Interview with Ken Garrison


It's June 12, 1999. I'm speaking with Mr. Kenneth Garrison at his home, located in Bethesda, Maryland. Mr. Garrison retired as an elementary school principal with Montgomery County Public Schools in the state of Maryland in March 1998, after 31 years as an educator. Mr. Garrison concluded his career in the principalship after eight years in the position.

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Q: Mr. Garrison, thank you for agreeing to participate in this interview, and for your time today. Would you begin by telling us about your family background, your childhood interests and development, such as your birth place, elementary, secondary, post-secondary education, and so on.

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

A: Well, I was born in Richmond, Virginia, and I was adopted at the age of about two, and my parents lived for several years in Charlottesville, Virginia. And then we moved to Montgomery County, Maryland, and I enrolled as a Kindergartner in the school system and graduated 13 years later. And after high school, I enrolled at Frostburg State College, in Frostburg Maryland, and received my BA from that institution four years later. I did my graduate work, receiving an MA in administration and supervision at George Washington University in Washington, D.C. I always knew that I wanted to be an educator. My parents remind me as an adult of my always saying I was going to be a teacher when I was very young, and continued through that. Never, ever wanted to do anything else but to be a teacher. And so that was why I chose Frostburg State College, because it provided me with a degree in education. I was the first in my family to go to college. My mother and father were both supporters of my effort to get my degree, but they themselves, nor anyone else in the family had attended college.

Q: Would you discuss your college education and preparation for entering the field of teaching? How many years did you serve as a teacher?

A: My college preparation to become a teacher was interesting, because like so many young people, I wasn't really sure what my field would be. I knew it was going to be education, I knew I was going to be a teacher, but for the first two years, I majored, or thought I was majoring in psychology and took, you know, lots and lots of psychology courses. And I continued that trend throughout the four years. But at the beginning of my junior year, my advisor came to me and said, "You have to choose something that's going to give you a job once you graduate." So then I decided that I would also major in elementary education, and that's what I got my BA in. I served as a teacher, I actually taught at the elementary level of various grade levels, for 17 years. And then I had the good fortune of being invited to be a curriculum specialist in a very large elementary school in Gaithersburg, Maryland -- well over 1,000 students. And I -- in that role, I kind of was the curriculum specialist, but I also was kind of a pseudo-assistant principal, because the assistant principal was having difficulty meeting many of her responsibilities. And from that I was then -- went to an area teacher of gifted and talented students, where I served in eight elementary schools, and I was told by my predecessor that she had been in all of the schools each week, and so I made every effort to do that, and practically did myself in and shocked all of the administrators, who kept saying to me, "Why are you here so much?" And so I did that, and then I became an assistant principal at the same elementary school in Gaithersburg. It worked out that I could go back there for a year. So I became the real assistant principal. And then I went into a training program for the administration, and stayed there and acted as the assistant principal at Whetstone (phonetic) Elementary in Gaithersburg, and stayed on until I retired.

Q: I wonder if you would discuss these experiences or events in your life that constituted important decision points in your career, and how you feel about them.

A: Well, as I mentioned in the previous response, I knew all along that I was going to be a teacher, an educator. So I don't really think there was a point at any given time that I can recall that I, you know, I just woke up and realized that this is what I wanted to do. I think I always knew that, subconsciously, or certainly, you know -- well, I knew it. I enjoyed teaching, but I also knew after 15 years that I wanted to do something different. I wanted to stretch and grow professionally and that's when I began to look at some opportunities outside of the classroom. I always enjoyed the classroom, really enjoyed the students, but there is a point where, for me personally, I need the challenge of the change and looking at something new and different. And when this opportunity came up for me to become the curriculum specialist in this elementary school, I jumped at it, because I think that was the point where I knew I needed to have a different change, a different idea about what it was I was going to do. And that certainly spun me off in many different directions, and things just kind of happened after that. I had a very good friend that offered me the curriculum specialist position who, at the time, had just been appointed a principal and she was in my elementary school doing her training. And so she was very much aware of my desires to move out of the classroom, and she was also aware of my commitment and support to her and that's what led -- one thing led to another.

Q: Okay. Would you take us on a walk through your school, describing its appearance and any unusual features of the building?

A: The school where I was principal, it's interesting, because I was an acting assistant principal there for a year, the following year I did my principal training program at that school, and then at the conclusion of the principal training program, I was appointed principal and stayed there for eight years. And the reason I mention that all again, is that during that time, we lived through a $3.5 million renovation to the building, where we actually, you know, blocked up exits outside the -- to the outside and tore down walls in classrooms to be able to use them as fire exits in the event of that. And it was an interesting experience, because no matter how much they tell you in preparation for this experience, it is never enough, because you just cannot imagine the immense amount of time that you put in to making sure things are done and they're done from an educator's point of view and not from the contractor or the person who is doing the physical piece of it, but they need to understand how it impacts on children. The school itself was, when we did the renovation, we were half air-conditioned and half unair-conditioned, and that never changed. And one of the issues was the issue of asbestos abatement and what have you. The building is -- I always referred to it as a large donut, with a second floor over two-thirds of the donut. So the grades -- and we made a decision that the second and fourth grade teachers and classes would be located in the new wing, which was air-conditioned. That way, every child going through the school would ultimately have two years that they would be in the air-conditioned facility. And then the rest of the time they were back in the older part of the building.

Q: Okay. Could you describe --

A: Oh --

Q: Oh, go ahead.

A: No, I was just going to just mention that the building -- it was interesting how hard we worked to get the building to look like it was brand new, and you always had that feeling, once you did it. Initially, they painted the new part of the building, but were refusing to allocate funds to paint the older part of the building, which hadn't been painted in 15 years. And you know, that looked like -- really stood out like a sore thumb. And when the person, the board of education member, who came to inspect the facility before it was finally turned over to the school board, noticed that this had not, the older part of the building, hadn't been painted. It was painted within two weeks, because it just did not look appropriate. The building itself, you would always see students' work up all over the building. We had a bit of a problem, because once they put the new part of the building on, there were no bulletin boards put up, because the Fire Marshall had had some difficulty with having papers and charts and so forth hung on the walls, for safety reasons, and -- but the staff kind of found ways to get around that.

Q: Describe for me your work day. That is, how did you spend your time? What, for example, were the normal amount of hours that you put in?

A: My normal work day would be that I would arrive at about 7:00 a.m. School started at 8:50. Arriving that early gave me the opportunity to complete some tasks and some assignments without being disturbed, but it also provided me an opportunity to meet with staff who were early risers and were at work. When the children came in, I would always be meeting them at the door, greeting them, either the very front door, or I would often take the door that led from the drop-off lane, where parents would drop off students. And I would do morning announcements with -- assist the students in doing that. And then my rest of the day would depend. I always did my walk through some time during the day. I would tell the secretaries that I was going to take a spin through the building, and literally, I made every effort to get into all classrooms, if it was nothing more than just to pop in, check -- say good morning to the class, or check the plans, or see what was happening. Needless to say, if there were special programs, and what have you, I would be there with the students as much as possible. I believed firmly in an open door policy, where parents were invited to come in and meet with me to discuss whatever issues were pertinent to them, and to, you know, make myself available to meet them. I would often cover cafeteria duty, or duties where I could be in and about with the students. My belief was that they needed to see me. They needed to see how important their job was, and I needed to be around so that they would all know that, you know, I was interested in their well being, and the program that they were being served, in terms of the educational program.

Q: Okay. Would you describe your personal philosophy of education? How did it evolve over the years?

A: My personal philosophy of education is that education is the foundation of our society. It's the foundation upon which everything is built, and we have to do everything within our powers to make sure that all of our students get that foundation and have a solid foundation to build on. I think all students are certainly capable of succeeding at a much higher level than some people feel, and I think we just have to push. I think you have to expect a great deal from them, and when you expect a great deal, you often get a great deal. You get far more than many people would say. The parents of students that I taught just were always saying, "Well, I can't believe this, and I can't believe that," and it was just simply my saying, "You will do this. It is my expectation." And they always rose to the occasion. I think we need to make sure that we look at every child as an individual, I think we need to make sure that we have programmed for each child as an individual. My school had an inclusion program, where we had 10 students who would normally have been in a special education intensity for classroom, who were in the regular classroom from the first day of school on. And we, as a staff, endorsed and embraced this particular program, because we felt that everyone, the special ed students, as well as the regular ed, gained from having these experiences.

Q: Okay. What experiences, or events, in your professional life, influenced your management philosophy, and discuss these events, please.

A: I think the experience that comes to mind, in terms of professional growth and development, is having worked on a staff for a number of years where there was a great deal of collaboration by the administrator. He certainly worked it in such a way that the staff were extremely competent, goal-oriented, task-oriented individuals. And he would often just kind of give us a task, and we would all go with it, or run with it, and he would sit back and reap the benefits of our efforts. It was a real interesting experience, and it was a wonderful experience, and I stayed with the school, as did most of the staff, for a number of years, because it was such a invigorating experience. We were allowed to be the professionals, we didn't have someone, you know, over our shoulders at all times, and I hopefully took some of that with me in my principalship. I, hopefully, gave staff the opportunity to be themselves, I gave them the latitude that they would need to do the programming, and to meet student needs. Needless to say, I had constraints by the school system, but we tried to set it up so that it was collaboration, that we were all in this together, and we -- no one was above or beneath having to do the job.

Q: What kinds of things do teachers expect principals to be able to do? Describe your views on what it takes to be an effective principal. Describe the personal and professional characteristics of a good principal.

A: Well, the answer to the first part of that question is what do teachers expect principals to be able to do, I think they expect us to be able to do everything at all times. And I think that they want us to resolve all of the issues so that they can teach. And that would be wonderful, if that could happen. Unfortunately, it isn't reality, in my opinion, and so we then, as principals, had to educate staff to understand what it takes, you know. To be an effective principal, I think you really have to be committed to the job, committed in the sense that you're committed to the hours that it takes, you're committed to the tremendous task that you're asked to do. You need to be goal-oriented, you really need to know what it is that you have in mind what needs to accomplish, and you need to be able to communicate this goal. You have to have a vision, you have to have a purpose, and you have to be able to effectively communicate these goals and this purpose, or purposes to all players in this scenario, staff and parents, of course, and in some cases, depending on the age, the children who are part of that whole thing. Professionally, I think you have to be -- you have to have character, you have to be able to be a leader, you have to be able to also take direction from people. You have to be able to find ways to get things done, you have to be creative. You have to be a, you know, a person who can financially manage large sums of money, you have to be dedicated to seeking alternative ways of solving issues and problems that you're faced with that come up from day to day, hour to hour. You really just have to be able to balance an awful lot of things at one time. And I know people use the thing about, you know, "I've got all these balls, and I'm trying to balance," and that's what it takes, in my opinion, to be a good principal. You have to be able to understand that everything is important. But the children become the most important thing. And if you're doing that, then everything else can fall and does fall in place.

Q: There are those who argue that more often than not, general office policies hinder, rather than help building level administrators in carrying out their responsibilities. Would you give us your views on these issues? If you were king, what changes would you make in the typical system-wide organizational arrangements as a way of improving administrative efficiency and effectiveness?

A: I think it's often very easy for school-based administrators to blame policies and people and offices that are, you know, at central office or above you, for all of the things that you're required to do. And I often was aware that I, in turn, would be asking staff to do more and more, because I was being asked to be more accountable, and they in turn, and so forth. I think that some of it is necessary. I think there are ways that you can get around some of that. I think if you can consolidate some of the materials that you're asking principals to put together, certainly that would help. I think that, you know, if there is a clearing house where someone is in charge of monitoring what is being sent out to staff, principals, school staff, to respond to, I think then you don't get inundated with stuff from all of these different individuals who really have an interest, but it's not the total school system's interest at heart. They're looking for information to serve their individual purposes, regardless of what their office may be. If I were king, I think the thing I would do, is I would look at streamlining. I would look at technology as a way to communicate and certainly, you know, doing what I refer to as a one-pager. I think if you can get it down to one page, and people know what it is that you want on that one page, I think that you will vastly improve communications and reduce frustration on parts of both school administrators and school staff. I would also say that one of the things that I found most effective was, if people who are doing the one-pager color codes them, in terms of making sure that, you know, if it's coming from me and it's going to someone on staff, and it had to do with discipline, then it was always a green sheet of paper that it was printed on. And then they could file it in their folders or in their notebook, and could make easy reference to it.

Q: There are those who argue that the principal should be an instructional leader, and those who suggest that realistically speaking, the person must be above all, a good manager. Would you give your views on this issue and describe your own style?

A: Well, I certainly think that being a good manager is paramount, but I don't see how you can make changes in the instructional program unless you are an effective instructional leader. I think managing things -- I think you can do -- you can be the instructional leader during the time when the children are there and when staff is there. And I mentioned earlier that I would arrive at 7:00 a.m. Well, that was for me to be able to do the paperwork and the managerial tasks that were given to me to do. When the students were there, I would be in and about the classrooms, in the halls, what have you, and I think that they saw me as an instructional leader. This is a commitment that some people are not willing to take, because it means if you -- I've been in schools where the principal is in his office or her office and they never quite get out in the classroom, because they are in fact, being a good manager. They're doing all of the tasks that they're required to do. However, they're not in among the students and doing the job that that requires. So I think the instructional leader is the most important. Certainly you have to have good managerial skills to be effective in all that you do.

Q: Would you describe the ideal requirements for principal certification and discuss appropriate procedures for screening those who wish to become principals?

A: Well, certainly I think that the ideal requirements -- I question ideal -- but requirements for principal would be obviously, the course work, and I think the course work would need to be focused on not only content, and certainly that would be important, because you need to know what your teachers are delivering, in terms of the material, but I think you also need to have current courses that are geared to prepare you for what you face in today's world. I think that one of the things that today's certification should look at is having a course or courses on ways to defuse violence, or situations that could potentially lead to violent types of behavior on parts of individuals. I think a lot of things need to be done. I think, you know, what can you, as the principal, do from a proactive rather than reactive thing. "How do I sell my school to the community and to the larger school system?" As far as screening, I think certainly looking at the curriculum vitae, looking at the experience that the individuals have had is vital. I think references are very important. However, I think that one needs to be very cautious when one looks at some of that information, because it depends on from whence it's coming, and why it's coming, and what have you. I think you need to also look at getting a sample of what the individual can do, in terms of writing. I think that's crucial. If skills are lacking in that area, I think then something should be done prior to putting the person into a position where they're required to do a written assignment on a daily basis-type thing. I think looking at, you know, some people interview exceptionally well, others do not. And it doesn't mean the person who doesn't interview well can't do the job. And at least in my experience, I found that often they are the better, when given opportunities.

Q: It's often said that the principal should be active in community affairs. Please discuss your involvement with and participation in civic groups and other community organizations. Which community organizations or groups had the greatest influence?

A: Well, I was very involved in all of the civic groups that fed into the community, the Montgomery Village, which is in the center of Gaithersburg, and it's a planned community, and there were five elementary schools, two middle schools, and one high school. And we, as a group of principals, you know, supported everything that was being done there. The rotary club we met with, we met with the police departments from the -- from that area of Montgomery County, we did all kinds of community things, we did the village community organizations, and supported them, and they in turn supported us by providing us with funds for scholarships and what have you. I don't believe you can, in today's world, go in and be an effective principal or school administrator if you don't make the commitment to be involved in the entire community. I think parents expect it of you, I think that if you don't do it, if you're not involved in activities, evening activities and what have you, I think it is not going to benefit your school. And after all, that's what you're doing, is to set up what is the very best program that you can for your students. I do think, and I won't say that you have to do everything that comes around, but I certainly think you have to choose what is the most beneficial for you. To be out six nights a week, attending various activities, is unrealistic. Certainly if you have something that you need to support, well then that would be expected.

Q: Would you describe your approach to teacher evaluation and give your philosophy of evaluation?

A: My approach to teacher evaluation is that certainly I followed the school system's teacher evaluations program, and I believe, and I think maybe I should start by answering the philosophies of it. My belief is that the teacher evaluation should be a system that's set up to support the teacher. I don't -- I never believed, and I still don't believe that you go in and try to destroy a career. I think you go in and you try to support the teacher by providing suggestions, by providing resources, providing the materials that are needed to get the job done. If you find that you have a teacher who is struggling, then you find ways to support that teacher and ultimately, get individuals who have expertise in to model, to demonstrate, what have you, and you yourself. I've done that on several occasions where I would go in and work in the classroom. One, because I wanted to be with the students, but the other was to show what was happening. Teacher evaluation is a very important piece of the instructional program. And I think there are different ways that you can go about it. I think it's -- obviously the formal evaluation process is required, but I think there's also the informal evaluation. I often could go into a classroom and take what I would refer to as a five-minute walk-through. And I could get an awful lot of information from that. I often would leave notes to teachers praising them for what I saw while on one of my walk throughs. If I saw something that was of concern, I would leave them a sticky note, what have you, and I think you can get -- you can effect change in a very non-threatening way by letting them know that you are aware of this, but it's not done in a manner that's going to cause great chaos and discern among the staff.

Q: Would you discuss teacher dismissal and your involvement in such activities?

A: It's really very difficult to discuss teacher dismissal, because I was never able -- I was never in a position where I was at a point where I was dismissing someone. What I did do was to seek ways to help teachers who had some difficulty, and I recall that my -- one of my first year teachers was having some great difficulty. And we talked at long -- at length, and there was immense amount of support given to this person. And had I had the choice, I think we would have gone with the -- certainly I would have encouraged dismissal for her, but the school system did not allow that to happen. So it's almost a double-edged sword in that it's very difficult sometimes to go there, because you have constraints that prevent you from doing that.

Q: During the past decade, schools have become much larger. Discuss your views on this phenomena, and suggest an ideal size for a school, in terms of optimal administrative and instructional activities.

A: Well, my school had, at its peak, 725 student pre-K through sixth grade. I certainly think that anything above 750 is -- at the elementary level -- is not beneficial to the students. I will say to you that I, if I have a choice, I would prefer to be in a larger school than a very small school, because in a larger school, you have three or four or five teachers at a grade level. So that, in and of itself, gives you options as to where you can have children placed that provide them with the type of teacher and the support that they need to be successful. I think sometimes when it gets to be too small, you get into the dilemma of you have one teacher, and if there's a personality clash, or if there's an issue, or you know, a parent concern, or what have you, you don't have options. And I think that it's important to always seek options to deal with the issues or problems that face you as a school principal.

Q: Cultural diversity is a topic of great interest and concern at this point in time. Would you discuss the nature of your student body and comment on the problems, challenges, and triumphs in which you participated while serving as principal.

A: Well, my student body truly reflected the county as a whole. And the county as a whole is rapidly changing from a, you know, diversity point of view. My student body was approximately 50 percent minority, 50 percent majority, and was reflective of the socio-economic diversity of the county as well. We had diversity in the sense that students would come from very, very expensive homes as well as from public, subsided housing projects. So there was a great deal of diversity and I strongly supported the diversity and felt that we provided a very good program and could build on the students' diversity to provide that program. Problems? I think sometimes it's -- a problem that you certainly have is perception, and I think it's perception of the community, I think when communities start to change and they change rapidly, I think that that is a problem, because you want all of your stakeholders to be changing with you, and sometimes they're not, because they're remembering what it was like in the good old days, and it doesn't always happen that way. Challenges? Obviously, it's to get people to move with you, and to get people to accept what it is that needs to happen. Challenges certainly would be to make sure that your staff is reflective of your student body, make sure that the materials that you're using are reflective of student body that you're serving. And as far as triumphs go, I think I was really successful in getting some people to understand why there were differences in the school which weren't there when I first took over because of the growth and the changes that were happening. I think it was very important for some people to understand that we were there, and we were advocators for all children, not just an elite group. I think that, sometimes, is a real difficult task to accomplish. But I think we were able to do it.

Q: Given the presence of administrative complexity, if there were three areas of administrative changes that you could do in order to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of educational administration, what would they be?

A: I think the first thing that I would change to improve the efficiency and the effectiveness of educational administration would be to once again stress the issues of communication. What issues impact on communication? Impact negatively and positively on doing the job that needs to be done, because I realize that it's difficult, and it was very difficult for me and for my staff, to toot our own horn, and yet it's essential that you be able to do this. And it's part of the PR piece of, you know, "What's good about my school," and I think that needs to be done.

Q: Okay.

A: I think that part of that too, number two would be how you can reduce, because I don't know that it's going to come from the top down, how you can reduce the task, the paperwork, and all of the activities, what can you do, in terms of getting that out of there? I think that you have to address that, needless to say. The people sending them to you expect an answer, but I think you need to see if you can do it. I read somewhere, and someone shared with me that you only pick up the piece of paper one time. And that seems to be an effective way to do it. Unfortunately, sometimes you don't have the time that's required to handle the sheet of paper only one time. It requires that you get information from various people, on staff, and what have you, and you can't fill it out and send it back right away, which often you would like to do.

Q: Any third thing that you can think of?

A: The only other thing is that, in a large school system, and I'm sure this is pertinent in smaller ones as well, is you know, having to deal, if there's a way one could take and deal with the bureaucracy. You know, why does the Transportation Department run the school system? And often, that is the issue you're dealing with. You're having to take on, you know, the Transportation Supervisor, or the bus driver, or whatever, to get your child, who's missed the bus home or, you know, who's been brought back or, you know, the issues that are associated with parents calling you and complaining that this hasn't happened, or their child isn't home, and yet you have no way of verifying that this, in fact, maybe did happen.

Q: As a follow-up question, if you could change any three areas in curriculum, or overall operations of American schools, what would they be?

A: I'm not sure this would fall into curriculum. I guess it does in the sense that I think that there needs to be an emphasis on looking at implementing a curriculum and sticking with that curriculum for a while. I think so often in education we often think we'll start revising, because we haven't seen the results, you know, we haven't seen the results of the curriculum that's in place, whether it be in reading or in math, or whatever. And I think we start revising, thinking we're going to then, you know, see the results, and we know that it takes three to five years to see any kind of effective results. I think that we need to focus on doing more of an integrated curriculum. I just see it because as knowledge expands, you know, year after year, it's that much harder to try and do only reading objectives, or only math. And I know this is an issue that's been debated and certainly, hopefully, we're into that part, but it's amazing, especially at the secondary level, when you get into the various content areas, that everyone's only interested in their content, and never shall the various content areas merge or get together. And it happens at the elementary level as well, especially the upper elementary level, because the children are being expected to do more and more and more. The, as I was mentioning, the integration is vital. And I also think, with my background, that we need to make sure that we are providing for all levels of students in the curriculum that's developed. I do think that gifted and talented is a vital part. I think that fundamental and functional skills are also equally as important. And I think we need to meet student needs where they are, and I think that that's vital to do that. And we need to look at how we can have curriculums that will do that, but also how those curriculums can be integrated, so you're not going to have 40 notebooks, and everyone be so overwhelmed, the teacher be so overwhelmed that nothing gets delivered.

Q: There are those who argue that standardized testing can provide a way to improve instruction. Please discuss your experience with such testing, and provide us with your views on its effect on the quality of the instructional program.

A: I'm not really sure how the term "standardized testing" is being used in this question. I do -- I'm going to talk to, or speak to the Maryland state performance assessment program, which is -- I think you could use it as a standardized test, and it's not the usual one where you fill in the blanks and you, you know, pick A, B, C, or D. It's a performance assessment program that the state has had in place for like six, seven years now, and it's a very effective program, in that it actually does change the method of instruction. And if that's what we're all about, and if the standardized testing is being used to improve instruction, then changing and making children aware of what it is that they're doing and why they're doing it, and it causes them to think and understand their operations and their procedures, then I think it's a very effective way to do it. I will say to you that I think when one is designing something, it's very difficult to make sure that you have all of the ins and outs and what have you ironed out before you give it to the students. And it's very difficult as a teacher and as an administrator to see students distraught over not understanding what it is that they're being asked to do. But I think as you work through the program, and as you refine the instrument that you're using for assessing students' gains, then I think it can be very, very beneficial. And it can be helpful to guide instruction and guide programming to meet students' needs.

Q: Please discuss your professional code of ethics and give examples of how you applied it during your career.

A: I -- my code of ethics certainly, and I don't know that I would call it a code of ethics, but it was certainly being as up-front and honest with individuals as was possible. Certainly, I was an individual who tried to understand where people were coming from, and where they wanted to go, in terms of their concerns, whether it be what they -- a staff member who had issues or concerns or needed to see me, or if it was with parents or community members who were looking at the program. I think you have to be honest, I think you have to show that you care, that you have to provide nurturing and mentoring support so that staff members are, you know, there with you. I think you need to be able to communicate in many different ways, what you see as the thing. But I believe very strongly that people have to trust you, they have to respect what you're trying to do so that they become part of the team. Because without their support, whether it be staff or students or parents, you don't have a team. And without a team, you're not going to move very far.

Q: Would you tell us your key to success, to your success, as a principal?

A: I think my answer to the last question is certainly that. I think it's because I enjoy individuals, I enjoy people, I enjoy working with people, I certainly enjoy finding the strengths of people, whether it be staff or students or parents, and I try to play to those strengths and allow individuals to be themselves and to work as part of the school team.

Q: Would you discuss the circumstances leading up to your decision to retire at the time that you did, giving us -- giving your reasons and the mental processes you exercised in reaching the conclusion to step down?

A: There were many different factors that were part of my decision. I had had a very difficult time with a staff member who I had worked to support and so forth and so on, and I think had spent a lot of energy in that direction, and was not successful in accomplishing my goal. Also, there were some personal health issues that helped me to decide that I needed to spend less than 12, 14 hours a day at a job. And I tend to be one of the -- I'm a perfectionist, and I tend to be an individual who would work forever to be a perfectionist, and I realized that this was not doing me any good from a physical point of view, and I needed to just reduce some of the stress that one faces when you go in at 7:00 in the morning and you're there at 7:00 at night, and you haven't been home, and you haven't eaten as well as you should, and the doctor is saying that you need to do this or that. So --

Q: Okay.

A: Is that it?

Q: Mm-hmm.

A: Okay, I was just going to say the mental processes, I think you just start to prioritize what becomes important -- what is becoming important to you in your life at that moment. I think, you know, certainly the students were always very important to me, but I think that I came to realize that my taking care of myself needed to be number one, and often that takes a long time to get there, for many people, because I think people who are successful in anything, but as school administrators that are successful, they tend to push themselves more so than perhaps they should. And I don't know how you get around that. It's a very difficult thing. If you're not out being the instructor/leader, then you're the manager. But then if you're doing that, you're -- it becomes a very difficult process.

Q: Okay. What aspects of your professional training do you feel best prepared you for the principalship? And which training experiences were the least useful?

A: There were two that I feel were most beneficial. The two were the principal training program that Montgomery County has designed, and it was very, very beneficial and helpful, and the other was much of the work that I did as a graduate student in administration supervision. I thought some of the courses I took then were superb preparation for using data and analyzing material and information that you could gather. And even though I had taken them some years ago, I think that they still were extremely beneficial.

Q: Which ones do you feel were the least useful?

A: I think some of the professional training opportunities that the school system provides in hopes that people will want to go into administration supervision, I felt some of those were not meaty enough to be able to interest people. If you weren't already interested, I think it would be very hard for you to become motivated because of those.

Q: If you had to do it again, what kinds of things would you do to better prepare yourself for the principalship? Would you describe your feelings, knowing what you know now, about entering the principalship yourself, if given the opportunity to start anew?

A: I think the one thing I would continue to do, that I didn't do because I was busy preparing and certainly doing the job, is I would certainly continue to take courses at the University level. I think that's something that we think we're getting the training we need from in-house system-wide training, but it's not nearly the same as if you're attending a university course where you get different perspectives, and different people coming together and sharing. I think that would be something that I would do. My feelings regarding the principalship? I certainly have nothing but praise for the principalship. It's not to say that I like everything that happened, but certainly I would do it all over again. I would certainly look at taking and -- I felt really good about the job, and I enjoyed it. I particularly enjoyed it because of the students, and I felt like I was making a difference for them, and I was hopefully making them appreciate and enjoy the education, and want to do more, because of some of the things I had done. So my feelings are very good. Would I do it over again? Absolutely. Would I do it over again differently? Absolutely. There are some things that I know that I needed to do, now that I've had a moment to -- or several moments to think about it, in terms of reflecting on the job.

Q: What suggestions would you offer to universities as a way of helping them better prepare candidates for administrative positions? Comment on weaknesses in traditional programs of training for administrators.

A: I think that the best thing that universities could do for administrative positions or candidates would provide them with opportunities to go in to schools and to classrooms and to really observe what is happening and all. Not necessarily to do an internship program, but for them to be able to analyze what it is that they're seeing. Because I think if they know what it is that they're seeing, and can appreciate it, and know how this impacts on the instructional program, I think then you have people who are very effective in what they do. I think the weakness in traditional training programs, is that everything is thrown at people. And I don't know one person who hasn't been through a training program for the principalship, who wouldn't say, "I'm just overwhelmed." Well, there comes a point where nothing is gained from it, because so much is given. And I think that there needs to be a pairing down. I think there needs to be some prioritizing as to what material is crucial and should be presented. And then some of the material that is optional and can be given at a later time, perhaps after the individual has assumed the principalship and, you know, is three, four months out into the principalship. Maybe it's time to then take a refresher training session or something, or something that would be information that would be helpful. Because it's like a new teacher. You can't anticipate all that they need to do, until such time as they're doing it, and can get an appreciation for it.

Q: Would you give us an overall comment on the pros and cons of administrative service and any advice you would wish passed along to today's principals?

A: The overall comment would be the pros and cons, that certainly when you look at the job of school principal at any level, you're going to have to work with people to get the job done. And working with people, obviously, it's wonderful because you have the creativity and the ideas that a group of individuals bring to it, but you also have the issues that they bring to the table as well, and perhaps you have issue of, you know, not wanting to do the work, not wanting to be a part of and all. So when you look at what the job entails, it entails working with people at all levels at all different points in time. And you need to just be aware that they are there. What advice that I would like to give to today's principal is certainly, "Enjoy the job, because there are pleasures, many pleasures. Support the students, because that is what the job is all about. And try to maintain some personal space as well."

Q: And lastly, despite my best efforts to be comprehensive in questioning, there is probably something I've left out. What have I not asked you that I should have?

A: What happens to old, retired principals? Where do they go? And believe me, there is a life beyond the school principalship.

Q: I'd like to thank you for your time. That concludes our interview for today.

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