Today is November 8, 1989. I am speaking with Mrs. Doris Freeman in her office at the Buchanan County School Board, Grundy, Virginia, on her experiences as an elementary school principal.
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Q: Mrs. Freeman, I'm very glad that you've consented for an interview with - with us, and you've, uh, understand the purpose of our interview. I'd like to begin by, if you would, telling me about some of your family background; some of your childhood, where you - your early education, and so forth.
(Streamed audio file of interview for this question using RealPlayer)
A: I attended both elementary and high school in Old Fort, North Carolina. At that - at the time I went to school, we didn't have kindergarten, and we only went through the eleventh grade. I am one of two children. I have a brother who is three and a half years younger than I am, and a mother and a father, of course.
Q: And you have one child?
A: I have one child, yes.
Q: And Rick is now located where?
A: In Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.
Q: Harrisburg, Pennsyl - and you have two grandchildren?
A: Two grandchildren, both college students at this time.
Q: And, uh, your mother has - she had a very long life, too, didn't she, Mrs. Freeman?
A: Uh, yes, she did. She died at the age of eighty-eight, October one of last year, and she was fully employed at the time she died. She managed a funeral home in my home town.
Q: All right, would you tell me, uh, about your high school and your colleges?
A: Well, as I said, I'm a graduate of Old Fort High School, in North Carolina, and, uh, there was a several year span that I didn't start my college eduction, and I went to Pikeville College and graduated - received a B. S. degree in education from Pikeville College in Pikeville, Kentucky, in 1961. I graduated from high school in '41, incidentally. Then I went on to East Tennessee State University, and, uh, received my M. A. in '71.
Q: And, before you got your, uh, bachelor's degree, you have experience teaching, is that correct?
A: Oh, yes, yes.
Q: Where did you begin your teaching experiences?
A: Uh, Vansant. Well, uh, I really began at Raven Elementary, in Tazewell County. Taught three years over there, and then we moved to Buchanan County. Then I started teaching at Vansant Elementary and I was out there three years, and then I was transferred to Looney's Creek, which was a three-room school, in another section of the county. And I stayed there until I received my degree and went back to Vansant.
Q: All right, in the three-room school, what grades - how, how were the grades allotted to the teachers and - and so forth?
A: Well, the - Mrs. Stella Crockett had the first and second grade. I had the third, fourth, and one section of fifth grade. Incidentally, most of those years, the six years I was there, I had fifty students, with the three grade levels. Then Mrs. Elsie Belcher had the other section of fifth, and the sixth and the seventh.
Q: Those students, when they left seventh grade, came on to Grundy?
A: Yes, they did. They came to Grundy High School, which is now Grundy Junior High.
Q: Uh, now, when you went back as - to Vansant, was that as a classroom teacher?
A: Yes, I went back to Vansant as third grade teacher, and I taught there for several years and was made assistant principal. I was the first elementary assistant principal in this county - uh, under Mr. Leroy Jones, who was principal at that time. (pause) I'm trying to figure the year, maybe.
Q: That's all right. (cough)
A: I served three years as assistant principal at Vansant, and then I was sent to begin a new school, an open space school, up Slate Creek, that was known at that time as Slate Creek Elementary.
Q: Well, would you, uh, discuss some of the - well, just kind of take me through how- how- uh, you began -how the school was, uh, initiated, and give me a little bit of history of the - of the school itself, now.
A: There was two country schools up there and I think maybe one had three rooms, the other one four, and they tore one school down and started to - begin a new school building on that property and they transferred those children to - or transferred part of them to Grundy Elementary. And when I met with Mr. Bevins, Superintendent, we decided that maybe we should keep all primary up there in their own neighborhood and bus the larger students to Grundy. So we worked out of two buildings there for awhile. Josephine Rife was the assistant principal, and she stayed up Slate Creek, and I went to Grundy Elementary of the morning. And then I went up Slate Creek in the afternoon. I was trying to keep up with two different groups.
Q: You kinda had a pretty tough schedule for that--
A: Yes, I did. And at that time we had to call the School Board Office in the morning to report number of teachers absences. So I had to call Josephine at Slate Creek to find out how many teachers were absent there.
Q: Well, now, that was - at that time both of the - uh - schools, had their students combined.
Q: So you were in preparation for entry in to the new building.
A: We got in to the new building in January.
Q: How many teachers did you start out with? About how many?
A: We must have had about seventeen.
Q: Well, would you describe the - the way the school was organized. Now you've mentioned that it was an open space school. Uh, let's start out - just ex - describe the building first.
A: We had four pods. We had the first library that those people had ever seen. And we had a librarian, and they were so happy to - to have that librarian there - and to know that they could go to that library at any time. And the way we scheduled it, they did have a regular library period scheduled. But that didn't mean that was the only time that they could visit that library. They could go at any time that - that they needed to go, you know, and they didn't, you know, and they just got permission from their classroom teacher. And the way we set that up - we did have kindergarten sort of self contained. We had two teachers in there with two groups of students. Now those teachers did some team teaching. And then, the other sections of the building - I had placed first and second grade students together with one teacher. We maybe had a couple of teachers there, that each had first and second grade students. And we did this throughout the whole building. We multi-aged. In working at Looney's Creek years ago, with the multi-aged grouping I had, I was sold that that's the way our children should be educated. And I - I'm really for that now. If we can multi-age those students, if something they didn't get one year, you know, if they're sitting in that classroom and it's introduced another year, then they pick up on it real quickly. And I, you know, I'm -I'm sold on that, I really am.
Q: All right, so you had all the way up through the seventh grade?
A: Uh, huh.
Q: You were four pods.
A: Uh, huh.
Q: Uh, did each teacher teach their students all day long, such as the self-contained classroom, or did they do the team-teaching, as you have referred to?
A: In some cases, they did do some team-teaching. And I think, maybe, in thinking back, that it was what the teacher preferred teaching, maybe is what we had them doing. Because I think that if you enjoy - now math is my thing. And I would teach math all day long, you know, and that's what I enjoyed doing, and what - what - whatever their preference was, was mostly, you know, we would certainly assign them to do that for - for the two groups, maybe, (muffled)
Q: So, your staff, then, had a variety - they came to you with a variety of experiences -
A: Yes, they did.
Q: Uh, with a variety of - of goals in life?
Q: Would you - uh, briefly describe some of their - their backgrounds?
A: Well, when we went up there, I kept the teachers that had been assigned to those two buildings, and they were accustomed to working with multi-aged groupings. So they weren't really upset about that. But, now, I think maybe that with some, you know, we did have a schedule. We had bells that rang on schedule, and - the teachers had more of a problem with scheduling bit, maybe, than the children did. They just fell in line, you know. But, the teachers - it took them a little longer to become accustomed to the setup, you know. But I was determined that it was going to be - it wouldn't be another country school. That it would be run, you know, like a business, and like the other schools that I had worked in.
Q: Well, now, if I remember, most of the teachers that went in to the - your building - and also at Russell-Prater that went in at the same time - they had had some classes and some training in this type of education.
A: Yes, yes, we all had training, yes.
Q: Uh, this - this came through Mrs. Evelyn Murray was one of the instructors on open-space type classes.
A: Uh, huh.
Q: Uh, what are some of the other maybe techniques that she worked with them on? (pause) Individualizing instruction?
A: Yea, yea, individualizing instruction.
Q: Well, then that will refer us, uh, right in to, uh, the report card type thing that you used. I notice that you have a copy of those there. Could you, uh, discuss how the students progressed, now after they were placed in -in one classroom, and so forth?
A: (Need ?)
Q: How - their assessment?
A: Our philosophy for that school was, "Take every child where you meet it, where you - you find it, take it as far as you can." And I feel strongly, as most of our teachers did, that once you put an "F" down on a child's paper, that you've failed that child, REALLY. That child possibly wasn't ready for that concept. So what we did, was to try to take those children where we found them and work with them from there. And then on their report card, and actually it wasn't a report card, but it was a progress report to the parent. It was sent out three times during the year. And was to check whether or not that they were progressing - had outstanding progression, satisfactory, or whether or they were having difficulty. And we included all the stud - all the skills under each subject on that.
Q: Did your patrons, the parents, have trouble not seeing their A, B, C's on the progress -
A: Yes, they did. And you know that they - that they were so accustomed to the type of school that we had, that they had been in school up there themselves. And yet when they'd get to Grundy and people down there would start talking about the new educational program up there, they became real upset about it, and it was things that they had always done, you know (Laugh). They'd been - they were accustomed to that. So we just had all sorts of problems with the parents, then. So I didn't know what to do except to write notes home, to - and send 'em by the students, "Hey, we need your help, can you come in and help us today?" And I had 'em just doing everything, everything I could think of - and even the old library books, they'd get in there and try to clean those up, because I need these people in that school to let them know that what we're doing is GREAT, you know, it's fine - that we have a sense of pride about this building. And then, of course, we had a comment or two - it was the first school, I guess, with carpeted floors. And one parent came up to complain to me that - that I was trying to make that school cleaner than their homes. And I said, "Well, I certainly hope so; I want it to be cleaner than mine. I don't have that much time." But you know they even told that I had the children take their shoes off at the front door, and put 'em back on in the afternoon, which was certainly untrue. And I needed to get these people in there to see that, also.
Q: Well, you had a good relationship you - you were trying to work on a good relationship with the community.
A: Yes, yes.
Q: Uh, how do you feel that has carried over today? Do we still have - we'll come back to our school in just a minute. Uh, but do you think that we still have that rapport with the community, in our neighborhood today?
A: Yes, I certainly do. And I want you to know, too, that I feel that when I left up there (I was there for three years.) when I left, I don't feel that I left an enemy up there. I still meet these people in a grocery store, or anywhere in town, and they're always quick to speak to me, to hug my neck, you know, and to tell me they still miss me, and all this, and certainly, they were my kind of people. But, now, they just had to learn to trust me, and I brought 'em in to let 'em see, you know. I think maybe, you know, just a look maybe will help, will help anything you can say, you know. It will stand when nothing else does.
Q: Well, you used a lot of that type of discipline with them, too, I understand, from - I've talked to some of the students that were there when you were there, and, uh, about the type of discipline that you used. At that time you were able to paddle. Did you use the paddle very much, or - ?
A: Well, in the beginning Maxine, for the older students and some of the "roughnecks", yes, I did try using the paddle. But it was a never-ending thing, and I looked at the same kids, day in and day out. Everyday they'd be in for a similar problem. And I was wearing myself out, and it wasn't helping the discipline problem at all up here, so I came upon another idea. Rather than wear myself out, I just started having a trial with these students. And putting their name on a folder. For the habitual offenders, I had a folder, you know, for each one of them that I kept on file in my office. And as these - and we'd go ahead and write - I write the thing up, you know, as it unfolded. And go back and read it to 'em, and say, "Now is this what happened today?" And they'd say, "Yes." I'd say, "Well, I'm going to date this, and you need to sign it." They'd watch me put it in that file folder, then, after they'd signed their name. And I put it back on file, in my file cabinet. The next day, they'd be right back in there, similar circumstances. I'd go through this bit, and when I wrote that up - "Is this what happened?" "Yes" "I guess maybe it's time to date this one. You can sign it; it goes on file in your (folder). And let's go back and see what you've been into." So I went back and did a little review, to bring - to update their offenses. Didn't threaten a thing, with this. Nothing. There was no threat at all. And I'd go ahead and put that on file. This went on for several weeks, and one day, this little fellow, that - who was in daily - came in and we went through the trial session, and, "Yes, this is what happened." "Uh, well, now Dave, I think it's time, you know, that you signed this, you know, and we'll date it. And here are the other things that you've, you know, that I've got on you, in this file folder. And you're file folder is beginning to get pretty thick." "I ain't a signin' that" And I said, "What do you mean you're not signing it?" "My daddy told me not to sign any more of this stuff." And I said, "Now wait, Dave. I believe that your father runs, operates a business in Grundy." "Yes, he does." "Well, Dave, I've had my first time to go down and say, 'Look, I don't like the way you're doing things down here. I want you to run a little bit differently.' Now, Dave, I consider that his job. This is mine. And I resent anybody telling me how to run my job up here. Your father's not paying me, and I have been assigned this duty. So I say sign - YOU SIGN." The child signed, but he was never back in my office. So that cured it. Hadn't threatened anything, but I guess they were wondering what I was going to do with all the information I had on file. Now, I believe, too, that you may have been thinking about another form of discipline that I used with my smaller students. They'd come in, and somebody would say, "He hit me." And, "No, I didn't, he hit me." And I'd say, "Oh, I hate to do this, but I believe that we're going to have to do, uh, (pause), we're going to have to do a little thing on you here. Uh, a lie detector test on you." So I'd mess around, take my thumb to feel their pulse, (Mrs. Mullins - Giggle) and I'd go back through - Is this what you were referring to?
A: And ask his name, and how old he was, and his father's name, and most of this information I already knew. And I'd say, "You're telling the truth so far. Now let's get up to this other." And then we'd get to the good part, about whether or not he was guilty, and I'd say, "Wait just a minute, that pulse is really skipping. Are you sure you're telling me the truth. I think you sort'a got off right back there. Now let's go back just a ways there." (Mrs. Mullins, laugh). "And go through this again. Are you sure that Johnny hit you first?" And the child most time would start crying and say, "No, I'm guilty." Then, other forms of discipline - You know, uh - the truth never gets home, you know, uh, the child always goes home "lily white," innocent.
Q: Tells something different.
A: Yes. It didn't happen that way at all, you know, not the way it happened in school, like the way we saw it, anyway. So usually, uh, when we got some kids that were in pretty - that had been in some pretty tough stuff, you know - when we got to the bottom of that, and most children had telephones at home, and I'd say, "Well, I guess you'd better call your mom and tell her what you been into today. So you just go ahead and use the telephone over there. And go ahead and call your mom and tell her what you've done." And I would get real busy puttin' up the mail out there just to be nearby to make sure that child did call home. And most times I could hear that mama saying, "You did WHAT? Maybe you'd better let me talk with Mrs. Freeman." So I'd then - then he'd say, "Mom wants you - wants to talk with you." So I'd go to the phone, and she'd say, "He did thus and so?" And "Yes, Ma'am, he surely did. And I guess maybe it'd be a good idea if you'd come on by, and we'll try to figure out how to work this problem out." So that was mostly how I handled the discipline problems. We kept a lot of 'em in school here, in elementary, and I don't think I ever suspended a child for three days. I - I don't remember it if I did. Now, you know we did have that option, but I think maybe that we kept them in school, and I didn't even want them to be out away from the classroom if the teacher got aggravated with them, and they were disruptive. I wanted the child kept there, because they certainly wouldn't get anything from the classroom instruction if they were outside away from the classroom, the group. So we tried to keep them in there. I didn't send anybody home. Uh, and it did hurt some. Once they left this school and went on to junior high, to know that those kids had been expelled, you know, when we tried so hard.
A: And worked so - you know, you know - maybe that's the way a lot of our dropouts come about.
Q: Well, you had a good relationship with the community, and with your patrons.
A: Yes, I did.
Q: Uh, besides the discipline type thing that the teachers would want you to help them with, what other kinds of things did your teachers expect the principal to help them with, to do for them?
A: Gosh, Maxine, I - you know, it's - it was so many things, and I tried to get in to help ever way I could, even with part of the instruction. And sometimes, when they couldn't - if they knew that they were going to have to be absent, they had a list of substitute names, and there were certainly times when we had a flu epidemic, or something, that they couldn't reach a substitute because maybe they had somebody in their family who had the flu, or maybe they were sick, or they'd been called for somebody else. Then the teacher, a lot of times would call me at home and say, "I can't get a substitute. I've called every available person, everybody on the list, and everybody's tied up, or they can't come for one reason or another. What in the world will I do?" And I'd just say, "Don't worry about it, and I'll get in, and I'll act as your substitute today." And that THRILLED me to death to get to get in those classrooms again. And so I just helped any way I could, you know, any anything out of the ordinary, they'd come to me, you know, and I'd try to work with them. Sometimes we'd have to, you know, have a meeting, and try to figure out what would be the best way of handling things. But just anything.
Q: Would you go ahead and describe a typical faculty meeting that you might have. I would suppose they would be after school.
A: Uh, most times it would be at a recess time, and then we had aides that could watch the students. And maybe we could have one teacher on duty outside, and you know - it was fairly easy to go on with a faculty meeting and then try to talk with that teacher later. And, usually, without we had something to come up, most time it was - the faculty meetings came about because of information I had received at a principal's meeting or the school board, uh, you know, would send memos out, about. But, you know, it was a close-knit group up here. And certainly, everybody felt they could get in to see me at anytime, or - or to send a child down to get me, you know, so we were very open and above board on everything.
Q: So besides the open space, you had good, open communication as well.
A: Yes, we did. Uh, everybody here had their job to do. We worked as a team, even our janitorial staff, and our cooks. Uh, everybody had a job to do, and everybody was important. And we worked as a team. Uh, I made sure that the kids, the students, respected every working person up here.
Q: Uh, today, do you think the principals have different responsibilities from what you had? You work closely with the principals in your position now. Uh, do you think they have more responsibilities, or paper work, or do you think - are they effective, do you think, in their leadership roles, compared to the type that you . .?
A: My hats are off to the principals of today. They have lost their assistants, yet they're supposed to spend a great percentage of their time in instruction; they have all the reports to do. And it's just my hope that everybody has a good secretary. That means a whole lot to a principal.
Q: Well, go ahead and - and, uh, describe your relationship with your secretary, if you would.
A: Oh, I had the greatest secretary in the world. Uh, occasionally, I'd get upset with a teacher, but I never did jump on anybody, you know. Uh, if I had to call a student in, and get pretty rough with a student during the day, before we left that afternoon, I tried to find time, and a way, to get to that student and be able to put my arm around his shoulder, and pat it on the back, and tell him that I was real proud of him for something - for something that they had done that day, because I didn't want any child to go home feeling hard at me. You know, I didn't want them to go home hating me, and I wanted them to leave here with a good taste in their mouth. Uh, and certainly I tried to treat all the adults the same way, to respect them as adults. Uh, but occasionally, somebody would really get to me, and I certainly didn't want to confront them, and use some language, maybe, that I shouldn't, so (Mrs. Mullins - giggle), so I'd call my secretary in and say, "Close the door." And I would tell her all - everything that I was upset about, how aggravated I was, and she'd stand there and look at me. And I knew when Gaye left the office and closed the door, that was as far as it ever went. Uh, I still respect that gal, highly, today.
Q: So do I, now. Uh, now you had an assistant principal?
A: Yes, I did.
Q: What do you think should be the role of the assistant principal, in today's school?
A: Well, certainly, I would hope it would be that they would have right much to do with instruction, and wouldn't have all the discipline problems dumped on 'em. I think you need a strong head of the school, you know, that that would be the last resort for the child. I hope that the teachers have - will be able to handle much of their discipline. And I think, maybe, that if they get in and work with these students, I think a lot of discipline problems come when the kids don't understand what - you know - that maybe they're in over their head. And if the teacher would take time, and, incidentally, I think that the guidance counselors will do a super job with - helping with the discipline, because they'll be able to get in there and - and get to the root of problems. And then, in your situation (see note), maybe if a child is behind, is trying to work with it on its own level, and to sort of bring it up, and to make school more interesting. So I think that maybe that will take care of a lot of discipline.
NOTE: Mrs. Freeman is referring to the situation in Buchanan County in which the smaller schools have the services of part-time guidance counselors who work part of the day with remedial students, based upon school populations.
Q: What happened to your assistant principal?
A: When I left here?
A: Uh, I recommended her for my job, and she got it.
Q: And she stayed until she retired, I understand.
A: She stayed, uh huh, she stayed until she retired.
Q: Now, Mrs. Freeman, there's a special story about how you were notified of your position as principal.
A: One Wednesday night, at home, I got a telephone call from the elementary supervisor, who is a dear friend of mine, and said, "Doris, I'd like to offer my congratulations."And I said, "For what?" She said, "You don't have the county paper, then?" And I said, "No, I won't get it until tomorrow." She said, "Your name's on the front page." And I said, "What for?" She said, "The Board, in Monday's meeting, appointed you as principal of the new school up Slate Creek." And I said, "You've got to be kidding. I haven't even applied for the job." Of course this was done in February, and we didn't - you know - that was for the next term, which would start July 1. So Mr. Bevins said he'd like to go ahead and get that out of the way. He didn't want to be bothered with a lot of people applying for the job.
Q: Now you had a special relationship with - with Mr. Bevins as Superintendent. You've not had that same relationship with the next superintendent, did you?
A: No, I - I didn't have that same relationship with the next one. Uh, we had all certified personnel up here. Had the building. We didn't have everything we needed to work with. We - we had a beautiful new building. We had all new furniture; but we didn't have the materials to work with. We - I even subscribed for magazines for this school myself, because we didn't have enough magazines in the library to get by our report, O.K? And a little later on, in the spring, once we got into the building, and we had open house on a Sunday afternoon, up here. We needed some shrubbery; we didn't have money for shrubbery.
Q: We were talking about your shrubbery.
A: There wasn't money in the funds to buy shrubbery, so we felt that we certainly needed something to beautify the outside; so I went down and bought a few rhododendron plants, and I think we even bought some tree seedlings, also. And Mrs. Rife bought some shrubbery. We fixed up the area out here between the buildings, this outside place here and around the front. And, uh, we had a beautiful building. We didn't have money to purchase the programs; so I called the teachers together and said, "This is X number of dollars we have to spend. Now if we'll break that up to primary and intermediate, you know, and buy ONE super program. We'll put it in the library and check that out." You know. I finally got 'em to agree to do that. They were so accustomed to having thirty or forty dollars of their very own to spend; but if we pooled our money we could buy better programs. So we felt that we were well on our way and decided that we would try for Southern Association accreditation - be the first elementary school in the county to take this route. And we thought about what a feather in our cap that would be!
Q: That sure would.
A: And, uh, then Mr. Bevins died, and we got a new superintendent. And he moved next door, here, and decided it would be ideal for his wife to just walk across to school. And she wasn't certified. So we just sort of dropped that. We lost our initial fee, you know, because I couldn't go any farther. And then we - we had some pretty bad problems, because - uh, I think maybe I told you that everybody here demanded respect. And I didn't jump on anybody. And, it seems that she - she went home one time and told her husband that I had jumped on her, and then he, in turn, came up to jump on me. But when he got up here, he said it was my assistant. He didn't tell me it was me. But she had told some of the other teachers it was me. I resigned that day. But he wouldn't accept my resignation. He said I was the best principal he had in the county. Of course that was a standing joke throughout. (Laugh, Mrs. Mullins laugh, also.) They all - we all- all principals laughed about that. But, do you know that, uh, I think my house and Audrey Hash's house - she was the clerk at the School Board office-was the only two homes that the Superintendent and his wife visited. So they came on back to my house that weekend, you know. He didn't speak to me on Thursday at the principals' meeting. I think maybe this was on a Tuesday. And he didn't speak to me at all on Thursday at the principals' meeting, but on Saturday, they had, uh, his mother-in-law was visiting. And they came by the house, you know, to visit, which was fine. And I felt - I don't know what the problem was. But I think maybe that - that I could have liked him real well if I hadn't had to have his wife here, you know. She was just about like a child: the truth didn't get home, you know. There was no way I could ever call the office and say, "Look, here's what happened today." Because I didn't know that anything had happened, you see.
Q: Well, do you remember any other sources of dissatisfaction while you were here, or any other problems that you might have encountered?
A: If - if it hadn't been for that, I guess I would have still been right here.
Q: But in the end it wasn't that much of a problem.
A: Well, you see, when they decided to hire another elementary supervisor, uh, I decided to apply. And when the Board appointed me as the second elementary supervisor, the parents up here got really upset. The Superintendent came to me, after I moved to the School Board office, and wanted me to come back up here and talk with my people, to tell them that I, indeed, had asked for a transfer. That he did not send me away from this school, you know. So evidently he had caught a little flack over that. And later, maybe, that first year after I left here, they had PTA one night, and they invited me up as special guest, and, uh, it snowed that night. And the Superintendent and his wife were both here. And at that time they were living down next to the School Board office, because their home had burned up here. And they presented me with a silver tray. Just SUPER people up here, just super. And it was frightening to have to drive back to Grundy with snow on the ground, and the Superintendent suggested that I go in front. And I said, "No, I much prefer following you. You go in front and let me follow you." But he went all the way down to where I turn across to my house, and I appreciated that. I - you know, I did at the time. And, incidentally, he, at the end of his contract, he did not come back. But he was back in the office sometime after that, after he became Superintendent of another county in Virginia. And I heard him in the Boardroom and got up to go in to hug his neck, and I said, "I'm going to hug your neck." And he said, "When I was here, I wouldn't have allowed it, but now I will." And he acted like he was pleased that I had even attempted to hug his neck.
Q: Well, did you ever, in all your work as head teacher, or assistant principal, or principal, have to let anybody go? Did you have to fire anybody?
A: No. No. We, uh, heh - everybody had weaknesses. And you try to work around those, and you try to, when you talk with them, when you call them in for a conference, maybe talk about their strengths, first of all. Give 'em a nice pat on the back. Tell 'em what a fantastic job they are doing, and how much you appreciate 'em, and I still have to use this occasionally. And then, you - you know, I would add, maybe, "But now maybe we could improve in one area here. You know, let's try something else." And it worked. I had one teacher here who, uh, I believe she was real unhappy. And she would pass by out here and would have the awfulest frown on her face. And she, uh, her voice carried, and, uh, she talked pretty hateful sometimes in the classroom, and it would carry over to the office. And I started talking with her, and saying, "Look, I don't want to see you looking so unhappy when you pass by the office. I'm going to be standing there watching for you, and when you pass by, I want you to give me a great big smile and wave to me." And she thought that was the funniest thing. But it brought results; it brought the results that I wanted.
Q: Well, now, there are those who argue that standardized testing can provide a way to improve instruction. Please discuss your experiences with testing and provide us your views on its effect on the instructional program.
A: Do you know, and I'm afraid that you're leading me into this, too, when I was first appointed as principal up here, I went to the School Board office and talked to Dr. Gillespie about it. And he said, "Doris, the test scores are the lowest in the county up there." I said, "Gee, Bob, you think maybe I - I need to say 'No' to this?" And he said, "Well, look at it this way. You don't have but one way to go, and that's up. You are already on the bottom." You know, and that is something to think about. So, uh, yes, you need to take a look at test scores to see where their weaknesses - if the - if the teachers will study the test scores, it will tell 'em, you know, where the child's weakness is. And some of the concepts to work on. Or skills. And we made every effort. We talked and talked about the test scores and about our test scores being lowest in the county. And we wanted to bring 'em up. So I felt that a lot of it was, maybe, the teacher being negative. Maybe just about like the teacher who didn't smile, you know. And maybe it sort of rubbed off on the students. And I still think that has a lot to do with it. But I attempted to do the testing myself, by taking these students to the cafeteria, and pulling an aide or two, and the teacher of the group that I was testing to act as monitors. And, Maxine, gee, you know - you do get sort of short with them when you look around, and you put their little pencil - their little hand with their pencil right on the line and look back around, and maybe be over somewhere else to mark, when you're trying to give your instructions. So, I laughed about that, because I was really going to show them how to do it, you know, and here I guess, maybe, I blundered the way they did, too. But, anyway, we did work on test scores, and got 'em up.
Q: So it's not really an evaluation of the teacher, completely.
A: No, no.
Q: But it does enter into it.
A: Yes, yes, I think it does.
Q: Well, now, Mrs. Freeman, would you describe your normal workday, maybe, uh, how did you spend your time, besides the discipline that you talked about? What was the number of hours that you normally put in per week, and that type of thing?
A: Well, I was on duty twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. Uh, one Sunday afternoon, I was cooking. Got a telephone call from the sheriff, asking that I come to school. We'd had a break-in up here. So I had to cut the meal off; cut the stove off. So-- you feel totally responsible for the plant, instructional program, and everything that goes on up here. Even when you allowed Little League to come in to play basketball in the gym, which is certainly not part of the school program. But I was responsible. I felt fully responsible for the building and what may happen to it. So, I had to ask that they be out at the time the night janitors' shift was over, because I wanted that door locked. Wanted everything in order at the time they left, you know. So I was on duty twenty-four hours a day. And about what I did during the time - I was in and out of these classrooms. I walked through - see, you can walk right up the corridor there, as you are well aware of, and know exactly what's going on everywhere. But sometimes I liked to walk right through, you know, and pause. And to sit down and work with the students a little bit. And they-Oh, I was so embarrassed one day, when somebody came to look at the building, and they brought 'em up to find me, and I was sitting up in the upper level, with sixth and seventh graders, playing an educational game. And I was having such a ball with that. And I felt like he had caught me playing hookey, or something.
A: And, you know, this is what it's all about. If you can make it fun, those kids are going to get so much more from it, you know. Just let's - let's just not have something boring everyday. Some of it has to be boring, I know that. But if we can make a game of it, and -and hold their interest, that's the way to go, you know.
Q: They'll learn and not realize it.
A: Uh, huh.
A: Have fun learning.
Q: Right. Well, let's talk about your training and - that you had for - as - to prepare you for principal- ship. Uh, when you think about that, were there certain classes that were not very useful, and certain ones that were most helpful?
A: That's about the size of it. Some of them were very useful, you know, and you can put some of those ideas to work that you'd picked up. Then others, you know, you just - - -
Q: Do you have anything in - specific that you could mention?
A: (pause) Well, one class I had, we did play educational games. And that carried over up here. And I remember playing one game - it was a government game, you know. It was real good for social studies. Fantastic! I realized then, "Gosh, everything could be a game." You know.
Q: Well, uh, what kinds of things would you do to better prepare yourself for the principalship, do you think? Would, uh, more years of teaching experience? Or more years of assistant principal, or do you think that you were pretty well prepared?
A: Well, Maxine, uh, I was the first assistant principal in the elementary schools in Buchanan County. And I worked under a dynamic principal. Ran a fantastic school. And I picked up on everything I could, you know. I worked with him, not realizing that I was sort of in training. Of course, the Superintendent well realized what he was doing when he put me out there as assistant, and I didn't - I didn't realize what was going on either.
But anyway, that's what he had in mind. But anyway, when I left there, I brought so many ideas with me from that school, because I felt that he was a fantastic principal. And then I felt so free to pick up the phone and say, "Look, I have a problem. Now what should I do about this? What would you suggest I do?" Even about the cafeteria, you know. And he'd tell me exactly what to do, you know, what he thought I ought to do. So he worked real - extremely well with me.
Q: Well, uh, (pause). If you were advising a person that maybe was considering a job in administration as principalship, what kind of advice would you give them, say if it were me for - to prepare myself for the job in administration?
A: Maxine, it's a hard, gruelling job. Ha! Ha! It's much harder than it was when I was principal. As I say, you wouldn't have an assistant. Uh, you wouldn't have near the help. Funds are just about non existent. You'd have to be dedicated to the core.
Q: Well, would you recommend a mentorshiptype thing, if possible, as part of the training?
A: Yes, I think I would.
Q: Mrs. Freeman, we've, uh, talked briefly about, uh, your earlier experiences. Would you - Let's talk about your family before we close our interview today. You have a son, Rick?
A: Yes, I do.
Q: Would you tell me what his position is?
A: He's a supervisor with an - with Ohio Casualty, in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. I have two grand- children. My granddaughter is a senior in college this year, at UPI. And my grandson is a freshman in college this year. Uh, my mother - I have one brother who runs an auto parts store in my hometown. And he has one son, also. My mother died October one, last year. She died at the age of eighty-nine. She was fully employed; she managed a funeral home in my hometown.
Q: And your son, Rick, has a special position with the school system, doesn't he? Or has had?
A: He still has that position. He is on the school board, in his county, or borough, or whatever, in Pennsylvania. And up there, they are not appointed, as our school board members are. There, they're voted in, you know, they're elected by the public. I went up to visit, uh, in June. When my grandson graduated from high school, I went up for his graduation. Rick wanted me to stay an extra day, because he wanted me to attend his Board meeting on Monday night. And they meet at nights up there. So I went up to - for that, and just sort of slipped in and sat down. My daughter-in-law ran me up there. Rick took my car and went on early, because he had to be there earlier. And I just sort of went in the back and sat down, with a group. And they went on. And it amazed me. They - they, uh, set the tax rate up there. Everything's on their shoulders, you know. Then they know how much money they have to operate with. It's not like our system, at all, where our Board members have to go to the Board of Supervisors, plead for money to operate on. But at the end of their meeting, uh, Rick introduced me to the group, and made me feel so good. He said, "Not only is she my mom, but she is a school person." And they wanted me to stand, and they gave me a round of applause, and asked what the differences were between the boards. And I tried to explain that. And I complained a little bit to Rick later about having to give a report.
A: But I'm real proud of that young'un. I really am. He's a fine, fine fellow.
Q: Let's mention your husband.
A: He's in the coal business. And, uh, we both have reached retirement age. And he doesn't want to retire. And, uh, you know I felt that I would retire last June. And the closer I got to retirement, the more I became aware that I'm not ready to retire. You know, I've been with the school people for so many years that I think maybe, that I'd just get dull. And I don't want to sit back and exchange recipes with the neighbors. I can exchange recipes with the gals at the office. But I need to stay busy.
Q: Well, now, as we look through the curriculum in today's schools, uh, could you, if you could change any area, particularly the elementary schools, what changes would you think would be needed?
A: (Pause) I'd hate to go on record saying what I'd like to do away with. But, uh.
Q: Go ahead. (Giggle)
A: No, no, I'd better not do that. But, uh, I do wish that we'd place more emphasis on reading, writing, and arithmetic. I really do. And, of course, with that would be your language arts block. But sometimes, I feel that we get too far out, and we're trying to do too much, without the time to do it.
Q: Spread ourselves too thin.
A: Yes, yes.
Q: Uh, now we've talked about a lot of things today. I appreciate your taking the time to - to come by. Uh, is there anything that we've not covered that you would like, dealing with administration, the principalship, your relationship to your school, that you would like to - to talk about? Anything we might have missed?
A: I have the utmost of respect for every principal in this county. Fantastic group to work with. They're just - they're just super human beings. Thoroughly enjoy my work. I enjoy the relationship with them, and with all school people.
Q: Well, I certainly thank you, now.
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