This is an interview with Dr. John William Frossard, current position is Assistant Superintendent for High School Education in the Virginia Beach City Public Schools.
| Back to "F" Interviews | Index of Interviews | Protocol | Home |
Q: We are going to start by allowing Dr. Frossard to give us some background information about himself, where he grew up, even all the way back to high school, his college days - bachelor, undergrad, carrying on through to the advanced degrees.
A: Okay, I was born in Denver, Colorado. I am the son of a retired school superintendent who was also a college professor at various times. I've lived in Colorado, Michigan, Florida, and Virginia and spent most of my life in Virginia. I have a bachelor of Science in Business Administration from Virginia Commonwealth University and spent the first three years of my career in banking as a bank auditor before entering the field of education. When I entered the field of education as a teacher, I taught business education primarily accounting and data processing at Fauquier High School. While at Fauquier High School, I pursued a masters of education in secondary education with a specialization in the instructional application of microcomputers. Also, while at Fauquier High School, I began a doctoral program in administration and supervision at the University of Virginia. While in that program, I was hired as an Assistant Principal at Stafford County and I guess to back track, I spent 4 1/2 years as a teacher at Fauquier and also taught in the adult education program at night and at the local community college. When I got to Stafford, I spent 3 1/2 years as an Assistant Principal and continued with the doctoral program and left Stafford High School to go to Frederick County in the Winchester area. I spent one year at James Wood High School. James Wood High School had a split campus high school so I went to James Wood as the principal of the 9th and l0th grade campus. At the end of that time, I completed the doctorate and was appointed the principal of the new high school in Frederick County -- Sherando High School. So I spent a year planning for the opening of the high school and then stayed there, continued with that school through approximately another three school years. I'm doing this from memory -- I left Frederick County to -- for two reasons -- one to open another high school, a high technology high school in Newport News -- Heritage High School which had several magnet components, but one which was of special interest -- that was an engineering and tech magnet. I also came to Newport News originally to work with Dr. Eric Smith, Superintendent, who is now the superintendent in Charlotte/Mechlenberg which is the 28th largest system in the country. When I opened Heritage, Heritage was on a tighter timeline than Frederick County so I had basically a half of a year to plan for the opening of that school which was really difficult but having had previous experience opening a high school it wasn't as bad as I guess it could have been. About 6 months after I got to Newport News, Dr. Smith left for Charlotte/Mechlenberg. So, I talked to him about possible career opportunities in Charlotte, but we were both of the mind that I needed to see that school through to the opening and get them on a solid foundation and that kind of thing. So after that happened, I was kind of looking towards Charlotte but an opportunity opened up in Virginia Beach and that is my present assignment which you've already heard about.
Q: Okay thanks. Originally, you started your career out in banking -- what made you decide to quit the business world and go into the teaching profession -- originally.
A: Well, I probably have to work at it backwards -- The more appropriate question is probably what made me go into business. When I came out of high school, I wanted to be a teacher -- I wanted to be a math teacher and obviously I had a family background in education and it was a strong interest of mine. I'd been going to school board meetings since I was 5-6 years old. But, my calculus teacher in high school talked me out of teaching and said that I was too intelligent and I ought to go into business. So I get a couple years into business school and really didn't like it - not that I wasn't interested in it but I knew it wasn't what I wanted to do for the next 40 years. So I went over to the school of education and talked to those folks and they basically told me it was going to add another year and a half to my college career and I would have to take a number of courses, student teach, and that kind of thing. So I said, "Well, I maybe just better try out the business world". So I went into banking. I started working part-time and was basically then offered full-time work while I was still in college -- so I didn't work in the audit division right away. I was working full-time at night my senior year of college basically doing the reconciliation of the account that the bank had with the Federal Reserve -- so it was like a $200,000,000 nightly reconciliation and as soon as I completed the degree then I was hired to move to the audit division. But, I didn't like it -- it was negative work in that in banking the auditors have a little more power than they do maybe in a large school system. And by that I mean your report on a department and on individuals could impact their salary and future employment and raises and things like that. So it was negative in that respect in that these folks really didn't enjoy seeing you walk into the department. So I had been through a cycle of audits and I was into my second year of that and doing the second round of audits and that kind of thing and I was talking to somebody and they said "you know if you wanted to get into education -- there might be another way to do it if you have a lot of background in technology" -- and I had quite a few business courses that were computer related. But, I started taking some additional courses in the evening -- computer courses, primarily programming -- the big language back then was COBOL. So I took some COBOL and some systems, systems analysis and design and those types of courses and then just out of the blue one day I got a call. I had a message on my answering machine from the vocational director in Fauquier County that they were looking for a business education teacher to teach data processing and accounting. So I loaded up the truck and moved to Beverly -- so to speak. I just dropped everything - I was married at the time and we just bought a house. We unloaded it -- just did a complete change. So that's how I did that. That's why I left banking. I probably should have never been in it to begin with although it was a good experience for me in that as I moved up the ladder the business training and business background has certainly been helpful.
Q: Probably later in the interview, we will talk about the differences between business and education in terms of evaluation.
Q: So you then became a teacher -- what experiences or was it anything specifically that caused you to think "Hey - I'd like to go into administration in education".
A: Well, I was teaching, I was teaching at night, I was coaching, I was in grad school. I was doing all those things and as the head of the household and as my family started to expand a little bit I think part of the reason I went into administration was financial. But, the other part was just my father, as I had mentioned, had been a superintendent and with my business background and what not and it was something I knew I could do. So, I think it was just a natural progression of my career. I didn't go into teaching thinking that I wasn't going to teach forever because I did like teaching and I did like coaching. But you know as you work with people and you get to know them and as you get to know administrators sometimes -- not that you second guess them -- but, you think well I could have done that differently and maybe better and maybe there was a real need for it and so I think maybe that was part of it as well.
Q: I think we did -- did we talk about your doctorate degree?
A: I mentioned I was in the program -- the doctorate was in administration and supervision at the University of Virginia with minors in the Supervision of Instruction and Social Foundations of Education.
Q: The history of your principalship -- You started out as the head principal at what school?
A: Well, I opened two high schools as a principal and then I was principal of a 9/10 campus of a split campus high school which was a unique experience because we didn't have the older students as role models for the other kids so basically my -- I don't want to say they were role models -- but, the kids that the younger kids paid attention to were the overaged freshmen. That was a unique experience.
Q: And total years as a principal.
A: Let's see --
Q: Let's start -- total years as an Assistant Principal.
A: 3 1/2 as an Assistant Principal, 7, I think, as a principal. As I try to count it in my head and I've been in this position for one year.
Q: Okay, so superintendent for l year.
A: Assistant Superintendent.
Q: Seven as a principal and 3 l/2 years as an Assistant Principal. Obviously, in order to get to the position that you are in now, you have some strong leadership skills. So, at what point did you feel like you had those skills necessary to be a leader and could you elaborate a little bit on your strong points as a leader?
A: Well, having gone through grad school and a number of personal assessments and you know I think I have done the Myers-Brigg 6 or 7 times and I've been through the NASSP Assessment Center and I took a course at UVA -- that was basically a number of instruments to help you understand yourself a little better -- I would say that my strengths are as a facilitator and a collaborator. What I tend to be able to do is put people in the right positions -- put people in a position to be successful and then help guide them to be successful. I'm not one of those people that feels like I have to control every facet of a person's job that works with me or for me; but, I think it is important that you put people in a position to be successful -- and that requires a little bit more intuition, I think, than people realize. And, I don't know that I have always had that skill. I think I developed some of that just in opening two high schools. When you open new schools, obviously, you have to do a lot of interviewing. You have to mentally evaluate these folks and not only figure who would be good for your school but how they will interact with others because you are putting all of it together -- a lot of it mentally. You don't have all the people together to see how they are all going to interact so it is quite different from having an existing school and just hiring the openings that you have and, you know, having other people help with the interviewing. This was more a process of putting a puzzle together, so to speak, because individually all these people may be strong but you had to look at things like how many strong personalities you had in a particular department and you know the people you wanted to put in leadership roles. You had to look at their subordinates within that department and whether or not they had the experience or the will to be able to not only work collaboratively with those folks but prevent anybody else who aspired to their jobs from undermining their performance. You know just a lot of things like that.
Q: Well, the first school that you opened . . .
A: Yes, Sherando in Frederick County.
Q: And, had you been an Assistant Principal in that district?
A: No, I had been the Principal of the 9/10 Campus.
Q: Okay, so you were familiar with the folks that you were interviewing to put into the new school.
A: I was familiar with some of them. I was familiar with the ones from my campus and that's another story. What I did, and I think it worked more successfully for me than for the principal of the ll/l2 campus. Because basically what happened is -- his campus - they added to his building and made it a 9-12 building and took my campus and made it a middle school and then they built a new high school nine through twelve. So, we converted from a split campus high school to two 9-12 high schools with one of the campuses of the split campus becoming the third middle school in the county. So what I did and it worked pretty well -- with that, I actively recruited the best teachers on my campus and my reasoning was that if you could work with 9th and l0th graders and you were a skilled teacher, I could get you staff development training so that you could teach the Advanced Placement and the upper level courses with the older students -- theoretically, the better behaved students. And, I think the other principal took a different approach -- because he had worked with these other folks for years and even though he knew a lot of people on my campus, I think the fact that he worked daily with the llth and 12th grade teachers led him to that and, informally, I think my teachers were able to make the transition to not only teaching the younger kids but to teaching the older kids easier than his teachers were able to make the transition in the other direction. A lot of what I heard informally that first year we were both open was that a number of his teachers felt like the 9th graders were just really immature and really hard to handle. My teachers, really, they didn't, see any difference in the 9th grade and a lot of that was based on what their assignment had been prior to the opening and that's not to say he didn't take some of my teachers and I didn't take some of his. But, predominantly, I had the teachers who had worked with the younger students and he had the other.
Q: And you felt like they preferred, moved up to your expectations in terms of you took them where they were and allowed them to . . .
A: Well, the teacher hierarchy in high school, at least informally, you know, in the perfect world you take your best teachers and they work with your students most at risk, in small classes. But, teachers don't view it the same way that administrators view it and teachers look at that as kind of like paying your dues and as you perform well and as you become a better teacher the reward is that, hopefully, you are going to work with better kids and smarter kids and in Advanced Placement courses and that kind of thing. Which, you know, works well for the teacher but doesn't necessarily serve the best interest of your students. So what my approach was trying to accomplish was to acquire the people that could work with the kids who were in the greatest need and at the same time reward them by giving them a section or two here and there of the upper level kids and maybe taking my best English teacher and she may have three 9th grade English courses plus the l2th grade Advanced Placement course. So she looked at that as she went from a teacher at the 9th/10th grade campus to department chair teaching Advanced Placement which was very significant for her. You know, it was viewed as a promotion, obviously, and it was viewed with a lot of status and I would say just generally speaking that I was able to give her the pat on the back she needed. I guess by the assignment as a validation of what she's been doing throughout her career and, at the same time, I was able to use her in a role that met the needs of the students.
Q: And, probably it worked very efficiently so that, in turn, it helped you out.
A: Exactly, Exactly.
Q: Focusing more on the administrative roles in a school -- currently, the way that I see it is that the Assistant Principal has different areas in which they concentrate -- one being Special Education, one being testing, discipline, curriculum, and master schedule. Was that very similar to when you were an Assistant Principal and then a principal and then lastly -- Do you feel that an Assistant Principal needs to be focused on one of those more than any other to then become a principal?
A: It's funny you mentioned that. In thinking about that question, I realized I have had a variety of experiences as an Assistant Principal at Stafford. All the Assistant Principal's -- and there were three -- and we each had grade level discipline and I worked with the 9th grade the first year and a half -- maybe even 2 l/2 years -- I don't remember -- But, at some point I was promoted to juniors and seniors.
Q: You were promoted!!
A: Well, I say promoted and I laugh when I say that but I think the principal felt like I paid my dues because, obviously, just in the way it is grouped you have more discipline with 9th graders than you do with llth and l2th graders combined. But, within a year and a half of being there, I had seniority on the staff and I was hired in part because of my business background and so I had finance almost immediately and a number of other assignments. But, we each had discipline, we each had departments that we worked directly with, we all did evaluations, and then some of the other tasks were just divided up based on the principal's view of our expertise. So that's why I ended up with finance and that's why I only had to do textbooks that first year I got there -- you know, those kinds of things. When I went to Frederick County, it was organized similarly, although we also had an administrative assistant who did almost nothing but discipline -- it was kind of an entry level position to work your way up to an assistant principalship. So up to that point all the Assistant Principal's that I have been familiar with and the roles were kind of generalist -- they did a variety of things that were supposed to lead to a principalship. When I got to Newport News, it was structured entirely differently. We had two administrative assistants who did nothing but discipline. As a matter of fact, they did all the discipline. I had an Assistant Principal for Instruction, an Assistant Principal for Operations, and then based on the school and if you had magnet programs, you would have a Magnet Director that did all the recruiting and program planning and those types of things directly related to the magnet. In terms of efficiency, from the point of a school, the Newport News model was the best model; but, in terms of professional development, the other models were probably better in terms of preparing people for the principalship. For example, if you were the Assistant Principal for Operations -- I don't want to say that that is a dead end but, it doesn't necessarily prepare you to be a principal in that you are not going to be working with the academic side of it. So, it is hard to have the knowledge that you would need to have credibility with your department chairs and with your school community and that kind of thing.
Q: Would that be like building, bus transportation, . . .
A: That's -- well you supervise or my Assistant Principal for Operations supervised the Administrative Assistants so he was the first in line of appeal on all the discipline. Cafeteria, buses, custodians, just all the operational issues -- all of what most Assistant Principal's would say are the unpleasant tasks of being an assistant.
A: And I'm not saying that that person couldn't become a principal but it would be harder for them because, obviously, it is easier to deal with the operational issues than it is to deal with the instructional issues. Especially when you are talking about a program -- I mean if your building is not clean, you deal with custodial staff and if worse comes to worse you roll up your sleeves and you can help clean the building. If your test scores aren't where they should be, or you're looking for improvement -- you've got to know where to start. I mean you've got to know that, you know, maybe one of your first stops may be in guidance and you want to look at the preparation that your students have had, and you want to see the sequence of courses that they've had not just in high school but maybe even going back to elementary school, and you want to find out were some these kids, in effect, been tracked and channeled down a particular path. And, you know, there are probably just a 100 different examples of that on the instructional side and you really wouldn't get that as an Assistant Principal for Operations.
Q: So when you say in the Newport News. . .
A: Their current model . . .
Q: You liked that model as a principal of the building.
A: As a principal, I liked it in terms of how the school was run; but, in terms of developing people for the next role, I didn't really like that, so . . .
Q: Were you able to . . .
A: I tinkered with it a little -- like the administrative assistants I knew that aspired to be Assistant Principal's and that kind of thing -- I would bring them into meetings sometimes that they normally wouldn't be a part of just to try and give them another side of it. Because, you know, I've always told my staff, I'll help you get any job that you want to get, even mine, as long as you wait until I'm finished with the one I have -- You know, I believe that's another way to motivate people -- they always say that you can have anything you want in life if you are willing to help other people get what they want.
Q: It's a good philosophy!!! One more question based on your answer -- you had mentioned finance and I've never dealt with that in my roles as an Assistant Principal. What exactly do you mean by that -- budgeting?
A: Well, what you will find is a weakness in most formal education programs is a financial piece and even when you take school finances at the University of Virginia, Virginia Tech or anywhere like that -- you know you get into things like the equalization formula and more global issues . You rarely get a lot of nuts and bolts information that you can use at the building level -- so back when I was in graduate school, Dr. Bosher, who is the Superintendent of Chesterfield County now and he was at the time - he was Superintendent of Henrico and in between those two assignments he was the State Superintendent -- but, he was teaching the finance course for UVA at the Northern VA Center. So, I did a practicum with his course and basically developed a mini-course for aspiring administrators of different things you could do within your building and I guess it was successful -- Dr. Bosher asked for a copy of it and I think he incorporated it into his course; but, at the time I developed that I was an Assistant Principal and I took a lot of the role that the principal would normally have. I had check signing authority along with the principal. But, I would take the allocated funds from the central office and formulate a budget or spending plan. Allocate that money to the various departments based on enrollment and other factors like program costs. For example, science programs for day to-day operations cost more than, let's say, social studies programs. So we had to look at not only how many students each of the departments was serving but what the costs were associated with that. So I would do that kind of budgeting and work closely with the bookkeeper. A couple of years before I got there, they had a major problem with the bookkeeper and you know apparently that's not that uncommon now a days -- but, you know, they had some theft and that kind of thing so I worked very closely with the bookkeeper and made sure we had proper internal control, reviewed purchases and documentation, you know, for expenditures and checks and that kind of thing so . . .
Q: But, do you find that to be very unique or maybe because of your background you were given that opportunity?
A: I - Well, it depends, in very large schools, you know, if your system is set up right you need two signatures on a check and normally one is the bookkeeper and one is an administrator. I'm not sure, now that I think about it, why I had that much responsibility in finance that early in my career. I think it probably was because I had a banking background and a business degree. Looking at it with my own staff -- I have taught administrators under me about finance but generally I have never given that role up because that's probably one of the two quickest ways to get yourself in hot water as an administrator. So I guess I've always held onto that. I know even if my assistant has had check signing authority, which I've usually allowed; when the bank statements came in I would always open the bank statement and review all the checks just so I could see what transpired in my absence and that kind of thing and make sure there wasn't anything out of whack.
Q: Okay, you had indicated that, of course, you opened two new schools which is unusual for a principal -- only being a principal for 7 years -- and, of course, that is unusual -- can you think of anything else that you would like to state at this time that was very different in your seven years as a principal than your typical principalship?
A: Nothing in a particular assignment. I think it is unusual for principals to move from suburban settings to urban settings. As a matter of fact, I remember when I moved to Newport News there were people that said "Why would you leave Winchester -- you know we are trying to get out of the city and go to somewhere like Winchester". But, you know, I've always been interested in and always been an advocate for poor families and so to me and, to me personally, it's important to feel like I make a difference in what I do for a living. So in my mind, even though my Dad was a superintendent primarily in suburban settings, I was more interested in becoming a superintendent in an urban setting because I feel like that's where you can do the most good - number one. And, number two, I think our urban public schools will have a lot to do with the future of this country and you know if we aren't prepared to address the problems in our urban public schools then we better look out in terms of how our country is going to proceed.
Q: Okay, you stated one of your philosophies which indicated -- what did we talk about and I said, "Oh, that is an interesting philosophy" -- oh, about motivating your staff members.
A: About -- I don't know which one I'm just-
Q: I think that's the one that I had said that's an interesting philosophy.
A: I'm not sure which one that was -- you know, one thing I said is "You can have anything you want if you are willing to help other people get anything they want and I believe that and that ties into putting people into a position to be successful. You know, you've got to know other people's strengths; but, you also got to know what is of interest to them. You know, sure I had a business degree and you know I was a real good student in high school and all of that; but, I wasn't suited for banking in that I didn't have a passion for it. So, you know, to me that was an example of the right person being in the wrong position and I remember talking to my -- I think he was an Assistant Vice President - but he was my immediate supervisor -- and I remember him saying "So are you going to stick with this or not cause I can tell you don't like it". I told him I probably wasn't -- that I wanted to do something that I was really excited about -- something that I would enjoy getting up in the morning and doing and I remember telling him that I thought it was probably education -- but I said I'm not sure how I'm going to get there.
Q: Did you ever have to say that to a teacher?
A: Yes, I've talked to teachers sometimes about maybe they would be better suited for doing something else. I believe that before you say that you've got to exhaust all options with them. I mean, to me, until you have done everything you can to help somebody, it's not really for you to say that they are not successful. But, yes, I've done that and I've had a lead teacher once -- a lead teacher for Social Studies -- and I took her out of that role and created kind of a new position and it was a lead teacher for administration. And, I remember the principal that followed me has since told me he thought that was a stroke of genius. I had people on my administrative staff that didn't want her to be a lead teacher period -- didn't want her to have any power or authority because they felt like she was a negative influence. I felt like she had some strengths -- I just had her in the wrong spot. So, you know, rather than having her as a lead teacher for Social Studies and every time something came out from an Assistant Principal or Instruction and having this particular lead pick it apart and that kind of thing -- you know, I kind of brought it on the inside of the administrative circle and anytime one of my assistants would publish a schedule for a pep rally or, you know, just a different type of day or anything like that -- she was one of the people that was right there helping to put it together and picking it apart from the inside instead of from the outside. And looking back, I think actually she is much happier in this role -- she gets much more positive feedback from teachers and administrators and, you know, I think she had an administrative degree and at some point that dream was derailed and she kind of put it on the back burner and this was a way to reignite that flame.
Q: Is she now an administrator?
A: No, but I wouldn't be surprised if -- she is in that lead role right now -- but, I wouldn't be surprised if that doesn't happen.
Q: Okay -- the reason that I mentioned that interesting philosophy that you had because that was not your philosophy of education -- that was just one of your personal philosophies.
A: That's a personal philosophy.
Q: Right -- Do you have -- would you like to talk about your philosophy of education and one of the main things I would be interested in -- and, has it changed from teacher, assistant principal, principal?
A: You know, I could go into some general bullets -- it's hard to just condense a philosophy into a sentence or two. You know everybody nowadays is saying "All students can learn". You know that's their philosophy and that's basically mine; but, you know, I kind of look at people sometimes, you know, a little skeptically because in my mind actions speak louder than words. So, if you believe all kids can learn -- then let me look at your master schedule and see how you group kids; and if you believe all kids can learn, let me see how many kids you are pushing to take higher level courses; and if you believe all kids can learn, let me see which teachers you assign to which kids. You know, I can just go on and on with that. Back when I was a teacher -- I remember one of the first things I noticed was that kids dropped out of participating in school and school activities before they dropped out of school. So, if you had kids that were involved in school in any way, they tended to do better academically -- and I'm a firm believer that everybody is good at something. We are just not all good at the same things and, you know, I think I'm an advocate for gifted education; but, I think maybe I tend to broaden it more than others. I feel like everybody is gifted but as educators we don't necessarily do a very good job of identifying all of the gifts. We do a good job of identifying high IQ's, we do a good job of identifying musical and artistic gifts -- but, everybody is good at something -- and, you know, if you really get to know these students you would be amazed at some of the things they are good at. You know I've had students tell me that they have poor English skills and what not and they can't remember this and that and that's why they can't pass a test. And yet they know every lyric to every song that's out there -- but, they're telling me they don't have any memory. And some of this, you know, kids get in their own community and their own households and they take a negative view and some of it is institutional. We don't always set up schools that are going to encourage kids and you know that's what I've tried to do over the years. I've tried to create environments that have slogans and have your actions follow it towards creating places where everyone excels and where you identify the strengths of individuals and where you promote and award students for excellence wherever you find it. I remember that was one of the first things I did at Sherando and caught grief from the rival high school initially. And that was that I set up a lettering system where basically a student could letter in athletics or they could letter in academics or they could letter in band or chorus or any of our clubs. And we didn't, you know, we made it meaningful -- I knew the average athlete was not going to letter varsity as a freshman so we made it a two-year process and if you were in drama and you did a number of things over a period of two years you received the same letter everybody else got but you had a different pin -- instead of a football pin you had a drama mask kind of pin. And, I remember getting criticism for that from the other school saying, "Well, you are going to have too many letter winners" -- and I just thought about that and looking back I laugh. Because, I think, yes - we were trying to set up at the other school an elite system where we could recognize a very select group of students and I said, "In my system what was the worst case -- the worst case that could happen would be every student got a letter -- every student was wearing a letter jacket which translated to every student was involved in the school" -- you know, so...
Q: Which is not too bad!!!
A: Yes, but that kind of summarizes -- that's in a nut shell the difference between my perspective and a lot of people's perspective and I don't believe that you run around making everybody feel good. I think that if you want students to feel good about themselves, help them achieve. You know, I'm not for telling somebody that they are doing great when they aren't putting out any effort and aren't doing well. But, you know, find the things that students do well and push them and help them to achieve.
Q: Okay, and so was there anything that happened that caused you to change your philosophy or do you feel like its been pretty steady and that's the way you have felt.
A: I think that the longer I've worked with students, the more that I've come to the conclusion that, you know, really as people we are really not all that different - black, white, rich, poor, whatever -- I think most people want the same basic things. They know they want to feel good about themselves. They want to be able to provide for the people they care about. And, you know, they want to do something meaningful with their lives and you can package it any kind of way and you can, you know, and you can put all these barriers up and that kind of thing; but, when you really dig I think that's what you find in most people. So once you realize that, I think you are able to reach people that are different than you and are able to motivate and inspire people to reach their potential.
Q: What kinds of things do you think that teachers expect? For example, if you were just hired as a new principal coming into a school and so they heard -- Dr. Frossard is coming to be our principal -- What do you think they would wish that you were, want you to be?
A: It's hard to say; I think that most -- a lot of teachers just want to be left alone and that could be good or bad depending on what they do -- If, am I supposed to answer this in terms of them not knowing me and they just got a new principal?
Q: Right, What do you think some of them will say -- I hope he's this and I hope he doesn't do this.
A: I think teachers generally want an administrator that is supportive of them and what they are trying to do and -- I'm going to answer this in terms of good teachers - okay - because I think we have far more good teachers than bad teachers and so I don't want to answer in terms of the exception. But, I think good teachers want instructional leaders. They want principals that care about kids but they don't want them to be unbalanced in terms of only focusing on athletics or only focusing on activities. They want somebody that focuses on primarily academics -- that knows how to -- I want to say lead -- but, that may not be the right word. Somebody that knows how to build a school community -- and involve parents in the types of things that parents should be involved in but leave the other things to the trained professionals. I think generally speaking the best teachers want somebody that is knowledgeable and supportive and is going to listen to their ideas and try and make good things happen and isn't going to get bogged down in bureaucracy and red tape.
Q: Okay, One of the authors of one of the books for our class is Kouzes and Posner and they talk about their leadership challenge. And the tenets of their leadership challenge are to challenge the process, inspire a shared vision, enable others to act, model the way, and encourage the heart. Of course, listening to you in this interview -- really your leadership style - in this short interview -- would relate to that. So, is there one of those tenets that you think are more important -- one that you may have done better than the others? Do you need me to repeat them?
A: No, I think inspiration is underrated. I think, well let me see, if I can find something here -- it's something I said about kids and I believe it about adults -- it was when students commit themselves to dreaming big dreams and working hard they can accomplish the impossible and I feel that about any person. If something has been done, I feel like virtually anybody could accomplish it and you may say well that person was smart and this person wasn't; but, I feel like hard work wins out over natural ability over time, in most cases. And, if you are fortunate enough to find many people who are willing to work hard, it's just amazing what they can do -- and, because of that and knowing that as humans we use very little of our mental capacity, very little of our brain. You know, I think through all of the things that you learn in leadership classes and what not -- when you add the inspirational piece to it, I think that's what brings out the extraordinary result. You know, I've seen teachers - great teachers who were just average teachers when they were in an environment that they weren't really happy with.
Q: Absolutely, okay, and actually in a lot of your answers you have eluded to some of the points that I want to kind of conclude with.
Q: Hersey and Blanchard had a definition of leadership -- "The progress of influencing the activities of an individual or group in efforts towards goal achievement" -- and the one thing that they really felt strongly about was the relationship between behavior and readiness. So, you could get a group of teachers who were certainly able and could behave in such a way to achieve a goal; but, the environment in that group at that time -- they were not ready. So, did you ever find yourself in a situation in which you had to stop and come back and revisit something because the environment was not conducive?
A: Not globally. Individually, I've had teachers that I felt like didn't buy into some of my notions about all kids being able to learn and all kids being able to achieve and they kind of had these kids pegged in their mind before they met them and so I've dealt with folks like that. Individually, I mean you can, I could have used fear or whatnot to get them, at least on the surface, appear to be doing it my way; but, I'm of the mind that they got to be happy in what they are doing too and if their beliefs run counter to the beliefs of the school -- let's see what we can do to help them find something that they're suited for or a school that they're better suited for -- and I could expand on that a little bit but that's the heart of it in my mind.
Q: And, your type of leadership, to me, would indicate that you are more of a team leader rather than a person -- I'm in charge and you will do it my way.
A: Well, when I said you could motivate people out of fear -- you could get people to do just about anything out of fear; but, what do they do when you are out of town or when your back is turned or when you leave. I mean I take great pride in the fact that the two schools that I put together are going to be able to achieve for years to come even though I'm not there and that's what I want, you know -- I don't want a school to fall apart after I leave just so I can feel good like -- OK, they couldn't do without me. To me, my mark is that they can do great without me -- and so I think the collaboration process works much better than I'm in charge, I'm the authority, I have the power and control and you are going to do it my way. Because, what you are going to find is that it is your way -- you are the only one that believes that. And, you know, and I think long-term you are much more effective. If you can figure out the wants and needs of your staff and try and put all of that together in a way where you have a common goal.
Q: And so obviously, "Theory X" talks about -- thinks that -- the theory, in and of itself, says that "assumes that people dislike and will avoid work at all possibility, shrink their responsibilities whenever they can, are lazy, lack creativity, and are unreliable" -- you obviously are not "Theory X".
A: (laughing) Well, I've had "Theory X" and "Theory Y" in business school. Maybe that was the problem with me in business. I knew a lot of people that believed in "Theory X"; but, I think there are a few people like that -- but, I think that they are the exception. I think most people want to do a good job and, you know, will -- given the right circumstances.
Q: And, I said that we would come back to the difference between business and education. Some people and. . . There have been articles and I have read a few articles to the fact that a businessperson without any educational background can come in and run a school and be just as effective as an instructional leader. What are your views on that?
A: Well, there have been a few cases where that has been successful. I think out in Seattle, Washington is one; but, the recent experience in Washington, D.C. was rather unsuccessful -- and I think both of those leaders had a military background. I think if you are a non-educator, it's easier to come in and fix the operational side. It depends on the size of the organization -- I think if you really had some good people around you, I suppose it's possible; but, I think you would have a hard time establishing credibility with teachers if you've never been a teacher and never really been in the classroom and never faced what they face. But, I'm not saying it's impossible -- but, I would say -- that I would say this -- there are a lot of people out there that think education is easy and I would suggest that they come substitute teach for a couple of weeks before they say that too loudly. Now having said that, I think there are a lot of principles of business that education doesn't incorporate that they should. And there are some things we do in education that hurt us with our credibility with the public. I don't think the public has any problem paying the best teachers top dollar; but, the reason they balk at teachers salaries sometimes is they know that the best teacher and the worst teacher, in most cases, get the same salary and they know that the worst teacher, if they are tenured, have protection that they don't have. I know in banking, I didn't have any protection. Basically, you are hired to do a job and if you didn't do a good job you could be gone tomorrow. The bank I worked at has merged four times since I left there. It was Nationsbank and they merged it again -- I guess now it's BankAmerica.
Q: And so chances are you could have been . . .
A: Well, in audit I probably would have been fairly insolated and when you audit as well, you go into every department as an internal auditor. So I had several job opportunities during the course of my audits. You go around and present your findings to the managers and whatnot and, you know, three months later they would call you when they had an opening and that kind of thing. So, personally that wasn't a problem; but, for the average citizen out there, they see a security given to teachers that they don't have and not that they resent it with the good teachers -- they resent it with the teachers that they feel are poor, that didn't work with their kids, that didn't listen to them when they called and had a concern -- and I think that's something we will have to revisit at some point if we are going to continue to have financial support from the general public especially as you have more and more members of the public without kids in public schools at this particular time, you know, whether they are older or whatnot. You've got to be able to show that you don't carry the dead weight into perpetuity. But back to your original question, I would hope that it didn't become the norm that they brought in a lot of business folks. Just because -- I've seen it work; but, I don't think. . . You're much better getting a good educator and giving them the business training that you want them to have because as I said the operational side is easier to fix than the instructional side. I think it's much more difficult to take a businessperson and give them an appreciation for the instructional side than to do it the other way.
Q: You had mentioned earlier and I said that we would talk about it later was the evaluation part of the audit. You know, you were responsible for peoples salaries and . .
A: Well, directly or indirectly, but if you uncovered some major findings and they traced back to an individual and their job responsibilities then certainly that will have an impact on them during their salary review. And the bank I worked at -- you had different ranges of salary increases based on performance and a lot of the determination of that was not just the immediate supervisors evaluation but also the audit findings. So, directly and indirectly, yes, we impacted people's jobs. We may have been called in because there was a problem in a branch with a teller and maybe not just a teller -- but, when they were closing out at the end of the day somebody may have been short money and they would bring us in and we would investigate and we may find a shortage and trace it to a particular teller and they may have been out of a job immediately. So . . .
Q: Well, okay, so immediately -- maybe that's the word I'm looking for because as a principal you actually evaluate your staff members and could be the person to dismiss them -- but, maybe the word immediately is what I was looking for . .
A: Well, in education forget immediately, unless you're talking about sexual misconduct or mistreatment of a child. Other than that there aren't too many things that would be immediate. Then if you really look at the court cases you'll find very few court cases that went full route of dismissal that resulted in a teacher being dismissed. Most of the teachers that leave -- it's through mutual agreement at some point -- but, there are very few cases that have gone two years through the court and documentation and due process and whatnot that ended up in a teacher being dismissed. So, I would say this -- it's much harder to get rid of an incompetent employee in education than it is in banking.
Q: Right, right -- Obviously, the role of an administrator in education -- it's a stressful role and would you give any advice on how to deal with that -- anything you do that may be unique.
A: I don't know about anything unique -- don't forget to laugh at yourself. You know, I remember early on in my career somebody told me I didn't have enough hobbies; but, I really like sports and I had done a lot of coaching and I kind of looked at that as a hobby. But, aside from that, you know, you don't have a lot of time for hobbies.
Q: You're right!!!
A: I know around this office the other Assistant Superintendents -- every once in a while we get together and just kind of go through the day -- the highs and lows -- and, you know, kind of make light of it -- make light of something that we maybe didn't handle as well as we should have. You know, I think if you are willing to laugh and probably -- when I was an Assistant Principal, I know the Principal and the other assistants -- we would all get together at the end of the day and just kind of sit back and review the day. Back then you could smoke in school -- every once in a while we would smoke a cigar or something like that and if we had a really bad day we would all laugh and say "it doesn't get any better than this" and that kind of thing and I really enjoyed that relationship. It was kind of a team -- administrative team -- within a school team and that's the kind of the administrative team I've always tried to put together so that you could work hard but you could have some fun doing it. Yes, you were going to have some irate parents; yes, you were going to have some central office issues that you know might take you away from what you thought were your most important responsibilities; yes, you were going to have a lot of frustrations; yes, things were not always going to happen as quickly as you wanted them to happen; but, if you had a good relationship with your co-workers, you were going to find some fun in there and some happiness in there somewhere. And then for most dedicated educators the return and the payoff is when students do well. So I just look back now and I think of UVA and I have two freshmen there this year who were football players at my school. One of them was -- did really well on the SAT and that kind of thing and the other one was going into probably October - November of his senior year. He was short on his SAT score and we weren't sure if he was going to qualify to get a full scholarship to UVA and so we set up some interventions and worked with him and his math score alone jumped over 100 points on the SAT and so he is a full academic qualifier. So, it's taking two students from a downtown environment where they didn't have a lot of academic role models or role models within the school -- a kid going to the University of Virginia and that kind of thing -- and so we worked with them and they had interest in athletics and we worked with them academically and now they have opportunities that they may not have otherwise had. And, I get a lot of satisfaction from that. And, then I get even more satisfaction from watching the younger students see these students go to UVA and then, you know, within a week of these guys signing with UVA I remember having younger students coming by and showing me their report card and that kind of thing. And all of a sudden, you know, these two had big dreams and we worked with them and they worked hard and it paid off for them and that expanded the dreams of other people who could see that it was possible and so, you know, you get satisfaction from things like that. You know, I have a lot of students I taught way back when who are teachers now -- my kids live in northern VA and two of my kids are in high school now and two of their teachers were students of mine.
Q: Oh, really.
A: So, I mean that kind of thing -- it could just last forever -- the enjoyment you get out of that.
Q: Do you have any particular advice that you could give to potential administrators whether it's an Assistant Principal -- whether it's a teacher?
A: Advice in terms of what? To do what -- to become a principal or?
Q: Right -- if the person is in a role, say a teacher role, interested in administration or an Assistant Principal interested in the principalship.
A: First thing I'd say do is examine your motives and if your motives are pure then work hard at it -- I'm sure you are going to get there. I think if you are out there doing good things for young people, you are going to get an opportunity. If you are a teacher that is effective in the classroom and works with students after school in a variety of capacities -- not just coaching; but, in sponsorships or extra tutoring or whatever. If you are out there doing good things for young people, it's going to be noticed and you will get an opportunity. And once you are an administrator, I think the same holds true. Just like the 7:30 to 2:30 teachers don't get very far the 7:00 to 3:00 administrators don't get very far. I remember after the first year of Heritage High School the newspaper reporter came to the school and wanted to talk to students about the school and I had never done this before in my career but we had authorization from central office and all that. We had the reporter come in so I just let him take twelve students off into the conference room and talk to them privately and I thought . . .
Q: Oh, you were brave. . .
A: And I thought, man I could be out of a job by the end of this. And when I read the article -- I was referred to -- like, I don't know, the other principals kidded me about it -- I was referred to as the "beloved principal" and they said, in part, because he seemed to be at every activity no matter what it was and students notice that. Yes, it's important what you do with them in the course of a normal school day -- whether you are a teacher or an administrator -- but, they also notice if you came to that play and supported them or you went to that game or, you know, if they are a work student if you went by their place of employment once or twice just to see how they are doing. They notice that kind of thing and, again, I think if you do good things for young people -- it's going to pay off. The things you do in life come back to you in some form or fashion.
Q: That's all the questions that I have (HALLALUJIA) -- would you like to add. . . ?
A: I've said more than I usually say all week.
Q: I'm telling you. Okay, this will conclude the interview with Dr. John (Juan - laughter - No, I'm just kidding) Frossard. Thank you.
| Back to "F" Interviews | Index of Interviews | Protocol | Home |