The interview took place at the home of Robert Lee Flowers in Madison Heights, Virginia.
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Q: Thank you for agreeing to have this interview in your home. Please tell us about your family background, childhood and growing up years, your development.
(Streamed audio file of interview for this question using RealPlayer)
A: I am the only child in my family. My father was a telephone linesman, which caused us to do a lot of traveling. I was born in Virginia, but as a result of his job, we did a lot of traveling. I started to school in a little town in Belmont, Pennsylvania, which is east of Pittsburg, at the age of five. Moving from there to the Floyd schools, second grade, in Lynchburg and then the next year, the third grade down in Old Madison Heights and I remained in the Amherst County School System from the third grade up through high school, which was the eleventh grade, as you know, we had eleven grades at that time. I went to Lynchburg College for a year. I decided I wasn't sure whether that was what I wanted or not. I went from there into the Marine Corps and it was while I was in the Marine Corps, that I quickly decided that I wanted a college education and I came back and went to Lynchburg College and graduated in 1958. Now in between there and in the summers I worked construction work. I was a heavy equipment operator. I plowed cable for the telephone company and did things of that nature. I've always been interested in sports. I have played sports through basketball and baseball in high school and baseball in college. I did graduate work in Health and Physical Education as it was called that then. Then, I went at the University of Tennessee, where I had an Assistantship to help out a little bit. I did not complete my work there: we wanted to get back to Lynchburg and I had an opportunity to teach and coach at Holy Cross in Lynchburg, so, but I'm getting a little ahead of myself. I taught two years beginning in 1961 at Powell High School in Knox County, Tennessee and I also worked on my Master's at that time. It was then I had an opportunity to teach and coach at Holy Cross in Lynchburg, so, through the efforts of Mr. Bill Shellenburger, we moved back and I taught and coached there for five years. I enjoyed every minute of it. I left Holy Cross and came to Amherst County, originally to be a supervisor of Health and Physical Education. However, Mr. Tyler Fulcher, who was superintendent at that time and was my high school principal, asked me if I would be interested in going to the Elon Elementary School. It would pay $600 more per year and would give me an opportunity to get some experience in the administrative end, which I did not have. I immediately said 'yes, sir, I would like to do that.' I stayed at the old (Elon) school for one year, then I went to Lynchburg College and was the Associate Director of Admissions for five years. During that time, there was a lot of traveling and visiting a lot of schools in the country. But, there was a nagging going on in the inside to get back out on the firing line. So, it was at that point that I sought employment elsewhere and came back to Amherst County and stayed, this time, for 22 years. During that time I got married in 1958 and we had three children, all three are products of the Amherst County system. We were very fortunate, the oldest one graduated from Lynchburg College, the middle one, the boy, graduated from James Madison and the youngest one, Holly, graduated from Radford, so, they are all gainfully employed and have passed me in any salary that I ever made in education.
Q: During that 22 years since you came back from Lynchburg College, what did you do during that time? What were your positions?
A: Okay. In Knox County, I was a Health and Physical Education Teacher and I assisted in coaching baseball. And when I came to Holy Cross, I taught seventh grade History, 9th grade History, was Athletic Director, coached Soccer and basketball. In Amherst County, I taught that one year a combination of 6th and 7th grade - 43 students, 13 seventh graders and 30 sixth graders and I was also the building principal. At Lynchburg College, I was the Associate Director of Admissions. My responsibility was coordinating the travel schedules of six counselors. I also worked with transfer students, which was one of my main responsibilities there. Then, I came to Amherst County as a principal of elementary education, K-3. I was there two years, transferred to Elon. In the beginning it was a K-7 situation, then we gradually transferred students from seventh grade to sixth grade to Monelison. It was somewhere at that point, we went to a middle school philosophy. After being at Elon for 13 years, I wanted to move up a little bit, so I applied for the position of assistant principal at (at that time was) Amherst Junior High School, which had grades seven, eight and nine. And shortly thereafter, while we revised some things, it was fifth, sixth and seventh and I was the assistant principal there. I worked under two administrators. And then from there, I went into the world of unemployment as a retiree.
Q: The questions that I am going to ask for the next few minutes, I want you to answer those in the sense of being principal at Elon and the K-3, that was at Central Elementary and also at the time of your first stint at Elon before you went back to Lynchburg College. These questions I would like for you to answer as principal or as you remember being principal in those situations.
Q: Describe for me as you walk us through your school, describing its appearance and any unusual features of the building at Elon Elementary.
A: Elon Elementary School was the last of the wooden-framed buildings constructed somewhere in the 1920s, somewhere in that period of time. The heating system consisted of what we always called in the old days a pot-bellied stove in each room. Then, there was an oil furnace that was used. It was very, very primitive. In fact it only had in door plumbing for about the last two years of its existence. I was the last principal in that school. Because of the facilities, let me back up a little bit. Elon, at one time, was a high school and somewhere in the 1940s, the Amherst County (Board) closed certain schools or let them exist until the student would get to the seventh or eighth grade and then half of them in a certain area would transfer up to Amherst High School and the others would transfer to Madison Heights High School. The playground was somewhat primitive, it consisted of a small sandy area. The outfield for baseball was in a peach orchard. When the wind blew, gentlemen, this is no exaggeration, when the wind blew the old pull-down shades would tend to level off with the floor and so, we had some of the seventh grade boys to go into the rooms and nail those shades to the framing. And at that point it resembled the sails of a sailboat and in the winter time, it was very, very cold. We wore the coats that we wore to school. We did not have enough rooms for a grade per room. So, we did have a combination of sixth and seventh grades. However, an interesting thing about that community, Amelon Elementary School, which was just a few short miles from away, had a vacant room and had a teacher ready to teach. No one from Elon wanted to transfer - no seventh graders or sixth graders; they did not want to do it, they were going to go for it at Elon come high water and...the new facility was being constructed during my last year at Elon. It was interesting because the superintendent came up and said, 'Flowers, why are your going to leave us. We got these new facilities here and it is going to be great.' I never will forget, I said, Mr. Fulcher, if facilities had anything to do with it, I wouldn't have come up here in the first place. There is a portrait of the school painted by a former student that hangs in the principal's office that's quite interesting. J. B. Hamilton did that. That probably takes care of the school itself. Do you want me to move on to the next.....And if there's anything about Elon, you went there, so if I left it out, hit me with it.
Q: The only thing about the building, before we move on, do you remember the partition that was basically put in that took up some of the cafeteria space to make an additional classroom?
A: Inasmuch as this had been a high school, it did have a cafeteria and a stage and I think the original curtains are still there. In order to make room and add another classroom, this still left us one short now, they put a beaver board partition in that, they just cut off part of the cafeteria. Therefore, students at lunch time, some of them could eat in the cafeteria and some classes, they would eat in their classroom. I think we had a second grade in there. I would have to say and I think the teachers would be responsible for this, but quietness during the day was really of the utmost importance as it is today, but even then with those walls and you could see a little daylight through them, the outside walls and so on, and those kids were very good. There were times when we would let them let off some steam and they did, but by and large, they were no discipline problems there.
Q: Tell me, how did you learn to be a leader. How did you learn to lead?
A: Well, I think basically, this may be true in a lot of areas, I always felt...I always was a little competitive and playgrounds force things out of you. It was just in me. I wanted....I didn't have to be the captain, but when I got up there I wanted a base hit and I wanted it bad. And I think that really it's whatever efforts I had or whatever I did would do the very best that I could. And in some instances, do it as quickly as I could. I've always felt that if you do that in your work, job, whatever you do, you will be noticed, you'll be discovered. And then, of course, we know as we got into the leadership phase, there was always someone there to assist, maybe even question. And I think as the years go by, you pick up more things, and maybe don't want to admit it, but we do become eclectic, you know, borrow a little bit from this fella over here and this one over here. And I think it goes to the problem.... and I say this, I carried that with me for many years and I still do. I'm an ex-marine and I used to have people come by and say, 'Hey, I'm getting ready to go into the Marine Corps. What is the best thing I can do? What is the best approach? What do I do?' I'd say, When you go in, you do what they tell you to do, and you do it as quickly as you can and you keep your mouth shut. And that's a little bit of the thinking that I had. I went into the Marine Corps with that in mind. I, uh....in Boot Camp, the platoons were big and we had about 85 or 90 in there and I came out of there with the leading recruit for that platoon...mainly by every time I was told to something, I ran and all the others did it, too. However, I was lucky, I got that. On the rifle range, it was a little different, I had been around weapons before and I topped the expert in that... but it came from doing what I needed to do and to do it the best I can.
Q: Where did you get that work ethic from?
A: I guess my father. He was born and raised on a farm; his family was very poor. He was one of the most hard working persons I ever knew. He would work away during the week and come in on weekends and then we would do the garden. And it wasn't 'Hey, I want you to do this while I go over and do this. He was there with you...and that gets into leadership, which we will get into later on. But he was 6'7 (tall) and weighed 280 and he worked hard and he always finished what he started: never left anything undone that I know. I think that's where it started.
Q: When you went back to school, do you feel or do you believe that your graduate education helped to contribute to your progress as a principal - the classes that you took?
A: Graduate or Undergraduate work?
Q: Graduate work, or either. Did those classes contribute to making you an effective leader and an effective principal?
A: I think so. I have a Liberal Arts background with a major in...actually a B.S. Yes. I think athletics would have something to do with that because I was captain of the baseball team and there were several instances I had to take the team on a couple of trips and there's a leadership responsibility there also. When I came back to college to finish up after being in the military and I knew a little something about an old coaching philosophy: sometimes you have to know who to pat on the back and who to kick in the back. Now we're speaking figuratively, but nevertheless, there's a little bit more power in what you do to some than to others. In graduate school, the classes, the way that reports, organization... when you do a report, if you can't organize it or if you have great difficulty in organizing, graduate school has a way of ironing those things out. I think it's....I'm not the greatest report writer, but I got them in.
Q: It has been said that good leaders encourage their subordinates and peers by staging celebrations of their successes no matter how small or how insignificant. To what extent did you engage in this practice during your tenure as principal and to what extent did it improve moral or the effectiveness of the school?
A: This is something, that if I understand the question correctly, this is something that I used to depend on teachers for recommendations and advice. I think personally, that we can go too far in rewarding. If you reward for everything, then it becomes so automatic and so part of things that we lose sight of some things. I never turned a teacher down if she said....if she wanted to reward kids for this or that. I don't ever recall turning them down, but they did know that on my thinking, I made it clear, you know, we don't want to celebrate this because today is Wednesday or Thursday, or whatever it is. I did not mind...I think sometimes we have lost the art of verbally thanking a child or a little extra pat on the back. You got to watch out, you can't hardly do that any more. I have felt that children can be rewarded by walking down the hall and speaking to them. I spoke to every child. If they were going in the opposite direction, you know, if it was just one of them, I would call him old timer; Hey old-timer, How you doing; or Hey, sport? If it was a group, you know, I'd say Hi, gang. And it got to the point, where they would speak and sometimes I would stop and turn around and one boy would turn around and say 'Hay, he called me 'sport'. Well, that is a small thing in a way, but he told his mother and she liked that. So, it's life, it's people and there are some kids that don't get rewards. I've tried to always to build on the fact that memories are rewards - the good memories - the reward that you take with you.
Q: What about staff? Rewarding staff - the pat on the back or in some way encouraging your staff. How did you handle that?
A: Occasionally by letter or a simple good job. And I think it's the way you say it. If you say good work and turn away right quick and go on, you got to look at them, you got to face that person and say you did a good job on that. The Thank You along with that let's them know that's it's coming from the heart. I've recognized people at faculty meetings for certain things that they've done. I will tell you this; it might be a little bit off. We awarded the principal of Amherst Middle School, Mr. Lee Paris. When we went to middle school thinking philosophy, we stopped using bells. So, I was just in the middle school a couple years, but yet I knew I could go to a guy in the Shop, and I said I want a wooden plaque and I diagramed it for him. I went to a lady in Art and I said this is what I want on the plaque and we're going to give this to the principal at a special faculty meeting. And really what it was, it was the No Bell peace award. He still has it hanging in his central office, I believe. He is now an associate superintendent of Amherst County. But, yes, we have to have rewards, it's an every day thing, but you just have to be careful.
Q: Discuss the way in which you were chosen for your first administrative role.
A: Well, I must say you might classify it as pure luck or I don't want to say it's who you know; it wasn't that. I was doing graduate work at the University of Tennessee and as part of my thesis I wanted to measure all playgrounds in Amherst County and set up a program for them. So, I went to the superintendent of Amherst County and asked him if I could do that. It started out as a project and the superintendent, mind you, was my high school principal, so he said 'okay', so I went on back to Knoxville with that in mind and I get call from him and he says, 'Look, the board has voted to create a position as supervisor of Physical Education. How about doing that?' I said, that's fine, great. I could still do the other what I wanted to do. Well, I came home at the end of the year and they had a resignation at Elon, it was not hard to resign. So he called me out and said, 'Bobby, how would you like to be the new principal up at Elon? And I never made a decision like that right then, I always at least took one night and I called him early the next morning and I said I'd like to do it. That is how I got into it.
Q: Some writers recommend that principals adjust their leadership styles to meet the individual needs of their staff. How do you feel about that idea and to what extent did you practice individualized leadership?
A: Well, first of all, if you go in and you start adjusting to the styles of everybody in the room, you are going to have to do a lot of compromising within your self probably. I am not saying that it's good and I'm not saying that is bad either. I think you may curb some of your thinking in certain areas. But then......please give me the question again.
Q: To paraphrase, Did you adjust to your teachers or did your teachers adjust to you?
A: I figure it was both. It definitely was. That thirteen year stint at Elon....I followed a principal who was very, very strict. I'll give you an example. He only used one person to substitute in the whole building and that is just one thing. I realized that when I got there, these teachers were afraid. They would come to me and ask me, Can I do this or Can I do that? The first thing I told them at the time was that continue on as they have in the past. I'm not going to come in here and make any changes. They were asking me if I was going to make any changes and I said No, wait a minute. I said, For me to do my job, I've got to know what you are doing now. I've got to know what is taking place now, then possibly some changes would take place. And one of the things that I did, I said there's a substitute teacher list. You (teachers) can either call me and I will get you a substitute or you can call your own until such time that a substitute is not satisfactory. And whenever I find that they are not doing their job as substitute as it should be done, then I will ask you not to call that person again and go ahead and call some others. So, I was adjusting to them. They were adjusting to me. They knew my little pet peeves, things that I did, they knew what I expected and that's what I got. As we got in to it....if I'm getting into another question, stop me, ....we talked on leadership and really that's what we are talking about now. To me, I think the best...the first thing in leadership is you lead and you cannot lead from the rear ranks. You just can't. You got to be out there, you got to be visible, they got to see you. Bus duty...I pulled bus duty every day with the teachers. If there was bus duty teacher out there, I was out there with them. But they understood they would go through the mechanics of it because I couldn't be there all the time. And in the afternoon...they knew that they had to visibly walk down the front of those buses and check and make sure the doors were closed and if they did that, they would wave that bus out. You don't just go back and wave them all out, because that's the way I want it and it would have to be just like that. And on occasion I would say, Are you getting tired today or something? I didn't see you wave those buses out. They would laugh, you know, they'd say, 'Well, you can catch me next time' or something like that. Tying in with that, I think there's..... always talking about the principal being a instructional leader - yes, they have to be. How much of the program is instruction? If you don't know the techniques of teaching and the ways of working with children and all the facets that go in to instruction, you may now have to know all the material that everybody teaches, but you ought to know how to present it and you ought to know if the teaching and the learning process is taking place and that is the one thing you can ask yourself when coming out of the classroom. Teachers teaching. Are they learning? Yes. Okay. Then later on you can say, What was the quality of the learning? Then, you may have to turn right around and go back in there. When you do that, then they cannot say to you or to each other, He's been out of the classroom too long. If you are in there with them, I think it is good to take a class every once in a while. Walk in and ask the teacher What are you doing tomorrow in math? Well, we're going to be doing this. I'd say, Okay. Let me take it. Do you see a problem with it? They'd say, 'No'. 'What do you want me to do? I want you to observe me. If I goof, we're going to talk about it and I'm going to ask him, Was I strong enough in this?, Did I get this across or whatever?. You got to do it. There is no substitute for it. Leadership is.... some people say you are born with it, I don't if you are or not, you can't be born with everything. You got to acquire something and...but you know that goes back to...there is a lot of famous people in the military; Patton led, Pullar led. There's a thing that you pick up in your leadership that may not sound so much like leadership, but I think it is. And I think this helps parents, it help children, it helps teachers. But you should never counsel with your fears at night and we all know that. Things look worse at night. I have told many a child...I started with the PTA, and I said, If your child has a problem a night, and you're having problems dealing with it... that Ms. So-and-So, a teacher said this, or Mr. Flowers said that, I said, pick up that phone and call me. I said I don't care what it is.' And I talk with many of them. And I say, Buddy, don't you worry about it; I don't how we will work this out, but we will talk about this in the morning. And the first thing in the morning, you know, I'd catch up with the teachers and say I got a call last night, talk to me, tell me about it. But the main thing was that the child could go to sleep; that was the immediate objective right there; get that child settled down so that the next day...the moment the problem occurs, the next day it's not near as bad as it was that day it happened.
Q: One model of leadership describes people as being assertive, supportive or contemplative? Which would best describe you? Assertive, supportive or contemplative? I would describe assertive as being out there large and in charge, supportive as being How can I help you and contemplative as kind of sitting back, watching and looking and kind of thinking about....
A: In toto, my answer would be none of the above. You got to do it all. You've got to have some characteristics of each of those. You can't.....I can give you an example...I 've only raised my voice one time at parents and it was in a middle school situation and they were really giving a bus driver a verbal going over and I came by. I heard it. I asked them to come into the office. They (parents) were bringing charges against the school for....I guess, the driver actually, for berating their son, who the driver said opened an emergency door while the bus was moving and the boy denied it and we got into the conference, the director of transportation came over and when we started out, I tried to lay the ground work, I said we are here to discuss as best we can what has happened. 'Who said what?' 'Who did what?' Every time I got going, this guy...would never sit down...he would rattle off at the mouth at the point where I just jumped up and ran around on the other side of the desk and I said, Sir, if you cannot control yourself, I will terminate this conference right now until such time as you can come back in and we can discuss it. Well, finally, he left. We got through it and I told him I need to talk with the boy and I will, so I talked with him. I asked him point blank, Did you open that door? He said he accidentally did it. I said Okay, and......he did open the door. I was very supportive of that driver and I had them all to come back in and I said I think this driver needs to be commended. I will place a letter to the superintendent with a copy in her personal file folder and I said...I told them about the boy, about the talk I had with him and emphasized safety things and had him to do some writing, you know. And then I looked at them and I said, If I had it in power, you all would be suspended. But anyway, there is an example of that. Obviously, you got some things going on at school and sometimes that would need some aggressiveness like breaking up a fight. For example, if I see the boys down the hall, I used to yell Break it up very loud. Most of the time they stopped. So there's getting a little loud and being assertive. When you contemplate, you think may be there's a problem, but you're not sure. For example, I've been in classrooms where the teacher was doing something and it just didn't jive with me. And when we talked about it later, I said, Look, you...let me just tell you. I said, Looks to me like there ought to be a better way, but right now I don't know of a better way, so what I would like for you to do, you think about it, and I'm going to think about it, and let's see if there is a better way. It might come out that this is the best way, but there is just something about it. You know men have intuition also and may be there would be a change and maybe not. I had another situation where I was a little assertive. I had a man to call and said, 'Nobody is going to treat my child the way you treat him'. So, I got him to come in. He and I talked. He said, 'He just doesn't want to come to school' and he lived within a stone's throw of the school. I said, Has anything happened? Obviously no bus driver has done anything to him. Is anybody picking on him? 'No.' I said , Let's get him in here. So we brought the boy in and then I brought the teacher in and we couldn't find anything that was taking place that was causing the problem. And of course the man said, 'Something is, somebody up here is.' I said, Alright. I said, Give me a couple of weeks and in two weeks if you don't hear from me, then you'll know that we're doing okay. And if you want to call me in two weeks, fine. If something happens between now and two weeks, I said, you call me. So, I called the teacher and she was a veteran teacher and she knew what I was going to say. I said, Listen, we don't know why this boy doesn't want to come to school, but his dad says he doesn't want to come to school. Now we can't blame it on the parents and we can't blame it on me, we can't blame it on other children and we cannot blame it on you. Understand that, but I want you to put some special emphasis, in thinking and action and see...do what you need to do to make this boy like school. Now that's a heck of a thing to say to a teacher when everybody is in the dark, but I said, A little extra smile, don't gush....but a little smile, a little chore...a little something. He walks to school, do you have something special that maybe a little boy would like to do and I said, Let's go by that and I want you to monitor; now you can't count the number of smiles during the day, but I want you to write a little paragraph summarizing the day. We never heard any more about it, but it was that veteran teacher that, that's who it was. So, I think I've given an example, maybe, of all three and sometimes you just have to take a second to think about something and mull it over a little bit and at the end you might to get a little aggressive with it.
Q: How did you view the role of principal as a power position? Did you share the power? Did you keep it to yourself? Did you give it to others?
A: With all due respect to superintendents, I think that the principal's job by being a principal is the best position in education.
Q: Why is that?
A: You got all of everything...if you like to teach, if you are a good teacher and you like to teach, there's nothing that says a principal can't go in and teach when he needs to. You can do all that. You can lead if you want to do the revels in leadership; it's there for you. If you are a people person, my Lord, there it is right there....parents, patrons, staff, supportive staff, faculty...all of them. If you like to do that, you can do that. You have the power or whatever as long as it is not misused, you can take a day of a student's life or a day from their working, whether it be in-school suspension...you have the authority to do that, but I am in an area, where I never relished suspensions. The only way I felt good about it is if it was justified and I never lost an appeal. I had...never lost one and my objective after that was to try and get back with the parents and work with them a little bit closer and whatever feelings of animosity they might have would be erased with time. I told the superintendent that one time and he said, 'Boy, I can breathe now; I don't have to worry about you being interested in coming to central office and getting my job.'
Q: There are those who argue that more than not central office policies hinder rather than help building level administrators in carrying out their responsibilities. What are your views on this issue?
A: Central office policies...central office has the view of the entire system..that is their job to establish policies and procedures. I have always been a practitioner and my job is to carry them out. Now, we, the principals used to joke a little bit when we would go to a principal's meeting and always say I'm turning in one report and picked up three more and we'd laugh about it. But you know somehow those reports got in and we really didn't express too many concerns over that part of it unless it was creating a hardship on teachers that certain paperwork and things that fell on their shoulders to do and we tried to arrange some time for them to work on that. I don't know as I ever felt that anything was really unnecessary. When you turn the thing around and it is something that has to be done, and if you can look at it from that standpoint and maybe put your feet in the shoes of the top echelon. I would imagine that would be a heck of a position to be in. But then you try to look at it from that side of it. Sometimes, you know, if your superintendent is approachable, you know, say...Russell Watson, our superintendent, he was great, and you could call him personally and say, Russ, how much more we got...you know you could let him know that way and if he said I'm doing the best I can, buddy, that was good enough! In a job, in any job, there is still the word faith' and confidence. And if you don't have that in the system that you're in and if, individually, you don't feel that, you either say and keep your mouth shut or leave.
Q: If you were king, what changes would you make in the typical system-wide organization? How would you improve administrative efficiency if you could do whatever you wanted to do, what would it be?
A: I guess everybody is thrown a curve ball once in a while and I think that is just what you did to me. I say it jokingly, of course, but.....in talking about a king, obviously there is a throne and I think, maybe, the first thing we'd do is cut out a little bit of the height of the throne, so that you could still be king, but not Lord God Almighty. And if you can keep that separate and then learn...if you just received this position, just went into it, learn about everything about what's going on....consult princesses, princes, barons, earls, and so on and consult. If you're going to lead something like this, you got to prepare the followers and you still haven't lost any position you're ever in...you got to come down to earth to deal...if you don't, you're going to be going one way and everybody else will either stop or they will head off in another direction.
Q: Just to editorialize for just one second, that is why we were given this assignment because you did just that when you were may principal and I think that is one of the reasons that caused me to have such fond memories of that time period and I want to take the opportunity to.....
A: Thank you.
Q: Did you ever face teacher dismissal or were involved in teacher improvement plans. Were you ever involved in that type of situation?
A: Teacher dismissal....only once and I was part of that...we had a band director who did not want to form a Booster Club and we ran the whole gambit with him and I was the one who made the observations and made the recommendation to the principal. I was assistant principal, so the principal actually had to do it, but I was involved in that. There was one other situation where I felt that a teacher had a very, very rough year and it was my first year in that school and in one of our conferences at the end of the year...she was not facing dismissal, but she made the comment...she said, 'I sometimes think maybe that I need to get away from this a little bit, take a leave of absence.' We talked about it and I called the superintendent right after the conversation to make sure that I was on the same wave length where he would be on the same wave length with me. So, then I was in the position to go back to her and I said, Look, if you want a leave of absence for a year, I've been authorized to say to you that the system will do that and your position will be here at the end of that year and she thought about if for a couple of days and she said I want to do it. She took that year and she never came back. So, in essence, we counseled her into that. She gave us the lead on it and we followed up. On dismissal, that is the only thing that I've had. I've had to along the way maybe write some letters that were very forceful, but these things, were in my opinion, thing that were very gross. We had a superintendent, I just mentioned his name a while ago...he always told us at principals' meetings, he said, 'you know I will support you, I'm with you, okay?' But he also said, 'but I cannot and will not defend stupidity.' I always remembered that because those words...I've passed them right on to faculty. We talked about it one day and I said hey, I got another one for you, I want you to remember this and I said our superintendent says this to us administrators and then I said I'm passing it down to you....I do not feel I have to defend stupidity. But, if I did, I would have worked with it some way, but it never happened, so I never had to worry about that. Now, teacher improvement. I never established any major program as far as teacher improvement. The way that I worked with teachers I think would lend to that. For example, they knew that I wasn't the kind to walk the halls and constantly look over their shoulder. I would tell them, You know, look, you've gone through a lot to get your degree. Now that doesn't mean you look in the mirror and say I've got it made. But it means you look in the mirror and say. 'Alright, I'm ready for the first step,' and I will help you and I will work with you. If you have a problem with a parent or if you anticipate with a problem with PTA, I said let me know and I will come in and sit in there with you, but I said remember this, you know your class better than anybody else. You know that material that you're presenting to them better than anybody else. You know their capabilities, so when you start out with that conference, you know you're in charge. That doesn't mean you're not going to give them a chance to talk; that means you're going to talk first and then you take their questions, because when you talk first you may tell them something they didn't know about their child and they may say, well, I didn't get that. That kind of levels thing off and you can start off on the same terrain. In discipline, they (the teachers) handle most of the discipline. You may make a suggestion to them and I tell them, anything you are getting ready to change a little bit from what you ordinarily do, just let me know. Put a note in my box and let me know. It doesn't mean I'm going to come in there and have a big conference. I want to know what is going on. I told them (the teachers), I also know that the principals aren't expected to know everything that goes on, but I think individually as you go out...I didn't....I also I don't believe in turning them loose. Sometimes you can monitor without it being known. I'm not just talking about listening in on the intercom. If I can't find out anything that is going wrong without listening in on the intercom, then I got a problem. I have a military adage that has stayed with me for many, many years. I think it can apply to education and that's this, Whatever I do, I do according to the terrain and the situation. Now you think about that. If you got an irate parent coming in on the one hand and you got another one coming in that is not irate, but has as strong a concern as that one, the situation is a little different; the terrain is a little different. It's more rockier than the other. You take that and keep it with you because there's not too many days go by you don't need that. Every decision you make, you make it on the merit of what's happening, what's taking place. There's your terrain and your situation.
Q: What characteristics are associated with the most effective schools? And what features characterize less successful schools? What makes a good school good and a bad school bad, if there is such a way of characterizing it?
A: Well, I guess you'd have to think about what do we really look for the first time that we walk into a school building? Now, here we are, we got experience. Do we have any certain thing that comes to mind or do walk in there and things kind of present themselves. You know you can walk in there and while you are there you can stand in the hall and the classes change and then you listen to the noise and there's got to be some noise. If you don't hear it, there's something wrong with the children. You look in doorways, up and down the hall, you see faculty standing in the doorway or out in the hall. Now if the children are moving and some talking or some noise and you got all the faculty out there, they are not just doing that for me because I'm visiting, they have been doing that every day. Some people want to look at test scores and I hate to even mention that. Obviously, you have to do everything that you can to get material techniques of testing and all of that, but you can't look at those test scores and say this is a good or this is not a good school. You really got to get in there and mix with it on that but you can't evaluate a school, I don't think, on test scores. The only way.....you know parents have a good way of evaluating schools. We know the only real way of doing it, is to get in there with them. Get right in there...you got to know the teachers. If I were to come in to your school I would get some inclination, I'm sure, in the very beginning, just being there just half day or a day. I would get some information as to how the school is run. A lot of people look at the central office..I mean your general office in your school building and every time you go by, you look in there and you see a lot of people in there and one of the things that would help me a lot is why are they in there? Now if you see a teacher go in once in a while and out, nobody visiting with the secretary, that gives me a good positive feeling. Bus duty: I feel real good if I see kids getting kids off buses out there and bus duty people speaking to them, not just talking to them. Same thing in the afternoon. These are small things and I'm sure there are may be some other major things that people are more learned than I am would look for and be aware, but in the beginning, I think the little thing here like the bus duty, the office and the conduct of students....you got rowdy students, you know, and it's prevalent and it's there and if things aren't done, you got a bad situation. You have, if you're not working on it and sometimes you can't jump in there and grab the whole thing at one time, you have to go by parts.
Q: What would you describe as some of the pressures you faced on a daily basis and how did you cope with them?
A: Most of the pressures that I faced had to do with patrons. I heard one guy say, you know what, if it wasn't for all these patrons, we could really get the job done. I said if you didn't have the patrons, you wouldn't have the children. I have through the years been in different various communities and there are some through the PTA who want to run your school. For example, I had one lady, she was in drama and wanted to store all of her drama costumes in the school building and these dramas were adult dramas. I did not have the room. In no way....you know, we are supposed to be creative, but in no way, could I create what to do and how to do it. Most of the time you can't. I could not. And I had to decline. Well, the lady felt strong about it and went to the superintendent. He came out and said, 'Bob, I got more important things to do than this. But just for the record, let me see your storage area and what you got. At that particular time, we were crowded. I had a class on the stage and he knew that. He said, 'Don't worry about it', and walked on out. So, he handled that. The big thing over playground equipment...they conducted a survey without my knowledge and they wanted all this playground equipment outside. Well, what I did and I don't recommend this to every body, but what I did... we talked about it at a faculty meeting and we decided what we needed and up until that year, that is what we always did. We made a list and presented it to the PTA and they started at the top and went as far they could. Well, we....that night at the meeting, I said ladies and gentlemen, historically this is what we have done...I was not aware of your survey until just recently, but to get total input, I think you need input from the faculty and we presented it. There was a floor fight - a good one, but the patrons supported the school. It united some of them. It turned out right now to be the strongest community in this county. These were the common things that would crop up in your deal, but I guess you would just call it normal standard operating procedures, whatever. It happens. You are always going to have two or three things like that plus a problem with a child, it all goes into the day. If you ever go to school without a problem and leave without one, maybe you can put that crown on your head.
Q: What was the key to your success as principal?
A: First of all, you might have to measure that word, success. What is it? I think success is how a person feels; they may be successful and may be got a raise. They may feel good about what they do. I have said this many times that I am a people person. I have always enjoyed being in groups of people working with committees, you know, since a child, playing sports...the more people that I....I didn't go out seeking people, per se, like to day I am going to make five new friends or something like that. But as I went through life, I began to meet a lot of fine people and established some associations, friendships with them. My family has always laughed at me. When the kids were little and growing up, my wife would get me to go to the store to get some groceries or whatever, and I would be gone for two or three hours and they would always say, 'Mom, why is it that dad is always so long getting groceries. She said, well, he either met somebody he went to school with or somebody he played ball with. I'm not saying I have met every kind of person that there is, I don't know. I don't know how many kinds there are. I have never even though about, but I have always tried if I was working with people and if there was problem...you know there is some people who could tell you to go to hell and you don't mind it...well, I wouldn't say I'd go that far, but I know that if I have to make a decision that is going to work against that person or something they don't want, not only do I see that decision, but I see their child remaining in the school and that person is still going to be a patron. I want to do it in such a manner that...let's say it's discipline...I want to do it in such a manner, that they will understand that it's discipline that's coming from me and this is the way that I see it. But, I also would like for them to leave with the feeling, okay, I still don't like it, but in other words, I didn't say anything or do anything that would give them ammunition to build their anger up even greater than what it already was. Now, there was a time when a man at Elon School...when I disciplined his son. He called me and told he was going to come up there and work me over and I said well, sir, come on up and let us talk and we did. We talked about two hours. When it was over with, he said you told me some things that I didn't know about, and I said, Well, sir, I didn't think you did. He said, 'You should have killed him' and I said, Well, I could have only went so far and the rest of it I'll leave that up to you. But, I guess I would have to say that liking people has really helped me along the way.
Q: Can you tell me in your administrative career, one thing that you consider to be...that has been your most successful and maybe one area that you wish you had done something differently than what you did; your strengths and weaknesses.
A: I always felt that the administrative work, reports and things like that...I always felt they were important. All of them had deadlines attached which we have to do. Mine were not always turned in on time. If I was in the process of doing something and something else came up, a school matter, or whatever, then I would do the other, so I guess that's probably the scourge of the superintendent, who has someone out there that sometimes might act like he doesn't give a damn about whether those reports come in or not, but mine were not always on time. Now, the assistant superintendent would say sometimes, he'd say, 'Now, Bob, you're probably going to get this in on time, but...you gotta...this one is big, boy, big. I'd get it in on time. I tried devoting all my working day to the kids and teachers and doing reports after school. I found out that wasn't right for me. But as I approached retirement, I did do a little better. I started writing down schedules for doing things, which I was prone to do some, but not really. I guess it's in the organization...now there's some other things in the organizations...I think some of the things that I felt good about...when we scheduled each year. One time we had a real tough situation where we had to...we had to combine some third graders with fourth grade...15 of them to be exact and we had to double up some teaching schedules in there so that these 15 third graders were going to be in there with the fourth grade. And we had the community down on us. We had the auditorium packed and they opposed to it, but we had an out. There was another school that they could transfer to, if they wanted to; they still didn't like it. Anyway, we did it. And the way I approached that, I felt pretty good about it. It's the way I approach most scheduling. I got the teachers who would be doing it. I said this is what we got to do and I had an outline more or less of how many children were involved and I said let's do the scheduling and I am going to lean on you and then when we get to a point, then I might have to make some tough decisions one way or the other. But, basically, I want to do this is as closely as I can to suit what you would like. They sat down and according to the assistant superintendent, wrote out one of the best, most beautiful schedules he had ever looked at. I felt good about that. There were sometimes honestly when I had to make some schedules and do some other things. And in working with the teachers there were other times when I told them, I said, there are times when I am going to make the decision and I am not going to consult with you. I said you need to know that. Everybody's got to have an out somewhere and I am going to tell you that. When that time comes, I want you to bear with me. That is when I will be very silently saying to you I need your support, I need your help. I usually got it... I usually got it. We might review it and make some changes, if it's one of those kind of decisions, but you are probably aware if this, the things you get to work on and have a voice in it, you tend to feel a little bit better than if it's crammed down your throat. But, when the crying time comes, you open wide and take it.
Q: Is there anything that I should have asked, that you would want to give some advice on, in terms of leadership and principalship, some parting words, a summary of your career regarding leadership and principalship?
A: I can't think of anything specific...you know. As I look back, if I had it all to go over with again I believe I would basically do the same thing. I might try to brush up on getting the reports in. And let me say this, you know, that is something that is really, very important. You know, superintendents have so many ways, so many different ways of evaluating their personnel. But then there is also a lot of time...the superintendent is out of your building a lot more than he is in your building. The percentage would be very small. That would be with any of them. So, the impressions that he gets from his principals and others is he can count on getting those reports in on time. If he gets them in on time, he doesn't have to worry about I'm not going to get them, and have to call out there or whatever. I didn't have that to do with so much, but I would say that the expression, Treat every person not in fear, but treat every person as if it's not the last time you'll ever speak to them, that there will be many, many more times in which you leave with them, you can pick up and extend the next time. Give maintenance people, cafeteria people and the others, give them your attention when the time is there. You want to be the kind of building principal that when you call and ask for maintenance, it is something that you really need - an emergency or near emergency or whatever. When you get that reputation, man, they'll be there. I felt good about that, that when I called I got... I always though the instructional supervisors and I've been fortunate to work some good ones, and maybe one or two of them have forgotten more than I have ever learned, I will be straight with you. And when there is a situation in a classroom, don't be reluctant to call that person. Because that person is going...she is working for you, they are working for you and get them in there and say, This is what I got. I had a problem in the classroom the other day, I observed a teacher...I'm not going to tell you what the problem was, but I observed that teacher, I told her I was coming in and I also told her I was going to watch her and I also told her I was going to invite you to come in. I didn't tell her when. I want you to go in there and then let's talk. Can you do that? They would, they would come in and, you know we would start talking about some things and first thing you know, they hit on what I had seen and then there were other times, when they did not, so.... You know, we all have a lot of pride and it's alright to compete, but if you're doing something in your school that has enhanced test scores in certain subject areas, you got materials, then share it. Bring it up in a principal's meeting or when they look at the results of a test score...'Flowers, how did you get up so high on that?' Don't mind telling them because you are a school person, you want your school to be the best, but not too far from that you're a system's person. And if you can do something to contribute to the entire system, and I know you would.
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