Interview with James C. Gordon


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Q: would you please describe your family background and your educational back ground.

gordon audio (Streamed audio file of interview for this question using RealPlayer)

A: I came from a family of nine six girls and three boys. I graduated from high school and then I went to then Campbell College in North CarolinA: After two years I transferred to Wake Forrest College; graduated from there in 1932. Later I got my Master's Degree in agriculture education at VPI. That is the extent...and of course, I've been to a lot of sessions at VPI, University of Virginia and so forth, but that was the extent of my education.

Q: Did you teach between the time you got your Bachelor's and your Master's Degree?

A: Yes, I did. I taught for several years before I got my Master's Degree.

Q: How many years were you in education total?

A: About 35 years.

Q: And you spent, I guess, about half of those teaching and half those as principal.

A: Right.

Q: Did you teach you said you were agricultural teacher did you teach any other classes.

A: Yes, I taught biology and chemistry for three years before I transferred over to teaching vo-ag. I was a biology major...

Q: I know you were a principal of two schools, the old middle school that was here in Winchester...

A: That's right.

Q: That was a junior high?

A: That was considered a junior high - through first of eighth grade.

Q: So you were dealing with very young children. And this was 1942?

A: That's right. '42 and '43.

Q: So what was it like to be a principal during World War II when that was going on?

A: Well, I really wasn't a principal during this was. As far as being a principal's concerned, you had a lot of students that had brothers in the service and fathers in the service, so you had that emotional thing in there. Other than that, why, it was very normal, but the emotional thing about the students and brothers and parents...

Q: Did it cause any problems like with school supplies did you have to do without certain things?

A: No, we really didn't have to do without school supplies because in those days we didn't use as much as we have been used to since then. We were not used to a lot of supplies, so we made do with what we had.

Q: So there was more creativity on the teacher's part to come up with teaching materials and things.

A: That's right.

Q: I guess then you became principal at James Wood in 1958.

A: That's right.

Q: How did it differ coming from a junior high to a high school all of a sudden as principal?

A: Well, I had a lot of work with high school students in the meantime. Consequently I knew a great many of the students and the parents and so forth, so it wasn't a big change--not much of a change at all. Only the mechanics of the operation of the building and things of that kind. Other than that, there wasn't much of a change.

Q: Why did you decide to become a principal? Were there certain things that led you to that, or did you all of a sudden decide "I want to be a principal"?

A: Well, I didn't make the decision. On one August morning the superintendent of the school came right before breakfast, and I saw him, and I said to my wife, I wonder what he wants this morning, and I went out and invited him in, and he said no, I'm too busy. He said the school board met last night and appointed you principal of the high school and I had two weeks to get the school open.

Q: What brought about the vacancy?

A: The man who was here went to Lonocone, Maryland that was salaried.

Q: Then he stayed in high school stayed in teaching stayed in education?

A: Until he died.

Q: Well, I guess that with only two weeks to get ready for opening school...

A: Well, I had four teachers that I knew could do job with me, so I called them in and told them go ahead and do it. We didn't have a student registered or anything. So by the time school opened we had everybody registered, every body in the classroom.

Q: How many students did you have at that time?

A: There was about 1400.

Q: And that was grades 1 through 12?

A: That was grades 9 through 12.

Q: So I guess that's a pretty good size school back in those days you had at that time.

A: A big school.

Q: Can you just briefly give me your school's-- or the school's philosophy at that time for education.

A: Well, as far as the philosophy is concerned, we've simply tried to do the best we could for the students, and meeting with the teachers and setting up goals that we would like to reach for students to succeed in whatever they were taking and that was our main philosophy--of trying to get the students to work and to succeed in whatever field he was taking.

Q: Did that philosophy changed any over the years as ...

A: Well, it has changed some, but not too much while I was here. We just simply worked for the best interests of the students. That was our philosophy, in whatever way we could to work for the best interests of the students.

Q: Do you think that was a successful philosophy?

A: Well, I think so because ...

Q: Students got a good education ...

A: They got a good education and so we have them all the way from

Q: So you'd say this was a successful program? I know I had a very successful high school education when I was here. OK. What kind of climate did you try to create for the students while you were the principal?

A: We tried to create a climate where the students could come to the teacher, to the principal, to guidance people anyone with any problems that they had, and as I told each incoming class that my door was open anytime to any student who wanted to come and to meet with me about any problem. And if they got into trouble and they walked out that door, that problem was forgotten by ---- and it's very funny I meet some students today that are as I am, bald headed and gray-headed, and they were telling about some things that they did...

Q: That had stuck in their mind made, I guess, a really tremendous impact on their minds. Do you feel your working relationship, then, with the students was a very cordial one?

A: Yes, I think it was very cordial. You always have someone who doesn't want to work, but I've seen 99%.

Q: What leadership techniques did you use while creating a climate for this learning while teachers and students were looking to you for guidance and leadership.

A: Well, I don't know of any specific techniques other than being interested in the students. Just showing that you were concerned about them and wanted them to do something and to be something. That's the main thing, and we tried not to low-rate any student look down upon them or anything like that. We tried to lift them up, and I thank the Lord for this privilege.

Q: Now the school and community relations is becoming such a big part of education, what kind of role did you take in that field?

A: Well, we had, at the school, most of the time, once or twice a year we had open house where parents could come in and for those who would like to come and talk to us about anything, about their sons and daughters, how we did that. Also, of course, the different departments of the school, like the FFA, the band, the chorus, and the other departments of the school, made contact with the people of the community, the business places, and so forth. So we had a good contact with the community.

Q: Did the superintendents or the school board that you served under, did they pretty much want to take the responsibility for any kind of publicity or press that the school received for, you know, like the whole county, or did they leave that up to the administrators?

A: They left that up to us, and we tried to get whenever we did something worthwhile, we tried to get that in the papers and let people know about it.

Q: What about any adverse stuff publicity that might have come around, I'm not sure how much adverse...

A: Well, the thing is there was some adverse things, but as far as whatever reconstructive, we would talk to them about it, but when it passed it that, we didn't tell them anything.

Q: I was thinking one of the school/community things that you probably had to deal with, even the first few years when James Wood opened, is that it consolidated five smaller high schools. What approaches did I know that you probably were aware of like the first principals started or that you took to help make this just one county high school instead of, you know, five coming into one.

A: Well, of course, I was teaching at that time in school here, and I would say that after six months you did not know where they came from. The oldest blended in with the others, and you didn't hear anyone say I'm from Stone wall or I'm from Gore or I'm from Stephens City. You didn't hear it. They were going to school.

Q: So really nothing special was done. The kids just kind of figured this was the way it was going to be and I'm going to be a part of it.

A: It was time for students who came in here to go to school to learn something. And so consequently they buckled down and went to work instead of this little group over here and this little group over there.

Q: What about prior to that? Did you have prior to the consolidation a lot of problems with parents?

A: No. They were looking forward to it because, see, they took five small high schools you could not give them what we could give them here at James Wood, and they knew this. Oh, of course, you know, you always have somebody that's against everything. Nothing to amount to anything.

Q: That's good. I was always wondering about how the students that came in- if they took to it readily or whether it took them a while to get accustomed to the new building and things. OK. Basically, how did you go about it? What about prior to that? Did you have prior to the consolidation a lot of problems with parents?

A: No. They were looking forward to it because, see, they took five small high schools you could not give them what we could give them here at James Wood, and they knew this. Oh, of course, you know, you always have somebody that's against everything. Nothing to amount to anything.

Q: That's good. I was always wondering about how the students that came in- if they took to it readily or whether it took them a while to get accustomed to the new building and things. OK. Basically, how did you go about evaluating teachers, and how did that change, or if it did change, what kind of evolution did it take in the evolution process?

A: Well, in one way the teachers are what to every classroom and some of them I have talked with and been with and so consequently I knew pretty much what they could do. Mainly with the new teachers I worked with them and helped them and then I also listened to what students had to say, not agreeing with them, but I listened, and that way you can find out a lot about what is going on when your back's turned.

Q: What do you feel it takes to be a successful principal or an effective principal?

A: Well, I think it has to be someone who has a deep understanding of what a school is for and try to operate that school on the premise that the school is made for people to come to learn and try to make a situation so they feel that they can and that they're not be harangued all the time about one thing or another. State what you want them to do and let them know that it's exactly what you want.

Q: Except, I guess, basically that that's going back to your philosophy of this is how I want to run this school; each principal has to make that decision for himself and hopefully the faculty will go with him. What do you think is the biggest pressure you had as principal?

A: I guess the biggest pressure I had was just some little minor things that cropped up here and there that people thought that ought to be different, and that was the main thing...not any big problems at all.

Q: Were those like the little surprises that hit you every so...everyday surprises...

A: That's right. And not any of them big things at all.

Q: Did you have any special ways of handling those little problems or did...

A: Well, I yes, those who asked about it, they were invited to come in and sit down and talk it over; and within a short time they had settled it and that was the end of it.

Q: So you took care of those right away.

A: That's right. We didn't let them drag along.

Q: There's one philosophy going around, I guess, today that if you let it go long enough, it'll take care of itself.

A: It never does. So that's what we did.

Q: OK. Did you ever have to fire a teacher?

A: Yes, I had to let one go.

Q: Just one in the seventeen years that you taught?

A: Just one that we really had to let go. Now we had some that went on their own accord without having to be released.

Q: Did they have to be released because they weren't handling the classroom or...

A: They just simply were not handling anything.

Q: Just showing up for the paycheck...

A: They didn't handle the position they were in at all.

Q: What kind of emotion or feelings did you have when you had to let this person go?

A: It's a feeling of maybe I'd failed to do something or other, and yet I'd worked with the teacher for three years and they were determined to do what they wanted to do and not what I wanted them to do or the school board or anyone else.

Q: They were more concerned, I guess, with their personal needs rather than the...

A: Well, they thought they knew everything.

Q: During your ten years as a principal, you probably saw a lot of changes in education over the years. What kind of effect did the Civil Rights movement and act that came in 1964 have on this county and this school generally. Is there anything major thing that you saw?

A: No major thing happened. When the Civil Rights thing came in, we had one student come in and then later other students came in. Of course, we didn't have any population, and so consequently they were just students like everybody else. They were real nice, some of them are my best friends today, came out of that group that came in here.

Q: So I guess you really didn't have to deal with the bussing issue or anything like that.

A: No. They just came in the school and were part of the school and we were part of them and they were part of us and that's it.

Q: From the way, some of the stories that you told, that the school was just a very easy-going, and everybody came here at least with the expectation to learn, to get an education, and take it out into the world, and you could be my friend or not be my friend--it didn't really matter, but the school as a whole seemed very friendly and very cooperative.

A: yes, they were. Of course, we had our little troublemakers along with everybody else. I guess if you had the size of the school . . . cropped up.

Q: There's always somebody to take somebody else's place. What about some of the well, let me ask, what kind of impact did the Sputnik, the Russian satellite, going up before we had one go up make in the curriculum here? Did it make a big change in the school board? I know it had a drastic affect on the nation as a whole.

A: Well, I'll tell you, everybody started talking about it ... whether it would take it or not, and of course, it also kind of strengthened the courses, and put what should have been done on the core, but then the folks in the army want to do something about it, so that's what they did, but no drastic changes, but we tried to upgrade the math courses and things like that, and the physics, and the sciences courses.

Q: Also during that time during the succeeding like the secondary, elementary/secondary education came along and several other things that the federal government thought that the states weren't taking care of do you think the states would have eventually gotten around to those programs or do you think the federal government was kind of panicking because of Sputnik...?

A: Oh, they were panicking and flying off from 45 different directions and not knowing which way to go, to my way of thinking maybe I'm wrong. But so many of the programs that they have proposed, you haven't seen much good from it today.

Q: Did it cause more things for you to have to think about and be concerned about paperwork wise?

A: Oh, yes. A lot of things; more papers to fill out.

Q: Do you think that instead of being an educational leader at that time, you became more a manager for the school--that your role as a leader changed?

A: Well, it changed some because of the pressure from the government for this, that, and the other--like for instance, I had to fill out forms in triplicate and the next week I'd get a form to fill out in triplicate which was exactly opposite of what I'd filled out the week before, so you didn't know where to go. There was some of that, but not enough to hurt anything.

Q: just something to keep you busy more busywork than anything?

A: That's right.

Q: How do you think the vocational education now this was already a farming community, and there was probably a very strong agricultural education department here to start with do you think that specific act helped bolster that department even more?

A: Oh, talking about the Smithfield Act? Yes, it helped to bolster the work and to make it what it became, and of course I was in that for a number of years, and so incidentally, do you know the president of FFA for next year's a James Wood girl?

Q: Oh, is that right? No I hadn't heard that yet. I know James Wood has had, I guess this makes the second president?

A: Yeah, second or third.

Q: Second or third. So I know there's a very strong vocational agricultural education here.

A: And a national president a few years ago.

Q: That's right, and he's a teacher now too.

A: I taught his father, and my wife him, so when he was president we went to Kansas City.

Q: So you still feel very a very strong bond into the program?

A: That's right.

Q: I guess with so many years being involved, it's hard to not to keep your eye on...It's nice to have outside people to keep involved and give your support and even some ideas every now and then on how to do things. I'm sure the ag department is very ...

A: ...and know what it can do for students; I can go to a meeting anywhere in this county, anywhere in this state, and I can tell you if the man who is doing the meeting of this program--chairing the program--I can tell you if he came through the ... Future Farmers of AmericA:

Q: How was that organization around back in the early days when the school started?

A: Yes, I think ... since 1928.

Q: So you have a long history of ...

A: Long history of it.

Q: Do you think that's why there's, I guess, such a strong hold instilled in the farmer in this area, even though he's trying to make a move, to get more ... industrial ...

A: Well, it's going to become more industrialized, but yet see, the teaching in the vo-ag department has changed drastically. Once, when I was teaching, mainly it was on basic farming,.. things being fixed. Now you have to deal with all types of variety . And these young men who graduate from VPI, a lot of them will not go into teaching, Some of them will go back on the farms, but others will go into allied...

Q: How did you best utilize your assistant principals? I assume you probably had one when you first started here?

A: Yes, and I had one when I quit. Well, the assistant principal mainly took over handling of the students as far as being checking on how many are absent and so forth and so on like that. I mean, the secretary took the roll and compiled it and he took care of that. And then he also took care of meeting with the parents if they needed to come in and just small matters. Now anything large came around to me, and we checked daily on what was going on and we just worked together some of the things, sometimes he would do it, and sometimes I would do it; so it wasn't any just hard and fast rules You do this and this and this and stay out of everything else; we worked together.

Q: Kind of like whoever needed to take care of something took care of it.

A: That's right. In other words, part of the time he'd take care of it...

Q: As a principal, what was your biggest concern? Was there anything you were more concerned with in the program, whether it was instruction or ...

A: I was concerned about whether or not the students were getting a good education. That was my only concern, the major thing that I worked with my teachers and anyone else having committed to bring things in here for to see and to understand and that was my only concern that they get a good education.

Q: What do you think about this merit thing that they're talking about nowadays? Do you think that's a good idea or something that they should look into?

A: I think this is my personal feeling that before you go into complete merit pay, you're going to have to set up some way of really being able to tell this teacher from that teacher from the other teacher as to their level of production. I don't think you can do that. It's a simple guess.

Q: So you'd prefer to see them really work on establishing like an evaluation procedure...

A: That is fair to every teacher.

Q: And not just one standard form like this, whether it's a math teacher, science teacher, or anything like that, you need to really consider an evaluation also. Do you think basically, though, that merit pay is a good idea or not a good idea?

A: Well, I think merit pay is a good idea if you can work that merit out fair for everyone.

Q: Moving on to like the standards of quality, did they have standards of quality set up when you were...

A: Yes, we had standards of quality and we never really pushed on these standards of quality only to work and try to do the best we could. Course, that met up with our standards of quality and course let's see, what was the name of that book that came out years ago, I can't think of it anyway, it set up everything of known quality.

Q: Just more like a reference manual in case you ever need it?

A: That's right. But it was too complicated at the time.

Q: As the years grew on, did they start to push that a little bit more at you and make you become a little bit more aware use it more.

A: Well, they not too much when I was principal. To some extent, but not too much. We tried to meet anything the state required or required by the southern association in the school; we tried to meet the standards for that and worked toward it, but we didn't let it become the driving force that would unbalance work with the students just to say we're meeting the standards of quality.

Q: OK. Along that same idea you probably saw the rise of those standardized tests and the college boards and all that kind of testing stuff what do you think about those? Do you think those are a fair assessment of student knowledge, or is it just another screening process?

A: I think it is good to a certain extent, but it doesn't take into account those students that will freeze on a test and I don't know if they were able to do that, I will not say it's 100% perfect because you take some people for instance, we had a teacher in the school one time that when he was in college, if you'd throw a test down in front of him, he'd freeze, but you'd ask him the questions, he'd give you the whole thing. And that same thing happens with students with these standardized tests, and I think that they serve a purpose, but they shouldn't be ...

Q: I guess, they shouldn't be the sole basis on judging how good a school system is teaching or anything like that.

A: No, it shouldn't be so.

Q: I know a lot of times the community gets aroused when the reading scores and the math scores from the standardized tests get out, and you know, if they're not with the national or below, they're ready to make some big changes.

A: I don't think they should ever be used for comparison.

Q: As to how one system does to another?

A: That's right. Because in one system you may have a group of students who have been trained from childhood up as against some poor kid who comes in out here and has never had any training. And then say that this system is better than this one or this system where the kid who has never had any training may be accomplishing more.

Q: Learns more or at a little bit faster rate. OK. What do you think was the toughest decision you ever had to make as a principal?

A: I think the toughest decision I ever made was when I let the one person go. I didn't want to do it. I think that's the toughest decision I ever made. Of course, that was with the school, I wasn't told ...

Q: You mean that was tougher than any of them dealing with some of the kids or anything like that?

A: Oh, no. Dealing with the students even though I had to suspend some, recommend some for expulsion, that wasn't of course, I talked with them.

Q: The kids understood.

A: They understood.

Q: What kind of advice did you give to a person who might be considering be coming a principal or a school administrator?

A: Well, I'd tell them first to have a real good education. That's first.

Q: A specific education, or an overall, general,...

A: An overall education, not someone who has come out of, say, a technical school with no understanding of anything else. Have a good broad under- standing of education and then have a genuine interest in working with young people whether it be an elementary school principal or a high school principal--that's the thing, to have an interest in young people. And I would never have stayed in teaching two minutes if I hadn't ...

Q: So you would probably put that as the number 1 to like the kids.

A: And another thing is to be able to have a rapport with anybody, whether you love him or dislike him or what, because you're gonna have teachers that's gonna be hard to love sometimes when they want to do everything the other way. You have to work with sometimes the chauvinist and want them to be successful.

Q: What kind of changes do you think that you would like to maybe make if you were going to go back into becoming a principal again in like this administrative setup and responsibility? Is there anything that you'd like to have seen changed?

A: Well, I don't know that I'd make any great changes from what I had as a principal here. It keeps me........... we're talking about here, the system principal knew what was expected of him, the guidance counselor knew what was expected, and we discussed these things. If they had anything to say, they always said it, and so, in fact, I changed my thoughts on it depending on what they wanted to do.

Q: How about like maybe the chain of command? Today there's a lot of super visors in between the superintendents and I guess the building administrators. Did you have a lot of contact with those type of people or was it strictly...?

A: Well, we had a few supervisors but mainly they were just like the teachers were--they came in and we discussed anything that they'd found or that we discussed with the teachers or most of the time they came in and they talked to the teachers and they were satisfied; why should I get in the way of what they're doing? So I'd say 90% of the time I never had any contact with them actually in the classroom or with the teachers. They were happy, why shouldn't I be?

Q: Along this same line we're talking about preparing people to become principal, is there anything that you would tell a college, some college say VPI, or James Madison contacted you on what would be the best way to prepare somebody to become an administrator, would you have any specific suggestions?

A: Well, I think that the courses that they have set up that they should take all those because you're going to need them. I don't mean take a lot of fly-by-night courses that they may have, but I mean the basic courses that they should have in business administration, school, and all like that, and anything that I think the colleges would look in maybe they have but look into the schools and see what the principal has to do and then set up some courses dealing with that stuff, public relations and so forth I know they have it, so that persons and principals should take those courses and public relations, 'cause he's going to ask about them, good or bad or indifferent, he's gonna have 'em. And so I'd set up those priorities for the person who's going in and then, of course, you know we do have this thing, it's called internship, and that's not bad.

Q: That would be a good idea for like upcoming principals like the same student teaching, you have like an internship as a principal where you would actually go into a school for a semester? That's I never heard anybody talk about that before; that would probably be an interesting idea to check into and see if it would make a difference.

A: Well, I think of course, I knew everybody around here and when I stepped into this job here, I took it for a year. I did.

Q: And you did two years, you liked it so well. Did you said you did that for one year, did they to have it pretty much as long as you were doing the job?

A: Well, they just gave it to me for one year. They had to have somebody to open the school, and then I told them to keep my job open, but at the end of the year they repeated their interest, you know.

Q: So you must have done a real good job in selling yourself to the public as a good administrator.

A: Well, they knew me personally; they knew my life style and all that.

Q: They thought you were a good person, I guess, to have their sons and daughters look up to as a role model more than anything else. As a role model, do you think that's another thing is a very important part of...

A: That's very important for a principal. Unless it gets into some of these big systems where you never see him or anything, but then the people who do the work are the role models.

Q: What consumed the majority of your time as a principal? Did you get out into the hall much or was there...

A: Well, when I was on the telephone talking to someone or having a conference with someone or in the classroom or teaching between times, I went through the halls, especially at lunch time, things like that, I was all over the building. And I overheard a nice compliment the other day a young lady came in, she said there's one thing I certainly remember about you. I said what was that? That you were so nice to us when you met us in the hall; you spoke to everyone.

Q: Do you think that visibility is another thing that helped you (?) I guess it also helps keep them feeling like they can come and talk to you, if they see you in the hall they can step up to you and maybe talk about their problems and things. Do you think that's something maybe the administrators nowadays might need to get back to a little bit more?

A: I be closer to the students.

Q: Is there anything that you would have liked to have spent more time on while you were principal that you didn't get a real chance to?

A: Well, I would have liked to spend more time really working with the teachers than I could possibly do. When you have a school this size, there's not many hours in the day that you do not have to ---, and so consequently unless you tell the secretary and ask for me, if it's important I'll come out. If not, I'd rather stay on through the end (?)

Q: Is there anything like, with the superintendents--how many superintendents did you serve under? Just the two?

A: Three. Mr. Cline, and Mr. Baylor, and Dr. Wright.

Q: Did those three gentlemen pretty much let you have your way in the schools, or did they give you their ideas of what you should be doing?

A: And he pretty well knew me and what I would do, what I wouldn't do, and so we got along fine.

Q: Was there any particular board that gave you a little bit rougher time than another schools boards or anything like that, or did you get along pretty well with them all?

A: Not at all. Not at all.

Q: Did you ever see any big drastic changes in the school board like one member left or somebody else would come out with a change ... ?

A: No.

Q: They pretty much kept the same disposition?

A: No. Pretty much the same thing.

Q: I guess that would make your job a whole lot easier, doesn't it, when there's not much change you have to worry about? When you came into the school, you said that 1400 students was a pretty good sized school even back in 1958. Do you think that might have been too large of a school at that time for, say, you and an assistant principal to handle.

A: No, I don't think so. We had 8th through 12th, so I don't know exactly how many we handled, but it was around ...

Q: So you don't feel that wasn't too big or anything?

A: No, it wasn't too large, but it pushed us.

Q: Do you feel like nowadays some of these really high, large, number of students- like there's a couple schools down in Prince William and Fairfax where they have like 4,000 students do you think that's starting to get a little...?

A: That's getting out of hand for achieving feeling among all students and faculty.

Q: How large of a school do you think they could go before they start to get too large----- do you think 2,000 is about as big as you'd want to go?

A: 2,000. I wouldn't want even if I were looking for a position today I wouldn't want a school over 2,000. Course, this school of 2,000 has more system principal and everything else today than I had.

Q: Just talk about some of the stuff when you were principal, can you give me like some of the most what were some of the biggest and most exciting points when you were a principal at James Wood? Anything that sticks out in your mind that really made you kind of excited or very proud of the school?

A: Well, I was several times we've had some of our students who would take part in the various community activities and things like that, that they accomplished a good many things, and it made me feel real good. And I think that the best feeling I had, as I said, was the various organizations that we had in the school that went into the community and took part in community activities and they showed that they were a real part of the community. I think those were the best feelings I've ever had as far as what the school's doing and so forth. Now there's certain little things that happen within the school when students ----. It made me feel real good. And the teachers also. Now, of course, the year we won the state football championship--course everybody felt good then!

Q: We always do when a football team wins!

A: But not many people today know that we won the first AAA football champion ship.

Q: Why do you think some things are passing?

A: Some things are passing because they are pertinent only to that particular group at that particular time. Now it goes without saying people who work with various things in various other organizations remember about it. Some things are just pertinent to a small group of people and they it doesn't carry on on down the line.

Q: Do you feel that tradition was a bigger part of the school back in the early days than it is now?

A: Well, I can't answer the latter part, but we were proud of our tradition that we had built up in all phases of our work. In athletics and so forth we had a tradition of if we didn't have an excellent team, we had a tradition you got a scrap out of it! But other than that, why we worked to build up 'cause we had to, we started from zero, and the only place you could go was up. So that's what we worked for.

Q: Is this the kind of question that you think that maybe that the students and maybe the administrators or teachers maybe should look back on these times a little bit and maybe draw a little bit more from ... ?

A: Well, I think maybe we do draw somewhat but probably not as much on tradition as we should because we did have a good I guess we still do today but 11 years away from it, why I don't know too much about it. Now my grandsons keep me informed on it.

Q: What kind of impressions do they give you?

A: They give me the impression that everything is pretty good.

Q: They're pretty pleased with....

A: Yes, they're very pleased. 'Course the student who goes to school and works, he doesn't have time to think about anything else.

Q: Do you think bringing that up, do you think that that could be a problem nowadays that there are so many students that have to work, that they're not being able to benefit fully from their high school days?

A: Well, we've always had some of those but more so in this day and age when everybody has to have a car to drive to school whether they need it or not, and they have to work to do that. They do not get into the life of the school like they should, and so they gave up everything else for the life of the school. One of the things that my grandsons told me that some kids were kidding them and told them that this year's annual was a Gordon scrapbook 'cause they had their pictures in there sixty-some times. Being in those organizations, you see, and if a student wants to, it's there for him.

Q: Did you have any certain person that you might have molded yourself after while you were principal, or tried to be like them or, let's say, influenced you?

A: Well, not to my knowledge. There were several people that I knew that were good principals and I respected them, and I was always talking with them and discussing things. We had at that time an excellent organization for the principal of this district, and we sat down and aired out things that would help each other, and so consequently I guess maybe I tried to take the best of all of them and incorporate it in what I was doing where it would work.

Q: How often did this principals organization get together?

A: They met, let me see, four times a year.

Q: Did you have any certain meetings where a certain principal had all of a sudden a new trend starting in his school that might have started before, or happened in advance...?

A: Yes, several times. Now the thing of placing the student with what we called IBM back in those days was started from that. One school had started it one year and then we discussed it with them, and then we got in on it.

Q: You telling me this kind of helped prepare you for when those things got to your school a little bit --that you were more aware of it?

A: Yes, we were aware of it. Matter of fact, we got off one day and went down to the school and sat down and talked to them so that we would know what it was all about.

Q: With this county being such an agricultural county, do you think maybe that they have resisted change just a little bit or is it a little harder to get them to change or accept new ideas?

A: Well, you always have some people who resist any kind of change, but I never thought that we had much resistance in this community on any change because we tried to let them know what we were going to do before we did it instead of going there and saying, now hey your son has to do this that way. We tried to let them know when changes were being made.

Q: What do you think might have been the biggest change that occurred in this county while you were principal?

A: I suppose the biggest change was the push toward more science, mathematics and things of that nature. I think that that was the biggest change during the time.

Q: That was probably, I guess, closer to the end of your principalship they started screaming about a back to basics movement. Do you think that really fit in here at James Wood or did you try and stick to the basics?

A: We'd been trying to stick to the basics all along. We had a few programs in here that we tried and they seemed to work very well, but we never got off the basics to any extent, so that it wasn't a backwards movement as far as I'm concerned here. So, we were not at a place where we would not try anything new; if we thought it would work, why we tried it.

Q: Did most of your departments get along very well together, or did you have any friction that is, more tense feelings between any one department than the other, or did everybody pretty well get along together?

A: Everybody got along pretty well together. There was a little jealousy to some extent with the vo-ag department because we were on 12 months, and that was about the biggest feelings, but that was because of the way it was set up with the federal funds.

Q: Most of the other teachers, I assume, were on 10-month contracts?

A: Yes, 10 months. So as far as the other departments, I never felt oh, you sometimes you have somebody say something, but as far as real jealousy between departments, I don't remember any real jealousy.

Q: There's a feeling a lot of times nowadays that there's a lot of jealousy between departments, and I was wondering if it had always been there or whether there was more cooperation.

A: No, to be very frank, if I found out that one department was bickering toward the other, I sat down with the department heads and...

Q: tried to get it straightened out before...

A: get it straightened out, but one department always feeling it's being pushed around maybe, but we never let that develop, as far as I was concerned. Now there might have been an undercurrent that I didn't know about, but otherwise we worked on it.

Q: How much information did you get out of the students you said you went to talk to students a lot. What areas did you talk to them about?

A: Well, how they were getting along in their work and if they liked the work of the teachers and so forth and so on. They were always pretty frank. Now I usually could tell when a student wasn't doing his work and I didn't like it, I knew very well. I could tell that they were not meeting expectations. They'd come in and sit down and talk to me. How are you getting along with your work; oh, just fine.

Q: Did you see any real big changes in students from, say, 1958 to 1975 or did they stay pretty much the same?

A: Stayed pretty much the same. Up until I left here, we had pretty much the same kind of students. They came out from the small towns in the county. We hadn't had the influx of people from everywhere that you have now.

Q: Do you think maybe that influx of students might be the reason that there's not quite such unity within the school?

A: Well, if that be the case, it could account for it because, for instance, we've had students from one part of the United States who came in here that they'd left there because they were not satisfied with the school system; but soon as they got here their parents wanted to run it like they did in that part of the country, so I told a couple of them, I said, now you came here because you liked our school system, now you want to make it just like you left. My advice to you is go back. They wouldn't go back.

Q: Guess they knew a good thing when they saw it. Sometimes I guess people from other areas, they get pushy without knowing it. They're used to a little bit more aggressive area and it takes them a while to get out of that mold.

A: Yeah. One father came in one day and he said to me, he said, now I'm moving in here. And he said I want to find a good school for my son. He said, I've been to a certain school and I liked it very much. I said that's a fine school; as a matter of fact my children went to school there because I lived where they had to go to school there. I said it's a fine school. He said, well what do the students do here? Well, I said we have them who come out being teachers, we have them come out a doctor, lawyer,... He said, that's good enough, that's good enough, I'm going to send my son to your school. And his son graduated first with

Q: Is there anything specific that you'd like to talk about that I haven't maybe touched on that would be of importance to somebody who would be listening to this tape.

A: Well, one thing I would say whether you're going into teaching or have the ambition of being a principal is to be dedicated to the work your doing. If you're not, if you're just doing it for a pastime, then don't.

Q: Would you still advise people to go into the educational field?

A: Yes. If they have a desire for that kind of work and have a --- for it, I would say Yes.

Q: Even with all the bad publicity that our education system is getting these days?

A: You know, I think if you throw half of these articles they print in the paper and are written in books and so forth in an incinerator, it'd make a good hot fire and make some steam, it'd do more good than what they're doing. I read some of them, and most of the people that are talking about the school situation know very little about it. It's easy for somebody to sit up in the penthouse and write all this stuff.

Q: So you think for the most part that the publicity is really not based on any certain facts, it's just somebody's whim at that time?

A: Most of it is.

Q: Is there anything that you would like to see done to help improve education?

A: Well, I would like to see teachers put on a basis of being paid that would compensate them equally with other means of employment so that they can come out and not have to cut corners like I did when I was first my first teaching job was $80 a month.

Q: What year was that?

A: 1941. That's the first teaching job here. I had taught in North Carolina prior to that and that was about the same. As a matter of fact, during the Depression they couldn't collect enough taxes to have... paid the teachers.

Q: One area that I'd like maybe to touch on that I haven't talked about that you were also principal during the Vietnam times. How did that differ from, let's say, World War II? What were the feelings of the students?

A: Well, we didn't have the feeling here now we had some feeling, of course, we shouldn't be in there, but we didn't have the uprising about it that they had in some places. We had a few little demonstrations, you might say, but it was minor.

Q: Do you feel that maybe because of the makeup of the community there was still that sense of loyalty--if your country called for you, you went; you didn't buck it.

A: That's right. And the only ones who showed any resentment whatsoever were people who moved in. Our young people, I'll tell you, I don't know of any of them, you know, that showed any resentment.

Q: Then again, was there any changes in the educational process during that time?

A: No.

Q: Is there anything else? I can't think of anything else really to touch on unless there's anything else you want to add.

A: Well, I don't think so.

Q: Give us just give us some for instances of some of the things.

A: Well, you want me to tell you about a young man that I had in my office for picking a quarrel, anyway at the football game, the car wouldn't start so I opened it up and looked at it. A wire had been removed. So I called down to the sheriff's to see if he had a man bring me one. Next morning after I made the announcement, I called for a certain young man to come to the office. I said, I give you just 10 minutes to go out and get the car wire that you took off my car last night and bring it in. He looked at me and went out the door; a few minutes later he came racing in the door. He was mad. And I said, now listen, you walk out that door, I want to forget this. And you'll have to bring it to my attention. About two or three years later about two years later, he came to me and asked if he could come in, came in with his wife, and sat down. He said, I was so mad when I left here, I wasn't going to ever contact this school again. He said, I wanted a job and they will not hire me unless I get a recommendation from the principal. And I asked him, last name, so forth, telephone number, and I said, well, I'm going to call them up and talk to them. And I called them up and I told them that the young man was in there with his wife and he was very upset and he realizes that when he was in school here he was just about as ornery as he could be with this, that and the other; he didn't want to do what he was supposed to do, but I said I know now he really needs some help. Now you do something for me. I said, now you give him a job for one month and if he doesn't toe the mark, fine. He said, I certainly will, and he's still with them.

Q: Give you a lot of pride in remembering some of your students?

A: Oh, yes, I have a lot of pride in remembering students that came to me with problems and we worked the problems out and they are substantial people in the community. One young lady came to me with a very serious problem and I told her that it was out of my hands, wasn't anything I could do, she'd have to go to the law about it. And so she did and the sheriff happened to be a friend of mine. I told him ahead of time about it. He got it straightened out. That young lady became the best secretary in town.

Q: It's stories like that always reaffirm your faith in education and yourself and the process. Do you feel maybe things like that need to be brought more to the public's attention instead of getting so much negative press; they don't look more to the positive side?

A: Well, I knew a young man, he was just ornery, but he was a pretty good student. And his father and mother were my best friends. He just was - was a bit ornery. And when I handed him his diploma, he went "Blah". Course, I didn't see him for, I know I did not see him for six or seven years. One day a knock come on my door. I said come in; in walked this nice-looking well-dressed man. He said, do you remember me? And I said, yes, have a seat. He said, no not 'til I apologize. And then he sat down. But there are things like that.

Q: Bring back a lot of memories.

A: Came over here one night to a program, I guess this was a year before we moved out, and I was sitting there and a great big colored came over and sat down beside me and laid an arm across my shoulder. He said, Mr. Gordon, he said I want to apologize for any trouble I gave you in school. I said, I don't remember any trouble. Then he gave a couple of incidents that happened. I said, I don't remember those. He said, well it hit me the other day that the first time I saw you I was going to apologize because, he said, I have four children in your school and I know what you'll be going through.

Q: If you had to tell someone--if they were to ask you, what were.. your strongest traits during your... education a teacher and as a principal, just what were those things that made your time span wonderful?

A: Well, I think it would basically go back to the training I had in my home. I was brought up to love and respect everybody, and I think that was a trait that came all the way through my college days and in my teaching, that I love and respect just about everybody. And so consequently I think it made it much easier for me to carry on. I can't hold a grudge, in my heart deep down I couldn't hold a grudge.

Q: And yet at the same time you could be firm enough.

A: I was a very firm disciplinarian. I was firm. The only thing that really hurt me was a young man that I taught in 1941 that remained there and he had a son. And he was one that wouldn't come to school and he'd lie about it. And he lied to his parents and he lied to us. And finally I called his daddy one day and I said, I think you'd better come in and talk to this boy and me. The boy then was in high school. He said, well he's getting to where he doesn't want to listen. And I said maybe we can work together with him. Well, he came in and the father was sitting like here and I was at the desk here, and the son stood there, he wouldn't sit down. I asked him to sit down, he wouldn't sit down. Well, I was telling his father something about what he was doing, he wouldn't study; and I said, he will not study for his teachers and he called me a G D liar................ His daddy hit him and knocked him on the floor, I mean, I couldn't get him to stop it. He was a hitting him. And I said, you can't do that. I said, that's enough. He said, no way he's going to say that to you. And he got up and I haven't seen him since.

Q: Does he still keep in touch with the father?

A: I don't know. I haven't seen him but.... a few times. When his father was in the school, I know he was smart....... , he did his work.

Q: Well, we certainly thank you for taking the time to come talk to us.

A: Oh, you're welcome.

Q: Appreciate it very much.

A: Well, you're certainly welcome.

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