This is March 13, 1990.This is an interview with Mr. George Gearhart in the Library of Mountain View Elementary School on his experiences as an Elementary School Principal.
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Q: Would you begin by telling us about your family background, your childhood interests, and schooling?
(Streamed audio file of interview for this question using RealPlayer)
A: All right. I'm a native of Salem, Virginia. I attended public schools in Roanoke County, or in the City of Salem, as its now known. I did my undergraduate at Roanoke College and received my Master's Degree from VPI. I am married, and I have two sons, and my wife is a teacher in Roanoke County--in an elementary school in Roanoke County. That's about the extent of it.
Q: Would you talk about the circumstances surrounding your entry into principalship? What motivated you?
A: Well, in the early 60's, 1960's, there were very few men in the teaching profession, and even less in the elementary schools. In order to keep me in the profession Roanoke County started promoting them to elementary principals. I taught two years, and I did not seek the job as principal, but Dr. Horn, who was superintendent of Roanoke County Schools insisted that I take the position of principal for Clearbrook Elementary School. I enjoyed teaching, and it took several years working as principal before I felt comfortable in that position. As I said, I enjoyed teaching, and wanted to remain in teaching, but the experience and success helped me change my attitude toward being a principal. I also completed my graduate work and felt more at ease. In order to learn about elementary teaching I did a lot of observing in the first grade classrooms. One of the first grade teachers at Clearbrook School was an outstanding teacher, and I learned from her about elementary education. I felt you ought to start with first grade. I knew something about the upper grades, having taught that, but I felt like we needed to be in the first grade and learn from that standpoint. We didn't have kindergarten at that time. Again, much later in my career, special education classes (I worked with LD and BA) were housed in my school and I was fortunate to have some outstanding teachers in those classes. By observing these people, I learned about children with handicaps. And I also took classes in kindergarten when they introduced kindergarten to the public schools.
Q: So was two years teaching first . . . then
A: Two years teaching--and as I said before, I mentioned to you one time before, I was in five schools in three years.
Q: Would you describe your personal philosophy of education, how it evolved over the years?
A: I think that education should be for all students and the type of education received would depend upon the potential and the interests of the individual. Teachers should teach the individual and the student should be permitted to go as far as his ability and interests will take him. And I see this particularly as you see the different abilities of students, some are more interested in going on to college and others are not. I also see it in the special education classes we have. Some people have more ability to learn (different levels of learning), and that's the way I feel it should be for all students, but at the level they can learn. And this is versus the European and Japanese type of education with the track system, when they get to a certain time in their education, if they're not ready to go on, they don't go on--they don't have any choice.
Q: Would you describe the instructional philosophy of your school and how it developed over the period of time that you were there?
A: I think that that's pretty well limited. The State Standard of Quality dictates most of the instruction programs we have and the curriculum guides have been developed for each subject in Roanoke County Schools, that pretty well takes care of philosophy. As for the development of instructional skills for the teachers, that comes mainly through the staff development coordinator. Reinforcement of these skills is through observation by the principal, confirmed with the individual teachers and follow-up in-service with staff of each school. There's a continuous need of refining the skills of teachers, I think, as you go along.
Q: What experiences in your professional life influenced your management philosophy?
A: My experiences tell me that people do not work well when they're under constant stress. The principal can foster a positive attitude by being supportive to his teachers and being well organized. Teachers need as much freedom to teach as possible and they need to have input into decision making. I feel that it is necessary to reduce that pressure on teachers. If the teacher isn't threatened, it is reflected in his work with the students. The student who feels good about himself will be able to learn. The good feeling of the student is conveyed to the parent and, in turn, the positive attitude is reflected back to the school.
Q: Kind of like a complete circle starting at the top and kind of making its way down.
A: Right. You get your positive strokes back from the parents when you do that and I firmly believe that.
Q: What techniques did you use to create a successful climate for learning?
A: I feel you need to build trust in your staff, with the students, and with parents. The principal should be visible in the school for everyone to see. Let the people know you're interested in them. Be supportive of the teaching staff, but if the teacher's wrong discuss the problem with that person. Communicate your expectations to the staff and the community. You can do that through faculty meetings and memos and newsletters and PTA meetings, and that type of thing. Take time to talk with students, and not just when disciplinary problems arise. Confidentiality is the most important, when working with people. And my other techniques are, good schedule, provide adequate time for teaching, good organization of the total school program, and providing adequate supplies and materials for teachers and at the proper time.
Q: Would you describe your views on what it takes to be an effective principal describing personal and professional characteristics that make up a good principal?
A: I think a good principal must be a well organized person. There are so many demands on our time today. Needs to be able to delegate when possible and in the elementary school you don't have many opportunities for that, particularly if you don't have an assistant principal. He needs to be a good listener. He must be available to see people. Being visible, out in the school, provides many opportunities for conferring with people a lot of times when the problems arise and you can prevent problems from happening or going further if you are out in the school seen that way. I think you need to visit the classrooms often and confer with the teachers after the visit. Especially if it's an observation for the teacher. You need to try to guide the teacher to become a more successful--and base your decision on good sound education practices and not on personalities. And I try to be fair in all decisions.
Q: Would you describe the expectations both professionally and personally that were placed upon principals by their employers and communities during your period of employment and do you think there's any difference between how it was when you, perhaps, first started and how you see the expectations today?
A: In the early years of my principalship you were judged on your personal life as well as your professional life. Use of alcoholic beverages in public could be grounds for dismissal. Women were expected to wear dresses and hats to public functions. The men wore suits with ties and he had to have his coat on at all times in the school building. Maternity leaves didn't exist. As a matter of fact you were dismissed if you became pregnant. Attending PTA meetings, usually 9 per year, was required of all teachers, and the principal was more of a manager. You managed the school funds, checked the building to see that it was clean and warm and above all, you were disciplinary. And today you are expected to be more of an instructional leader. Faculty meetings are devoted to in-service, where as in the past, it was mainly to take care of the routine business activities. There are many more requirements from the national, state, and local school boards today. Special education classes are mandated, and these classes require so much of the principal's time. Parents are more involved in education today. They serve on numerous committees, such as textbook and development of curriculum.
Q: When you started, did you have to have any certification or anything as a principal.
A: I did not have a masters degree. I taught two years and was in four schools in that time, and the reason I was in four schools--the first school I was in I had 46 students and that was too many, they didn't have room to hire two people (another teacher), so they moved me to what is now known as Andrew Lewis Annex and I finished a year there. The next year I was assigned to North Side High School and it wasn't completed until January, so I worked at Mountain View Elementary School through December, and then moved to North Side High School in January through June. Then I became the principal in September of 1961.
Q: If you were advising a person who's considering an administrative job, what advice would you be giving?
A: When you're speaking of an administrative job, I'm thinking in terms of principalship.
Q: Principal, right.
A: For anyone considering the principalship of the school, I think they should have five years teaching experience, and at the level they intend to work, whether it be elementary or secondary. They should have classes in supervision and I would strongly--I think it would be desirable to serve as an assistant principal before accepting the principalship. And, again, I think some business background would be helpful. The person who becomes a principal should be well grounded in school and community relations and, I think that's a big thing today.
Q: There are those that argue that the principal should be an instructional leader. I think you were talking about that, and those that say, realistically speaking, the person above all should be a good manager. What are your views on that?
A: I feel you must be a good manager but you must be able to discern good instructional techniques. The principal cannot be expected to be an expert in all fields of instruction. Realistically today, more time is required of the principal to attend meetings, serve on committees, and run the business side of the school. He is also expected to visit the classroom, observe teachers teaching, and to have conferences following the observations and to provide in-service to teachers. So the best I think we can expect is to have a balance between the two.
Q: A good deal of attention has been given to career ladders, differential pay plans, merit pay in recent years. Would you give your views on these and describe any involvement you've had with any of those approaches?
A: I personally haven't had any experiences with differential pay. I think it would be difficult to administer in any merit pay plan. I could see it building barriers between members of the teaching staff. If you try to base it on student progress the teacher with the low ability students would be at a disadvantage. I think it would require several people doing the evaluation and I would feel uncomfortable with the spouse of a school board member on my staff with a merit pay plan.
Q: Would you describe your approach to teacher evaluation and give your philosophy of evaluating a teacher.
A: Teacher evaluation, as we know it in Roanoke County, is for the purpose of improving instruction. I visited the classroom often, script taped, and confirmed with the teacher. I also did follow-up visitations and conferences when needed. As for doing an evaluation for the purpose of dismissal, I feel it is difficult to deal with the dismissal of a teacher when you have no input into the selection of that person. Furthermore, I feel the supervisors and the staff development coordinator should be involved with helping improve the teacher and that's directly involved, by the way. And if progress is not made, these people should also be involved with the dismissal. In fairness to the teacher, I strongly feel it should be the decision of several people before a teacher is dismissed.
Q: With the dismissal, when you talked about not having input into hiring, was that always the case, or are you saying if you took over a school, you got the teachers that were there? You see, I though principals had a chance, did you have a chance to have any input on who you hired?
A: Very little.
Q: Very little.
A: Some schools are getting more than others--from my experience. But I don't want further on tape.
Q: What, in your view, should be the role of the assistant principal and discuss, you know, if you had, you know, that type of personnel, how did you use or utilize the assistant principal in your school?
A: My experience working with an assistant principal is lacking. However, if the ultimate goal is to provide the assistant with experience so that some day he will become principal, then he should be involved in all phases of responsibility. He should not be just a disciplinarian, nor should he be given all of the undesirable jobs.
Q: So, you didn't have one?
A: In the size school that--Burlington is in between-- they really did need . . .
Q: They did need one, but they didn't--it just . . .
A: You just didn't have enough. I think a school this size, you've got 380 children and special education that you have today, you really do need an assistant . . .
Q: You need an extra . . .
A: State doesn't recognize at all, the county's even more . . .
Q: Progressive in that?
A: Yeah. So I'm not saying that the county is at fault. I'm just saying that's the way I feel it should be.
Q: As you view it, what characteristics are associated with the most effective schools?
A: Number one, they have to have care and concern for the students. They have to have high expectations for the students but realistic in your expectations and I think I referred something to this in one of the other answers. I think you have to know your students and know the limit to their abilities and don't expect something out of them they're not able to produce, but have high expectations of them. Have positive parent involvement. You need a supportive central office staff and school board, and you need strong community support.
Q: In recent years, more and more programs for special groups of students like learning disabled or BA, gifted, have started developing and you did mention a little bit before, but could you go into your experiences with the special ed. student, in your views on the services they receive today, and maybe even about the changes you're seen if you've been involved with them in terms of mainstreaming.
A: With more students going in, and my experiences have been mainly with LD and BA, I guess that has been it, but with more students going in BA classes--special education classes--the regular classroom teacher will not have to make unrealistic modifications to be successful. The trend in special education seems to be increasing in the number of children being placed in some type of handicapped class. Thus, there is a greater demand for special education teachers, and with the increase in special education comes a strain on the school budget. As for individual schools, an administrator finds more demands on his time, and the legal obligations increases the stress level of the principal. I see that we--from the time that I first started or had a BA class class housed in my schools; it was a teacher and 15 students (14 or 15, I can't remember now, exactly which it was), but anyway, 14 or 15 students and no aides at all to help or a paraprofessional to help you in the classroom and so as a principal I would go and try to give the teacher a break or whatever was needed and, in the beginning, with the BA class, we did not--if the teacher was absent, we called the parents and told them to keep the children home on those days and now you do get substitutes. It's sometimes difficult but you do get substitute teachers. I think one way you can help is when you get a good teacher in your building substituting, that is, you can ask him to go down and take a look at the BA class and say, "Hey wouldn't you like to try this one day. We've got an extra class." And in my experience, I did have good paraprofessionals working with the teacher and it was not bad, particularly, the last 8 years of school.
Q: And was mainstreaming . . .
A: Oh yes, mainstreaming--we didn't do much mainstreaming in the BA at first, BA nor LD as far as that's concerned, as time went on then we do more of that with both classes, and as I said, that's what my limitation was with LD and BA. When the child was able to go and be mainstreamed for learning disabilities or BA then they were placed out on a trial basis. And sometimes the children would go out and work well for a while and then run into difficulty and have to be brought back in and I think that's a good way to approach it is to let them be mainstreamed and if they can't handle it, fine. You feed them more of it until they're able to go out on their own. If they're not, then they can always be pulled back.
Q: Salaries and compensations have changed a good deal since you entered the profession. Would you discuss your recollections of the type of compensation system that your school had (which it's the same school system) in your early years as a principal and then how this area has developed since.
A: When I first became a principal in 1961 I received a supplement of $20 per month to my teacher's salary for serving in that position and at that time I think the county had three different salary scales for principals--it was $10, $20 and $30 and I was in the middle-size school so I got $20 a month for 11 months for being principal. A classroom teacher made more per day than a principal who was on 11-month contract and you take the $4,800 salary at that time, I think it was about that--the teacher received $4,800 for 200 days on a contract and that came out to $24 a day, and as a principal, I worked 240 days for $5,500 and it came out to $22.92 per day. Due to the inequities in the pay scale, an index was developed to prevent this from happening. However, the index was discarded several years ago when the state mandated salary increases for teachers. As a result, in recent years the teachers have received higher percentage increases in pay than the principal. Thus, the gap between the teachers' and the principal pay has narrowed.
Q: You mean when you left it was still, there was still that gap between . . .
A: It's a gap. I don't how much--the assistant principal I think, in some cases--the teachers may make more than the assistant principals today, but I don't have the figures on that. I just really can't say, but it's definitely narrowing between the teacher's pay and the principal's pay.
Q: If there were three areas of administration that you could change in order to improve efficiency and effectiveness of educational administration, what would they be?
A: I think I've hit some on this in some of the other questions. One, and I think this is real strong, I think the principal should have more input into the selection of the teaching staff. I think you need more high-tech equipment in the elementary school for administrative purposes, such as keeping student records, registers, bookkeeping, those kinds of things. And for the size school I served, there was need for administrative help, and I'd say an assistant principal would be a big help to a school around 400.
Q: If you could change any three areas of the curriculum, or overall operations of American schools, what would they be?
A: I don't know that I have any changes. I think we have a very good balance in our school system. And speaking of Roanoke County Schools, I would say continue with the basic education, and those capable of doing better should be given and are given an opportunity to excel. There's one other thing that I see as a problem and would like to mention it, yet I have no suggestion as to how it could change. All states have their own method of selecting textbooks and this can and often does pose a problem for students who move--in that skills introduced in one textbook are introduced at different levels and even at different times of the year or different grade levels. So a student can miss necessary skills if he moves very often and I just don't know any solution to that problem but I do think that is a problem.
Q: So when you're getting students coming in from another place then they're . . .
A: Yeah, and particularly if the students move very often and some parents do. They move real often and that's where you get all the gaps, yet the children are not, I guess they would not--qualify for special education. In some cases they may. But I think that does present a problem for them that may be a reason for a lot of them dropping out of school.
Q: You talked earlier about technology. Would you see that as one area to either improve or add to the curriculum at the elementary school area?
A: You mean . . .
Q: In use of computers, or something like that.
A: For classroom instruction? Well, we have some computers and they are used some but I--probably, probably, another suggestion that could--greater use of them maybe.
Q: Right--that we have them and need to use them. Would you discuss your participation in handling the civil rights situation (integration) and discuss your any involvement that you had with bussing.
A: This has not been a problem for me. Roanoke County has few black students and they're dispersed across the county, and bussing wasn't necessary. Roanoke County has been able to maintain the neighborhood school concept because of that. It just hasn't been a problem.
Q: It's been said that the curriculum has become much more complex in recent years. Would you comment on the nature of the curriculum during your years as principal, comparing it to the curriculum program we have today?
A: In 1961 teachers were responsible for making their own schedules without regard as to any amount of allotted time. There were no special education classes, no PE, music, guidance, and so forth. There was only a part-time librarian to serve the school. We actually had two librarians serving 16 elementary schools--I think it was 16 at that time. Children were usually grouped heterogeneously. You were more interested in trying to maintain a balance of students in the classroom rather than grouping. At the school I served, no teacher had below 30 students. Today we have more specialists in music, PE, guidance, library, and special education. In Roanoke County there is a standardizing of the amount of time required to teach each subject and a master schedule is done by the principal. The number of students per classroom has been drastically reduced. The children are grouped in language arts and math and thus we have been able to provide better instruction for the students. One the other hand, we have added to the elementary curriculum such things as drug education, sex education, study skills, career education, a guidance program and the gifted program to mention only a few. All of these programs are good, but it is unrealistic when you consider the amount of time required to teach them unless we extend the school day.
Q: Do you think that the way that we're doing the curriculum now with more special people handling parts of it, and smaller class numbers, even in your period of time, did you see an improvement do you think in the education the student was getting?
A: Yes, I think that the specialists definitely help, and I think that when you have children, and let's use special education as an example, since you're involved in it. I can see that the special education has helped the regular classroom in that the teacher of those type students require a lot of individual help and that's why they have smaller classes with LD or BA and if they're in a regular classroom they're still going to demand time. They would not get as good a education if they didn't have special education. Nor would the regular classroom students in the regular classroom because the time would be demanded, they need time as well. I think that the specialists present some other problems in scheduling. If you've got, you have to have time blocks for them and it presents scheduling problem but in most cases you can work through them without too much problem and I think it does. It gives the teachers an opportunity to take care of all the record keeping that's required today--gives them an opportunity to do some record keeping while the students are out of the classroom and I think that's needed. I think we are making better use of teachers in that sense. Yes. How many teachers can teach music, or PE, you know, so.
Q: There are those that argue that standardized testing can provide a way to improve instruction. Please discuss your experiences with such testing and your views on its effectiveness.
A: Standardized testing has been used to determine the areas needing improvement in curriculum--have been developed at the County level in Roanoke County when needed. The individual printouts that you get with this standardized testing can help teachers working with the individual students. However, basing the needs of a student on one test score should be used with caution. If you have several tests you can plot the growth of the student and better determine his needs. Standardized tests scores are used to help in selection of students for the gifted program and for the Chapter I federal programs. But other than that I think that you have to be careful in using them just as in your special education classes you don't get one test and then try to determine the needs of the student based on that one test.
Q: Could you describe your work, like how you spent your day, you know, a normal type day, how many hours you put in as, you know, a principal, the types of duties that you would do.
A: I'll try to. I don't know how successful I'll be. But anyway, the normal number of hours per week I would guess would be somewhere around 45-50 hours per week. My work day usually started off by observing the unloading of buses. I always like to be out--I want the children and parents to see me when they arrived in the morning and I think that's as good a place as any you can be, so observing the buses is one of the first things I did. And after all the children were in I would go around and try to give a "Good morning" greeting and then return to the office to take care of any pressing office needs. And usually I would try to visit about two classrooms per day for observing and instruction--would write up the conference notes, confer with the teacher that I visited, and after that I would check to make sure all of the paperwork was current, and at the end of the day I would spend time out on bus duty again, seeing the students off. And it was time then for conferences with parents, teachers, and other staff members as needed. One other thing that requires an awful lot of the principal's time, if you don't have an assistant principal, and that is calling the substitutes for teachers. That can consume an awful lot of time. Just hours, depending on the time of year. You can really be involved, and particularly if someone comes in and gets sick during the day and you try to call them because people are either out shopping or else they're already involved in substituting and it can be a very long day for you.
Q: Would you call the subs, is that done the afternoon before, or . . .
A: Depends on when the teachers call me, at ten minutes till 6:00 in the morning or 9:30 or 10:00 at night. I've had teachers call me at 7:00, and particularly on church nights during the week they call me at 7:00 and you might call for two hours trying to get somebody because they're out at church and you can't reach the substitutes or they're out for their evening meals or whatever it is. Sometimes it's hard at that time. But I'd rather get them in the evening if they know they're going to be out, but sometimes they don't know that. The worst is to have a teacher call you about 7:15 in the morning, they have to be at work at 7:30, and say "I can't make it." And in some cases we've had teachers who have taken a personal day leave and they tell you a month ahead of time and you get a substitute and then the substitute calls you that morning and says "I can't come." Those things take up an awful lot of time and you just have to do the best you can. Only one time while I was at Burlington School was I not able to get a substitute and we had to use the librarian as a classroom teacher one day. And part of that was because of the in-service and all of the BA teachers were in the in-service one day and then we had the Madeline Hunter workshop for teachers and I think that involved something like 20-some teachers on that so, in Roanoke County alone for those 2 in-services, comes to somewhere around 50 substitutes for those two and then if you have a lot ill or any other reason then it became very difficult to try to find a substitute for them.
Q: What about discipline--did that take up much of your time as a principal on a daily basis?
A: No, not in the school that I was in. I had some situations where it took up a lot of time, but when I was in Burlington School it took up very little time--minimal time. A good bunch of children. Most parents are very supportive. In dealing with discipline problems one of the techniques that I used that was very helpful to me was I made them write me a notice and tell me what they did wrong--what the problem was--and if there's two involved, I always made them both write independently and tell me what the problem was and then we'd try to reconcile the differences between the two. And that way the child couldn't very well deny what he had said that had happened, or what she had said that had happened, so when you had a conference with parents you would have that. I kept notes during the year about that kind of thing and I always kept a record box and the date the children came in so if it became a real problem I would know how to deal with that.
Q: Would you describe the pressures you faced on a daily basis and explain how you coped with them and if you can think of the toughest decision you ever had to make as a principal.
A: The biggest pressure seems to be when many problems arise at the same time. You have to make a judgement as to which problem you handle first. Also the legal responsibilities of the school personnel causes much concern. The problem involving children in special education can be a headache. You can't discipline children placed in behavioral adjustment class in the same manner as a child in a regular class and to mention one more concern--is the administering of medication to children. The record keeping of those on medication can really be a headache. You have to keep notes from doctors saying they can have the medication. You have to keep notes from parents saying that you can give the medication. You have to store the medication for some 20-30 students and that can be a problem. And being sure that you give the correct medication to the correct child and some of them have the same type of medicine and some's being refrigerated and that kind of thing--medication can be a big problem! And then, how do you help the injured child or sick child when you can`t reach a parent and that really gave me concern at times. I think that probably it was one of the biggest--we had a child that broke his arm one time. His mother and father both were gone and no emergency procedure card on that particular child so, you know, the hospitals don't want to take care of them. So you have to deal with that. And another thing I think that though I really didn't have a child injured that way--but how do you deal with a child injured on a field trip and you find that the person keeping that child is not the legal guardian. Because the doctors won't deal them either, in the first place they shouldn't be on the field trip but people do bring them in and they do put them in the school and sometimes you don't know who has the legal guardianship of the child and that can be a lot of pressure--not knowing who the legal guardian is. Or a parent comes in and tries to pick a child up that does not have a legal guardianship of it. I had a man one time at one of the schools and he'd just got out of the mental hospital and his wife had legal custody of the child. He was threatening me and everyone else that he was going to take the child. Some of his friends had told him that his wife was running around and all this stuff with other men and he said "And I get mad." He said "They all knew it." and so I said "Aww, that's it." I said "Do you realize that these people may be just telling you that to see you get mad?" "I hadn't thought about that" he said. And so he'd calmed down and I said "Now, you wouldn't want to do anything to embarrass your child, would you?" "No, no" he said. "Then you ought to leave and you go see him later." So he left and it worked out alright, but sometimes you never know.
Q: I mean, that sounds like a lot of stress for what--what did you say about coping? I mean, was there anything that you could--that you did?
A: To cope with it?
Q: Yeah, to all the stress.
A: No, I didn't do very well with that. I haven't found a solution to it. I think you need, after it's over with probably, to go out and walk it off after things like that but it's almost impossible to avoid those things.
Q: Comes with the job. Would you tell us what the key to your success was as a principal?
A: Well, I can give you some things I think that contributed to my success and that would be my ability to organize a school. I think that's probably where my stronger traits is organization. My ability to communicate with people and I tried to treat all people fairly. Having a background in business was helpful and this is not personally on me, but I think the greatest asset I had was learning about teaching in the elementary schools from some outstanding teachers. I was fortunate to have these people on my staff and they made contributions to the school and community. Then there were people in the central office staff who gave me a lot of encouragement and support, especially in the early years but the teachers--you can learn a lot if you go in and observe some teachers, from the good teachers, and then you're able to help those other teachers who may not be as strong. I had a non-degreed teacher, (she was not normal professional) when I was at Clearbrook School. She was an outstanding teacher and I spent a lot of time in that first grade learning from her because I didn't have a lot of teaching experience in the first place and none in the lower grades. So those are things I think that were helpful to me. Realizing that you didn't have the necessary background, in my particular case, and then trying to do something about it.
Q: Could you discuss your professional code of ethics and give some examples of how you applied it during your career.
A: Loyalty to the people you serve is one, and I feel if they pay your salary then they deserve your loyalty. Honesty, trustworthy, integrity, not in just handling the school funds. I think in terms of being on time at work and how you use your time once you get at work. It includes being honest with people that you work with. Parents need a lot of trust in school, you must keep that trust. And then there's confidentiality, and to me I think this is extremely important. People in the teaching profession are privileged to a lot of personal information about families and the individuals, that need to be kept private and I had several examples. I even had a teacher complain because I didn't tell them everything I knew about situations. But I had--a teacher came to me, she and her husband came to me with marital problems one time and that's nobody else's business. As a matter of fact, I wish they had not come to me. I was a young principal at that time but they did--they discussed their marital problems with me and everything worked out. Then there's people who have illnesses. I had a teacher with cancer who came to me and told me about it before she--she didn't want the others to know about it at that time. There are many things like that, that people don't want told and it shouldn't be told and when they want it told then I think the teacher should be the one doing it. But there are parents also who come and share things with you and you see more of those particularly when you get in special education--usually there's some background for it. But a lot of those children have personal problems that just need to be kept private. You need to know it but only in working with the child from that standpoint.
Q: Would you describe the aspects of your professional training that best prepared you for principalship and was there, you know, any training experience that was not useful?
A: The only way I can answer that question is having only two years experience at the time I was appointed principal there was very little prior professional experience that helped me. I did not have a Master's Degree, nor any classes in school administration. And two years is certainly not much teaching experience. I don't know whether you can consider this prior professional experience or not but some of my military experiences provided me with organization skills and working with people. I was in the personnel office in the military service-- classification and assignment and that gave me some experience from the military standpoint, the skills carried over. And then the two years I worked in an accounting firm provided me with some business background, but prior to the time I went in, I just didn't have a background. And I think that caused a lot of concern because I didn't know what I was doing. Didn't even know how to suspend a kid from school--that first year I had to call somebody and say "Hey, what do you do?" And I think that that's putting a lot of undue pressure on somebody. At that time maybe there was no other way to do it but today I think anyone going into the principalship couldn't survive today without some kind of background.
Q: You mentioned business as being, I don't think that's required yet. Do you think that would be a good addition to some training, a little business background?
A: Well, if you talk to educators they say "No" but I do think it's important--I just feel like it's necessary.
Q: If you had to do it again, what kinds of things would you do to better prepare yourself for principalship?
A: Well, one thing, it's obvious I feel more teaching experience would have benefited me. I think I mentioned at least 5 years teaching would be very helpful and on the level you're going to be working as principal. It would be better to have served as an assistant principal--that way you could see how--you don't have all the responsibilities and you can see how somebody is organized and how they handle problems when they arise. And you get some work with parents on a different level and you work with a supervisor on that level, so I think that an assistant principal's job would be an ideal situation to go into. I think you should have a graduate degree, and as I said, I didn't have one when I first started but I think you should have one, with classes in supervision, curriculum, school law, school and community relationships, instructional skills. The instructional skills really has come in the last 10 years in Roanoke County, with a lot of requirements for administrators and I think that that's been good, that's been helpful--knowing what to look for when you go into a classroom to observe and then you're better able to help the teachers too.
Q: What's your view, and this kind of connects with that, on the mentoring program for new administrators where an expert administrator is paired with a neophyte and did you have any mentors?
A: I haven't worked with anyone on this and so but I feel it would be a good thing to have but from experience I can't . . .
Q: Did not have? I think the program's new.
A: Very new, but I think it could be very good if the people are paired up right--a lot of it's how you communicate between the people that's in there and if the principal feels comfortable having someone in the program. I think that would definitely be a need there.
Q: When you began was there a mentor that helped you in the beginning, being kind of new?
A: Not really. I think, as close as I could get to that--Mr. Counts was the principal at North Side High School at that time and he was a very well-organized person but I only worked with him really six months and I admired the way he did it. At the end of my first year as principal I was ready to quit and I told Mr. Counts I just would prefer to go back into teaching. I liked the teaching experience. So he had to encourage me to remain in the principalship. After while you begin to feel like you've got your feet on the ground but, gosh, going into something like a principalship with no background is--that's a hard way to learn, a hard way.
Q: Would you discuss the circumstances that led up to your decision to retire at the time you did and, you know, what was your reasoning behind it or, you know, anything that helped you come to that conclusion to step down?
A: Well, I enjoyed working in the school system all year and, as I said, I really enjoyed teaching. I also enjoyed, in Roanoke County, you still enjoy a lot of freedom as being a principal, but my decision to retire was a result of two changes, one at the state level and the other at the local level. First, the state--changing the age requirement for VSRS members to retire from age 60 to 55 provided you have 30 years experience. A person now can retire in the state of Virginia with full benefits at 55 with 30 years of experience in the VSRS. (That's Virginia Supplementary Retirement System.) There are no penalties for retiring early and this happened about 3 three years ago. And then the second change was the early retirement plan of Roanoke County and in my case I receive 30% of my last contracted salary for working 24 days per year and I also receive partial payment of my health insurance. Had I delayed my decision to retire, the County benefits would have been reduced by 5% per year until it reached 20%. My original plan was to work until age 60-62 but the early retirement plan of Roanoke County changed that decision. Another question I had was what to do with my time in retirement and the thought of just quitting concerned me but with working the 24 days per year, it gives me something to do and permits me to have contact with my professional friends. I think this is an important thing, to still have some contact with the people you worked with for 30 years.
Q: How does that work through, I know people are familiar with that Roanoke County, you're still like--is it a part-time, consultant? How does that work?
A: I guess they consider it consulting type work. I served this year in several positions, subbing for principals who were attending meetings at the state level or some association meetings and some of those I did when I retired. Serving as an assistant principal to those people who attend those type of meetings. Then I worked in the central office on the budget, comparing budgets--the amount of money that had been budgeted over the years for different areas of the budget, and seeing how much money was put in there this year as compared back to last, I think about 10 or 15 years and then I also did it on a percentage basis. That I like because I did have some background in business and that gave me an opportunity to use that experience too. And then I have done one in-service, there was two of us that worked together doing an in-service on a retirement seminar and we've got another coming up. So that's how I've been using the time and now I'm working with you. Another consideration as to whether to retire was whether my wife and I would have sufficient funds to retire. I had a retirement income analysis done by my finance planner and he didn't see any reason why I shouldn't retire so that helped me make the decision, too.
Q: Is there any advice you would wish to pass along to today's principals?
A: I think that they need to be thoroughly familiar with all of the local school board policies and there's lot of changes that goes on--seems like lately, in the last few years and they need to be familiar with those policies. They need to be knowledgeable in community and school relations. And on teacher evaluation, I heard something just recently about the employees being sued because they gave high praise for somebody and then they didn't work out, so they were suing the person for giving the high recommendation for people. So I think you have to be aware of not giving high praise, too high praise, be sparing in that. If you've got it fine, if not, be careful. And another one is the negative--you better not depend on modest evaluation unless you can prove it. And I guess the last thing I'd say is be flexible. Changes being made in education demand that you be able to change and go with the flow and I think that's very much the case today.
Q: It could be that one of your coping mechanisms. . . .
A: Yeah, I think that's true.
Q: Putting in some flexibility there.
Q: There's probably some areas I haven't covered in my questioning. Is there anything that I haven't asked that, you know, you'd like to discuss or make a last comment on about being principal?
A: No, I think you've done a rather thorough job here. I just hope this has been some help to you.
Q: It has been interesting, finding out about principals.
A: And over the years there's a lot of changes. I used to laugh about some of the changes that went on 30-40 years before I started and now I'm in that 30-40 years. It does make a difference.
Q: There has been a lot of change. Well, thank you for the interview.
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