Q: Would you discuss your college education and preparation for entering the field of teaching? How many years did you teach? How many years were you a teacher?
A: I went to Virginia Tech, got a degree in Business Administration. They didn't offer Business Education until 1950, when I graduated. I went into the Air Force, came back from the Air Force, started back to school, doing graduate work while teaching at Blacksburg Elementary school, of all places, and got my Master's degree in Business Education. I moved to the high school, then started teaching.
Q: So, when you went to school you got an Administration degree, your Bachelor's was an Administration degree?
A: My Bachelor's was in Business Administration and my Master's was in Business Education with Vocational Education. I did a lot of secondary administration courses in addition, with the advice of my major professors.
Q: Do you think that turned out to be good advice?
Q: How many years did you teach before you became a principal.
A: I taught six years, three of which were part-time assistant principal, part-time teacher, with the Vocational and Work Experience program that I started.
Q: So that would be in the high school?
A: Yes. So, I taught from 1955 until 1961, with the last three of those being assistant principal.
Q: How long were you a principal?
A: Twelve years, 1961 to 1973. Some tough years, in the 1960s, trying times for the country, for educators, for students, for parents. We weathered the storm and a lot of those students are top teachers, administrators now, here and all around the country. Blacksburg has always turned out a lot of people in public education for some reason, I guess Blacksburg's industry is public education.
Q: What motivated you to enter the principalship? How did your motives change over the years?
A: I didn't go into it. I only taught three years when I was asked to become assistant principal and start a Vocational Office training program, which is a part-time work experience, so I did, and with the respect to the principal and superintendent, who requested me. In those days, I don't know anybody who ever applied for a position. I guess they did, but usually, if they promoted from within, then you were asked, so I became assistant principal. I went to the central office for about three months as an administrative assistant to a building program to help the superintendent, then the assistant superintendent left the county and the principal was moved over to the central office as Director of Instruction, but only if I would come back to the Blacksburg High School to replace him, so I guess that was the condition. Not that I was coerced, but I was honored to be asked to go back to school where I graduated myself, and to work with the teachers who had taught me, themselves, so I went back and if there was anything I could do to help them make the school better, that would be my role, and we worked well together for twelve years, the longest anybody has ever served that school as principal, I was told. That was an objective of mine, maybe, so I classify that as an accomplishment, I guess. I guess it is a testimony to my perseverance.
Q: So your motives changed from the time you were just asked to do it until the end?
A: Well, I went into it, then I put my heart and soul into it. If I was going to do it, then I was going to do the best I could.
Q: What kinds of things do teachers expect principals to do?
A: I guess stay out of their way and help them where you can, and support them, be fair, be honest, give direction, and cut out the paperwork.
Q: Are those the sorts of things you did?
A: Well, I tried to do that. If there was anything I could do to make their task easier. We were extremely crowded during those years, as much as Virginia Tech was growing. Dr. Marshall Hahn had come in as president when I started as principal and he made an awful lot of changes, and there was an awful lot of growth. The post WW II people and children and so forth coming to schools, and all the public schools had a difficult circumstance. Anybody around here knows who Dr. Hahn is. It was a pleasure working with him. He was certainly an outstanding young man. He was the president of Virginia Tech. Growth was coming in Blacksburg, we were growing rapidly, and we were very crowded. We were at the Blacksburg High School, but I was principal where the middle school is now, and it is controversial now about replacing that school since it is too small for 900 students. They had grown to 1400 students during my administration and managed, but it was not easy and I would hate for anybody else to have to go through that, but the teachers were under very difficulty circumstances due to large classes and difficult assignments as far as teaching stations, and so forth. They didn't have the luxury of a room to themselves. They had to share everything in school, but they worked well, understanding that there was nothing that I could do about it, or anyone in the school system could do anything about it, until a building program was accomplished, which came to pass.
Q: Could you describe your views on what it takes to be an effective principal, including the personal and professional characteristics of the really good principal?
A: I don't know whether I can or not. To be an effective principal, I don't know if there is one set of rule that you have to follow or not, but I still think being supportive, to the extent that you possibly can, work with individual teachers, just like you would in the classroom. I think as you relate it to a teacher with a classroom of students. I lot of individuals. You handle each one of them a little bit differently, but you support the children in what they are doing. You enforce their positives and work on their negatives, but you don't tell all the others about their negatives. You don't air your problems publicly. You work with each problem on a day to day basis. You set goals and objectives. You set responsibilities that are theirs to do, responsibilities that are yours to do. If they can't do them, then someone else will have to do it. Sometimes the principal has to do it. To be an effective principal, that depends on who you speak to, I guess, as to what factors would be considered. I always try to stay away from educational jargon. I deliberately do not use "buzz words" and what was prominent in the state department at the time, or nationally, with national principals and that sort of thing. I try to use common terms. I didn't want parents or others, while we had enough people with an education in town who knew more about education than I did, but I just wanted to be right down to earth, work with people. I think that is what I found, having been a native of Blacksburg, having gone to school here, that this is our business, education is the business of Blacksburg. It is what drives the town. It is our economy and lifeblood. Everybody was very supportive. We all had the same objectives with every child in the school, the parents, teachers, principal, school board, everybody concerned had the same idea of what we wanted to do - that is, provide the opportunities for students, give them an opportunity to be successful, so we had a lot of support. It was a quiet pressure. It was not a threatening pressure. People wanted the best for their children. They wanted us to produce and that is what I wanted. I wanted them to support us. They support us, we support each other, and you have some good outcomes.
Q: As a follow up question, would you describe the expectations, both professional and personal, that were placed on principals, their employees, employers, and the community, during your period of employment?
A: Well, I addressed some of that. They expected good results, without adequate measures to show what those results were. Tests scores would not always do that. Individual achievements of students would not always show that because the students at Blacksburg were very competent students and would learn in spite of, would achieve in spite of, but we expected them to do well, and they did. All students were not at the same level, of course. The professional responsibilities, I saw over the years, I know the school board, the administration required all principals to go to all state meetings and all national meetings in their field. That was a very positive thing because when we went, we went to all the sessions. We visited other schools. We talked to people in our business. We kept up to date as to what was going on. It was not "two principals go this year, two next year, one the next" and that sort of thing. We were required to go every year, and we did. As time went by, budget constraints, I guess, limited people from doing that sort of thing. I guess some people thought it was a waste of money sending these people to cities to eat big meals and stay in fancy hotels and that sort of thing. We drove some old cars we purchased from auctions from the state and that sort of thing, left over sheriff's cars, anything that was available, fill the car up with four or so principals and off we go. Usually, one of the people in central office went with us and played in the activities, and we all went to things and we talked a lot and had a good time as well. We went to the first session, we went to the last session, and everything in between. We didn't skip out on them and it was not a vacation. As far as expectations of our board members, when I first became principal, there were four school board members, and they were all business people. They said they went to their banker's association, or whatever their profession was, they went to those things themselves, and they knew how it benefitted them and they expected us to go. As time went by, as I said, that kind of changed, a little bit different kind of approach.
Q: How did those expectations from when you were a principal differ from today's situation?
A: Well, I think all of their expectations are still there. They expect accomplishments, a little bit more organized evaluation process, supposedly to reflect that. We didn't have written evaluations when I first started. There were evaluations. The superintendent told me when I became principal, he wanted me to be THE principal, if I was going to be principal, to be it, and they would support me. Where I was wrong, or where I made mistakes, they would let me know, and we weld discuss it, privately, but they would support me. That was my philosophy, and that was the general philosophy then. Not one of confrontation or one of trying to find somebody to do something wrong so they could hang them, but trying to improve, just like you would students. I think that kind of changed over the years, of course, having more formal evaluations, more structured evaluations, more structured goals and objectives. The one thing we were required to have in our desk drawer was our written philosophy of education. If the superintendent came in, and said, "Let me see your current would of education?" and it would change some every year, and nobody has ever had the perfect one. I never did find out what the superintendents perfect one was.
Q: Is there such a thing?
A: I don't know. They believe in certain changes to some degree. I don't know if that answers the question or not, but I think it is an attempt to respond to what the public wants, with a little bit more accountability.
Q: Would you describe your approach to teacher evaluation and give your philosophy of teacher evaluation?
A: Well, I guess my process was a little bit different, because I knew the teachers that were teaching with me, then when I became principal, they had taught me as a student at high school, and I didn't tread with fear in their domain. One invited me to her classroom as I went down the hall one day at class change time, and I said, "No ma'am, I have been in there, and I have had my day!" I guess the informal evaluations was pretty much what the standard was in those days, though many principals spent quite a bit of time in the classroom. My role was that the principal in those days was required to run the cafeteria, run the school bus transportation system. I even kept the payroll and so forth in the elementary schools, cafeterias, and filed the federal withholding, taxes, and social security and that sort of thing, which every school had to do in those days. The principal had to be in charge of the custodians, hire and fire the bus drivers, the secretaries and all that kind of thing, so it was pretty much of an administrative function. I guess that is one reason they asked me to be principal is I had a business background and it was very valuable to me, and that is what I did when I became assistant superintendent and dealt with the business of all that administrative side. So, there was not a whole lot of time you had to spend in the classroom. I don't know how effective I would have been in that role as an evaluator. I did spend some time with teachers who were new to the school and were new to me, and other informal ways of evaluation were used, not necessarily parent complaints, or student complaints, or that kind of thing, but I think there is that kind of evaluation being made all the time. People are saying, "What is the best school in the county?". "What is the best school in the state?" I know some that were thought of as being very outstanding teachers and I was working very carefully with them to improve them. A lot of the folks didn't know their weaknesses, or that they had weaknesses, but I had an open door and at times they would come in, knowing that that was as far as it would go and we worked very closely individually. It is hard to work, I feel, with groups, though I have often felt that peer evaluation would be more effective than any other kind of evaluation. Where teachers, if you could get them to do it, to work with each other. While I had frequent faculty sessions, very liberal sessions, there were some who could not attend and that was fine. No requirement on some of those. It was amazing how much they found out about other teachers or about the philosophy others had and some of the things they did. There were some teachers who nobody would ever know that they were the best teachers in the school, because I didn't publicize that fact, but yet some who worked with them and taught in the same classrooms with them, they wanted to go and sit in their classrooms sometime, because they would go by and see things being done, and you would never hear about it in some of the group meetings, so they would do it on an individual basis. I don't know how to encourage it, not through sitting in faculty lounges and back biting and all that kind of thing. I would change the faculty lounges and make departments so that teachers would be together in their fields, even in one place for three to four language teachers to be together so they could share before and after school and during planning periods and schedule some of those planning periods deliberately so they would be together and could help one another and see what one is doing in preparation and how they approach certain problems. I think the role I tried to play was to facilitate evaluation and the purpose of evaluation is improvement of instruction, which is one of the major roles a principal has is to try to improve the instruction anyway he can. I might have lost sight of the question, but that is the heart of it, is what goes on, how you know what is going on. It takes a number of years, and I think that is one thing I hate to see now is the constant changeover of administrative people. Superintendents don't stay long. Principals, the high school principal's average tenure now is 3 to 4 years. You could hardly get started there. How could you get things going, know what is going on, evaluated, and make improvements? It is a constant process. It seems like I would shore up the math department, then two of the best science teachers would leave or retire, or made supervisors or something, so then you would work on the science department. When you have changes like that, it is a time to go in and get rid of the bad things that were in the department, renovated, with staff people coming in, we would interview them, hire them, direct certain things. This is what you want to be sure you are addressing and that this gets taken care of and your tenure here as a teacher, so it is a building process, and I don't think you can do it. The people I looked up to were principals who had been in the school system for 20 or 30 years. One gentleman, I forgot his name right now, but he was principal at E.C. Glass High School class in Lynchburg for thirty years. That was when I was principal, and Harold Secole at Patrick Henry High School. I did that school evaluation, and from that evaluation, came to highly regard his comments and so forth, but you can't do those things if you aren't principal very long, and people who, unfortunately move from one high school to another and stay as principal, but maybe the elementary school principal stayed a little longer, I don't know. Continuity with the school board, with the central staff, with administrative staff, and a small turnover in school, then you can have some ongoing programs and do a true evaluation. We don't do enough of that in public education, follow up things. We don't have the long-term evaluations to see what is really helpful. It becomes a public relations kind of thing. That is how I was told you judge a school system, a school or a teacher, even by public relations or by the money spent on the school system or school. So much spent dollars per pupil. That means you have a good school system because you support them, or a good public relations job being done. Some teachers, especially in the high school, are in a position to be more visible - coaches, activity sponsors, unofficial line of command, that kind of thing. The behind the scenes power structure that develops in any organization. I have always been told, and I firmly believe it, and the superintendent and principal I started with, the balance was a good responsibility of the principal, to maintain balance in the schools. Don't let one department or one teacher or one phase of the school get out of balance of the other, just because they have a winning football team does not mean that person is the best teacher or does the best job, or should command the most resources directed toward that end. However, if that is what the community wants, that is what the school board wants, then that is what will be, I guess, but the principal's role is to try to maintain the balance and not let one get too far in control and completely out-of-control. Keep the balance. That is why you are constantly building. There is always something in the school that needs to be built up. You don't tear down an organization, you just maintain the balance.
Q: In recent years, more and more programs for special groups of students, such as Learning Disabled, Gifted, Non-English Speakers, has been developed. Could you discuss your experience with special student services, and your views on today's trends?
A: Montgomery County started Special Education programs in 1971 and that was toward the end of my principalship, with one teacher, and when I left the central office in 1991, which was twenty years later, there must have been, I don't know how many special teachers in Special Education, and I don't know how many in Gifted Education or a lot of other areas of ESL, or all those kinds of programs that were determined to be necessary. It was not an area of my expertise, I don't know what area it would be, but I lost sight of a lot of other vocational programs, even in Business Education, as the role changed with the advent of technology and that sort of thing. It always seemed inappropriate in how we could ever be felt meeting our goals and objectives or meeting of philosophy of education if we weren't educating all children, if they stayed home. A boy my age had been classified as Mentally Retarded, trainable, maybe, I don't know, but we went to Sunday school with him, went down to the farm and played with him. We had to be careful because he would hurt you, but we all played with him and we all got along with him, but he did not go to school with us. We didn't know why. We just knew he was different, but there were other ones who were different. I had one good friend who stayed in the fourth grade for many years, and I happened to be in fourth grade with him. He was, I guess then it was "deaf and dumb" they called him. He could not hear, but he was not dumb. I played baseball with him, semi-pro ball years later, when I was in college and after. We communicated just like we did back in fourth grade. I don't know how. But, those needs weren't being met in my day. They weren't being met for a lot of people. I think some of those programs can go to extremes because there are so many different approaches, and like all other things in public education, has been, will be, special interest groups, people who are looking for some innovative things they can hang their hat on, their accomplishment, whether they be a public educator, a school board member, superintendent, somebody who is looking to move to the next highest level, try something they feel very strongly about, maybe it is good, but like all innovations in all areas of education, it is no different in Special Education than it is in vocational or other areas of education, English, or anything else. People have tried things and those things that did not work were discarded and the parts that were good were maintained. We taught English at Blacksburg High School as semester subjects. We taught a semester of grammar, and a semester of literature deliberately. It was a long-time process and many people asked why so many of our students did so well at UVA or Virginia Tech in English. Whether that was the reason or not, or because we had outstanding English teachers, one who taught 42 years, one who taught many years, but some less than that, but at each level. Grades 9, 10, 11, and 12, there was an outstanding English teacher at each level, so regardless at the system you used, I don't know whether that had any effect on it or not, but they wanted to be sure that grammar was not left out, but most English teachers liked to teach literature. They taught the integrated approach, I guess you might call it, with the grammar and writing and that sort of thing with the literature. That was discarded some years later, but students are still accomplishing just as well, so whether that system was somebody's innovation, I don't know how it got started, but that was the way it was, and a number of other things that may be good. I think the evaluation of them was a natural process. I am afraid too many times, some of the good things get thrown out. Some of the very best things that are being done. If it is not broke, don't fix it. You can improve it, I guess. Every group of teachers coming along, every group of educators at any level, want to try to do something they feel will make it better. I have heard it said that if you give a pill to a child at a certain age, that they could read at the 12th grade level, then you could go about the business of teaching everything else because the child could read. In a couple of years, somebody would come along with something better, a different approach, and you didn't have to use the pill. I have heard that said, taken to the extreme, maybe, but it was indicative of Special Education and everything else. There is always going to be innovations and new ways of doing things, a new philosophy. I have seen some of these presentations made to the school board members who are enlightened of information that they weren't aware of, that these specialists brought to them and they jumped on it with both feet and thought this was something we ought to do, and do it right now. So, whether it answers the question or not, it is not my field of expertise, but I have seen and worked with a lot of things and we did a lot of things with computers and we found that the "Writing to Read" program was brought in, that the most effective means of "Writing to Read" was in Special Education students. That was not what it was intended for, but those students found that getting on the computer they could do things that would improve their educational experiences, just obviously you could see in their communication. Some weren't communicating with anybody and all of a sudden, they were communicating with this machine. The next thing you know, they were communicating with others and showing them what to do. I have heard it said by the first principal I saw it work with in high school, the more is "caught" than is "taught" and if that were not the case, we would be in bad shape in education. Students learn in spite of the teacher. They learn a lot on their own. We don't "learn" them, we "teach" them. Teaching is leading, that is all it is. Coaching is teaching and leading. One of our best English teachers, who was not really all supportive of athletic programs and so forth, but at a National Council of Teachers of English, again going to the national meeting, she came back talking about the best presentation being made, that the best taught subject in high school was football and the reason was is that it was so well organized. Every practice was planned, right down to everything that was being done, everything was being organized, thoroughly structured. If the English teachers would be more structured in their planning and teaching, that they, too, could be more successful. That is kind of in a nutshell, but I remember it. She had a different attitude about coaching of sports and other kinds of extracurricular activities. It was nothing more than just good teaching. She knew sports had great value to the schools and that sort of thing, but that sometimes maybe got out of balance of academics, but she saw over the years some of her own relatives do extremely well in academics as well as athletics, and it was all part of the total curriculum, football is part of the curriculum, basketball is part of the curriculum, drama is part of the curriculum, band is, art, the whole works. If you don't have a program, you don't have a curriculum, don't have them all.
Q: Administrators seem to spend a good deal of time on paperwork and the bureaucratic complexity with which they deal. Would you comment on the situation during your administrative career and compare the problems you encountered with your perception of today's situation?
A: I have seen some superintendents who had different philosophies. In 37 years, I have worked under, unfortunately, too many, probably 10 to 12 superintendents and one of those was superintendent for nine years. That is too much turnover, but some of the philosophy is what I agreed with. I guess I agreed with some of all of their philosophy. Some felt very strongly that the people coming into the central office, in any capacity, working with the school board, should have had some experience at the school level of administration, principal, assistant principal. That is kind of hard to adhere to if you want a math supervisor. Why should that person have to be an administrator. If you want to be effective, they have to have some kind of background, maybe to have been a department chairman or something, maybe to realize that the role of the central staff, or the principal, is not to pass everything on to teachers. All the administrative functions, all the duties and details, but to try to get that off their backs. When I went to central office, having been a principal for 12 years, we centralized the school cafeteria program. We got all the payroll into the central office. We developed a central pay scale. We paid them with central budget, cafeteria budget. We took that off the principal so they didn't have to worry about that. We centralized transportation so that the principal did not have to do that anymore. We centralized custodial services, so principals did not have to do that. But the principal did have to go unlock the door and go to the boiler room and take care of the boiler because the custodian was out driving the bus to fill in for somebody was absent is the kind of stuff that I had to go through, and thought I was doing a good job, because I was doing what I was supposed to do. But it was doing something that really I should not have had to be doing. But my point is that a principal who has been at the school level knows from working with teachers day to day that they need their time in the classroom not doing things after hours, or trying to get things done during the day that are administrative in nature, that the principal could take care of or someone in the central office could take care of, did not pass it on to the teachers to do. So having that background, some superintendents would not bring somebody in under a very responsible position unless they had that kind of background.
Q: That is very interesting. That is the name of a chapter in my book, "He Who Controls the Pursestrings, Controls the School." We were on administrators and the paperwork and the bureaucratic system.
A: Well, you get more paperwork. Some people blame it on the state and the state blames it on the federal government and part of that is true, but it comes back to this old thing about accountability, trying to prove that you are meeting your goals or the standards of something, standards of quality, standards of parity, or whatever you want to call it, inequality... Some of these you can't prove by any written document, though I know the legislature, in order to fund public education, is going to have to have some good documentation to support that kind of thing. You have got to have somebody to pay teachers, to get good people to go into education, to keep the classroom teacher. You have got to have people to stay as a principal and try to have some continuity in the system, and pay isn't the only thing, money isn't the only thing, but it drives the engine. You've got to have that fuel to run, but when you know the legislature is probably not going to raise taxes anyway, because they want to be re-elected. All of this is done, really, for nothing, in a way. You need to have records to show what has been done, with statistics, you know, you've got to have data and that sort of thing, people data, you've got to have. You have to have financial records and all that kind of thing has to be done for the official auditors and this sort of thing. Thank goodness, they don't go out and evaluate a lot of other programs like we do public educations, or we would have all kinds of government. It becomes an argument over who gets the money, how it is split up and that sort of thing. Special Education, like we were talking about, has to show need for their part of the money. Vocational Education has to show need for their money. Unfortunately, you don't have many people out there speaking up for English teachers, football coaches, or administrators or that kind of thing. The administrative burden is widespread for many reasons. That is why I feel you need people at the central level who have been principals, to curtail that. I always told all our people, the payroll clerk, the personnel department, the purchasing, transportation, food service, all those things. You are not there to get information from the schools, the teachers and so forth, to put a burden on them, your job is to relieve them. Everything you can do to provide a good meal in the cafeteria, will help that child do a better job in the classroom. Provide a breakfast program - some say it is not necessary - but all of these children don't have breakfast. Maybe we shouldn't do it, but the government should do for those who aren't doing for themselves, and many parents are not providing breakfast for their children. You see a lot of them have a coat maybe, and that is it, before they get on the bus. Their parents aren't even home when they get on the bus. They come to school and maybe they are hyper. Many of them are hyper now adays. I have had a Special Education supervisor tell me, that if these children had a better diet, prenatal and through the early years, that we would not have a lot of the problems we have in the classroom, that we have to turn to some specialized program and put a label on it, and try to resolve the problem. People saw that sort of thing, but there again, she was with the program long enough, over a period of 30 years, to see what was going on, some of the root cause, but there again, we in public education are supposed to resolve the problems in the world, and I think that is the answer to all the problems in the world, is public education. Private education is its role, but public education is a bigger responsibility, to meet the needs of the society, whatever it may be. Education did not create the problems, I don't think, but tried to resolve them. We want to blame all the problems on the schools, but schools are the mirror of society. Whatever society is, the schools will be exactly like it, at the local level, nationally, whatever.
Q: Would you discuss your general relationship, both the pros and the cons, with the board of education, when you were principal or superintendent, and comment on the effectiveness of school board operations in general?
A: When I started in 1955, there was a four member school board. They were appointed by an independent commission called "School Trustee Electoral Board" and that board was appointed by the circuit court judge and the judge was appointed by the legislature, or the governor with the legislature's approval. The board members were pretty far removed from the political scene. They did not come around to the school. They referred inquiries to the proper staff people. Talk to the teacher. Talk to the principal if you don't get any redress there. If not from the principal, go to the superintendent's office, go through the chain. If you don't get it resolved at that stage, then you come to the board, and they adhered to that. They did not like to come to functions because they were school board members, because their role as a school board member, they felt, and that is the School Board Association's policy, is they are a board member only when they are in session in a public meeting that has been advertised properly, to conduct the business of the board, then when the board meeting was over, they are no longer a board member, they are a citizen, they have no authority whatsoever, and you have a superintendent that they employ to administer their policies and that is the way it is supposed to work, the line of command. That has changed in my days here, to a larger board appointed by the Board of Supervisors, which puts them more in direct political maneuvering, and then now, more recently, to an elected school board, which gives them much more of a role in politics. So, board members are now more involved at the school level, individual level, seeing what is going on, unlike a supervisor and that is not the role they should play. They need to have information that comes through the superintendent's office. There is a recent controversy in Roanoke county nearby, the board member wanting finance information and policy said they had to go through the superintendent and that is the way it should be. They should not go out and get staff members to provide them information directly. They should not go to a principal to get information directly. They should not go to a teacher to get information about a child or about a program directly. They should go through channels to get that information. They should work through the chairman of the school board, the school board chairman should go to the superintendent between meetings to get it on the agenda. They meet frequently, so there is no urgency. If there is something urgent, then call the superintendent, then he will initiate actions to take care of the problem, but that is rare and does not need to be done very often. That is the role the chain of command should be and it has changed over the years because the political process has changed. Now it is to the point where members who get elected to the school board can't perform and can't meet their objectives of the platform they ran on because they have no control over the funds. They are still accountable to the board supervisor to get the funds passed. That is the old system of checks and balances, where somebody needs to keep control of the pursestrings and whoever controls those pursestrings controls the school, controls education. It is hard for a school board to develop a budget, when all you want is process. It is not just a two or three month process that occurs that you see in the paper, it is something that has gone on all year long, as you administer further. You see things going and see needs coming to the forefront, all of that sort of thing is developed into the budget for the next year and in this state, you develop a budget one year at a time, which is kind of ridiculous, so you develop a salary scale that is a one year scale usually, for all your employees, so you don't have any knowledge of what it is going to be down the road. That is just the way it is. The state is on a biannual system, and they can do more than a one year program, but it builds as you go along. A one year program builds on the next, but the board members are in a position of really keeping the budget in the background all the time and financing all the time, so how could they make any decisions if it is controlled by funds. It seems like Congress, right on down the line, any problem that comes up in society, they want to throw money at it, and that is not always the answer. So, now we have in Montgomery county, nine school board members and they all eventually will be elected. Most of them are elected now, and when that transition comes into full force, then they will all have been elected, so nine members have nine view points, nine egos for a superintendent to work with. They expect the superintendent to be out in the schools to see what is going on, and it just creates a conflict that is not helping education, to the degree that it does not have the effect down in the classroom, but I am afraid it does sometimes, but that is where the real job is being done, in the classroom, and everything from the school board to the superintendent, to the central staff, to the principal, and right on down the line, should be directed toward helping that situation in the classroom. Once you get those things out of whack or you lose sight of how it is going to affect the classroom, then you are in dangerous territory, and I am afraid we have done too much of that. It would be good if the school board could meet once a month, like they used to. They meet a couple of hours and go home. I don't know how often they meet, but I know they meet twice a month at regular meetings, that occurred during my tenure. In order to do other things, they want to take care of business at one meeting, and the basic things like you do at all things, since there have been boards around, then to have another meeting to do some work on programs and evaluations and all that kind of thing, and unfortunately, every meeting gets to be the same thing, a little bit of business, a little bit of this and so forth and a lot of people coming to bring things to the attention of the board, which if the organization were functioning properly, things would come through channels naturally and you would not have to go to the board, if you went through the teachers, through the principal and through the staff and were given the opportunity for that staff to be completely open and respond as this all fit, and do what was right and be supported and corrected if they were wrong, but not publicly with every case, there may be times that some things should be handled publicly, but I don't know of very many. It should not have to get to the board to start with. I have seen a change in one of strict line chain of command type of operation to more where everybody is involved, and everybody can't run the system. You can have too many hands in the pie. You have got to employ people to run it. If you are going to be a teacher, be a teacher. If you are going to be a principal, be a principal. If you can be superintendent, be superintendent. Do it. We will support you. It sounds so simple.
Q: Culture diversity is a topic of great interest and concern right now. Would you discuss the nature of your student body and comment on the problems, challenges and triumphs in which you participated? Especially, I know, since during the 1960s, you had mentioned, was a real trying time.
A: Well, we had a diverse student body. One of the strengths of Blacksburg is that it is in a rural setting, but with a cosmopolitan university in its midst and you have a variety of student abilities, and I think that is good. I know many people came here during the 1960s as Virginia Tech grew, to meet the national and international demands on universities. They came in here, many times, to get away from situations that were maybe not as diverse, and they wanted to give their children the opportunity to communicate and socialize with a variety of backgrounds and people, and they found that here. I told all teachers who were employed, that they would have success if they were just willing to work with the students, because the students had the competency and they could achieve whatever they wished in their programs, whether it be an actual degree program, academic, vocational, Special Education, whatever it may be, they could have success with it. There were some problems that made it difficult to provide the student's opportunities. Women's sports were not encouraged during those days, and it changed during that period of time. When I was in high school, the girl's sports were just as big as the boy's sports. Girl's basketball team was a whole lot better than ours, the boy's team, so we went to their tournaments and supported them, and it was all part of the program. I had a principal come in my senior year, in 1945, after World War II and he started football back again. He thought it was the greatest thing that ever came back because they had to cut it out during the war years. We thought he was a great man and he was. We saw it grow. We saw track teams become a reality, wrestling teams, girl's track team, tennis teams, all kinds of opportunities for students of both sexes to participate and that was not easy. It had to be worked on. We had a strong problem with the drug culture, creating many visions, rumors, and so forth, that the public felt, at the state level, and I served as a chairman of the principals in this area, and we met in Richmond, and the state department and legislature, the people thought drugs in 1962 was a ghetto problem. That was not in our mainstream communities. Pardon the expression, the principal of Charlottesville and I said, "The hell it is! It is right in the midst of our universities and it is right in the university communities." We said we as principals needed some in-service to know how to recognize and handle these problems with these students. We know how to deal with alcohol, we have dealt with it. We had seen that sort of thing. We recognize it. We know how to deal with it, and drugs, we don't know. We don't know the behavior or students. It took awhile before we generated anything. It just came about because others saw the same thing in our community. The diversity of the university community, a lot of things happen in the university. The major things in history have happened in university towns, not the least of which was Martin Luther's college town. He nailed his '95 thesis on the door. You will go back in history and find that some of the great movements of society have occurred in university communities. Remember that one. We saw more of the single parent problems, the diversity. It was we had it here as well as everywhere else, to the point that over half the children in school have only a one parent family or what is considered usually as a mother and father and that is it in the family. The demands for programs such as advanced placement and all that kind of thing was brought to attention publicly. We had some outstanding educators in our schools, and our programs we felt, were geared to what the students were taking in high school, and if they wanted to go to the university, they could go to the university advanced program. We were able to offer it because of the supportive staff and school board to provide programs, whether to call it advanced placement or not, give extra credit for it, given a higher grade point average and that point of thing, and an A was an A in any class, no matter what it was. If the student had the God-given ability to do exceptional coursework, which we provided for those students, that was their good fortune, and we did not try to hold them back, but to give them a class, name them something else and try to get prestige out of it, I don't think that is always the case. There was diversity of abilities, diversity of sex, lifestyle, and it has just become more pronounced, I guess, and that is the way society is. As society changes, so does the school. It's a mirror.
Q: Could you discuss your participation in handling civil rights integration and describe your involvement with bussing?
A: I did not get into that part of the diversity because we did not have bussing. The civil rights process, when I became principal in 1961, Blacksburg High School was integrated in 1961, my first year. There was no need to bus. There was a need to cut out bussing, because the black children were transported to the high school in Christiansburg, and it was a regional high school, and some of the students went through the legal process, through the People Placement board, all that sort of thing, were assigned to Blacksburg High School. There were some concerns in the community by those having been a native of Blacksburg, as a matter of fact, I lived during my college years and so forth, we moved from the farm to the town, we moved right next to one of the black communities in town. Many of my friends, and some who had kept me, I was one of eight children in the family, kept me as a baby. In the first year of teaching, she and her sister were working in the cafeteria of the school. I had often wondered why they had to work there, why couldn't they work as a teacher. One of the best baseball players they had while I was a high school was one of our black friends and we played baseball, but we could not play organized baseball. We got up and played in the backyard, but we could not go down and play on the field as a team. It was not allowed.
Q: So there wasn't any busing?
A: No, we had to cut out busing. The plan that was adopted and approved by the federal government was a neighboring school concept. If you lived in this neighborhood, they were defined by school attendance lines, which we always have had. If you live here, you go to Blacksburg High School, if you live there, you go to Christianburg High School, etc. So that was enforced. It was the natural way to do it. I just asked the school board and the superintendent and others, the legal people, just let the school operate like it should. It would be no problem with the students. That would be the least of the problems. The students get along well and some of my principal friends who had been integrated previously advised if a student comes in and has to sit next to a black student and they don't want to, then don't sit there - go on home! You know, that is the way it had to be. There were a few people, I guess their families felt very strongly against that sort of thing, and they wanted to pull their children out of school. I don't know what happened, but they did not come to school and that was not my problem. We provided opportunities for them, and we treated them the same as anybody else if they came. It worked out good with black students in Blacksburg, or in Montgomery county, a very small percentage, but they came to school, and the students accepted them, just like they did the Asian-Americans who had been in schools there, and the Polish-Americans or the Jewish people and that sort of thing and my thoughts went back to the days when you couldn't teach in Montgomery county if you were married. At one time, you had to be a single teacher, a single person, to be a teacher. You could not teach if you were not a Protestant. You could not teach if you were Catholic. You couldn't teach if you were Jewish. I don't think those were the laws, they just didn't hire you! It was just the unwritten rules, I guess. I can't prove those things because that was before my time, but I knew that that existed and another one of my superintendents remembered the first Catholic teacher that was employed and how well the person got along, and stayed a year or so and went to the local Protestant churches, but went to another school system and became a legend. But those things are part of society that society changes. The schools are usually the focal point, and I guess that integration was as successful as it was, because it was done through the schools and the students themselves were the least problem. Talking about changes in society, Martin Luther was a big change in the breakdown, or the start of the Protestant movement, the Protestants. The protested some of the Catholic procedures that the popes were receiving money for buying your way into heaven. That is oversimplification, I guess, but there were a lot, 95 thesis, you can't go through all of them. But, Martin Luther had his strengths and his weaknesses, of course. That was just an example of the major changes that happened. Harry Truman was a good example. He really knew his history. History repeats itself, he says, and everybody says that. If you know your history, it is easy to make your decisions.
Q: I wish I knew more about Martin Luther. I'm sure I should.
A: Being a Lutheran is why I said that. I guess I should keep that out, but there again, we used to religious assemblies and of course they were religious, but they were predominantly Protestant. Why, I don't know. It was just done. A lot of things were done in the name of religion, or in the name of public education that was in the role of religion. The strengths are the home, the school, and the church. I have always believed in that, and regardless if the school is private or public, the home, and nobody can refute that, I don't think. You can embellish on it.
Q: Supposedly, curriculum has become more complex in recent years. Would you comment on the nature of the curriculum during your principalship and compare it positively and negatively to today's situation of curriculum?
A: Well, if it has become more complex, I haven't been working in curriculum since 1973 when I left the principalship, though I did work with the curriculum as I developed budgets over the years, because that was what it was based upon. I always thought the budget was the curriculum in financial terms, and I went back and looked at my book the other day, they gave me when I retired, with a resolution from the board, gave me my last budget to keep. It was a program budget. Everything was predicated on what the program was supposed to be doing and some data and some factual information and some financial information to support that. So, if it has become more complex, I don't know. I have gone back and read some of the curriculum documents that my predecessor who I took over the from the central office, who had been a lifetime member from Montgomery county, long before I was here, and some of that documentation, the core curriculum, process appeared quite complex, but it was very functional as far as curriculum was concern. It would meet the needs of society and the students that were going into that society. We go back and look at some of those things there and just say, well why is it so complex today? I think we have made it more complex, trying to meet all of these different individual interest groups. Talk about public education, not about all the different kinds of pressures and programs. Everybody looking for something of prestige to say that we are better than the other school system, and I don't care what you do, you are not going to prove that you are better. Again, it goes back to the only way you are going to prove a school system is better is through public relations, or through amount of money spent. Those are the two things that will say this is a good school system. We had a state superintendent one time who met with the superintendents and all, and asked what the best school system was in the state of Virginia. Somebody gave a name. Somebody else gave a name. He asked why they said that. It would just have to be a lot of money spent. It was in Fairfax county, had the highest school expenditures in the state at that time, or somebody else. They had gotten a lot of publicity because of programs they had that nobody else does, innovations they have had that nobody else does, but do we really know whether those are going to be effective. How long are they going to last? Like most innovations, they don't last too long. You keep the good out of them, then weed them out. Don't get me wrong. What I am saying, I have always believed, that experimentation is the life blood of public education. You have got to experience, you have got to do things. Teachers want to. When I went into it, I had all the answers. If people just did what I did.... You know, "I taught six years, I have been a principal for four or five years - I know what needs to be done, if you would just listen to me!". Well, everybody else had that idea too, and all the other young people coming in. I was a principal when I was 32. By the time I was 40, I could handle anything that had to be done. Let everybody else do it! And I found that a lot of that was because of the people we had that made what we were doing somewhat successful in my mind. You could not prove it by test scores, though we could prove a lot, if we did some test scores. I found that some of those school systems, I found out from other superintendents and other people, how they were evaluated based on scores or technical, statistical evaluations, then managed them, they controlled it. They made sure their test scores were high. They told Charlie, "Don't you want to go fishing tomorrow?" and Charlie went fishing. He wouldn't just sit there and do anything, he would do it! I would mark a couple of Xs in some of those blanks and that was all he would do. He would come out in the bottom percentile, but he pulled everybody else done. So, if you get a few Charlies not to come to school that day, you would raise your scores. What I am saying is, there are all kinds of ways to beat statistically, both illegally, improper or what, I don't know, but testing and that sort of thing shouldn't be used for those purposes. We used it, and we did it extensively to give us additional information. Then a teacher didn't want to know test results on some of the children they had, until they had taught them for awhile, then they would go back and review. I told many student teachers we had for years, as they came in, they had the same duties, expectations, responsibilities, that every teacher in this school had. They were just like they were on our staff. The only difference would be payday. They didn't get a check, and I meant that. They were part of the staff and they were to conduct themselves as a faculty member. They were a teacher, not a student teacher. They had access to everything a teacher had. But you develop your own philosophy, work with your teachers, if you want to know about these students, look up their records and see all about them before you teach them, based on these test scores, then you have some prejudged feelings about them. We used to have students come into the high school through elementary schools, and they would give us, but they didn't ask for it sometimes. Some of the students you had to watch out for, some of the problems they had. They were the least of our trouble, but when they got into the high school, they were overwhelmed. From then, they went from a 7th grade elementary school to an 8th grade high school, which we had at the time. They were all of a sudden, not the biggest boys in school, or the smartest girl in school, they were all of a sudden, back to another level. I think that is one of the main reasons the middle school came into being. We were one of the first to go to the middle school concept, because it gave those students the transition period from a student centered elementary school to a subject centered high school. The middle school made that transition gradually, into that. If they still do it, I don't know. That was there main purpose. That was what we did it for. To give them a chance to move on. Again, it is an innovation. It is costly. You had to build other schools to do it. But it was a whole lot better than the junior high system that came up because of building needs and that was all, not because of the curriculum purpose. You had crowded conditions. What do you do? Make the old high school a junior high and you take some kids out of the elementary schools that are crowded, you build a new high school and you use the old one for the junior high. Then you would put the 10th, 11th and 12th grade up to the senior high and you had 7th, 8th and 9th grade, or whatever the numbers you needed to get out of the elementary and all that sort of thing, whatever was required. That was just strictly a financial numbers game. It was not a curriculum based game. I think that was the kind of leadership we had here in education, that you went into the middle school concept because other school systems started it and were doing it for what then was a good, sound educational system reason. Must be good now, because the state requires it. It has required a lot of expensive construction and has taken money from operating funds and that sort of thing, but there again, if you are going to require these programs, you ought to fund it! If it requires a tax increase, so be it. There can be reductions made. Tax increases and reduction of services, but the complexity has always been complex. Middle schools have been quite a complex discussion. It has always been and always will be. It will something after this. Every few years, it will be some kind of innovation coming up. I can't remember all of them, but that is good to have the experimentation. A study was done of fifth grade students supported by grants from Smith Corona, built long before computers came out, with the electric typewriters. They came out and you didn't have to have the finger strength that a manual typewriter required, so fifth graders were taught to typewrite. Not just for the skill of typewriting, but if you did typewriting, you did your punctuation, there were certain rules you followed. You put a period, you took two spaces, a comma, then one space. We found that students spelled better, their grammar with punctuation and that sort of thing was better because it was keys on the keyboard to do that sort of thing. They knew what quotation marks were, what an exclamation point was. All those things. Why you put an exclamation point on. It had a purpose. Well what is the purpose. Why did you capitalize that? In the middle of a sentence, you quoted somebody, but you capitalized. Why did you do that? It was a resounding success. What was the fallacy, they didn't follow-up on it and by the time they were twelfth graders or something like that, the grant ran out, so they quit doing it, yet it proved satisfactorily academically students, as well as those who weren't talented, just like writing or reading, it showed later on. I can't remember all the things we have done. It has been many years. Just so many things came to pass that were done that were done. Now, it is almost impossible for the schools to teach keyboard, because the kids start using computers and start doing all this pecking with one finger, or two fingers, and it is almost impossible to teach them to touch, which they could do so much better, but yet we are getting to that point, with technology, so it is great, but so many things are being done with the computer that one of the toughest thing to teach with typewriting, was to compose at the typewriter. They could always take dictation by shorthand, or from a Dictaphone or something like that. The boss would come in and say they did it in the classroom. They would say to write so and so and do so and so. Give them this information. So, you had to sit down and compose a letter and put it on his desk and let him sign it and send it off. That was the toughest thing to do, to get your thoughts, without sitting down and writing by hand at first, then modifying it, like you do a theme or term paper, you do on a computer. You go back and re do it several times, but with communications, it improved, supposedly, with electronic age, to write a message to someone and send it right out. I have gotten some of those messages from staff members, school board members, the superintendent would say, "Here, I got this message on the computer." What in the world does he want? You read it and you can't understand what it means, because communication is not easy. Face to face communication is tough. You think it is tough in the middle east where people speak different languages. Trying to get them to come to talk together, and have interpreters and try to get them to settle differences, hundreds of years old. Now we have voice mail, e mail, or write a message or something like that. It has to be taught. Communication has to be taught and I have been told it is one of the findings of the influence of business people at the universities, because businesses are hiring people who are liberal arts graduates, people who can communicate, people who can write well, people who can speak well. They will hire them and they teach them, but they need to know the business people. Just like General Motors started an engineering school when there weren't enough engineers coming out of colleges. Virginia Tech has a set of good engineers. There are engineers coming out of a lot of other schools in this country they wouldn't hire, they wouldn't even talk to. So they developed their own engineering school and that speaks back to colleges, or what is it. Somebody is not doing a good job. So, to me, I guess we were talking about the changes and complexities of curriculum and so forth. I just don't know. My view is they are asking more things to be done in different ways to teach reading, but don't use phonics, or to use all phonics, or to use other methods of teaching. Everybody has their "Spaulding" method. That is controversial around here. A look-see. There are teachers who have been successful with their students by changing. If this teacher uses a particular system and it works, well you don't have much continuity. When I was in elementary school, they had the innovation (we started in first grade, not kindergarten, then) that the teacher taught you first grade, then she went to second grade, then third grade with the philosophy that if you used the same methods for three years, that the student would do much better. Well, it didn't work. Now whether it didn't work or they just threw it out because somebody came up with a better idea or not, I don't know. There have been so many things tried and tested, and it always will be. That is where you get into your complexities. Some of the things are still hanging on. People did this system when they were at one school, and yet you had people changing and moved around. Your principal comes in and he wants to do what he did at his old school because it was successful there and try to impose it on this school and they are not ready for it. You just realize that the elementary and middle schools have got to prepare some students for this program at the high school to be appropriately successful, and with elementary, middle and high school, you have three administrations to bridge to have some continuity, you just need one. When I was in school, we had one principal, 1 through 11 back then, and one principal was in charge of the whole thing. Whether that was good or not, I don't know. I have often thought it might not be too bad.
Q: Could you describe your work day? How did you spend your time? What was the normal number of hours you would put in per day?
A: I would say, not bragging, or maybe because of incompetence, or whatever reason, they were very long days as a high school principal. It would start during the school year. You have 180 days of school, so that should be taken into consideration. I handled too much of it myself, maybe. I was told that in evaluations. I did a lot of that sort of thing. I told teachers, I was always telling them things, what is wrong with me? What do I need to improve upon? And I heard too many time, "Well, you try to do too much. You try to do things that you shouldn't have to do!" Well, who is going to do it? You just do it! The bus driver is sick and can't drive, who are you supposed to call. The principal! That is what the policy manual said. We were the second school division in the state of Virginia to have a policy manual. The superintendent wrote it. He developed all the policies. It was a very short manual, but a very good one. A typical work day, would be 6 or 6:30 a.m., we would get bus drivers calling, needing a substitute, and the substitute teachers, I handled myself. You didn't have to let the secretary do it, assistant principals. My superintendent I started under, felt it was a principal's responsibility. If you wanted to ensure 180 days of instruction was going on in that classroom, you better have a good person in there. You better be sure that the teachers have good plans and they better have some emergency plans if they aren't there. If they want to teach that unit and don't want somebody messing with it, they better have something you can do as a one day plan that won't hurt, that can be put in anywhere, and that teacher can do it, so I did it. I developed my cadre' of very willing substitute teachers and I would notify them, the ones who hadn't made arrangements the day before, so that was the first thing in the day, was taking those calls, then taking some calls from parents. As assistant principal, I handled attendance, and I had parents call me. I encouraged them to call me if the child was sick and would not be in school, let me know, because I would go down the absentee list and call the home. If the parent told me, don't call, I know where my child is, then that is fine, I won't call. That was one thing I was required to do, so I developed a lot of relationships, not all positive. "Where is Charlie today? We miss him here at school." "I don't know, he left here! I don't know where he is. I thought he was on his way. I don't know where he is. I don't care!" You get those attitudes, that's the only thing, but taking calls in the morning when you get to school around 8, up earlier if the custodian had to drive the bus. I would unlock the door, let the kids in and do things, then we had an activities period at the beginning of the day so we would have a lot of activities going on for students, club meetings, assemblies, times for students. That was part of the curriculum. If you were going to have an organization, clubs or groups in the school, you ought to provide a time during the school time for them to meet, and with a sponsor, and have organized activities. If I can do anything, I am going to be there. So, we had an activities period most of the time, and I was proud we could do it. That was an administrative procedure. There was an assembly program with too many students in the auditorium and I was determined everybody was going to get in there if we could, especially if we had eighth graders, because they had to learn if you were out of the classroom how to act. We would have seats moved in there, get some people to move some chairs in so we could get them all in the auditorium and we had frequent assembly programs for the whole student body. They stood up when the seniors came in. In '68 or '69 we had an evaluation for accreditation purposes and all and some of the people on the committee could not understand how we could get our students to stand up to show respect. It was tradition. It is hard to maintain that tradition, because some of those teachers who had been there all those years were no longer there and it made it harder for other teachers to support it and demand that it be down. It had to be carried down. Being so crowded made it difficult, too. It was the principals responsibility to see that everything was done under his supervision and people there knew it. After the assembly, the student would go back to class and I had a myriad of administrative responsibilities. I would never want for things to do. I would try to do paperwork and that kind of thing after hours and at night, not during the day, taking phone calls, meeting with department people. My door was open. Assistant principals handled some of the administrative responsibilities. I liked, as much as I could, anywhere I went around the building, I went a different way. If I went to lunch, two or three times a week I got to eat lunch, I would go a different way. I'd go through the gym one time. Go through the locker room. Go through the vocational building. I'd go upstairs, go in the art department and see what the kids were doing and that sort of thing. Just be around. I could not go in the classrooms as readily, but I could go through the Home Ec department. Well, I had to watch that, because it depended upon what some of the girls classes were doing, as to whether I could do that or not. Going to the teacher's lounge to talk to people. I had all kinds of notes in my pocket of things to do. I would carry those things out and would try to see people informally. I would walk down the hall with somebody and take care of a problem with them, rather than have a formal meeting. That would be effective. I was taught to handle things one time. Anything that came up, try to handle it one time. Any piece of paper comes across, handle it one time, take action on it and not do it later. While I was out in the building, then I would come back and there would be phone calls to follow-up on, on a variety of kinds of things.
Q: What would you say were your biggest headaches, or some of your daily pressures?
A: I tried to think of that kind of thing. Really, I met with cafeteria staff regularly, I met with school bus drivers. I'd get on the school bus and we would meet regularly and go with some things and get their input and they seemed to enjoy it. I would meet the cafeteria workers early and keep letting them know that your job is here to help these students and teachers, not create problems for them, to help them, do what you can to help them. With the cafeteria staff, I took pride in what we did. They really felt that they were contributing a lot to those student's education, and they were. The custodians would not charge graduation night, for any work they did. They said, no sir, they were doing that for the kids. The cafeteria staff was the same way. They were part of the organization. If you go back, the school is a team, I guess coming, maybe not necessarily, from coaching. You have a team, and everybody does their part. If one person does not do their part, then it breaks down, and you have a success as a team, not as an individual. So, if you have that team, you have to constantly go around and be working with that team. It cannot come falsely. It has to be genuine.
Q: What do you think the key to your success as a principal was?
A: I don't know whether I had success or not. I guess I wouldn't say. It got more difficult. The fact that I was supportive of the people and included them in the whole operation. I think I listened to people. I didn't always do what they wanted, but I tried to listen. I tried to be up front with them. I wasn't trying to deceive them in any way. I wasn't going to tell them one thing, then do another. I know many times, whatever the problem was with the student, the parent or the teacher, I would say I would take care of it. I will do what is right. Sometimes, what was right would be nothing. If it was a perception that was not right, if I was convinced it was not right, I told the students. One the top teachers at the high school now, an English teacher, who was a student in school. I didn't remember him, but he told me many times that I scared him to death. I called him into the office one day, just between classes. I laid it on the line. I told him what the substitute said that he was doing. I said, "I don't know whether you are or not. It does not sound like you, or your brother, or anyone else in the family, but everyone in the family is different, I know that. If you are doing it, cut it out. If you are not doing it, forget it. That's the end of it." It took about two minutes, but he remembered it. I wanted to ask him if he had ever done it himself, if he ever told a student that. But, headaches, there are all kinds of headaches, but that is why you have a job. To resolve those things. I don't remember any one thing, I guess. I don't know.
Q: Could you tell me what your professional code of ethics is and how you applied that to your career?
A: I tried to remember a saying that Margaret Beaks, that was the school name for her, she was my seventh grade teacher, an art teacher said. When she retired, I was her principal. She taught 45 years and never missed a day. She gave me a thing I put on the wall. It has been many years now, but that is a painting she did for me on the wall over there. She is not a great artist, she thought, but she was a great art teacher. She was a history teacher to start with, but so much history, you know, is through the arts. You can trace back many events. I can't remember the wording, but I guess, what I did, there again, was try to do what was right. I know several superintendents looked at me several times when I was talking about doing that. They told me you can't do that. I said, "Why not? I'm right!" That's philosophical, I guess. What is right to you is based on your own upbringing and that sort of thing. I was one of eight children in the family, I was the fifth one, and we were expected to do as students in school, what the teacher told us to do and we didn't get support at home if we were right. You did what the teacher tells you and things will work out all right. You behave. You weren't spanked. Well, early years, when mother had a good hairbrush, we lived in fear of it. But, that was for pranks at home. At school, everything we did at school we were disciplined and learned from it. If you've done it, you can't undo it, and keep going.
Q: Principals seem to operate in a constantly tense environment. What kinds of things did you do to maintain a degree of calmness under these conditions?
A: If you can find the time, and have the time to get around to some of the things that are going on in the school that are positive, go to all the school activities. It made me feel real good about a lot of things. Humor. You have got to interject humor. The 60s were very difficult. I would like to have been like some of those principals. I wanted to be a career principal, I really did, but I think it is for the younger person this day and age. There might have been a day that you could have done that, when things had more continuity to it. But, I think at times, we had some teachers who retired, that some of the older teachers retired because they could not change anymore. I guess I lost some of the humor. You would go down the hall, and a student might go down the hall and I would try to get him to loosen up a little bit and poke him on the shoulder you know, and go on the opposite side and he would look around me and wouldn't see me and I would go on by. Now they look at you and if you made a joke, they would say, "What are you trying to do, get us on your side? Are you trying to win us over?" They would not laugh with you, so you kind of cut it out. You know, if they don't want it, maybe it's the wrong thing and maybe I am getting old fashioned or something, but humor, I think, with the teacher companions, and so forth. Come to the cafeteria was always a good thing to do because they are very positive down there usually. I listen to the good jazz music at night to relax a little bit and realize that the times were rough in the old days, too, and they aren't any different now. Drugs were way back when jazz music was old hat to them. It was a lot of my drug education, things that happened then. I guess the main thing is the church.
Q: Since you have had some time to reflect upon your career, could you share with us what you believe to be your administrative strengths and weaknesses?
A: Well, I guess good physical condition. Really, I thought many times that the school boards ought to require their high school principals and their superintendents to have a physical every year. Well, they did for the superintendent. They required a physical, because here is your chief executive officer, and you better be sure he is physically and mentally fit, and he ought to pay that out of public funds to assure you have a reasonable circumstance there, that somebody is not giving in to the pressures, and so forth, and has the physical stamina to live up to the job, even though they may think they have. Physical strength, I guess, business and organizational planning kind of function that is so important, that you can be to the school what you have to, that you can do a lot of that stuff. I like that kind of thing. If I wanted it done right, I did it myself. I did that with the substitute teachers, I did the bus drivers, I did the bus routes, I did it all. I didn't do the menus.
Q: What would you say one of your weaknesses was?
A: Trying to do too much myself. I probably should have delegated more, but I wouldn't have been happy with it, I don't think. If I could do it, I would rather do it myself. Some things I delegated, and it worked out a whole lot better if I did it myself, I found out. When I got to central office, I had to do more of that - delegating, but I was in the position then to get some staff members that could do those things. I had a good food service supervisor and I turned it over to him. If they weren't good, you were in trouble because you had to do a lot of it yourself, but I was blessed with good staff over there, and many are still there. Getting good people. Getting good people to work with, and of course, when I became principal, I thought if those teachers have done a good job, then I can just go over there and keep it going. It is a gradual process. It does not change. If they wanted me, I wanted them.
Q: Would you give me an overall comment on the pros and cons of administrative service and any advise you would like to pass on to today's principals?
A: I don't know. The things I have said, I guess. Pull things out of that.
Q: If you wanted to give one sentence of advise to me, future principals, what would you say?
A: If you are going to be principal, be principal. Don't let the teachers run it. Teachers run public education, there is no question about that. But the principals are there to run education. It is the lead teachers who are running education. So, if you are going to be in charge, be in charge. Don't do stupid things to show you are in charge. But your responsibility, the things you are in charge of, do it. Don't wait for the teachers to ask when you are going to do so and so. "Are we going to have a faculty meeting or not? I have to know. If we are going to have conferences, lets schedule it." Plan it! Be ahead of them. Know what you are doing. If you don't know what you are doing, then how do you expect them to know what is going on. You have a lot of teachers who are excellent teachers, but poor administrators. If you are going to be an administrator, help them be a good administrator. You have some teachers who are good administrators, but not very good typing teachers. You have to help the instruction side of it. Maybe get somebody else to work with them. Get a student teacher. That will help them. I gave some of the student teachers to some of the teachers who had weaknesses, and they saw them, then, as they worked with the student teachers. They saw the student teacher was better than they were and they got the message. I didn't do it all the time, because I didn't want it to be a gimmick, but it was deliberately done sometimes. Be in charge.
Q: You have been very influential to me. I appreciate it. Is there anything you would like to add?
A: I think back, and it has been so far since I was a principal. I had another career in central office and working with principals in various ways. Not with curriculum. I had to bite my lip to keep from saying things sometimes. I was always outspoken and I guess that is one reason I became a principal when I was asked to, because I did speak my peace. I felt like I had all the answers. And I feel there are a lot of things that ought to be done that are not being done. I keep my hand in it a little bit with my wife, who is still teaching, but we don't talk too much shop, but I am from a family of educators. On her side, she has two brothers-in-law that were principals and administrators and who are retired and we get together. Her sisters are teachers. We don't talk a whole lot of shop. Her mother was a teacher. We hear about them talking about their principals. We just laugh, make a few comments and have a little fun. Humor goes a long way. Teachers ought to be able to speak these things. I hope they aren't mean spirited. I hear comments about some teachers don't like to go to the teacher's lounge or wherever teachers congregate now. I never did like lounges. My first year of teaching, I was the only man teaching on the staff in the elementary school. I taught seventh grade and I couldn't go to the teacher's lounge because women were always in there. I had to go across the street to the suppliers at the student activity building, to use the bathroom, or to have some privacy. My lady principal, who was an outstanding principal, she was my wife's principal a number of years. She was Director of Instruction, elementary supervisor. I worked with her at central office. She would talk to me and make sure she knew what was going on. That was her role! She should know where I was going and why. And she didn't have a solution for it. There are a lot of good people you can talk to, better than I am. A lot of them are in there still. You asked about any success and that kind of thing. I guess one principal who was at Christianburg High School and he left the system and went to other principalships. My wife's sister was one of his teachers. She thought the world of him and everybody did. I just wish we could have kept him here. We had too much integrity, I suspect. He said, "You know, if you want to be a good high school principal, you have to be somewhat of a horse's tail." I said you really do. That is a good way to put it. You know, you have to offend some people sometimes and you can't help it. You have to make a decision, like a referee. You can't always make the popular decision, but if you make what you think is right, stick by it, don't second guess. I made a lot of them over the years and they weren't popular, but if I had them to do over again I would do the same thing. Too many people would give in and not make that decision, or let somebody else do it. You can't put anything to the faculty vote. The principal has to decide, but you can't be prejudiced, prejudging. We all do it, it is human nature. You have your feelings, then instinct tells you not to do this. Sometimes you have to say, "Well, if people around me want to do something else,..." but if it just isn't right, don't do it. I don't care what the fall-out is. I never applied for a job - anything - teacher, coach, assistant principal, principal, assistant superintendent. I didn't ask for any of those jobs. I had to fill out one application through the vocational office training program, which is a state program that I started at Blacksburg High School. I had to fill out an official paper after I had already been hired. That was the only paper I ever filled out from the application. Yet, at the central office, things change and we got into strict personnel rules and all that sort of thing, the accountability, and that sort of thing. You have things you can do and things you can't do, but I felt one of the strengths I have learned from people like Evans King and Leonard Hale, who I thought were very good judges of people is that teachers are judging people all the time. The principals judge teachers, and so when you hire people, that is the time to fire them, when you hire them. If you hire the right person, why did you fire them later on. I thought I became a very good judge of people as an employer. I thought I could see through things. I could see the things at a personal interview, or written documentation or that sort of thing. I would use some applications. If the letter was written by the applicant's wife, who was much more learned than he or she, the spouse, you just get senses of that kind of thing and so you put them to the test. If you have some misgivings, you find out. That is what you do in an interview. Sometimes I would have a teacher come in and while they were waiting, I would give them a piece of paper and tell them to write and tell me about them. There was nobody there to do it for them. It was pretty hard when you were hiring somebody who couldn't write an intelligent sentence, though I had good teachers who were not, by any means, good in grammar or that kind of thing, but by George, they knew people and they could handle kids and they could teach and they could get results. It depends on the subject. I had a history teacher, and a math teacher who people would laugh about their grammar, the things they said, but by George, the didn't say anything about their teaching. They did the job. Especially the math teacher. Outstanding. But the kids did kind of laugh. They didn't laugh at him, they would laugh with him. They would not do it behind his back. So many things you can evaluate, but the results are what counts.
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