Today is December 22, 1987. I am here with Mr. George Felton on an interview for Dr. Carlton's class.
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Q: Mr. Felton, could you give a brief biography of yourself?
(Streamed audio file of interview for this question using RealPlayer)
A: Well, I'm currently retired, was born and educated in The District of Columbia, did my undergraduate work at Virginia State University in Petersburg, Virginia, received High Education degree at American University in 1965, Spent 4 or 5 summers at Catholic University in the Education program there. Further work at University of Virginia. Started in the county in 1954. At that time schools were segregated and I was assigned to the only black high school in the county, Luther Jackson High School. Stayed there until 1965 when there was complete integration of the system. I taught History and Government at Luther Jackson, then I was transferred to Woodson High School and taught Physical Education and coached Varsity Basketball and. Football at Luther Jackson. Stayed there for 7 years. My last year there I was appointed as a administrative aide under Bill Ladsen, who was currently principal at than. time. Was promoted to a subschool principal in 1972 at Marshall High School under John Braudus. Stayed there from 1972 to 1976 when I was asked to interview for the position for principal at Madison High School. I was appointed principal of Madison High School in 1976 by their Superintendent of Schools Jack Davis and the area superintendent Dr. Margaret Ford. Stayed there until 1980. In March of 1980 I was transferred to South Lakes High School, where I remained until I retired in 1984. I am currently semiretired. I do a little work for GMLJ with student teachers and I also work a program called BTAP. In 1987, I put in a request by the current Superintendent of Schools Dr. Spillane. I was asked to serve on a review board. That's the board that's set up to hear review appeals for those who did not make their Level II teacher status. And that's where we are today.
Q: Good. Could you describe some of your schools, sab. Marshall High School?
A: Marshall High School was divided and considered a subschool. We had a subschool concept made up there. When I got there I had 12th grade and that meant graduation and I evaluated teachers in the department of P.E. and also handled discipline of 12th graders, graduation, and all the little duties described to be a 12th grade principal. Including graduation, I also handled some of the calendar of events for the school. The next year, of course, I dropped down to the 9th grade because you stay with your class until they graduate and I stayed with the 9th grade and I think about a year later, as I recall. We had what we called two subschool principals for instruction and two of us for the remainder of the duties, so I handled the 9th and 11th grade and the other principal took the 10th and 12th and the other two subschool principals devoted most of their time to the instructional area. I think we reverted back to the old way of doing things after that one experimental year. As I said before, in 1976 1 was appointed principal of Madison High School in Vienna.
Q: Could you describe Madison and then later South Lakes?
A: Well, Madison would be considered an upper-middle class school. Highly structured, we maintained a quasar I guess you call it, subschool concept. Because of the nature of the structure of the building, we could completely have subschool but I felt that the assistant principal should have all experience in all areas participate in instruction and curriculum and what have you so each one had 3 assistant principals and in addition to that a guidance director also took a subschool he wore two hats, Dr. Latimer at the time. So, we had 3 assistant principals, we had one director of student services who also acted in the capacity of a subschool principal, and mainly the same there existed in Marshall High School. Each subschool principal had his certain area; teaching area to evaluate. I don't recall the specific duties that each had. I do know that George Dozier mainly took to core programs and divided it among 4 and the smaller programs we decided. Bill or Bob, for example, took science and at the time they did not let administrative aides evaluate teachers. Eventually they did, so he took Math and science, I think. I recall, I believe, George Dozier had English and I think foreign language and Peter took some other area of instruction, I can't recall. I took the.., because of my other pressing responsibilities, I took the shop areas and the small elective areas. That would be, considered part of your school curriculum. And we worked from there. What main thrust, as I said, in school might have been being visible and I suppose having good environment for instruction. In my first message to the teachers was, of course, to tell them that I would provide a good environment outside if they would provide a good instructional environment inside we would be pretty successful. Of course that was a very veteran group of teachers and as a result, we had a very good school year. In fact, I had 3 very good school years there before I left and they were very reluctant to let me go. Of course they did get somebody else in who was just as good or better than I was, which always happens anyway. People tend to feel comfortable around people they can deal with. I think that's a comfort level that's very important as far as teachers are concerned, and to provide support for them so they can carry out the instruction in the classroom and that means discipline and support services, good curriculum and good teacher evaluation and working with the teachers.
Q: Great. Could you tell me why you decided to become a principal?
A: Well, that's a story that's often been told and believe it or not, my end was not to be a principal, but to be a Director of Student Activities. I got into the principalship by way of ... when I was at Woodson High School. I interviewed several times for the position of Director of Student Activities or Athletic Director, if you could call it that. They changed the name to Student Activities because it took in everything, including your non-athletic part of the extracurricular program and each time I lost out to someone else and I was interviewed by the superintendent, who asked me if I would be interested in becoming an Assistant Principal. At the time I wasn't much interested in it. We talked about it. So as a result, I did go into it. I didn't want to go into it for the discipline part of it because I felt that I wasn't interested in dealing with discipline throughout my career if I went into administration. But he assured me that I would have other areas I could go in to. Fortunately, I did get over to Marshall, which gave me an opportunity to deal with other areas in addition to discipline, curriculum instruction program and other facets of the whole school program, which certainly helped me, but I did not want to be a principal originally. And then when the vacancy came up at Madison High School, the superintendent called and asked me to interview. And I felt I had a limited amount of experience. I wasn't experienced enough to carry out the responsibility, I had only been in administration for 4 years, plus, the one year ... half a year as an administrative aide, so I didn't feel I had...(interruption) and then I was subsequently interviewed for the position along with 4 or 5 other candidates. I received the appointment. I was very reluctant in the beginning to apply for it because of my limited amount of experience, but fortunately when I went to Madison, we had people who were well experienced. They were very helpful. We had George Dozier, Harry Holsinger, who is currently principal of Fairfax High School. Bob and George are retired and Louise Tishner, who was an administrative aide at the time, she is currently an assistant principal there. We worked well as a team and we shared responsibility. We shared the input of... it was a give and take sort of situation. If their ideas were better than mine, I accepted those ideas..We had a very smooth 3 1/2 years; I felt that we did. I felt that we accomplished a great deal at Madison, it was a very good school, very good people. In fact, we still had contact with them and when I left, I got; it was nice, an editorial written by the Mayor on me and the Mayor also proclaimed February 24 as George Felton Day in the town of Vienna. By proclamation, it's on the wall there. Of course a couple more, I think the Optimist Club and some other club gave me some plaques. The Student Body threw me a party ... a farewell party and they gave me a breakfast and a lunch and they had a big assembly when I transferred to South Lakes. So, I had a wonderful experience at Madison High School
Q: Great. I feel you've touched on the next question I'm going to ask you. What was your school's philosophy, or just the schools in general?
A: The school's philosophy or mine. It's hard for me to say what a school's philosophy is. I think philosophy... I think philosophy to me is interaction between the three groups that you are going to have are very, very important as far as the school is concerned. That's your students, your teachers, and your parents. I think you need all three of them together to have a good school situation. Learning comes first. The instructional program must come first. Of course they say the principal must become involved in the instructional program; at least 60-70% of the time. Sometimes that was impossible with all the outside duties that you had to perform: meetings, discipline or something else related to or remotely related to the instructional program, but your instructional program vias very important; we had some good programs there. We had some advanced programs there. We had kids who tested out real well and as a result we put them in advanced programs. We had excellent teachers we felt needed support and we felt that we'd give it to them. And that was the main thrust. I think you interaction between the three and the understanding that if you are going to have a good school, you must have support of the forces outside of your school. That's your parents and that's why your PTA's I guess are a very important element in your school system. You must have teachers whose morals are very high, who feel they want to teach at school. That's why they come to school every-day willing and ready to teach and the only way you can do this is to provide a good teaching environment for them. I think that's very important. They need support, they need to work with you, they need to work with assistant principals, they need to be checked on and they need to why they are being evaluated. And all the help that they can get, that's where your specialist from your area office comes into play. Because it's something you can not do and certainly your specialists are the ones that can do this for you. Why help you out? We believe in it. We also ran a course on how to take tests, which I thought was very important as far as the kids are concerned. We did maintain a high level of kids who were on the college boards. We had a high number of kids who were to be semifinalists and that was very important too. But I think you need your three, I may be wrong.
Q: Good. How did you create a climate for learning?
A: That's a toughy. How can you create a climate?
Q: I think you have been touching on it.
A: Well, I thought I touched on it before. As I said before, I don't think you can learn without a good teacher who can motivate students, I think that's number one. Without a good teacher to motivate the a students, the teacher can close the door; you don't know what they're doing. So you must have good teachers, most of whom like young people. Secondly, you must support them in several ways. They must have supplies. They must know that they have your ear. They must have a good classroom setting, a good environment in which to produce good students or produce an area for learning. I think this is very important too. This is what we try to do, and it should be that openness between the administrator and teachers. I don't think there should be that type of advisorial atmosphere that exists but I think that trust of one another the teacher is going to do a good job and that you are going to do a good job at supporting them and helping them not seeing you as the enemy but as a part of the total program. I think in that way, when they feel at ease with you, when they can come to you and talk to you, and even say, I disagree with you, there is absolutely nothing wrong with that because you can't be right all the time and there are many instances when teachers sound just as right as you are and I always ask myself in my transition from a teacher to an administrator, "Did I become any smarter?", "Did I have any more answers than I had before?". What made me different from a teacher except that I was a leader and they looked up to me for leadership and for guidance but there are many, many instances when teachers had the right answer. So, there is absolutely nothing wrong with that. Many, many teachers had the right answers.
Q: Was this part of your technique you use to create?
A: Well, I had an open door policy and teachers could come in. And what we had said, and you could complain bitterly to me but we want to act as a team. I had no qualms telling me, "George Felton, you are wrong in so many terms." I never felt trouble about that or never did I want to get even or retribution as far as I was concerned. but, whatever we said in here we keep it in here and I'll support you and then we'll talk about it later on. Because I think it's very important that we recognize that we are teachers and I've often told them that we should never apologize for lying teachers. Doctors do not apologize for being Doctors. Lawyers, even the rotten ones, don't have to apologize for being Lawyers, but we are constantly apologizing and seeking help from outside. We are experts, we should know about our own business of education and we should not always, well, we can, but I don't think we should really always ask for opinions from people outside. I think we tell them, I don't think we what we are doing sometimes. And I used to tell them about that. We are constantly apologizing for being teachers and we shouldn't. We are professionals and we've been to college. We don't have to do that. But it's always interesting that most people that finish high school or above are experts in education. I haven't seen one yet who wasn't. I was, I guess, in a sense, protective of the teachers. I third& that's the way you ought to be. If you are a good leader, of course you have some bad ones, and you weed them out. And that's what we did. I didn't have any problems over at Madison, but I had one at South Lakes that we had to terminate.
Q: That was one of my questions.
A: A word on termination, and we did it, and it's a long drawn out process. While doing it you must use all the support that you have. Your area specialist, your county specialist. I had an assistant principal who certainly did a good job of evaluating that teacher, and I went in there myself because that's the regulation, that you have to do it yourself. I went in myself and evaluated her performance and we had some problems. I won't give any names because it's not proper.
Q: Is that the only person you had to actually fire?
A: Yes. Some others I wanted to, but I couldn't.
Q: So you actually let go one person?
A: One person, yes. Some I felt shouldn't be in the classroom. I always felt if you don't like kids, you shouldn't be teaching. I don't care how good you are in your subject matter or in your discipline, if you don't like kids you shouldn't teach.
Q: That helps.
A: Yes, believe me.
Q: Which of your techniques were successful and which ones were not quite so successful?
A: I don't know. It's hard to say because I don't know how to assess me. I was evaluated by my area superintendent, but it's pretty difficult to say. I think one of the weaknesses I had and I will say this very openly because Bob Williams certainly pointed this out to me. He said, "George, you try to please to many people." And you can't do it. My area superintendent said you are always going to have some detractors. Someone is not going to accept what you say and others will so you can't worry about those people because it's going to happen. If you ever are in a leadership position you are going to find that you are going to have some detractors. Some people will like you, some won't like you. I don't care how nice you ar-e. Don't worry about it. I found that to be true and I think Bob hit it right on the nose when he said you are trying to please too many people.
Q: Were you wearing yourself out?
Q: Before you had mentioned, if the teachers would create a good atmosphere inside the school
A: Inside the classroom
Q: Inside the classroom, excuse me. And you would help create the atmosphere on the outside of the classroom. Well my question is: What role did you play in public / community relations?
A: We had a teacher advisory committee. I had a parent advisory committee and a P.T.A. Those three. And then I had student input. I would periodically call students in and ask them, not only bright students, but older kids, and ask them how do you feel about school, what can we do to make it better for you? What program would you like to see instituted in school?
Q: Did you get a lot of feedback on that?
A: I got some feedback, yes. I got more from the bright kids,, naturally, because they are academically oriented so naturally you get more from the bright kids. And you ask them. I would have a meting with my merit semifinalists and we'd just eat and talk about things. I'd listen, they were so bright I'd listen. Some were bright so I'd listen. One or two, one has gone on. He has a doctorate in computer science. I think he's teaching at Stanford now. But this young man I'd listen to. When I was at Madison and went to South Lakes we would eat lunch every summer. Come over and call me up and I'd say come on I'll take you to lunch. We talked about school. So you leave an impression on some kids. In fact I was in the store the other day at one on the men's stores in Fair Oaks and a young man said, "Re-member me?" H was an assistant manager, or manager there. He said, "You left a good impression on me and I always will remember you because you said things I wanted to hear and you helped me to turn myself around. I'm going down to St. Thomas to open up a business down there. When you get down there come and look me up. So you win some and you lose some. And hopefully you win more then you lose. I think I've won more than I've lost. I think it's because you have to deal with young people, not to talk down to them, not to create a confrontation except when it comes to discipline. They must know that you are going to be fair, but you are going to be firm, they can talk to you, that you'll listen. I think that the key probably to deal with young people is that we don't listen. We say we are listening to them, but we really are not, because we interrupt by saying you ought to do this. Sometimes they don't want to hear any advice from you, they just want you to listen. So, you must listen sometimes and give them some time.
Q: What do you think teachers expect principals to do?
A: That's a difficult question. They expect you to be the leader, to show strength, and be supportive of them as classroom teachers. Some expect us to take sides between them and the students but those you dismiss. Some expect you just to be there when they need to talk to you, and to show some strength, some organizational skills, some planning skills. I guess they look at principals in two different categories: those who have people skills and those who have planning and organizing skills. I guess those are really, you can talk education jargon. I guess I was somewhere in between. Maybe more people or education jargon because I felt that people have to feel good about themselves, teachers in particular. Well, they are very sensitive creatures.
Q: Does the principal need to be a little bit of both?
A: I think so. I think he needs to be a very, very strong instructional leader.
Q: Do you think that the teachers feel he should be both?
A: I think he should be both. Accessibility is what's important to teachers. They have to see you at critical periods when they have to see you. I think they need to understand that they can see you, that you don't close the door, they can walk in and say I want to talk to you. At the same time, as you know, I guess the standards require that you spend a tremendous amount of time in the area of instruction. Particularly in Fairfax County with the new merit system that's going into play and is a very critical time in the lives of the teachers and administrators. They need to know that they have your support, but you're going to be fair with them when you are going to evaluate them and that you are going to make the situation so that they can do a good job of teaching. That's what it all boils down to. I think the whole idea behind it is to have good teaching. Boil down to that. They get the most out of students that you could possibly get out of students. With the criteria that's set up, by those standards that they motivate kids and they improve them.
Q: How would you evaluate teachers?
A: Don't ask me that. Because they have that system set up and that's new me. I've taken the skillful teacher course because I have to, being on the board. I wish they had a course when I first started administration. I think it's a big help. It requires a lot of writing and time consuming I suppose from the way people talk about it. I wish I had that type of training when I first went into administration because it's pretty objective I guess in the sense of speaking.. I have the book, I read the book and I've been through the course. I've got to take, I only had one half of the 3 D's that are left for me to take so I got to do those and learn how to write up an observation. It requires a lot of attention, a lot of time.
Q: What would be your philosophy of education?
A: I think I just preached it before you.
Q: Yeah, you were touching on a lot of areas, a lot of my questions
A: I think I've said it before and if I say it this time, I'll probably screw up what I said before.
Q: Another follow up question to that was the philosophy of teaching. I think you've touched on a lot of this.
A: I think I touched on this. I think if it centers it on the needs of kids. I think you have to treat kids as humans. You have a very diversified population here. You have kids from different groups, you have different economic levels. Fairfax County, I think in South Lakes they had quite a group of kids from the lower income level and high income level. So it takes a very good teacher, a good person to recognize the needs of all the youngsters in a classroom, and to be sensitive to their needs. And to deliver, what to deliver to the kids so they understand, know what you are talking about, and be motivated by and want to learn. I think wanting to learn is very important. The basic skill that goes with learning is very important. And being able to read and write fairly well and understand what's being conveyed to you by the teacher. I think it's the teacher's responsibility to do that. Now it's difficult when you have 130 kids a day. I know, I had 120. I know you are going to miss some; you are going to lose some. I think overall, I think the sensitivity in treating kids as what they are, humans.
Q: Here's what I think I can get you a new area to take. What pressures did you face as a principal?
A: Well, first of all, the black person going into a situation where they have any black principal except for one pride of mine being appointed, and I think perhaps; I think I was so new that perhaps in a sense, the inexperience that it never dawned on me that people probably looked on me like this.
Q: Didn't even think about it?
A: Didn't even think about it. I know there might have been some concern when I became principal of Madison. The school had no black administrator. They had one black guidance counselor and that was it at the whole school. I did hire...(interruption for tape change)
Q: Mr. Felton, you were talking about hiring.
A: Yeah, I did hire Peter Latimer as my Director of Student Services. But the amazing part about my beginning at Madison, I think the community was aware I was black but they were color blind. I think I had just about total acceptance. Which is very good for me and,
Q: Did you feel comfortable?
A: I felt very comfortable at Madison, very comfortable.
Q: How about the other two schools?
A: Some way, I never had any problems and I felt very comfortable at Marshall. Parents accepted me. Once they realized that I would be fair with the youngsters, I wouldn't side with one ethnic group over the other, I had no problems. It seemed my reputation in a sense preceded me because the close proximity of Marshall to Madison because you draw from the same area, general area. So, as a result when I got to Madison, I didn't foresee any problems. They had racial problems there and we worked those out within a short period of time. Everyone of m-,, administrators had more experience that what I had. George Dozier had something like 20 years as an assistant principal in administration. Bob had 14, Harry had about 12, Louise, the administrative aide, had about 10, and I had 4. But they looked up to me as a leader and they accepted me as the leader. They didn't challenge it, my leadership at all. I never good any feedback of any negative thing they said about me. I think Bob Wheeler was tremendous.
Q: Very comfortable situation.
A: Very comfortable. Took them out to lunch the first day, the second day 1 got there and we talked about what we wanted to do. Most of them were on leave they came back to meet me. When I had my first faculty meeting, I think the people felt good about me. I knew a lot of them beforehand, not a lot, but some of them, beforehand. I just had a good experience there. Very good experience there. I would say that at one of the schools, if you're a new principal, if you don't have much experience you ought to go to Madison because they will make you a principal because they don't want you to fail in the first place. I don't think they ever wanted me to fail so I had a tremendous - I'm still treated warmly there. I go back for breakfast whenever I can. I liked Madison. I liked. the Vienna community. I joined the Rotary Club there and they still remember me. As I said, the Mayor was very cordial. He did write a very good editorial in the paper about me.
Q: Did you know what date that was?
A: I had a copy around somewhere. I don't know. I had a copy.
Q: Some other time.
A: Some other time, yeah.
Q: If you could let me know.
A: I saw it one day around here. I think before you leave I'll look in one of those bookshelves. It may be in there.
Q: That would be nice to put in here.
A: Nate Robinson, very good. Just a very good experience. I had the same type of experience at South Lakes. It was a little rough when I got there. The kids were new school. We had some problems and we worked those out. I had a good administrative staff. They worked with me and I got in with the community. It was just a nice experience. Retired and they sent me to Hawaii.
Q: They did?
A: Yeah, they had a big dinner and sent me to Hawaii. The Booster Club had a big photo made of me. It's in the main office there. Cost them a pretty penny, more than I would have paid for a picture of me. Every year they give a George Felton Service Award for outstanding staff member. They gave them a $500 stipend. To a teacher or to a staff member period.
Q: You must feel great about that.
A: When I left Madison they named the weight room after me. I guess when I was in style. I can't say anything negative about either one of the places where I worked because I had fantastic support, far as I knew and that's all I wait to know. I don't want to dig into and look for things that's there that I knew nothing about. As long as school ran smoothly, which I thought it did. Went to South Lakes and they were in debt because they were a new school. I worked on that. I had some good people with me. When I got there in 1980 it was 60 some thousand dollars in debt athletically and what else. When I left were were about maybe, oh we were down about maybe 8 or 10 thousand dollars in debt, that's all. We raised money. We had some good. people too; from our finance committee and we had good teachers there. It was just a great situation for me to be in. First of all I never dreamed I would be a principal in the first place. It was one of those things that just happen. I guess I just got lucky, huh? In the right place at the right time. That happens.
Q: If you were to do it all over again, what would you do to better prepare yourself for the principalship?
A: I guess, probably more work in instructional area. That would probably be the only thing that's missing.
Q: Could you explain that a little bit?
A: Well I think, I suppose maybe 40% of my time was spent on instructional level than 60 or 70% because there's always something that kept me from doing that. I wanted to get into more classes, I didn't get into enough classes, to visit classes, I mean just to, not to evaluate but just to observe. I wanted to do that more and always something would come up. When I say, Well today I'm going to walk into classes, sit down and watch. Of course it's pretty difficult to do know, but they did it a couple of years ago. A principal taught a couple of times a year. I did teach one, 2 classes one time in Government, which I like to do. But I think every now and then, principals need to get back into the classroom. That's an awful difficult place to be. That's tough, teaching is tough job. I think they need to renew their own insight in what it takes to be a good teacher, classroom teacher. Like going back into the classroom and maybe teaching a class. I know some places they do that. The assistant principal teaches a class some, why don't they let some other guy who teaches a class because no one else had the certification in that area. So, I think you need, I don't think that there is anything wrong with it, if you have the time. I know with the new program here, Level I and Level II teachers and the observation that goes on, it keeps your principal very busy today and perhaps you can't do it. I think if I had to do it over again, I would make it an effort, maybe to teach a class once a week. I know some principals take it on after school, or twice a week. Just go in and teach a class. Because that way you get the feel of instruction, keep you on your toes and you know what it takes to plan a lesson. Hopefully you meet your objectives to motivate kids and see how you can, the different strategies they use in the classroom, different techniques used by your classroom teachers. In fact, supervising some student teachers, which I have been doing on a part time basis for the last, this is my third year at GMU, probably be my last because they are going into a new system, I guess. I picked up a lot of good ways, techniques and strategies that student teachers use. I think today you are going to have a good crop of young teachers coming into the business. There's some rotten ones too but I guess some good ones that are very good at it. I met a couple of good student teachers that, and they are currently working, one got a job right after he completed the student teaching and that's unusual. The other one of the two had two job offers, the one is going back to her home state so she didn't take the job. What I'm saying is, I think- you need to get back, if you can. The other thing I would like to do, which I always wanted to do was to go into an elementary school for a day and try to run the school and see what an elementary school principal is up against. There's probably not as much administrative help as a high school principal. That would be interesting. I got a dose of what it's like to be an elementary school leader be-cause I've had these student teachers in the elementary school level. And it's quite interesting.
Q: A little different.
A: A little different than high school. Your strategies change so rapidly you can't keep up with it because you're always, I guess the attention, I guess span is shorter and you're always trying to keep the kids motivated and keep them going the whole day and you expend a lot of energy. It takes a lot because you've really no break in between. I guess when you go to P.E. or to lunch I suppose, then you're with them then, so it's a little different ballgame.
Q: You're with them all day long.
A: Yeah, all day long so you're talking about 5 or 6 hours a day and that's a long time.
Q: How can we improve education, improve teachers?
A: I'm not an expert.
Q: Do you have any ideas on it?
A: I don't know. I'll leave it up to the experts. The people in that field can tell us what to do. Maybe I'm copping out on that question, I don't know.
Q: I understand some of them are just difficult to answer.
A: Yeah, this is a very difficult one, huh? How can you improve education? I think of, I think first of all you'd probably have to cut down on your teacher load, probably. Maybe that's one way you can improve it. They are going to need more help in the classroom. You see, education, I guess, has taken on so many things outside the realm of education, it takes away your time.
Q: The day sure can be short.
A: Unless you are going lessen the school day, which is another possibility, or lessen the school year, which you may run into some objections from some of your teacher associations, because teachers say we have to go to school in the summer time. Give the teachers a chance to go back to school sometime. Someone said the answer is pay them more. Me, I don't know, maybe that's the answer too, to pay them more, to lure good teachers, good people into the teaching profession. I think what is going to be done, though, we have to change the image in which we are doing, or what a teacher is all about. people look at us and say, boy, you have the whole summer off, what are you folks complaining about. You make 20 and 30,000 dollars a year, you have the whole summer off, you have all the holidays, you teach only 180 days, you work 180 days and we work more than that. So you have to convince the people that there's more to it than that. You have to take papers home at night, calls that you get at night, the parental concerns that you deal with, along with the administration, the criticism sometimes that exists, they don't see all those sort of things, so I think these have to make the community understand that just more than working 6 hours a day then going home and putting your feet up on the table and watching TV. It doesn't happen that way. Because, certainly, there's more to it than that. The planning that takes place, the lesson plans you have to develop every day, hopefully, it will be what the kids want, that you are going to stimulate a kid into learning and because you have a tremendous lesson plan, you go out there and sometimes the kids look at you as though you are crazy, falls flat. You don't know, they are not predictable. Sometimes you say, gee I planned this beautiful lesson and I get no response. That , of course, and I think maybe, what they are doing is on account, of course, sabbatical leave, which is great, I think. Your mini-leaves and things like that, which will renew and refresh the teacher. I think that's very important. I think Fairfax County is probably doing a lot of things in that area, to keep teacher interest extremely high, and to renew and freshen the teachers so they don't go stale. I think too, that because, I guess, some teachers would object to this, I think maybe 10 years is the most, is probably the longest one should stay in a school. Then they should transfer to another school. I think this would help.
Q: I never heard that before.
A: Yeah. I always felt that if I went to stay at a school, I would stay at Luther Jackson. If they let it's on of the places I'd go. But felt that after 8 or 9 years at one school ...
Q: As a principal?
A: Yes, as a teacher too. I also felt that if I hadn't retired, I would probably ask to go back into the classroom. I'm not too sure. I thought about it. I felt that if you had 8 years, it was long enough. Maybe you burn out, maybe you need somebody with fresh ideas. I think, probably principals moving around too, is not a bad idea. Of course, I guess, some would object to that. But it's my own thoughts. There's no validity there. I've done no studies to prove whether that's good or bad. It's just some more information I'm giving to you, my own personal thoughts about the whole educational program. I see something they are doing is good, also, which may be objectionable as far as far as schools of education are concerned. You bring in more teachers who have Liberal Arts backgrounds. (AU has a switcher program, which is very good, I guess, bringing people with certain science backgrounds and training them to be teachers. And I think that's going to be the trend nowadays. I think they've gotten away from teacher colleges, haven't they, to a certain extent.
A: Somewhat, yeah. And liberal arts. I think that's very important as far as the school is concerned. So this is going to bring in bright young people into the teaching hopefully. But a big thing of course is certain teachers you are going to lose because certain teachers who are in certain fields that it's very competitive in other areas. Computer Science, I lost two good teachers to the private sector because it was almost double their pay. You can't compete that way. So, I know there's some concerns about, I guess, about teaching today that we're losing out. I don't think we're losing out. There are an awful lot of bright people out their in the high schools,, bright young people. Too many, too numerous for me to name. I was exposed to them at every school where I worked, Luther Jackson, Woodson, Marshall, Madison, and South Lakes. Of course what is happening, we have more people have, taken a look at school today so as a result more people are critical of what is happening in the school today. You know the Nation at Risk years ago that was brought out and now they are saying that we are looking in that area. Technology too, due to Japan and Russia and places like that. But I would say our system allows young people, at least, to get a public education without any restrictions being placed on them and that certain groups or elite groups are going to be educated and that's all. I think there's an opportunity for all of us to be able to be educated and whether we take advantage of it or not, that's another story. I think sometimes we don't. I think that's appalling. I think sometimes you look at your, I guess your urban areas. This is where you have a certainly highest end of drug usage and existing in schools. It's a tough situation I was reading an article the other day about this guy from, I think New Jersey I believe. The school board is on him because he demands discipline in his school. He walked around with a, with one of those, a, what do you call those things?
Q: Those little billy clubs?
A: No, a speaker in hand. They suspended so many kids be-cause of their lack of attendance in school. I think, I believe that school is open to everyone and you have an opportunity to learn. If you continue to not take, accept the opportunity, then you ought to go. Because what you're doing, you're making it difficult for someone else who wants to learn. We are spending ordinate amounts of time getting you in school, checking attendance, calling the parents and everything else. Why isn't your son in school, when we could be doing other things. If you don't want to go to school you ought not to go. Now that seems like a very harsh statement but I spend a lot of time in the area of attendance and a lot of other principals do the same thing.
Q: And that would help our education?
A: Sure, spend a tremendous amount of money in education, a tremendous amount of money checking up on the attendance of young people. So we need to let them know that it's free. But still there is a hidden cost, and the cost is that you attend everyday, and you accept the responsibility of being a good student, or at least attend school everyday. Of course you know you rightfully understand that different abilities and different learning levels of people we know that too exists. But still there's something that you could do. It's always...
Q: So, if we can improve on that area....
A: Yeah, it always disturbed me to see kids who do riot take advantage of 589 public education that exists.
Q: How did you utilize assistant principals?
A: Trusted them completely. I didn't look over their shoulders, particularly at both schools. I accepted their judgement, for the most part, and I backed them. At South lues we truly had a subschool. Each one had his own sub-school. So what we did, they would stay with their youngsters from 9-12. The youngsters knew them more than they knew me. Of course they knew I was the principal but to them that particular person was their principal. He did the disciplining. Each one fortunately had a core area that they would evaluate. I had four sub-school principals. Each one was very good, who had a major in the area they were evaluating. One who was Science, taught Biology. Social Studies man had been a Social Studies teacher. The sub-school principal who supervised the ?lath teachers,, he had been a math specialist and supervisor and mathematician. Who had English at the time that was her field. So we we're very comfortable. That doesn't happen all the time. Because you find you're evaluating out of your area. It so happened that I did have four people who had those four core areas that they could evaluate. Then they took other areas. They were responsible for their own graduation. They suspended students, the whole works, the discipline, the whole works. So, sub-school was a school within a school by itself. Each one had that.
Q: What procedures should be used before a person is selected to become a principal?
A: Laughter (Ho, Ho, Ho)
Q: Another tough question?
A: Yes, another tough question. You always ask me those doosies, don't you? Well, that's hard you see. Personally now, I think it's very stringent today because when I became an assistant principal I went through a panel and they assessed what I said. Then they wrote me a letter and said that I was on an eligibility list. Now the certification requirements are much higher. There are many, many more courses that you have to take. Human Relations and School & Community and Finance, and School Law, Supervision, Administration, Curriculum, and all those courses you have to take today. So, I think in Fairfax County you go through a panel to be placed on an eligibility list. You start with an administrative aide, you have to get on an eligibility list, then you work as an administrative aid for a long time, then you go through another panel, I think, for assistant principals.
Q: Do you think this is good?
A: I think it's good. Except I don't think it's long enough. Now I can understand why the interview is not long enough because there are so many people going through. It lasts for about a half an hour. The interview last for about half an hour. And if you are pretty good about selling yourself you are in pretty good shape. Then you go through a panel to be a principal. Then you go through a panel, when I became principal at Madison High School I had to go through another panel to be interviewed for the principalship. I wasn't too hot for my interview. I didn't particularly want it I guess, that's one reason why.
Q: So there's a big long screening process?
A: A screening process, a very long screening process, because there are so many people there who really planned for those positions. So, it's highly competitive now.
Q: Do you see that system as productive?
A: Yes, you've gotten good people out of that system. Some very good people for the most part. I think it's about 95% Successful. Just off the top of my head. I don't have any data, no assessment.
Q: Your impression of it?
Q: Let's move on here a little bit. As a principal, here's 2 questions: what was your biggest concern and what was your biggest headache? I'm not sure if those are the same question, or if you might see them as a little different.
A: Well, I did a workshop for The District of Columbia Administration, on an instructive school. I did it along with Dianah. When I first became a principal in 1976, as I recall, there were basic concerns from parents. One was racial, two, drugs and three, instruction. As I recall, I've got it down somewhere. I think the correlation between that and what the nationwide survey was, pretty darn close.
Q: What was your concern?
A: My concern was ...
Q: As a principal?
A: Well, basically, with our, as I said for making sure that there 's a good teaching environment. Because you can't produce when you are in constant fear or you are unhappy. You can't produce on any job when you are unhappy, I don't think.
Q: Were there any headaches there? Did you have any, I guess, problems that turned to be a big headache for you?
A: Well, we had some problems.
Q: How about your biggest one, that was really tough, a constant problem, I guess?
A: It wasn't a constant problem. It was just one time we had some. We had a disagreement, a black and white disagreement on year at Madison, there was some milling around and some unhappiness. You could feel the tension there that particular day and it worked through the lunch period. The kids didn't go back to class after lunch. I told them to go back to class. They told me he didn't. Went back to the cafeteria from back behind the parking lot. They didn't do it. They were very self-solutions. Just rang the bell. Everyone was just moving in. I didn't think about that before. Rang the bell about 5 minutes early and everybody went back and that was it, I think.
Q: There wasn't any area that was a big headache?
A: No I don't think so. Maybe I'm the lily, but I don't think there was any isolated incident that really was a major headache to me.
Q: Were there any in the process?
A: At South Lakes, it was money at the beginning, because we had some. I got there in March of 1980, and John had left in February. There was a month where there was nobody there.
Q: That where you brought it up to?
A: We worked at it. I didn't do it by myself. I don't-. take credit for it. We had people like the late Pat Burgin. She's dead now, died unexpectedly at age 39, who started the 55-hundred club. We had people like Carol Devalley and Gloria Tomin, Kathy and Chuck Casio, who worked on my finance committee. We had people like Earl Wilson, who eventually became- a principal, totally revamped a Coke machine deal. That doesn't sound like a very big deal, but we were losing money. He revamped the whole thing.
Q: You had a lot of these people get into...
A: Yeah, helping me. And then the Booster club, also.
Q: I remember you got that thing all the way up.
A: So we reduced the debt tremendously. And that was one big problem. We reduced the debt. Reduced the debt to get the kids settled down. Remember when they came there, they were tenth graders. The highest level was tenth grade. We had no Senior Class. So our tenth grade was really Senior for 2 or 3, for a couple of years. We had graduation, very good. Carol Novally took the first graduating class. She set the tone.
Q: So that was your biggest concern there?
A: To get the school back on its feet financially, yes.
Q: What do you think about Merit Pay? I know you're on that committee and it might be kind of a touchy...
A: Yes, it is.
Q: Would you like to just...
A: It seems to be a good thing. We won't know until it's completely implemented. I think right now it seems to be a good program.
Q: How about career ladders for the teachers? Is that positive?
A: It seems positive. I have very little opportunity to talk to teachers about it. I won't talk to teachers simply because I'm on the board. From what I hear, and that's all, I'm just hearing. I think the FF-A accepted it again, they voted in favor or it. Is that correct?
Q: Yes, yes.
A: They voted in favor of it.
Q: I think, with exception, they wanted clarification on some of the wording. The teachers more or less endorsed it.
A: I guess if they accept it, I t will probably be the first one in the country, is that right, of its nature. Am I correct?
Q: I think so. There haven't been any examples out there. If there has, they haven't lasted very long. What was your toughest decision you had to make?
A: See, you keep hitting me with these very hard questions. Well, I guess work in order to remove that one teacher probably, a very tough decision, because you're working on someones career who's been in the system a very long time. It's not a very easy thing to do, to work towards someone's dismissal.. That was probably my most difficult one, yeah.
Q: Were you a manager of a building or an instructional leader?
A: Well, I guess between the two, I was about 40% instruction and 60% manager. I would have loved to have had it the other way around. I would love to have been 70% instructional and 30% manager. Remember I said all that before. Of course I think at that time the need more for a manager than instructional person because I did have 4 very good assistant principals who did a lot in the instructional area.
Q: I think this next question, What was your key to success as a principal, I think you really expounded upon it.
A: Team, delegating authority and accepting what they say. I think if you are going to delegate authority you shouldn't go back and change. Unless there's a gross error. I think my area superintendent trusted me and my decisions and I trusted my assistant principals and their decisions.
Q: I think that was probably like your code of ethics.
A: No, it was just the question if I thought they did the job right. And sometimes I felt they did the job that I could have done.
Q: What would you describe as your code of ethics then?
A: Well I think you, I think if you are going to accept a person as an administrator and if he's a good one, you ought to believe in him or believe in her. If you are going to delegate authority then it's there. And you have to support their decisions.
Q: You've answered quite a few of my questions right here. Another one about personality. Personality plays in their as far as...
A: Oh yeah, we had a lot of fun, at the same time we got a lot of things done. We were a pretty close group. We met once a week every Monday and we talked about what we wanted to do. To provide an input I asked for reports from everybody. Input from everybody, that includes the 4 subschool principals, the administrative assistant, the director of student activities and the director of pupil services.
Q: Let's out it off here. I think my tape is just about over. Lastly we were talking about your personality allowed you to be successful. We dealt in that quite extensively. The following question: What advice would you give a person who is considering an administrative position?
A: That's another tough one, but I think you have to realize number one - is the machine on - interruption by looking at machine -
Q: Let's try it again so we won't miss anything. What advice would you give to a person who is considering an administrative position?
A: Well I think from the stand point of a candidate who would like to go into that area, number one: learn all you can about the instructional level, I think you need to be a good writer. I think you need not be supersensitive to criticism, because you have to realize some people are going to criticize you. I said earlier in our discussion, you are going to have detractors. I think you have to make decisions, and yon can't be wishy-washy about the decision that you make. If you feel you're right stand by it. If you're not right, someone is liable to correct you anyway, going to change the decision. I think what happens in a lot of incidents is when there is a decision to be made we spend too much time mulling over whether that is the proper thing to do. Then we get advice from three or four other people. By that time it's too late, the decision should have been made a long time ago. Some decisions don't even have to be made right away. That you can't wait and get, a consensus from the group. I know participatory management is very important. Have all your administrators participate in a decision. That's a decision that will probably affect the whole school. So you want to get a good picture of that. While other decisions that will have to be made you will have to make them yourself. I always felt that the "buck" stopped with me, that I would be responsible for any decision made in that school whether I made it or not. And that's the other thing, if you are going to delegate, authority to your principals to make a decision for you, then you should accept responsibility as if that decision came from me, without, placing the blame on somebody else. Well, I really didn't make it; he made it for me in my absence. It's still your decision because he's acting in your capacity as a team leader. I see when you do that you sort of weaken your position as a principal, as a leader of the school. So, you must, be ready to accept the criticism that comes, and you certainly are going to accept the accolades that come with it. I was kidding when I was telling a guy, all good decisions are mine, all poor decision are yours. That wasn't true. I accepted all decisions. They were all mine, good or bad whether I made them or not. The other thing of course, you must be loyal to your staff and have the trust of your teaching staff as well as the administrative staff. Where they know that they can come to you for support, for advice, and you have a genuine feel for what they are talking about, and be a good listener. I think the other attribute you need would be P.R. in the community. That's very important. Being able not, to be intimidated by the community but be able to work with the community. Understand their needs as a community. Because you see, it's their child that they are concerned about. They have a vested interest in the system because they want their child to succeed. Whether it's for a successful reason or not you have to discount that and realize that a lot of time, they can be very emotional about their child and you have to wade through the emotion and either tell them what you think is god for the child or whatever. And make them understand that what you are doing is in the best interest of their youngster. Meet the community head on. At both schools I had a parent who riled the committee and I took some criticism. But you can't get on the defensive and say well, we tried to do this and the other thing. Accept what they are saying and say, we'll work on it. Perhaps you're right but we'll take a look at it. You'll see.
Q: What aspects of your professional training best, prepared you for a principalship?
Q: How's that?
A: Dealt with parents and with kids on an informal basis and wasn't afraid to deal with parents. I wasn't afraid to tell them no. I didn't give them what they wanted to hear all the time. I think we can fall in a bag of giving parents what we think they want to hear, which is not helpful because you have to remember, you see, that the teacher sees the child from the parents. Six different teachers a day, or five different teachers a day, and the youngster is in school from 7:30 until 2 o'clock, where the parent gets home at 6 o'clock, so the parents see them from 6 o'clock until 10 o'clock when they go to bed. So the school sees them for about 6, and the parents see them about 4. Because they sleep the rest of the time, so who has the most influence of their lives. Look at it that way.
Q: What suggestions would you offer to universities that would better prepare candidates for a principalship?
A: Well, I think they are doing a lot now. Send them out as interns. In the simmer or if they are in the graduate program. A lot of schools are doing this in the summertime. That's the best training, on the job training. Because a situation exists in a book that doesn't. exist in the school. You have a fight, you have a dispute between two teachers, which has happened to me before and it happened to me at one school. You have a parent who is very belligerent, how do you deal with that parent. To bring him in. You need first hand experience and I think that's very important. You see most are teachers who are going into administration who have already experienced that anyway. So that they regard the program. I have had friends of mine who worked for nothing a couple of weeks in the summertime in the school as an aide to get a hang of what's happening. And that's the best experience in the world, on the job training. I think fortunately for me when I was doing coaching I also coached on J.V. football at Woodson. The head coach that I worked under was very good. I also thought that he would make a heck of a principal. Very good at dealing with people. Very good at telling people no when he knew it was wrong without offending them, without being wishy washy about it. I will say I'm honest. I steal, I stole a lot of good techniques from a lot of good principals. Captured a lot of techniques you might say, from a lot of good principals. I've worked under a lot of good ones. As a result I was able to get a little bit of their style. I think the big thing is one thing, you must be your own person. You must be, your own personality. You can't assume someone else's style, management style because it's quite different. You look at your school superintendents who we've had, all have been different, in their style. The image is always the same, a good system. Your management style may be different from another persons management style, but I think the key is, as long as you are very strong in areas of instruction, decision making process, you're very good at that, you have to deal with people. Whatever your style is, you should be very successful.
Q: Did you feel that the central office, central office policies, prevented 864 you from accomplishing goals you felt could have otherwise been obtained?
A: No, I won't tell you why (laughing).
Q: Is there a reason?
A: Ignorant. I ignored a few of them not to take some work from me.
Q: You ignored them?
A: Just a few, but for the most part they were there. Sometimes you have to take charge of things, you can't wait for an approval from them. You do it and then you say, well I did it, what do you think? Then they say, OK, you did it, you should called us about it but I said I didn't have time. It happens once in a while.
Q: Was that acceptable to do it that way? Did that work?
A: Well, it worked once in a while. I guess I got baxyled out once in a while for going on my own. I think that sometimes you have to make a decision, you can't wait for the central office to hand down a decision, because its time consuming. So the decision has to be made right away . Yon make it, then if you can justify your actions they generally go along with it.
Q: What consumed the majority of your time?
A: Oh, gosh, that's hard to answer because things were so different.
Q: To follow-up on that I think I have another question coming up here. I think I'll ask you now. Could you describe a typical day?
A: I don't think there is a typical day.
Q: One that you can think of.
A: Let- me search in my memory. One day as I started off in the morning, I had two parents waiting for me at 7:30 about their kid. And we talked about that. I had a discipline problem to deal with later on about 8:00. Then I had a meeting at the area office. I came back, I went on lunch duty, that should take up a lot of your time. I had a department meeting, chairperson's meeting. We dealt with that because that was after school. In between time we had certain reports we had to send to the area office, and certain reports we sent to the central office. Once in a while there's a teacher who wants an interview. Then we try to squeeze in some classroom observation. The if it was on a Monday night, it was on the first Monday, I had to attend a PTA meeting every month. I think the 3rd Monday I had parent advisory committee. In between time I would attend some event after school either a play, concert, or football or basketball game depending upon the season. So generally from Sept. till about April you're out at least 4 of 5 nights a week.
A: Yea, but I enjoyed it.
Q: What would you have liked to have spent more time on but other responsibilities prevented you from doing so?
A: I'd say the instructional programs as I said previously.
Q: Here you keep coming back to instructional programs a lot.
A: I think its vital because this is where your whole school is either going to fare real. well or is going down the drain. Unless you make sure that you have a strong instructional program. A program that reaches every student. I know one year at South Lakes, Dr. Wilkins had a very good program, he was an art teacher, he was in fact teaching here one year, that he wanted to try after school it was supposed to be a very good program. He took in kids who were in Humanities and kids you were science oriented and they together had just a wonderful- time. We made it flexible so that either you got credit for it, have credit for it or no credit for it. And sometimes they met on Saturdays. Wonderful program that he had there. So this is; see you got to listen to your teachers, they've good ideas. This guy was a fantastic teacher and you don't want to curb his initiative, because you want to keep him working because he has some good ideas. That's what you have to recognize that teachers have special talents but you don't want to stifle. Within the limits of the money you have, you want to let them pursue their active interest. I see. I hear you talking about that a lot.
Q: Over the past decade schools have become larger and larger with student population at times exceeding 4,000 students. I think perhaps you've experienced that.
Q: You haven't experienced that?
A: The largest school in Fairfax Count is Robinson High School; they have about 4,000 in grades 7-12. It is a secondary school. The average school in Fairfax County I think, runs around 19, 21 hundred.
Q: I thought perhaps they were bigger than that.
Q: Because these buildings are pretty big.
A: No, Robinson is the largest one here.
Q: But then again I've on been here three years so I ...
A: Robinson is large. When I was at Woodson in 1965, it had 3200 kids. We were the largest because Robinson hadn't been built yet.
Q: What do you think is the best organizational arrangements in schools this large for administrators, teachers and students?
A: Well I think the subschool concept. Something that I don't like, I guess other people say that, I never did like to open a school. Never did like that.
Q: Is there a reason why?
A: I like structure, and someone says maybe you're a dinosaur, maybe you're old fashioned but I see the trend now is to go back. I've visited so many schools that had open areas that they are closing them up now. Because a communication problem. You sit in the back of the room you hear the teachers behind you, or the teacher next door. So, a lot of schools who had the open type of concept are now closing them up. I think, the larger schools the more courses you are going to offer because it's placed on a pupil teacher ration and if you get kids, maybe 10 kids, you can't teach maybe capitol B.C., but you only have 10 kids with a large school you can do that. But at the same time, I think sometimes in a large school kids may perhaps loose his or her identity.
Q: Is there a certain arrangement you like to have in there?
A: I think the subschools are probably the best answer to this.
Q: What do you feel is the ideal size of a school?
A: Personally to me I think 2,000, at the most. Two thousand to 2,100. I had my best year at South Lakes when we had 1700 kids. We had 1700 kids, we had about 17 merit semifinalists, the largest in the state. We had two Arja Bill Duke scholars. That's unusual. Two from the same school. We were the first to have two from the same area. We also had two scholars that went to University of Virginia, we just had a tremendous year that year. Not only that, but in athletics also. So we had a good year. That's unusual. I'm not saying that because we only had 1700; you can manage 1700 better than you can 2,000 or 2,500, but I'm saying it because we had an unusual year. Personally if I were a principal today, I wouldn't like over 2,100 kids. Now athletically he's going to hurt, I guess, because you don't have many kids coming out for your programs. Yes, but look at Marshall High School. They're perennial winners in everything and they run about 1400-1500 kids.
Q: Is that all?
A: Yea, so it depends if they have that many. So you don't know. You see some of the more larger school that have very unsuccessful programs, but don't worry about that. I would say within that number no. Now that, other folks say, I don't know, I can't answer for them.
Q: I think we've touched on these a little bit. A lot; of research points to the fact that excellent schools have administrators who are actively involved in leadership for educational expectations.
A: Yea, I'd go along with that idea.
Q: What are some of the effective techniques or strategies which you listed to involve yourself to the maximum?
A: You see I do things by instinct and I can say how I've done them before. I can say how I've done them before. I can approach a discipline problem differently for different kids. Because although the incident may be the same the application of disciplines may be different because the circumstance is different. Same way with teachers. Some teachers you can scold and some teachers you can't, because they fall apart. You have to have the gut instinct to look at teachers and say, how do I deal with that classroom teacher? You can't have one system to deal with all teachers because its not going to work. You yourself we could just sit down and talk it out. Another teacher may have to threaten, I don't know. It's different, so you have to take a look at a teacher's personality and devise effective strategy that will assist you in dealing with that classroom teacher. I never liked to operate out of fear, say if you don't do it I'm going to fire you. I never wanted to do that because you see, you can be dictatorial but you may not get any response.
Q: So then on your side you want a good atmosphere in school?
A: Yea, I think you want, I think you have to look at your Japanese, I think they have completely turned around the concept of working, of atmosphere, everybody has a part in the whole scheme of things. I look for input from teachers sometimes. Because they're human. You know I didn't start off being a principal to say George you did a good job today or you need improvement, I wanted that to happen. So, you have to put yourself in their position to do it.
Q: Do you have a model that you patterned yourself after.
A: Yea, uh huh. John Broyles was great with people. I worked under him. I think I learned a lot under John Broyles. Dale Williams, I took some of his style; he's dead now. He was a black principal, the I first I worked for. Bill Hodson and Bob Fitz, they were pretty well organized.
Q: I see a lot of people.
A: Yea, uh huh. They all influenced me one way or the other in the way they did things. But I guess because I worked under John as an assistant principal not as a teacher, I did embrace quite a bit of his style. Of course, we're different. I played a practical joke once in a while on a teacher so..(laughter)
A: Well, I think of minority students to have had a difficult time in some instances. I think it's in two things. Either sometimes you find teachers who are overly sensitive to their problems, and one who dismiss them completely. But somewhere you've got to set that half-beat, the medium. I remember that if someone told me a long time ago that these are more differences between the races. Everybody wants to succeed, everybody wants a good job, live happy, good home. So these are the basic ingredients of all groups, whatever the minority may be. On the other hand, there's an insensitivity that exists whether...
Q: Did you find any in your experiences?
A: I'm sure there's some insensitivity, yea. I couldn't pinpoint it today, but certain things. As you know you can turn the kid off and not know it by something you said to them. Let me give you an example: Say a history teacher is talking about the Civil War and slavery, which is certainly a sensitive point perhaps to a kid, particularly if a kid is setting in a classroom, the only black kid with the other kids in there, and the teacher says, "how do your people feel about the Civil War."
Q: Just a slip of the tongue.
A: Yea, then he's turned off, you see, right away. He doesn't want to go back. The kid is permitted to go out, that was my biggest gripe, because they felt, you know, the kid comes in to classroom, he looks he could be an intimidator or a threat because of the way he dresses, the way he walks or swagger. You know, he's got the walk and he looks a little tough. He's got the clothing on him that doesn't quite fit in within white middle class values, so a teacher probably immediately pinpoints him out, that kid either doesn't know anything or he may be a threat so she lets him do anything he wants to do. The kid has to be disciplined the same as anyone else, the expectations level should be the same. You shouldn't expect anything less from that kid than you would of anyone else in the classroom. You have to assume that he's there to learn, then if he's not there to learn, you develop some other strategy to operate within their classroom setting. A very good experience on that. I was observing a student teacher, who will remain nameless, at this school, was good at that. They were talking about general things about the Civil War, I believe, as I recall. The kid said, "I'm not going to answer, anything and I'm not going to talk to you," so he moved. There was no confrontation by the teacher. You think he would have said something like I'm throwing you out or sending you to the principal which would have been the wrong thing to do. He kept on talking to the class and very quickly kneeled down beside the kid and talked to him in his ear, the kid got up, went back to his seat. Whatever he said, I don't know what he said, and became a part of the class. He never lost a beat and this was a student teacher in the classroom; never lost a beat. So, there are young people sensitive for that, sensitive to that sort of thing. I was going to have to be, trained in that area. Now, I'm not saying its all the fault of one or the other, but the question comes up there must be something wrong when you have a thrust toward minority achievement. I'd be, concerned. Are the tests really biased? I guess they must be culturally biased, I suppose. I had another young man, who will remain nameless. I mean to say he's going to finish the Academy this year. That's why I don't believe in test scores. They weren't that high but he's going, I think lie's going to get into the Academy this year. Good student. So you see, you don't judge by everything. We can prejudge kids. We can prejudge kids who are not miniatures. Because what I've always felt that if he got rid of the cumulative folders, where it says where the parents work, how much education that parent had, or what have you, then we wouldn't put kids in different categories. Right away we see a kid coming to the classroom, his daddy has a Ph.D. or his dad is a doctor, or his daddy had an engineering degree, right away we assume that kid will succeed. The other kid comes in the classroom, his dad is a truck driver or laborer or what have you and maybe he will succeed, I don't know. They did interesting studies years ago, I can't remember where but I think it was in the mid-west, where they changed, they gave essays to a group of kids who supposedly could learn, real bright kids, and gave the same essay questions to the kids that were questionable kids. They changed the name. Where they changed the name, I guess you heard about that study. They automatically gave these kids, they assume, in some instances we find ways to give a good kid a good grade because there's a good reputation.
Q: It must be human nature too.
A: It's human nature too, yea. You say, see this kid's gotten an "A" all his time how did he get a "D", how can I bring that "D" back up to an "A"? Of course I know what they're going to be saying. We do the same thing if a kid comes to the classroom with a hat on his head (bang) or with the walk you know, I remember the walk because we'd do it when I was in school.. That's probably peculiar to kids of black persuasion you know drag their feet, you know, looking cool. So the teacher automatically registers in her computer mind that, I'm going to have trouble out of this kid, and it isn't necessarily so. That doesn't happen that way all the time and the kid knows it so the kid can sense that and he says I'll take advantage of the situation. I need a pass. I'll go and get one and I'll go out and stay out and no one will question me at all. That fellow is very frustrating to me sometimes. See him out in the hall, why are you out in the hall.? For a pass. Get back in class. You've been here long enough and there is noting out in the hall that you can learn. If you can convince me that you can get English standing out in the hall, I'll let you stay out here in the hall. So I think this retraining of this, I think they have some program that they're using now when you look at kids, your body language will tell you that the kid. Kids are pretty perceptive sometimes they can sense when you're not wanted. You may not think they are but they are. At the same time you may find certain minority kids who know they are going to achieve and you have just the reverse.
Q: To continue on here. Would you like to discuss your five most pleasant principalship activities which you were involved? And maybe four or five most unpleasant. Some negatives and some positives.
A: Well, I'm searching back in my mind. I've been out. of school for almost our years. Pleasant ones yea, talking to kids who have succeeded. The kids who come back to school and say gee this school gave me a good education or..
Q: I've heard you talk about that a lot.
A: The youngster says I got all "A's." I had one black kid who came to to me that boasted that he made a B average that semester, or the teacher would come in and say, "I just had a grand day!" "The kids were just absolutely marvelous." The downside when you have to tell a kid that he has got to go for three days or five days; discipline, suspension. The kid who's been on a drug situation that you're trying to reshape. These are not very pleasant things. The football games are pleasant, basketball games are pleasant, the band concerts, the plays, they are all pleasant. You enjoy these sort of things. The irate parent who comes in and nothing goes right for his kid, or the school is blamed for everything that has happened to his kid. We can't be all things to all people. But I think we are taking on a little more than the schools should assume. Suicide in school, we have conferences about that. The drug situation that I think the present administration tried to blame on the schools, which is not fair. We're not. Drugs doesn't start in school, they come to school, they don't start in school.
Q: So that was kind of an unpleasant situation?
A: They start other places. How can we be parent and everything else to kids? That's what they want us to do.
Q: What were you happiest to be, leaving at, retirement? And what were you most reluctant to leave?
A: Well, I guess the paperwork involved in being a principal.
Q: Happy to leave that behind?
A: Yea, the people I miss. I miss the people. I miss the kids. I miss the teachers I really do. You never realize how much you miss somebody until you leave them. I miss them.
Q: If there were three areas of operations for administrators which you could change, what would those be?
A: Three areas of operations that could change? I personally think that the principal needs to have more input in to the selection of administrators that are going to work for him. I think they do, to a certain extent with teachers, but I think not as much with administrators today. I think they need more. I think, I know that it's difficult to do and I realize that in a system as large as Fairfax County, but I think when there is some individual need exists in the school, these should be some kind of funding where the principal can do it right away without having to go through a long process of getting approval, of that sort of thing. I can remember I had a door I wanted to put in the girls' bathroom downstairs because the girl was smoking in that place and I wanted to make sure it was monitored, it was a long process in my doing it. But I think there should be perhaps because principals are honest and are not going to take any money. But I think there should be some type of a fund, whether it's called Principal. discretion or finance, that doesn't really extend to certain in-house operations that a principal needs to be done right away that he could do it or get an outsider without going through the process of having a bid placed on it, that he knows where it can be done cheaply and do it.
Q: Would you describe the most effective assistant principal you ever worked with? As far as his characteristics, ingenuity, creativity, support, etc.
A: I had more than one. You got to remember too, assistant principals personalities are different. Some are people persons, some hate the people, some are combinations of the two. I'm happy to say that out of the four that I worked with, and one that came on in later on, three became principals because they had experience to become principals, because they were creative, they knew the instructional program, they weren't hesitant about dealing with teachers or parents. I think you need everything. You need a, and I didn't have them all, there were some things I was deficient in, but I delegated to somebody else. As I said before, earlier in our discussion, good writing skills, being well-organized, have a good knowledge of the instructional program and I had those that way. You don't want me to call names do you?
Q: No, just describe the person.
A: Who could deal with parents too.
Q: They were all good in those areas?
A: Well, most of them were, not everybody was good. I think the big area. When you are a principal I think if you, if you are strong in the instructional program, if you are able to deal with people, I think you are going to be fairly successful, Because those are the two main ingredients as far as I'm concerned. A good knowledge of what makes a strong instructional program, what is needed, how can I deal with parents effectively, and students, and teachers. Because those are the three people you are going to be confronted with everyday. If you think you're not, you're kidding yourself. If you pass on the deal with parents as an assistant principal then the word is going to get around. If you're not visible word is going to get around. You got to get "B's" and. "A's" in all those areas, if you don't you're not going to be a very successful. principal. As I said before, most of those guys, the ones that worked who had that skill, so they become fairly successful principals, or successful principals. Yea, it's hard to say what one thing because what may work for you may not work for me. I may have a tremendous amount of skills in one area so much so it can make up for a deficiency in another area. What do you want to see, they should be there to make decisions, the right decisions most of the time. You're going to make some wrong ones. Every decision I made wasn't right, I had some lulu's (laughter); I tell you to be perfectly honest with you. And I thought back over and I said boy I wouldn't have made that now. I made it then, I thought I was right then, it wasn't right but people thought I was right but it didn't turn out that way. But the fact that, you know alibi. When yon make those decisions you say, "well I didn't get any support and I listened to my assistant principal and I was swayed by their opinion. It was still yours because you don't have to be swayed by their opinion by no matter of means. So, you have to be strong enough to accept the bad with the good. And the criticism. I bought a new carpet. I got reamed out a couple of times by my bosses. In fact, it was interesting with Margaret one year, I screwed up so badly I threw my hat in the office, said come out Margaret, when I come in. But realize when you make a mistake and be man enough or whatever to accept that you did make a mistake. That your judgement was wrong.
Q: Could you describe those characteristics of the superintendency which you found most desirable?
A: Oh, see I worked for, I basically worked for two. I worked for more than two but as an administrator I worked for two. I worked for three really. I worked for Jack, the two Jacks and John. The style, I learned something from all of them. Jack Davis was very open, he had tremendous memory, he could remember names, he made you feel good. He made you feel as though you were doing the best job ever. Linton was a, had some organizational skills I learned from him. He was good in the organization. He revamped the system. And Jack Davis was a healer of wounds, I guess you would call him that, he made people feel good. All, see they all were three different personalities, but their leadership style was different. But they all had their strengths and their weaknesses. They were all strong administrators. You don't get a person in that position who's weak, you can't afford to. Your surely can't afford to and they all were very strong administrators, and very well respected administrators. The present one I can't say because I didn't work for him, I met him, he's bright, I tell you he's bright, oh man, and he knows a lot. I will say that from my limited contact I've had with him. And strong, oh he's strong, believe me, yea. (laughter).
Q: I get that feeling also.
A: Yea, he's very strong.
Q: If you could change any few areas of education in the United States, what would they be?
A: Boy, that's a tough, I, that's a very broad question because I don't know every area. What would I change in the United States?
Q: System of education.
A: I think in some instances probably. You have such a... I guess such a bureaucracy that exists and that...
Q: Somehow overcome that.
A: Yea, overcome that bureaucracy I believe. And I've often said that the one person that is over looked is the classroom teacher. The stronger your classroom teacher the better your educational system is going to be.
Q: I think you've exmunded on that all the way through.
A: All the way through. You see you can have all the, what I call them acronym(?) programs, you know, yield, field, and all that good stuff. Yon can have all the money plowed into your system but I think it still boils down to the classroom teacher. How well prepared is that teacher? How does that teacher love to really teach? Is it more than a job? But at the same time you got to give that teacher all the support in the world. In your urban areas, you got to take your hat off to some of those teaching, who go to school every day probably in fear of their lives perhaps. That they feel that they're not getting support, but maybe from the principal. They have some strong principals that are sort of hand cuffed because they can't do what they want to do. Systems are different. There's a lot about the European system everybody is on page 30 the same day, on page 50 the same day, take a national exam. I think that's one of the good things about our system. It's the freedom to be able to move around to teach the way we think a kid ought to be taught, not a regimented type of a system. I won't want that to ever happen. So, when you say that it's very difficult. I think pouring money into it is only part of the answer. I think the other part is public support of your system in a very positive way and not a negative way where its constant criticism because those kids come out who can't read or write, or who can't fill out an application blank. I saw on ad in the paper, which said one out of five can not fill out his application blank. What we ought to teach them? I think industry, your private sector will have to, they do it in some areas, adopt schools. They will have to take an active interest because we are preparing these kids for them. If they are poorly prepared they are going to suffer. The whole economy is going to stiffer later on. So I think we need to get, they are doing it in a lot of areas, support from them. From the private sector. Then the question will come, then, why will we need teachers? We will always need teachers, even though we are going to get in a computerized age, we are going to teach. Someone said pretty soon we won't need teachers anymore we do it by computers. But you will miss something, you'll see.
Q: No human input.
A: No, it won't be there anymore. It will be gone and that will be a very sad day. But can't place all the ills of society on the schools because it's not fair. As I said before we can't be all things to all people. We can't, we have an impact it's true, but we're not there all the time. Parents have to take a more active role. Where you have good schools you have parents who take an active part in the school. You watch. I mean not in a destructive way, but in a construction way.
Q: For the good of....
A: For the good. They come in the school, they're willing to help, the kids know that they are there, and the kids aren't going to act up as much when they know that their parents are around, or they are when their parents are not there. They are going to learn. At the same token, parents should be able to come to school and not feel intimated by the school. What I'm saying is that the parent and the school should not be adversaries.
Q: Work together.
A: Right, work together.
Q: What in your own experiences did you find most beneficial in helping you maintain your "sanity" as a principal?
A: Oh, playing a practical joke once in a while. (laughter) I love to sit down and talk to teachers on an informed topics. Go into, not hang in the teacher's lounge, go in once in a while and say, "Hey, how are you folks doing?" Sit down and talk. Teachers felt at ease with me, I think for the most part. I guess that was my biggest asset and they could talk to me, straight forward
Q: Part of your personality.
A: Yea, and they tell me, "George, I don't like this, this is terrible." and I never was offended by it. So we'd do something about it. We would try at least. Of interest the other day one of my teachers said, "You know you never got the locks you promised for the cabinets and you've been retired for four years." I said, "I did!" She said, "No, you didn't, you never got the locks." I said, "I did. I thought we had gotten them for you." We never did. But I think, not being buddy, buddy but to know that you're there. I always felt good about that.
Q: Could you describe your reasons for opting to retire when you did?
A: Retirement benefits. I had to go in '84. You see we have early retirement in Fairfax County and I was 56 in 29 years. So I couldn't stay beyond July 1st, 1984. That was the reason. That's a good reason, early retirement.
Q: Now here's a good one. This is my last question. What have I not asked you that I should have?
A: I can't think of a thing. I think you asked me more than I thought you would ask me.
Q: There was one thing I would like that I didn't write down that just came in my mind. Were there any community issues or problems that evolved during your experience that you had to reach on, that you may have foreseen and you acted upon them? Community problems, in that time frame when you were a principal. Any major issues in education or in the community?
A: Well, I think when I first came to Madison they were talking about the gifted program on a high school level, because I was there later on as you recall. Of course the issue of minority achievement came up and that was acted on as I was leaving.
Q: How did you feel about that?
A: Well, I thought they were both important. I had certainly been concerned about minority education before it came into existence, because I thought some of it was due to peer pressure.
Q: Do you think we are successful in it now?
A: I don't I now.
Q: Going the right way?
A: I think they are working hard at it from what I hear, but see I was there the first year I retired they asked me to be a part of the committee in Area 111. But not lately. The first two years I think I did participate in some of their meetings just to listen. From what I can gather the program coming out of the school, the programs are worthwhile.
Q: Were there any other areas that...
A: Still, I think the community is always concerned about drugs.
Q: Was there a big problem at your time?
A: A big concern. I think it probably was a big concern on the part of the community I guess. I don't know how much it has escalated today. I really can't say. But as I told parents you should be, concerned more about the use of alcohol, or as much concerned about the use of alcohol as you are concerned about the use of drugs.
Q: The other kind of drugs.
A: Yeah, well you would have parents say, "Well, was he on drugs or was he drunk?" "He was drunk." "Wow, I feel better." Why should you feel better, same problem. I think as many kids drink or probably more than use drugs.
Q: That was a big issue?
A: Well that was an issue. See, drugs are always an on going issue.
Q: Was there anything in your school, did anything come up all of a sudden that you had foreseen and were ready to react, there wasn't any surprises or....
A: Probably so. But I can't recall. I guess if it was a major problem it would still be in my memory bank.
A: And it's not there.
Q: And you seemed to be successful all your...
A: I would say so, maybe someone else would say something different. I can't say. I can't assess my own performance so someone else will have to do that. I thought I was fairly successful. I thought I turned around two schools that I thought that they thought needed turning around. I'm not too sure.
Q: O.K. Thank you very much, I appreciate it.
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