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Q: OK, what made you decide to become a principal?
(Streamed audio file of interview for this question using RealPlayer)
A: I never had thought about being a principal. But I was supervisor of secondary reading program for Fairfax County. This was before we had areas and I was getting a year older each year, and it seemed that every time it snowed, I was way out in Herndon, away down twenty-five miles away from hose and I requested to go back to the classroom. And personnel suggested that I take a principalship because of my background in reading. And they literally talked me into it. And it gave me an opportunity to open a new school.
Q: So, you opened a new school right away, that's the first thing you did?
Q: Wow. That sounds like a big job for your first thing. I didn't realize that was the first principalship.
A: Yes, that was the first and only principalship I had.
Q: What was your school's philosophy? How was it developed?
A: Oh, the philosophy we developed with the staff and also with a committee from the PTA.
Q: Oh, that's interesting.
Q: Good. What do you think it takes to be an effective principal?
A: It takes a lot of hard work. I think you have to have a human touch, you have to be interested in your teachers and in your children. You have to know as many of the children by name as possible and the parents by name. And you have to become involved.
Q: In their lives..you mean..
A: Well, also you have to know the curriculum and what is being done at each level. I was so familiar with what was going on at each level, I could just take a jaunt through the building and maybe spend only a few minutes in each room and get an idea. And teachers never minded my coming in they just went right ahead. You know, they knew that I would just pop in at any time.
Q: I agree with you, I think they should too. What pressures did you face as a principal?
A: Well, in the last years of the principalship, there was so much more paperwork to be done, and it wasn't as pleasant as the first years that I was in the position.
Q: What year did you retire?
A: I retired in 176. And when we had to prepare so many written statements about what we were doing and then evaluate everything. While I agree this is a good thing, it's so time consuming I didn't have as much time to spend with particular students as I felt needed. As of course we had no counselors at the elementary level.
Q: Did you have an assistant principal?
A: Part of the time, I had the Belle Willard School which was a school for the physically handicapped. It was next door to my school. And one August the director of personnel called me in to talk about my position for the year. And I thought he was going to move me and I went with fear and trembling. I had an excellent school community. I was extremely fortunate. Parents were interested in what was happening to their children. And it was more of a stable community. It wasn't a community where everybody was mortgaged to the hilt and worried about meeting all the payments. It was a very very stable community. And that was to my advantage.
Q: So you thought the paper work was more of a hassle than any of the parent hassles you would have gotten?
A: Right. I had very few parent hassles. They were always cooperative. I tried to proceed carefully when a student was having discipline problems or anything of that kind. My philosophy was, rather than have that student upset the class, that it was better to send the child to me and get the student out of the classroom so it wouldn't be disruptive to all the others. And then I tried to deal with it. And I would talk with the student and set up a plan, and sometimes they would come back and check with me each day to see how they were progressing. If this happened again, I called the parent on the phone with the child sitting there so they could hear every word I said and couldn't tell the parents it was otherwise. And I had cooperation from parents.
Q: Did you have corporal punishment when you were a principal?
A: When I first went there, I'm ashamed to admit, I did punish some children. But, never unless the parents requested it.
Q: So, they always were notified.
A: Yes, the parents were always notified. I remember one woman said to me, give his a spanking and make some extra licks for me. I felt sorry for the child.
Q: When I started, we had it too.
A: Oh, yes.
Q: And I've even spanked kids. How did you handle the pressures you faced? I guess mainly the paper work in your case.
A: Well, I tried to take care of the pressing needs of the school first and not shut myself up in the office away from people. My secretary always knew people could get to me. But, I brought home a big file box of work over the weekend. That's the only way I could ever catch up. And I did this over the weekend or at night.
Q: Were your children at home then?
A: No, see I didn't become a principal until my children were grown. So, this would be a problem if you had small children that needed you. And I was a widow by then too.
Q: Oh, you were?
A: So, I could give full attention to the job.
Q: That makes a big difference, I think.
A: Yes, it does.
Q: So, what was your preparation for being a principal as far as schooling? Was most of yours experience rather than...
A: Well, having been a supervisor in Fairfax County, and having been in every secondary and every intermediate school I could walk in the office and feel the tone of the school. And then I had been privileged to be the reading teacher at Fairfax High School when San Coffey was there. And his philosophy was quite relaxed. He never pressured you into doing anything. But he so inspired you that you worked your head off. And he was my prime example.
Q: As far as your formal education, I realize that, in my opinion, the experience is much more important than the college education, what did you have as far as college? Did you take administrative classes?
A: Yes, My bachelor's degree was at a liberal arts college with a major in French and English. And then I was asked to fill in when a teacher resigned right before school opened in Pennsylvania. And I told them, to do departmental work, in an elementary school, and this was in reading and social studies. And I told the principal that I was only certified at the secondary level, and that I was not qualified. Well, he insisted that I come when school opened until they could find someone. Well, I stayed all year. And, realizing that all these children that year were in the same reading book, and I knew they shouldn't be. So, I started. In Pennsylvania then, if you were certified in the secondary level, if you would take six hours of elementary credit during the year, then they would renew your certificate for one year. And I thought it was foolish to start at the undergraduate level, so I started at the graduate level at the University of Pittsburgh. And. I, the first summer I took two reading courses, because I just felt at a loss as to what to do with these students.
Q: So, that's how you got into the field of reading.
A: Yes, that's how. And at, for my masters, I majored in reading to become a reading specialist in the State of Pennsylvania, and also in administration. So, I took all those courses in the course of my degree. And I did all my work in the summertime.
Q: Oh, you did.
A: Yes, because we lived 100 miles from Pittsburgh.
Q: Oh, you did, so did you live at Pitt in the summer?
A: In the summer, I went in on Monday morning and went home on Friday afternoon. My husband was a minister, and of course during the school year, it was all I could do to, with the obligations I had there and also teaching.
Q: Were your children at home then when you...
A: No, our son was a freshman in college. My daughter was at hose, that's right. She was in high school. But, my son had started to college by then.
Q: They were old enough that you could take off for the summer..
A: Yes, and my daughter looked after her father during the summertime while I was at Pitt.
Q: So, your masters was from Pitt?
A: Yes, I also did advanced work in reading at the University of Chicago. One full summer I took what they called their reading seminar. And we had five outstanding people in the field of reading there as consultants that summer.
Q: That's super! A good opportunity. Could you tell me more about how you started/worked with the reading program in Fairfax County?
A: Well, they already had an elementary reading program. And. so the Director of Instruction, Mr. Ford, told me that two high schools had been pressuring him for reading teachers. One was Fairfax High, and one was Annandale High School. So, he proposed that I take those two schools and we first started by looking at scores of the, uns. At that time the 8th grade was in the high school. We didn't have intermediate schools then. The elementary school was one through eleven. And the high schools were eight through twelve.
Q: One through seven and eight through twelve.
A: Yes, so we had scores from the seventh grade tests which showed discrepancies between ability and achievement. And we set our standards. Of course the elementary reading supervisor helped me with the basic, you know criteria for enrolling students in the program. And they had to have average intelligence and had to be reading at least two years below grade level, you know.
Q: Sounds like a learning disabilities class, that's the same criteria we use.
A: Yes, in many ways it is. And, so my first classes at Fairfax High School,
I spent half the day with students that were in the eighth grade. And, the other
half, I had very few 9th and 10th grade students. I spent the rest of the day,
I had two classes of 11th and 12th graders who were college bound and needed
to improve their language scores on the college board teats. And, that was a
delight because they had so much drive. And some of them improved their scores
as much as 300 points.
Q: Wow? That's super. So, that was before you became a principal, right?
Q: You moved from Pennsylvania to here?
A: I, no first two years I was in Fairfax county, I taught 7th grade, self contained. At Leighton Hall School. And then they asked me to start this reading program, and I taught at Annandale and Fairfax. I taught Monday and Wednesday at Fairfax, and Tuesday, and Thursday at Annandale. And I alternated Fridays. And on Fridays, I did a lot of testing and evaluations of students that the guidance department would refer to me. I did that for three years, and then I became the coordinator of the high school reading program. By that time, I had written a course of study, and it had been approved in Richmond so students could get a half an English credit for it. When they couldn't get any credit, many of them would think they didn't have to do the practice or some homework. You know, and this way they could receive some credit. could not count as one of the English credits required for graduation, but it could count as a credit toward graduation. But they had to have four full English credits besides that. But, that was, we felt, quite an achievement to get that. And... I've forgotten now where we were.
Q: That's OK, we'll go somewhere else. If you had it to do again, is there anything you would do to better prepare yourself to become a principal?
A: Well, I think I was most fortunate. I was older, I had been a minister's wife for 29 years and had to deal with the public. And then I had the experience of being in supervision and observing how different administrators worked with their faculty and students. I learned more that way than I ever could have through any courses.
Q: Do you think not ever being an assistant principal before, well I guess since you had been a supervisor before that...
A: I think that would qualify, mmhm.
Q: What about...
A: And the first year I was a principal, they had meetings once a month for all new principals in the county. Which were super. That was county-wide. Of course we didn't have areas then.
Q: Right. What about people coming into the field now? Can you think of anything that they should better prepare teachers or future administrators for that you can see that there is an area that we lack?
A: I felt when I entered graduate school having come from a liberal arts college, and having a good background in all the liberal arts subjects, and going into graduate school, and having many in my classes who had only been to teacher's college. That there was a great lack of the basics in the humanities there that I feel teachers today need. And I understand that California, and some states require the four years in the humanities and don't take any education courses until the fifth year. I tend to agree with this. Children have so much knowledge today, that you just have to have as such knowledge as possible. So, I think that's extremely important. And I don't think anyone should ever be a principal without having taught in the classroom. If it's an elementary principal, I think they should have taught in an elementary school. And I know in some states, a lot of coaches and high school teachers become elementary principals. And I did a workshop in Durham, North Carolina, to write, to help write their language arts curriculum. And many of those teachers were complaining that their principals had only been high school teachers, and didn't know anything about reading or anything about elementary curriculum. So, I think it's extremely important.
Q: I agree with you. Did you ever have to fire a teacher?
Q: Did you ever have a grievance filed against you or...
A: No, I never did, I put one teacher on probation, though.
Q: How did you handle that?
A: Well, it was a difficult situation. I called in the supervisor, and talked with her. This teacher had been in Fairfax County for at least twenty years. And, I called in the supervisor, and she of course, let me know that this teacher had been there for a long time, and that I would have to bear with her. And you had to keep, of course, you had to keep a written log.
Q: You had to document it..
A: ...of everything. But one day the supervisor came, and we observed in this teacher's room. And, she saw some things then, I had been talking about. And spoke to the teacher when she was ready to go out for a break with the children, and we wanted to talk with her. And the teacher indicated that she had no time for that. She had to have a rest from her children. Then, the supervisor saw my side of it. So, what we did, we knew that if we told her we were going to meet with her, that she would have a dentist appointment or something, and wouldn't show up. So, the supervisor came to my office, and one afternoon right after school was out, we had the secretary call on the intercom and tell her she was wanted in the office. And she came over, and I had everything written down, I had kept a log of everything by dates and everything. And, commended her for the things she had done well. And felt that she could do as well in all things. And she sat there and listened, and that was along in the spring. And the supervisor went back to her office and wrote her a letter, and told her that as a result of our conference, she was being put on probation for the remainder of the year. And we hoped that she could continue teaching. Well, at the end of the year, we felt it wise, that she stay on probation for one more year. And I did not let any other teacher, even my secretary, in the school know anything about this. So, she was on probation for the second year, and it made a darn good teacher out of her.
Q: Oh, did it really? That's good.
A: That next Easter she sent me the largest orchid I've ever had. She told me one day she didn't know what happened to her.
Q: Burn out!
A: I don't know, it could have turned out a lot worse.
Q: Had she been teaching the same grade for a long time?
A: Yes, she had. And she was from southwest Virginia, and I had two other teachers who came from southwest Virginia. And nothing against Southwest Virginia, but I had lived in the Appalachian Mountains in North Carolina near Ashville, and I lived there for twelve years and understood these people a little bit better. And you, you have to handle, I don't mean handle them different, you have to understand these people, the way they react to certain situations. There has to be an understanding there. And, they are the greatest people in the world. But if you ever slight them in any way, they never forget it. So, you have to be on the level with them.
Q: Be fair, and...
A: Absolutely fair, absolutely fair.
Q: Did you, as a person, have a hard time, telling the teachers, the reason I'm asking this, this would be one of my downfalls. Seeing problem areas, and telling them they're doing things wrong, did it make you feel like you were putting them down rather than helping? How..
A: I never looked at it that way, and I always tried to approach them by saying, have you tried this? Or would you like to try this, since what you are doing is not working. And, I never had any problem with it. I had one teacher, the only teacher that ever left my school, requested to go to another one. That, unless it was because of distance, you know. But, this is back in the days when teachers had to do their registers. And, she always had a mistake in hers, and never got it in on time. And, I really had to talk turkey to her. And, she finally requested to go to another school.
Q: Well, you can't get along with everyone, right? And they can't all get along with you. The way education is going now, the trends, and just the whole picture of education, can you think of a way we could improve it? Can you think of weak areas, or things that you don't really agree with or things that we are doing wrong?
A: Well, a, I read the newspapers, but I'm not sure I'm up to date on all the trends or not. But, I think, of course, we need to concentrate on the basics. I also, recognize that there are such differences in children. That we shouldn't have the same goals for all children. You, know some can do so such more than others. I felt in my own school, it was in such a good area where parents were so interested. And, we had so many above average achievers, I felt that the underachievers and the average kids were really getting what they needed. But I worried about those that had more ability. And the first money I asked my PTA to spend was for materials for these exceptional students.
Q: I think they still are too.
Q: I'm trying to place your dates here, whether you were a principal or a teacher during the civil rights movement.
Q: You were a principal during the civil rights movement?
A: Yes, see I opened in '64. And, of course Fairfax County, we had very little trouble, because there were so few blacks. And, up until the last three years I was a principal, I had no black students in my school. Then they added an apartment complex, and then I had blacks. And, I welcomed it because I felt these children out in the world were going to have to deal with them and they needed to have the experience of being with them. And, of course, from the last few years, not from that complex, but some from that complex, some from the community, I had quite a few oriental children. And I thought this was good.
Q: How did you feel about busing? I realize you didn't, you weren't impacted by it...
A: I had no busses in my school until they added.. It was a all walking school. Until they added that apartment complex.
Q: But, as far as busing blacks and whites to different schools, during that time. When they did it, I think I was in Junior High at that time, and I was bused all the way across town to a black school. Do you agree with that? or do you think...
A: Well, not being involved with it. From where I was sitting, I've always
been in favor of neighborhood schools. And it, while we had to learn to live
together, I could not see the feasibility of busing children so far for that.
If the neighborhoods joined, I could see that. It they were near to each other.
Q: How did you go about selecting your teachers? What interviewing techniques did you use, or what background techniques,, How did you go about..
A: Well, of course, when I first started, personnel staffed my school. And when personnel approached me about opening an elementary school, and I had never taught below the 5th grade, I expressed to the director of personnel that I didn't feel quite comfortable here. Because I had never taught at the primary grades. She herself had been a principal before going into personnel work, and she felt the same way. But, she said, you are starting a new school and that's a good neighborhood. We'll give you a good strong faculty and you will learn from the primary teachers. And, I did, after a couple of years, I would have felt comfortable taking over a first grade class. After observing these very, very good teachers.
Q: So, you didn't have any input at all with your original faculty?
A: Not with my original faculty. And three were transferred from a neighboring school. No, four. That was across the street. And two of them. I had taught with when I taught 7th grade at Leighton Hall. You, see. And it so happened that this neighborhood was the same neighborhood that Leighton Hall had drawn from when I taught there.
Q: Yes, when you said that I wondered if it was Leighton Hall.
A: Yes, but I finally we principals protested so strongly that we wanted to interview, that we were finally granted that.
Q: So, that was county policy all the time, that they just gave you..
A: Yes, that was county policy when I first went in. And, of course that
was 164. But after about 3-4 years, they were allowing us, at the elementary
level to interview. And one year when I reported in August, there was a, I had
a list of my faculty, and there was a name on there I had never heard of before.
And, I was fit to be tied. So, I called personnel. The director said, don't
worry Aurelia, That is a person that was given an early contract before some
other school system grabbed her. When they went to interview her at the college.
And they do give out those early contracts, but not any assignment. And, she's
still in the county, and still an excellent teacher. So, and I remember interviewing
a young man who had an excellent science background, and I wanted his so in
my school. And, I called personnel to request him. And the personnel director
said, Aurelia you already have four men. We have to get these men to some of
the other schools. I was never without a man on my staff. Most of the time,
I had, well, I had anywhere from two to four.
Q: So, after 167 when you were allowed to interview, what techniques did you use?
A: Well, I wanted to know about their personal lives. I had a strong feeling that anyone that had personal problems might have difficulty dealing with children. And, I wanted to know their specific background and experience that they had had. And, it was mostly just a feel for personality.
Q: That's what Nancy said too. I asked her how she got all those wonderful people in one school, and she said it's just a knack you have.
A: That's right. It is.
Q: Do you think comes form experience in the interview or do you...
A: I think it does. I think it does, from feeling whether you are comfortable
with this person. And they are comfortable with you. I remember when I interviewed
the young man who was my first assistant principal. When I had both Belle Willard
and John Wood School. I asked him, he had been a principal, how he felt about
being an assistant working for a woman. And he said, well, that didn't bother
his. But, I didn't al..That's the only man I ever put that question to but that
was because he was going to be the assistant principal, you see.
Q: Yes. That would make a difference.
A: But, since there were two schools, and there was a little distance there in between them, and of course, we walked from one school to the other. We finally came to the decision. While we conferred on matters, and we had joint staff meetings at different times, he largely took care of things at one school and I took care of things at the other. But, I had the overall the supervision.
Q: How did you use your assistant principal? What duties did you assign to him or her...
A: Well, we were in the midst of self study, and um, he did a lot of the editing you know, for the staff study. And, since there were two buildings involved, this is not a normal situation. Why, he largely took care of one building. But he didn't make any major decisions without consulting me. And, I didn't without consulting him. Because I felt a man's viewpoint was good.
Q: Did you handle the discipline, or did he handle it, or did you jointly, or...
A: Well, I handled most of the discipline in my school. There were a few
times with fifth and sixth boys that I felt a man could talk to them better.
Especially when it involved some sex, or personal problems. I had him to handle
Q: Did you ever have any troubles having an assistant principal?
A: No, no. And then I had a woman after I had him. And she had been on my original staff as a teacher.
Q: Oh, that's nice.
Q: Had she left and then come back?
A: Well, she had resigned to have a baby. And at that time, you had to quit as soon as you found out you were pregnant. And, then, she stayed hose several years. And in that time, she got her wasters. And, then she came back as a teacher, and I didn't have a vacancy so she taught at another school. But, then she came, a, I requested her then when I needed another assistant principal. She's now a principal in Fairfax County.
Q: Oh, she is, that's great. As a principal, what was your biggest headache?
A: My biggest headache. I had, I can think of two things, and I've said this many times. I never lost sleep over anything but two things. I had a child who had epileptic seizures. And her parents were Christian Scientists. and I appealed to the area superintendent, we appealed to the health department. And couldn't get any help. But, finally one day she had a seizure walking to school. And, her sister came running to the office to tell me. So, I sent the custodian to go pick her up. She was about in the third or fourth grade then. And, he came back very distraught, and said Mrs. Howland, there is a Fairfax County car out there and a man has her in the car, and has sent for an ambulance. I said, don't worry about it, she was not on school grounds when this happened. And she'll be taken care of. The mother was a Fairfax County high school teacher, and always, I had always called her. But she would requested me to call the reader for the Christian Scientists before I called her. So, I called her, it was before school opened. Then when I found they were going to take the child in an ambulance, I called to let her know, and she wanted to know if I had called the reader back. And this was a call to Chicago.
Q: Now, what's the reader. I'm not sure what they...
A: In the Christian Science Church, they are kind of officials, kind of like a pastor, as I understand it.
Q: They are called a reader?
A: They are called a reader, uhuh And I suppose that they enter into to prayer at that time.
Q: And it was a call to Chicago?
A: Yes, the mother would have me put it on her phone bill. And my area superintendent asked me if I thought I ought to do this. I said anything that would take pressure off the child, I would do. And I thought it would take pressure off, so I did. And I asked the mother to call me. She came by to see me before she went to the hospital. It was the only time well, this was in route anyway. It was the only time she ever came in to pick up that child or to see about her that she didn't seen frustrated. I think she was relieved. And, I asked her to call me when she got home. She spent about 30 minutes on the phone with me and told me that it could be sugar diabetes, that there had been a lot of sugar in her family. Or it could be a brain tumor, or it could be epilepsy. That it would take a medical diagnosis. The child never had another seizure.
Q: You're kidding.
A: No, and she's graduated from college now.
Q: Did they out her on medication at the time?
A: I don't know. I resented the fact the mother never let me know.
Q: Yes, that's weird.
A: I remember saying to the mother once when she came to pick her up, I wish you would get some help, there is medication. And the mother said, well, Jesus never healed matter with matter. And I said but, physicians were his closest friends. So, she never said anything else to me.
Q: That was a good answer.
A: Well, and the other thing that I lost sleep on. Let me think on it awhile..umm ...oh, I had it clearly in mind. When you get up as old as I am you forget things. But, that I really did lose sleep over that.
Q: But that was more of an individual thing rather than your actual principal shipping, and your administrative duties...
A: Oh, I know, I had a helping teacher in music. And I was out of the building to go to a principal's convention or something. And one of my teachers came in to tell me. It was at a time when we had to choose whether we wanted phys ed or music in the schools. And I had polled the teachers, and they preferred phys. ed. Because the majority of the teachers were women, and they felt they didn't have enough prepars.. and many of them had a background in music. And we had several that were very good in music. So, they preferred the phys. ed. teacher instead of the music teacher. So, while I was away at this conference, this helping teacher in music, had asked every teacher if I had asked them. And she was taking her own poll, and she wanted to stay in the school. Well, this bothered me to no end. So, I called in a person from the area office, and we sat down and talked to her. And he told her that she had no right to do that, that as long as I was principal in the school that I could make the decision, and I could do it by a poll, or I could do it like I wanted to. And, that she would not be back at that school under any circumstances. And, that did bother me because I like to have good personal relationships with people. And, it did bother me to have that happen. But, I certainly appreciated the teacher coming to let me know. Which let me know how the teachers felt, you know.
Q: Exactly. When you say helping teacher, is that like, a she was a teacher, but she was a music teacher?
A: She was a music teacher. We called them helping teachers in music then.
Q: I think this, well, the next question says what was your biggest concern, but I think we just did that. Did you have any other concerns as a principal? I wean as far as curriculum or staff training?
A: Well, we were always given so such help in Fairfax County. And, I've heard some principals complain about not getting help where they felt they needed the psychologist. But I think the key there is to make sure you have a case before you call in a psychologist. I think many people cried wolf before there was a need to. And I was always sure I had a case that needed help, and was always able to get it. And then there were teacher that complained at other schools, about not having enough materials. I never locked the materials up. Teachers new that they were there. But, they knew that they would be used at school and for nothing else, and I made that very clear. I had one secretary come in one year, and bring all of her Christmas packages to wrap with the brown paper we had. And I told her, no siree, that I wrapped mine in brown bags at hose. She became very buffy, and said well, her husband would take them to his office downtown. And I said, fine, let his do it. But, I, you have to be on the level, and up and above board. You, know, about everything.
Q: Uh huh. How did you go about it when you had someone referred to the
psychologist? Did you, what were the steps you took before you went to a psychologist
with a case?
A: Well, we kept a log of anything that the classroom teacher had or the phys. ed. teacher had, or any unusual behavior. A lot of them were behavior problems, you know, or learning disability. When we began to focus in on learning disability. And, when they allowed us to give some pretests, we did that, of course.
Q: Did you have a teacher on staff that was, did you have an LD teacher on staff that was..
A: Uh, I had two LD teachers, resource teachers, one, at least one resource teacher after that. I had two self contained to begin with. And some of the children came from other schools. And then I had a LD resource teacher just for the school. And that teacher worked well with the reading teacher, too.
Q: Did you have any special problem having the center, Belle Willard?
A: I don't think so. They were physically handicapped. And when we had assembly programs up in my building, we used 5th and 6th graders to go down and pull, push the wheelchairs. And those children came to our assemblies. And, when they went on field trips, we always had pushers from our school to go along with the wheel chairs. I remember once asking for volunteers, teachers to give me some names for a field trip. And I had about 6 or 8 students talking to them, and one of them said, I'm sure I can't go because my mother doesn't believe in drugs, and I can't be a pusher.
Q: That's cute. That's what I thought of when you said pusher, too.
A: But, they delighted in doing this.
Q: Did you notice many bad feelings, or any bad feelings, or making fun or calling names of the...
A: No, there was extremely, and we began to mainstream some of these students, and of course they attendants at Belle Willard ' and they would bring them up. Some would come for math or reading, or certain times of the day. And our children were just fascinated with them. We didn't see any bad feelings.
Q: That's good. What is your feeling about housing the physically handicapped, or emotionally disturbed, or learning disabled in their own centers like that, rather than having them mainstreamed, you know still having a self-contained class, but in the regular school?
A: AA, I'm in favor of them being in the regular school because I feel they learn by being with others. I, myself, my daughter would be labeled a slow learner today. She went to high school, but didn't go to college. And if we hadn't give her the advantages she had, and sent her to special school, before they had anything in public schools, she would have deteriorated. And she would deteriorate now it she associated with that element full time. And I think, that it does something, too, for the average or above average children to realize that there are other people out there in the world that don't, can't do as such. And they need to learn a little compassion, and consideration.
Q: I agree. What advise would you give to a person considering an administrative position? Any advise you'd give?
A: Well, I would say, be certain that you look on the job description and know exactly what's expected of you, and I think your family situation at the time, whether you have the time to devote to this. I was offered a principalship before my husband died but he was not well. And, I refused it then because I felt that I had too such obligation at hose. You have to know that you have the time to give to it, and plenty of preparation. I an in favor of the present program, as I understand it in Fairfax County, of having people go in as an assistant principal. I think this is excellent. And if I were a principal in that situation today, I would assign them little by little the various responsibilities. And let them have a try at all the responsibilities you have. The busing, the observation and evaluation, all of those things, I would do that. In fact, I had two classroom teachers to become principals. And I had them assist me in some of these things just to give them an idea. Of course, they never observed in the classroom. I gave them, filled them in on a lot of these things before they went into the principalship.
Q: So, at that time, they wouldn't have gone into an assistant principalship.
A: Both of these did go as assistant principals, that's right. Before they had a full principalship.
Q: What consumed the majority of your time in your principalship?
A: I would say, I think the curriculum.. Because I wanted to know what was going on in every level. And I tried to keep up, I looked at teacher's plans as they had them on the board. You know, this idea of having the plan book in on Monday morning is for the birds. You can go in and look at the plans for the day. Do you still do that?
A: And that's good for the children as well. This is how I kept up with it. And, I couldn't see just sitting in my office and doing paper work, sitting in my office not knowing what was going on. I think just keeping up with the curriculum, and trying to provide extra materials and things that teachers could use, and resources for them.
Q: Did you have many staff meetings?
A: Oh, yes.
Q: About how often?
A: Well, at first we had one every week. And then when we started having early closing, and then, as I recall we went to two weeks or when necessary.
Q: When you say the curriculum took up most of your time, do you mean planning the curriculum or just following through with the teachers to...
A: Following, and helping the teachers to plan. It was both. I'd like to share with you what this young man who was with me. He became a principal, came by to see me one day, and he said, I just have to tell you. I used to go home and be so angry, I would say, do you now what Mrs. Howland did today? She sent us a memo, and then she came over the intercom with it, and then she read it at a staff meeting. She must think we're dummies. He said, Now, that I'm a principal, do you know what I do? I send out a memo and I read it over the intercom, and I read it at a staff meeting. So, it, of course teachers have so much to do it has to be reinforced.
Q: Not only that, but they all learn different ways, so they get it reading, writing, and ....
A: That's right, that's a good point.
Q: You did it right. What were your five most pleasant activities as a principal, or how ever many you can think of. What were your most pleasant things?
A: Well, having students come back was always pleasant. And one year our
emphasis was on the discovery method of learning. And largely through science
and social studies. And we chose a school project. We made these three huge
ceramic hangings. They are in the cafeteria of that school now. Even though
it's not a school. Of discovery, past, present, and future. The children did
drawings, and then we blew those up, and then the helping teacher in art came
and taught us how to crack tile and how to put it all together. And that was
a regarding experience. I think, uh, well, I had, I can recall three different
children assigned to my school because they specific problems. And of being
able to place them with teachers that worked with them well, and seeing them
do quite well. I attended a wedding of one of them this summer.
Q: Oh, really? That's neat, With your teachers, did you place students by their personality, by who you think they would get along with ...
A: And this is one, I will have to say, this was one of my most pleasant tasks. Was to place students. I felt that a student going through elementary school needed to be exposed to different kinds of personalities, and yet there were some children at particular tines needed special types of teachers. And this was a nice experience. And the little programs that we had at school. Especially when we went into the program for the gifted. And, they had special projects. This was really a pleasant experience.
Q: What were your most unpleasant experiences?
A: Unpleasant, well, of course having to put that teacher on probation. Having to call a parent and tell them their child was misbehaving again, and we were going to have to do something about it. And, dealing with well, seeing that child having one epileptic seizure after another. I had a secretary that would come in. This happened every month. And I had a secretary that would come in and say, Mrs. Howland, this is the week that this child will have a seizure. She had it down, to the program. And we lost a little boy who had open heart surgery as a baby. And, of course, that was. And having to go in and talk with his class.
Q: So you took care of that, rather than the county sending people?
A: Yes. Well, they didn't have a crisis team then. It would have been helpful if they had. Because I was so involved.
Q: Right. Were you the only one, you and the teacher together, took care of it?
A: Yes, We were the only ones. To take care of it. She and I went to the service.
Q: Did the county give you any support, on how to deal with the class...
A: At that time, I never even thought of calling the county. We didn't have such help then. Remember, this has been about 20 years ago.
Q: I'm spoiled.
A: Right, that's right.
Q: Most of these questions go together, and it seems like we have covered
some of them. Describe the most effective assistant principal. You only had
two, right? Well, was one more effective than the other, and if so, what made
them more effective? What qualities makes a good assistant principal?
A: Well, I would say of the two that I had, the one that was the most effective was the young man who had been a principal previously. And had that experience. The young woman was a good assistant principal, but she was still learning. So, I would have to say he was wore effective because of his past experience.
Q: Do you think a personality type or training makes a difference in whether they are effective or not?
A: Yes, I do. I really do. You have to have the human touch. And I was always, I observed San Coffey, he was always out in the hall when you got there early in the morning to speak to you. And I never went back in my office early in the morning. I was always out to see teachers as they came in. If they had sick children, I asked about them. And this sort of thing.. you have to be interested.
Q: What did you find most beneficial in helping you to remain sane during your principalhood? Did you have a way to relieve the tensions. or did you not experience that?
A: Well, I an .. I must be honest with you, I an a devout church member. And, I never went to school without walking through that door and asking for guidance during the day. think you have to have inner strength. You do. You have to have some inner strength. And I had good supervisors at the county level that I could always just pick up the phone and talk to.
Q: Now were these people that you could talk to, had these people who had principalships before?
A: I think so, yes.
Q: How did you learn to do the paper work? Is that what they took care of at the monthly meetings that you said they had for new principals?
A: Yes, when we went to the now principal's meetings. They would take up what you would have to take up this month. And when it came to ordering supplies, they went through all the details of how to order supplies. And all of those kinds of things. And they went through, and of course the first month was how to do the registers. And do all that. Of course you have computers now.
Q: That's true. With the supplies ordering, did they help you even the amount and everything?
A: Oh, no, no. Teachers turned in what they wanted for the next year. And what they needed. And we compiled what we needed from that, taking an inventory of what we had on the shelves.
Q: Can you think of anything that I haven't asked you that might be pertinent? That you'd like to add. You can think of that for a minute, and I'll ask you something else, if you want.
A: Well, one thing I haven't said that I think is, if you want to be a principal, you have to be interested in children, and love children. And I haven't said that, and that is a prime factor. And always in interviewing, I took take this into consideration, if they had any children. And I would observe how they felt about their children when I asked them about them. You, know. Because I think that's a prime factor.
Q: It should be if it's not. Why did you choose retirement when you did?
A: I was sixty-five years old.
Q: Did they force you to retire?
A: Well, I know my son said to me that Christmas, he said, mother, there's a teacher in Georgia that says according to the federal law, you don't have to retire until you are seventy. And she went to court and she's going to stay on. And are you going to request to stay on? And I said not on your life. had a theory that, my community had been behind me. And my staff had been behind me. And I think you should quit while you're effective instead of people just waiting for you to, or hoping you will retire or something will happen to you. think it's good to quit while you are still effective. Before you wear out.
Q: Do you have any feelings on, I know you were a principal in the same school the whole time. It seems like a lot of schools have a whole lot of different principals. In your experience, what do you think is better, to keep the same principal as long as they are effective, or to switch principals a lot?
A: I'm not sure about that. Some times there can be problems brewing in the community that the principal may not be aware of. And the area superintendent might know about. And if that is the case, I think it is wise to move. You know.. I went to my area superintendent three years before I was to retire. There was a principal vacancy, and it had a good bit of special education in it, and I thought I would like to do that because of the experience I've had with my daughter and so forth. And I went to him and asked if I could be considered. And he said, how long is it until you retire? And I said, three years. And he said, well it always takes at least three years to get going. Then I would have to do something about Willard School. So he didn't even consider it. That is the only time I ever thought about leaving. We were a close-knit faculty. The most I think I ever had on the staff, counting all the helping teachers, and all, was about 36. And we still get together as a group occasionally. I mean some of us, you know. And I always had open house around Christmas or into January somewhere, for all my staff and their families, and their spouses. And think this is good to do. I don't object to this at all. I think it's good..
Q: That is good. Urn, about how many students did you have?
A: The most I ever had, was about 550. And I had three trailers behind the building. And that's not good.
Q: Now did that include the center, the 550, did that include Willard Center?
A: That was before I had any special ed, and that was an all walking school.
Q: That was a lot of walkers. Of course they walked a lot farther then than they do now. Describe your typical work day. How did you spend your time, what did you do with most of your time.
A: I don't know that there is any typical work day. But I always got to school early. And usually went to the teachers lounge and had a cup of coffee. I tried to be around the office until the teachers got settled. And if there were any students that were late, I usually went to chat with them about why they were tardy, and so forth so I could keep tabs on this. And then, there was no typical day. What ever was pressing if it was time to start considering children for special ed., and I had those things to look over. It was, if I had calls to make to parents, that was to be done. If a special student, when children I had on behavior modification were to check with me, they usually came in early in the day to cheek with me.
Q: So you actually put them on a b-nod system with you rather than through the teacher?
A: Well, sometimes I did. If it was more than the teacher could felt that she could deal with. But, then I would pass it on to the teacher, you know.
Q: Did you have to train any of your teachers? I know a lot of the regular teachers aren't trained in that.
A: Yes, uhuh
Q: So you actually provided training for them.
Q: How did you learn about that?
A: Well, through workshops we had in the county. And I kept taking classes, going to school. In fact the day I got the notice from the Fairfax County superintendent that my request for retirement had been honored, I received from Richmond a notice that my teaching certificate had been automatically been renewed for ten years. I had taken enough courses in that time. So, it's been over ten years now so it's not in.. It's expired now. But I always had enough. I never had to rush to take a course to get it renewed, because I always was taking something.
Q: How did you communicate with the parents, with the community? Besides your individual calls you had to make.
A: Oh, I always in the PTA newsletter, I always had a message to the parents. And any special occasion I always sent out memos to the parents. And then I worked closely with the PTA. I always went to the executive board meetings, you know, all of that. And we had a very active PTA, very supportive PTA.
Q: Can you think of anything else that I should have asked that I didn't
ask. You look tired.
A: Oh, no, I wouldn't say that.
Q: I think we have covered just about everything.
A: Well, I hope I've given you enough to get you through the course anyway.
Q: To get me an A. Mrs. Howland began to tell me a story which had happened after the recorder had been turned off. She said I could include it if I wanted.
A: One of my little girls on patrols came to me and said two of the 6th grade boys had been coming up and feeling her breasts. Well, of course I just about died. And I called the boys in and talked to them. There were about four of them involved. And I just said to them. A girl's breasts are part of her body. How would you like for somebody to come up and feel your penis?
Q: That's great.
A: And one of the fathers came in. And I called the fathers and told them there some problems. And one of the fathers came in. And I told his what I had said, and I never forget, he looked me straight in the eye, and he said, atta girl!
Q: That is, that's great. That is the best thing you ever could have said to them. They could identify with that.
A: Right. right. You have to be direct. Now this young man that taught for me that became a principal, was when he first had his assistant principalship, he was making some decisions, and the principal was not supporting him. And so he came over in desperation to talk to me. He said, Mrs. Howland, you always tell it like it is. You just hit the nail on the head. And, you are never in hot water. He said when you back off and try to cover up things, you know you can't stay out of trouble. So, when he got his principalship, he came to tell me. I said well, now you can decide what kind of principal you're going to be. And he said, I know. I think it's really good for an assistant principal to have more than, to have experience in more than one school.
Q: To get different views..
A: I feel that my having been a supervisor and observing in the different schools, I think that helped a lot.
Q: That makes sense because the same technique is not good for everyone. And you learn more techniques that way.
A: I guess the best compliment I ever had paid me. I said to the personnel director, They had given me such an excellent staff. And she said, Aurelia, we look at this closely and we try to match the teachers with principal's expectations. And that really made me feel good.
Q: That is... I don't see how the county the way the county hires people now, I don't see how they could do that. It must have been a lot smaller then.
A: Well, maybe so, I think maybe we went into areas, I don't know how long after I had been a principal. It was less than five years. 169?
Q: Well, you went in 184, that would be about 169.
A: 168 or 169 along then they started with areas.
Q: I don't think personnel would even know most of the principals, now.
A: Unless personnel is assigned to that one particular area.
Q: That's true.
A: And, you see when I first came into Fairfax County, we had a teacher's meeting in the fall. And every teacher in the county got in the auditorium at Fairfax High School. And then we finally had to move to Constitution Hall. And several years we went into Constitution Hall and had that fall teacher's meeting. And then they had to do it by areas until you have the Patriot Center now.
Q: Boy, that's a sight to see with all the ... that place is packed.
A: I bet it is.
Q: They come all the way up to the rafters, it's packed. It's amazing there's that many teachers.
A: I know.
Q: And, that many kids.
A: Well, when I came into Fairfax County, the total student population was about what one of the areas is now.
A: So, that makes a big difference. I know when they interviewed me for that article for the Fairfax paper, the teacher called me. I had done some judging for her. I was on the school board at that time, and I had done some judging for her. I said I don't know whether I had been here long enough. I said I had only been here about 30 years. And she said, you qualify.
Q: That's longer than most people are in this area. So, you were on the city school board after you retired?
A: After I retired.
Q: Fairfax City School Board.
A: Yes, after I retired.
Q: Now, how long were you on there?
A: I only served one tern. It was interfering with my plans to travel, and I felt a commitment to be at all the board meetings. But, I enjoyed it.
Q: Do you get bored now, I mean do you work at all now?
A: No, but I'm busy as can be. I volunteer. I just, I served two years as president of retired teachers for the county. I'm just over that.
Q: Oh, really? So, you haven't been doing nothing.
A: Oh, no, And I've been to a lot of the state retired teachers meetings, you know.
Q: Tell me that again, two years as..
A: Retired teachers of Fairfax County. that for two years. I went out last June. the board as a past president. I was president of and I'm still on
Q: So, do attend meetings and everything?
A: Oh, yes. Uh huh.
Q: That's good.
A: I think it is.
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