This is February 11, 1990. I am speaking with Mr. Bob Gibson in his home at 403 Ridgecrest Lane, Radford, on his experiences as an elementary school principal. My name is Ninfa Tubianosa.
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Q: Mr. Gibson, would you please begin by telling us about your family background, your childhood interests and development, and also could you discuss your college education and preparation for entering the field of teaching as well as the years you served as a teacher and a principal.
(Streamed audio file of interview for this question using RealPlayer)
A: All right. Thank you. I came from a family of seven children in a little village of Mason, Illinois. I was the fifth of seven children. Mason, Illinois was on the prairies of south central Illinois, 95 miles east of St. Louis. I had the usual interests of a boy in that environment. For example, I would hunt before and after school on many days. I was always looking for ways to earn money as a child and usually could keep right busy at the grand scale of 10 to 15 cents an hour. My father died when I was seven years old, in 1924. He died attempting to save the next door neighbor boy, Eugene Burk, from drowning at a Sunday School picnic. He and a teacher in the town--my father was Post Master --both jumped in with all their clothes on when they saw Eugene slipping below the water. They were all three drowned that day. So my mother was left at the age of 39, with seven children, the youngest of which was 5 months old, the oldest of which was 17. She moved into the Post Office and held that until the democrats came into power in 1932. Roosevelt did many things in a way that broke tradition. He immediately asked, upon coming into office, for the resignation of all Post Masters, and so my mother was no longer with the position in the Post Office. And that came in 1932, and 2 years later when I was ready for college, my mother picked the youngest of her brood up and took us off to enroll me in the Eastern Illinois States Teacher's College in Charleston, Illinois. I completed the program for elementary teachers in my first two years and could not get a position with sufficient salary that would let me live on it. I could have gotten possibly $75. Actually, the only job I was offered was $65 a month. So I went right on and completed my degree there with a major in Industrial Arts Education and a minor in Biological Science. Having taken all the Journalism which they offered there, and as a result of that I was editor of the college paper in my last year. I followed Stanley Elon who later became, and for 35 years was, the editor of the Phi Delta Kappa. Keep in mind we are still in 1938 when I graduated. We were still in the depression, and I had not obtained a job as of August 24 when I got a call from T. D. Foster, Sussex County, Virginia, Superintendent of Schools and he indicated he could appoint me subject to interview and would pay my return expenses if he did not employ me. In less than two hours I was on my bus departing Charleston, Illinois, for Waverly, Virginia, and I didn't get back home until Christmas. I taught there three years, going to the University of Illinois, and working on my Master's Degree each summer, and that I completed in February, 1942. In the summer of 1942, I learned there were positions opening up at Charmute Field for instructors of airplane mechanics and that I had the qualifications, there would be a job for me there if I would take it. So I immediately wrote my superintendent saying that I would fulfill my contract in good spirit if he felt he could not replace me, but that I would like to resign from that position; and he was very liberal, and so I took the position in the middle of my summer term; and working 2:00 until 10:00 at night while I finished a full program at the University of Illinois for the summer session. Now, do you have anything you want to clarify with a question at that point?
Q: And, then, how did you enter the field of teaching?
A: Well, I was intrigued by the challenge of teaching. I think I was a good teacher--I intended to be. Mind you, I had known before I graduated that Industrial Arts is really not my forte. I had entered college without any guidance from any counselor. Professional counselor didn't exist in the public schools at that time. In fact, I took one of the early courses for a guidance counselor on my Masters Degree at the University of Illinois. They were not present in the public schools. At any rate, having finished, and I did get the degree, the Master of Arts Degree with a major in School Administration and Supervision and we had to have a minor in the field of English Literature. At that point I was transferred to Lincoln Army Airfield where I took over the role as Hangar Supervisor. A role which I had to leave before it was disbanded essentially to other satellite fields. And I was 20 months living in Lincoln, Nebraska, having become recently married. The first year of my marriage was spent in Cabana, Illinois. And then at Lincoln, Nebraska, I became the senior instructor, as they called it -the civilian head of the instructional program in the structured branch of the airplane mechanics school and supervised about 70 instructors--half military, half civilian, in that branch. I went to the University of Nebraska while out there and earned something more than a semester of credit--full semester of credit toward the Doctor's Degree. I never did get back to Nebraska because they started their summer school so early. As a principal in Virginia, I couldn't do that and finish up my work closing out the year in Virginia. Now, let me see. I applied . . .
Q: How many years did you serve as a teacher?
A: As a teacher in the classroom in the public schools, only three and then I, of course, was with the airplane mechanics schools for three years, and then I received a Navy commission and spent about a year and a half in the Pacific as a--having any number of assignments and finally became the executive officer of that ship at the time the war was over. I came back and was with my wife and newborn baby boy, who I didn't see until he was eight months old, until one day I did have my orders to go back to Keesler Field, to take up the airplane mechanics role again, but we stopped by to visit my old superintendent in Sussex County, Virginia, and before I left that day he offered me the principalship of Waverly High School.
Q: How many years did you serve as a principal?
A: A total of 10 years--two at Waverly, a small school--250 students, grades one through 12, and then we went to Alta Vista. This was an eleven year school system. No eighth grade. I spent five years there. While in Campbell County a new high school was built in Alta Vista and my assistant principals in each of the elementary and high schools, which were now separated, were to become the principal when I left there. We all three left Alta Vista together. At that point, I went to Radford Virginia, as principal, and was there three years.
Q: Mr. Gibson, what motivated you to enter the field of principalship?
A: Well, as I had observed the principalship as a student and a teacher, the principal had a key role, a very fundamental role. In his hands were, it seemed to me, nearly all of the initiatives for developing the school program. I admired the position of principal, and I sensed it to be a tremendous challenge; so I had prepared for it, and so I stayed at that first only two years and went to Alta Vista, a school of 1,000 pupils--all in one building and spent five years there and then on to Radford where I was essentially glad to have a college connection. Before I was employed by the superintendent in Radford he sent me out for an interview with the college president of Radford College, and he wanted to know what his response was to the interview with me, and then he employed me because I was going to be the supervisor of the student teachers at the high school level produced by Radford College and that training in Radford High School.
Q: Could you describe your philosophy, your own personal philosophy of education.
A: That's a hard one. I've always felt for interviewers of prospective new teachers who would say "Tell me, give me your philosophy of education." Of course, falling into the requirement that all children must attend school as required in Virginia and across the United States, I felt that all children needed to have a chance to be successful. A goodly number of them in that day were not successful. But it was a constant challenge as to how you kept children motivated and working toward an end that, to them, had meant nothing but failure since they started school; and there are those children in some sizable proportion of the total population. I know you have some questions later on as to what you did about that, and I'll take that up then, when you're ready.
Q: What experiences or what events in your professional life influenced your management philosophy?
A: I can't really answer that. I do know that I sensed that the principal had the power in nearly all schools that I'd ever had experience with. And it was up to him to institute the changes that came about. You need to leave a lot of leeway for the teacher. At the same time, you cannot have as many different modes as there are teachers in a school system. So you needed to establish that kind of influence and atmosphere that would let teachers feel they could be successful there; and by that I mean that they could make children successful in the program offered. But I gave teachers support so they felt that they were not facing parents alone or irascible students alone. To me the principalship where you had nobody at your right hand but the school secretary, and no place did I have anybody who was designated as an assistant principal. When I got to Radford I found capable people in the secretaries role, and so I gave them responsibility and support in sharing the job of administration, but there was no assistant principal and no guidance.
Q: Meaning during that time, there was no position for assistant principal yet?
A: There were in large city systems. I never attended a school . . .
Q: But not in your system?
A: I had never attended a school as a student nor had I taught in a school where there was an assistant principal designated and with time established and allotted to that, and that meant that your day was taken up with--there was no routine to it. Every day brought up unexpected things, and you had to arise to the occasion as you thought best. I did find that teachers supported, were the teachers supporting me in my role as a principal. I may have had what would now be considered an outmoded system of discipline, maintenance, and punishment, but I did allot punishment and had it to do. I don't know what would have happened if I had not. It was rare that I found teachers who insisted on being such isolated individuals that my approach with them was not successful. They wanted support and I gave them that support. On occasion I had to tell them now we're on extremely thin ice here, and I wouldn't recommend you ever dealing with another case like this in this same way again or I would not be able to support you. I have said that. I would let them know why. On occasion you do run into an occasional teacher that has not really been fair to all students, and that was where I had to let them know I won't ever support you again in this kind of situation, so you need to change this. I made it very clear.
Q: Now, aside from the support the teachers want from you as a principal, what kinds of things do teachers expect from you as a principal?
A: They expected full understanding of the limits of their responsibility, and that didn't take long, really. They expected to have materials at hand. They expected to have good maintenance in the classroom, cleanliness, and so on. They expected that I would be behind them when there was any friction with a parent. They expected some help from me with certain ingrained problems of behavior, and that had to be dealt with decisively. They expected to have suggestions and we developed a handbook for that with regard to all of these matters--a handbook that was revised yearly, and this was in their hand.
Q: Aside from the expectations from your teachers, can you describe the expectations, both professional and personal that were placed upon principals by their employers as well as by the community during your period of employment as principal.
A: I guess I was fortunate in having a real detailed person as my first principal. The Foster Bible--it was known as in Sussex County, and if there was any question about what you do in what situation there was a place you'd find in what was known as the Foster Bible--the superintendent's handbook for teachers of Sussex County; and I think that this was all very clearly detailed. I moved from there to a superintendent who'd been president of the VEA, Virginia Education Association, and the only instructions I ever remember from him were "That's your school. You run it." He was in a big situation, a big school system, and I was going back to him over and over and over again. "What should I do about this and that and the other thing?" He'd say "Well, what do you thing would be good to do in that situation?" I would outline what seemed to me to be logical. He said that sounds fine to him. But there was no laid down principals for the school system at large --a large principal at Campbell County--just adjoining Lynchburg with the south. He developed leaders in education and went out from there and were known as successful school men all over the state because of that experience with him. They had to do it themselves. I wouldn't have felt secure doing it as he did it exactly, but there were many strengths to that--complete independence on the part of each principal. Have I been talking all around your question, not hitting it? Your question was what?
Q: I was asking about the expectations, both professional and personal from your employer as principal as well as from the community.
A: That's one thing I have found, that there is no commonality of expectation from one community to another as to the role that a high school principal plays, the school principal plays, not just the high school principal. It's pretty largely established by what the one before you did. You might not agree with what he did, but you are expected to do about as he would have done it. And in certain instances, I found that it was kind of a rude awakening when I came along and wanted it to be done differently. But, they expected to get an answer from the principal when a parent called. I have known an instance or two when a parent would come in at the end of the school year and would slam the report card of his child down on the desk. He would say now how can they have failed this child with that report card? And generally I had to agree with them--for them to go all through the year indicating maybe not fully satisfactory work, but not failing work, and come up to the end and say it's failing--this is not fair on anybody's part. So here was an area of expectation of the parent that I agreed with, and that a lot of the teachers did not agree with. They thought they could change their minds at the last month. You can't do it that way. You need to build support for that last month's decision- promotion or retention--all through the year by the grades you send home. They thought they could give D's all year long and the final grade was F, and that had to be straightened out. You had to let the whole year up to a given point, whatever point you're talking about, give the level of expectation that is not going to be shaken on that point. That's a hard one on the part of many teachers. They want to be all sweetness and light, you know. They want to build morale on the part of the student. They want to give some promise of success by the grades they give, but if they're going to give them, then, they've got to live with that, or you're going to have some hard situations. I've never known a superintendent where the year's grades do not support failure, even though the teacher had indicated they had failed, who didn't say "That child is promoted." Now, can I dwell on that a bit more? You see, our problem is, that we're trying to do too many things with one mark--one grade. We are trying to indicate credit. We're trying to indicate achievement in relation to a national norm. We're trying to indicate achievement in relation to the school's norm of expectation. We're trying to indicate achievement with regard to a child's ability, and there are conflicts here among these. There's contradiction among these. I think the most progressive school system I've ever seen was the first one I operated under as a teacher. You had but two grades--an S and a U--and either one of them could be failing in terms of the year's credit, or either one of them could have been passing and promotion for the year just passed. But these grades were given with regard to a child's ability. A child who probably would never, with any standards, be promoted was given an S for satisfactory if he made progress that was adequate in terms of his ability. On the other hand, the child who got a U that never cracked a book--had tremendous ability but didn't try--a U would be passing for that child. So these two grades were given, both in relation to his ability. Now that put a lot of demands upon our knowledge of a child's ability, probably more than the standardized tests of that day could vouch for, but it was what we had and so the grades went. You would have to indicate additional that S or that E mark whether or not this would mean possibly credit at the end of the year with the same progression from that point forward. Do you understand? Have I made it clear? Mind you, that progressive grading system, I found in a school system that had two-to one blacks. Probably the system as a whole, in terms of any standard and rigid standard of achievement had the poorest native ability among its students broadly than any other I've ever known. But the grading system worked well because they had taken great pains to draw the parents in every school into this whole matter when the grading system was arrived at. I never recall down there any questions about whether or not they are promoted or failed. You indicated that in addition to the S or the U.
Q: Do you think that there is no difference in the expectations placed on the principals today compared to in your time?
A: Well, the principals today are operating larger schools know that school of a thousand students and all grades one through eleven in the same building--that had some horrible conflicts. When you are supposed to set up your rules. . .
Q: Can we continue?
A: All right. Actually, I meant that you have such varying levels of maturity in children in the school that comprises grades one through eleven, that how you set up standards of expectation throughout the school for all those age levels--maturity levels--I don't really know. It's real difficult.
Q: It says that a great deal of attention has been given to the leadership, personal leadership, in recent years. Can you discuss, would you please discuss your approach to leadership and describe some of the techniques which worked for you.
A: In developing leadership?
A: I can't say that I had any set goals with regard to the development of leadership on the part of teachers. I did for myself, because you are constantly being called to demonstrate leadership, on the spur of the moment, that wasn't said in so many words, you know--leadership, per se. But if you didn't demonstrate leadership you would not be effective in establishing expectations on the part of the students or teachers. It has always been amazing to me how a principal can gain an understanding on the part of teachers and students that he means business and that students know what that business is. You know, I'm really puzzling here, because I used to think that, let a principal stick his head in the classroom door and everything was put immediately in order, without a word. Well, maybe I was just mistaken. But I do know I've had principals, as a student, for which that was what pursued--if he was around, things were in order. And, I guess that's what you want, really, ideally. Yet you don't want to have everything so rigidly ruled as that, you know. I can't say I had in mind at any time developing leadership. I have known that there are some teachers that I did not know how to proceed to make them a good teacher, because they were so hopelessly undone in situations that demanded their leadership that I didn't know where to start with those people. And yet--there are very few of those people--but those are people that just should not be in teaching to me. Looks like I'm just unburdening myself of any responsibility where they're concerned, and I don't mean that exactly. I think you are again, teaching to beginning teachers, you are teaching a lot more than you ever have in mind that you are teaching them, probably when you confront things. I think you are teaching by example a lot more than you ever know--ever realize. Again, I haven't hit that head on, have I?
Q: This is now on Central Office policies. There are some, or there are those who argue that more often than not, they hinder than help building level administrators in carrying out their responsibilities. What's your view on this issue?
A: I have known Central Office policies that actually seem to be working against efficiency. Ideally, I would make no more rules than are needed as the Central Office head, the superintendent. And then, I would expect everybody to live by those rules. And ideally, you would not make those rules apart from them--spinning out these rules from the head of the superintendent. No, it's a matter of appointing committees and getting a consensus on the part of the people who are going to be working by these rules and who are wanting these rules. I have never known teachers who didn't want some rules, who didn't want to call up the enforcement of the whole school system to help them carry on their work. I think the problem with many teachers, and principals as well, is that they don't want to call up the help of the school system which are automatically involved in those very policies you speak of. You can have such detailed policies that you just can't work--it's getting in their way. So you need to be very careful and judicious about setting down a policy in so many words unless you know it's needed--unless you know it can be carried out to the great good of the system by establishing it.
Q: If you have a chance of changing, what changes would you make in the typical system-wide organizational arrangement to improve administrative efficiency and effectiveness.
A: I didn't quite understand.
Q: I said, if you had a chance, what changes would you make in the typical system-wide organizational arrangements as a way of improving administrative efficiency and effectiveness? It's still a follow up question on . . .
A: You certainly don't want one teacher that uses all the teaching materials that were designed for everybody but she used them all up herself. You want to have some economy in operation and if you don't have this you just need to lay the lay down in a situation like that. Now, let's take, are you talking about the final decision on promotion or on retention?
Q: This is still on central policies, Central Office policies. When I asked you that, do you think that it helps or does it hinder you in carrying out your job as a principal?
A: If it doesn't help, it shouldn't be a policy. That's really what I've said. Now, how are you going to deal with absence, for example on the part of children, or tardiness, or general misbehavior to the point that it's disruptive in the classroom? You want to have it clearly understood the kinds of disciplinary action, attention, a teacher can give that you will fully support, and the kind that you can't support because it does not make for safety--it does not make for good routine in the classroom that permits learning to advance. But really, if you need to start out afresh, I would say "This year we're going to establish no rules in such instances, and when you think a rule like that it needed we're going to have faculty meetings weekly and raise it for discussion, and we'll see if we shouldn't establish one." But I think a given school can get so hung up, have so many rules, "You can do this. You can't do that." and so on--that's not making for mature judgment and independence in action on the part of teachers. I used to say "Don't hesitate to call on the principal if you want some help." Now, I think it will be an unusual teacher who never needs to call on the principal for help. But it's also an unusual teacher who needs to call on the principal and doesn't. That is going to have to change her practice. That one's going to change her practice and learn what she can do to be effective in controlling children. The problem is you don't have enough leeway often of action in judgment on the part of the teacher and you should establish this by your policies, rather deny it by your policies.
Q: My next question is, you had teacher evaluation before, and would you please describe your approach to teacher evaluation and give your philosophy of evaluation.
A: Well, you know, my dissertation was on merit pay. Now, can I just describe that to you and come back to that. It seemed to me that there had never been any worthwhile merit pay systems that could continue to operate when I started out, and the question was "Why?". What can we do to provide that a merit pay system can continue to operate? No one questions that the best teachers should get the most money. No one questions that, do they? As a principal? And yet, merit pay is anathema to most professional organizations and to teachers themselves. They don't want merit pay. They say it just leads to favoritism, and so on, and so on, and so on. So my question was "How can we proceed in developing merit pay for teachers and have it continue in operation?". I don't mean continue in exactly the same way, but what I did was to identify an area of six states beginning with Connecticut, New York, New Jersey, Delaware, Maryland, and Virginia--those six states along the eastern seaboard where there was merit pay represented. That wasn't true in Maryland. I didn't find a single instance of it. But in each of the other systems, I found some merit pay operating. And I asked each school, each superintendent, or his appointed representative, to identify what they did in planning for merit pay and indicate after each step what the influence was upon success or failure of merit pay based on that step in planning. Then I had them identify from either principals and their general supervisors, who were certified and holding those positions, to evaluate each one of these steps so I could come out and say on the basis of these--let me see--if I remember right I had 218 respondents from 33 school systems in which merit pay was operating some time between 1955 and 1958. I could not find a definition of merit pay in the literature anywhere, so I made my own. I said "Merit pay is pay that is influenced in its amount by an evaluation that is made and by the quality of the service rendered and differentials in pay are made, at least in part, based on these evaluations." And on that basis I found 44 systems in those six states that were in effect sometime between 1955 and 58. Now, I got only 33 of those 44 to take part, and so I came up with responses from a total of about 90% of the 218 respondents that I should have had from those 33 systems to respond, and so I was able to say, eventually, if you're going to have the greatest chance for success in merit pay you will take these steps in planning, and this doesn't mean it's going to be successful every time. But I found merit pay systems--Ithica, New York, they didn't know how long merit pay had been in effect. But Raymond Greg, the superintendent, said "I see no reason why it can't continue indefinitely. Keep in mind, we're changing it every year almost --whenever we find a need for change we'll make the change -but the merit pay goes on." And this was true for West Hartford, Connecticut. The principal of one elementary school there said "I didn't think much of merit pay when it started but teachers wanted it and I see no reason why it can't . . . and we had a few crying teachers, they said, for two or three years." But she saw no reason why it can't continue indefinitely, and it had been in effect then for some time. And yet most people say you can't find one of these that have remained in effect more than one year maybe. Not so. But it had to be planned carefully with full knowledge on everybody's part. Now, where was I? That's as a background to what you're saying--teacher evaluation. You do need a set of standards, and these standards need to be known, and that's one big advantage in merit pay--that you identify what you see as--what you can identify--as ideal teaching, and this is what everybody is pitting themselves against. And then you're evaluating against these standards, and it's got to be more than just one person's evaluation, I think. It has to be more than one evaluation during the year. Everybody must be convinced that we are all trying to improve by devising this plan and looking at it constantly, throughout our practice. Well, ideally, you would have an evaluation from a department head. You would have an evaluation by an assistant principal. You would have an evaluation by the principal, by the Central Office supervisor who had been assigned for that with those. And maybe the principal, himself. Everybody looks at the principal. And if the principal is the one who says "This is my picture of good teaching"--yes I think he has the power, he needs the power to be able to say "This is what I see as identifying good teaching. You may quarrel with it some and maybe you can influence me to change my attitude toward this some but I wouldn't know who else has more prerogative to tell what good teaching is going to be in this school than me, myself, and I" you see. He has that power with the consultation of the elementary supervisor and maybe a fellow teacher or two. If you had seven teachers to grade and they all wanted to identify someone who would help evaluate them from their own teaching staff in that grade, I think that would be fine. That would be great. Most teachers wouldn't want that job.
Q: This is now about teacher grievances. A good deal is said these days about teacher grievances. Could you please give your views on the desirability of such procedures and describe your approach to handling teacher dissatisfaction. Have you ever met these problems before?
A: Not much, but you've got to have a grievance procedure. Must be. I'm sure that I have known teachers that, regardless of where they go, they're going to have a grievance. It doesn't mean that a grievance is automatically going to bring about an immediate about face on the part of the principal in what is done and what is expected. I think we have to be reasonable from all levels. I think every teacher should understand that they can have a grievance, and I would certainly suggest they talk this among other teachers and see how they might want to change their position after talking to other teachers. Certainly, you can't deny grievances. You can't deny their existence, and you need a way to care for these. Now, you may think I'm just avoiding that question. I don't mean to be. Heaven knows, I've seen in some schools some teachers have horrible grievances. I mean grievances that should never have been allowed to come to the forefront in their mind. If these are not unreasonable practices that they're grieving about . . .
Q: Could these have been avoided?
A: Yes. Could it have been . . . You would like to avoid them . . . But have you ever know teachers who always would have grievances. I've known some of those, and I think we would just need to say, eventually, "We're sorry you don't like to teach here, but since you don't, then why don't you go somewhere else?" To say your grievance is automatically going to make me stand on my head --you see, I don't see that that's . . .
Q: Have some of you ever dismissed teachers?
A: Well, yes. I would say they knew that they were going to be dismissed long before hand. You want an exact example? It's the kind of thing no principal or anybody else wants to face. And let's face it, it primarily is not the principal, and he certainly has a big voice on whose judgment that rests. I'd say it's more on the superintendent and his central office force. Let's turn this off while I tell you one I remember explicitly?
Q: It's okay.
A: It comes out of a well developed long-term discussion in front of classes or something. I would rather show the leadership style, whatever it is, by just doing. You know, so many times we talk ourselves blue in the face and have accomplished nothing, and like some teachers warning about what will happen if this continues. Well, I'd say yank out the ring leader and deal with him to the full noise of the children and you don't have to, your leadership style is what you show, rather than what you talk about. I think if they think you're just going to do a lot of talking and try to justify what you're doing in advance and doing it, you've lost some advantage. To do it would be the best thing. And then I think they would be much more leery thereafter of whatever it was that caused you to take the action you did. Well, my leadership style was probably as much blunderbuss as anything I guess is really what I'm saying. I recall at Waverly, I was the only man on the faculty this year so I had to teach things for which I was not prepared including boy's physical education. In the fall we had six man-football, that's a wonderful game. Better than eleven -man anytime. One year we only had 11 people out. We couldn't have enough to play football. We could have six now. We did the best we could with it. Then in the winter there was basketball, and in the spring there was baseball. In all these, I was the only one for it. Well, we didn't lose a football game that year. We won the winter basketball championship for our district. I'd never played football. I'd played a little basketball and baseball. But we had a real good time. The thing was, I don't know a good time for a faculty meeting but after school. Did you ever know of any faculty meetings that met anything but after school? Morning it seemed like it was impossible for people to get there, and it is for people with parents with children who would get sick. So I was having faculty meeting, and I told the boys "Now, no contact sport today" and the captain was in charge of this and in the middle of faculty meeting there came this very tremulous little knock on the door and here was a boy and he tried to say something and we couldn't hear it and I went to the door. Bobby was hit right hard, he hadn't been acting right since. We thought you'd better come. Well, of course I'd come. It was illegal for me not to be there, but how was I going to do the other then, see? I had this constant kind of thing. One year I taught science, biology, and general science I was certified for. Another year I taught the boys' phys. ed. and the athletics and the industrial arts. That's what I went to teach in that school, and here I was back as principal years later, you see. Well, I went out and yeah Bobby had been hit too hard. In fact, they shouldn't have been hitting at all as I told them. But I went back and told them "We will meet for a few minutes tomorrow after school, just a very few minutes cause I can't neglect this football practice. I feel legally vulnerable if I'm not out there at hand. Heaven knows I am. Well, the faculty understood. But it would seem that the football practice is not as important as a faculty meeting when you need a faculty meeting. But we dwelt on instructional matters right along. It's always been intriguing to me, and that's why I fitted in so well in Albemarle County. Mr. DeHaven was just amazed all the time the superintendent, here at how much I was dealt into instructional problems. He said "I've never know anybody as principal who gave as much attention as you've given. I hadn't felt that way at all, but I felt it a high compliment. Then I was always used in an instructional problem and discussion. All the kind of thing that I really waxed more on was, for example, in Albemarle County, we had more of a testing program than I'd ever seen anywhere. We had too much, really. But here I want to explain what we have learned from the testing program and I guess I spent an hour and a half. And this was to all the teachers in Albemarle County. We had 19 schools. We had some big schools then. But this was just sheer pleasure. A lot of people, they were so concerned because we did so poorly on social studies. And I said, "Well, folks, think about where this social studies is taught in our system and what grade was this social studies tested. It was a part of the general achievement test. Social studies was just a part of it. But at the time we gave the test they hadn't had state history, so it didn't concern me at all as to what they did on this test. Our curriculum does not call for it, and maybe it should. But the whole point is you couldn't expect them to know any more than they knew. So don't feel badly about this. Now let's go on to other things. If we think that is important then we should put in Virginia history in the 7th grade." It was in the 8th grade, you see, and the test came in 7th grade. They had a little bit of this in the 4th grade in Albemarle County. But our program was like the state program on this, yet they couldn't understand how we did so poorly on social studies.
Q: Would you please tell us the key to your success as a principal.
A: Well, I would say it's pride in part. I felt I had a big job to do, and I spent what time it took to do it. I was a regular participant in the community in many things and felt that was a part of the principal's job, you see, community relations. I took to the Board to view this, in many. I dealt with things with dispatch. But I was conscientious in doing this. I also took part in all kinds of state-wide activities and enjoyed that. I never missed a VEA convention in my life, while in Virginia Education. And was often on the program. Waverly, it was a little school with 250 students, about 90-95 in high school. Mr. Foster called me and said "Bob, they're starting a new program in evaluating high schools". It was my first year there. "Would you be interested in participating in this?" Oh, that sounds, that sounded good. Yes, I would like to participate. Ours was one of the first two schools in Virginia evaluated by the use of evaluating criteria. That kind of thing always . . . On that was only 4 members on that evaluation team. We did the self-study and the evaluation team came. Here was the Director of Instruction in Norfolk County. Later the State Superintendent of Instruction. Too bad, I wrote the doctoral exam right along with him, the two of us. Then there was two State Supervisors, one had been principal in this high school in Radford. I'm sure that had some influence on my coming to Radford, and another had been principal in the big Salem High School. There was still a third man, the Superintendent of Schools in Suffolk, the city of Suffolk. I got a lot of mileage out of those people. Everywhere I went I had people saying "Bob, let me tell you, so-and-so certainly thinks highly of what you've done." Just plain pride, you see. But every year, every Spring there was a great flurry of activity on my part. Because I'd have people want to know, "can't you come up and see us, wouldn't you like to change jobs," you know. And I didn't stay long in any one place. In ten years I've been principal of three schools, but that's the way you have to move as a school man, young, you know. I later thought I was going to be a superintendent, when I had the opportunity to be. But that time I was in higher education. I applied once, was asked to apply at Clifton Forge. I'd never been much impressed with Clifton Forge, but I went over, and I answered their questions. Didn't project myself. The question came at the end, which of these two do you, there had been three, which of two now do we want? Me and the other fellow. One of them said "Well, I don't believe Bob Gibson is interested enough to take this job." Well, that was true. I don't think I would have taken had it been offered to me. Two years later they came looking for me though, wanting me to take the job. But I was called back to Albemarle County to be the superintendent. I didn't see that I could take that like that. But, you see, this is the way you become known and participating on programs, officers--I was chairman of the state ASCD (Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development). I was offered jobs in the State Department twice. You know those jobs didn't make as much money as I was making where I was. Isn't that a shame. That's a bad commentary on the State Department at that time, on the state people who employ those people. But they go out looking for their people. I was offered jobs twice, different jobs. I'd just got up to Albemarle and here came Z. T. Kyle, the Director of State Libraries. He said "Bob, I just wondered--you know people all over the state--if you might know somebody who would be interested in my job." He was saying "Bob, wouldn't you be interested in my job?" but he couldn't quite say that cause he knew I had just arrived in Albemarle. If I'd been there a couple of years I would have taken his job. I'd been interested in that. Here's where they approve state use of textbooks and so on, big job of organizing. Dean Stiles called me one Spring--said "Bob, we need you up here teaching this summer at the university" and I had been teaching in higher education. I'd helped him with his class; and, oh, that's something I would have enjoyed doing. I couldn't do that and leave Alta Vista principal-less for the summer. But there have always been opportunities. I've never gone great big, you know. I've never gotten a big superintendency. I've never led up to it. My assistant principal in Alta Vista occupied the 10th largest superintendency of the state. I've had everybody say "Bob, you ought to be in the big superintendency somewhere." Well, that would thrill me, but things just haven't lined up that way. I've been on the state's superintendents eligible list for years and years and years. Ever since I came from Alta Vista to Radford High. Well, that's beside the point. I've taken your question and gone off in all directions. But, in other words, I have been known by people widely, after that evaluation, that's what I started to say, in Alta Vista. Every Spring thereafter I was wanted on the evaluation somewhere, and they asked me to serve on two, but I said "Two's too many. I'll take one, and I will enjoy it every time." Anyway, I became the Chairman of all these. And when I got here Dean Young involved me, as Director of Student Teachers here and the state-wide study of student teaching, and I've been evaluating colleges ever since. And beyond that, I've been on the Board of Review which makes directly to the State of Teacher Education, to that Board on the Accreditation of Colleges. I served on a panel out in Denver where we had all the northwest east colleges up for review. So I've had much more experience than the usual principal you're going to be interviewing, is really what I'm saying.
Q: If you had to do it again, what kinds of things would you do to better prepare yourself for the principalship?
A: What different kinds of things? Well, I really haven't emphasized my preparation as a principal, but that visiting team at Waverly could not understand how I, a Master's Degree from Illinois, was in a school that size. They were saying "You're well enough prepared to be in a much bigger school" you see. That's really what they were saying. And I thought I was well prepared as a principal. Now, it's true some people will say "Industrial Arts is not a preparation for most academic subjects of high school." Well, I was certified in those subjects that they're talking about that they thought I wasn't prepared in. I was editor of my college paper. This is a 10 page weekly that would knock the top off of the evaluations of Columbia University National Scholastic Press, University of Minnesota, and I took what journalism they had there just on the side and got this as an Industrial Arts major to be editor of the college paper--unheard of.
Q: Now, would you care to tell us what suggestions you would offer to universities as a way of helping them to better prepare candidates for administrative positions?
A: Well, I think to have them serve as an assistant principal. Maybe not a whole day, not a full-time job, but to get some service as an assistant principal would be well, with one who is recognized as a top-notch person in the principalship. That kind of service prior to becoming fully certified as principal is not recognized in the preparation, and that would be real fine. I think a little more emphasis on child study would be helpful probably. But you see, I've taught all the classes now, that are taken for certification as a principal and a superintendent and a supervisor, and some of those are very excellent preparation, just to have taught the class I mean. School law, for example. I was taking school law when a lot of big schools didn't offer it. In fact, I was the one that introduced it here knowing it should be required for the superintendent and maybe even the principal. Of course, now it's required for the principal. The principal does not have a lot of background beyond his experience in classes, that's true. To expand that somewhat, being very stipulative as to what the courses are would be good. I think it's a shame that a person has to be too old to be his most effective as a principal before he's qualified for it still. You see what I'm saying. A lot of places don't look upon the young man as being ready for the principalship yet. It's too sobering a responsibility.
Q: Even now-a-days?
A: Uh-huh. Let's say you have . . . You see I became a principal in 1946, and that was eight years after I was certified to teach and starting teaching, and I was thought to be mighty young. In fact, maybe that was one of the difficulties at first. They thought I was so young I didn't have a chance to be considered until I got in the job and then . . . I know I prepared myself in the job, and I guess every principal does. You can't imagine, of course, you really can't imagine, what it entails.
Q: My last question. Since you have now had time to reflect on your career, I wonder if you would share with us what you consider to be your administrative strengths as well as weaknesses.
A: What was that one word you used? Administrative things? Mrs. Fanny Booth at Waverly said "You said, you know, the man who was here ahead of you, he didn't know how to respond. He didn't rise to occasions." She said "You certainly rise to occasions." He didn't really know or feel the full range of the options that he had, and you have to feel some of these things. If there's one thing I've sensed a weakness in it's the fact that you go from one kind of situation, in which you'd better be on your metal and make the right impression there, and show a little venom if necessary. But then the next you want to throw your arm around the shoulder of somebody and be a real peace agent, you know. It calls for such different responses in things that occur just about with this rapidity [knocks something against table at short intervals]. It's real difficult to adjust as fast as the adjustment is called for. I can think of certain, for example, Dean Young, the Dean of the College, was on the School Board for Radford. His daughter stepped up at class change to her locker just inside the central front door of the basement at Radford High when this huge cast iron radiator, 30 inches wide, and something like 10 feet long, broke loose on the far end. If she wasn't against her locker . . . This broke loose and pivoted on a pipe that it was bending under, under weight. This end hit the concrete. At that point the pipe broke on this end, and it came down. Carol was here. It came down, knocked Carol down and came to rest on her abdomen as it slid on down the locker. The place was filled with live steam. What do you do in a case like this, you know? They were putting her in an ambulance. I was over in the superintendent's office when they called and said to come quickly--had a horrible accident. Her mother was a nurse. Her mother, Bobbie Young, dear friend of mine, met her at the hospital. I remember Mrs. Young strode in, calm in all kinds of situations like this, and she said to people there in that emergency room "Lay the patient down. Lay the patient down! LAY THE PATIENT DOWN!!" But oh goodness me. There was a real legal situation. Or how about the time we had the blow-up in the chemistry lab at Waverly when pure sodium was put in a beaker by one student. He was making sodium phosphate solution and instead of using the sodium stick to make sodium phosphate good, he put the pure sodium in a glass beaker and turned the faucet on. Immediate explosion. Got in his eyes. He was going to be a doctor--is a doctor right now. His mother was an old chemistry teacher. Snow on the ground. They rushed him to the hospital in Petersburg while I went out in my little car to pick up his parents and take them to the Petersburg hospital. I got stuck twice getting out of their place, stuck in the snow. Charles has eyelids that are disfigured now. It didn't affect one eye at all. It did affect somewhat the other eye. Of course, they came to get me. I was in the shop teaching, the year I was teaching shop as a principal. And as I ran around the corner of the building to go upstairs to the lab, here was Maury Rosenburg, my dear friend, who came to Waverly when we did. The town doctor slammed on his brakes in front of the building. Went running in. The first thing he did was irrigate his eyes, of course. But, my goodness. If there had been any litigious people involved in that we would have been in a law suit. This was a first year teacher of chemistry. A Radford graduate by the way. I didn't know what Radford College even was then. There are times you can't see your way clear. You don't know what the consequences are. You just have to kind of go blindly. And you're really flying blind your first two or three months in any new principalship. You have no idea about what is expected from you on the basis of what the former man did, and that's real important. The principalship is a great challenge, real satisfying when you think you've done it well, but there are a lot of opportunities to feel you're short horse, too.
Q: How about your strengths?
A: My strength? I think my energy, my youthful vigor, my desire to do a good job. The fact that I didn't, you know, a lot of principal's will turn tail and run if they run into some opposition. You've never . . . Mr. DeHaven one time, I said "Where should I put my attention, my emphasis?" He said "Well, Bob, I guess I should say `What are you most afraid of'" He was called to the phone, and that was the end of our conference. I came back the next day, and I said "Mr. DeHaven, I can't take that as an answer." He said "Well, I should have said it differently. I guess I should have said `What worries you the most?'" And that's different, because I can't say I would ever run if I were afraid. That's the very time I wouldn't run.
Q: Thank you very much.
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