn't play. But then in the spring, I only had one, coaching track, but I had one kid who went to the State Meet. He was black, and I drove him up in my 1962, red, Volkswagon bug. We went to Charlottesville, and we were riding up and I was talking to him you know. And I said to him, "Kenny, why didn't you come to the football practice?" And boy, he looked at me real funny like. I didn't think he heard me. And he said, "You don't know?" And I said, "No, I don't know." And he said, "The Principal called me and told me not to come." And I tell people that really, really bothered me. I don't claim to be a good race relations person. But I've always tried to deal with human beings on a human basis. And, I've never forgotten that. And things change, but I didn't have a problem. The students at West Point didn't have a problem. But I am positive some of my black students had problems. Through ignorance, though, that's why I've always tried to be very sensitive, not gone too overboard. And I hope that answers your question.
Q: Oh yes, changing gears for a second. What do you think about evaluations of teachers? What should they be evaluated on? What mechanism would you recommend?
A: Do you want me to tell you? You want me to tell you a real answer to that?
Q: Yes, because I don't think education has found the right answer yet.
A: Let me tell you the answer to that. It is about a gentleman who was to be, Maintenance Supervisor at King William, a dear friend of mine forever, and he is the father of the Chairman of York County School Board.
A: Mike Jenkin's father. From Guinea, everything is from Guinea. And he used to tell me, he said, "You know, all that evaluation stuff is a bunch of bull. I can walk down this hall right down here," and he said, "I can tell you who the good teachers are, and I can tell you who the bad teachers are. And I don't need to walk in the classroom." And you know what, maybe Jenkins is not that far off. When I was in King William, the first year I was in King William, I did what I'm getting ready to tell you I tried to be in every teachers classroom, every period. Now, that doesn't mean I'm there very long. But I'll be very honest with you, I didn't accomplish that. But the first part of the year I was pretty close. It is a very positive thing for the teacher, it is an extremely important thing for the students knowing that you're there. And let me tell you what, I don't have to sit in your classroom, and script every word you say to know whether you're teaching or doing a good job or not. My present Principal thinks you have to do that. And, I told him, "You may do that, and it may work for you, but it would drive me crazy." I believe that truly, that being in a classroom, announced in a classroom that your teacher and students have a very difficult time. The teacher prepares and if a problem occurs then it can become a catastrophe. This it is an official problem. I'll tell you another story, the first year I was principal, and I told you, I learn on the job. A gentleman that we hired, matter of fact, we hired him to coach football, he's dead now. But, he excelled in football. And one of the teachers, one of my friends said, "He's not doin' much in that class." And so, I said, "Well, I'll look into it." And I went into the class. Lo and behold, everything is just perfect. Kids you know, well he would ask a good question, and the kid would have the perfect answer. I went and told him, I said, Bill, that was an amazing class. I am impressed. So, I kept hearing the rumors, and I ignored them, I said, "Heck, I've been in there, I know better." So one day I was disciplining a kid, months later. And he said, "You remember that day you came in there?" He said, "We really fooled you didn't we?" And I said, "What do you mean?" He said, "We planned this whole thing." He said, "Now when the principal comes in for the evaluation, we're going to be doing this." They practiced this thing, and I mean, it was a total game. And, I got burned, I don't think you could do that to me today. But generally speaking, going back to how this formal evaluation process, I serve as the chairman of the Associate Service Board of Virginia in King and Queen. And, we had a Director that did whatever she wants, and she was just absolutely evaluation crazy. And she develops an evaluation so as she has an instrument that is designed specifically for every the specific job. With all of the expectations, everything in it. It does a beautiful job of evaluating. And I've been so proud of that. I think we know what good teaching is. I think the evaluation systems that we have really don't produce much. And I've been on a couple of committees, and you go through and we do this, and we do that. Check records. You can really get this thing down to where it will take you 3 years to get one done. My nephew is at Menchville, and they're doing some system over there, and it's just bogging Menchville's evaluation right down to nothing. Bottom line is, if you're going to use it to fire somebody, you've got to do a lot of paperwork. If you're trying to determine whether they're doing a good job and trying to help them, that's another thing. Another thing that's a major problem that I see is that we go out and we hire somebody to go out and do a good job. And then as soon as they're onboard, then we re-train 'em. It's crazy. I think Steve Baker said, "You hire good people and get out of their way." We monkey around with good people.
A: And the dogs are still dogs, but we're driving the good people crazy. I don't know if that's answered your question on evaluations. Evaluation and in-service are a couple things are very low in my opinion. Why are we going to spend time hiring somebody with good experience, and then retrain 'em? I've been through the Malaline Hunter type processes I've been through all that stuff. There are many good things in them. But there's some teachers that if you made them do that, couldn't teach anything. I don't know. Insofar as the good people are concerned, leave 'em alone, if they're not doing a good job, get rid of 'em.
Q: I've always been skeptical of having the objectives on the board, as if most of the kids would understand them.
A: That's true. You know, sometimes I think that we take the creativity out of teaching, you know, I think of myself, if I go into a classroom, every period, and everybody did everything by the same format, it would drive me nuts. Thank God they don't do it. I mean we tell 'em they gotta do that stuff, thank God they don't. You evaluate teachers, you've got teachers that actually know how to teach better than we do and we try to change them. I had one teacher at West Point, one of the best government teachers I've ever had, the most sarcastic S.O.B. on God's earth! I mean, you've heard of being sarcastic people but he took the cake. He would make jokes about my evaluations to me. Bottomline was that he was an excellent teacher.
Q: Okay, what do you think of SOLs, and how they effect education? And of the new SOLs and initiatives being instigated by the state?
A: Alright, I believe strongly in standards. Don't get me wrong. I really believe strongly in standards. I believe that we need to set realistic goals and hold people accountable. Let me give you an example of what I'm talking about. I believe expectations should be set from the early grades. Now, don't let me get started on what I think about the kindergarten and the first grade. I think we're trying to do too much with too little. Having them too academic too early. But, let's assume wherever we decide where we should be starting. Kids should be held accountable, and before they are passed on to the next level, whatever that happens be, they should master what we're gonna require for the next level and right on. We have always, in the last 30 years, started accountability, in my opinion, ass-backwards. Meaning, that we start holding the people in the 12th grade accountable for whatever was not done in grades 1-11. And we've done it every single crazy thing that has come down the pipe. Minimal competencies for graduation the Literacy Passport Test, which some of you may remember, we started saying that nobody was going to go to high school that did not pass the literacy passport. And Spagnola, the Superintendent, State Superintendent, I know Joe, and, when it came time for that to bite the bullet, he said, "We didn't really mean that they couldn't go to high school, we meant that they couldn't be 9th graders." They were going to be at the high school, but they couldn't get credit until they passed this thing." So what happens? The only thing that you can't do, is you can't play football unless you pass the Literacy Passport, or supposedly you can't graduate. I tell you a story. The minimum competency test used to be written at the 8th grade level, but that wasn't strong enough. So, we put the Literacy Passport test under graduation, and that was written in the 6th grade level. So, which direction are we moving these standards? All of these kinds of goals are getting put in backwards. The SOL's concept, the truth of the matter, is that they've been on the books a long time in one form or another. And as a foundation, I have no problem with that. The problem I have is that just have over stress the goals across the board. I've talked to 3rd grade teachers who are having to teach history, and these things, and test these things at this level. I'm a history person. That's crazy. These kids need to be taught to read and to write, and have those kinds of skills. Plus their basic math skills, and let us worry about that other up at the other end. Rather than down here. So I've got some problems with that concept there. We were talking today about SOLs today in school. Everybody is in an uproar about it. What is gonna take to pass. What is it gonna take to have a valid accredited school, and all of this. Well let me just tell you, this is a concept that is a little bit rushed. Before we will fully implement SOLs, we will change governors at least 2 times, and that means we're gonna change state Superintendents at least 3 times. My concern has always been that, what will the politics be? What pressure can the politician stand on passing and failing SOLs? And I have calculated that they can stand 10 percent failures, maybe 15 percent failures, maybe even 20 percent, can we stand anymore? No, we can't. So if you can't stand anymore pressure than that, then we've got to massage these scores so they don't exceed more than 10, 15, or possibly 20. So, what will happen? Give you an example. Speaking with a math teachers today. He said, "50 percent of kids at Mathews right today take the proper math that will qualify them for what the SOLs will require." Okay, does that mean that we're only going to graduate 50 percent of the people that we have now? Are Politicians going to be able to stand that? No, they're not going to be able to stand that. So, what my greatest fear is, that we will water down, one way or the other, what is expected, and we will say, "yes, we have accomplished something" and we will be right back to where we were with minimum competency and the Literacy Passport. That's my greatest fear. My greatest fear is that, and then the other fear would be, that we move back to the left, and we're going to hurt somebody's self-esteem along this way here, by this, so you know, we''e going to be back to much. By the time we swing that old pendulum through, ridiculous so far, the poor kid is in a bind, and we're not doing anything but be jerking him around. My solution is, and I definitely come from the right-wing, wacko side, as opposed to the left-wing wacko side, that we've got to get the left-wing wackos, and the right wing wackos to come together and say, "Look, we need to teach reading, we need to teach writing, we need to teach people to be basically competent, let's get all of the politics out of it, and decide what we can teach, and what we can't teach." As long as we've got the socialist agenda, or the right-wing agenda trying to run through the school program, we are headed for total disaster. And it doesn't make a difference which one of those is in power. One is bad as one as the other. I don't know if that answers your question, but that's truly what I believe.
Q: Let me ask you one last question. It's particularly meaningful to me as a male who came out of a primary career into education. What do you think about the roles of the increasing number of men in education?
A: I think it's good, I really do. At Mathews High School, we have a high percentage of male teachers. I think it's good. The ones who, I would like to see more, are black male teachers. There is a problem, and this is not what you're asking me about, but there is a problem that could become an absolute disaster. Black males have developed this attitude of anti-education, and it is a serious problem, and it is a real problem. I see it in children who are capable, absolutely capable, and are afraid to show it. And the reason why I know it is because the black females do not have that problem.
A: It is a true, real problem. And if you are going to have an anti-education group of adult males, blacks, it's really, really hard. We need the positive role models there. And I think that good positive black role models could help. I don't know that it will cure 'em, but we to have them there. It's critical. I think one of the most dangerous things that I have ever seen. And, I don't know how to address it. I have tried my darndest to address it. A storyI had a young man, some years ago, who was horrible, just getting in trouble, and I was talking to a teacher, a former Naval academy graduate, and I mentioned the young man's name, and that he did nothing. And he says, he was doing fine in his class. "I had him 9th grade, he was doing fine in my Algebra 2 class." I said, "What!? Your Algebra 2?" He says, "Yeah, he got a B in there." I mean, he failed we had him in basic English. So, and he was a nice kid and we went and changed his schedule, put him in all advanced classes. Now, here the kid was failing, put him in advanced classes, got him away from his buddies. And, he went from an F to a C, just like that. Now, when he was out with his buddies, he was just a big a fool as his buddies. He had learned how to play football with me, he graduated, he finished a junior college, and he is a Mortuary Manager and he is a successful young man. It was crazy, but back to the male thing. I think that it is good. I suppose with everything else, we are having an explosion of males in education, and fewer male administrators. Not, I mean proportionally speaking. And part of it is because women have dominated the profession, and rightly so. I don't have a problem with women who run administrations. I just say, "You got the job, do the job."
Q: Yeah, well, I see our time is about up. Let me end. I want to thank you very much for this interview. And, once again, on behalf of Virginia Tech, thank you.
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