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Q: As your responsibility as Principal, how many years were you in education as a teacher? As a Principal? In what area? What year did you start?
(Streamed audio file of interview for this question using RealPlayer)
A: It is a pleasure for me to give this kind of infor mation because it lends to strengthen the principal of today and the newer principal that might come along because with the background information they are better able to understand some of the problems of today and appreciate their position in education as they move. I was fortunate after having graduated from Talledega College, Talledega, Alabama to come back home. I say home, home area of Virginia and received a position after touring the Army in World War II in one of the elementary schools of Hampton, Virginia. According to information received and passed on, the last of the teaching principals. Now, for some of you, you are not aware of a teaching principal. What's that? That's a queer thing. But he isn't exactly queer, but you have to be queer at times to carry out the job. You take over a school as a principal and when you end up you're not only a principal, but you're sometime janitor, a clerk in the office, what have you. Anything to help make the school go. Now being more specific for my situation, the Superintendent that employed me said, 'Now here it is, here it is.' He gave me the building, the key and he left. Now, needless to say, that building had been needing every kind of care over the summer, but I looked at it normally. A burglar would look at the building and say, 'I can't take that, I won't do that.' But I said, 'This is a challenge to me to be able to restore a building that have been damaged by children over the summer, ceilings torn down, what have you.' So. one month prior to beginning my contract time, I went into that building, not being paid, to do some painting, janitorial service, before going there as a principal. What did you do? You washed lights, got down cobwebs, swept floors, regulated what was left in some rooms of window shades; where there were no window shades you tried to get some. You get them all on even keel. But even in doing all of that, and it took a month, you got the building in good shape; looked fine. The teachers came in three days before school open and those who had previously been there the year before were astounded They didn't think they were coming to the same place. They just stood up in awe and wondered what had happenad.
Q: The building was cleaned?
A: The building was cleaned. Clean as a pin.
Q: Could you describe your school against one per- spective of getting out of the car, walking into the building and walking through the corridors the first time and that time when you had cleaned the building up and prepared it for your teachers?
A: Well, that first time I met the Superintendent out there and the Superintendent said, 'All right.' We walked, it had a semi-circle in front of it. It was an elementary school previously. A long one-story brick building. We went and walked in front of the building, which was a semi-circle and in the middle of the semi-circle was a flagpole. We went in the building and just as you entered the building, there was a small foyer and then you made perhaps five steps forward and then begun the hall, running north and south and of course all of the classrooms where on the front of the building. So, on entering the building, you looked like you where going into Noah's Ark. It didn't impress you at all; no reflection on Noah's Ark. But we accepted that and the Superintendent said, 'Here it is.' I looked up north and south and said, 'This is a real challenge for anyone, not to mention an educator.' Now remind you, before I got into the building, outside of the building there were holes all on the campus. Looked like some- body had been practicing for one of the wars. It's my under standing that the people in the area had allowed their pigs to get loose and the pigs had taken the campus for their parlor and they were rooting holes and having a good time until the Superintendent passed word to the neighborhood and told them that if they didn't pen their hogs, he was going to be eating some nice fresh hog meat for a long, long time. So, the people got their pigs penned. Now back to that, I went on into the building. I said, Well, I'11 accept,' and the Superintendent left. I looked around a little while and said I had really accepted a challenge and he went away. I came back the next day and begun working. I must say, and this is the very unusual part about it, at the time I was not married and my fiancee was helping me to restore this building. So, she would go with me and I must say that was the big consolation that helped me to do as much as I did because she was there to encourage me and we smiled and kept getting spiderwebs down, washing windows; we did a complete job.
Q: Did you have a custodial staff?
A: Now, this was as I said before, one month before school open. I was not on salary. I was doing this because I had received this job.
Q: This was your first position?
A: This was my first position.
Q: What year was this sir?
A: That was year, 1949.
Q: Your responsibility at this time was not only as principal of the building, but you were also a teaching principal?
A: I was also a teaching principal.
Q: What was your total number of years in service as a principal?
A: I was a principal, if you want to count the years of teaching , from the, excuse the expression as the young people would say, from the git-go, 1949, until 1979, the year that I took retirement. Not forced retirement, but I selected to retire.
Q: You've never been actually a teacher separate from having the role as principal?
A: No, no, no.
Q: Was this customary at this time in hiring the principal or were you, it sounds like a pretty unique kind of situation? Was this sort of unique?
A: It was unique, it wasn't customary, but it was the Superintendent's way of saving money. He got two jobs done for one; if you got them done. I'm almost ashamed to tell you what my salary was, but I'm going to tell you because it's factual. Now as a teaching principal, don't be shocked, we're not going back to prehistorical days. This was in mid-century USA, Virginia, Hampton. My salary was $180 a month.
Q: $180 a month. That's unbelievable.
A: I was given the seventh grade to teach. In that grade I had 28 students. Now, I had five other teachers, grades 1, 2, 3, 4, and 5. And I had a fifth and sixth com bination grade. Now that might strike you a little strange. What do you mean a combination grade? Well, again, Superin tendent found a way of saving money. When they had fewer than 20 students per class, they put those two classes together. Your classroom size then, which was standardize as average, was just about 35 or 40 to the classroom. Some classrooms carried as many as 45 children to #ne teacher. But I imagined all of this was because of money. So, anyway, we got through that year beautifully.
Q: How many classrooms where in this school? Num- ber of classrooms in reference to the facility of the building.
A: There were six classrooms and a room that they called a library.
Q: A room that they called a library?
A: Yeah, had a few books in it. What I did was the first month I saw what was happening and I asked the Superin- tendent if we could have another teacher. He said yes, if I could easily find one. So, I found a lady who at the time was in the hospital. She had just birthed her first child and she agreed to whenever released to come to work and she did. And I broke up, when I say broke up, I closed the fifth and sixth grade combination and opened up another grade that gave us seven grades. Grades !-7 with me teaching the 7th grade. Now here's another way of thinking about the situation. There were no secretaries in the office; so there was the teaching principal and the school. So, we went on like this for a few months and then we asked the Superintendent to give us some office help. Often times I would have to be inter- rupted in teaching the class of 28 students to go an answer the telephone or any parent that had come into the building to try and see t#em and the students were left there with an as signment. Sometimes you didn't have enough time to give them the right text assignment. But being the kind of children they were then they would buckle right on down to their work. We got through that.
Q: What was your philosophy at this particular time as the school administrator? In other words, what was the school's philosophy in education at that particular time?
A: The school's philosophy was this. Life is a pre ponderance of opportunities. It's an abudance of opportuni- ties and if we are going to have the kind of school of the society that the world is calling for, it will take education to do it. So, the school sort out to help each child to develop to his fullest potential. Make for himself a beginning of a known philosophy of life. Now every person, whether you be lieve it or not, have a philosophy of life because you live it, live it, but you don't always understand why. We tried first to get these students to realize that they were devoted about having themselves a way of life that was suitable for the society in which we live in, which is democracy; affording everybody an opportunity to live a better life.
Q: I tell you Mr. Hill, you put that to music and it would be a song. I certainly appreciate all the sentiments you have expressed at this time. Mr. Hill, your contribution in terms of philosophy was effective and also poetic. In re- sponse to the philosophy I congratulate you. I think it is wonderful. There's another question which has something to do with the philosophy of education that was employed in your building. How was your philosophy of education developed or maybe implemented in the building? How did you create a climate for learning in that building having the responsibility of teaching and principal?
A: The leadership of a school or any organization establishes the atmosphere or the climate in which the subjects will be operated. The leadership should be liberal yet struc tured and informative. Now in my particular situation, I did not have the time to do the natural visitation of the class room, which has its good points and its bad points. We won't get into that now. I tried to develop within the teachers a strong sense of responsibility such that they would do the best within their power in teaching their children to grow re sponsibly. That is, I mean, teaching them to feel the neces sity of them acquiring answers to life's problems and with the teachers also feeling the strong responsibility of seeing that they have offered to their children the best that would en courage the children to develop their emotional, spiritual and sometimes religious characteristics for the sake of growing.
Q: Very good Mr. Hill. Sounds like according to your last bit of information you just given us that you were quite successful in using the techniques that you used doing thi#time. Were there any unsuccessful endeavors you had doing this particular time as a teacher/principal in your building? By the way, the name of your building is?
A: Aberdeen Elementary School. It's somewhat diffi cult to judge the successes as such, but the children were eager in their activities of the school. Eager to acquire knowledge, eager to be helpful and very responsible and they just seemed to take the joy of education as a day in which they felt glorified.
Q: Mr. Hill, I appreciate those comments, but do you think the children came into the building like that or were they motivated within the wa##s of your classrooms and by the leadership that you provided for them? What I'm sort of getting at, were there specific techniques used for moti- vating those students to have a sense of responsibility, to have eagerness for the learning that was being provided for them, the need for being educated? Was there anything that you and your staff did to motivate those students to be so inspired?
A: Yes, Mr. Nicholas. First of all, as I spoke in the beginning of the environmental factors of the school, the physical inequities and what have you and how they changed, when the children saw that change, that gave them a stronger liking for where they were coming. The teachers on seeing that there was someone that seemed like to care and also showing this kind of development, they moved into their indi vidual classrooms with the zeal and the zest that could not be outdone by anyone because they said I am going to make these surroundings say YES! That is by posters and room deco rations, learning decorations, not just posters up there to be looked at, but with learning posters and pleasant surroundings. The child would be anxious to get to his classroom because it became a beautiful spot for him. Now with this and the children in the classroom there were some other things that we knew we needed to help bring the school into a more family relation ship. So we thought that one way of doing that is to share experiences on a weekly basis with each other. That meaning, each classroom of the school, and fortunately enough we did have an au#itorium. Each classroom would present some program educational in nature that would help sho# improvement in life and joy brought forth from some source. So, as I said, it was the responsibility of each classroom once a week to present such a program. That meant that seven weeks after the first graders entered school they where on stage performing and doing publi# speaking. Each child more or less got to know in a more personal way each other and to appreciate what each other had to offer. And that lends itself to honorable, good competition because each class tried to produce the most wholesome and entertaining and edu cational program they could each week. Now, some programs struck on holidays or within that period which gave to them a different taste. But in general, the experiences were wide and variable and the children profited by being not self conscious, but feeling an air of freedom. Let me say this too, this is one of the most essential feature of good teach ing, let it be known by your teachers that you are strong for education and that you want the best learning process to go on. They are in charge within their classroom and yo# expect them to carry out fully their responsibility without someone having to oversee them. If they carry this kind of responsibility move from within them outside, they would then use their time and energy to develop the resources necessary to see a job well done and see a student smilingly on his way saying, 'Today is a better day because I met with Miss So and So and we learned things today that I di##not know before,' and they would learn in a pleasant way with a smile and a joy.
Q: Thank you very much Mr. Hill. Mr. Hill in the classrooms, grades 1-7 were the grade levels in Aberdeen School, were they broken up in terms of having English an hour? Math an hour? Did they exchange classes? Or, instructionally what happened in the classroom at that point? Do you recall?
A: Each classroom was self-contained. Each classroom had an organized period for the instruction of a specific subject. For instance, math had its time according to schedule. It was anywhere from 45 minutes to 60 minutes. Science, though we were limited in apparatus and materials, we did many simple science projects that would give to the child some principle of development. Social Studies lent itself towards socialization of the events of history and of today. Such that we had a better understanding of the past that brought forth an interest toward what might happen in the future.
Q: Mr. Hill you spoke in terms of building within your staff, your professional teachers, the esteem and responsi- bility to make them to go about their job with a wholesome at- titude and provide a wonderful and joyful learning environment for their students. Were their nay occasions where you found some teachers were not meeting that expectation. Did you meet that challenge sir?
A: Very good, Mr. Nicholas. That's a keen straight forward point cause very seldom you'll get seven people in strict accord. Now, especially where you are not strict in the strictest way of speaking and acting, and you leave them within a realm of freedom of development. Now, you find people who may not agree with you or your philosophy. There is no reason that one must agree with you or your philosophy, but where there is a difference, and at times and many times there should be differences, you accept the difference in the ongoing process if#it's not one that will not interrupt or sabotage a program. So, if Madame X does not seem to be in accord with what is expected, it's just as simple at a time you have a conference with that teacher and you tell her or him your ideas. You listen to what they have to say. So often another person has a point of view which you don't know and you didn't see and you will never get an opportunity of knowing unless you give them an opportunity to express themself. This is where we said previously, we tried to allow freedom of expres sion, freedom to develop, and freedom to speak your mind as long as that freedom of speech is within the realm of the philosophy of the school.
Q: So, I gather from your statement that you met with some opposition from possibly one or two staff members. However, it didn't interrupt the instructional program and it didn't sabotage, therefore, there was no other necessary measures to utilize, or were there situations where you had to use an iron hand, and possibly use termination, or methods of remediation?
A: No. We were very fortunate that way. You will find out as one of the natural reactions of people, if you con- fer with people in a kind, understanding manner, they will re turn the same type of feeling and that is crucial to any de velopment because you must be in some type of good relation ship, you understand me and I understand you, but what's best for the group and we also tried to think in terms of the greatest good for the greatest number.
Q: Okay, thank you very much Mr. Hill. What was your role #o Play ln public community relations? We spoke in terms of community as you entered into the building tha# you were greeted by four-legged animals of the hog species and they had created a few problems for you in the front of vour building. However. I am sure that they were taken care of. But what was your responsibility. what was your position in the community as the principal of the building?
A: As #he principal of the building my position was to bring #he parents of the children whom we were serving to understand what we were doing or atrempting to do in education toward developing their children and hoping that they would become partners of edcuation with the teachers and the school. Because any child will not develop to his highest potential unless there is a joining together of the features of the home, the things that the school is trying to help him develop, and what is occurring in the community. ln other words, the home in conjunction with the working of the school makes the community.
Q: Were there any specific things you had as a strategy to get the parents involved as partners as you say in the education process of your school?
A: Well. usually when you get children in school and get them interes#ed and involved in programs, the parent is equally or may become interested because each parent wants to see his child do well and in many instances there may be a calling:on of the school by the parent to provide certain things that the school may not have in programming for their children. If it's a public program or assembly program or some contribution the child is making, not his or her classroom.
Q: With the increased responsibility of the in- structional program on each individual's child and various disciplines, it's become very, very tough for teachers to be effective with the students today and to get parents involved in the instructional program and thre are all kinds of new programs being implemented to bring the parents into the school and to get the parent to work along with the children at home. What I am hearing from you is that once the children were involved in different kinds of programs, then the #arents would automatically become involved. But, were their situa- tions where there were kids you could not get involved and there were parents that you could not motivate some how? What techniques or what strategies or any motivational tool or what was done for those children and parents who were just not totally integrated within the school environment in making a valuable contribution?
A: Well, for such parents you showed to them that you cared. Sometimes you had tomake direct contact and say to the parents I believe that you have some qualities to contribute.
Q: In '53 you were speaking of some experiences you had after your experiences as principal of the Aberdeen School. Can you speak towards that sir?
A: Yes. Seemingly out of observation of the improve ments made at Aberdeen School from 1949 to !953 and because of the necessity of building a junior high school because of population increase, I was given an opportunity to be its first administrator. The first separate junior high school in Hampton. It was to house grades 7, 8, and 9. The first year we com menced with grades 7 and 8 and the next year we had full com pliment, grades 7, 8, and 9, comprising about 1300 students; forty-two teachers covering the entire colored population of the City of Hampton. We had children coming from five different areas, geographic areas, and each area carried its geographical distinction along with some discipline problems, but we- were able to am#lgamate the disciplinary problem with teenagers, early teenagers, and build them into a unified family where the relationship was good. Yes, we had some difficulties with a few, but generally speaking, the attendance was well above 95% and the stimulations must have been satisfying to the children.
Q: Mr. Hill, what do you attribute all of the suc- cess of this particular program to? Here's the situation where you pulled diverse neighborhoods together into one unified family. How did you pool these various personalities in terms of the communities that they are coming from together to make a family? What techniques, strategies? The reason I am asking these questions is because some of these strategies are very much in need of today and your expertise in providing us with these techniques can be very, very helpful for future administrators.
A: Well, first there must be, as we previously stated, freedom, which allows creativity and with creativity you naturally generate interest. If I am going to create something and you are going to allow me to create it, I am going to then enjoy trying to do what I am trying to do. If I fail, I'll keep on trying until I get what I want and if I don't get what I want, then I'11 ask somebody. And when I ask somebody, then I'm involving myself and others.
Q: Reflecting back to 1953, entering into this new building, what's the name of this building sir?
A: Y. H. Thomas Junior High School.
Q: You said it was very competitive at this particular time being that this was the first junior high school that the City of Hampton had. It was somewhat difficult and very competitive that this building became available for you?
A: It wasn't competitive, but the building came in the program of Hampton as a nat#ral need. There were soci- ological factors which prevented the type of a#algamation of children that normally should have occurred there and as time ran on this sociological problem began to resolve itself which afforded the kind of organization which now there exists. Now to be specific, at this time, 1953 in Hampton, the schools were separate and unequal. Unequal in facilities and unequal in experiences. But as time moved on and other sociological factors, enforced and reenforced by political changes, brought about the, as I said before, the almalgamation of the races into a school system where there was no need for separation because of color.
Q: Very good point Mr. Hill. That brings about a question. These inequities existing doing this particular time, what did the black teacher or the Negro teacher do doing this time to instill in their students a sense of pride to make them want to achieve? What did you do as the instructional leader and your staff do to provide that necessary foundation for those children to grow?
A: First of all, it's just like having a lock on the door and you want to get into a room. The door is locked, you don't have a key. So the only thing you can do then is to stay on the outside and knock. And, you might knock a long time. Under these conditions we knew we had a possibility to enter into a realm of education that might supersede that now in existence. So, teachers, not only in Hampton, Negro teachers practically all over the state, were encouraged to do continuing study or advanced study to move forth into areas and gain new experiences under new conditions and then come back home and utilize. So, this enabled the teacher to see the problems of today and first of all stabilize herself and get herself in a secured position of being able to give the kind of teacher leadership that was needed.
Q: Let's go one step further. What was the racial problem existing of this time?
A: The racial problem was students and teachers were placed in buildings according to their race. If you were Caucasian, you went to a Caucasian school. If you were a Black, you went to a black school. So, that was a problem within it self that had existed down through the years. But a ruling won by the Supreme Court which said, 'schools cannot be separate and equal,' and when that was offered the schools then began to change its structure development picture. The teachers were told in many instances now if because of color you have re stricted yourself, you must become color blind and not look at color, but work from the standpoint of pretension.
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