A Retired Principal From the Norfolk Public School System.
| Back to "G" Interviews | Index of Interviews | Protocol | Home |
Q: Would you tell me when you were a principal, and what schools did you serve as principal?
(Streamed audio file of interview for this question using RealPlayer)
A: I became a principal of Douglas Park Elementary School in 1944. From there, I moved to the principalship of J. J. Smallwood School in Lambers Point, and from there to R. A. Tucker School from which I was moved to Jacox School.
Q: How many years were you in education as a teacher and then as an administrator?
A: I taught for fifteen years at John T. West School. I have served as principal in various schools in Norfolk for twenty-four years.
Q: And after you left the principalship, you went into higher education?
A: Yes, I became a member of the Division of Education at Norfolk State University, and during the summer while I was a principal, I taught in Petersburg at Virginia State University.
Q: Miss Gordon, what were some of the major issues during the time you were a principal?
A: Some of the major issues while I was a principal, especially at Jacox Junior High School, was the issue of integrating the public schools of Norfolk. I think, prior to that time, throughout the south, many expensive schools were built in black neighborhoods. Jacox was one of the very expensive schools built in the City of Norfolk.
Q: Did you have to deal with the bussing issue?
A: No, I was not in the public schools when the bussing issue became very prominent. However, we did have busses coming from Lambers Point during that time to bring students; it was just a natural thing, busses bringing children to school, but they weren't integrated.
Q: Your school, at that time, was not integrated?
Q: What about the staff?
A: The staff at Jacox Junior High School was integrated about 1966 I believe.
Q: Would you tell us something about Jacox?
A: As I said, Jacox was one of the very expensive schools built in the south during that time prior to the fight for integration of schools. Jacox was a one-story building with thirty classrooms, an auditorium, shops, and other features that the ordinary elementary schools in the black community did not have.
Q: What was your school's philosophy?
A: Well, in the beginning, this was an elementary school. We opened as an elementary school, and our philosophy was to set certain precedents to do away with the idea that blacks could not keep a good school in good condition. So, we started with rules and regulations that would help us keep our school clean; we would not mark the desks and that sort of thing. Our philosophy was built on the fact that we thought every child could learn, and that it was the duty of the teacher to study the needs of the child and try to supply those needs.
Q: How was this philosophy developed? Was that your personal philosophy, or was it the consensus of the staff, or just how did you come up with that?
A: Well, as the principal, who had the idea that the principal was the captain of the ship and sets the precedents, we believed in a cooperative effort, and so we met as a faculty and decided that in order to make this school very profitable to our students, that we would work together on various things, and so we did develop our philosophy as an elementary school in faculty meetings. Later, when we became a junior high school, it was required at that time that we set; well, we knew when we opened, that the school in three years would be a junior high, so that in the summer following the opening of the school, teachers were encouraged to go away and study the junior high school program, even though we were still elementary. Those teachers who wanted to stay at the junior high school level were encouraged to look forward to staying, and those who wanted to go back to elementary school level, or stay in the elementary school level were encouraged to do that. So, when they went to school in the summer, and when they came back, we had our in service education program built around how to make this a very good elementary school when we were elementary, and that we needed to do to get ready to make this an accredited junior high school when we became junior high.
Q: So, in the beginning, you had grades what?
A: We had grades one through six.
Q: And then, after the three years?
A: Well, you can see the first year. After the first year, the sixth grade became seventh grade. And the seventh grade the next year became eighth. So, in three years we had seven, eight, and nine.
Q: Oh! And as you were moving up--seven, eight, and nine, did you cut off from the other end? For instance, when the sixth grade moved up to seven, did you keep in grade one?
A: No, we did not have grade one that next year.
Q: So, as you increased on the top side, you decreased on the bottom side?
A: That's true.
Q: Ok, what was the percentage, well, at the top of your head, what was the percentage of the teachers who decided to stay with the junior high level?
A: I think about 90%. Very few wanted to go back to elementary.
Q: Tell us a little something about the climate for learning, and I guess you were sort of building that in as you moved up. How did you create a climate for the students to learn?
A: Well, we started as I said, with the teachers own philosophy and her willingness to study new ideas and go off to school and do just that, and to come back and share this with the other faculty members who would say what they thought was workable and what we thought we couldn't do just yet. Your question, the climate of the school, the physical climate itself, I think, had something to do with the children feeling good about themselves. We had mirrors in the hall. We had students' restrooms that were different from the restrooms they had been used to. We had a homemaking department with several classrooms in the homemaking department that they could do various activities that they had not been able to do in the elementary school before, and also in the shops. Our gym was a large, spacious gym, and they could go in there and play games during the school day or after school, after school activities. One thing about the whole thing is when the school opened, we didn't have any books (textbooks). For some reason, we opened in February, and we had not been placed in that year's budget. So teachers knew how to teach. They learned to teach without any textbooks which was very challenging to them. Also, the school was unfinished when we went in it as an elementary school. We could not use the auditorium or any of the industrial arts or homemaking areas at all. So, we had to confine ourselves to the building. We were not allowed to go outside because of the trucks and machines and things that were used by the workers.
Q: What leadership technique did you use? Realizing the different styles, leadership styles, how would you describe your leadership technique?
A: I think the teachers were aware of what we were looking for. For instance, we knew we were going to have guidance counselors, and so teachers were encouraged to handle their problems with students by analyzing them and working with them, and looking forward to becoming a guidance counselor if they were interested in that sort of thing in the junior high. We also had something we called the core curriculum. We had studied the fact that in some parts of the country at that time, they were combining or making a large block of time and teaching two subjects. We did that with science and math. We also did it with English and Social Studies. We had in mind that all the teachers in the building at that time were able to teach, entitled to teach by their certificates, certified to teach English and Social Studies in the high school and all subjects in the elementary. So that made it a very nice thing. Those teachers who were not qualified to teach science or math would not be qualified to do it at that point, but were encouraged to go away to summer school and get the required course for teaching science and math if they were interested in it. In doing that, we were also looking for techniques of teaching subjects. We would come back and share those with the faculty. Leadership--we were looking for leadership in these areas. So, we had people who stood out as chairmen, that's natural. The teachers themselves selected their own chairmen. When we became a junior high school, this carried over. I did not select the department heads. Teachers selected their own department heads. That's why I think we had so many teachers that moved out of Jacox into principalships. Some moved out into supervisory areas and also became administrators at the central office.
Q: You provided opportunities for your staff to develop leadership techniques. Within your style, would you consider yourself to be autocratic, laissez faire, or just what did you lead?
A: I considered myself responsible for the growth of teachers, as well as for the growth of students. We had a superintendent at that time who would always say the principal was the captain of the ship. And as the captain of the ship, I felt that it was my duty to see that teachers moved up in her thinking and her teaching techniques and general, so that we devised, early when I was principal in the elementary school, we devised some way of evaluating teachers before the city had set up something. I think Dr. Alice Niles, from Columbia University, came down and visited the schools in Norfolk and we were invited to write an appendix to her book on the values of teaching.
Q: Ok, now that brings me to another question that I was going to ask about, how you evaluated your teachers, and I'm thinking about evaluation in terms of their performance, how they produced, that kind of things.
A: Well, of course, when we were elementary, as I said, we had no city wide yardstick for evaluating teachers; but soon after that, we developed a city-wide technique and a sheet that I think we had to give the teacher and also have a conference with the teacher after we filled it out and we agreed on the points of evaluation there and pointed out their growth. While I went there, I used to, once in a while, just give the teacher some sort of a summary of what I had liked about what the teacher was doing. For instance, on their first day of school, I would go throughout the building and the next morning they would find in their boxes a description of what I saw went on and what I thought was good about what was going on. Now, we discussed this in faculty meetings, what we were going to do the first day of school to get children challenged and on their way to learning, and going through I would jot down the good things that I saw. I think, making a positive approach to things helps teachers to keep on their toes, and the little things that I think they need to brush up on is in a private conference, and they appreciated that, I believe.
Q: Well, along with the evaluation, you may want to answer this, you may not, did you ever have a grievance filed against you?
A: No, I never had a grievance.
Q: Ok, did you ever have to fire a teacher?
A: No, I never had to do that.
Q: No? What about a reprimand?
A: Well, these reprimands would come in talking with them. Sometimes I would call them to the office. Every teacher had a free bell, and on their free bell we would talk over things that we thought...
Q: You never had to file anything negative in a teacher's professional file?
A: I think I have put some things that they needed to brush up on in there, in their file, yes.
Q: Ok, did you have an assistant principal?
A: Yes, from the very beginning I had an assistant principal. Mr. Albert Preston was my assistant principal and he was selected because he was working in an elementary school with the industrial arts program. As I said we had these shops. They weren't open when the school opened, but before the junior high opened, we did have these shops, and he was able to do quite a bit with the shop faculty. We developed, very early though, that every member, every area of the school would be part of the whole faculty. I remember one man in the shop wanted to know why did he have to come to faculty meetings because we weren't talking about shop altogether. I said that we're all teaching the same children, so we have to be here. So, that was one thing that we did. We also used another approach, team teaching, when we became overcrowded. We all had thirty classrooms and we had sixty-some teachers, and of course, we had to do better scheduling in using our cafeteria to do team teaching. Also, television, instructional television came into being and Jacox was one of the five schools selected to have five teachers take training and become teachers of television, and I thought we worked out that program in our school. One major thing we noticed about our children in studying their needs was that they were weak in reading. One of the issues at that time was the reading scores of children. There was a great deal of comparison in the literature and what not in talking about integrating the schools. There was a great deal of comparison between the scores of blacks and the scores of whites. Some books came out saying we were inheritably inferior, blacks were, and that the children just could not measure up, and I think that this interested all of our teachers in proving that this was not true, that every teacher, every student could learn, and they agreed that every teacher would teach reading, regardless of what they were teaching. If they were teaching music, if they were teaching art, science, literature, homemaking, whatever, each subject area had its own vocabulary, and teachers were teaching the children how to read in that particular area.
Q: Did you all see a significant growth in the reading?
A: Yes, we did. I, as principal, and our head counselor in the junior high school visited a junior high school in New York. I think this high school was sponsoring the Higher Horizon Program, and Dr. Brazil, from Norfolk State University, came over and worked with our faculty in making some replications of that Higher Horizon Program in New York. And there is an article about this in the Spring 1963 issue of the General Negro Foundation. It also came out in another journal from the Atlanta Georgia Education Association, I believe. In this study, we identified the weaknesses of children entering seventh grade, and we did some of the same things that they did in New York to raise the reading level and the arithmetic level, and we saw a very significant growth in our children's ability to read and to participate effectively in arithmetic.
Q: Could we have a copy of that to attach in our appendix for the interview?
Q: We will put that in the appendix. Now, I want to ask you something about the public community relations. Tell us a little bit about the community and what part the school played in developing a good rapport with school and the community.
A: Well, for one thing, our school, our school auditorium, when we were able to use it, became a center of some community activities. For instance, we had a group of people who were planning to develop a church and the minister came and talked with us. And some of the children who lived in the area came to our school building on Sundays under the supervision of this minister and these people and organized a church in our school. Also, our PTA was very, very active, in that the parents were concerned about their children so much so that they'd come over to PTA meetings. We had the idea that something parents could do at home, when we were junior high, something they could do at home to help children learn to read. I remember the PTA bought paperback books for their children's Christmas gifts. We also developed something in our library that would encourage parents to come over and get books that would help them. We had frequent visitations from parents in our homemaking department. We had child care for groups that would meet in our school. And we had homemaking teachers who would go into the projects. We were very near Diggs Park and Roberts Park Projects, and we would go over there and help some parents when they asked us to come over and help them select draperies or do some arrangement of their furniture, and what not. The homemaking teachers didn't use the job perhaps in that respect. We had a good rapport with the police department, and that helped us with gangs that would stand around the school and molest our children otherwise. We were invited, our school band and our choir, was frequently invited to appear in programs at the churches in the neighborhood and that sort of thing.
Q: Ok, so it seems that the group, you and the students were quite active in the community. Did you have a newspaper that went to the homes or for the students?
A: Yes, we developed what we called the Jacox Journal. We had a sponsor to help work with the staff of the Jacox Journal. These were students, and they were allowed to write whatever they wanted to write. I think our Jacox Journal, celebrating the tenth birthday of the school is a very significant issue. In here, the students, and teachers, and superintendent, and principals reviewed the activities of the ten years that Jacox had been in existence. We opened in 1949, and this journal came out in 1959. It is significant that in 1959, at the height of integration, fight for integrating schools; the white schools were closed a great portion of 1959; and it was during that crisis time that we published that Jacox celebrates its tenth birthday in the Jacox Journal, and it was very significant because we didn't know whether eventually all the schools would be closed, or what.
Q: Ok, you said the white schools were closed. Were the black schools open?
A: Yes, the white high schools.
Q: And the black schools were open?
A: Yes, that's right. You remember the famous seventeen. Seventeen black children had been screened to enter the various high schools, but the white high schools were closed, and the governor asked that they be closed rather than to admit these black students. At that point, the black community arranged to have those students taught at First Baptist Church on Bute Street, and some of the retired teachers of the neighborhood in that city went over and taught those children so that they would not lose their academic understandings, and what have you, during that time of crisis.
Q: That's very interesting. I suppose that the time you were an administrator that there wasn't very much talk about merit pay, or was it?
A: No, it was only in literature.
Q: But, what is your impression of merit pay? As you think back, if you were an administrator at this time when merit pay is one in the forth right, what is your feeling?
A: I think it is worthwhile if we can fairly evaluate teachers to receive merit pay. I think if we can identify the characteristics of teachers eligible for it, perhaps it's very good. I think we were very conscious, as a principal, of keeping up the morale of teachers and having the understanding that every teacher is a professional worker, and as such, contributes to the progress of the whole school. But when you single out one as being exceptional so much so that one should get more money than the others, it seems to me you ought to have a pretty solid foundation that is recognizable by everybody, that this teacher does deserve more pay.
Q: Ok, along that line, tell me a little bit about your feeling concerning career ladders for teachers.
A: Maybe that's one clear cut, I don't know what you mean by career ladders because it wasn't discussed in my time. But if they are clearly defined and everybody knows that this teacher is climbing this ladder towards a certain goal, if that's the idea, I think I would like that. If when you get to the top of the ladder you achieve the goal. I don't really know exactly what you mean.
Q: Well, in looking at and knowing some of the people that worked as teachers under your administration, and I'm not in the position to make a judgment, but I think you provided that for many of them in knowing that many of the teachers who worked for you did move into administrative and other higher positions. You mentioned Mr. Preston who moved up to be the principal of the high school, senior high school.
A: That's right. Mr. Booth became chairman of the Special Project for Title I for his school administration building.
Q: Miss Hall was one of your television teachers who moved to be a principal.
A: That's right, that's true. Now do you mean that before they did that they would mold them and you get up this ladder, you will be...
Q: No, just knowing, or giving people the opportunity. This is what I'm thinking; your feeling of knowing, giving teachers, or giving the people in the school an opportunity to develop. Well, I think you did that, without using the term.
A: Yes, I realize, we did do that. Maybe that's the pay-off, allowing teachers freedom and professional guidance to move ahead. You see, I think that's one cause, you know, I never thought about that, that's one reason I decided to go to the college level, because I was always losing my good guidance counselors, my very good assistant principal, even my custodian was moved up, and the lunchroom workers and so on. So, I found myself constantly orientating new people to take these position, and I felt like I wanted to teach again myself. But I never thought about it that way.
Q: Thinking back, right off the top of your head, what was the toughest decision you had to make as a principal, and why was it difficult?
Q: Maybe I should say one of the toughest because I know you had many, but one of the toughest decisions.
A: I don't know, because I can't think of one that I had to make all by myself. I can think of some quick decisions that we had to make. For instance, the pipes burst and the halls were flooded with water, and we had those 1,500 children in the school and they were in the classrooms all over the building, and we had to think quickly what to do to keep them out of that water. And we took to the public address system and told those in the gym which way to go out of the building and gave instructions that way, and saved the day that way.
Q: Miss Gordon, tell me, were you considered a manger of a building or an instructional leader, and before you answer, you may want to tell us the difference if you feel that there is a difference between being a manager and an instructional leader.
A: Well, I really don't see how you can separate the techniques of a manager from the techniques of being an instructional leader. In fact, I think in being a good instructional leader, you have to manage all details of your school and that is that you make plans, you make schedules, you talk with all staff members, and you just know how the whole mechanism is moving from the opening of school till the close of school at the end of the day. And I think that framework, knowing what each teacher is doing and what is supposed to be happening, you can very easily, I think, move into instructional leadership. And the problems of instructional leadership, I think, rest on being a good manager. In that, I might say this, you know that you're managing textbooks and the selection of them and distribution. You're managing supplies; you're managing teacher stations, and all that sort of thing. And within that management you visualize just what the teacher can do with instruction, if she has to teach in a small room or if she teaches in the cafeteria, or what not. All of those things affect the way teachers work.
Q: Ok, how do you think we can improve education for the students?
A: Do you mean how students learn? I think, before I left the public schools, we were talking a lot about individualized instruction. I think we have to realize that different students learn in different ways, and we have to vary the presentation of materials in our classrooms. When I first started teaching, you were teaching everybody the same thing in the classroom, and then, gradually, we learned how to group children back in the 20's, 30's and 40's and we were moving towards individualized instruction when I left the school system. And I think that's something we need to work on. I think we're doing a lot of that with our computerized instruction and that sort of thing.
Q: How do you think we could include teachers?
A: I think there's nothing like a dedicated teacher who wants to learn how to be a better teacher. If we can challenge them and recognize some things that they have done well and encourage her to share that with some other teacher who has not quite reached that level in managing the classroom or in presenting material. I think if we have teams of teachers working together, teachers can pick up from other teachers things that they've read about but didn't quite understand. I think it's a very challenging issue, to improve instruction. I think the principal today probably has a little more problems than I had in that the principal needs to know something about computers and something about the other avenues of learning.
Q: As a principal, what was your biggest concern?
A: My biggest concern was that every child would receive instruction that is very necessary on his particular grade level to lay the foundation for his moving up to the next grade level. I frequently told teachers, "Keep in mind that never again in his life will he be in the seventh grade, and never again will he be in the eight or ninth grade. So the skills that he should learn at the eighth grade level, be sure that he is learning those basic skills at the seventh grade level." Also, I tried to get teachers to see the developmental tasks of students that they had to learn very early as children, how to walk and how to talk and that sort of thing, and move right up those developmental paths. But to me, it was important that junior high school teachers recognized the developmental paths of adolescence so they wouldn't get real upset because this boy was passing this note to this girl, or vice versa. Not that we want them to sit in classes and pass notes, but it isn't the calamity that some people seemed to think it was. And I think if we keep that in mind, we become professional in our analysis of what's wrong with Johnny or Sally or Susan.
Q: You know, now we have a lot in the educational magazines talking about the effective schools and the effective principals and the characteristics of such. What do you feel it takes to be an effective principal?
A: I think, to be an effective principal, first the principal must have knowledge of administration, what administration involves. I think the principal ought to, also, know his or her personal limitations in certain areas. I don't think all of us can be masterful in all areas, but we ought to recognize our shortcomings so that when we have a teacher who can perform well in the area that we cannot, we encourage that teacher, we sort of depend on that teacher, not to do our job, but we can learn from the teacher, as well as the teacher can contribute in an area where we may not be able to contribute. I think that an effective principal ought to study the school's situation, and when I say that, the building, the way it's arranged, the heating, the lighting, all about that building, that principal ought to be aware of, and be ready in a minute's notice, because you know that this might happen in your cafeteria, or your shop, or whatever, you have an alternative answer to some problems that may rule out of some situations in your school. I also thought, the principal ought to have, to be effective, ought to have some goals that are higher than what the level in which his teachers or students are performing at that time and some ideas of how to get to those higher level goals. Even a good teacher can become better. This was my theory of working with teachers, that I never had a group of teachers, that you have arrived, now you don't have to do much, just keep on doing what you're doing. but I always tried to throw out to that good teacher another challenge to move on. And that encourages teachers. In other words, I think an effective principal should have been an effective teacher, and then I think he or she can sympathize with the teacher and her problems with students. A good principal thinks of every student as somebody worth while, rather than here's somebody I've got to get rid of fast. I think we ought to be in that position so that we can help teachers analyze. I think rather than having a lot of people dropping out of school because we've already classified them and we just know that we got to have some to go, some to stay, some to learn, some to not learn, but we just take the concept in mind that here are these children at this stage in their lives; what am I going to do with their lives? Rather than what am I going to do with their presence, and if they don't satisfy me or the teacher, let's get rid of the child.
Q: Well, now that you mentioned that, about getting rid of students, was there a problem of discipline in terms of expulsions or suspensions?
A: We had a quite a number of suspensions. Of course I understand the whole system is different now, but we never suspended a child without talking to the parent. The parent was fully aware of the problem. The parent had agreed, as well as the child, that this does deserve staying out of school until such time that you're willing to come back and move ahead. We had quite a bit of that, but every time that happened, we had the support of the parent. We had the support of the school administration. During most of my administration, we did not have a handbook in the hands of students that was called Students' Rights. I think that was developing the last year that I was principal in Norfolk Public Schools. And I've often wondered how much, all over the country, it wasn't just Norfolk, I think all over the country there was some emphasis on students' rights, and I just wonder did we prepare students to face the fact that they had certain rights. I often wondered about that and maybe, I think, some discipline problems might have grown out of the fact, I've got my rights, without knowing how my rights fitted in with the teachers' rights and the other student's rights. Yes, I'm a disciplinarian, and I really believe in order, because if you don't have discipline, you can't have teaching and learning going on.
Q: What procedures do you feel should be used before a person is selected to be a principal?
A: Well, it depends on who is going to select the principal. If there is a committee selection, or is it the superintendent's job, or how is the principal going to be selected. When I was selected as a principal, I think, the supervisors or somebody went around, and I guess, spotted me working in the classroom. I've been told that's what it was, and I was moved in. I don't know how I was selected. I think it depends on who's selecting, but it seems to me that whoever, whether it's a group or what not, whoever selects the principal ought to be sure that principal is a good teacher and is willing to learn new techniques, willing to put in time and energy to plan, then how to get along with people, ought to be able to accept people on all levels, all races. When I say all levels, I mean people who are in official positions in the city, people from various religious backgrounds, and that sort of thing. I think it's very important in a public school if you're the principal.
Q: Ok, do you feel that to become an effective principal it is necessary that person would have served either as an assistant or had some intern training in administration, or do you feel that learning from the colleges and universities the techniques and the background, well I guess maybe what I want to know, which do you feel may be better?
A: I think, as I said, he should be a good teacher, right after having studied administration and administrative techniques, go into the school under a good principal and serve an internship. I think being an assistant principal, especially at the secondary level, would be very good. I notice that some school systems now, they have assistant principals in charge of certain areas. I don't know how they're selected, maybe their interests lie in certain areas.
Q: Well in our system, the person is interviewed, they go through interview techniques, and they have to be qualified or trained in those areas, and it's based on that. And they have had certain college credits?
A: Yes, now they have to be certified. Even as an assistant, they have to be certified in administration. Well, I was certified after I got you in. I went off to school. I've always wanted to know the best thing going in the country, and I tried to go to some of the best schools in the country.
Q: This next question, I guess may be one that you may or may not want to discuss, but it's what pressures did you face as a principal, and how did you handle them? And, I'm thinking in terms of, you might want to think of pressures from parents, pressures from administration, pressures from peers, in whatever way you want to answer, and if you thought that you did have some pressures as a principal, how did you handle them?
A: Well, I don't think there's a principal who doesn't have some pressures. We had, as I said, when I was principal of Jacox Junior High School, there was pressures from the public in as much as they wanted to make sure that we were using that brand new high school in the right way. We had, inside the building, we had the pressure of bus loads of people coming from all parts of the United States to see the school and to see our student operation. We had the pressure of training our people from the very beginning, our whole faculty staff, to be on an almost fish bowl sort of exhibit all day long. We had the pressure of students coming from various sections of the city at the junior high school level, coming from various sections of the city, meeting each other for the first time, and going back to the developmental task of adolescence, we knew that we'd expect some fights and some other things in behavior patterns that we had not had before. We had the pressure of people moving into the projects which were very near that school, and many of those people did not know how to use the bathrooms and the equipment in those projects, various stoves and what not. We used that for our teaching of home economics and so forth. That's why parents were so anxious to come over and learn how to use the things that they were being exposed to for the first time. For instance, we taught children how to use a knife and fork. Teachers sat with the children and taught them table manners. We had pressures of just pure administration, when monthly reports are due, when state reports are due, when you have new clerks coming and going, clerks who had never clerked in a school before. And, many a night, I would find myself taking things home to go through so that I could check off with the new clerk the next morning things that needed to be typed or what not; you train your people. Now, a lot of pressures in the principalship that I really don't think you can get all of them out of the principalship, the pressures that come.
Q: Ok, so you're saying that you had the routine kinds of things, but I'm seeing more of that. Would you consider this as a model school?
A: Well, actually this is what they told me.
Q: So, you had input in developing the curriculum, selecting the teachers, and all the things that you needed to do?
A: No, we didn't have input in the selection of teachers. But we did have freedom in developing a curriculum. We were told when we went there by Mr. Brinkley, our superintendent at that time, that he wanted us to develop a curriculum that was not in existence in our elementary schools at that time. And we started with, what we called, an integrated curriculum. Now, if you read the literature we've got there, we did have what was known as an integration of subject matter, and that was the approach that we took to teaching at that time. And it fitted very well to our situation because we had no books, you see, at the time we opened. So, if you're going to teach something of our country, we would do the dance of the country in the gym, you could do the art of that country in the art classroom, and that sort of thing. So teachers got in the habit of working together and planning the whole curriculum so it would be integrated. That was shortlived; we liked it very much, but we had to move on to junior high.
Q: What do you feel was your key to success as a principal?
A: I really don't know. I guess it's patience and trying not to be surprised at what else is happening, not to be surprised when someone tells you that we are now transferring your clerk over to such and such school, or that so and so needs a good lunchroom manager down at such and such a school. And you find yourself doing over again the things that you have done, like orientation. I think it's being able to innovate, when you did not have the real thing, you could innovate something, and make teachers feel happy with what they had, knowing that eventually we might have something nice. We encouraged teachers to look on the horizon, see what's coming up, what's new in your field, and work towards getting some of that material in our building. It's encouraging leadership wherever you see it and making people feel good about whatever it is we are contributing to the progress of the school. I really don't know, but those are the things that I was striving to do. It is being sympathetic with teachers who had been out ill when they come back to school, realizing that they can't take the whole load the first day and making provisions for it. It's just loving people and watching people grow, whether they're students, or teachers, or lunchroom managers, or what not. I remember when I used to go to the National Association of Secondary School Principals. They used to say that, the first day that I came back they'd say, "What's in the handbag?" And I would have something for every department that I had picked up at the convention, dropped it in the department head's box or something like that. I think it's just, I don't know, I just think that's what helped me get along, I reckon. To me, at that time, I never stopped to think that I was successful really, I was just hoping that things were going to work.
Q: What was your code of ethics as a principal?
A: Well, my code of ethics, I think, can be summed up in trying to do unto others as I would have other do unto me, whether I was a principal, or clerk, or cook, or what have you. And I would never talk about a teacher or any of the staff members to other staff members and teachers. I would talk with them sometimes, it might even be a reprimand, but I would say, "Now, if you tell it, that's you, I don't intend to," and that sort of thing. And I think that the golden rule was my guide.
Q: At that time, was there a code for teachers to go by as far as dress code, in terms of moral codes? If so, and I know that's a touchy kind of thing for administrators to get into, but if so, how did you handle that?
A: We did not have any problems with dress codes of teachers. In the spring, we had some problems with dress codes of students. We were saying to them, "Don't wear your shorts to school and your bathing suits and all that sort of thing to school." And, if any of them did, we sort of gave them a chance to go back home and get straight. I can remember a group of students who wanted to give a dance in the gym. I was very busy and I was running down the hall, and I said, "Go in the office and ask the assistant principal to let you make the announcement." They wanted me to make the announcement, and I said, "Run down the hall." And I heard them say, "Come to the gym to the dance," and so forth, "and we're going to have short shorts," and I remember whirling around and going back to the office to correct that. I cut the public address off and said, "Now, you're not going to encourage these students to come to the dance in shorts." Oh, and they laughed and laughed, and said, "Miss Gordon, that's the name of a song called Short Shorts."
Q: Who was making the announcement, students?
A: Um hum, short shorts. So, that's my only challenge with dress codes. Of course we asked students when we had our graduation exercises to wear white and be as neat as possible. If they couldn't get white, and the boys work dark pants and white shirts, if they couldn't, nobody punished them for that. With the teachers, we never had any problems. Teachers always seemed to dress appropriately.
Q: Ok, if you had to do it over, would you consent to be a principal, and why?
A: If I could do it over, if I were young again, I think I would want to do it over because I have a thirst for learning. I have, since I've retired, taken some courses in the use of the computer for teaching purposes. And some other things, I've explored on my own. But, I realized I don't have the stamina and the ability to stick to tasks into the night to have them ready for the next morning and that sort of thing. I realize that, but if I had to do it over again and I could go back and cut off some years and start again, I think it would be exciting to me. I worked with some integrated groups on all boards with people of the other race and so on. And I think, working with them, I did have the experience of an integrated faculty for about two years before they integrated the students. By the time the students had been integrated, I had gone over to the college. I think that might be a very good experience with its difficulties and its problems and all that sort of thing. I think I would be challenged.
Q: Ok, what do you think was one of your biggest rewards as being an administrator? Maybe you had more than one.
A: One of my biggest rewards right now is to walk down the street, either in Norfolk, New York, Washington, or New York, somewhere, and have someone walk up to me and call my name and say, "You know, I used to go to Jacox, and I remember you." Another reward is at graduation time, invariably, even now, I get graduation invitations from people who are getting their doctorates or their masters degrees, who say, "I remember when I was at Jacox, you used to stand in the door when reports were given out and look at our report cards and scold us for having a C. Miss Gordon, but I have an A." I'd say, "Yes, but what's this C doing down here?" and I can remember, that's a great reward. And not only do students who have grown up now, who are introducing me to their grandchildren, but some parents who identify me, and that tells me that maybe all the night long back then, that maybe somebody learned something. I remember we were very interested in the academic students. Before we organized the junior honor society, we organized what was called a Quest Club. And the Quest Club was working toward academic excellence. And I'm real proud when I see one student who is now a bank president. I see another one who's managing Systems Management here. I see them in top positions. I used to say to them, "You can be anything you want to be if you prepare for it." And I'm real proud that now it seems to have paid off in some instances, in most instances, I think.
Q: Ok, as a summary, could you think of a given day that may have been a highlight at Jacox, and maybe, walk us through a day of activities as a summary for our interview?
A: I suppose a highlight at Jacox might have been one of the days that we were having graduation. In that morning, you could see the hustle bustle among the ninth graders, the seventh graders saying. "Are you going to have three assemblies today?" We had to have three assemblies if everybody in the school actually went to an assembly. They said, "No, this is going to be graduation." And I can see now, even the lunchroom workers were challenged because we always had a little reception for parents and they fixed little things that they're not going to serve at lunch, but they're going to save it. I'm walking down the hall towards the auditorium and running into various parents who've come to see this program. And then the assistant principal and I get on the stage and we are standing there; the pianist begins to play the march. The students are lined up on the outside and they're coming into the tune of the march, down both sides of the isle of the auditorium. This is a great day. Alright, I can see that we have the program. We always have the choir at its best singing. We have the principal to speak to them. We have the assistant principal to talk with them. But the students had their own skit, and as we cleared off the stage for the students to present their skit, we could see ourselves as the students saw us. I'll never forget that skit. There was a principal, there was an assistant principal, there was students going to certain teachers' classrooms that they were describing in this skit. There were some who didn't have their homework, and they were trying to get it from others before they got in there. It was just a typical day, so that parents and teachers could just sit there and see themselves. And we thought it was very good. At the end of the skit, they encouraged each other by saying, "We'll see you," at that time we were feeding into Booker Washington High School, we hadn't totally integrated the school, and they said, "We'll see you at Booker T." Now that sort of thing stands out in my mind, that maybe we were doing something worthwhile.
Q: That was beautiful. I have two other questions that I really need to ask you. One is, what caused you to choose retirement when you did?
A: Well, I didn't retire from the Norfolk Public Schools. I had been asked by the President of Norfolk State University to come over and teach for about twelve years, but at that time I was in the midst of program development and various reasons why I did not accept his request to come over to the college. But I decided, that perhaps, I would like to finish my career doing the thing that I liked best, and that is teaching, and that's why I left the Norfolk Public School System, or leave to go to teach. After I had taught at Norfolk State University for ten years, I decided that I would retire from my career and spend my remaining years doing some things for myself.
Q: Ok, and the last question is: What have I not asked you that I should have asked?
A: I can't think of anything that you should have asked me. I think you asked how much I enjoyed being a principal, some of the aspects of being a principal, and so forth. I really can't think of any additional questions.
Q: Now, with that, I want to thank you once more. Thank you for a beautiful interview.
| Back to "G" Interviews | Index of Interviews | Protocol | Home |